Chapter XII.

Baptism and Confirmation.

Having considered the leading characteristics which belong to sacraments in general, according to the idea of the Roman Catholic Church, it only remains that we state the peculiarities proper to each.

Nothing could be more simple as a rite, or more significant as a symbol, than baptism administered according to Scripture; nothing could be more foolish, ridiculous, or superstitious, than baptism administered according to the forms of the Roman Catholic Church. Water sprinkled on the body is the divinely-appointed sign; but to the Scripture form a great many absurd additions have been made. The water is prepared and consecrated with "the oil of mystic unction;" certain words and prayers are muttered over the child, to exorcise the devil; salt is put into the mouth, to intimate the relish acquired by baptism for "the food of divine wisdom," and the disposition communicated to perform good works. On the forehead, the eyes, the breast, the shoulders, the ears, is put the sign of the cross, to block up the senses against the entrance of evil, and to open them for the reception of good and the knowledge of divine things. The responses being made at the font, the child is next anointed with the oil of catechumens; first on the breast, that his bosom may become the abode of the Holy Ghost and of the true faith; next on the shoulders, that he may become strong and active in the performance of good works; the assent is then given, either personally or by sponsor, to the apostle's creed; after which baptism is administered. The crown of his head is then anointed with chrism, to signify his engrafting into Christ. A white napkin is given to the infant, to signify that purity of soul and that glory of the resurrection to which he is born by his baptism. A lighted taper is put into his hand, to represent the good works by which his faith is to be fed and made to burn. And finally, a name is given, which is usually selected from some distinguished saint in the calendar, whose virtues he is to imitate, and by whose prayers he is to be shielded and blessed.[1]

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that participation in this rite is essential to salvation. "Is baptism necessary to salvation?" it is asked in Butler's Catechism. "Yes," is the reply; "without it we cannot enter into the kingdom of God."[2] "Without baptism," says Liguori, "no one can enter heaven."[3] Dens states two exceptions,--that of the martyr, and that of the man labouring under invincible ignorance.[4] The effects of baptism are great and manifold. The compilers of the Roman Catechism have enumerated seven of the more notable ones. It cleanses from the guilt both of original sin and actual transgression; and nothing remains in the person but the infirmity of concupiscence. All punishment due on account of sin is discharged; justification and adoption, and other invaluable privileges, are bestowed; it implants the germ of all virtues; it engrafts into Christ; it stamps with an ineffaceable character; and it constitutes the person an heir of heaven.[5]

Next in order to baptism comes the sacrament of confirmation. Baptism is the spiritual birth; but the Roman Catholic Church, like a tender mother, desires and delights to see her children wax in stature and in strength; and this they do mainly through the mystic influence of confirmation, in which the grace of baptism is perfected. By baptism they become Christians; by confirmation they become strong Christians. The one is the gate by which they enter the Christian state; the other clothes them with the armour of a Christian soldier.[6] None are to be confirmed till they have attained at least the age of seven years. Its rites are simpler than those of baptism, but they are equally without warrant in Scripture, and therefore equally superstitious. This rite is to be administered by a bishop, who, making the sign of the cross upon the forehead of the person with chrism, compounded of oil and balsam, says, "I confirm thee, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." He next slaps the person on the cheek, to signify that, as a soldier of the cross, he must be prepared bravely to endure hardships; and, lastly, he bestows the kiss of peace, to denote the impartation of that "peace that passeth all understanding." With the chrism the person enjoys a mystic anointing. He is no longer a child; he is now a perfect man, equipped for performing the labours and fighting the battles of the Church. In this sacrament the Roman Catholic Church holds that the seven gifts of the Spirit are bestowed. These gifts are,--wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and the fear of the Lord. Like baptism, the sacrament of confirmation confers an ineffaceable character, and is never to be repeated.[7]

Rome has a fine histrionic genius. She has eclipsed all other actors that ever appeared in the world. What is the Papacy but a mighty melo-drama, which, according to the vein of the hour, runs out into the humours and fooleries of comedy, or deepens into the horrors of tragedy. All the persons and verities of eternal truth pass in shadow before the spectator in Rome's scenic exhibition. She affects to play over again the grand drama, of which the universe is the stage, and eternity the development,--redemption. And for what end? That she may hide from man the reality. Her system is essentially counterfeit, and all she does is pervaded by a spirit of imposture and juggling. But in some of her rites she lays aside her usual disguise, thin enough at the best, and reveals her art to all as but a piece of naked witchcraft. If those are not spells which she commends her priests to operate with on certain occasions, Hecate herself never used incantation or charm. We open her missals, and find them but books of sorcery: they are filled with recipes or spells for doing all manner of supernatural feats,--exorcising demons, working miracles, and infusing new and extraordinary qualities into things animate and inanimate. She has her cabalistic words, which, if uttered by a priest in the appropriate dress, will bind or loose men, send them to paradise or shut them up in purgatory! What is this but magic? What is the Church of Rome but a company of conjurors? and what is her worship but a system of divination? Has she not an order of exorcists, specially and formally ordained to the somewhat dangerous office of fighting with and overcoming hobgoblins and devils? Has she not her regular formulas, by which she can change the qualities of substances, control the elements of air, earth, and water, and compel spirits and demons to do the bidding of her priests? Can any man of plain understanding take this for religion? What is her grand rite, but an incantation, which combines in more than the foulness of ancient sorcery with more than the blasphemy of modern atheism? And yet do not kings, presidents, and statesmen, countenance its celebration? and, while themselves practising this foul sorcery, and leading others by their influence to practise it, they affect to be shocked at the impieties of modern socialism! We excuse not Voltaire and the other high priests of infidelity; but it is indisputable that they treated the human understanding with more respect than do the stoled and mitred sorcerers, who first create, then eat their god. What are the rubrics of the Romish Church, but recipes for the manufacture of holy salt, holy mortar, holy ashes, holy incense, holy bells, holy oil, holy water, and we know not how many other things besides? And the instructions regarding this unearthly kind of manufacture are plentifully mixed with exorcisms for driving the devil out of oil, out of buildings, and out of infants. For, with striking but characteristic inconsistency, while, according to the theory of original sin, as we have explained it, man's nature is entire and sound, according to the formula of baptism he is possessed by a demon. "Come out of this body, unclean spirit!" So runs the summons uttered by priestly lips, and addressed to the supposed occupant of every infant brought to the baptismal font. According to the dogmatic view, man has no corrupt element in his constitution; according to the ritual, he is a demoniac, and remains a demoniac till the baptismal water restores him to his right mind. What, in form or essence, is awanting in the following scene, to entitle it to be regarded as a piece of genuine witchcraft? It is the exorcism of water in order to its being used in baptizing. Following the classic model which the words of Hecate to the three weird sisters furnish,--

"Your vessels and your spells provide,
Your charms, and everything beside,"--

the rubric proceeds:--

"First, let the vessel be washed and cleansed, and then filled with clear water; then let the sacrificing priest, in his surplice (or alb) and stole, with the clerks or other priests, if they be at hand, with the cross, two wax candles, the censor and incense, the vessels of the chrism, and the oil of the catechumens, solemnly advance to the font, and there, or at the altar of the baptistery, if there be one, say the following litany" [in Latin].

That litany consists of an invocation of all the saints in the Roman calendar; for it is fitting that such an incantation should open with the names of the "three hundred gods" of Rome in whose honour these rites are performed. After this comes the EXORCISM.

"I exorcise thee, thou creature of water,
By the living ^, by the true ^,
By the holy ^ person who,
By a word, without a hand,
Parted thee from the dry land;
Who did brood upon thy face,
In the void and formless space;
Who did order thee to go,
And from Paradise to flow,
In four goodly rivers forth,
Towards the south, cast, west, and north."

"Here let him with his hand divide the water, and then pour some of it outside the edge of the font, toward the four parts of the world.

"Who, when bitter was thy flood,
By the prophet's branch of wood,
Made thee sweet; who from the stone,
In the desert parch'd and lone,
Fainting Israel's thirst to cure,
Brought thee forth . . . . .
. . . . . I thee conjure;
Be thou holy water, blest;
Cleanse the foul and guilty breast;
Wash away the filth of sin;
Make the bosom pure within.
And ye devils, every one,
Let what I prescribe be done.
Where this water sprinkled flies,
Thence eradicate all lies;
Every phantasm put to flight;
Every dark thing bring to light.
Let it be of life eternal,
Fountain salient and supernal;
Laver of Regeneration
For a chosen favoured nation.
In the name, &c.--Amen."

Then follow certain ceremonies, such as blowing three times into the water, incensing the font, and pouring in oil in the form of a cross; after which the incantation is concluded as follows:--

"Mingle, O thou holy chrism;
Blessed oil, I mingle thee;
Mingle, water of baptism,
Mingle, all ye sacred three;
Mingle, mingle, mingle ye,
In the name of ^, and of ^, and of ^."

Now this appears to us to embody the very soul of magic. The only two spiritual agencies known to man,--the moral and supernatural agency of the Divine Spirit, and the intellectual and natural agency of truth,--are here set aside, and a third sort of agency, that of spells and incantations, is called into requisition. Is not this witchcraft? Of whom, then, are the priests of Rome the successors? Manifestly of the ancient diviners and wizards. Nor could anything be finer, as a piece of the histrionic, than the scene just described. The ancient models have been carefully studied, and their forms as well as spirit preserved. The obscurity produced by the incense and the tapers,--the mystic dresses, with their Hieroglyphical signs,--the crossings and blowings,--the mixing and mingling of various substances,--the intoned incantations,--the dread names employed to conjure with,--all combine to form a scene such as might have been beheld in the observatory of some ancient Chaldean astrologer, or in the cell of some Egyptian soothsayer; or such as the poor infatuated monarch witnessed in the sorceress's cot at Endor; or, to come nearer home, such as the great Hecate and her three bedlamite attendants celebrated at midnight on the bleak heath of Forres, so powerfully painted by the genius of Shakspeare. The one set of rites are equally important and dignified as the other; and both occupy the mind with precisely the same feeling,--that feeling being one of vague, hurtful, and demoralizing awe.


[1] Cat. Rom. pars ii. cap. ii. s. xlvi.--lxi.,--"Quotuplices sunt Baptismi Ritus?" [Back]

[2] Butler's Catechism, lesson xxiv. [Back]

[3] Instructions on the Commandments and Sacraments; by Alphonsus M. Liguori; part ii. chap. ii.; Dublin, 1844. [Back]

[4] Theol. Mor. et Dog. Petri Dens, tom. v. p. 173. "Nisi per baptismi gratiam Deo renascantur, in sempiternam miseriam et interitum a parentibus, sive illi fideles sive infideles sint, procreantur." (Cat. Rom. pars ii. c. ii. s. xxv.) [Back]

[5] Cat. Rom. pars ii. cap. ii. s. xxxi.--xlv.: Perrone's Praelectiones Theologicae, tom. ii. p. 116, et seq. [Back]

[6] Perrone's Praelectiones Theologicae, tom. ii. p. 130. [Back]

[7] Cat. Rom. pars ii. cap. iii.,--De Confirmationis Sacramento: Theol. Mor. et Dog. Petri Dens, tom. v.,--Tractatus de Sacramento Confirmationis: Butler's Cat. lesson xxv. [Back]


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