Is Anyone among You Sick?

 The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick

And He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God,
and do what is right in His sight, and listen to His commandments,
and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which
I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the LORD, am your healer.”
Exodus 15, 26

Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the
church, and they should pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name
of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the
Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.
James 5, 14-16

In the Catholic Church, the Anointing of the Sick, also known as Extreme Unction, is a sacrament that is administered to a Catholic “who, having reached the age of reason, begins to be in danger due to sickness or old age,” except in the case of those who “persevere obstinately in manifest grave sin.” The sacrament provides physical and/or spiritual healing according to God’s will. It offers necessary graces so that the sick person may prepare for death; it pours out consolation and hope and provides an opportunity for the forgiveness of sins even when the sick person is too ill to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation. The Anointing of the Sick is often administered near the time of death to bring the person receiving the sacrament spiritual and physical strength. As a sacrament (an outward sign of something internal), it is performed to give God’s grace through the Holy Spirit. Only priests (presbyters and bishops) have the authority to minister the anointing of the sick using oil blessed by the bishop since Christ gave his apostles and the men they appointed in the ministry special power over natural and supernatural phenomena.

The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has its foundations in “the economy of salvation.” Because sin has entered the world, illness and suffering plague our human condition. “In illness, man experiences his powerlessness, his limitations, and his finitude.” Those who are gravely or chronically ill catch a glimpse of death and are humbled by their illness. They acquire the wisdom of the fact that health and happiness aren’t permanent, and their lives must eventually come to an end (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1500). The acquisition of wisdom is a good thing, but illness, suffering, and the thought of approaching death do carry a negative influence. Although an ill or dying person might become more mature and able to discern the more important things in life than what one had previously thought were essential for happiness and contentment but, in reality, were temporal and fleeting in their shallowness, “illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God.” Still, suffering and/or dying can be good in that it often prompts a person to search for God and be reconciled to Him (CCC, 1501).

The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is particularly important in the life of the Church because it is a medium through which Jesus extends his love to the sick and dying. Our Lord heals the person in body and soul by conferring his graces to help them overcome their anguish and despair and make peace with God for peace of mind and spiritual rest.

God’s chosen people of the Old Covenant lived their sicknesses in the presence of God. They lamented their illnesses and misfortunes before God because they believed God was punishing them for their sins. Illness served as a means of conversion and prompted the Israelites to seek God’s forgiveness. With forgiveness should come restoration. The true Israelite in spirit sought the grace of being at peace with God in spite of their unfavorable condition unlike those who were seeking a temporal change of fortune for the better. In any event, “illness was linked to sin and evil, while faithfulness to God restored life” (CCC, 1502).

In the New Covenant, Christ is the physician in his consubstantial oneness with the Father. Christ’s compassion for the sick and the lame and his numerous miraculous healings of a variety of infirmities was a radiant sign that God had visited his people and that the kingdom of God was in their midst (Lk 7:16; Mt 4:24). Our Lord came into the world to heal the whole person, body, and soul, with the forgiveness of sin. The physically and spiritually infirm were in need of him (Mk 2:5-12). Jesus went so far as to identify himself with the sick to remind us that we should have the same love and compassion for them as he had (Mk 25:36). 

The Magisterium of his Church reminds us that “His preferential love for the sick has not ceased through the centuries to draw the very special attention of Christians toward all those who suffer in body and soul. It is the source of tireless efforts to comfort them” (CCC, 1503). In carrying out the sacramental rite, the priest acts in persona Christi as a physician. He is essentially a spiritual healer, but there have been occasions in which physical healing has been miraculously brought about with the forgiveness of sin and reconciliation to God by the grace of sanctification or justification bestowed through the sacrament.

Jesus offered his apostles a share in his priestly ministry and invested in them the authority to preach the gospel and call people to repentance. And this commission included the power to cast out demons and heal the sick by anointing their heads with oil (Mk 6:12-13). In the Catholic rite, a priest prays over the person and anoints their head and hands with chrism (holy oil). The anointing is the means by which there are supernatural results. The act of anointing someone is a power in itself that comes with the manifestation and operation of the Holy Spirit. The anointing is the presence and power of God through which the efficacy of divine grace heals the soul and restores it to good health.

If miraculous physical cures accompany spiritual restoration, they serve as visible signs to remind us of the connection between suffering and sin. Jesus healed the paralytic to show that he had the authority to forgive sins. If he hadn’t had this authority, he couldn’t have produced the miracle that happened (Mt 9:1-8; Mk 2:1-12; Lk 5:17-26). The scribes and Pharisees who told Jesus in their rage that only God could forgive sins had no idea that he was, in fact, God incarnate. Nor did they see that as a man Jesus was given the divine authority from the Father to absolve people of their sins and the power to miraculously cure them in the power of the Holy Spirit. It was this authority and power that was transferred from Jesus to his apostles since it was in his humanity that the divine Person carried out his priestly ministry.

This same authority and power lie with the Catholic priest. The chrism that he uses in conjunction with the formula of prayer is symbolic of its effects. When a priest anoints the head and palms of the hands (Roman rite) of those who are gravely or chronically ill and close to death in most circumstances, the primary purpose is to give spiritual strength, notably the graces of faith and hope, though the sacrament does address the physical, bodily conditions of the illness. The anointing is regarded as a means of health and comfort, and as a symbol of being consecrated to God. For the sacrament to be effective, the recipient must have faith in God and in His power which is communicated through the sacrament. He or she must also be repentant for the forgiveness of sin.

The Universal Magisterium of the Catholic Church teaches: “A particular gift of the Holy Spirit. The first grace of this sacrament is one of strengthening, peace, and courage to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness or the frailty of old age. This grace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who renews trust and faith in God and strengthens against the temptations of the evil one, the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death. This assistance from the Lord by the power of his Spirit is meant to lead the sick person to healing of the soul, but also of the body if such is God’s will. Furthermore, “if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (CCC, 1520).

Again, in almost all cases, the body isn’t physically healed and restored to health by God’s will as a grace of this sacrament. But there are beneficial psychological and emotional effects produced by the Holy Spirit. Miraculous cures are extremely rare because suffering unites us with the passion of Christ. “ By the grace of this sacrament the sick person receives the strength and the gift of uniting himself more closely to Christ’s Passion: in a certain way he is consecrated to bear fruit by configuration to the Savior’s redemptive Passion. Suffering, a consequence of original sin, acquires a new meaning; it becomes a participation in the saving work of Jesus” (CCC, 1521).

Christ conferred redemptive value on suffering and death which are penalties for original sin. He transformed what was evil into something good. But our Lord and Savior’s objective act of redemption must be joined with our subjective redemptive participation. We remit our temporal debt of sin by joining our suffering with Christ’s suffering so that we reap the full benefits of the eternal debt he alone has paid on our sinful behalf, provided we accept our suffering as a means of temporal reparation for our sins. The grace of the sacrament gives us the power and wisdom to discern this truth and the strength to accept our cross and carry it together with Christ so that we might be saved and rewarded with eternal life (Mt 16:24; 2 Tim 2:11-12).

By the grace we receive, we may be configured to Christ in his passion, death, and resurrection. Thus, the grace in the sacrament not only benefits the person receiving it but also the whole Church and the people of God. In this sense, it is called “ecclesial grace.” By “freely uniting themselves to the passion of Christ,” the sick who receive this sacrament “contribute to the good of the People of God.” The Church, in the communion of saints, intercedes for the benefit of the sick person by celebrating the sacrament, while he or she “contributes to the sanctification of the Church and to the good of all men for whom the Church suffers and offers herself through Christ to God the Father” (CCC, 1522). By configuring themselves to Christ in his passion and death, and having a share in his self-sacrifice, the sick person can merit grace (de congruo) for the entire body of Christ (cf. Col 1:24).

Finally, in preparation for the final journey, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick should be ministered to by a priest or bishop without hesitation when death is imminent. In addition to the anointing, those who are gravely ill or dying should receive the Holy Eucharist as Viaticum. “Communion in the body and blood of Christ, received at this moment of passing over to the Father, has a particular significance and importance. It is the seed of eternal life and the power of resurrection, according to the words of the Lord: ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.’ (Jn 6:54). The sacrament of Christ once dead and now risen, the Eucharist is here the sacrament of passing over from death to life, from this world to the Father” (CCC 1524).

The Latin word viaticum means “provision for a journey,” from “via” or “way”. For Communion as Viaticum, the Eucharist is given in the usual form, with the added words “May the Lord Jesus Christ protect you and lead you to eternal life”. The sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist form a triad called “the sacraments of Christian initiation.” The sacraments of Reconciliation or Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, and the Eucharist as Viaticum constitute the end of the Christian life. These latter are the sacraments that “‘prepare for our heavenly homeland’ and the sacraments that ‘complete the earthly pilgrimage'” (CCC, 1525).

Perseverance is a particularly important character trait for us to have to be successful in life. It means determination at working hard regardless of any odds or obstacles that may exist. It is to insist and to be firm on getting something done and not give up. This practical definition can be applied in a spiritual sense and in a Christian context:

“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do:
forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ
Philippians 3, 13-14

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering,
for he who promised is faithful.”
Hebrews 10, 23

“For you have need of endurance,
so that when you have done the will of God
you may receive what is promised.”
Heb 10, 36

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,
for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete,
lacking in nothing.”
James 1, 2-4

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial,
for when he has stood the test
he will receive the crown of life,
which God has promised to those who love him.”
James 1, 12


O God who sanctifiest this oil as Thou dost grant unto all who are anointed
and receive of it the hallowing wherewith Thou didst anoint kings and priests
and prophets, so grant that it may give strength to all that taste of it and health
to all that use it.”
St. Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition, 5:2
(c. A.D. 215)

“In addition to these there is also a seventh [sacrament], albeit hard and laborious
In this way there is fulfilled that too, which the Apostle James says: ‘If then, there is
anyone sick, let him call the presbyters of the Church, and let them impose hands
upon him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith
will save the sick man, and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him.’”
Origen, Homily on Leviticus, 2:4
(A.D. 244)

“Of the sacrament of life, by which Christians [baptism], priests, kings and prophets
are made perfect; it illuminates darkness [in confirmation], anoints the sick, and by
its secret sacrament restores penitents.”
Aphraates the Persian Sage, Treatises, 23:3
(A.D. 345)

“Why, then, do you lay on hands, and believe it to be the effect of the blessing, if
perchance some sick person recovers Why do you assume that any can be cleansed
by you from the pollution of the devil? Why do you baptize if sins cannot be
remitted by man? If baptism is certainly the remission of all sins, what difference
does it make whether priests claim that this power is given to them in penance or at
the font? In each the mystery is one.”
St. Ambrose, Penance, 1,8:36
(A.D. 390)

“Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions,
and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you.”

Luke 10, 19

Pax vobiscum

I Will Harden Pharaoh's Heart

 Grace & Free Will

“And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them.
But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army,
and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.”
Exodus 14, 4

Double predestination is a theological doctrine held by traditional “hyper” Calvinists which basically means God has willed to create some people to be saved and others to be lost. In other words, human beings cannot freely choose whether they want to be reconciled to God and be saved or to reject God and risk losing their salvation. Their eternal destiny is a predetermined fate that is beyond their control: spiritual as opposed to biological determinism. This particular Protestant teaching rejects the idea that our salvation partly depends on human desire and effort. It’s grounded on the conviction that no one is deserving of God’s mercy because of their sins and cannot, therefore, merit their salvation by any natural means. This part is true and acknowledged by Catholics, but Reformed Protestants of the classical tradition even deny the idea of supernatural merit through the efficacy of actual and cooperative grace.

These super-extreme Calvinists believe that, because of our common sinful nature and original fall from grace, God can act with partiality. God can choose the people whom He wills to be merciful to and those whose hearts He will deliberately harden so that they cannot be saved. Hence, human free will and supernatural merit within the system of cooperative grace hold no place in this theological doctrine. Human beings are either formed of clay for either a special purpose (the glory of God) or common use (for the glory of God). Salvation, however, is no longer a merited gift or reward but an undeserved favor (irresistible grace) only so that God can demonstrate His omnipotence and mercy, and consequently flaunt His divine will on a whim. There is justice insofar as Christ’s alien righteousness is imputed to the believer only because of their faith in His redeeming merits.

To support their belief system, hyper-Calvinists usually cite Exodus 14 and Romans 9, which we will examine later, since Paul uses Pharaoh as an example for all the wicked. For now, let’s look at Exodus and see whether it’s true that God has intentionally created some people for eternal destruction, who, because of their sinfulness, can’t justly blame God for His choice; since God could have withheld His mercy from everyone if He so chose – all having fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). Is the clay in no position to argue with the potter? The answer is Yes, but in a Catholic sense. Can God justly show or withhold His mercy from whoever He chooses in His sovereignty? Again, the answer is Yes, but in a Catholic sense.

But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief,
he hardened his heart and did not heed them,
as the Lord had said.
Exodus 8:15

But Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also;
neither would he let the people go.
Exodus 8:32

And when Pharaoh saw that the rain, the hail, and the thunder had ceased,
he sinned yet more; and he hardened his heart, he and his servants.
Exodus 9:34

Our non-Catholic friends fail to see what is actually meant by the idea of God hardening one’s heart. They single out and isolate Exodus 14 to support their preconceived notion that has been formed from their interpretation of other Scriptural passages in the New Testament. Chapter 14, Verse 4 doesn’t mean, that God somehow predetermined or molded Pharaoh from wanting to release the Israelites from slavery. Rather, it means that God permitted Pharaoh to freely remain unyielding to His command. Pharaoh, unfortunately, was obstinate in heart. He refused to be persuaded even after Egypt had been hit by several devastating plagues. In fact, because of his pride, he grew even more intransigent after each plague was sent by God. Pharaoh defied God and became even more defiant. God had hardened his heart, but only because of the plagues which resulted in its increased hardening.

Thus, Pharaoh grew more defiant and unheeding with each plague because of his pride. They served to boost his ego which influenced him in his decision to remain intransigent. In this way, God hardened his heart by being physically responsible for having sent the plagues. Pharaoh, on the other hand, was morally responsible for them by his persistent disobedience to the divine command: “Let my people go!” God wouldn’t have commanded Pharaoh at all if he had no free will and choice in the matter. I’m afraid God doesn’t mold us so that we should act against His will for the sake of His pleasure of being merciful to a selected few other than ourselves and demonstrating how merciful He can be when He wants to be by acting arbitrarily apart from our desires rendering them moot.

On the contrary, God reveals His true intentions and what he truly desires for everyone who is made of the same original clay through the prophet: ‘Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? says the Lord GOD: and not that he should turn from his ways, and live?’ (Ezek 18:23; cf. 1 Tim 2:3-4; 1 Jn 2:1-3; 2 Pet 3:9). The truth is God permitted Pharaoh to become more obstinate of his own accord, and then purposefully used his pride and ego to free the Israelites from slavery in such an awesome way, as to display His glory and might to the Egyptians.

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says
to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on
whom I have compassion.” 16 So it depends not upon man’s will or exertion, but upon
God’s mercy. 17 For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “I have raised you up for the very
purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the
earth.” 18 So then he has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of
whomever he wills. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can
resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded
say to its molder, “Why have you made me thus?” 21 Has the potter no right over the
clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for beauty and another for menial use? 22
What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured
with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction, 23 in order to make
known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand
for glory,
Romans 9

The basic principle embedded in Romans 9 is this: Those who will not see and hear, shall not see and hear. Consequently, God has mercy upon whom he wills, and he hardens whom he wills (cf. Jn. 9:41). In Vv. 14-16, Paul is simply affirming that there is no injustice on God’s part in not granting what another has no natural right to (the forgiveness of their sins) since all of us who have sinned justly deserve punishment. God isn’t indebted to showing us His mercy in His justice. If, on the other hand, God shows His mercy on some people, it is because of His goodness and liberality despite their sins. If He leaves others in their sins (Pharaoh or the Pharisees) by withholding his grace because of their stubbornness of heart, they are punished for their just deserts.

God’s mercy shines upon His elect, those who are willing to receive His grace and open themselves to His word, but the divine justice is handed out to the wicked and the reprobate according to what they deserve through their moral liberty and obstinacy of heart. There is no just reason why God must show His compassion to those who refuse it. We cannot force our will on God and expect Him to be merciful to us while remaining in sin. Nor can we blame God for being sinful and punished for our sins by how we choose to act against His will. No command of God is impossible for us to obey because we have all received sufficient grace in our fallen condition. God’s efficacious grace assists us in being righteous once we have directed our will to His goodness. If we draw near to God, He will draw near to us and shower us with His grace, not by any natural merit of ours because of our sinful state, but through the sacrificial work of Jesus who has merited grace for us (Jas 4:8; Heb 10:2, etc.). There are at least thirty-five Bible verses about drawing near (not being drawn) by God which presuppose we have free will and can either accept or reject God’s merciful gift of salvation.

In v. 19, Paul responds to the objection that if God rules over faith through the principle of divine election, God cannot then accuse unbelievers of sin. The apostle, however, shows that God is far less arbitrary than what might appear at first glance. He suggests in v. 22 that God does endure with much patience people like Pharaoh who obstinately resist His will. He reiterates why God might, without any injustice, have mercy on some and not on others, grant particular graces and favors to His elect and not equally to everyone. All humankind is liable to damnation, composed of sinful clay which is the state of original sin. No single soul has a just claim on the Divine Mercy by any natural merit outside the system of divine grace.

So, those whom God chooses to remove from this sinful lump to bestow His graces and favor upon are for the purpose of displaying His justice and hatred for sin. This is the underlying meaning in v. 23. God is glorified by leading any of us to repentance by the riches of His kindness and His mercy which we mustn’t disregard if we hope to be saved according to the divine plan (Rom 2:4). The “vessels of mercy” are those who by the grace of God acknowledge their sins and repent with a firm desire for amendment with the help of divine grace.

By leaving others as “vessels of wrath” that are lost in their sins, Paul simply means that God has endured patiently as much as He could, thereby abandoning them in their obstinate sinfulness and withholding His grace and favor from them through their own intransigence and willfulness. God knows the hearts of everyone, and so He knows who to touch and how to touch their hearts so that they come to accept His will for them. Those who are fettered by pride and selfishness are less likely to be drawn by divine persuasion. God coerces no one, and so He might decide to leave some people alone and in their sins while patiently waiting for them to have a change of heart. He has already granted them the sufficient grace they need. Only those who are humbly willing to align their wills with God benefit from His mercy by answering the call and cooperating with his helping grace. These are the ones who make every feeble effort to draw near to God with the help of His grace that He will draw near to them. We can do nothing without God despite our desire to be reconciled to Him, and so we must ask for the graces we need and will receive just by asking (Mt 7:7).

Hence, the allegory of the Potter and the Clay is by no means intended to show that human beings are destitute of free will and liberty, and so are completely passive in God’s plan of redemption, unable to decide for themselves whether they want to be saved. It is used only to stress that we are not to question God why He confers his graces and favors on some and not on others, since we are no better than each other in our sinfulness. If there is any difference among us it’s that some of us are humbler and less proud by the grace of God and thereby most likely to acknowledge our sins and be saved.

It is owing to the divine goodness and mercy that God wills to create vessels of honor by His grace and gifts of the Holy Spirit. And it is just that others, because of their refusal to repent and convert, should be given up as vessels of wrath undeserving of God’s mercy. Meanwhile, Paul’s point is that God sovereignly decides whatever purpose He has for His elect when bestowing His gifts of the Holy Spirit on them. God has a unique plan for each of those who choose to love Him and obey Him, just as He has a plan for those who choose to reject Him. It’s God and not any of us who takes the initiative. But our collaboration is called for if we truly want to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth as God desires everyone to be (1 Tim 2:1-4).

Early Sacred Tradition

“And pray ye without ceasing in behalf of other men; for there is hope of
the repentance, that they may attain to God. For ‘cannot he that falls arise
again, and he may attain to God.’”
St. Ignatius of Antioch, To the Ephesians, 10
( A.D. 110)

“And this is your condition, because of the blindness of your soul, and the
hardness of your heart. But, if you will, you may be healed. Entrust yourself to
the Physician [God], and He will couch the eyes of your soul and of your heart.”
St. Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch, To Autolycus 7.
(inter A.D. 168-181)

“Now, in the beginning the spirit was a constant companion of the soul, but the
spirit forsook it because it was not willing to follow. Yet, retaining as it were a
spark of its power, though unable by reason of the separation to discern the
perfect, while seeking for God it fashioned to itself in its wandering many gods,
following the sophistries of the demons. But the Spirit of God is not with all,
but, taking up its abode with those who live justly, and intimately combining
with the soul, by prophecies it announced hidden things to other souls.”
St. Tatian the Syrian, To the Greeks, 13
(A.D. 175)

“That eternal fire has been prepared for him as he apostatized from God of his
own free-will, and likewise for all who unrepentant continue in the apostasy,
he now blasphemes, by means of such men, the Lord who brings judgment [upon
him] as being already condemned, and imputes the guilt of his apostasy to his
Maker, not to his own voluntary disposition.”
St. Justin Martyr, fragment in Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, 5:26:1
(A.D. 189)

“All indeed depends on God, but not so that our free-will is hindered. ‘If then it
depend on God,’ (one says), ‘why does He blame us?’ On this account I said, ‘so
that our free-will is no hindered.’ It depends then on us, and on Him For we must
first choose the good; and then He leads us to His own. He does not anticipate our
choice, lest our free-will should be outraged. But when we have chosen, then
great is the assistance he brings to us…For it is ours to choose and to wish; but
God’s to complete and to bring to an end. Since therefore the greater part is of
Him, he says all is of Him, speaking according to the custom of men. For so we
ourselves also do. I mean for instance: we see a house well built, and we say the
whole is the Architect’s [doing], and yet certainly it is not all his, but the
workmen’s also, and the owner’s, who supplies the materials, and many others’,
but nevertheless since he contributed the greatest share, we call the whole his.
So then [it is] in this case also.”
St. John Chrysostom, Homily on Hebrews, 12:3
(A.D. 403)

“‘No man can come to me, except the Father who hath sent me draw him’! For He
does not say, ‘except He lead him,’ so that we can thus in any way understand
that his will precedes. For who is ‘drawn,’ if he was already willing? And yet no
man comes unless he is willing. Therefore he is drawn in wondrous ways to will,
by Him who knows how to work within the very hearts of men. Not that men who
are unwilling should believe, which cannot be, but that they should be made
willing from being unwilling.”
St. Augustine, Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, I:19
(A.D. 420)

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.

Matthew 7, 7

Pax vobiscum

Let Every One of You Be Baptized

 Infant Baptism

For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be
circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a
foreigner-those who are not your offspring.
Genesis 17, 12

Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of
Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the
Lord our God will call.”
Acts 2, 38-39

In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting
off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in
baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who
raised Him from the dead.
Colossians 2, 11-12

Since the earliest time, the Catholic Church has stressed the importance of infant baptism. As members of the human family and descendants of Adam, we are all born with a fallen nature that is tainted with original sin. Even as infants, we have need of the rebirth given in the sacrament of Baptism to be liberated from the powers of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all human beings are called (Col 12:1-4). Baptism (Gk. Βάπτισμα / baptisma) is a Christian rite of not only admission into Christianity but also adoption with the use of water. The sacrament has been administered by sprinkling or pouring water on the head, or by immersing the recipient in water either partially or completely. The essential thing, however, is the use of water which purifies and cleanses the soul of the stain of original sin. The person who is baptized regains the state of justice and sanctity that Adam had forfeited for all his offspring. Thus, baptized infants receive the privileged washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit by being reborn of water and the Spirit, without which no soul can enter the kingdom of heaven.

Original sin is a sin that is contracted rather than personally committed. It’s the state of having fallen short of the glory of God. Since this sin isn’t one that any human being is morally culpable of having committed, it’s imperative that infants be baptized as much as adults should. After all, they, too, must suffer and die by being associated with the fallen Adam, although the pride of life and concupiscence haven’t yet manifested themselves in their lives.

St. Paul tells us that through Baptism the soul enters into communion with Christ’s death, is buried with him, and rises with him (Rom 6:3-4). Baptism is a gift of gratuitous grace from God that is offered to every human soul despite their age. Infants mustn’t be denied the gift of Baptism for they, too, must be “incorporated into Christ” and “configured to Christ.” They need to be sealed with the indelible spiritual mark or character of belonging to Christ albeit any conscious awareness.

Since the grace of Baptism doesn’t presuppose any human merit for its conferral, there is no just reason for excluding infants from being consecrated to God. No personal sin can erase the indelible mark that is sealed through Baptism even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation, so it makes no difference whether the infant is consciously aware of being baptized and making personal commitments of faith that are connected with the sacrament. Once a child attains the age of moral reasoning, while having been nurtured in the Christian faith at home and in the Church, they can decide for themselves whether to live up to their baptismal commitments and persevere in faith. These life-long baptismal commitments also apply to people who have been baptized in adulthood. One isn’t automatically and irrevocably saved just by being baptized and making an initial profession of faith. The important thing for the infant or any human being is that they receive the initial grace of justification and forgiveness for being implicated in the sin of Adam, and becoming a partaker of the divine nature through the water of cleansing and regeneration in the Spirit.

In Judaism, the ritual of circumcision ( Heb. בְּרִית מִילָה / brit milah) is a symbol of one’s partnership with God. This partnership with YWHW is a mysterious covenant that surpasses human comprehension. It is a pledge of unconditional devotion, no matter what may transpire between God and an individual. It is a bond that is absolute and immutable. For this reason, a Jew is circumcised as an infant, although it hasn’t yet developed its capacity for reasoning or making moral judgments since the covenant of circumcision is not an intellectual or calculated partnership. The circumcision of an infant demonstrates that the connection between the Jews and YHWH is beyond human rationale. Moreover, God chose the very organ that is the reproductive source of life, which can also be chosen to use for the basest acts, as the point to be sanctified with circumcision. The message here is that we can and must use every physical drive for holy purposes.

In Genesis 17, God gives no reason for circumcision other than it shall be a sign of the eternal covenant between God and Abraham and all of his descendants. God clearly commands that circumcision must occur on the eighth day of life for every Jewish male. Since Biblical times, male infants have been circumcised on the eighth day of life for it had been given since the time of Abraham and Isaac that each newly born son should be brought into the Covenant just as their fathers, grandfathers, and so on, had been before them. Ritual circumcision was originally a defining act for the young Israelite nation and continued to distinguish the Israelites (including infants) from other peoples.

When God told Israel, " Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer " ( Deuteronomy 10:16 ), it meant that they were to remove their obstinate sinful thoughts from their minds. In other words, they were to purge sin from their lives and be obedient to the laws of God. The covenant God established between Him and the Israelites was essentially meant to be a relationship of reciprocal love and fidelity. The Israelites were to have no false gods before YHWH. This covenantal relationship contributed to a communal self-understanding and encouraged the Israelites to examine who they were as consecrated people in relation to God and how they ought to behave towards each other in their common relation to God as children of Abraham.

The Old Covenant served to remind the nation of how God desired the people should live in relation to God and each other: compassionately, generously, and righteously. The eight-year-old infants were consecrated to God by their circumcision to enter this covenant of holiness. The ritual marked their separation from the sinfulness of the surrounding pagan nations. Now, the infant boys of the covenant were to be circumcised on the eighth day of their birth because this is the day of newness in Judaic tradition. If there are seven days in a week, the eighth day is the first day of a new week. The performance of circumcision on the eighth day represents God’s promise of newness to His covenant children who had formerly lived profane lives among the pagan nations. This rite ultimately points forward to the eighth day (the first day of a new week) on which Christ arose from the dead in the newness of life.

Baptism proceeds from the rite of circumcision, as to how God intended that a spiritual circumcision must take place, which is the physical aspect of circumcision represented in the Old Covenant. Baptism, therefore, is a sign of inward, spiritual “circumcision.” Baptism is a rebirth to a new life with God and being reborn from above. Although circumcision isn’t a sacrament but a symbolic ritual in Judaism, there are significant parallels between the two that show how baptism fulfills circumcision, as the Old Covenant finds its fulfillment in the New that has been established by Christ through the outpouring of his blood.

By baptism, we gain entry into the kingdom of God. Infants must be included as members of the body of Christ just as infants and young children were members of God’s chosen people in the Old Covenant. “We are members one of another.” Baptism not only purifies us from all sins but makes the neophyte a “new creature” and adopted child of God. “From the baptismal fonts is born the one people of God of the New Covenant (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1265). The Old Covenant was designed as a means to impart holiness to newly restored people who were chosen to serve God by observing His statutes. It served as an instrument of grace. In the New Covenant, we become God’s own people, “a chosen race,” and “a holy nation” by our common baptism. We “become living stones to be built up into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood” (1 Pet 2:5; 9) through the graces and spiritual gifts we receive by being baptized.

Thus, the key benefits of baptism demand that infants should be baptized but not simply as an act of defining what it means to be God’s chosen people of the New Covenant. Infants are baptized in water to reap the spiritual benefits that have been merited for all of us by the blood of Christ. Blood and water flowed from our Savior’s side as he hung upon the cross. Infants should be baptized because through the sacrament they, too, receive the “grace of sanctification or justification” to have eternal life with God. This grace shall “enable them [as members of God’s kingdom] to believe in God, to hope in Him, and to love Him through the theological virtues [Faith, Hope, and Charity].” This grace will give them “the power to live and act under the prompting of the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Holy Spirit” allowing them to “grow in goodness through the moral virtues” (CCC, 1266). The infant itself is separated from all the people who haven’t yet been reborn from above or from heaven.

St. Paul points out that baptism has replaced circumcision. He refers to the sacrament as “the circumcision of Christ” and “the circumcision made without hands” (Col 2:11-12). The latter reference recalls the passage above taken from the Book of Deuteronomy which refers to the physical ritual as essentially being a circumcision of the heart of all the Israelites including the circumcised male infants who will eventually grow into manhood expected to abide by God’s covenant. When a Jewish boy reaches the age of thirteen, the family celebrates his Bar Mitzvah, on which occasion he is regarded as ready to observe religious moral precepts and eligible to participate in public worship at the synagogue. The boy’s father offers a prayer of thanksgiving to God for relieving him of being morally responsible for his son’s actions, because he is primarily held accountable for the boy’s religious and spiritual nurturing until he has reached adolescence.

This same principle holds in the Catholic faith with respect to baptizing infants. Infant baptism has its roots in Judaism and is an ecclesial tradition handed down to us from the apostles who themselves were Jewish (Judeans). Anyway, if the nascent Church didn’t practice infant baptism, we should doubt whether Paul would have used the rite of circumcision as a parallel for the sacrament. Of course, most of the new Jewish converts to Christianity were adults in apostolic time, but adult males who converted to Judaism (proselytes) had to be circumcised, too, though these conversions were rare.

Further, we read in the New Testament that Lydia was baptized with her “household” after she converted (Acts 16:15). The Philippian jailer who was converted by Paul and Silas was baptized that same night along with his household. In fact, he was baptized “with all his family” (Acts 16:33). And in his greetings to the church in Corinth, Paul writes, “I did baptize also the household of Stephanus” (1 Cor 1:16).

In the above passages, Paul uses the Greek word oikon (οἶκον) for the English word “household.” This accusative masculine singular noun literally means “a dwelling” and by implication “a family.” If children weren’t part of these families, Paul could have simply written that “she and her husband” or “he and his wife” were baptized. Nor would it make sense for him to have used the all-inclusive word “household” or “family” if children weren’t included as members. Now, evangelical Christians contend that if there were children in these families, they could have been young adolescents. But Paul doesn’t draw a parallel between the rite of circumcision and the sacrament of baptism because Jewish boys are circumcised at the age of thirteen. As we know, they are circumcised as infants. Still, there must surely have been young children below the age of reason who belonged to at least one of these households. Though they might not have been infants, they could still be like newborn babes by being below the mature age of moral accountability. Everyone must include infants.

Early Sacred Tradition

“And many, both men and women, who have been Christ’s disciples from
childhood, remain pure and at the age of sixty or seventy years…”
St. Justin Martyr, First Apology, 15:6
(A.D. 110-165)

“For He came to save all throughmeans of Himself–all, I say,
who through Him are born again to God–infants,
and children, and boys, and youths, and old men.”
St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2,22:4
(A.D. 180)

“And they shall baptise the little children first. And if they can answer for
themselves, let them answer. But if they cannot, let their parents answer or
someone from their family.”
St. Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition, 21
(c. A.D. 215)

“For this reason, moreover, the Church received from the apostles
the tradition of baptizing infants too.”
Origen, Homily on Romans, V:9
(A.D. 244)

“But in respect of the case of the infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the
second or third day after their birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded,
so that you think one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth
day…And therefore, dearest brother, this was our opinion in council, that by us no one ought to be
hindered from baptism…we think is to be even more observed in respect of infants and newly
born persons…”
St. Cyprian, To Fidus, Epistle 58(64):2, 6
(A.D. 251)

“Be it so, some will say, in the case of those who ask for Baptism; what have you to say about those
who are still children, and conscious neither of the loss nor of the grace? Are we to baptize them
too? Certainly, if any danger presses. For it is better that they should be unconsciously sanctified
than that they should depart unsealed and uninitiated.”
St. Gregory Nazianzen,
Oration on Holy Baptism, 40:28
(A.D. 381)

“We do baptize infants, although they are not guilty of any sins.”
St. John Chrysostom, Ad Neophytos
(A.D. 388)

“And if any one seek for divine authority in this matter, though what is held by the whole Church,
and that not as instituted by Councils, but as a matter of invariable custom, is rightly held to have
been handed down by apostolical authority, still we can form a true conjecture of the value of the
sacrament of baptism in the case of infants, from the parallel of circumcision, which was received
by God’s earlier people, and before receiving which Abraham was justified, as Cornelius also was
enriched with the gift of the Holy Spirit before he was baptized.”
St. Augustine, On Baptism against the Donatist, 4:24:31
(A.D. 400)

“While the son is a child and thinks as a child and until he comes to years of discretion to choose
between the two roads to which the letter of Pythagoras points, his parents are responsible for his
actions whether these be good or bad. But perhaps you imagine that, if they are not baptized, the
children of Christians are liable for their own sins; and that no guilt attaches to parents who
withhold from baptism those who by reason of their tender age can offer no objection to it. The
truth is that, as baptism ensures the salvation of the child, this in turn brings advantage to the
parents. Whether you would offer your child or not lay within your choice, but now that you
have offered her, you neglect her at your peril.”
St. Jerome, To Laeta, Epistle 107:6
(A.D. 403)

But Jesus said to them: Suffer the little children,
and forbid them not to come to me:
 for the kingdom of heaven is for such.

Matthew 19, 14

Pax vobiscum