DAILY CATHOLIC -    Tuesday, December 16, 1997   volume 8, no. 53



by Father John Hampsch, C.M.F.

Faith: Key to the Heart of God

Seventeenth installment: The Virtue of Faith

      There was a preacher in a small Ozark village, the only preacher in town, who decided in his zeal that he had a serious obligation to make sure everyone was baptized. A rather high-pressure type of person, he decided with the help of some strong men to make sure everyone was immersed in the river.

      He told each person in this small town to gather at the river Sunday morning for baptism. One lady was rather resistant to this idea of high-pressure religion but in spite of all her kicking and struggling, the strong men were able to edge her into the river. The minister dunked her under the water and when she came up, he asked, "Do you believe?" She said "No!" So he dunked her under again and held her there for a very long time thinking baptism might take effect the longer he kept her under.

      Up she came again at last, gasping for air, and the minister asked again, "Do you believe now?" She said, "No!" So he pushed her under a third time and held her so long she almost drowned. At last she came up gulping for air and the minister thundered, "Now do you believe?" and she said, "Yes!"

      "The preacher asked, "What do you believe?" She said, "I believe youíre trying to drown me, you darn fool!"

      With baptism we associate belief. We recall Jesus saying in Mark 16:16 "He who believes and is baptized will be saved." Then He says, not he who doesnít believe but he who refuses to believe will be damned. A baby doesnít believe but neither does a baby refuse to believe.

      The positive belief, for those who are capable of that belief, along with baptism, is the initial act by which we become Christians. There is a very close association between belief and baptism. We find this in Acts 2:41: "Those who believed and were baptized that day totaled 3,000." That was the post-Pentecostal explosion of converts. Or Acts 18:8 in Corinth where Cripus, who was the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord and was baptized.

      Wherever in Scripture it speaks of baptizing anyone, it is always associated with the idea of belief, the basic act of faith. In Acts 8:36 and 37 we read of the eunuch being converted by Philip who was miraculously transported there. The eunuch asked, after Philip has explained the passages from Isaiah referring to Christ, if there was any reason why he couldnít be baptized right then and there. Philip asked if he believed and he answered yes. The baptism that followed was coupled with the initial belief, as it always is in Scripture.

      St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th Century wanted to investigate the practice of infant baptism which had been frequently practiced from the 11th Century. Adult baptism was the only type of baptism, outside of emergencies, to be had in the early church. In the 11th Century when the Church formed the sacramental system, infant baptism became a more extensively accepted custom. St. Thomas Aquinas asked the question, is infant baptism valid? An infant could not make an act of faith. It could not practice faith, or for that matter any of the 56 virtues listed in the catalog of virtues.

      He concluded that infant baptism was valid but not fruitful until such time as a child was old enough, with the help of parents or godparents, to make a committed act of faith in Jesus as Savior. So the act of faith would come probably seven or eight years at least after the infant baptism. It completes the baptism. The faith and the baptism must got together, if not simultaneously, at least sequentially.

      That has a lot to do with our initiation into Christianity, but thatís only the first operation of faith. Then we must personalize that completing act of baptism by saying, "I accept Jesus as my personal Savior. He died for me as if I were the only one that ever existed." That is the born again experience, a completion of the sacramental baptism. St. Paul articulates this in Galatians 2:20: "The Lord has loved me, and delivered Himself for me."

Next Week: Operational Christianity

December 9, 1997 volume 8, no. 48         DAILY CATHOLIC - COLUMNS