The Sacrament of Baptism, as described by Venerable Fulton Sheen, 1962

1952 photograph of Venerable Fulton John Sheen produced as promotional material for the television show 'Life is Worth Living'The sunshine, the carbons, and the rain could never share the life of the plant unless they died to their lower existence and were assumed or taken up into plant life Plants could never share the sensitive and locomotive power of animals, unless they died to their lower existence and were taken up by the animal. None of the things in lower creation could live in man, and share his arts, his sciences, his thinking and his loves unless they ceased to be what they were, submitting to the death of knife and fire.

Now, since there is a life above the human, the Christ-life, man, or the old Adam, cannot share in it unless he dies to himself. But here there is no confiscation or violent appropriation as there is when the cow eats grass. Christ will not take us up to Himself unless we freely give ourselves to Him. This death to the life of sin, this sharing of the divine life, is Baptism.

Water: The Material Sign of Baptism

Water is used for cleansing from dust and dirt; therefore, it may be the symbol of a spiritual washing from original sin. But it can also symbolize both death and life. One can plunge into water and be submerged by it; then it is a symbol of death. After the plunge, one may rise from the water; then it is a token of resurrection. A descent into water has always been a description of penetration into deep and mysterious fecundities; the Greeks believed that the whole living universe came from water.

From another point of view, water is an excellent symbol of Baptism, because it is an open sign of separation. Water very often is the natural boundary between city and city, state and state, nation and nation, continent and continent, tribe and tribe. Those who live on one side of water are “separated” from those who live on the other. In the early days, before rapid communication, it was a dramatic experience to pass from one territory to another. This symbolism, therefore, was well fitted for the Divine Master to indicate the separation of the Christian from the world, as the water which was divided in the Red Sea, was a symbol of the separation of Israel from the slavery of Egypt.

statue of the Baptism of Christ by Saint John the Baptist, date and artist unknown; parish church of Saint Lawrence, Embach, Lend, Salzburg, Austria; photographed on 5 February 2014 by Herzi Pinki; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsOnce the Jews had crossed the Red Sea, another symbol was used to “separate” them as the people of God, and that was circumcision. Not only was it a token of their covenant or testament with God, but it was required of all Israelites who partook of the Passover. In the New Testament, the same order is followed. Baptism, or incorporation into the Church, is the condition of reception of the New Passover, the Eucharist.

As ranchers brand their cattle, as ancient Romans branded their slaves, so God branded His own, both in the Old Testament and in the New; with circumcision of the flesh in the Old and circumcision of the spirit, or Baptism, in the New.

It may be objected, what good does a little water do when poured upon the head of a child? One might just as well ask what does a little water do when poured into the boiler. The water in the boiler can do nothing of and by itself, nor can the water on the head of a child. But when the water in the boiler is united to the mind of an engineer, it can drive an engine across a continent or a ship across the sea. So too, when water is united to the power of God, it can do more than change a crystal into life. It can take a creature and convert him into a child of God.

Naaman in the Old Testament was something like those today who think of the power of Baptism coming from water rather than from the Passion of Christ. Naaman was the general of the king of Syria. A maid who came from Samaria said that she wished that he had known the great prophet of Israel, for he could have cured him. The king then bade Naaman to go to Israel where he met the prophet, Eliseus. Eliseus said to him: “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and thy flesh shalt recover health and thou shalt be clean.” Naaman was insulted because he was told to go to that insignificant river Jordan to bathe:

“‘Why’, he said angrily, ‘I thought he would come out to meet me, and stand here invoking the name of his God; that he would touch the sore with his hand and cure me. Has not Damascus its rivers, Abana and Pharphar, such water as is not found in Israel?'” (4th Kings 5:11,12)

His servants, however, bade him go wash and be made clean, and he went down and washed seven times according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored and was made like the flesh of a little child when he was made clean. Then he confessed that it was done by the power of God: “I have learned, he said, past doubt, that there is no God to be found in all the world, save here in Israel” (4th Kings 5:15).

Baptism and the Life of Christ

Under the Old Law people believed in, or yearned for, a Messias who was to come. Abraham believed and his faith was accounted to him as justice, and he received circumcision as a sign of faith.

What was the faith, therefore, that justified Abraham, who was the father of the Jews? It was the faith in the Messias, or the Christ Who was to come. There is no salutary faith except in Christ. The Jews believed in the Christ Who was to come; we believe in Christ Who has come. The times have changed, but the reality of faith has not changed. There is only one faith. The faith that saves all men, making them pass from carnal generation to spiritual birth.

The reason Our Lord was baptized was because it was part of the whole process of emptying, of humiliation, of the Incarnation. How could He be poor with us, if He did not in some way conform to our poverty? How could He come among sinful men to redeem them, if He did not also reveal the necessity of being purged from sin? There was no need of Our Blessed Mother to submit to the rite of purification, as there was no need of Our Lord to submit to the rite of Baptism by John. He had no need personally of having sins remitted, but He assumed a nature which was related to sinful humanity. Though He was without sin, He appeared to all men as a sinner, as He did on the cross. That was why He walked into the Jordan with all the rest of the sinners to demand the baptism of penance “in remission of sins. ‘

In a very special way, Baptism is related to the death and Resurrection of Christ. In order to be saved, we have to recapitulate in our own lives the Death and the Resurrection of Christ. What He went through, we have to go through. He is the pattern, and we have to be modeled after Him. He is the die, we are the coins that have to be stamped with His image. In all of the sacraments, the virtue of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ is in some way applied to us. In Baptism, there is a very close relationship between the burial and the resurrection. The catechumen is plunged into the water as Christ was plunged into death. We say plunged into death because of the words of Our Lord: “There is a baptism I must needs be baptized with, and how impatient am I for its accomplishment” (Luke 12:50). Baptism not only incorporates us to the death of that which is evil in us, but also to the Resurrection of Christ, and therefore, to a new life.

There was recently found an inscription on a baptistry erected in the time of Constantine in the beginning of the fourth century, and it reads: “The waters received an old man, but brought forth a new man.” Saint Paul speaks of this: “It follows, in fact, that when a man becomes a new creature in Christ, his old life has disappeared, everything has become new about him (2nd Corinthians 5:17).

The Blessing of Baptismal Water

The water used in Baptism is blessed on Holy Saturday after the Litany of Saints, whose intercession is invoked on all those who will receive the sacrament. Then follows a prayer asking God to send forth “the Spirit of adoption” on those who are to be baptized. God has one Son Who exhausts the fullness of His glory, but baptism gives Him millions of adopted sons because it makes them partakers of His divine nature. The baptismal water is blessed by a prayer which recalls beautifully all the events of salvation which were in any way connected with water, from the beginning of the world when God’s Spirit hovered over the water, down to the commandment of Christ to baptize.

Throughout the Old Testament water is represented as a sinister element, and is supposed to be the abode of demons. To confirm this idea, the “Apocalypse” affirms that there will be no sea in the new earth after the resurrection of the just. Water, because of its unholy association, is exorcised on Holy Saturday that it may become “holy and innocent.” The priest then takes the water, divides it into four quarters of the globe to symbolize the four waters that branched out of Paradise and covered the earth. Next, he breathes upon the water three times symbolizing the Holy Spirit, then dips the paschal candle (the symbol of the risen Christ) into it three times. Here the consecration formula uses the symbolism of human generation: “May the power of the Holy Spirit descend into this brimming font, and make the whole substance of this water fruitful in regenerative power.” And again, “Just as the Holy Spirit came down upon Mary and wrought in her the birth of Christ, so may He descend upon the Church, and bring about in her maternal womb (the font), the rebirth of God’s children.”

The baptismal font in a church is now generally placed as far from the altar as possible. It often is a corner to the left of the entrance. In the early Church, the baptistry was sometimes placed outside the Church. The reason is that the person about to be baptized was not yet a member of the Church and, therefore, was not allowed to participate in its mysteries.

The baptismal font, if properly erected, has steps going down into it, to indicate that it is a pool. Its shape was octagonal, because the Resurrection took place on the eighth day, or the day after the Jewish Sabbath.

In the Old Testament, circumcision was always performed on the eighth day. The son that David had through his sin with Bethsabee died on the seventh day. The first seven days were symbols of the bonds of sin; hence, the eighth day represented the breaking of those bonds and the liberation from them. In the New Testament, Easter is the eighth day par excellence, and that was the reason why Baptism was administered on Easter.

Baptism in the Early Church

Baptism was usually given the night before Easter Sunday, but the baptismal ceremonies began with the opening of Lent. At that time all of the candidates, converts, or catechumens had their names inscribed by a priest in the Church. They were then brought before a bishop who examined the candidates concerning their moral life. Generally, the bishop would bring out the fact that the candidate for Baptism had lived under Satan, but now he must abandon him This meant a conflict and a battle. That is why we still have in the Church the Gospel of the temptation of Christ for the first Sunday of Lent, because it was the theme of the bishop to the catechumens at the beginning of their instructions.

The ceremony of Baptism took place then in three places and in like manner today:

(1) Before the entrance to the Church, which in the early Church was at the beginning of Lent;

(2) Inside the Church and before one comes to the baptistry, which happened in the middle of Lent in the early Church; and

(3) Finally, the baptistry itself on Holy Saturday night, or Easter morning.

In the baptismal ritual, the stole of the priest at the beginning of the Baptism is violet in color; this is because in the early Church, the first part of the ceremony of Baptism was during Lent. Toward the end of the ceremony, the priest changes his stole to white, following again the tradition of the early Church, when Baptism was administered on Easter Sunday.

Outside the Church

The Dialogue

The Baptism begins with a dialogue. The ceremony begins with: “What do you ask of the Church of God?” The answer is: “Faith.” The priest asks: “What does faith offer you?” The candidate or his sponsors answer: “Eternal life.” Note the close connection between faith and Baptism. After His Resurrection, Our Lord said to His Apostles: “Go out all over the world and preach the gospel to the whole of creation; he who believes and is baptized will be saved; he who refuses belief will be condemned” (Mark 16:15,16).

Our Blessed Lord first put belief before being baptized. In order to be saved, one must believe and be baptized. One can be saved by faith without the sacramental sign of baptism; that is, through desire or by martyrdom, but he who refuses to believe will be condemned: “For the man who believes in him, there is no rejection; the man who does not believe is already rejected; he has not found faith in the name of God’s only-begotten Son” (John 3:18).

The dialogue begins with “What do you ask of the Church of God?” Why the Church? Because the Church precedes the individual, not the individual the Church. When a person is baptized, he is not to be thought of as another brick that is added to an edifice, but rather as another cell united to the Christ-life. The Church expands from the inside out, not from the outside in. The foundation cell of the Church is Christ, and through Baptism, there is a multiplication of the cells of His body until there is a differentiation of functions and the building up of the whole Church. As a child is formed in the womb of the mother, so the Church, as a spiritual mother, forms and gives birth to the children of God. The Christian life resulting from Baptism is not an individual and solitary experience. It is a life in the Church and by the Church. As Saint Paul expresses it: “Through faith in Christ Jesus you are all now God’s sons” (1st Corinthians 12:4).

Baptism does not first of all establish an individual relationship with Christ, and then accidentally make one a member of His body, the Church. It is the other way around. The baptized person is first made a member of the Church, and thus he is incorporated into Christ. Baptism is social by nature. We are made members of Christ’s body before being established in our individual relationship with Christ:

“We, too, all of us have been baptized into a single body by the power of a single Spirit, Jews and Greeks, slaves and free men alike; we have all been given drink at a single source, the one Spirit.” (1st Corinthians 12:13)


In Baptism, infants are incorporated into Christ, not through an act of their own will, but through an act of the sponsor who represents the Church and assumes responsibility for the spiritual education of the infant. The parents, of course, must consent to the baptism; the Church refuses to baptize anyone against his or her will, or even to baptize an infant unless there is some guarantee that the child will be raised in the faith. The sponsors are representatives of the Church, not representatives of the parents. They witness the incorporation of the infant into the fellowship of Christ.

It may be asked why should a child be baptized when he has nothing to say about it? Well, why should a child be fed? Is he asked his advice before he is given the family name? If he receives the name of the family, the fortune of the family, the rank of the family, the inheritance of the family, why should he not also receive the religion of the family? In our own country we do not wait until children are twenty-one and then allow them to decide whether or not they want to become American citizens, or whether they want to speak the English language. They are born Americans; so we in Baptism are born members of the Mystical Body of Christ. If one waits until he is twenty-one before learning something about his relation to the Lord Who redeemed him, he will have already learned another catechism, the catechism of his passions, his concupiscences, and his lusts.


Though the Hebrews had passed through the Red Sea, they were, nevertheless, followed by the Egyptians; so too, though a person is baptized, he is still followed by Satan throughout his life. That is why the baptized person is asked to renounce Satan and all of his seductions. This renouncing of Satan has as its parallel the attachment to Christ or the transfer from one master to another. In Baptism today, the ceremonies of exorcism follow rapidly upon one another, and thereby have lost the significance which they had in the early Church when they were separated by several weeks. This evil that the baptized are invited to combat, is not just a moral force or a vague kind of paganism; it is a cosmic reality, for the devil is, as Our Lord said, the prince of this world. That is why even before the Church begins the baptism of a person, it blesses water, oil, and salt, in some instances even with exorcisms, in order to snatch them out of the power of Satan.

There is a triple renouncing of Satan which corresponds to the threefold profession of faith:

Question: Do you renounce Satan?
Answer: I do renounce him.

Question: And all his works?
Answer: I do renounce them.

Question: And all his allurements?
Answer: I do renounce them.

This question has reference to the words of Saint Paul to the Romans: “Let us abandon the ways of darkness, and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12).

Thus the triple profession of faith accompanies the triple renouncing of Satan, and is bound to a gesture; namely, the anointing with the oil of catechumens. The one who baptizes dips his thumb in oil, and then traces a cross on the breast and between the shoulders of the one to be baptized. Formerly the oil was rubbed all over the body. This was also done on athletes who were engaging in some sport in the arena, but here the signification is spiritual, for it is the beginning of a spiritual competition (1st Corinthians 9:24-27).

The exorcisms look both to the future, as well as to the past, to remind the catechumen that the struggle against the forces of Satan is a confrontation of God and the devil, the devil seeking to dispute the souls which Our Lord won, as he tempted Our Lord in the desert.

In the early Church, the renouncing of Satan was done facing the west. This is because the west is where the light of the sun disappears; therefore, it was regarded even by the ancient Greeks as the place of the gates of Hades; also, because Christ on the Last Day said He would come from the east to the west: “When the Son of Man comes, it will be like the lightning that springs up from the east and flashes across to the west” (Matthew 24:27). The baptismal liturgy of Milan reads: “Ye were turned to the east for he who renounced the demon turns himself to Christ. He sees Him face to face.”

In the exorcism, the priest says: “I exorcise you, unclean spirit, in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Come forth, from this servant of God [name] for He commands you, spirit accursed and damned, He Who walked upon the sea and extended His right hand to Peter as he was sinking. Therefore, cursed devil, acknowledge your condemnation and pay homage to the true and living God; pay homage to Jesus Christ, His Son, and to the Holy Spirit, and depart from the servant of God [name], for Jesus Christ, Our Lord and our God, has called him [her] to His holy grace and blessing, and to the font of Baptism.”

When the priest signs the forehead with his thumb in the form of a cross, he says: “Then never dare, cursed devil, to violate the sign of the cross which we are making upon his [her] forehead through Christ Our Lord.”

The various exorcisms, the laying on of hands, breathings, and sign of the cross are done in the vestibule of the Church. The second act of the ceremonies takes place at the entrance of the baptistry. The evil spirit has no authority in the holy place; that is why the final exorcism of the devil is at the entrance.

The Body in Baptism

detail of a statue depicting the baptism of Saint Augustin, 1549, artist unknown; Cathédrale Saint-Pierre and Saint-Paul de Troyes, Aube, France; photographed on 14 February 2008 by Vassil; swiped from Wikimedia Commonsl click for source imageBecause the body is to become by Baptism the temple of God, because God dwells in it, it is fitting that it have an important role in the sacrament. Each of the senses are spiritualized in the sacraments: hearing, taste, touch, smell, and sight.

The ears of the baptized person are touched with the words, “Be thou opened.” The Hebrew word Our Lord used in opening the ears of the deaf man was “Ephpheta.” The assumption is that the person up to this moment has been deaf to the hearing of the word of God. Now his ears are opened, so that he can understand the word of God, and the confidences which God exchanges with him about the Kingdom of Heaven.

Tasting is testing. Before food goes into the stomach, it passes through the laboratory of the mouth for either approval or disapproval. In the spiritual order, the taste is not for body-food, but soul-food; the material element here used as a symbol for tasting Divine Wisdom and the Eucharist is salt. Placing salt on the tongue of the candidate for Baptism, the Church says: “Satisfy him [her] with the Bread of Heaven that he [she] may be forever fervent in spirit, joyful in hope, zealous in your service.” Scripture bids us: “How gracious the Lord is. Taste and prove it” (Psalm 33:9).

The symbolism is that the truths of faith infused at Baptism will be preserved from error; that the person may reflect the savor of Christ in his life, and this taste of salt may be converted into a yearning for the Bread of Life, the Eucharist, which is the end of all the sacraments. When the faith is gone, everything is gone, as Our Lord warned:

“You are the salt of the earth; if salt loses its taste, what is there left to give taste to it? There is no more to be done with it, but throw it out of doors for men to tread it under foot.” (Matthew 5:13)

The body, during the ceremony, is touched in three places with oil: on the breast, between the shoulders, and on the head. The first two anointing are with the oil of catechumens, the last with chrism. The sign of the cross is made on the breast with oil to indicate that the heart must love God; between the shoulders to remind us that we are to carry the Cross of Christ; on the head, as a sign of eternal election in Christ Our Lord.

The “Apocalypse,” describing the end of the world, says the destroying angel was “to attack men, such as did not bear God’s mark on their foreheads” (Apocalyse 9:4). The elect will be known, because they have already been signed and have lived up to all the Cross commits them to in this life.

The last anointing with chrism, which takes place after Baptism, is the symbol of the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament, oil was poured upon the head of the priest (Exodus 29:7), and upon kings (1st Kings 10:1), to render them holy unto the Lord. Pulled out of the powers of darkness by Baptism, the Christian is now transported into the light of God and into His kingdom; that is why he becomes royal. Saint Leo bade the faithful: “Recognize, O Christian, thy dignity.”

We associate goodness with sweet odors and badness with foul odors. We have a “nose” for detecting the healthy and the unhealthy. This sense of smell is spiritualized in Baptism, and is made to symbolize sanctity or holiness.

The Church speaks of saints as dying in “the odor of sanctity.” Sometimes their bodies after death give forth a sweet odor. The saintly Cure of Ars would walk along a line of several hundred persons waiting to go to confession. He would pick out one here and there and put them first in line. When asked how he could do it, he answered: “I can smell sin.” As the Church signs the nostrils of the catechumen, she says: “I sign you on the nostrils that you may perceive the sweet fragrance of Christ.”

The eyes of the candidate are anointed, as the Church says: “I sign you on the eyes that you may see God’s glory.” By this is symbolized a new kind of vision: the things of God in addition to the things of earth: “Fix (your) eyes on what is unseen, not on what we can see. What we can see lasts but for a moment; what is unseen is eternal” (2nd Corinthians 4:18). Our Blessed Lord spoke of some who had eyes and yet were blind, because they had no faith: “Have you eyes that cannot see?” (Mark 8:18).

As a further example of the role of vision, a lighted candle is given to the one baptized. He is bidden to receive this burning light, and keep the grace of his baptism without blame. This refers to the words of Our Lord: “Your light must shine so brightly before men that they can see your good works, and glorify your Father Who is in Heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

We have the same eyes at night as during the daytime, but we cannot see at night because we lack the light of the sun. So there is a difference in persons looking upon the same reality, such as life, birth, death, the world. The baptized person has a light which the others do not have. Sometimes the person with the light of faith will regard the other person as ignorant or stupid, but actually he is only blind. On the other hand, the one who is baptized must not believe that his superior insights are due to his own reason, or his own merits. They are solely due to the light that has come to him through Christ.

There are various lights in the world: the light of the sun which illumines our senses; the light of reason which illumines science and culture; and the light of faith which illumines Christ and eternal verities.

The Baptism Itself

The actual moment of Baptism comes when the priest pours water on the head of a person, saying: “I baptize thee, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” The personal pronoun “I” refers not only to the priest, but to Christ Who speaks through the tongue given Him by the Church as He spoke through the tongue given Him by Mary. As the portals of the flesh once opened to the life of the human, now the womb of the Church opens and exults: “A child is born.”

Saint Augustine said this is a greater act than the creation of the world, for it blots out our debt of sin to God, original sin if it be an infant, original and personal sins if it be an adult. The full effects of this act will be mentioned later.

The Lighted Candle and Baptism

baptism candleBecause the Sacrament of Baptism opened the eyes of the soul to see, it was called the sacrament of illumination: “Remember those early days, when the light first came to you” (Hebrews 10:32). Once asleep to the wonders of Redemption, eyes are now awake to receive Christ, the light of the world (John 1:19) and to become sons of light (1st Thessalonians 5:5).

Because Baptism is the sacrament of faith, it is the sacrament of light. This baptismal candle in the early Church was always kept by the person baptized, and was lighted on the anniversary of one’s baptism and on feast days, and brought to the church for the Easter vigil and the renewal of baptismal vows. Then later, if the person was married, the candle was lighted at his wedding. If he was ordained, it was lighted at his ordination, and when he died, it was lighted again as he went to his Judge.

The White Robe of Baptism

That the body is now the temple of God is further indicated by putting on a white robe after the Baptism itself. Today this is often only a small white cloth, but its symbolism still remains: “The body is for the Lord.”

In the Transfiguration, Our Blessed Lord’s garment was white (Matthew 17:2) as a symbol of holiness and purity. White was the color of the vestments in the Old Testament. It was the color of the veil which divided the sanctuary. It was the attire of the high priest. It was the color of festivity (Ecclesiastes 9:8), and of triumph (Apocalypse 6:2), and a symbol of glory and majesty (Matthew 28:3). The prayer that is said at Baptism is a petition that this garment be kept without stain: “Receive this white garment. Never let it become stained, so that when you stand before the judgment seat of Our Lord you may have life everlasting.” Dante, in his practical knowledge of human nature, knowing that many do not keep it sinless, described purgatory as a “place where we go to wash our baptismal robes.”

The white robe further symbolizes the recovery of the vestment of light which was man’s before the Fall. As Gregory of Nyssa said: “Thou hast driven us out of paradise and called us back; Thou hast taken away the fig leaves, that garment of our misery, and clothed us once more with the robe of glory.”

Because Baptism in the early Church was by immersion, there was an additional symbolism attached to the new garment that was put on, namely, to signify the entirely new life that came to one after one was “buried with Christ in His Death” (Romans 6:4). The neophyte did not resume the clothing he had taken off. He put on a new white garment, which he wore at all services during the entire Easter octave. A week later, in the early Church, there was “the sabbath of the removal of white robes.” These were solemnly taken off and deposited in the treasury of the baptismal Church.

Effects of Baptism

The first effect of Baptism is the restoration to friendship with God which was lost by original sin. The baptized person is made a partaker of the divine nature and, therefore, a sharer in divine life. There is more difference between a soul in the state of grace which begins in Baptism and a soul not in the state of grace than there is between a baptized person in the state of grace on this earth and a soul in glory in heaven. The relation of the first two is the relationship between a crystal and an elephant: one cannot beget the other. The second relationship is that of an acorn and an oak. The acorn has the potential of becoming an oak; the baptized person in grace has the potential to enjoy the glory of God. That is why Baptism is said to make the person a new creature: “In fact, when a man becomes a new creature in Christ, his old life has disappeared, everything has become new about him” (2nd Corinthians 5:17).

This sharing of the divine nature makes us the adopted sons of the eternal Father. Just as Christ is the Divine Son Incarnate; so we become adopted children, as distinct from the natural Son:

“But all those who did welcome him, He empowered to become the children of God.” (John 1:12)

“Those who follow the leading of God’s Spirit are all God’s sons.” (Romans 8:14)

The Dauphin, the father of Louis XVI, gave a lesson on the effect of Baptism to his two sons. They had been baptized as infants but in emergency. It was only years later, when they had reached the age of reason, that the ceremonies were performed. Immediately after Baptism, it was noted that the names of the two children were registered after a common laborer about the palace. The royal father said:

“See, my children, in the eyes of God, men of all conditions are equal. In His sight, faith and virtue are all that matters. One day you will be greater than this child in the eyes of the world; but if he is more virtuous than you, then he will be greater than you in the sight of God.”

This likeness to God or the unlikeness will be the determinant of our future state. A mother knows her daughter is her own because that child shares her nature; a mother also knows the child next door is not her own because of the diversity of nature and parentage. So it will be with Christ on the last day. He will look into a soul and see His divine resemblance and say: “Come, ye blessed of My Father. I am the Natural Son and you are the adopted children”; but to those who have not that likeness, Christ will say: “I know you not” – and it is a terrible thing not to be known by God.

Another effect is incorporation in the Mystical Body of Christ. Baptism is not just a bond existing between the person and Christ: to be united to Christ is to be united with the Church, for the Church is His body. The Church is not an organization, but an organism. As circumcision was an incorporation into the spiritual body of Israel, so Baptism is incorporation into the spiritual body of the Church. A physical body is made up of millions of cells, and all of these coordinate and cooperate into a unity, thanks to the soul which organizes them, the invisible mind which guides them, and the visible head which directs them. So too, all the baptized are incorporated into the Mystical Body, thanks to the Holy Spirit which vivifies it; thanks to the invisible head, Christ, Who rules the organism of the Church; and thanks to the visible head, its Vicar of Christ, who directs it on earth.

The two most common errors concerning the Church are these:

(1) the belief that Christians came first and then the Church; and

(2) that to justify the Church one must go to the New Testament – which antedated the Church.

In regard to the first error, the Christians did not come before the Church. The physical body of Christ was the beginning of the Church, and the Apostles constituted its first prolongation. The Church, or the body of Christ, was not composed of the will of individual Christians; the latter were not first brought to Our Lord and then inducted in some way into the Church. The Church has its origin not in the will of man, nor in the flesh of man, but in the will of Christ, Our Lord. The Apostles were the ministers of the Lord Himself. The world is called into the Church, but the world does not make the Church by sending men into it.

Regarding the second error, the Church was in existence throughout the entire Roman Empire, before a single book of the New Testament was written. Long before Saint Paul wrote any of his epistles, he said that he had “persecuted the Church.” The Church was in existence before he wrote about it so beautifully. The Gospel came out of the Church; the Church did not come out of the Gospel.

Because Baptism makes us a cell in the body of Christ, it is called the door of the Church. Each new generation of baptized Christians is taken up into that already existing unity. Saint Peter, changing the analogy, describes those who are inducted into the Church as living stones:

“Draw near to Him; He is the living antitype of that stone which men rejected, which God has chosen and prized; you too must be built up on Him, stones that live and breathe, into a spiritual fabric.” (1st Peter 2:4,5)

The very fact that the ceremony of Baptism begins outside of the Church, or at the door of the Church, and that the adult to be baptized is led in by a stole, confirms the fact that the unbaptized is not yet a member of the Church.

The Infusion of Virtues

Another effect is the infusion of virtues. A virtue is something like a habit. There are two kinds of habits: infused habits, such as the infused habit of swimming which a duck has when it is born; and acquired habits, such as playing the violin or speaking a foreign language.

Baptism infuses seven virtues into the soul, the first three of which relate to God Himself, namely, faith, hope, and charity. We are thus enabled to believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him. But four other virtues, called moral virtues, are related to the means of attaining God; these are prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. By the right use of things for God’s sake, by paying our debts to God, by being brave about witnessing our faith and temperate about even the legitimate pleasures of life, we reach God more quickly.

One of the reasons there is little difficulty in convincing children of the existence of God and the divinity of the Church is that they already have the gift of faith infused in their souls at the moment of Baptism. This faith, however, requires practice and intellectual fortification. If one woke up suddenly and became endowed with the gift of playing the organ, he would still have to practice to retain the gift. So, even though the gift of faith is infused, it nevertheless requires practice. In the adult, Baptism demands faith, but faith supposes that one has already received the word of God:

“Only, how are they to call upon him until they have learned to believe in him? And how are they to believe in him, until they listen to him?” (Romans 10:14)

It may be asked why adults who already have the faith are said to need Baptism. If the adult is already justified by faith, Baptism is necessary in order that he may be incorporated visibly and sacramentally to Christ in His Church. Furthermore, they receive, in virtue of Baptism, a fuller grace. In the case of children, the habit of virtue becomes a conscious act later on. The faith is not just a profession of doctrine, but is the commitment to Our Lord and Savior.

Another effect, which is closely bound up with grace, is the indwelling of the Trinity in our souls, from which arises a triple relationship with the Godhead. First is the relationship with God the Father. The baptized may now say “Our Father.” By nature, we are only creatures of God; by Baptism, we are sons:

“The spirit you have now received is not, as of old, a spirit of slavery, to govern you by fear; it is the spirit of adoption, which makes us cry out, Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15)

We also have relationship with the Son of God, Who is “the firstborn of many brethren” (Romans 8:29). The baptized person will, therefore, try to reproduce in his soul the image of Christ. As it is put in “Imitation of Christ”:

“Who will give me, Lord, to find You and You alone, and to offer You my whole heart…You in me, and I in You, and therefore together, evermore to dwell.”

Finally, there is union with the Holy Spirit. At the moment of Baptism the priest says, “Depart, unclean spirit, and give place to the Holy Spirit.” Saint John writes: “This is our proof that we are dwelling in Him and He in us; He has given us a share of His own Spirit” (1st John 4:13). The Spirit within us is a moving Spirit, illumining the mind and strengthening the will to sanctify ourselves and others:

“Nor does this hope delude us; the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom we have received.” (Romans 5:4)

The world, therefore, is divided into the “once born” and the “twice born”: between the sons of the old Adam, and the sons of the new Adam, Christ; between the unregenerate and the regenerate. There is a real inequality in the world. There are “superior” and “inferior” peoples, but the basis of distinction is not color, race, nationality, or wealth. The superior people of the earth are the supermen, the Godmen; the inferior people are those who have been called to that superior state but, as yet, have not embraced it. But the reborn must follow the laws of divine life, for which the Lord has prepared other sacraments.

– from These Are The Sacraments, by described by Venerable Fulton John Sheen, 1962; published by Hawthorn Books of New York; Nihil Obstat: William F. Hogan, S.T.D., Censor Librorum; Imprimatur: James A. Hughes, J.C.D., LL.D., P.A., Vicar General, Archdiocese of Newark, 22 October 1962; Scripture quotes are from the Knox translation of The Holy Bible