Chapter III. Of Faith, as it is a Necessary Disposition to the Blessed Sacrament.
WHETHER the holy communion may be given to infants, hath been a great question in the church of God; which, in this instance, hath not been, as in others, divided by parties and single persons, but by whole ages; for from some of the earliest ages of the church, down to the time of Charles the Great, that is, for above six hundred years, the church of God did give the holy communion to newly baptized infants. St. Cyprian recounts a miracle of an infant, into whose mouth, when the parents had ignorantly and carelessly left the babe, the Gentile priests had forced some of their idol sacrifice: but when the minister of the church came to pour into the mouth the chalice of our Lord, it resisted, and, being overpowered, grew sick, and fell into convulsions. [Lib. de lapsis.] By which narrative the practice of the church of that age is sufficiently declared. Of the matter of fact there is no question: but they went further.
The primitive church did believe it necessary to the salvation of infants. St. Austin believed that this doctrine and practice descended from the apostles; that without both the sacraments no person could come to life, or partake of the kingdom of heaven: which when he had endeavoured to prove largely, he infers this conclusion:" It is in vain to promise salvation and life eternal to little children, unless they be baptized, and receive the body and blood of Christ; since the necessity of them both is attested by so many, so great, and so divine testimonies." And that this practice continued to the time of Charlemagne, appears by a constitution in his capitular, saying, "That the priest should always have the eucharist ready; that, when any one is sick, or when a child is weak, he may presently give him the communion, lest he die without it." And Alcuinus recites a canon, expressly charging, that "as soon as ever the infants are baptized, they should receive the holy communion before they suck, or receive any other nourishment." The same also is used by the Greeks, by the Ethiopians, by the Bohemians and Moravians: and it is confessed by Maldonate, that the opinion of St. Austin and Innocentius, that the eucharist is 'necessary even to infants, prevailed in the church for six hundred years together. [Maldonatus in Johan. 6. Num. 116.]
But since the time of Charles the Great, that is, for above eight hundred years, this practice hath been omitted d in the western churches generally; and in the council of Trent it was condemned as unfit, and all men commanded to believe, that though the ancient churches did do it upon some probable reasons, yet they did not believe it necessary. Concerning which, I shall not interrupt the usefulness which I intend in this discourse, by confuting the canon; though it be intolerable to command men to believe in a matter of fact contrary to their evidence, and to say that the fathers did not believe it to be necessary, when they say it is, and used it accordingly: yet because it relates to the use of this divine sacrament, I shall give this short account of it.
The church of Rome, and some few others, are the only refusers and condemners of this ancient and catholic practice; but, upon their grounds, they cannot reasonably deny it.
1. Because infants are, by them, affirmed to be capable of the grace and benefits of the eucharists; for to them who put no bar (as infants put none), the sacraments, by their inherent virtue, confer grace; and, therefore, particularly, it is affirmed, that if infants did now receive the eucharist, they should also receive grace with it: and, therefore, it is not unreasonable to give it to them, who, therefore, are capable of it, because it will do them benefit; and it is, consequently, upon these grounds, uncharitable to deny it:--for,
2. They allow the ground, upon the supposition of which the fathers did most reasonably proceed; and they only deny the conclusion. For, by the words of Christ g, it is absolutely necessary "to eat his flesh and drink his blood: "and if those words be understood of sacramental manducation (in which interpretation both the ancients and the church of Rome do consent), then it is absolutely necessary to communicate. For although there are other ways of 'eating his flesh, and drinking of his blood,' besides the sacramental manducation, yet Christ, in this place, meant no other; and if of this he spake when he said, 'Without doing this, we have no life in us,'--then it will not be sufficient to baptize them, though, in baptism, they should receive the same grace, as in the eucharist; because, abstracting from the benefit and grace of it, it is made necessary by the commandment,--and, by the will of God, it is become a means indispensably necessary to salvation. It is necessary by a necessity of the means, and a necessity of precept. True it is, that, in each of the sacraments, there is a proportion of the same effect, as I have already discoursed: yet this cannot lessen the necessity that is upon them both; for so Pharaoh's dream was doubled, not to signify divers events, but a double certainty. And, therefore, although children, even in baptism, are partakers of the death of Christ, and are incorporated into, and made partakers of, his body,--yet because Christ hath made one as necessary as the other, and both for several proportions of the same reason,--the church of Rome must either quit the principle, or retain the consequent; for they have digged a ditch on both sides, and on either hand they are fallen into inconvenience. But it will be more material to consider the question, as it is in itself, and without relation to any schools of learning.--Therefore,
3. It is certain that, in Scripture, there is nothing, which directly forbids the giving the holy communion to infants. For though we are commanded to examine, and so to cat,--yet this precept is not of itself necessary, but by reason of an introduced cause; just as they are commanded to believe and repent, who are to be baptized,--that is, persons that need it, and that can do it, they must: and infants, without examination, can as well receive the effect of the eucharist, as, without repentance, they can have the effect of baptism. For if they be communicated, they and the whole assembly do 'declare the Lord's death;' for that is done by virtue of the whole solemnity, and it is done by the conjunct devotion of the whole community: it is done by the prayers and offices of the priest, and it is done by the action of every one that communicates: it is done in baptism, and yet they are baptized, who cannot, with their voices, publish the confession. Infants, indeed, cannot 'discern the Lord's body;' so neither can they discern truth from falsehood, an article of faith from an heretical doctrine; and yet to discern the one, is as much required, as to discern the other; but, in both, the case is equal: for they must discern when they can confound, or dishonour; but till they can do evil, they cannot be tied to do good. And it were hard to suppose the whole church of God, in her best and earliest times, to have continued, for above six hundred years, in a practical error; it will not well become our modesty to judge them without further inquiry, and greater evidence.
4. But as there is no prohibition of it, so no command for it. For as for the words of our blessed Lord recited by St. John, upon which the holy fathers did principally rely; they were spoken before the institution of both the sacraments, and indifferently relate to either; that is, indeed, to them both, as they are the ministries of faith; but to neither in themselves directly, or in any other proportion, or for any other cause; for faith is the principal that is there intended; for the' whole analogy of the discourse, drawn forth of its clouds and allegory, infers only the necessity of being Christ's disciples,--of living the life of grace,--of feeding in our hearts on Christ--of living in him, and by him, and for him, and to him; which is the work of faith, and believing in Christ, as faith signifies the being of Christ's disciple.
5. The thing itself, then, being left in the midst, and undetermined, it is in the power of the church to give it, or to deny it. For, in all things where Christ hath made no law, the church hath liberty to do that, which is most for the glory of God, and the edification of all Christian people. And, therefore, although the primitive church did confirm newly baptized persons, and communicate them; yet as with great reason she did change the time of confirmation from their first baptism, till they could give an account of their faith,--so with equal authority, when she hath an equal reason, she may change and limit the time of ministering the communion. The church is tied to nothing, but to the laws of the sacrament, and the laws of reason, and the laws of charity: but that either of them is reasonable enough, may appear in the following considerations.
For the primitive church had all this to justify their practice: that the sacraments of the Gospel are the great channels of the grace of God: that this grace always descends upon them that do not hinder it, and, therefore, certainly to infants; and some do expressly affirm it, and none can with certainty deny, but that infants, if they did receive the communion, should also, in so doing, receive the fruits of it: that to baptism there are many acts of predisposition required, as well as to the communion; and yet the church, who very well understands the obligation of these precepts, supposes no children to be obliged to those predispositions to either sacrament, but fits every commandment to a capable subject: that there is something done on God's part, and something on ours; that what belongs to us, obliges us then, when we can hear and understand, but not before; but that what is on God's part, is always ready to them that can receive it:--that infants, although they cannot alone come to Christ, yet the church, their mother, can bring them in her arms:--that they who are capable of the grace of the sacrament, may also receive the sign; and, therefore, the same grace, being conveyed to them in one sacrament, may also be imparted to them in the other:--that as they can be born again, without their own consent, so they can be fed by the hands of Others; and what begins without their own actual choice, may be renewed without their own actual desire;--and that, therefore, it might be feared, lest if upon the pretence of figurative speeches, allegories, and allusions, and the injunction of certain dispositions, the holy communion be denied them, a gap be opened upon equal pretences to deny them baptism:--that since the Jewish infants being circumcised is used as an argument that they might be baptized, their eating of the paschal lamb may also be a competent warrant to eat of that sacrament, in which also, as in the other, the sacrificed Lamb is represented as offered and slain for them. Now, the church having such fair probabilities and prudential motives, and no prohibition, if she shall use her power to the purposes of kindnesses and charity,--she is not easily to be reproved, lest without necessity we condemn all the primitive catholic church, and all the modern churches of the east and south to this day; especially since, without all dispositions, infants are baptized, there is less reason why they may not be communicated, having already received some real dispositions towards this, even .ill the grace of the sacrament of baptism, which is certainly something towards the other. And after all, the refusing to communicate infants entered into the church, upon an unwarrantable ground. For though it was confessed that the communion would do them benefit, yet it was denied to them, then when the doctrine of transubstantiation entered, upon pretence lest by puking up the holy symbols, the sacrament should be dishonoured; which indeed, though that doctrine were true, were infinitely unreasonable; as supposing that Christ, who suffered his body to be broken upon the cross, that he might convey grace to them and us, would refuse to expose the symbols to the accidents of a child's stomach, and rather deny them that grace, than endure that sight, who yet does daily suffer mice and mouldiness to do worse unto it. [Victoria. Relict. De Eucharist. ubi supra.]
But, on the other side, they that, without interest and partiality, deny to communicate infants, can consider, that infants, being in baptism admitted to the promises of the Gospel, and their portion in the kingdom of Christ, can have upon them no necessity to be communicated. For by their first sacrament they are drawn from their mere natural state, and lifted up to the adoption of sons; and by the second sacrament alone they can go no further:--that although the first grace which is given in baptism, be given them as their first being, yet the second graces are given to us upon other accounts, even for well using the first free grace:--that in baptism there were promises made, which are to be personally accepted and verified before any new grace can be sacramentally imparted:--that it was necessity which gave them baptism before their reason, and that necessity being served, there can be no profit in proceeding upon the same method, without the same reason:--that baptism is the sacrament of the new-born, the beginning, the gate of the church, the entry of the kingdom, the birth of a Christian; but the holy eucharist is the sacrament of them that grow in grace, of them that are perfect in Christ Jesus;--and lastly, to him that lists to be contentious, we are to say, as St. Paul did, "We have no such custom, nor the churches of God."
Now, these probabilities on both sides may, both of them, be heard, and both of them prevail in the sense of the former determination: for, by the first, it may appear that to communicate infants is lawful; but the second proves that it is not necessary; for having in baptism received sufficient title to the kingdom of heaven, they, who before the use of reason cannot sin, and cannot fall from the grace they have received, cannot be obliged to the use of that sacrament, which is for their reparation and security; and therefore, in this case, the present practice of the church is to be our rule and measure of peace, and determination of the article.