The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Baptism

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Baptism
Edition of 1920. See also Baptism on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

BAPTISM (from the Greek baptizō, from baptizein, to immerse or dip), the application of water to a person as a sacrament or religious rite. It is generally thought to have been usual with the Jews even before Christ, being administered to proselytes, but was probably nothing more than a ceremony of purification. From this baptism, however, that of John the Baptist differed, because he baptized Jews also as a symbol of the necessity of perfect purification from sin. Christ himself never baptized, but directed his disciples to administer this rite to converts (Matt xxviii, 19); and baptism, therefore, became a religious ceremony among Christians, taking rank as a sacrament with all sects which acknowledge sacraments.

In the primitive Church the person to be baptized was immersed in a river or in a vessel, with the words which Christ had ordered, and a new name was generally bestowed at this time further to express the change. Sprinkling, or, as it was termed, clinic baptism, was used only in the case of the sick who could not leave their beds. The Greek Church and various Eastern sects retained the custom of immersion; but the Western Church adopted or allowed the mode of baptism by pouring or sprinkling, since continued by most Protestants. This practice can be traced back certainly to the 3d century, before which its existence is disputed. Since the Reformation there have been various Protestant sects, called Baptists, holding that baptism should be administered only by immersion and to those who can make a personal profession of faith.

The Montanists in Africa baptized even the dead, and in Roman Catholic countries the practice of baptizing church bells — a custom of 10th century origin — continues to this day. Being an initiatory rite, baptism is, therefore, administered only once to the same person. The Roman and Greek Catholics consecrate the water of baptism, but Protestants do not. The act of baptism is accompanied only with the formula that the person is baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost; but among most Christians it is preceded by a confession of faith made by the person to be baptized, if an adult, and by his parents or sponsors if he be a child

The Roman Catholic form of baptism is far more elaborate than the Protestant. This Church holds that baptism is a sacrament which has the effect to remove in the individual the penal consequences of the sin of Adam, to restore him to a state of supernatural grace, and to give him a right to the beatific vision of God, remitting all actual sins committed by the individual. It also imprints an indelible character, which is both an ornament to the soul and a capacity for receiving the other sacraments. The effect of the sacrament is produced ex opere operato; that is, by an act of the Holy Ghost infallibly accompanying the performance of the external rite. Bishops, priests and deacons are the ordinary ministers of baptism, and all others are forbidden to baptize except in case of necessity. Baptism is, however, valid when duly administered by any person, and any one may lawfully baptize in case of necessity. On the part of children and others who have never attained the use of reason no dispositions are required. In order to receive the sacrament validly a person who has the use of reason must know what he is doing and intend to receive baptism. In order to receive the grace of the sacrament he must have faith, and, if he has committed mortal sins, repentance; otherwise the grace of the sacrament remains suspended until he acquires the proper dispositions. Besides sacramental baptism, called baptismum fluminis, there are two substitutes which can supply its place, called, in a wide and improper sense, baptismum sanguinis and baptismum flaminis. The former of these is martyrdom, the second is the desire of baptism, accompanied by faith and perfect contrition or the love of God, These only supply the place of baptism when it cannot be had, and confer sanctifying grace, but not an indelible character. Solemn baptism is accompanied with the application of chrism and holy oil, and several other ceremonies of great antiquity.