Apostasy & The Indelible Mark

certificate_of_debaptism

Baptism is not a guarantee of salvation.  However, it is required. (-cf CCC Part 2, Sec 2, Chap 1, Art 1)

“It is an excellent thing that the Punic Christians call baptism itself nothing else but “salvation” and the sacrament of Christ’s Body nothing else but “life.” Whence does this derive, except from an ancient, and I suppose, Apostolic Tradition, by which the Churches of Christ hold inherently that without Baptism and participation in the Table of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the Kingdom of God or to salvation and life eternal. This is the witness of Scripture, too.”
-St. Augustine, De Peccatorum Remissione et de Baptismo Parvulorum, AD 412

Historically, apostasy was an even worse ecclesial crime than heresy. Prior to the Decian persectuion (249-250 AD) and the Lapsi, those who denied the Faith in the face of persecution and therefore survived the period unscathed, but wanted to return to the Church subsequently once the persecution has subsided, apostasy belonged, therefore, to the class of sins for which the Church imposed perpetual penance and excommunication without hope of pardon, leaving the forgiveness of the sin to God alone. St. Cyprian and the Council of the African Church which met at Carthage in 251 AD admitted the principle of the Church’s right to remit the sin of apostasy, even before the hour of death. Nevertheless, the Council of Elvira, held in Spain about the year 300, still refused forgiveness to apostates. When the Roman Empire became Christian, apostates were punished by deprivation of all civil rights. They could not give evidence in a court of law, and could neither bequeath nor inherit property. To induce anyone to apostatize was an offense punishable with death. The Inquisition had authority to proceed against apostates.

-by Br Humbert Kilanowski, OP (Br Humbert earned his PhD in Mathematics from Ohio State prior to joining the Order.)

“When I arrived at the Dominican novitiate, one of the older priests in the community preached a challenging homily: despite our large class of 21 young men aiming to join the Order of Preachers, so many more people our age are leaving the Church and abandoning any semblance of religion altogether, as the Western civilization which the Church herself built up becomes ever more secular. A tell-tale sign of this phenomenon is the trend among many atheists who were raised in the Christian faith to obtain “Certificates of De-Baptism.”

Claiming that they were forced into a liturgical rite “before the age of consent,” tens of thousands of Americans, Britons, and Western Europeans renounce the faith of their upbringing and cultural patrimony, aiming to undo their initiation into the Church and negate their baptismal certificate with another official document—which you can get from the Web sites of certain secularist organizations for the low, low price of only $5. Some have even gone as far as to request to be removed from their native parishes’ baptismal registries. Yet this business deal—which looks surprisingly like an act of organized religion—raises the question: Do these de-baptismal certificates actually do anything?

To answer this, we can examine the nature of the sacrament of Baptism. The Church’s Code of Canon Law describes it (CIC 849): “Through Baptism men and women are freed from sin, are reborn as children of God, and, configured to Christ by an indelible character, are incorporated into the Church.” This ritual of initiation is thus not only a washing of the body, but a cleansing of the soul that raises people into a relationship with the Divine. Yet those who wish to leave this relationship, holding that the ideas of original sin and damnation are repulsive, still face the reality of the “indelible character” of Baptism.

The term “character” has taken on many uses these days: from a letter of text, to a costumed cast member at a Disney park, to the eccentric guy at the coffee shop. But here it means an invisible mark on the soul of a baptized person. This mark is the reality and sign of Baptism, or in medieval scholastic terms, the res et sacramentum. Each of the Church’s sacraments has an abiding reality that remains when the visible rite is finished, a reality that points to a greater mystery: thus, the Real Presence of Christ remains in the Blessed Sacrament after the Mass has ended and the people have gone in peace; the bond of marriage remains even if the husband and wife no longer live together; and the baptismal mark remains even on the soul of one who bought a de-baptismal certificate.

Along with Confirmation and Holy Orders, Baptism imprints on the soul of the person who receives it a character, which, as St. Thomas Aquinas explains, “signifies a certain spiritual power ordained unto things pertaining to the Divine worship” (ST III.63.3). As the first act of initiation into the Church, Baptism equips us for participating in God’s life, through the Church’s worship; this life is everlasting, and so is the power that brings us into it. Thus even if some people decide not to use this ability to worship God through the eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ, the fact remains that they still can. Any attempt to change the fact that one’s baptism happened, through trying to remove oneself from a baptismal register, is as futile as denying a historical event: just as having a football team vacate a win does not change the fact that people made money (or were injured) as a result of the game, for example.

Of course, original sin and damnation are repulsive. That is precisely what Baptism liberates us from: it conforms us to the greater mystery of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus, and removes the obstacles that prevent us from living out the fellowship for which God that we were born to live, in the freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:14ff.). Far from an act of coercion, what could be better than to start this life, which continues into eternity, from as early an age as possible?

Most importantly, the permanence of baptismal character means that the certificate of de-baptism, which marks a person’s public repudiation of Christianity, is not binding; rather, one who rejects the Christian faith is free to return to the divine fellowship without having to be baptized again. Saint Augustine illustrates this with an analogy to the Roman military, which branded its soldiers for identification (Ed: recall Russel Crowe removing his with a dull instrument in Gladiator*.):

If a deserter from the battle, through dread of the mark of enlistment on his body, throws himself on the emperor’s clemency, and having besought and received mercy, return to the fight; is that character renewed, when the man has been set free and reprimanded? Is it not rather acknowledged and approved? Are the Christian sacraments, by any chance, of a nature less lasting than this bodily mark?

Thus, while many attempt to negate the fact that they have ever been initiated into the Church, the sacramental character—a gift that lasts forever—reminds us all of this Good News, entrusted to a new generation of preachers in this time of the New Evangelization: No matter how far one has drifted away from the Christian faith, it is not too late to come back.”

Love,
Matthew

(*nb: S.P.Q.R., the letters of the tattoo worn by Maximus, was an abbreviation for an oft used Latin phrase whose English translation is “the Senate and People of Rome”.

The Latin word for “tattoo” was stigma, and our modern meaning of stigmatize, as a pejorative, has clearly evolved from the Latin. It was slaves, gladiators, criminals, and later, soldiers, who were tattooed, as an identifying mark.

Upper class Romans did not partake in tattooing, which they associated with either marginal groups, or foreigners, such as Thracians, who were known to tattoo extensively. The emperor Caligula is said to have forced individuals of rank to become tattooed as an embarrassment.

In late antiquity, the Roman army consisted largely of mercenaries, they were tattooed in order that deserters could be identified.

The sixth century Roman physician, Aetius, wrote that:

“Stigmates are the marks which are made on the face and other parts of the body. We see such marks on the hands of soldiers. To perform the operation they use ink made according to this formula: Egyptian pine wood (acacia) and especially the bark, one pound; corroded bronze, two ounces; gall, two ounces; vitriol, one ounce. Mix well and sift… First wash the place to be tattooed with leek juice and then prick in the design with pointed needles until blood is drawn. Then rub in the ink.”

The Christian emperor Constantine, ca. 325 AD, decreed that individuals condemned to fight as gladiators or to work in the mines could be tattooed on the legs or the hands, but not on the face, because “the face, which has been formed in the image of the divine beauty, should be defiled as little as possible.”

In 787, Pope Hadrian the First prohibited tattooing altogether, due to its association with superstition, paganism, and the marginal classes.)  My parents looked down on tattooing; not done by decent people, only sailors and those of low moral character, situation, and reputation.  The body IS A TEMPLE!!!  1 Cor 6: 19-20.

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