Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Marius A. van Willigen: Why did Augustine change his perspective on baptism?

The sacrament of Holy Baptism was an initiation rite for every new Christian in early Christianity. Many baptisteries were built as invaluable testimonies of this initiation-rite at the end of the fourth century. At the same time however, this initiation-rite was seriously threatened by a devastating lack of interest for baptism in general. Many Christians listened to the exposition of the Bible, without wishing to be baptized. Receiving the initiation-rite of baptism seemed to thoroughly change in this period. Baptism was retarded until death. To receive baptism appeared to be equal to getting a passport to heaven. Christians decided en masse to be baptized just prior to death.
 It was the Church Father Augustine who had considered this a dangerous turn of events. He did not forbid the practice of adult-baptism, but simultaneously encouraged infant baptism.
What was his motivation for this? Was he afraid of depriving Christians of their privilege to choose for adult-baptism, or did he stimulate parents to baptize their children deliberately? What was his theological reflection on this subject and what was his motivation to change practice of baptism?The paper will explain Augustine's motivation to promote infant baptism along with Ambrose' and Origen's reflections on infant baptism. The continual theological reflection on baptism in relation to original sin will be mapped out, starting with Origen and ending with Augustine.

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