The Church and the Sacraments, Views During the Second Period (300-750 A.D.) Baptism (3)

Continuing our quotation of Augustine, in connection with his views on baptism, we quote the following: "For that sins which have been remitted do return upon a man, where there is no brotherly love, is most clearly taught by our Lord, in the case of the servant whom He found owing Him ten thousand talents, and to whom He yet forgave all at his entreaty. But when he refused to have pity on his fellow servant who owed him a hundred pence, the Lord commanded him to pay what He had forgiven him. The time, then, at which pardon is received through baptism is as it work the time for rendering accounts, so that all the debts which are found to be due may be remitted. Yet it was afterwards that the servant lent his fellow servant the money, which he had so pitilessly exacted when the other was unable to pay it; but his fellow servant already owed him the debt, when he himself, on rendering his accounts to his master, was excused a debt of so vast an amount. He had not first excused his fellow servant, and so come to receive forgiveness from his Lord. This is proved by the words of the fellow servant: "Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all." Otherwise he would have said, "You forgave me it before; why do you again demand it?" This is made more clear by the words of the Lord Himself. For He says, "But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants which was owing him a hundred pence." He does not say, "To whom he had already forgiven a debt of a hundred pence." Since then He says, "was owing him," it is clear that he had not forgiven him the debt. And indeed it would have been better, and more in accordance with the position of a man who was going to render an account of so great a debt, and expected forbearance from his Lord, that he should first have forgiven his fellow servant what was due to him, and so have come to render the account when there was such need for imploring the compassion of his Lord. Yet the fact that he had not yet forgiven his fellow servant, did not prevent his Lord from forgiving him all his debts on the occasion of receiving his accounts. But what advantage was it to him, since they all immediately returned with redoubled force upon his head, in consequence of his persistent want of charity? So the grace of baptism is not prevented from giving remission of all sins, even if he to whom they are forgiven continues to cherish hatred towards his brother in his heart. For the guilt of yesterday is remitted, and all that was before it, nay, even the guilt, of the very hour and moment previous to baptism, and during baptism itself. But then he immediately begins again to be responsible, not only for the days, hours, moments which ensue, but also for the past,—the guilt of all the sins which were remitted returning on him, as happens only too frequently in the Church."—end of quote. 

We have already remarked on this quotation of Augustine in our previous article. First, the eminent Church Father apparently teaches in this quotation, part of which appeared in our preceding article, that a person's sins are removed at the time of baptism but that they return in consequence of his deceit and if he walks in ways of sin and evil. And, secondly, he teaches that the benefit of baptism is only on the condition of repentance and faith. He does not ascribe magical power to the water as such of the sacrament. 

Another lengthy quotation from Augustine, in which he discusses the penitent thief that was crucified with Jesus is of importance, and we quote it as follows: "But what is the precise value of the sanctification of the sacrament (which that thief did not receive, not from any want of will on his part, but because it was unavoidably omitted) and what is the effect on a man of its material application, it is not easy to say. Still, had it not been of the greatest value, the Lord would not have received the baptism of a servant. But since we must look at it in itself, without entering upon the question of the salvation of the recipient, which it is intended to work, it shows clearly enough that both in the bad, and in those who renounce the world in word and not in deed, it is itself complete, though they cannot receive salvation unless they amend their lives. But as in the thief, to whom the material administration of the sacrament was necessarily wanting, the salvation was complete, because it was spiritually present through his piety, so, when the sacrament itself is present, salvation is complete, if what the thief possessed be unavoidable wanting. And this is the firm tradition of the universal Church, in respect of the baptism of infants, who certainly are as yet unable "with the heart to believe unto righteousness, and with the mouth to make confession unto salvation," as the thief could do; nay, who even, by crying and moaning when the mystery is performed upon them, raise their voices in opposition to the mysterious words, and yet no Christian will say that they are baptized to no purpose. 

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. Yet the apostle says of Abraham himself, that "he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith," having already believed in his heart, so that "it was counted unto him for righteousness." Why, therefore, was it commanded him that he should circumcise every male child in order on the eighth day, though it could not yet believe with the heart, that it should be counted unto it for righteousness, because the sacrament in itself was of great avail? And this was made manifest by the message of an angel in the case of Moses' son; for when he was carried by his mother, being yet uncircumcised, it was required, by manifest present peril, that he should be circumcised, and when this was done, the danger of death was removed. As therefore in Abraham the justification of faith came first, and circumcision was added afterwards as the seal of faith; so in Cornelius the spiritual sanctification came first in the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the sacrament of regeneration was added afterwards in the laver of baptism. And as in Isaac; who was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth, the seal of this righteousness of faith was given first, and afterwards, as he imitated the faith of his father, the righteousness itself followed as he grew up, of which the seal had been given before when he was an infant; so in infants, who are baptized, the sacrament of regeneration is given first, and if they maintain a Christian piety, conversion also in the heart will follow, of which the mysterious sign had gone before in the outward body. And as in the thief the gracious goodness of the Almighty supplied what had been wanting in the sacrament of baptism, because it had been missing not from pride or contempt, but from want of opportunity; so in infants who die baptized, we must believe that the same grace of the Almighty supplies the want, that, not from perversity of will, but from insufficiency of age, they can neither believe with the heart unto righteousness, not make confession with the mouth unto salvation. Therefore, when others take the vows for them, that the celebration of the sacrament may be complete in their behalf, it is unquestionably of avail for their dedication to God, because they cannot answer for themselves. But if another were to answer for one who could answer for himself, it would not be of the same avail. In accordance with which rule, we find in the gospel what strikes every one as natural when he reads it, "He is of age, he shall speak for himself." 

By all these considerations it is proved that the sacrament of baptism is one thing, the conversion of the heart another; but that man's salvation is made complete through the two together. Nor are we to suppose that, if one of these be wanting, it necessarily follows that the other is wanting also; because the sacrament may exist in the infant without the conversion of the heart; and this was found to be possible without the sacrament' in the case of the thief, God in either case filling up what was involuntarily wanting. But when either of these requisites is wanting intentionally, then the man is responsible for the omission. And baptism may exist when the conversion of the heart is wanting; but, with respect to such conversion, it may indeed be found when baptism has not been received, but never when it has been despised. Nor can there be said in any way to be a turning of the heart to God when the sacrament of God is treated with contempt. Therefore we are right in censuring, anathematizing, abhorring, and abominating the perversity of heart shown by heretics; yet it does not follow that they have not the sacrament of the gospel, because they have not what makes it of avail. Wherefore, when they come to the true faith, and by penitence, seek remission of their sins, we are not flattering or deceiving them, when we instruct them by heavenly discipline for the kingdom of heaven, correcting and reforming in them their errors and perverseness, to the intent that we may by no means do violence to what is sound in them, nor, because of man's fault, declare that anything which he may have in him from God is either valueless or faulty."—end of quote. 

In this lengthy quotation we would briefly note the following. First, the statement of Augustine, namely: "so in infants, who are baptized, the sacrament of regeneration is given first, and if they maintain a Christian piety, conversion also in the heart will follow, of which the mysterious sign had gone before in the outward body," certainly sounds strange to us. Did Augustine, who believed in unconditional predestination and in the utter depravity of the human nature, actually believe that a maintaining of a Christian piety must precede the conversion of the heart? This is unthinkable, it seems to me. Or, did he simply mean that the two are inseparable? Secondly, it is stated by some (we have not been able to verify it) that the thief must have been baptized by the sprinkling of the blood or by the water from Jesus' side. We must remember that it was taught that there is no salvation without baptism, and it is evident that the penitent thief had not been baptized. In this quotation, however, Augustine makes an exception in the case of the malefactor on the ground that recourse to the administration of the sacrament could not be had because of the want of time. Thirdly, Augustine again affirms that the spiritual benefit of baptism is only for those who amend their lives. And, fourthly, the learned church father has also something to say, in this quotation, about the baptism of infants. He declares here that in the case of infants the faith of the Church, as represented by the godfathers and godmothers, functions for the child. The infant cannot answer for itself; hence, it is unquestionably of avail for their dedication to God when others take the vows for them. And we may certainly conclude from these quotations of Augustine that great significance was attached to the sacrament of baptism.