"I dont believe in purgatory, because it is not mentioned in the Bible! There exists only heaven and hell!"
The Catholic Church teaches that purgatory is a temporary place of purification where those who have died undergo a period of expiation to remove all stain of mortal sin duly forgiven or all stain of unrepentant venial sin. Souls are sent to purgatory as "nothing unclean" (Rev. 21, 27) can enter heaven. All souls that are sent to purgatory are destined to ultimately enter heaven once all stain of sin has been removed by its purifying fires. Once the last soul leaves purgatory at the General Resurrection and Judgment, it will be extinguished and only heaven and hell will remain.
For Catholics the strongest argument for the existence of purgatory is the constant and universal writings of the early Church Fathers, the ancient liturgies of the East and West, the numerous inscriptions on the walls of the Catacombs, and in the pronouncements of the Councils of Florence (1438-45) and Trent (1545-63).
"Sure, but all this means nothing, for the Bible still says nothing about purgatory."
2 Macc. 12, 43-46 shows that the Jews in the Old Testament certainly believed in a middle state where the dead could profit from the sacrifices and prayers of the living:
"And making a gathering, (Judas Maccabeus) sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead...It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins" (Douai).
Protestants deny the canonicity of the Maccabean books, nevertheless, their historical value cannot be denied, and even Jewish prayer books today contain such prayers. If the doctrine of purgatory had been invented by the Jews, undoubtedly, it would have been condemned by Jesus Christ, as He condemned them for a long list of changes in doctrine and discipline in St. Matt. 23.
On the contrary, the doctrine of purgatory is actually implied in the Gospels: "I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny" (St. Luke 12, 59); "Whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world nor in the World to come" (St. Matt. 12, 32 [Douai]). According to Pope St. Gregory the Great the words of Christ in St. Matthew infer that sins can be forgiven in the next life. Now this cannot be done in heaven or hell, but only in another state which the Church calls purgatory.
Further, St. Paul writing his first letter to the Corinthians (3, 13-15) says that "each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire." His soul will be saved, but only after spending time in the purifying flames of purgatory.
"But purgatory is unnecessary, for Christs death on the Cross has paid all debt of punishment for sin."
Christs death on the Cross sufficed to redeem humanity and free us from the eternal damnation of hell, but it did not free us from the need to undergo temporal punishments for sin. For example, humanity is still subject to the temporal punishments of labor, pain, sickness and death even though we have now been redeemed. St. Paul makes this point clear when writing to the Colossians: "I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (1, 24).
The essential reason why Protestants reject the doctrine of purgatory is due to their belief in the un-Scriptural doctrines of total depravity and non-imputation of sin concocted by Luther and Calvin. They taught that the sin of Adam so damaged humanity that we were now nothing more than wild beasts whose every actions, no matter how good, were sinful. Since we are incapable of good actions there is nothing we can do to remit our temporal punishments either for ourselves or for anyone else. Only Christ is therefore capable of achieving this and this He did on the Cross. Further, as our souls are already totally depraved any additional sin on our part cannot leave a "stain of sin" which needs to be purified in purgatory. By accepting Christ as our "personal Lord and Savior" God "covers up" our sinful natures, in this way making us fit to enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Finally, the Bible makes it clear that in the past there has existed more than just the two places of heaven and hell in the next world. St. Peter tells us (1 Pet. 3, 19) that after His death Jesus preached His redemption "to the spirits in prison." Therefore, the concept of another temporary, intermediate place such as purgatory is not totally out of the question.
Tertullian, The Soul (Inter 208-212 A.D.):
"In short, if we understand that prison of which the Gospel speaks to be Hades, and if we interpret the last farthing to be the light offense which is to be expiated there before the resurrection, no one will doubt that the soul undergoes some punishments in Hades, without prejudice to the fullness of the resurrection, after which recompense will be made through the flesh also."
Tertullian, Monogamy (Post 213 A.D.):
"A woman, after the death of her husband, is bound not less firmly but even more so, not to marry another husband...Indeed, she prays for his soul and asks that he may, while waiting, find rest; and that he may share in the first resurrection. And each year, on the anniversary of his death, she offers the sacrifice."
St. Cyprian of Carthage, Letter to His Clergy and to All His People (250 A.D.):
"Lawrence and Ignatius, though they fought betimes in worldly camps, were true and spiritual soldiers of God; and while they laid the Devil on his back with their confession of Christ, they merited the palms and crowns of the Lord by their illustrious passion. We always offer sacrifices for them, as you will recall, as often as we celebrate the passions of the martyrs by commemorating their anniversary day."
St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures (C. 350 A.D.):
"Then we make mention also of those who have already fallen asleep: first, the patriarchs, prophets, Apostles, and martyrs, that through their prayers and supplications God would receive our petition; next, we make mention also of the holy fathers and bishops who have already fallen asleep, and, to put it simply, of all among us who have already fallen asleep; for we believe that it will be of very great benefit to the souls of those for whom the petition is carried up, while this holy and most solemn Sacrifice is laid out."
St. Gregory of Nyssa, Sermon on the Dead (383 A.D.):
"After his departure out of the body, he gains knowledge of the difference between virtue and vice, and finds that he is not able to partake of divinity until he has been purged of the filthy contagion in his soul by the purifying fire."
St. Augustine of Hippo, The City of God Against the Pagans (Inter 413 - 426 A.D.):
"Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both here and hereafter; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment."
St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions Bk. IX Ch. II (400 A.D.):
St. Augustines mother, St. Monica, on her death-bed said to him: "This one request I make of you, that, wherever you be, you remember me at the Lords altar."
Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566):
Prayers for the dead, that they may be liberated from the fire of purgatory, are derived from Apostolic teaching...
(The Eucharist)..its benefits extend not only to the celebrant and communicant, but to all the faithful, whether living with us on earth, or already numbered with those who are dead in the Lord, but whose sins have not yet been fully expiated. For, according to the most authentic Apostolic tradition, it is not less available when offered for them, than when offered for the sins of the living, their punishments, satisfactions, calamities and difficulties of every sort.
Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992):
No. 1030: All who die in Gods grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
No. 1031: The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:
As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come (St. Gregory the Great,Dial. 4, 39: PL 77, 396)
No. 1032: This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: "Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin" (2 Maccabees 12, 46). From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:
Let us help and commemorate them. If Jobs sons were purified by their fathers sacrifice, why should we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them (St. John Chrysostom,Hom. in 1 Cor. 41, 5: PG 61, 361).Contents
"It is unimaginable how a loving God could condemn one to Hell for all eternity!"
The doctrine of an eternal hell is assailed from both within and without the Catholic Church today. Within the Church there are Catholics infected with the modernist notion of "universal salvation," that is, that in the end all will be admitted into the kingdom of heaven because Gods mercy is so great that He could not allow otherwise. These Catholics completely lose sight of the fact that God is also a God of justice. On the other hand, Jehovah Witnesses, for example, assert that the wicked have no eternal destiny, either in heaven or hell, but instead they will be "annihilated" at the end of the world. In holding such a view they deny the immortality of the human soul.
What does Sacred Scripture have to say on the question?:
"A land of misery and darkness, where the shadow of death, and no order, but everlasting horror dwelleth" (Job 10, 22 [Douai]);
"And they shall go out and look at the dead bodies of the people who have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh" (Is. 66, 24);
"Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Dan. 12, 2);
"Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him" (St. Matt. 3, 10-12).
"But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, You fool! shall be liable to the hell of fire" (St. Matt. 5, 22);
"Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (St. Matt. 7, 19);
"I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (St. Matt. 8, 11-12);
"Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (St. Matt. 10, 28);
"The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (St. Matt. 13, 41-42);
"Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire" (St. Matt. 18, 7-9);
"But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe? And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (St. Matt. 22, 11-13);
"As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (St. Matt. 25, 30);
"Then he will say to those at his left hand, You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (St. Matt. 25, 41);
"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched" (St. Mark 9, 42-48);
"The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames" (St. Luke 16, 22-24);
"I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you" (St. John 15, 5-6);
"And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet, who wrought signs before him, wherewith he seduced them who received the character of the beast, and who adored his image. These two were cast alive into the pool of fire, burning with brimstone. Where they were tormented day and night, for ever and ever" (Rev. 19, 20 [Douai]);
"...and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire" (Rev. 20, 15).
Even the Jehovahs Witnesses own version of the Bible, The New World Translation, contains passages which assert the eternity of hell:
"cannot be put out" (St. Matt. 3, 12);
"everlasting cutting-off" (St. Matt. 18, 8);
"cannot be put out" (St. Mark 9, 43);
"tormented day and night forever and ever" (Rev. 20, 10).
The Jehovahs Witnesses stand contradicted out of their own mouths.
St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians (C. 110 A.D.):
"Do not err, my brethren: the corrupters of families will not inherit the kingdom of God. And if they who do these things according to the flesh suffer death, how much more if a man corrupt by evil teaching the faith of God, for the sake of which Jesus Christ was crucified? A man become so foul will depart into unquenchable fire; and so also will anyone who listens to him."
St. Justin Martyr, First Apology (C. 155 A.D.):
"The Prophets have proclaimed his two comings. One, indeed, which has already taken place, was that of a dishonored and suffering Man. The second will take place when, in accord with prophecy, He shall come from the heavens in glory with His angelic host; when He shall raise the bodies of all the men who ever lived. Then he will clothe the worthy in immortality; but the wicked, clothed in eternal sensibility, He will commit to the eternal fire, along with the evil demons."
St. Augustine of Hippo, Enchiridion of Faith, Hope & Love (421 A.D.):
"In vain, therefore, do some men, indeed, very many, because of human sentiment, bewail the eternal punishment, of the damned and their perpetual, unending torments, without really believing that it shall be so...But let them suppose, if it pleases them, that the punishments of the damned are, at certain periods of time, somewhat mitigated. For even thus it can be understood that they remain in the wrath of God that is, in damnation itself, for it is this that is called the Wrath of God, not some disturbance in the divine mind: that in His wrath, that is, by their abiding in His wrath, He does not shut up His mercies; yet He does not put an end to their eternal punishment, but only applies or interposes some relief to their torments."
Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566):
The first words, depart from me, express the heaviest punishment with which the wicked shall be visited, their eternal banishment from the sight of God, unrelieved by one consolatory hope of ever recovering so great a good. This punishment is called by theologians the pain of loss, because in hell the wicked shall be deprived forever of the light of the vision of God...
The next words, into everlasting fire, express another sort of punishment, which is called by theologians the pain of sense, because, like lashes, stripes or other more severe chastisements, among which fire, no doubt, produces the most intense pain, it is felt through the organs of sense. When, moreover, we reflect that this torment is to be eternal, we can see at once that the punishment of the damned includes every kind of suffering.
Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992):
No. 1034: Jesus often speaks of "Gehenna," of "the unquenchable fire" reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost. Jesus solemnly proclaims that He "will send His angels, and they will gather...all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire," and that He will pronounce the condemnation: "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!"
No. 1035: The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire." The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.
"Indulgences are nothing more than a permission to sin. It is a money-making exercise through which Catholics think they can buy their way into heaven!"
The doctrine of indulgences is probably the least understood teaching of the Catholic Church. Only the bigoted or prejudiced take it to mean that the Church grants a license or permission to sin.
What then is an indulgence?
An indulgence is simply a remission through the infinite merits of Jesus Christ and His Saints of the temporal punishment due for sins committed after guilt and eternal punishment have been remitted.
Sacred Scripture gives us an example of what is meant by "temporal punishment." Mary, the sister of Moses, was forgiven by God for complaining against her brother. Nevertheless, despite such forgiveness, God imposed upon her the temporal punishment of leprosy and seven days exile from her people (Num. 12). A thief may be sorry for stealing a large sum of money from a gentleman, but he is still required to return the money taken and even do time in prison.
That Our Lord has given the Church the power of granting indulgences is implied in Scripture: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (St. Matt. 16, 19).
St. Paul provides a clear example of the Church using this power with respect to the incestuous Corinthian upon whom he had imposed a severe penance. After learning of the Corinthians fervent sorrow St. Paul absolved him of the penance which he had imposed saying: "For, what I have pardoned, if I have pardoned anything, for your sakes have I done it in the person of Christ" (2 Cor. 2, 10 [Douai]).
In this example we have the elements of a true indulgence: (i) a penance (temporal punishment) imposed on the Corinthian by St. Paul; (ii) sorrow on the part of the sinner for his crime; (iii) the relaxation of the penance by St. Paul (the indulgence); (iv) the relaxation done in the "person of Christ."
Further, Catholics believe that many of the faithful throughout the centuries - virgins, martyrs, confessors, saints etc. - have performed penances and good works far in excess of what was due as temporal punishment for their own sins. Their merits, in union with the infinite merits of Jesus Christ, form a "spiritual treasury" which the Church can draw upon to assist other members of the Church in general or, in particular, pay the debt of temporal punishment both for the living and the dead:
"I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Col. 1, 24);
"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ;...If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it" (1 Cor. 12, 12-26).
Therefore, by virtue of the Communion of Saints the faithful can assist each other with their prayers, masses, almsgivings to remit temporal punishment due to sin, most particularly, to offer mass for the deceased to remit temporal punishment due in purgatory.
An indulgence may be plenary or partial according as to whether it removes either all or part of the temporal punishment due to sin. The requirements for gaining a plenary indulgence are (1) performance of the indulgence work - for example, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for at least one half an hour, devout reading of the Sacred Scriptures for at least one half an hour, or praying the Marian Rosary in a church, public oratory or family group, etc.; (2) sacramental confession; (3) eucharistic communion, and (4) prayer for the Popes intentions. The last three conditions may be fulfilled several days before or after the performance of the prescribed work. However, it is fitting that communion be received and the prayer for the Popes intentions be said on the same day the work is performed. If any of these conditions are not fulfilled the indulgence gained will only be partial.
A partial indulgence is gained by any of the faithful who either, in the performance of their duties and bearing the trials of life, raise their mind with humble confidence to God, adding some pious invocation; or in a spirit of faith and mercy, give of themselves or of their goods to serve their brothers in need; or in a spirit of penance, voluntarily deprive themselves of what is licit and pleasing to them. Works which can be performed for partial indulgences include reciting any of the following prayers: Profession of Faith, De Profundis, Magnificat, Sub Tuum Praesidium, Memorare, Salve Regina, Grace before and after meals, Adoro Te Devote, Angelus, Anima Christi, Te Deum, Litanies, the Sign of the Cross, etc.
Indulgences are a great aid to true devotion, fostering a spirit of prayer and sacrifice in the name of Christ, not just for ones own benefit, but for the benefit of all the faithful.
St. Cyprian of Carthage, The Lapsed (251 A.D.):
"The Lord alone is able to have mercy. He alone, who bore our sins, who grieved for us, and whom God delivered up for our sins, is able to grant pardon for the sins which have been committed against Him...Certainly we believe that the merits of the martyrs and the works of the just will be of great avail with the Judge - but that will be when the day of judgment comes, when, after the end of this age and of the world, His people shall stand before the tribunal of Christ."
St. Ambrose of Milan, Penance (C. 387-390 A.D.):
"For he is purged as if by certain works of the whole people, and is washed in the tears of the multitude; by the prayers and tears of the multitude he is redeemed from sin, and is cleansed in the inner man. For Christ granted to His Church that one should be redeemed through all, just as His Church was found worthy of the coming of the Lord Jesus so that all might be redeemed through one."
St. Augustine of Hippo, Homilies on the Gospel of John (416 et 417 A. D.):
"...man is obliged to suffer, even when his sins are forgiven,...for the penalty is of longer duration than the guilt, lest the guilt should be accounted small, were the penalty also to end with it. It is for this reason...that man is held in this life to the penalty, even when he is no longer held to the guilt unto eternal damnation."
St. Caesarius of Arles (+542 A.D.), Sermon 261:
"Considering the number of sins, he sees that he is incapable of himself alone to make satisfaction for such grave evils; and so he is anxious to seek out the assistance of the whole people."
Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566):
No reference was made to Indulgences in the Catechism of the Council of Trent. The question of Indulgences was dealt with by the Council itself in its Decree Concerning Indulgences, Session XXV, December 3 and 4, 1563:
"Whereas the power of conferring indulgences was granted by Christ to the Church; and she has, even in the most ancient times, used the said power, delivered unto her of God; the sacred, holy synod teaches and enjoins that the use of indulgences for the Christian people, most salutary and approved of by the authority of sacred councils, is to be retained in the Church; and it contemns with anathema those who either assert that they are useless, or who deny that there is in the Church the power of granting them."
Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992):
No. 1472: To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the "eternal punishment" of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the "temporal punishment" of sin...
No. 1478: An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins. Thus the Church does not want simply to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity.
"He who believes and is baptized shall be saved. Therefore, only people who have faith can be baptized. So why baptize infants?"
Those who believe that we should baptize adults only quote St. Mark 16, 16 for support: "He who believes and is baptized will be saved." Therefore, only those who have first undergone a "born again" experience by accepting Jesus Christ as their "personal Lord and Savior" can be baptized. It is also argued that Jesus Christ Himself was not baptized until the age of thirty.
According to St. Paul, baptism in the Christian religion replaces the Jewish rite of circumcision (Col. 2, 11-12). This Jewish rite was normally given to infants and made them "religiously" clean and a member of Gods Chosen Race. With the coming of the Christianity, infants were to be accorded a similar and even greater spiritual privilege.
Catholics and Fundamentalists differ radically as to the meaning and effect of Baptism. Fundamentalists hold that baptism is only an ordinance whereby the "born-again" adult makes a public manifestation of his conversion. It is not necessary for salvation as the person has already been saved by accepting Jesus as his "personal Lord and Savior." Baptism does not infuse any grace to re-generate the soul as the candidates sins are "covered up" with the acceptance of Christ. Infants without reason who die unbaptized go straight to heaven as they only need to accept Christ as Savior after they have committed sin. Therefore, baptism of infants is pointless.
Catholics, on the other hand, assert that Baptism is an obligatory sacrament instituted by Christ which in itself makes us born-again: "Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God" (St. John 3, 5 [Douai]). Further, baptism bestows the grace it signifies into the soul of the recipient. This includes sanctifying grace, the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, the infused theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, the infused moral virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, as well as the uncreated grace of the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity: "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them" (St. John 14, 23). Lastly, the candidate receives a right to actual graces to assist him in carrying out his baptismal promises. Consequent upon infusion of grace, all sin, original and actual, is forgiven and all temporal punishment due to sin is remitted. Without this infusion of grace the soul cannot be in a fit state to behold the Beatific Vision upon death. Baptism has all these effects irrespective of the age of the candidate.
On this basis Catholics see no reason to withhold the wonderful effects of Baptism from infants until they reach the age of reason. By baptizing infants, the Catholic Church frees them as soon as possible from the dominion of Satan and admits them into the company of children of God: "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs" (St. Matt. 19, 14). No where is it stated in Sacred Scripture that Baptism be administered only to adults.
With the enormous growth of the Church after Pentecost, large numbers of adult Jews and Pagans were being converted (Acts 2, 41). Obviously, these new Christians first had to believe in Jesus Christ before being baptized. However, in the case of some of these adults their entire families were baptized with them. Probably some of these families would have had infant children:
(The family of Cornelius and all the persons present in his house during St. Peters visit) "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" (Acts 10, 47);
"A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us...The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us..." (Acts 16, 14-15);
"At the same hour of the night he (the jailer) took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay" (Acts 16, 33);
"I did baptize also the household of Stephanas" (1 Cor. 1, 16).
As for the claim that Jesus Christ was baptized only when He was an adult, it should be realized that Our Lord did not receive Christian baptism, in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, but the baptism of St. John the Baptist, which was only a symbolic washing and did not infuse grace.
It is entirely false that infant baptism began late in the Churchs history. However, it is true that after three centuries of evangelization generations were now Christian by family tradition and this led to a decrease in the rate of adult catechumens and baptisms.
St. Hippolytus of Rome, The Apostolic Tradition (C. 215 A.D.):
"Baptize first the children; and if they can speak for themselves, let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them."
Origen, Homilies on Leviticus (Post 244 A.D.):
"...According to the usage of the Church, Baptism is given even to infants. And indeed if there were nothing in infants which required a remission of sins and nothing in them pertinent to forgiveness, the grace of Baptism would seem superfluous."
If there was controversy, it was only about the age at which children should be baptized...
Tertullian, Baptism (Inter 200 - 206 A.D.):
"According to circumstance and disposition and even age of the individual person, it may be better to delay Baptism; and especially so in the case of little children. Why, is it necessary - if it be not a case of necessity - that the sponsors too be thrust into danger, when they themselves may fail to fulfill their promises by reason of death, or when they may be disappointed by the growth of an evil disposition?"
St. Cyprian of Carthage, Letters to Fidus (C. 251-252 A.D.):
"As to what pertains to the case of infants: you said that they ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth...,and that you did not think that one should be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day after his birth. In our council it seemed to us far otherwise."
Nothing changed in the fourth century according to the testimonies of St. John Chrysostom (In Sermo 11:17, 28) and St. Ambrose, in his work on Abraham (2:81).
St. Augustine of Hippo (+430 A.D.):
"The Church has always baptized children. She received this tradition from our forefathers faith and she will keep it until the end of time. Infant baptism is a practice which is in harmony with the very firm and ancient Faith of the Church."
Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566):
If, then, through the transgression of Adam, children can inherit original sin, with still stronger reason can they attain through Christ our Lord grace and justice that they may reign in life. This, however, cannot be effected otherwise than by Baptism.
Pastors, therefore, should inculcate the absolute necessity of administering Baptism to infants, and gradually forming their tender minds to piety by education in the Christian religion. For according to these admirable words of the wise man: A young man according to his way, even when he is old, he will not depart from it.
Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992):
No. 1250: Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called. The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.
No. 1251: Christian parents will recognize that this practice also accords with their role as nurturers of the life that God has entrusted to them.
No. 1252: The practice of infant Baptism is an immemorial tradition of the Church. There is explicit testimony to this practice from the second century on, and it is quite possible that, from the beginning of the apostolic preaching, when whole "households" received baptism, infants may also have been baptized.
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