Why do Catholics baptize infants? Why can’t the child grow up and decide for himself or herself?
A lady told me her minister said, “The reason for infant baptism is because there are only two alternatives, the child is claimed by God or is claimed by the devil. If the person falsely thinks that the child can make his or her own decision later, the child is left to the devil to claim.” I found it an interesting comment and a suitable answer to your question: “Why baptize infants?” But an elongated explanation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Scripture and Apostolic Tradition is provided.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1213) states the holy baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (Cf. Council of Florence DS 1314: vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through baptism, we are freed from sin and reborn as sons (children) of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the church and made sharers in her mission: “Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water and in the word.” (Roman Catechism II, 2. 5; cf. Council of Florence: DS 1314; CIC, cann. 204 §1; 849; CCEO, can. 675 § 1).
In the discussion between Nicodemus and Jesus in the Gospel of John, Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (Jn 3:3). Regarding infants and children, Luke 18:15-17 says, “And they were bringing even their babies to Him so that He would touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them. But Jesus called for them, saying, ‘Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’” Infant baptism signifies the truth that every person is in need of salvation, even the newborn child.
The need for regeneration is stated in Romans 5:12: “Therefore, just as through one-man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” Through the sin of Adam, we are born into sin and through baptism in Christ, we are freed. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, which all men are called” (CCC. 1250).
The practice of infant baptism is an immemorial tradition of the church. The early church fathers are clear about it. Irenaeus wrote, “He [Jesus] came to save all through himself; all, I say, who through him are reborn in God: infants, and children, and youths, and old men [and women]” (Against Heresies 2:22:4 [A.D. 189]). Hippolytus states, “Baptize first the children, and if they can speak for themselves let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them.” (The Apostolic Tradition 21:15 [A.D. 215]). Acts 16:15, 33, 18:8 mentions that “households” received baptism, which would include by implication, infants, and children.
In conclusion, infant baptism acknowledges the action of Christ that he loved us first (1 Jn 4:10); that he died and rose again, and this gift is bestowed in baptism. Anyone who loves his/her child will not want to withhold baptism from an infant. (CCC.1250).
Father Dean Probst is pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Newton and St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Sainte Marie.