ON THE TRUE METHOD OF REFORMING THE CHURCH:
In Which Calvin Refutes the Censure of an Anonymous Printer on the Sanctification of Infants and Baptism by Women.
A YEAR is now almost gone since it was intimated to me that my Tract on The True and Genuine Reformation of the Church, which at first by my order proceeded from our own press, was reprinted in Germany. But now only, later than I ought, have I been informed that the German copy was corrupted and mutilated, and not only so, but that a censure was added, in which I am fiercely assailed. As the Printer conceals his name, I have no one with whom I can expostulate. Nor do I think this of much consequence. Perhaps some one, after having well drunk, has exhaled upon me the fumes of his wine or cherry-brandy; or it may be, that some one of turbulent brain, though fasting, has made an assault upon me. As to the man, then, be he who he may, I say nothing. As to the thing, it is altogether intolerable that, after I have faithfully and seriously exerted myself on some work, an unknown bookseller should, at his own hand, cut away whatever does not please him, and give forth a mutilated work as complete. But that I may not seem to plead my own private cause, I supersede this complaint likewise, and shall only briefly advert to what I think concerns the whole Church, as here disguise is unlawful.
I hope I may without arrogance, and with the permission of all good men, boast this much — that my labors are moderately useful to the Church.
Now, if I allow them to be stigmatized, as containing false and impious doctrine, I see that much of the benefit which the children of God might; gather from them will be impaired. By remaining silent, therefore, I would show that I pay less regard than I ought to the public good, especially when those who traduce me are counted among the Lord’s flock. I care little for avowed enemies, who must of necessity keep calling me heretic , if I would be regarded as a Christian. I admit even that it is, as it were, the destiny of the servants of God to hear their good evil spoken of. Nor ought I to decline the condition of going forward with Paul through good report and bad report. But as often as place and means are given, the defense of a good cause is not to be neglected. Then, while it clearly appears to me that the doctrine assailed is sound and taken from the pure word of God, having once delivered it, I am no longer at liberty to leave it unsupported. For the Lord hath appointed us ministers of his doctrine with this proviso, that we are to be as firm in defending as faithful in delivering it.
In my Tract I used the following words, “In regard to Baptism, it is worth while to observe, that what they say of the absolute necessity of Baptism had better been omitted. For besides erroneously annexing the salvation of the soul to external signs, no small injury is done to the promise, as if it were insufficient to give the salvation which it offers unless aided from some other quarter. The offspring of believers are born holy, because their children, while yet in the womb, before they breathe the vital air, have been adopted into the covenant of eternal life. Nor are they brought into the Church by Baptism on any other ground than because they belonged to the body of the Church before they were born. He who admits aliens to Baptism profanes it. Now, then, those who hold Baptism to be so necessary, that they exclude from the hope of salvation all who have not been dipped by it, both insult God, and involve themselves in great absurdity. For how can it be lawful to confer the sacred badge of Christ on aliens from Christ? Baptism must, therefore, be preceded by the gift of adoption, which is not the cause of a half salvation merely, but gives salvation entire: and this salvation is afterwards ratified by Baptism.
Hence, as error usually springs from error, the office of baptizing, which Christ specially committed to the ministers of the Church alone, they delegate not only to any one among the people, but even to women.”
This passage is attacked by my concealed censor, and in such a way, that he charges me with reviving a gross error of Pelagius. But he is himself too gross in not distinguishing light from darkness. Pelagius thought the Baptism of Infants superfluous, because he pretended that they were free from sin. Nay, there was properly no discussion with him about Paedobaptism. But when the holy Fathers, in order to prove original sin, appealed to the practice of the Church in baptizing children, and thence inferred that all the posterity of Adam bring liability to eternal death with them from the womb, this desperate man was driven to his last asylum, viz., that infants did not need Baptism, because they were born without sin.
I ask, what affinity to the error of Pelagius can be found in my words? Do I exempt Children from the guilt of sin? Do I place salvation in what is called original righteousness, and the integrity of nature? Do I deny that they are received into the Church by the free mercy of God? Do I not everywhere contend that forgiveness of sins is necessary to them also, and that it is sealed by Baptism? I presume it is now clear enough how very ignorant my censor is, who pretends to have discovered the error of Pelagius, in a mode of speaking so very different from his. Certainly he has either never seen the writings of Augustine, or not had judgment enough to perceive what was the opinion of Pelagius. My belief is, that the man knows nothing of antiquity, and has only learned the name of the ancient heretic by common hearsay.
He errs no less in this, that from not observing the state of the question, he gives his arguments at random to the wind. If any one at this time maintains Paedobaptism keenly, and on strong grounds, I am certainly in the number. As to the cause or end, there is no controversy that they are baptized in order that, being ingrafted into the body of Christ, they may be freed from eternal death, obtain the forgiveness of the sin engendered in them by nature, and be clothed with a free righteousness. Of this fact clear evidence is given by my Institutes, the Catechism, and the regular Form which I have drawn up for the daily use of our Church. Where, then, lies our difference? In this — that I disapprove of the absolute necessity, which they urge too strongly, and do not admit that a child who, from sudden death, has not been able to be presented for baptism, is therefore excluded from the kingdom of God.
I do not derogate from the efficacy of Baptism: I do not obscure the legitimate use of it; I only do not allow the salvation of the soul to be so tied to the sign as to make the Divine promise insufficient. The Children of believers, before they were begotten, were adopted by the Lord when he said, “I will be your God, and the God of your seed.” ( Genesis 17:7.)
That in this promise the Baptism of Infants is included is absolutely certain. He who is not satisfied with it offers gross insult to God. He challenges his truth when he derogates from the efficacy of his word. The answer of Christ removes all controversy on this head. ( Matthew 22:32.) If he truly infers that Abraham survives death, because he who is the God not of the dead but of the living, declares that he is the God of Abraham, it follows in the same way, that the genuine children of Abraham, even before they are born, are the heirs of eternal life, since the promise of God places them in the same position.
Let the readers therefore remember, that we are not here disputing whether it is necessary to baptize Infants, nor calling in question whether by Baptism they are ingrafted into the body of Christ, nor whether it is to them a laver of regeneration, nor whether it seals the pardon of their sins.
The only question is the absolute necessity of Baptism. Let them remember the argument by which I maintain that they may obtain salvation without Baptism, viz., because the promise which assigns life to them, while still in the womb, has sufficient efficacy in itself. Hence it is that Paul makes honorable mention of them as holy, ( 1 Corinthians 7:14,) intimating that they are separated from the common race of mankind by virtue of the Covenant.
I adduce another argument — that the salvation of the soul is by no means to be tied down to external signs. For what will remain for the blood of Christ, if we include spiritual life in water? I add, moreover, that Infants are baptized because they are of the household of the Church. For Paedobaptism rests on this ground, that God recognizes those who are presented to him by our ministry as already his own. Whence, too, he anciently called all who derived their origin from Israel his own. And justly; for the offspring was holy, as Paul teaches. ( Romans 11:16.)
My censor, disguising all these things, makes his first assault on the ground that we are born to spiritual life, not of blood, nor of the will of man, nor of the flesh, but of God, because nothing but flesh comes from flesh, and because we are all born children of wrath; as if I did not hold that the whole race of Adam is naturally under curse, and that thus infants themselves, before they see the light, are held involved in liability to eternal death. But he errs in not distinguishing between a natural vice, and a remedy proceeding from another quarter. I am not now devising a new solution for the occasion, but only repeat what I published four years ago.
In my Commentary on the seventh chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, I speak thus, — “How can this doctrine, that the children of believers are holy, agree with that which he delivers elsewhere, viz., that all are by nature the children of wrath, and also with the statement of David, ‘Behold, I was conceived in sin?’ ( Psalm 51:5.) I answer, that the propagation of sin and damnation in the seed of Adam is universal, and that therefore, under this curse, all to a man are included, whether they descend from believers or from the ungodly. For believers beget their children, not by the Spirit but the flesh. The natural condition of all, therefore, is in this alike, that they are obnoxious to sin and eternal death. But the special privilege which the Apostle attributes to the children of believers, flows from the Covenant, by the supervening of which the curse of nature is destroyed, and those who were by nature unholy are consecrated to God by grace.”
These are the very words I there use.
My Institutes also contain a fuller explanation of the subject. I say — “Seeing it is written that we are all by nature the children of wrath, and conceived in sin, to which damnation adheres, we must quit our nature before we can have access to the kingdom of God. And what can be clearer, than that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God? Let everything, therefore, that is ours be abolished, and then we shall see this inheritance.”
I then infer that Children have need of Regeneration. But I maintain that this gift comes to them by promise, and that Baptism follows as a seal. In short, I uniformly inculcate that their exemption from guilt is a supernatural privilege. This explanation ought not to have been unknown to my Censor, as I took it from Augustine.
That John the Baptist was sanctified from the womb, ought, he says, to be classed among the other miracles then related. I agree, and I have not used that passage in the present cause. I elsewhere produce it against the Anabaptists, to whom I do not think he belongs, and yet, as inconsiderate men are wont, he rashly lays himself under some suspicion.
As if he had already disposed of two errors, by absurdly mentioning the name of Pelagius, and quoting from Paul that all are by nature the children of wrath, he comes to a third error which he thinks he has detected. What is this error? My saying that Baptism is profaned if it is bestowed on aliens. But were my censor dealing with an Anabaptist he would employ the same argument with me, viz., that Baptism is rightly conferred on children whom God has adopted into his covenant. What absurdity, then, does he find in a matter which is confessed? He maintains, forsooth, that we too were aliens and sinners of the Gentiles, but were baptized by the command of Christ, who ordered that not saints only, or the children of saints, but that all nations should be baptized.
Surely the worthy Father, accustomed, I suppose, to philosophize at ease under the shade of wine or brandy, wished to carry the same ease a little farther. He ought to have considered in what sense I say that Baptism is profaned, if we admit aliens and those of the household to it without distinction. This it is easy to evince from the command of Christ which he quotes. Christ, he says, orders all to be baptized. Does he not mean that the gospel is previously to be preached? The order which he commands to the Apostles is to teach and baptize. Therefore, by the doctrine of the gospel; those who were formerly aliens are ingrafted into the Church. This Paul teaches, ( Romans 11:20,) that when the Jews, who were natural branches of the holy root, were broken off; the Gentiles, as wild olive branches, were ingrafted in their stead. How so? By the gospel. Our censor, therefore, acts absurdly in cutting off one clause, nay, in dividing and rending things which Christ had joined.
Wherefore I briefly reply, that aliens are indeed called to Baptism by the voice of Christ, but are previously adopted into the family by the preaching of the gospel. Thus Abraham was of the household before he received the sign of circumcision. In regard to the young, as God comprehends them also under the covenant, they are no longer reputed aliens, but are heirs of grace, as we learn from Peter’s discourse. What I formerly delivered on this subject is evinced by my Institutes, where I use these words: — “Why does circumcision follow faith in the case of Abraham, and precede the use of understanding in the case of his son Isaac?
Because it is right, that he who in adult age is received into the alliance of the covenant from which he had hitherto been an alien, shall previously make himself thoroughly acquainted with its conditions; but not so the infant begotten of him, seeing that, according to the form of the promise, the infant is included in the covenant by hereditary right even from its mother’s womb. Or to state the thing more shortly and clearly: if the children of believers, without the help of understanding, are partakers of the covenant, there is no reason why they should be kept from the sign because they cannot swear to the stipulations of the covenant. But he who is an infidel, being descended of wicked parents, is regarded as an alien from the communion of the covenant until he is united to God by faith. Wherefore it is not strange that there is no communication of the sign when the thing signified would be empty and fallacious.”
My only reason for quoting this is, to make it manifest that the censor’s confidence is owing to mere ignorance, as he has not understood my meaning.
This refutes another objection, viz., that Christ said, “They that are whole need not a physician.” |( Matthew 9:12.)
I admit it, and accordingly I show that it is only by his grace that health is restored both to young and old. But what do those who would seek the cure in water only leave to Christ himself, what to his blood, what to the gospel, what to the working of the Spirit? The only dispute between the censor and me is, that by restoring little children to life, when sudden death deprives them of the means of baptism, I teach that the remedy is full and effectual in the promise which Christ ratified by his own blood, whereas he cuts off all hope of salvation, if it be not sought from the external element.
He asks whether Baptism is to be denied to a Jew or a Turk, if they request it. Here everybody sees under what gross hallucination he labors; in assuming that those are aliens to whom he assigns faith. What he chooses to dream, I cannot tell; it is absurd to use this argument against me, who uniformly teach, that by faith all who were most alien are united into the family and body of Christ. And yet this is no reason why they should not also be united to the Church by a formal rite, as a more complete ratification of their ingrafting, the seal of confirmation being added.
As to the Children of Papists, the answer is easy. In taking it for granted that they are validly baptized, I agree with him; but he falsely imagines that I regard them as strangers, because they were neither begotten of a holy father nor born of a holy mother. They cease not to be the children of saints, though it be necessary to go farther back for their origin. God does not stop at the first degree, but diffuses the promise of life to a thousand generations. Thus Paul, when he infers that if the root is holy the branches are also holy, and teaches that, the harvest is consecrated in the first fruits, does not inquire what kind of father each had, but recognizes all as holy who had sprung from Abraham and the other patriarchs. The censor asks whether the son of a wicked man cannot be made pious? and forthwith exclaims — no error can be grosser than this! I, without exclamation, calmly advise him henceforth not to put himself into such a fervor without any cause: for he absurdly raises a contest about a point as to which we are all agreed.
When I say that Baptism is profaned if it is bestowed on aliens, he thinks it just equivalent to saying that a sick man is not to be cured because he is sick. Though this simile might have some plausibility with the ignorant, it is easy to show in a few words how inappropriate it is. By those of the household, I mean not those who are whole, so as not to need Christ, but those who, dead in themselves, seek life in him; as by aliens are to be understood not all who have been alienated from God by sin, but those whom he still keeps from his kingdom, so that our ministry does not extend to them. Now such are all those to whom Baptism is not destined by the command of Christ.
All the censor says here has its source in ignorance, from his not understanding that those who are unclean by nature, are holy by virtue of the covenant; those who are exiled from the kingdom of God because of sin, are made nigh by the right of adoption; those who are liable to eternal death, nay, utterly dead in Adam, obtain blessing from the words, “I will be the God of thy seed,” ( Genesis 17:7) so that they are the heirs of heavenly life. In short, he never considers what distinction there is between the children of Christians and Turks. He also betrays gross ignorance of the nature and efficacy of Baptism. Had it ever occurred to him that Baptism is an appendage of the word, the very point for which he contends, he would have seen the consequence that none are fit for the sign, save those who have been sanctified by the word.
From the same source flows the delirious dream of making women administer Baptism in what he calls a case of necessity, while he superciliously pronounces those who hold this to be the unlawful usurpation of another’s office to be totally wrong. It is not the grave censure of a literary man, but the rude license of a mechanic, thus haughtily to condemn one who has not deserved ill of the Church. An unknown nameless printer thinks that Calvin is totally wrong. What weight should the authority of this giant unsupported by any arguments have? But as it is an old and common proverb, that “A common error has the force of law,” this opinion rashly conceived under the darkness of the Papacy has so prevailed, that there are many from whose minds it can scarcely be eradicated. How frivolous and absurd it is, I will show in a few words.
All admit that the right and office of baptizing is not ordinarily competent to a Woman; but they excuse it as necessary, if there is imminent danger of death. Whence have they this idea, but just because it pleases them so to believe? I am not unaware that the pretended necessity is wont to be inferred from the words of Christ — “Unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” ( John 3:5.)
Led away in old time by a similar error, they gave the bread and cup of the Eucharist to Infants, because it is written, “Unless ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” ( John 6:53.)
But in the present day even the Papists, blind though they be, do not stumble at this stone. I know not how it happened that they placed the absolute necessity in baptism, though this is absurd, and that while they admit of some modification in the case of adults, they show themselves inexorable only to Infants. They grant that a man of adult age may be saved without baptism, provided he has a wish for it. Why then should not the pious vows of parents exempt a new born Infant from punishment?
They wrest the words of Christ to a very different meaning from that intended. First, it is evident that the whole of that discourse is allegorical.
But to omit this, whoever will examine the passage without prejudice, will easily perceive that there is no mention of Baptism in it. But the evil is that they rashly lay hold of the term water , and deluded by a preconceived opinion, exercise their judgment no further. To me water and Spirit signify the same thing as Spirit and fire. For, as in the latter place, the term fire is put by way of epithet, so in the former I think the Spirit is called water , because he has the virtue and office of water. Others oppose spirit and water as subtle elements to earth . And some ancient writers interpret water as mortification of the flesh. Either of the two is certainly more tolerable than to tie the salvation of man to a symbol.
We are not here discussing the necessary observance of Baptism; for we are agreed that Infants ought to be baptized, and that the omission of the sign is not optional. But where parents would willingly present their son for baptism, the question is, whether if he is snatched away by death, his salvation is to be despaired of? Those who insist that all are undone who happen not to have been dipped in water, form too malignant an idea of the kingdom of Christ, under which they pretend that the grace of God is more restricted than it formerly was under the law. As it was not then lawful to circumcise before the eighth day, if any male infant died three days after his birth there was no harm, the covenant and promise sufficing for the right of adoption. Now, when there is no prescribed day for baptism, it is more than absurd to hold that he who shall not omit the sign from either contempt or negligence, is defrauded of a Divine blessing, which the Jews obtained under the law. In that case we must say, that Christ came not to fulfill but to abolish the promises, seeing that the promise which was previously able in itself to confer salvation, will not now be ratified without the help of a sign.
It is said that most ancient writers thought differently. But it is worth while to observe how far they wished their opinion to be deferred to. This Augustine clearly explains in a few words, (Ep. 28, ad Hieronym.,) “Against the opinion of Cyprian,” says he, “who perhaps did not see what was to be seen, let every one think as he will. Only let him not think contrary to the most manifest belief of the Apostle, who says, that all are born under condemnation; let him not think contrary to the best founded practice of the Church, which, because of the danger of the soul, runs to baptism.”
I verily admit that all die in Adam, and that Infants no less than adults need the redemption of Christ. Nor do I disapprove of the received practice of the Church in running to baptism. Only I think Augustine mistaken when in fixing the danger, he cuts off the hope of life from Infants, whom the Lord declares to be his own, and to whom baptism would not be competent if they were not already called to the fellowship of the Church by the promise of God.
What then, some one will ask, is the cause for running? This I think sufficient, that the parent may see the salvation which the Lord has promised in his word sealed, and as it were engraven on the body of his child; that seeking the ablution of his child in Christ he may confess himself liable to death with his whole seed, that he may not seem to neglect the badge which has been given to confirm faith, — in short, that the child may bear the ensign of Christians to the grave. But this opinion of danger, as it was of private invention, may be safely repudiated. Its opposition to the clear passages which I have quoted from Scripture ought to make it give way. But if any one chooses pertinaciously to defend the opinion of Augustine, let him remember that he must send to perdition all who from nonage have not been allowed to partake of the Lord’s Supper.
He classes both together, holding that those who have not partaken of the Lord’s Supper, perish no less certainly than those who have not received baptism. (Lib. de Merit. et Remiss. Peccat. l, c. 24. Ad Bonif. Ep. 106.)
Augustine, however, does not say that the Church was induced by this danger to give Women license to baptize: for he says that in extreme danger they were wont to hasten to Church to use the public service.
Hence it follows, that by no use or custom of the Church was it received that any one should take the office upon himself in private. In another place, also, he says, that mothers ran to the Church to provide for the salvation of their children. He nowhere says that they administered the remedy by their own hand.
We may also conjecture from what he says, (Lib. 2, Cont. Ep. Parman. c. 3,) that Baptism by Women was altogether unknown in that age. He says, “If a layman, compelled by necessity, shall have given baptism, I know not if any one can piously say that it is to be repeated. If it is done without any necessity compelling, it is the usurpation of another’s office: if there is urgent necessity, it is no fault, or a venial one.” He certainly ought rather to have raised the question with regard to women, had any such example then existed. As he doubts with regard to men only, everybody must see that women never occurred to him, as the thing was altogether unheard of. He still remains undecided as to men, and dares not wholly excuse them of venial sin.
But all doubt is clearly removed by a decree of the Council of Carthage, in which, without exception, Women are prohibited from administering Baptism. Let the printer, therefore, no longer say that I am totally in error, while he sees my foot so well planted in a sure place. Tertullian says, “It is not permitted to a woman to speak in the Church, nor to dip, nor offer, lest she should claim for herself any function of the man, not to say of the priest.” The passage, indeed, as it is read is faulty, but no man of moderate learning will doubt what Tertullian’s opinion was. Nor ought we to omit what is found in Epiphanius, who, in his first book, Contra Haereses, upbraids Marcion with giving women license to baptize, and counts it among the absurd mockeries of which he says his sect was full. And, in the second book, speaking of the Phrygians and Priscillians, he ridicules their madness in making bishops of women, whereas in Christ there is neither male nor female.
I am not ignorant of what my censor will say, viz., that there is a great difference between common use and an extraordinary remedy adopted under the most urgent necessity. But as no necessity is excepted by Epiphanius, when he calls it mockery to permit Women to baptize, I think I may infer that this corruption is condemned by him as not excusable under any pretext. In the third book, when he says that the thing was not even permitted to the holy mother of Christ, and adds no restriction, who sees not that baptism by women is absolutely disapproved by him? In short, it is the height of impudence here to pretend the support of antiquity, when it plainly appears that this abuse was not established without a barbarous confusion throughout Christendom.
On the other hand, the example of Zipporah is quoted, in which some pleasing themselves more than they ought, betray their own want of discernment, (ajbleyi>a .) First, even on their own shewing, the cases of Circumcision and of Baptism are different: for they do not say that that ancient symbol was absolutely necessary. Secondly, I think it is erroneously inferred, from the fact of the angel being appeased, that the act of Zipporah was approved by God. Were it so, we must say that he was pleased with the worship perfunctorily paid to him by the inhabitants of Samaria, who had been transported thither from Assyria. ( 2 Kings 17.) Thirdly, it was a special act, and cannot properly be drawn into a precedent.
It may be added, that we nowhere read that special authority was given to priests to Circumcise. The words of Christ are clear,. “Go and teach all nations, and baptize them.” He certainly appointed them both preachers of the gospel and ministers of Baptism. If, as the Apostle testifies, no man duly takes honor upon himself in the Church, unless he who is called, as was Aaron, I hold that whosoever baptizes without a lawful call, rashly intrudes into another’s office. What! while the Son of God was unwilling to intrude himself, shall any son of earth, without any authority, appoint himself the public dispenser of this great ordinance? Even in the minutest matters, as meat and drink, whatever we attempt and dare with a doubtful conscience, Paul plainly denounces as sin. Now, in the Baptism of Women, what certainty can there be while a rule delivered by Christ is violated? For that office of the gospel which he assigns to ministers, women seize to themselves.
Let my censor tell me whether it be lawful for men to put asunder what the Lord joins. I show that two things were conjoined by Christ — the preaching of the gospel and the administration of baptism. Let the mouth of Women then be opened contrary to the distinct prohibition of the Spirit, if we would permit them to do another thing which is a sequence from it. But I cannot sufficiently express my wonder, that those who produce this passage are so dull as not to perceive, that nothing was less intended by Zipporah than to perform a divine service. Scornful and indignant she throws the foreskin on the ground, and in reproaching her husband even charges God with cruelty. I am not unacquainted with the fables of the Jews on this passage. The thing however is clear. A woman burning with rage upbraids both God and her husband with forcing her to shed the blood of her son.
In short, not to dwell longer on this, I will briefly show that it betrays a want of common sense to seek a precedent in the act of Zipporah. In the presence of her husband she circumcises her son. And who was that husband? Moses the chief prophet of God, than whom no greater ever arose in Israel! Let the Woman-baptists tell me, whether they will permit a woman to baptize in presence of a bishop? Such a monstrosity would certainly horrify them, nor do I think that the brow of the printer is so thoroughly bronzed that he is not now ashamed of his stupid censure.
Meanwhile, I beseech sober readers that they will bring to the perusal of my writings a modesty corresponding to the veneration which I feel in handling the oracles of God. Conscience is my witness, that with all reverence and humility, as in the sight of God and angels, I deliver to others what has been given me by the Spirit of Christ, and do not so much follow what pleases myself, as bring my mind into obedience to God. That I am far from being of the number of those whom ambition tempts to court novelty of doctrine, my whole course of life testifies. And in my writings, methinks, there is no ostentation, but manifestly throughout a simple desire of edifying.