The question of whether or not to baptize infants is one that polarizes the Christian community like perhaps no other. It is a discussion that pits one person's exegesis against another's. It is a discussion that cannot be resolved by "sola scriptura" apologetics because it requires the kind of compromise that neither side likes to make. Interestingly, as we pointed out in the introduction to the question, the positions taken in this question by the people in the pews are not purely based on religious conviction along Catholic/Orthodox/Protestant lines. Based on the above, ParishWorld.net is stepping off the ledge into the deep water with the following.
Those baptized in the Gospel, including Jesus
John was carrying the word that the time of the arrival of the Messiah was close at hand. He took his message to the Judean Wilderness on the shores of the Jordan River. There he repeated the call of the prophets who came before him, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew, chapter 3, verse 2)
It is said that many came to him and many were baptized. What is not clear is how many of them were Jewish and of the "Chosen People" who had already been circumcized and how many of them were from the "other nations" to the east of the Jordan. It is also not said whether or not they submitted to circumcision after their baptism. One thing is for sure, Jesus, who was one of those baptized certainly had no need to repent and certainly had no need of circumcision. Finally, it is not mentioned in the Scripture that infants were or were not among those being baptized by John.
Those baptized in the stories of Acts
The act of baptism is mentioned about a dozen times in Acts. In each case the event is one of conversion. In Acts it is narrated that some of the conversions are from Judaism and some are from members of the Nations. (Non-Jews) We are all familiar with the discussion about whether or not the non-Jews are to be or not to be circumcized. Nowhere in Acts nor anywhere else in Sacred Scripture is it mentioned specifically that infants were being baptized. This argument will continue until the end of time because there is no literal canonical Scriptural proof to be found that they were or were not.
Furthermore, Acts does not communicate a single baptismal event in which a newborn infant from a converted household was taken to the Christian community for baptism followed by a no-holds-barred, post baptismal party for half the town.
The baptism of infants is a religious development that includes events from apostolic times, no record of which has found a place in the canonical scriptures. Even my apologete friend, Mr. Gonzaga could not find a literal scriptural proof that a first century household included infants. He could not find any literal proof that an infant was every presented to the community after eight days to get baptized in a continuation of the Abrahamic covenant, substituted by post resurrection baptism.
This does not mean that our declaration of Faith that Baptism is essential for salvation is incorrect. It also does not mean that our insistence on the necessity of infant baptism is unfounded and therefore not an article of faith. What it does mean is that the practice of infant baptism has been revealed to us as being an integral part of our faith by the continuous practice of baptizing infants for centuries, dating back to the age of the apostles. This practice is so pervasive in Christian communities that even many of our non-Catholic, Christian brethren cling to it just as we Catholics, Orthodox and Anglicans. There is no doubt that the early Church practiced infant baptism; and no Christian objections to this practice were ever voiced until the Reformation. The doctrine of infant baptism cannot be discussed in a "sola scriptura" apologetics environment, because there is no cold, hard "fundamentalist" evidence to sustain it literally in canonical scripture. That does not perturb us Catholics and Orthodox because we believe in the revelatory power of Tradition as our Jewish forebears.
We cannot do better in this matter than to direct our readers to the INSTRUCTION ON INFANT BAPTISM issued by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith andapproved by His Holiness Pope John Paul II, October 20, 1980. We strongly urge you to read this document. It was produced while Cardinal Josef Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) was in charge of this Congregation.
Among many points that the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith makes are the following:
"It is beyond doubt that the preaching of the Apostles was normally directed to adults, and the first to be baptized were people converted to the Christian Faith. As these facts are related in the books of the New Testament, they could give rise to the opinion that it is only the faith of adults that is considered in these texts. However, as was mentioned above, the practice of baptizing children rests on an immemorial tradition originating from the Apostles, the importance of which cannot be ignored; besides, Baptism is never administered without faith: in the case of infants, it is the faith of the Church."
"Furthermore, in accordance with the teaching of the Council of Trent on the sacraments, Baptism is not just a sign of faith but also a cause of faith. It produces in the baptized "interior enlightenment," and so the Byzantine liturgy is right to call it the sacrament of enlightenment, or simply enlightenment, meaning that the faith received pervades the soul and causes the veil of blindness to fall before the brightness of Christ."
Further down in the document, the author gets practical and presents the following directives.
"The Pastoral Practice of baptizing infants is based on the following:
1) In the first place, it is important to recall that the Baptism of infants must be considered a serious duty. The questions which it poses to pastors can be settled only by faithful attention to the teaching and constant practice of the Church. Concretely, pastoral practice regarding infant Baptism must be governed by two great principles, the second of which is subordinate to the first.1) Baptism, which is necessary for salvation, is the sign and the means of God's prevenient love, which frees us from original sin and communicates to us a share in divine life. Considered in itself, the gift of these blessings to infants must not be delayed.
2) Assurances must be given that the gift thus granted can grow by an authentic education in the faith and Christian life, in order to fulfill the true meaning of the sacrament. As a rule, these assurances are to be given by the parents or close relatives, although various substitutions are possible within the Christian community. But if these assurances are not really serious there can be grounds for delaying the sacrament; and if they are certainly non-existent the sacrament should even be refused.
We have presented this teaching to you because of its pre-eminent importance. If you have any further comments or questions, please do not hesitate to contact the Editor@ParishWorld. net.
Paul Dion, STL