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Chapter 30: Sacraments in General and Baptism

Question I: What are the implications of baptism for Christian moral life?

1. Jesus taught that the faith which saves is not just intellectual assent and an initial willingness to do the Father’s will, but a rocklike foundation (see Mt 7.24–27; Lk 6.47–49). The Christian’s model is not the son who says “yes” to the father and then fails to do what is asked, but the one who executes the father’s will even after saying “no” (see Mt 21.28–31). Jesus demands a faith which involves commitment (see Mt 10.37–39; Mk 8.34; Lk 14.25–27). Faith has moral implications because it is the fundamental option by which one enters into the new covenant (23‑A).

2. One is not justified and deified due to one’s works; salvation is by grace through faith (see Rom 3.21–22; DS 1532/801). “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph 2.8–9).

3. No sooner is the gift given, however, than one must begin to live the new life one has received, completing the acceptance of the gift by acknowledging its moral implications (see Eph 2.10). To be sure, all that matters is that one is created anew (see Gal 6.15) by the gift of divine life received in baptism. But precisely this re-creation includes a call to live as befits a member of God’s family (see Gal 5.13–6.10). Being baptized, we are trained by grace to live according to the Spirit (see Ti 2.11–3.8). Salvation is the work of grace, but this divine work includes as an essential part our own work: the living of a Christian life (see Rom 6.3–11).

4. Salvation is an indivisible whole. One accepts its fullness or one has none of it. That is why Jesus teaches that not all those who receive the word are true disciples who will be saved, but only those who abide in it (see Mt 13.1–9; Mk 4.1–9; Lk 8.4–8; Jn 8.31–32). More even than for her unique motherhood by which she bore the Word of God, Mary, together with all like her, deserves praise for having heard God’s word and kept it (see Lk 11.27–28). Keeping God’s word means living by it. No one who acts in an unholy way is a child of God (see 1 Jn 3.4–10).

Because baptism does have moral implications—the requirement that one live a morally good life—the Church asks those about to be baptized whether they reject Satan, whether they reject sin so as to live as God’s children, and whether they reject the glamor of evil and refuse to be mastered by sin.24 Or again, the Church asks simply and bluntly: “Have you listened to Christ’s word and made up your mind to keep his commandments?”25

In the case of the baptism of children, the Church explains to the parents what they are doing and asks for a commitment: “You have asked to have your children baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training them in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring them up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?”26 Trent definitively teaches that the person who receives the grace of baptism can and must keep the commandments, that the commandments to be kept include the Ten Commandments, and that Jesus is not only a trustworthy redeemer but also a lawgiver who must be obeyed (see DS 1536–39/804, 1568–71/828–31).

5. Even the baptism of John the Baptist, which was only with water and was directed only at eliciting repentance for sin, required practical fruits appropriate to one who turns away from evil (see Mt 3.8; Lk 3.8–14). Jesus, however, baptizes not merely with water but with fire and the Holy Spirit—in other words, by his redemptive act and by the adoption as divine children which is effected for all those who enter into it (see Mt 3.11; Mk 1.8; Lk 3.16; Jn 1.12–13; 3.5–8; Acts 1.5; 11.16). How much more, then, does his baptism require the keeping of all his commandments (see Mt 28.20; see S.t., 3, q. 69, aa. 4–5)!

6. Baptism with the Spirit not only requires us to fulfill the commandments but makes it possible for us to do so. Freed from the law, Christians are able to live according to the Spirit. There is no longer any excuse for sin (see Rom 8.9–13).

In a beautiful passage concerning his own baptism, St. Cyprian of Carthage indicates how the new life is experienced. Before baptism, he had been wedded to sin as if it were part of himself: “But afterwards, when the stain of my past life had been washed away by means of the water of re-birth, a light from above poured itself upon my chastened and now pure heart; afterwards through the Spirit which is breathed from heaven, a second birth made of me a new man. And then in a marvelous manner, doubts immediately clarified themselves, the closed opened, the darkness became illuminated, what before had seemed difficult offered a way of accomplishment, and what had been thought impossible was able to be done. Thus it had to be acknowledged that what was of the earth and was born of the flesh and had lived submissive to sins, had now begun to be of God, inasmuch as the Holy Spirit was animating it” (FEF 548). Although the person baptized in infancy can be spared the reign of sin, the Christian child as well as the adult convert should enjoy the same experience of illumination and the power to attain goodness.

Enriched as much as possible with sacred Scripture, even elementary catechesis should aim at cultivating a prayerful acceptance of the Word of God. Among the truths of faith, three especially need to be inculcated and accepted as real: first, that heaven exists although it is invisible; second, that God has generously forgiven all our sins, and wills and enables us to be perfect; third, that one lives as a Christian not in isolation but in the midst of the Church, in real community with Jesus, Mary, and the saints from the beginning of salvation history until its end. A lively sense of these truths will protect one through one’s whole Christian life against worldliness, pelagianism, moral indifference, and historicist relativism. These are the most dangerous current threats to faith.

24. See The Rites of the Catholic Church, trans. International Commission on English in the Liturgy (New York: Pueblo, 1976), 98–99, 145–46.

25. Ibid., 109.

26. Ibid., 198.