By John Marroquin

Introduction

I have been seeing threads about getting baptized, rebaptized, the format and the meaning. It seems like a confusing topic. The purpose of this treatise is to expound upon baptism as it was intended by Christ and His apostles, and how the Catholic conception of this interpretation aligns with the fullness of the deposit of faith preserved in Sacred Scripture and Tradition.

Is the Bible clear about what baptism is and when it should be done?

Yes, it certainly is!

Christ prefigured it for us in the Synoptic Gospels, starting with Matthew, when St. John the Baptist mentions the distinction between the baptism of Christ and his own:

Matthew 3:11:

I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear. He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.

This shows that baptism is not merely a physical sign, but rather is wrought through the power of the Holy Spirit. We can see the full prefigurement a few verses later:

Matthew 3:13–17:

13 Jesus Is Baptized. Then Jesus arrived from Galilee and came to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. 14 John tried to dissuade him, saying, “Why do you come to me? I am the one who needs to be baptized by you.” 15 But Jesus said to him in reply, “For the present, let it be thus. It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all that righteousness demands.” Then he acquiesced.

16 After Jesus had been baptized, as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened and he beheld the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Notice how (and when) the Holy Spirit descended? It is because that is the baptism of Christ. That is how we are reborn. This is the very same rebirth mentioned by Christ Himself to Nicodemus in John:

John 3:1–5:

3 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.

Without receiving the Holy Spirit in baptism we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Also, notice the order of operations here and in the prefigurement in Matthew; it is not spirit THEN water, or water THEN spirit, but water AND spirit, in conjunction with one another.

Those baptized by St. John had to be baptized properly because it was just a “symbol” of their repentance, hence they did not receive the Holy Spirit:

Acts 19:1–7:

19 While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

3 So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”

“John’s baptism,” they replied.

4 Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.

The call to baptism is one of universal application, and Our Precious Lord Jesus Christ made it clear on the great commission what we should do.

Matthew 28:19:

Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,

This call to baptism was not merely limited to adults either, also called credobaptism, or believer’s baptism. Rather this was open to all prospective members of the New Covenant. Remember what Jesus said about children:

Matthew 19:14:

14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

We will address infant baptism, also called paedobaptism, later on.

In summary, baptism is not just:

1. a public display, or

2. a washing of the old self.

It is also:

3. a forgiveness of sins,

4. a reception of the Holy Spirit, and

5. an admittance into the body of Christ.

Romans 6:4–6

4 When we were baptized into his death, we were placed into the tomb with him. As Christ was brought back from death to life by the glorious power of the Father, so we, too, should live a new kind of life. 5 If we’ve become united with him in a death like his, certainly we will also be united with him when we come back to life as he did. 6 We know that the person we used to be was crucified with him to put an end to sin in our bodies. Because of this we are no longer slaves to sin.

Is Baptism a work?

No!

Baptism is not a work; baptism is always passively received by the candidate, it is never forcibly taken or committed. Baptism is our response to the call of grace by the Holy Spirit, and we respond with our faith and ask the Church for this baptism. Although anybody may baptize, in the context of an ordained Bishop, Priest, or Deacon it’s not a sinful human who baptizes, rather it’s Christ who superintends the sacrament. Christ baptizes, and the sinful human is acting in persona Christi (in the person of Christ). To reiterate, we are always passive recipients of baptism.

The actions of the Holy Spirit in baptism, infant or otherwise, are not predicated on, nor are they limited in efficacy by, the belief of the baptized (so long as it is not a coercive baptism, in that case, it has no effect). Remember, in the case of an individual with Holy Orders baptism is administered by Christ Himself. The minister is acting in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. Ex opere operato applies.

Ex opere operato is a Latin phrase meaning “from the work performed” and, in reference to sacraments, signifies that they derive their efficacy, not from the minister or recipient, but from the sacrament considered independently of the merits of the minister or the recipient. This was the refutation of the heresy of Donatism in the 4th century, which essentially argued that clergy must be faultless in order to be efficacious ministers of the sacraments.

Another key factor in baptism is that it doesn’t matter if the minister is not Catholic. In the eyes of the Church a baptism is considered valid if it is performed using water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and is done with the right intention to perform a Christian baptism as Christ and the Catholic Church intended. The Bible says one baptism, and that one baptism is a free gift that we receive.

Titus 3:5:

5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,

Again in Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 12:13:

13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body — whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Baptism is a new circumcision, a circumcision of the heart. An indelible mark of the Holy Spirit, just as circumcision is an indelible mark on the body.

Colossians 2:11–12:

11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Was Infant Baptism in Scripture?

Yes!

Remember the apostles baptized whole households:

Acts 11:14:

14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’

~~~

Acts 16:15,33

15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

~~~

33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized.

Acts 18:8:

8 Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized.

~~~

1 Corinthians 1:16:

16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.)

Note that households included their slaves and their children as well.

We do agree that baptism is also a pledge, however, for infants, it is a pledge parents make on their behalf.

We obviously also believe in credobaptism:

Acts 2:41:

41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

~~~

Mark 16:16:

16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

but it’s not either/or, it’s both/and. Both credobaptism *and* paedobaptism. Paedobaptism is based on the earliest actions of the apostles in that they baptize infants. Strict credobaptism became prevalent from the reformation on. The actions of the Holy Spirit in baptism, infant or otherwise, are not predicated on, nor are they limited in efficacy by, the belief of the baptized.

Another key point is that infants are not of reasoning age, nor do they have any actual sins. They are incapable of acts of good, or evil. However, they do have that stain of original/ancestral sin from Adam. Baptism washes that away.

It’s a free gift of saving Grace. Why deny a baby that?

What about Unbaptized Infants?

We don’t believe they are unsaved. They aren’t guilty of actual sin, we aren’t capable of it until we reach the age of reason, so they would not warrant damnation. We have a hope that they are destined for salvation. In the Medieval church there was the idea of limbo, but that was never dogmatic teaching.

Infant baptism is still important, it’s the normative form of salvation, but not the sole form of salvation.

We as Catholic parents do have a duty to baptize our infants, not just so that all righteousness may be done, but also that the stain of original sin can be removed, that they can receive the Holy Spirit, and be admitted into the new covenant.

If they die before they can be baptized, they can still be saved in an extraordinary form. We are bound by the sacraments, but Jesus in His Mercy is not.

The Catholic Church entrusts all children (from the moment of conception) who die without baptism to God’s mercy in hope of their salvation. There is no distinction between children already born and those still in the womb. “Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,’ allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism” (CCC 1261).

Exceptional Circumstances

When any discussion about baptism occurs with Protestants, they tend to bring up the thief of the cross, but remember, that was an extraordinary baptism; water is the ordinary form. The thief had a baptism of desire. There is also a baptism of blood (martyrdom for Christ and His Church).

1 Peter 3:21:

21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also — not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

It also washes away the stain of sin, original or actual:

Acts 2:38:

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Another key point is that God is not bound to the sacraments, we are.

Why baptize once?

Baptism is a once-for-all sacrament that washes away original sin, gives sanctifying grace, and imparts a supernatural character upon the soul that makes a person a Christian. An attempt to “redo” a valid baptism would be useless. The second baptism would not “take” because the first was valid. Furthermore, it would be an objective sacrilege because it would cast aspersion on the validity of the first baptism.

Even if you have not lived a Christian life until recently, if you were validly baptized then you are a Christian. Your status as a Christian does not depend upon how well you have lived. The proper sacrament to wash away personal sins you have committed since your baptism is confession.

By being re-baptized, you imply by your actions that what the Holy Spirit did in your first baptism was not sufficient. Objectively, that is a sin, because it insults the work of the Holy Spirit. But it is not the same thing as the sin against the Holy Spirit — the sin of “blasphemy against the Spirit“ — which involves a final refusal to repent.

By trying to be baptized again, you are expressing a willingness to repent and be saved, so clearly no final impenitence was involved. The sin of getting re-baptized unconditionally would be a grave one, which means that it would be a mortal sin if the usual conditions were met.

Scripture is blunt about this:

Ephesians 4:4–6:

4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;

5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,

6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

Again for emphasis:

5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,

Long story short: If you were already baptized as an infant, that baptism as an infant was already efficacious. You don’t need to be baptized again. It is a sin against the Holy Spirit to do so.

What about the Mode?

To be clear, baptism by pouring isn’t a problem. It is permitted from the earliest writings. The New Testament itself doesn’t speak to affusion(pouring), sprinkling, or immersion baptism. All are licit.

The Council of Florence (1439) in Session 8 declares the proper form of the sacrament of baptism:

Holy baptism holds the first place among all the sacraments, for it is the gate of the spiritual life; through it we become members of Christ and of the body of the church. Since death came into the world through one person, unless we are born again of water and the spirit, we cannot, as Truth says, enter the kingdom of heaven. The matter of this sacrament is true and natural water, either hot or cold. The form is: I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

the Didache, one of, if not the, earliest existing manual of Christianity, reads:

“Concerning baptism, baptize in this manner: Having said all these things beforehand, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living water [that is, in running water, as in a river]. If there is no living water, baptize in other water; and, if you are not able to use cold water, use warm. If you have neither, pour water three times upon the head in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

These instructions were composed either while some of the apostles and disciples were still alive or during the next generation of Christians, and they represent an already-established custom.

Is it just a symbol?

No!

Remember, circumcision, the baptism of the Old Covenant, was an indelible physical mark. The old covenant was limited specifically to God’s chosen people. The new covenant opened the doors to Gentiles.

Baptism leaves an indelible spiritual mark, that of the Holy Spirit. It’s both a symbol and regenerative. Remember, when Christ came he fulfilled the law, He didn’t abolish it.

Confession of sins happens throughout our lives, not in a single moment. Baptism starts us on the path of justification, we must cooperate with that Grace we receive to repent, subordinate our wills to God’s, and rely on His mercy.

Confirmation, on the other hand, is where the baptized make their affirmation of their faith with full reason, are anointed, and the bond with the Holy Spirit is strengthened.

Ultimately, all are welcome to join any church they please, but they should not receive a re-baptism, and rightfully reject it. Ephesians is pretty plain on the subject; I’d put more coin in sacred scripture than what sounds like a tradition of men (re-baptism/not recognizing infant baptism).

It doesn’t matter if they aren’t Catholic, it’s a valid Christian baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Bible says one baptism.

Church Fathers on Baptism

I would like to conclude with this timeline of the Church Fathers, to show the journey through time baptism has taken. Through it all, the deposit of faith is clearly displayed, and the Church Fathers make it very clear that baptism is necessary for salvation.

Hermas in The Sheperd (A.D. 80)

“‘I have heard, sir,’ said I [to the Shepherd], ‘from some teacher, that there is no other repentance except that which took place when we went down into the water and obtained the remission of our former sins.’ He said to me, ‘You have heard rightly, for so it is’”

~~~

Justin Martyr in his First Apology (A.D. 151)

“As many as are persuaded and believe that what we [Christians] teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly . . . are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, ‘Except you be born again, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’ [John 3:3]”

~~~

Tertullian in Baptism 1 (A.D. 203)

“Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life. . . . [But] a viper of the [Gnostic] Cainite heresy, lately conversant in this quarter, has carried away a great number with her most venomous doctrine, making it her first aim to destroy baptism — which is quite in accordance with nature, for vipers and asps . . . themselves generally do live in arid and waterless places. But we, little fishes after the example of our [Great] Fish, Jesus Christ, are born in water, nor have we safety in any other way than by permanently abiding in water. So that most monstrous creature, who had no right to teach even sound doctrine, knew full well how to kill the little fishes — by taking them away from the water!”

“Without baptism, salvation is attainable by none”

“We have, indeed, a second [baptismal] font which is one with the former [water baptism]: namely, that of blood, of which the Lord says: ‘I am to be baptized with a baptism’ [Luke 12:50], when he had already been baptized. He had come through water and blood, as John wrote [1 John 5:6], so that he might be baptized with water and glorified with blood. . . . This is the baptism which replaces that of the fountain, when it has not been received”

~~~

Hippolytus in his Homilies (A.D. 217)

“[P]erhaps someone will ask, ‘What does it conduce unto piety to be baptized?’ In the first place, that you may do what has seemed good to God; in the next place, being born again by water unto God so that you change your first birth, which was from concupiscence, and are able to attain salvation, which would otherwise be impossible. For thus the [prophet] has sworn to us: ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you are born again with living water, into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.’”

~~~

Origen in Exhortation to the Martyrs (A.D. 235)

“It is not possible to receive forgiveness of sins without baptism”

~~~

Cyprian of Carthage in Letters 72 (A.D. 253)

“[T]he baptism of public witness and of blood cannot profit a heretic unto salvation, because there is no salvation outside the Church.”

“[Catechumens who suffer martyrdom] are not deprived of the sacrament of baptism. Rather, they are baptized with the most glorious and greatest baptism of blood, concerning which the Lord said that he had another baptism with which he himself was to be baptized [Luke 12:50]”

~~~

Cyril of Jerusalem in his Catechetical Lectures (A.D. 350)

“If any man does not receive baptism, he does not have salvation. The only exception is the martyrs, who even without water will receive the kingdom. . . . For the Savior calls martyrdom a baptism, saying, ‘Can you drink the cup which I drink and be baptized with the baptism with which I am to be baptized [Mark 10:38]?’”

~~~

Gregory Nazianz in Oration on the Holy Lights (A.D. 381)

“[Besides the baptisms associated with Moses, John, and Jesus] I know also a fourth baptism, that by martyrdom and blood, by which also Christ himself was baptized. This one is far more august than the others, since it cannot be defiled by later sins”

~~~

Pope Siricius in his Letter to Himerius (A.D. 385)

“It would tend to the ruin of our souls if, from our refusal of the saving font of baptism to those who seek it, any of them should depart this life and lose the kingdom and eternal life”

~~~

John Chrysostom in the Panegyric on St. Lucian (A.D. 387)

“Do not be surprised that I call martyrdom a baptism, for here too the Spirit comes in great haste and there is the taking away of sins and a wonderful and marvelous cleansing of the soul, and just as those being baptized are washed in water, so too those being martyred are washed in their own blood”

~~~

Ambrose of Milan in Sympathy at the Death of Valentinian (A.D. 392)

“But I hear you lamenting because he [the Emperor Valentinian] had not received the sacraments of baptism. Tell me, what else could we have, except the will to it, the asking for it? He too had just now this desire, and after he came into Italy it was begun, and a short time ago he signified that he wished to be baptized by me. Did he, then, not have the grace which he desired? Did he not have what he eagerly sought? Certainly, because he sought it, he received it”

~~~

Augustine in his Sermons to Catechumens on the Creed (A.D. 395)

“There are three ways in which sins are forgiven: in baptism, in prayer, and in the greater humility of penance; yet God does not forgive sins except to the baptized”

“I do not hesitate to put the Catholic catechumen, burning with divine love, before a baptized heretic. Even within the Catholic Church herself we put the good catechumen ahead of the wicked baptized person”

“That the place of baptism is sometimes supplied by suffering is supported by a substantial argument which the same blessed Cyprian draws from the circumstance of the thief, to whom, although not baptized, it was said, ‘Today you shall be with me in paradise’ [Luke 23:43]. Considering this over and over again, I find that not only suffering for the name of Christ can supply for that which is lacking by way of baptism, but even faith and conversion of heart [i.e., baptism of desire] if, perhaps, because of the circumstances of the time, recourse cannot be had to the celebration of the mystery of baptism”

“When we speak of within and without in relation to the Church, it is the position of the heart that we must consider, not that of the body. . . . All who are within [the Church] in heart are saved in the unity of the ark [by baptism of desire]”

Forgiveness and the Just Deserts of Sin, and the Baptism of Infants (A.D. 412)

“[According to] apostolic tradition . . . the churches of Christ hold inherently that without baptism and participation at the table of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the kingdom of God or to salvation and life eternal. This is the witness of Scripture too”

The City of God (A.D. 419)

“Those who, though they have not received the washing of regeneration, die for the confession of Christ — it avails them just as much for the forgiveness of their sins as if they had been washed in the sacred font of baptism. For he that said, ‘If anyone is not reborn of water and the Spirit, he will not enter the kingdom of heaven’ [John 3:5], made an exception for them in that other statement in which he says no less generally, ‘Whoever confesses me before men, I too will confess him before my Father, who is in heaven’ [Matt. 10:32]”

~~~

Pope Leo I in Letters (A.D. 445)

“And because of the transgression of the first man, the whole stock of the human race was tainted; no one can be set free from the state of the old Adam save through Christ’s sacrament of baptism, in which there are no distinctions between the reborn, as the apostle [Paul] says, ‘For as many of you as were baptized in Christ did put on Christ; there is neither Jew nor Greek . . . ’ [Gal. 3:27–28]”

~~~

Fulgentius of Ruspe in The Rule of Faith (A.D. 524)

“From that time at which our Savior said, ‘If anyone is not reborn of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven’ [John 3:5], no one can, without the sacrament of baptism, except those who, in the Catholic Church, without baptism, pour out their blood for Christ, receive the kingdom of heaven and life eternal”