BAPTISM OF INFANTS IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH; HISTORY AND PRACTICE.
AUTHOR: REV. FR. NEREUS EMMANUEL GANUMBENI, O.S.A.
REVIEWER: REV. FR.MICHAEL ACHILE UMAMEH.
This epoch making book written by our own young and vibrant, friendly and ever-smiling Augustinian Priest; is divided into five quick paced and comprehensively compressed chapters.
Loaded with the resumes of centuries’s resolutions, synodal promulgations, conciliar declarations and historical syntheses.
Fr.Nereus with a clear vision and a great understanding of the church’s history and the Fathers of the early church, traced succinctly through the Apostolic tradition of Hippolytus, Justin Martyr, Origen, down to St. Augustine, with ample citations he allowed the fathers to speak for themselves, while he like a faithful midwife guided us with enlightening explanations. From the apostolic traditions, witnesses from the catacombs and the early Christians of the middle East, North Africa and southern Europe, he opened us Libraries of epitaphs, inscriptions, symbols and testaments that affirmed the presence, practice and approval of infant baptism.
The irritating era of sacramental controversies of the reformation, anabaptists and Lutheran frustration down to our turbulent age was highlighted. In its wake was that comparative ending on the Rite of baptism from its earliest formational days to our own day.
Fr.Ganumbeni, without mincing words set that tall aim of settling once and for all the seeming dichotomy between the profession of faith and baptism. The thumb rule he says is; “peaching, faith and baptism” (p.14) holds true for all times and occasions.”Baptism is never administered without faith; in the case of infants, it is the faith of the church”(p.15) that is aptly and publicly professed by the parents and the godparents and it is in this faith that the child is baptized and nurtured to maturity. As much as the church acknowledges the efficacy of the faith and the validity of the sacrament, she equally appreciates parental consent and the assurance of a catholic upbringing. For Nereus faith needs the Christian community for growth, development and maturity.
And for this to be the triadic role of the parents, sponsor and the Christian community is invaluable.
The query that may be raised on who the minister of baptism is was equally attended to. Quoting can.861#1 “the ordinary minister of baptism is a bishop, presbyter or deacon” but in the situation of extreme necessity, where death is imminent or the ordinary minister is impeded any person with the right intention, with simple washing with water using the baptismal formula can baptize. The Roman ritual has a confirmed attestation to this.
Nereus contributes here an extremely fruitful study which assumes a fresh importance today when so many Christian and Catholics as well are been shifted and fiercely tested by heresies and religious commercialization. The edifying effect of the sacrament of baptism becomes a veritable weapon of faith defense.
Thus the indelible character received, the remission of sin given, sanctifying and sacramental graces bestowed and the incorporation into Christ becomes readily the child’s shield and protection.
Our erudite Sacramental theologian, Fr.Nereus, insisted on the themes of role playing in the processes of receiving the sacrament, that the Priest, Parents and sponsor have that operative task in shaping the future of the Child, While the Priest co-ordinates and administers, the parents give their consents and assurance of a catholic formation the sponsor must become a resilient support and instructors in the life of faith and examples.
One of the merits of this book lies in its comprehensive nature; most striking in this book is the typically orthodox emphasis on the role, place, and relevance of the Sponsor in baptism.
This book is too full of arresting phrases and thought provoking analysis to be encompassed in the space of one short review. In spite of that, Fr.Nereus with a catholic faithfulness enumerates the qualities that qualify and the elements that disqualify sponsorship in the administration of the sacrament.
Fr.Nereus combines an unusual number of gifts. He is a creative sacramental theologian, yet he is also an expert in history, with a dynamic excursion and steady maneuvering he laced together the best of medieval writing and that of St.Denise, Polycarp, Cyprian, Chrysostom and Augustine as substantiating evidences. With a careful synthesis of the best in history Nereus posited that the duties of the Sponsor amongst others are; constant vigilance, careful instruction, and inspiration by lived example. In this the roles and duties of sponsors becomes indispensible.
The society today is at a crossroad, the sickening and reckless syncretic Pentecostalism and adamant Protestantism are making the education of the young in catholic faith an uphill task. Children and their parents are defecting from the faith ‘wholesale’ and the author in posing certain questions seek to make a provision for a renewal and re-enforcement of the traditional pastoral practices in catechesis.
In the face of these difficulties and challenges the Instruction on infant baptism becomes a ready tool for pastoral action. Citing generously the writings of the church fathers, concilliar documents and sacramental theologians, Nereus re-emphasised and re-echoed the reasonableness and indubitable necessity of infant baptism.
The church he says is always consistent and insistent on her calls for creative and productive pastoral dialogues amongst families, Christian communities and their pastors. Thees ongoing dialogues become a school for ongoing catechetical formation. And here lies the future of infant baptism.
The concluding addendum is a chest of treasured instruction and a final call to responsible and accountable Christian parenting and sponsorship. Interlacing it with the contents and forms, signs and symbols, prayers and liturgy of the sacrament of baptism.
Over time, the conclusions of councils, the declarations of conferences and papal encyclicals have guided the path and development of the church’s teachings, in historic time men and women, laypersons and priests have contributed monumentally in defense and in the advancement of the church in the specific area of sacramental theology.
This theological world has been made richer and better, the church’s teachings and doctrines have been better explained and reinforced, by great men like, Cyprian, Origen, Hyppolytus, Ireanaeus, Polycarp and Augustine, Today Fr.Nereus Emmanuel Ganumbeni, O.S.A. has confidently included his name on this sacred list of great sacramental theologians.
His simplicity of language is Cyprian, his appeal to theological synthesis is Thomistic, his rhetorical prowess is Ambrosian and over and above all in his breadth of focus and width of faithfulness he is truly Augustinian.
Fr.Nereus, today you have by this great book made St. Augustine proud again.
The Catholic Church is proud of you. The Augustinians will celebrate you.
With a reverential humility, I say congratulations.