On Baptism, Against The Donatists

The Seven Books of Augustin, Bishop of Hippo, On Baptism, Against the Donatists

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Philip Schaff

Chapter 23.—31. But what is the precise value of the sanctification of the sacrament (which
that thief did not receive, not from any want of will on his part, but because it was unavoidably
omitted) and what is the effect on a man of its material application, it is not easy to say. Still, had
it not been of the greatest value, the Lord would not have received the baptism of a servant. But
since we must look at it in itself, without entering upon the question of the salvation of the recipient,
which it is intended to work, it shows clearly enough that both in the bad, and in those who renounce
the world in word and not in deed, it is itself complete, though they cannot receive salvation unless
they amend their lives. But as in the thief, to whom the material administration of the sacrament
was necessarily wanting, the salvation was complete, because it was spiritually present through his
piety, so, when the sacrament itself is present, salvation is complete, if what the thief possessed be
unavoidably wanting. And this is the firm tradition of the universal Church, in respect of the baptism
of infants, who certainly are as yet unable "with the heart to believe unto righteousness, and with
the mouth to make confession unto salvation," as the thief could do; nay, who even, by crying and
moaning when the mystery is performed upon them, raise their voices in opposition to the mysterious
words, and yet no Christian will say that they are baptized to no purpose.

Chapter 24.—32. And if any one seek for divine authority in this matter, though what is held
by the whole Church, and that not as instituted by Councils, but as a matter of invariable custom,
is rightly held to have been handed down by apostolical authority, still we can form a true conjecture
of the value of the sacrament of baptism in the case of infants, from the parallel of circumcision,
which was received by God’s earlier people, and before receiving which Abraham was justified,
as Cornelius also was enriched with the gift of the Holy Spirit before he was baptized. Yet the
apostle says of Abraham himself, that "he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the
righteousness of the faith," having already believed in his heart, so that "it was counted unto him
for righteousness."1464 Why, therefore, was it commanded him that he should circumcise every
male child in order on the eighth day,1465 though it could not yet believe with the heart, that it should
be counted unto it for righteousness, because the sacrament in itself was of great avail? And this
was made manifest by the message of an angel in the case of Moses’ son; for when he was carried
by his mother, being yet uncircumcised, it was required, by manifest present peril, that he should
be circumcised,1466 and when this was done, the danger of death was removed. As therefore in
Abraham the justification of faith came first, and circumcision was added afterwards as the seal of
faith; so in Cornelius the spiritual sanctification came first in the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the
sacrament of regeneration was added afterwards in the laver of baptism. And as in Isaac, who was

1464

Rom. iv. 11, 3.

1465

Gen. xvii. 9-14.

1466

Ex. iv. 24-26.

637