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Paedobaptism in St. Cyprian

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Introduction

Frequently arguments over paedobaptism come down to matters of the covenant. The Paedobaptist will argue that infants are to be baptized by virtue of their position in the covenant as children of believers. Credobaptists will respond that infants are not, in fact, members of the New Covenant, as they had been members of the Old Covenant; therefore, they do not receive the mark of the covenant (Circumcision) as infants had under the Old Covenant.

Interestingly, St. Cyprian speaks to the debate over paedobaptism in his 58th Epistle while refuting certain priests who would wait until the 8th day to baptize infants. In this, he speaks to this contemporary debate, yet using a different argument for paedobaptism than often appears in modern debates.

Rather than arguing from the covenant of God, St. Cyprian argues from the universal saving will of God, the equality of infants and adults in their worth before God, and the nature of infants concerning original sin.

The Universal Saving Will of God and Paedobaptism

First, St. Cyprian argues from Luke 4:56 for paedobaptism, that “The Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” On the principle that baptism saves and is normatively necessary for salvation (which can be gathered from many scriptural texts on the matter and the consensus of all confessions of faith, including Anglican, Presbyterian, and Lutheran), St. Cyprian argues that the church in her practice ought to pattern ourselves after the will of our Lord.

He comments, “as far as we Can, We must strive that, if possible, no soul be lost. For what is wanting to him who has once been formed in the womb by the hand of God? To us, indeed, and to our eyes, according to the worldly course of days, they who are born appear to receive an increase. But whatever things are made by God, are completed by the majesty and work of God their Maker.”

Further, “no one ought to be hindered from baptism and from the grace of God, who is merciful and kind and loving to all.”

The Equality of Infants and Adults

Second, St. Cyprian argues from the giving of Divine gifts equally to infants and adults. There is no impediment in God’s grace based on age, but constantly, God has worked in infants, just as he has worked in adults.

He writes, “in that is expressed the divine and spiritual equality, that all men are like and equal, since they have once been made by God; and our age may have a difference in the increase of our bodies, according to the world, but not according to God; unless that very grace also which is given to the baptized is given either less or more, according to the age of the receivers, whereas the Holy Spirit is not given with measure, but by the love and mercy of the Father alike to all. For God, as He does not accept the person, so does not accept the age; since He shows Himself a Father to all with well-weighed equality for the attainment of heavenly grace.”

That Infants are More Proper Objects of Baptism than Adults

Third, he argues that, rather than being an improper object for baptism, infants are more worthy to receive the sacrament. For, “Nor ought any of us to shudder at that which God hath condescended to make. For although the infant is still fresh from its birth, yet it is not such that any one should shudder at kissing it in giving grace and in making peace; since in the kiss of an infant every one of us ought, for his very religion’s sake, to consider the still recent hands of God themselves, which in some sort we are kissing, in the man lately formed and freshly born, when we are embracing that which God has made.”

Further, “if anything could hinder men from obtaining grace, their more heinous sins might rather hinder those who are mature and grown up and older…how much rather ought we to shrink from hindering an infant, who, being lately born, has not sinned, except in that, being born after the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of the ancient death at its earliest birth, who approaches the more easily on this very account to the reception of the forgiveness of sins—that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another.”

Conclusion

St. Cyprian concludes aptly, “we think is to be even more observed in respect of infants and newly-born persons, who on this very account deserve more from our help and from the divine mercy, that immediately, on the very beginning of their birth, lamenting and weeping, they do nothing else but entreat.”

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