Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Back to Basics: Three Forms of Baptism

I am so used to Baptism by water that I tend to forget the other two forms.
Baptizing with Water
The most common form of Baptism is by water. The Gospels say that one must be born again of water and the Holy Spirit (John 1:33). The early Christians and their successors have been baptizing with water for almost two millennia but with some slight differences:
  • Immersion: Some Christian denominations fully immerse a person in water three times while saying the invocation of the Holy Trinity, also known as the Trinitarian formula, "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
  • Aspersion: Other Christians sprinkle water on the forehead of the one being baptized and then invoke the Trinitarian formula.
  • Infusion: Catholics (mostly Latin) baptize by pouring water over the head of the one being baptized while the Trinitarian formula is pronounced.
All three methods use water and the invocation of the Holy Trinity. Only water can be used — no other substance. But immersion or infusion are preferred.

Baptism of Blood
The notion of being baptized by shedding your own blood for Christ and/or his Church grew up during the Roman persecutions. And the Catholic Church has always revered these unbaptized martyrs — people who die for their faith — maintaining that the divine mercy of God wouldn't penalize them or ignore their sacrifice merely because they died before their Baptism by water.

In addition, Herod killed many infants (Matthew 2:16) in an failed effort to kill the newborn Christ. These infants, known as the Holy Innocents, are martyrs, too, because they shed their blood, so Christ could live. So Baptism by blood is as valid as Baptism by water. The following quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church shows what the Church has to say about Baptism by blood:
The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without like being a sacrament (1258).
Baptism by Desire
Part of Catholic theology is the Universal Salvific Will of God, which is just a fancy way of saying that God basically would like for everyone, all men and women, to join him in heaven. Men and women have free will, though, so he offers the gift of grace, but men and women must freely accept and then cooperate with it...

People who lack any knowledge of Christ and his teachings are sometimes called anonymous Christians, and they don't consciously, deliberately, and willingly reject Christ and his Catholic Church, so they aren't responsible for not knowing the whole truth. Therefore, the Church believes in Baptism by desire, which allows salvation for non-Christians who, through no fault of their own, haven't yet accepted Christ explicitly but nonetheless live good, moral lives as if already Christian. Only those who consciously, deliberately, and willingly reject Christ are considered liable.

If people in their heart of hearts are sincerely disposed to God's will but, through no fault of their own, don't know about Jesus Christ — or they've never been shown by word and good example — then the Church presumes that they possess an implicit desire to be baptized. If someone had told them and given good example, they would've freely and willingly embraced Christianity and asked for Baptism by water.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about Baptism by desire:
Since Christ died for all ... we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility ... Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God ... can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity. (1260)
Catholicism for Dummies by John Trigilio

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