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Saturday, April 09, 2005

Augustine: Could it be more clear?

9. You know that in ordinary parlance we often say, when Easter is approaching, “Tomorrow or the day after is the Lord’s Passion,” although He suffered so many years ago, and His passion was endured once for all time. In like manner, on Easter Sunday, we say, “This day the Lord rose from the dead,” although so many years have passed since His resurrection. But no one is so foolish as to accuse us of falsehood when we use these phrases, for this reason, that we give such names to these days on the ground of a likeness between them and the days on which the events referred to actually transpired, the day being called the day of that event, although it is not the very day on which! the event took place, but one corresponding to it by the revolution of the same time of the! year, and the event itself being said to take place on that day, because, although it really took place long before. it is on that day sacramentally celebrated. Was not Christ once for all offered up in His own person as a sacrifice.? and yet, is He. not likewise offered up in the sacrament as a sacrifice, not only in the special solemnities of Easter, but also daily among our congregations; so that the man who, being questioned, answers that He is offered as a sacrifice in that ordinance, declares what is strictly true? For if sacraments had not some points of real resemblance to the things of which they are the sacraments, they would not be sacraments at all. In most cases, moreover, they do in virtue of this likeness bear the names of the realities which they resemble. As, therefore, in a certain manner the sacrament of Christ’s body is Christ’s body, and the sacrament of Christ’s blood is Christ’s blood,876 in the same manner the sacrament of faith is faith. Now believing is nothing else than having faith; and accordingly, when, on behalf of an infant as yet incapable of exercising faith, the answer is given that he believes, this answer means that he has faith because of the sacrament of faith, and in like manner the answer is made that he turns himself to God because of the sacrament of conversion, since the answer itself belongs to the celebration of the sacrament. Thus the apostle says, in regard to this sacrament of Baptism: “We are buried with Christ by baptism into death.”877 He does not say, “We have signified our being buried with Him,” but “We have been buried with Him.” He has therefore given to the sacrament pertaining to so great a transaction no other name than the word describing the transaction itself.

10. Therefore an infant, although he is not yet a believer in the sense of having that faith which includes the consenting will of those who exercise it, nevertheless becomes a believer through the sacrament of that faith. For as it is answered that he believes, so also he is called a believer, not because he assents to the truth by an act of his own judgment, but because he receives the sacrament of that truth. When, however, he begins to have the discretion of manhood, he will not repeat the sacrament, but understand its meaning, and become conformed to the truth which it contains, with his will also consenting. During the time in which he is by reason—of youth unable to do this, the sacrament will avail for his protection against adverse powers, and will avail so much on his behalf, that if before he arrives at the use of reason he depart from this life, he is delivered by Christian help, namely, by the love of the Church commending him through this sacrament unto God, from that condemnation which by one man entered into the world.878 He who does not believe this, and thinks that it is impossible, is assuredly an unbeliever, although he may have received the sacrament of faith; and far before him in merit is the infant which, though not yet possessing a faith helped by the understanding, is not obstructing faith by any antagonism of the understanding, and therefore receives with profit the sacrament of faith.

I have answered your questions, as it seems to me, in a manner which, if I were dealing with persons of weaker capacity and disposed to gainsaying, would be inadequate, but which is perhaps more than sufficient to satisfy peaceable and sensible persons. Moreover, I have not urged in my defence the mere fact that the custom is thoroughly established, but have to the best of my ability advanced reasons in support of it as fraught with very abundant blessing.
Schaff, P. 1997. The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Vol. I. The confessions and letters of St. Augustin with a sketch of his life and work.

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