The Council of Trent (1545-1563)
reaffirmed the theology of baptism inherited from the middle ages.
Among other things, this theology claimed that the unbaptized could
not be saved. Since the Roman Catholic Church had adopted the practice
of infant baptism as its norm, catechesis had ceased to play any real
role in baptism. Renunciation of the devil, parental profession of
faith, and the actual baptism with water were the most pronounced
features of the Roman Catholic rite of baptism. Baptism was considered
necessary for salvation. It was understood to cleanse the recipient
from original sin and also to leave the baptizand free of actual sin.
Lutherans retained infant baptism but altered their understanding
of its nature. Luther and
other conservative Protestant reformers also quietly abandoned the
notion that unbaptized infants are condemned without, they hoped,
diminishing the importance of baptism. The Lutheran view of baptism
is summarized in a listing of its benefits in Luther's Small Catechism:
"In Baptism God forgives sin, delivers from death and the devil, and
gives everlasting salvation to all who believe what he has promised."
Lutherans maintained that baptism, functioning as a promise, simply
bestowed these gifts. At the same time, the Lutherans insisted that
these gifts can only be received by saving faith. Thus Luther typically
argued that infants are capable of faith and that the presence of
faith is a condition of effective baptism.
The Reformed tradition retained the baptism of infants, but rejected
or diminished the claim that baptism is contingent on the faith of
the child baptized. For Zwingli
baptism resulted in the incorporation of the child into the community
of faith. For him the sacrament functioned as an initiatory sign analogous
to circumcision in the Old Testament. John
Calvin argued that the theme of baptism is incorporation into
the faith and discipline of the church. In the Institutes
of the Christian Religion, Calvin maintained that three gifts
are imparted in baptism: the sealing of the forgiveness of sins, impulses
to reform the believer in newness of life, and communion with Christ.
The radical reformers rejected
infant baptism and administered this rite only consequent to conscious
repentance, faith, and conversion on the part of the recipient. While
understandings of baptism differed considerably among various factions,
most considered baptism as a profession of individual faith, as a
covenant of membership in the believing congregation, and as a preparation
for the possibility of martyrdom.
The Church of England retained the baptism of infants, but the English
reformation did not produce a distinct pattern of baptismal theology
or practice. This is reflected in the Prayer
Book of 1552 which contains a baptismal liturgy prepared by Thomas
Cranmer. This rite implies some influence from Reformed theology.
In practice Cranmer retains some of the inherited Roman Catholic form,
rejects other portions of it, and seems in other instances to borrow
from the Genevan reforms of John Calvin.