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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Treatise on the Merits and Forgiveness...: Chapter 10

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 10 [V.]—He Shows that Cyprian Had Not Doubted the Original Sin of Infants.

Accordingly, it is not without reason that the blessed Cyprian 670 carefully shows how from the very first the Church has held this as a well understood article of faith. When he was asserting the fitness of infants only just born to receive Christ’s baptism, on a certain occasion when he was consulted whether this ought to be administered before the eighth day, he endeavoured, as far as he could, to prove that they were perfect, 671 lest any one should suppose, from the number of the days (because it was on the eighth day that infants were before circumcised), that they so far lacked perfection. However, after bestowing upon them the full support of his argument, he still confessed that they were not free from original sin; because if he had denied this, he would have removed all reason for the very baptism which he was maintaining their fitness to receive. You can, if you wish, read for yourself the epistle of the illustrious martyr On the Baptism of Little Children; for it cannot fail to be within reach at Carthage. But I have deemed it right to transcribe some few statements of it into this letter of mine, so far as applies to the question before us; and I pray you to mark them carefully. “Now with respect,” says he, “to the case of infants, whom you declared it would be improper to baptize if presented within the second and third day after their birth, since that due regard ought to be paid to the law of circumcision of old, so that you thought that the infant should not be baptized and sanctified before the eighth day after its birth,—a far different view has been formed of the question in our council. Not a man there assented to what you thought ought to be done; but the whole of us rather determined that to no one born of men ought God’s mercy and grace to be denied. For since the Lord in His gospel says, ‘The Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them,’ 672 so far as in us lies, not a soul ought, if possible, to be lost.” You observe how in these words he supposes that it is fraught with ruin and death, not only to the flesh, but also to the soul, for one to depart this life without that saving sacrament. Wherefore, if he said nothing else, it was competent to us to conclude from his words that without sin the soul could not perish. See, however, what (when he shortly afterwards maintains the innocence of infants) he at the same time allows concerning them in the plainest terms: “But if,” says he, “anything could hinder men from the attainment of grace, then their heavier sins might rather hinder those who have reached the stages of adults, and advanced life, and old age. Since, however, remission of sins is given even to the greatest sinners after they have believed, however much they have previously sinned against God, and since nobody is forbidden baptism and grace, how much more ought an infant not to be forbidden who newborn has done no sin, except that from having been born carnally after Adam he has contracted from his very birth the contagion of the primeval death! How, too, does this fact contribute in itself the more easily to their reception of the forgiveness of sins, that the remission which p. 73 they have is not of their own sins, but of those of another!”



See Cyprian’s Epistle, 64 (ad Fidum): also Augustin, Epist. 166; De Nuptis, ii. 49; Contra Julianum, ii. 5; Ad Bonifacium, iv. 3; Sermons, 294.


The word implies “of ripe age;” i.e., for “baptism.”


Luke ix. 56.

Next: Chapter 11

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