Augustine and Luther on Surrogate Faith in Infant Baptism

staugustine_canterburyAugustine and Luther developed a doctrine of efficacy in surrogate faith on behalf of the baptized infant. The fact that an appeal is made for such actually affirms the NT witness of faith and baptism being linked. Once one is all in behind the practice of infant baptism, it causes the creation of surrogate faith and/or paedofaith. Or one maintains the link of faith to baptism in requiring profession of faith as an “Amen” to their baptism. It seems much easier to practice baptism based on the professed faith of the one being baptized than to create these other categories that have hardly any Biblical warrant.

Here are Augustine’s thoughts:

At this point men are wont to ask what good the sacrament of Christ’s Baptism can do to infants, seeing that many of them die after having been baptized but before they can know anything about it. In this case it is pious and right to believe that the infant is benefited by the faith of those who bring him to be consecrated. This is commended by the salutary authority of the Church, so that everyone may realize how beneficial to him is his faith, seeing that one man’s faith can be made beneficial for another who has no faith of his own. The son of the widow of Nain could have had no advantage from any faith of his own, for, being dead, he had no faith. But his mother’s faith procured him the benefit of being raised from the dead (Luke 7:11ff). (Augustine, On Free Will, Bk. III, Ch. xxiii.67, LCC VI, p. 211)

Clearly, the prayers of the saints on behalf of others is efficacious as it is received and acted upon from our gracious Lord, but that should hardly be the grounds for the practice of infant baptism, as if the intercession of the parents sufficiently supplies the faith that is clearly required in the Apostolic witness in Acts.

Luther, often associated with paedofaith, seems to advocate a similar logic with Augustine in his optimistic assessment of surrogate faith:

In contradiction of what has been said, some will perhaps point to the baptism of infants, who do not grasp the promise of God and cannot have the faith of baptism; so that either faith is not necessary or else infant baptism is without effect. Here I say what all say: Infants are aided by the faith of others, namely, those who bring them to baptism. For the Word of God is powerful, when it is uttered, to change even a godless heart, which is no less deaf and helpless than any infant. Even so the infant is changed, cleansed and renewed by inpoured faith, through the prayer of the Church that presents it for baptism and believes, to which prayer all things are possible. (Luther, The Babylonian Captivity, WML II, pp. 236–237)

young martin lutherIt seems that Luther is responding directly to the contention of Baptists that baptism is only efficacious when tied to the faith of the recipient. Luther doesn’t dispute the argument – and becomes a Credobaptist (just kidding, although that would have been awesome!). No, Luther gladly embraces the burden of tying faith to baptism, but argues that the faith of others supplies the requisite. Really?

© 2013, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.

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2 comments on “Augustine and Luther on Surrogate Faith in Infant Baptism
  1. Pingback: A Credobaptist Response to a Paedobaptist Friend

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