Effects of Baptism

This sacrament is the door of the Church of Christ and the entrance into a new life. We are reborn from the state of slaves of sin into the freedom of the Sons of God. Baptism incorporates us with Christ’s mystical body and makes us partakers of all the privileges flowing from the redemptive act of the Church’s Divine Founder. We shall now outline the principal effects of baptism.

(1) The Remission of All Sin, Original and Actual

This is clearly contained in the Bible. Thus, we read (Acts 2:38): “Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins; and you shall receive the Holy Ghost. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, whomsoever the Lord our God shall call.” We read also in the twenty-second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles (verse 16):

Be baptized, and wash away thy sins.” St. Paul in the fifth chapter of his Epistle to the Ephesians beautifully represents the whole Church as being baptized and purified (5:25 sq.): “Christ loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it: that he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the washing of water in the word of life: that he might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

The prophecy of Ezechiel (36:25) has also been understood of baptism: “I will pour upon you clean water, and you shall be cleansed from all your filthiness (inquinamentis), where the prophet is unquestionably speaking of moral defilements.

This is also the solemn teaching of the Church. In the profession of faith prescribed by Pope Innocent III for the Waldensians in 1210, we read: We believe that all sins are remitted in baptism, both original sin and those sins which have been voluntarily committed.” The Council of Trent (Sess. V., can. v) anathematizes whomsoever denies that the grace of Christ which is conferred in baptism does not remit the guilt of original sin; or asserts that everything which can truly and properly be called sin is not thereby taken away.

The same is taught by the Fathers. St. Justin Martyr (Apol., I, Ixvi) declares that in baptism we are created anew, that is, consequently, free from all stain of sin. St. Ambrose (De Myst., iii) says of baptism: “This is the water in which the flesh is submerged that all carnal sin may be washed away. Every transgression is there buried.” Tertullian (De Bapt., vii) writes: “Baptism is a carnal act in as much as we are submerged in the water; but the effect is spiritual, for we are freed from our sins.” The words of Origen (In Gen., xiii) are classic: “If you transgress, you write unto yourself the handwriting [chirographum] of sin. But, behold, when you have once approached to the cross of Christ and to the grace of baptism, your handwriting is affixed to the cross and blotted out in the font of baptism.” It is needless to multiply testimonies from the early ages of the Church. It is a point on which the Fathers are unanimous, and telling quotations might also be made from St. Cyprian, Clement of Alexandria, St. Hilary, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. Basil, St. Gregory Nazianzen, and others.

(2) Remission of Temporal Punishment

Baptism not only washes away sin, it also remits the punishment of sin. This was the plain teaching of the primitive Church. We read in Clement of Alexandria (Pædagog., i) of baptism: “It is called a washing because we are washed from our sins: it is called grace, because by it the punishments which are due to sin are remitted.” St. Jerome (Ep. lxix) writes: “After the pardon (indulgentiam) of baptism, the severity of the Judge is not to be feared.” And St. Augustine (De Pecc. et Mer., II, xxviii) says plainly: “If immediately [after baptism] there follows the departure from this life, there will be absolutely nothing that a man must answer for [quod obnoxium hominem teneat], for he will have been freed from everything that bound him.” In perfect accord with the early doctrine, the Florentine decree states: “No satisfaction is to be enjoined upon the baptized for past sins; and if they die before any sin, they will immediately attain to the kingdom of heaven and to the vision of God.” In like manner, the Council of Trent (Sess. V) teaches: “There is no cause of damnation in those who have been truly buried with Christ by baptism . . . Nothing whatever will delay their entrance into heaven.”

(3) Infusion of Supernatural Grace, Gifts, and Virtues

Another effect of baptism is the infusion of sanctifying grace and supernatural gifts and virtues. It is this sanctifying grace which renders men the adopted sons of God and confers the right to heavenly glory. The doctrine on this subject is found in the seventh chapter on justification in the sixth session of the Council of Trent. Many of the Fathers of the Church also enlarge upon this subject (as St. Cyprian, St. Jerome, Clement of Alexandria, and others), though not in the technical language of later ecclesiastical decrees.

(4) Conferral of the Right to Special Graces

Theologians likewise teach that baptism gives man the right to those special graces which are necessary for attaining the end for which the sacrament was instituted and for enabling him to fulfill the baptismal promises. This doctrine of the schools, which claims for every sacrament those graces which are peculiar and diverse according to the end and object of the sacrament, was already enunciated by Tertullian (De Resurrect., viii). It is treated and developed by St. Thomas Aquinas (III:62:2). Pope Eugene IV repeats this doctrine in the decree for the Armenians. In treating of the grace bestowed by baptism, we presume that the recipient of the sacrament puts no obstacle (obex) in the way of sacramental grace. In an infant, of course, this would be impossible, and as a consequence, the infant receives at once all the baptismal grace. It is otherwise in the case of an adult, for in such a one it is necessary that the requisite dispositions of the soul be present.

The Council of Trent (Sess. VI, c. vii) states that each one receives grace according to his disposition and co-operation. We are not to confound an obstacle (obex) to the sacrament itself with an obstacle to the sacramental grace. In the first case, there is implied a defect in the matter or form, or a lack of the requisite intention on the part of minister or recipient, and then the sacrament would be simply null. But even if all these essential requisites for constituting the sacrament be present, there can still be an obstacle put in the way of the sacramental grace, inasmuch as an adult might receive baptism with improper motives or without real detestation for sin. In that case the person would indeed be validly baptized, but he would not participate in the sacramental grace. If, however, at a later time he made amends for the past, the obstacle would be removed and he would obtain the grace which he had failed to receive when the sacrament was conferred upon him. In such a case the sacrament is said to revive and there could be no question of rebaptism.

(5) Impression of a Character on the Soul

Finally, baptism, once validly conferred, can never be repeated. The Fathers (St. Ambrose, Chrysostom, and others) so understand the words of St. Paul (Hebrews 6:4), and this has been the constant teaching of the Church both Eastern and Western from the earliest times. On this account, baptism is said to impress an ineffaceable character on the soul, which the Tridentine Fathers call a spiritual and indelible mark. That baptism (as well as Confirmation and Holy orders) really does imprint such a character, is defined explicitly by the Council of Trent (Sess. VII, can. ix). St. Cyril (Præp. in Cat.) calls baptism a “holy and indelible seal”, and Clement of Alexandria (De Div. Serv., xlii), “the seal of the Lord”. St. Augustine compares this character or mark imprinted upon the Christian soul with the character militaris impressed upon soldiers in the imperial service. St. Thomas treats of the nature of this indelible seal, or character, in the Summa (III:63:2).

The early leaders of the so-called Reformation held very different doctrines from those of Christian antiquity on the effects of baptism. Luther (De Captiv. Bab.) and Calvin (Antid. C. Trid.) held that this sacrament made the baptized certain of the perpetual grace of adoption. Others declared that the calling to mind of one’s baptism would free him from sins committed after it; others again, that transgressions of the Divine law, although sins in themselves, would not be imputed as sins to the baptized person provided he had faith. The decrees of the Council of Trent, drawn up in opposition to the then prevailing errors, bear witness to the many strange and novel theories broached by various exponents of the nascent Protestant theology.

Written by William H.W. Fanning. Transcribed by Charles Sweeney, S.J..

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York

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