Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Defence of the Seven Sacraments: Week 3 - Baptism and Confirmation

Baptism is possibly the one sacrament where Catholic and Lutheran doctrine is closest. Luther’s chapter here is milder than some other parts of his treatise. Luther is far more vicious about baptism when confronting Anabaptists. (Luther advocated the death penalty for Anabaptists for being open blasphemers. His preferred method was drowning.) 

Luther says . . . 3.1 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who according to the riches of His mercy has preserved in His Church this sacrament at least, untouched and untainted by the ordinances of men, and has made it free to all nations and every estate of mankind, nor suffered it to be oppressed by the filthy and godless monsters of greed and superstition.”

In contrast to all the “tearing down” with the Eucharist, Luther is more prone to praise baptism. But Henry begins his critique noting a lack of balance: “Nor does he praise any one of the Sacraments, unless to the Prejudice of another; for he so much extols Baptism, that he depresses Penance: Though he has treated of Baptism itself after such a Manner, that it had been better he had not touched it at all.” (pg 173)

St Jerome makes the analogy of penance as the "second" gangway plank to reboard the ship of the Church. Luther asserts that infant baptism was providential because adult baptism would be more prone to superstition. But since adults don’t remember their baptism, they also have a tendency to forget it.

3.2 “But Satan, though he could not quench the power of baptism in little children, nevertheless succeeded in quenching it in all adults, so that scarcely anyone calls to mind their baptism and still fewer glory in it. So many other ways have they discovered of ridding themselves of their sins and of reaching heaven. The source of these false opinions is that dangerous saying of St. Jerome's – either unhappily phrased or wrongly interpreted – which he terms penance 'the second plank' after the shipwreck, as if baptism were not penance. Accordingly, when men fall into sin, they despair of 'the first plank,' which is the ship, as though it had gone under, and fasten all their faith on the second plank, that is, penance. This has produced those endless burdens of vows, religious works, satisfactions, pilgrimages, indulgences, and sects, from this has arisen that flood of books, questions, opinions and human traditions, which the world cannot contain. So that this tyranny plays worse havoc with the Church of God than any tyrant ever did with the Jewish people or with any other nation under heaven.” What is the object of faith for Luther? Does Luther end up having faith in baptism more than faith in God?

3.4 “Now, the first thing in baptism to be considered is the divine promise, which says: 'He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.' This promise must be set far above all the glitter of works, vows, religious orders, and whatever man has added to it. For on it all our salvation depends. We must consider this promise, exercise our faith in it and never doubt that we are saved when we are baptized. For unless this faith be present or be conferred in baptism, we gain nothing from baptism. No, it becomes a hindrance to us, not only in the moment of its reception, but all the days of our life. For such lack of faith calls God's promise a lie, and this is the blackest of all sins. When we try to exercise this faith, we shall at once perceive how difficult it is to believe this promise of God. For our human weakness, conscious of its sins, finds nothing more difficult to believe than that it is saved or will be saved. Yet unless it does believe this, it cannot be saved, because it does not believe the truth of God that promises salvation.”

3.5 “This message should have been persistently impressed upon the people and this promise diligently repeated to them. Their baptism should have been called again and again to their mind, and faith constantly awakened and nourished.” 

3.7 "The children of Israel, whenever they repented of their sins, turned their thoughts first of all to the exodus from Egypt, and, remembering this, returned to God Who had brought them out. This memory and this refuge were many times impressed upon them by Moses, and afterward repeated by David. How much rather ought we to call to mind our exodus from Egypt, and, remembering, turn back again to Him Who led us forth through the washing of regeneration, which we are bidden remember for this very purpose. And this we can do most fittingly in the sacrament of bread and wine."

Henry’s response about faith and good works leads right into the once saved, always saved issue: “And having in many Words shown what this Faith is, he afterwards extols the Riches of Faith, to the End he may render us poor of good Works, without which (as St. James saith ) Faith is altogether dead. But Luther so much commends Faith to us, as not only to permit us to abstain from good Works; but also encourages us to commit any Kind of Action, how bad soever:”

3.8 "See, how rich therefore is a Christian, the one who is baptized! Even if he wants to, he cannot lose his salvation, however much he sin, unless he will not believe. For no sin can condemn him save unbelief alone. All other sins – so long as the faith in God's promise made in baptism returns or remains –all other sins, I say, are immediately blotted out through that same faith, or rather through the truth of God, because He cannot deny Himself. . . .

3.9 "Again, how perilous, no, how false it is to suppose that penance is the second plank after the shipwreck! How harmful an error it is to believe that the power of baptism is broken, and the ship has foundered, because we have sinned! . . . If one be able somehow to return to the ship, it is not on any plank but in the good ship herself that he is carried to life."

Henry answers that infidelity is no special sin compared with so many others: “What Christian Ears can with Patience hear the pestilentious hissing of this Serpent, by which he extols Baptism, for no other end, but to depress Penance, and establish the Grace of Baptism for a free Liberty of Sinning?” . . . “He denies sin to be the shipwreck of faith” 

Henry’s logic: “Therefore since Faith becomes dead by wicked Works, why can it not be said, that he suffers Ship-wreck who falls from the Grace of God, into the Hands of the Devil?” (p 174) . . . “Has St. Jerome written wickedly in this? Does the whole Church follow an impious Opinion, for not believing Luther, that Christians are safe enough by Faith alone, in the midst of their Sins, without Penance?” . . . “After this, he so magnifies Faith, that he seems almost to intimate, that Faith alone is sufficient without the Sacrament. For in the meanwhile, he deprives the Sacrament of Grace; he says, ‘that the Sacrament itself profits nothing;’ denies that the Sacraments confer any Grace; or that they are effectual Signs of Grace; or that the Sacraments of the Evangelical Law differ in any Kind from those of the Mosaical Law, as touching the Efficacy of Grace:” 

Luther had stated: 3.17 “. . . it is an error to hold that the sacraments of the New Law differ from those of the Old Law in the effectiveness of their signifying. The signifying of both is equally effective. The same God Who now saves me by baptism saved Abel by his sacrifice, Noah by the rainbow, Abraham by circumcision, and all the others by their respective signs."

3.19 "Even so it is not baptism that justifies or benefits anyone, but it is faith in the word of promise, to which baptism is added. This faith justifies, and fulfils that which baptism signifies."

Henry responded by quoting Hugo of St Victor and Augustine and the OT (p 175) Then Henry summarizes his critique. Luther asks for too much on the part of the recipient of baptism, almost making it a subjective work (the trap of wondering if one has believed enough). “He promised Remission of Sins, and Grace from the Sacrament itself, to all those who should but only present themselves, and desire it: For an undoubted and certain Faith, is a very great Thing, which happens not always, nor to every Body” (p 177).

Henry looks for balance: “But as I do not think, that Faith alone, without the Sacrament, is sufficient for him who may receive it; so neither can the Sacrament suffice him without Faith; but that both ought to concur and co-operate with their Power” (p 177).  Luther’s concentration on faith ends up being a cover for a life of wicked living.

Luther stated: 3.27 "This glorious liberty of ours, and this understanding of baptism have been carried captive in our day. And whom have we to thank for this but the Roman pontiff with his despotism? . . . 

3.28 “Therefore I say: neither the pope nor a bishop nor any other man has the right to impose a single syllable of law upon a Christian man without his consent. If he does, it is done in the spirit of tyranny. Therefore the prayers, fasts, donations, and whatever else the pope decrees and demands in all of his decretals, as numerous as they are evil, he demands and decrees without any right whatever. He sins against the liberty of the Church whenever he attempts any such thing.”

Henry responds: “I only ask this, That if none, either Man or Angel, can appoint any Law among Christians, why does the Apostle institute for us so many Laws . . . If the Apostles did, of themselves, beside the especial Command of our Lord, appoint so many Things to be observed by Christians, why may not those who succeed them, do the same for the Good of the People?” (p 178-9).

Luther stated: 3.31 “We must know and strongly affirm that the making of such laws is unjust, that we will bear and rejoice in this injustice. We will be careful neither to justify the tyrant nor complain against his tyranny.”

Henry sees hypocrisy in Luther, since Luther was quick to invoke the power of the state on the church’s behalf. “If Luther is of Opinion, that People ought not to obey; why does he say they must obey? If he thinks they ought to obey, why is not he himself obedient? Why does this Quack juggle thus? Why does he thus reproachfully raise himself against the Bishop of Rome, whom he says we ought to obey?” (p 179).

Luther’s infamous tirade: 3.31 “Nevertheless, since few know this glory of baptism and the blessedness of Christian liberty, and cannot know them because of the tyranny of the pope, I for one will walk away from it all and redeem my conscience by bringing this charge against the pope and all his papists: Unless they will abolish their laws and traditions, and restore to Christ's churches their liberty and have it taught among them, they are guilty of all the souls that perish under this miserable captivity, and the papacy is truly the kingdom of Babylon, yes, the kingdom of the real Antichrist! For who is  the man of sin and the son of perdition but he that with his doctrines and his laws increases sins and the perdition of souls in the Church, while he sits in the Church as if he were God? All this the papal tyranny has fulfilled, and more than fulfilled, these many centuries. It has extinguished faith, obscured the sacraments and oppressed the Gospel. But its own laws, which are not only impious and sacrilegious, but even barbarous and foolish, it has enjoined and multiplied world without end.” 

Luther on Confirmation: 5.2 “I do not say this because I condemn the seven sacraments, but because I deny that they can be proved from the Scriptures. . . . For, in order that there be a sacrament, there is required above all things a word of divine promise, whereby faith, may be trained. But we read nowhere that Christ ever gave a promise concerning confirmation, although He laid hands on many.” 

5.3 “Hence it is sufficient to regard confirmation as a certain churchly rite or sacramental ceremony, similar to other ceremonies, such as the blessing of holy water and the like. For if every other creature is sanctified by the word and by prayer, (1 Timothy 4:4 ff.) why should not much rather man be sanctified by the same means? Still, these things cannot be called sacraments of faith, because there is no divine promise connected with them, neither do they save; but sacraments do save those who believe the divine promise.”

Henry responds by opening his chapter with: “Luther is so far from admitting Confirmation to be a Sacrament, that, on the Contrary, he says, he admires what the Church’s Intention was in making it one.” Henry points out that not all words of Jesus were included in the New Testament, so Luther's argument is an argument from ignorance. Henry also returns to his oft repeated point that it's hard to believe the church, following ancient tradition, could be so wrong for so long, throughout the world until Luther came along.

Henry explained: "I do not think that any Person, who has the least Spark of Faith in him, can be persuaded, that Christ, who prayed for St. Peter, that his Faith should not fail; who placed his Church on a firm Rock; should suffer her, for so many Ages, to be bound by vain Signs of corporal Things, under an erroneous Confidence of their being divine Sacraments." (p 196).

Prayers from the Prayer Book rite of Baptism resemble Henry's quote from Pope Melchiades ("In Baptism we are regenerated to Life, after Baptism we are confirmed for the Combat; for Confirmation arms and instructs us against the Agonies of this World"):

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who of thy great mercy didst save Noah and his family in the ark from perishing by water; and also didst safely lead the children of Israel thy people through the Red Sea, figuring thereby thy holy Baptism; and by the Baptism of thy well-beloved Son Jesus Christ, in the river Jordan, didst sanctify Water to the mystical washing away of sin: We beseech thee, for thine infinite mercies, that thou wilt mercifully look upon this Child; wash him and sanctify him with the Holy Ghost; that he, being delivered from thy wrath, may be received into the ark of Christ's Church; and being steadfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in charity, may so pass the waves of this troublesome world, that finally he may come to the land of everlasting life, there to reign with thee world without end, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. . . . 

WE receive this Child into the Congregation of Christ's flock, and do sign him with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner against sin, the world, and the devil, and to continue Christ's faithful soldier and servant unto his life's end. Amen.

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