History of Infant Communion
By J. A. Kimball, 1889
THE history of infant communion is not worthy to be further presented than simply to show that it is supported by the same arguments as is infant baptism. Its origin seems to have been coeval with that of infant baptism. The first certain cases of infant baptism that we have are about A. D. 250. The evidence is as certain and as strong that infant communion was practiced by the church anciently as it is for infant baptism. Bingham, of the Church of England, a high authority on church antiquities proves that infant baptism was practiced from the fact that infants did commune.
Collman, a distinguished Presbyterian, in his Christian Antiquities: "After the general introduction of infant baptism, the sacrament continued to be administered to all who had been baptized, whether infants or adults. The reason assigned by Cyprian and others for this practice was, that age was no impediment; that the grace of God, bestowed upon the subjects of baptism
was given without measure and without limitation as to age. Augustine strongly advocates this practice, and for authority appeals to John 6.53: Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. The custom of infant communion continued for several centuries. It is mentioned in the third Council of Tours, A. D. 813; and even the Council of Trent, A. D. 1545, only decreed that it should not be considered essential to salvation. It is still scrupulously observed by the Greek church."—Page 310.
Several ministers of the Methodist church, as has come to my knowledge, have administered to persons dying the Lord's supper, some of whom were not members of any church; and in one instance, occurring very near me, the dying man was told that without participating in the Lord's supper he could not enter heaven, quoting as proof the passage cited by Augustine above. Is it a part of Methodist doctrine that none can be saved without a participation in the Lord's supper? Is it by Methodists, or others, frequently given to the dying, either not members of the church or members? If in either case, why?
Jamieson, a distinguished Scottish minister (Manners and Trials of the Primitive Christians), says: "Another peculiarity of theirs arising from an impression of the absolute necessity of this ordinance to salvation—was their admission of persons to partake of it of all ages, and in every variety of circumstances: provided only, that they had received the initiatory rite of baptism. The primitive Christians scrupled not to administer the other Christian sacrament to all without exception, even though they might be altogether unconscious of the service in which they were made to engage. Hence the custom of giving the communion to infants—a custom which, for many ages, prevailed in the ancient church; and as persons of that tender age were unable to eat the bread, the practice early came into use of dipping it in wine, and 'pressing a drop or two from the moistened sop into the mouth of the babe. Hence, also, the custom of administering it to the sick in the delirium of fever, or in such circumstances of bodily weakness that they were incapable of communicating their own wishes—which, however, if the attendant nurse testified had been previously and anxiously expressed, were gratified by a participation of the sacred rite, just as if they had been in the full possession of bodily and mental health."
In the Southern Review, published under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal church, South, for April, 1871, there is an able and candid article on infant baptism, from which we quote:
"Augustine calls infant baptism apostolico traditio; and we should unquestionably attach some importance to this testimony, if he bad not also called infant communion apostolico traditio. We know he was mistaken in this case. Why not, then, in the other? The truth is that when the fathers were called upon to defend any custom of the church, they seldom, if ever, failed to plead apostolic tradition in its favor. Having inferred from the prevalence of custom that it originated as an apostolic tradition, they did not hesitate to assert the inference as a fact."Hart, in his "Ecclesiastical Record of the Church of England, Scotland and Ireland," says: "Infant communion was a very ancient practice, and is said to have prevailed generally in the church for six hundred years. In the address of our countryman, Aelfric, to the priesthood at the delivery of the chrism, he says, "Ye should give the eucharist to children when they are baptized, and let them be brought to mass that they may receive it all the seven days that they are unwashed." This was written about A. D. 957. "—Page 188.
Dr. Stanley, Dean of Westminster, one of the highest authorities in the Church of England says: "Yet once again it became a practice in the church, early—we know not how early—for infants to communicate in the Lord's supper. A literal application to the eucharist of the text, respecting the bread of life, in the sixth chapter of John, naturally followed on a literal application to baptism of the text respecting the second birth in the third chapter; and the actual participation in the elements of both sacraments came to be regarded as equally necessary for the salvation of every human being. Here, again, the peculiar genius of each of the two churches, displays itself. The Oriental churches, in conformity with ancient usage, still administer the eucharist to infants. In the Coptic church, it may even happen that an infant is the only recipient.
The Latin church, on the other hand, in deference to modern feeling, has not only abandoned, but actually forbidden, a practice which, as far as antiquity is concerned, might insist on unconditional retention.— History of Eastern Church. p. 118.
Dr. Priestly says: "It is remarkable that in all Christian antiquity we always find that communion in the Lord's Sapper immediately followed baptism. And no such thing occurs as that of any person's having a right to one of these ordinances and not to the other. There is no express mention of infant baptism before this (referring to a passage quoted from Cyprian) of infant communion. The Apostle Paul seems to have referred
to the custom of giving the eucharist to children in 1 Corinthians 7:14. In all the Christian churches that have never been infected with this Boorish superstition, and subject to papal authority, the right of infants to Christian communion was never invaded. Infant communion is, to this day, the practice of the Greek church, of the Russians, the Armenians, the Maronites, the Copts, the Assyrians [probably a mistake for Syrians], and probably of all other Oriental churches; and it was also the practice of the Bohemians, who kept themselves free from papal authority till very near the Reformation."—Quoted from the Christian Review.
From these quotations we see that in all the various churches all that have been baptized are entitled to the communion, excepting those churches that have been or are SUBJECT TO PAPAL AUTHORITY. I am reminded of another mark of subjection to Rome in the change from immersion to sprinkling by those churches, and those alone, which have been subjected to papal authority. In proof of this, I quote from Wall's "History,"—a standard Pedobaptist authority: "Sprinkling, for the common use in baptizing, was really introduced (in France first, and then in other Popish countries) in times of Popery, and that, accordingly, all those countries in which the usurped power of the Pope is or has formerly been owned, have left off dipping of children in the font; but that ALL OTHER COUNTRIES in the world, which have never regarded his authority, do still use it. * * * What has been said of this custom of pouring or sprinkling water in the ordinary use of baptism, is to be understood only in reference to the western parts of Europe, for it is used ordinary nowhere else." Vol. 2, pp. 403, 413.
There are three positions taken in regard to these sacraments:
1. That as thy faith is, so is it to thee: if you believe sprinkling, pouring or immersion to be baptism, so it is to you, and so with other ordinances or commands. This is the infidel argument. The same reasoning makes Paul as much serving God when presecuting [sic] the church as in his labors for it. The Hindoo mother in throwing her child into the Ganges is showing forth the highest type of obedience, as she sincerely thinks she is doing God's will.
2. These ordinances have been wisely changed by the church. This is Calvin's argument in regard to baptism; the Romish argument in regard to all the rites, they saying Christ has given this power, and they have so used it in many things.
3. Follow exactly the command of the Master, doing no more
nor any less than the Scriptures prescribe. This rule can be followed rigidly; either of the others is repudiated, except so far as they see fit to adopt it, by many that accept it so far as baptism is concerned, each prescribes how far the rule is to be carried, and when any one goes beyond that exact place, it becomes very sinful. The Catholics apply it for any changes they may desire; Calvin looked on it as very sinful when it took the cup from the laity, right when it substituted for immersion—which he says was the original form of baptism—sprinkling or pouring.
Dr. Baird, a Presbyterian minister, witnessed the baptism of some children in Russia, which was done by immersion, and then gives an account how the Lord's supper was administered to them: "As to the Lords supper, the bread and wine were mingled together, and the mixture administered to the children with a spoon, just as a mother gives gruel to her child with us. Wretched superstition this! The Lord's supper is administered to children repeatedly in their early years. The poor ignorant parents consider it a sort of a charm against sickness and other evils, and as securing the salvation of the child, if it should die in childhood."
"Wretched superstition this!" says the Doctor. Which is the greater superstition, to give baptism or communion to the infant? One is as destitute of Scripture authority as the other. For a long time they both subsisted together; now, one has become a wretched superstition, while the other is still declared to be a duty by Pedobaptists. The Syrians administer the elements by dipping the bread in wine and placing it in the month of the infant.
[From Samuel H. Ford, editor, The Christian Repository, October 1899, 254-258; via the University of Wisconsin – Madison, digitized documents. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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