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Infant Communion

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Notwithstanding the apostle's direction, "Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup" (1 Corinthians 11:28), which so clearly points to a mature age when man is capable of self-examination as a requisite in those who approach the Lord's table, we find infants admitted to holy communion as early as in the 3rd century. The first instances of it occurred in the North-African Church. Cyprian, in his Tractatus de lapsis (p. 139, ed. Gersdorf), speaks of children who at their entrance into the world partook of the body and blood of the Lord (cibum et poculum dominicum); he further gives the example of a girl (puella) whom a deacon had obliged to partake of the cup, but who could not retain what she had taken because she had previously, by her nurse's fault, partaken of bread dipped into wine, and lad made an offering to idols. This practice of infant communion was undoubtedly connected with infant baptism, and, as a reason for it, Augustine lays down the principle that, unless we partake of the Supper of the Lord, to which no one can be regularly admitted who is not baptized, we can have no life in us (John 6:53); and this, he maintains, applies as well to children as to men (Epist. 23, ad Bonif.; Ep. 106, contra duas epistolas Pelag. 1, 22; Sermon 8, de verbis apostol. de peccat. merit. 1, 20). The same reasons are given by his contemporary, Innocent I, bishop of Rome (416), in his letter to Augustine and" to the Council of Milevi: Aug. ep. 93, "Parvulos seternee vitae praemiis etiam sine baptismatis gratia donari posse perfatum est; nisi enim manducaverint carnem Christi et biberint sanguinem ejus, non habebunt vitam in se ipsis." From a similar point of view, Gelasius I, pope of Rome, writes about A.D. 495, "No one should venture to exclude any child from this sacrament, without which no one can attain to eternal life." But as early as the 9th century, Fulgentius, the Augustine of that century, advocated the rite of baptism, only suggesting that by it "children were incorporated into Christ, and so partook of his flesh and blood." The custom continued, however, in the Western Church, to the time of Charlemagne. In the Sacramentarita of Gregory I, and in the old Ordo Romanus, we find passages in which it is expressly stated.

Thus the latter recommends that after baptism children should not be permitted to taste food before partaking of the Eucharist, and should not even be nursed except in case of absolute necessity. We find the same in Alcuin's De Afflic., where it is expressly directed that, whenever a bishop is present. Baptism should be immediately followed by confirmation, and then by communion. In the synodal decrees of Walter of Orleans, in the same century, we find that priests are always to have the Eucharist ready, so that if a child should be taken in it should not be in danger of dying without the viaticum. In the 9th century this question of infant communion gave rise to controversies. Thus Paschasius Ratbertus maintained that children dying before communion were not therefore in danger, since by baptism they had already entered into communion with Christ. Still, in the 12th century, we find Radulphus Ardens saying (Hom. in die Paschce de Euchar. necess.) that it is prescribed (statutum) that children should receive communion, at least with the cup, soon after being baptized, so that "they might not be in danger of dying without that necessary sacrament." Hugo of St.Victor also recommends infant communion, where it can take place without danger, but remarks that this custom had already fallen into disuse in his time, the practice only remaining for the priest to give the newly-baptized child a little ordinary wine, instead of the blood of Christ, which practice he condemns. Soon after this, Odo, bishop of Paris, forbade giving children unconsecrated wafers, and thus the custom was lost in the Gallican Church. In Germany traces are to be found of it at a still later period; the thing ended in a mere senseless superstition. The Council of Trent condemns the principle of the necessity of infant communion, saying that the practice arose in the circumstances of the early ages, and that the fathers had sufficient grounds for introducing it in their days, without its being made a necessity of salvation; wherefore the usage could lawfully be altered and dropped (Sess. 21).

In the Greek Church we find passages of some theologians, which in their exposition of the doctrine of baptism would seem to imply that they rejected this necessity of infant communion based on John vi; 53; for they designate the former sacrament, as a purification through the blood of Christ, a partaking of the Lamb of God, etc. Yet infant communion was one of the early practices in that church, as is evident from the fact that in the Apostolic Constitutions (viii, 12) mothers are recommended to bring their children with them to communion, and children are counted among those who partake of the Lord's Supper (viii, 13). (Comp. Stanley, Hist, of the Eastern Church, p. 118,119.) This custom is also defended by Pseudo- Dionysius (Hier. Ecclesiastes 7:11) against the profane, who considered it ridiculous. The Greek Church still upholds infant communion. According to Metophanes Kritopulos (Conf. Ecc. Gr. c. 9), children (βρἐφη ), after they are baptized, should commune whenever their parents do.

The Roman Church and all Protestant churches now agree in rejecting infant communion. Nevertheless, there have been a few advocates of the practice even among Protestants in modern times. Among the most prominent of them is Pierce (Essay on the Eucharist, London, 1504), who argues for the practice (1) on the ground of primitive usage; (2) from Scripture. The latter argument is "that Christians succeeding to the Jews as God's people, and being grafted upon that stock, their infants have a right to all the privileges of which they are capable, till forfeited by some immoralities; and, consequently, have a right to partake of this ordinance, as the Jewish children had to eat of the Passover and other sacrifices; besides this, he pleads those texts which speak of the Lord's Supper as received by all Christians. The most obvious answer to all this is that which is taken from the incapacity of infants to examine themselves, and discern the Lord's body; but he answers that this precept is only given to persons capable of understanding and complying with it, as those which require faith in order to baptism are interpreted by the Paedobaptists.

As for his argument from the Jewish children eating the sacrifice, it is to be considered that this was not required as circumcision was; the males were not necessarily brought to the Temple till they were twelve years old (Luke 2:42); and the sacrifices they ate of were chiefly peace offerings, which became the common food to all that were clean in the family, and were not looked upon as acts of devotion to such a degree as our Eucharist is; though, indeed, they were a token of their acknowledging the divinity of that God to whom they had been offered (1 Corinthians 10:18); and even the Passover was a commemoration of a temporal deliverance; nor is there any reason to believe that its reference to the Messiah was generally understood by the Jews. On the whole, it is certain there would be more danger of a contempt arising to the Lord's Supper from the admission Of infants and of confusion and trouble to other communicants; so that, not being required in Scripture, it is much the best to omit it. When children are grown up to a capacity of behaving decently, they may soon be instructed in the nature and design of the ordinance; and if they appear to understand it, and give proof of love to Christ, it would be advisable to admit them to communion, though very young; which, by the way. might be a good security against many of the snares to which youth are exposed." See Augusti, Bandbuch d. christl. Archaö l. 2, 639 sq.; Bihmer, Die christlich-kirchliche Aterthumswissenschoft, 2, 365 sq.; Herzog, Real- Encyklop. 7, 549 sq.; Zorn, Historia Euclaristice Ifantium (Berlin, 1736, 8vo); Knapp, Theology, § 144; Doddridge, Lectures on Divinity, lect. 207; Neander, Church History, 1, 311: 315, 2, 319; 3:496; Smith, Account of the Gr. Church, p. 161; Bingham, Orig. Eccles. bk. 15, ch. 3:§ 7; Coleman, Ancient Christianity, ch. 21:§ 8; Neander, Hist. of Dogmas, p. 242; Gieseler, Dogmengeschichte, p. 542.

Infanticide is the term for the act or practice of murdering infants, which was very general among the ancients, and which still prevails among rude nations. The Greeks and Romans, with all their high notions of civilization, were guilty of favoring this horrible practice - by legislative enactments, and Plato and Aristotle are found among its supporters. Thus, at Sparta, the law required that a child, immediately after birth, was to be exhibited to the authorities for inspection, and if its look was not wholesome, or its limbs crippled, "it was thrown into a deep cavern at the foot of the mountain Taygetus; and it was said that this law had a wholesome effect, for it made women with child very careful as to their eating, drinking, and exercise, and hence they proved excellent nurses. In the other Grecian republics a similar disregard of the life of sickly infants was shown." Among the Romans it seems to have been the duty of the father to decide the fate of his newborn babe. Among the Norse a somewhat similar rule determined the life of the infant. If weak, or of the weaker sex, the father not infrequently "disapproved of its living, and it was exposed to die by wild beasts or the weather." Among the barbaric tribes, child-murder prevails most extensively.

Thus it is general throughout the whole of the South-Sea Islands, and is even a regular system among the Fijians (q.v.). In Vanu Levu, we are informed by a recent authority "the extent of infanticide reaches nearer two thirds than one half of all the children born." Among the people of India, especially the Hindus, as well as the Brahmans, this evil prevailed to a very great extent, due no doubt, in a great measure, to the national prejudice of remarriage of a widow (compare Max Muller, Chips from a German Workshop, 2, 312). But, since the rule of the English, laws have been enacted likely to modify the practice, if not to cheek it altogether. "The Rajputs, it is said, destroy all the female children but the first-born-a peculiar custom, due to its being a point of honor with a Rajput to nearly ruin himself in the marriage feast and portion of his daughter, so that he could not afford to have more than one. The Mohammedans were inclined to the same practice, but effected their object by-means of abortion. In New Holland the native women think nothing of destroying by compression the infant in the womb, to avoid the trouble of rearing it alive. In China infanticide is supposed to be common, the chief cause being said to be the right of periodically repudiating their wives which is possessed by Chinamen. Some statistics, recently published in the Esperance of Nancy, indicate the fearful extent to which life is lost through this practice prevailing in so vast a population as that of China." Newcomb (Cyclop. of Missions, p. 487) says, "It is computed from authentic data that not less than 9000 children are exposed in the streets of Peking every year, and as many more in the provinces, and that it is a part of the duty of the police to carry away in carts, every morning, those that have been exposed at night, some of whom are yet alive; but they are all carried to a pit without the walls, and buried promiscuously."

In Japan, poverty of the parent is deemed an admissible excuse for the destruction of an infant's life, and in Greenland the infant is buried with the mother, if she dies in or shortly after childbirth. The South American women commit the same atrocity as the poor parents of Japan. In Africa the Bushmen follow the practices that we detailed as prevalent among the ancient Greeks and Romans; and so frequent has been the practice of feeding lions with infants' flesh, that "it has greatly increased the desire of the lion for human flesh." "In Madagascar the fate of the infant depends upon the calculation of lucky and unlucky days." Among the North American Indians infanticide has also prevailed, and does still prevail very extensively. The lower castes of the Natchez Indians on the lower Mississippi, Brinton (Myths of the New World [N.Y. 1868, 8vo], p. 239) says, deliberately murder their own children on the funeral pyre of a son or chief to gain admittance to a higher caste. But as a principal reason of the great extent of infanticide, especially of female children, among savage tribes, Lubbock (Origin of Civilization, and Primitive Condition of Man [London, 1870, 8vo], p. 93) assigns the scarcity of game, and tie fact that female children are only consumers, and not providers. "Under these circumstances, female children became a source of weakness in several ways. They ate, and did not hunt; they weakened their mothers when young, and when growing up were a temptation to surrounding tribes." But while these reasons, which seem quite plausible at the outset, may have helped to aggravate and spread the horrid crime of infanticide, it is no doubt true, after all, that the practice of child-murder is due to a false comprehension of the duties and relations of man towards his Maker.

Perverted religious teachings have done much to foster this great crime among these ignorant human beings, whom Christianity is slowly but surely convincing of the error of their ways. The benign effect of Christianity, which was so marked on the legislation of the Greco-Roman empire in the treatment of woman, and, as a natural consequence, in the treatment likewise of her offspring, is already apparent also among these uncivilized tribes. One of the maxims of modern civilization, or, rather, of Christianity, is found among the enactments of the first Christian emperor, namely, Constantine's declaration that "the killing of a child by its father, which the Pompeian law left unpunished, is one of the greatest crimes" (Schaff, Ch. Hist. 3:114). "Instead of encouraging the destruction of life, modern civilization abounds in every kind of machinery for preserving it, however unsuccessful the attempt. The chief cause which, among Christian nations, leads to infanticide, is that of shame, which, however, operates only in the case of the child being illegitimate. The parents often incur the risk of committing the crime of murder to avoid social disgrace. In order, therefore, to appreciate the force of the checks put by the law on the tendency to infanticide, the law of bastardy, the practice of instituting foundling hospitals (q.v.), and the kind and degree of the punishments attending any attempt more or less direct to destroy the child, either before or after birth, require to be taken into account. The criminal law deals with the cognate offences which make up infanticide in the following manner, whether the child is legitimate or illegitimate.

As regards the procuring of abortion, every woman who takes poison or other noxious thing, or uses instruments or other means to procure her miscarriage, is guilty of felony, and liable to penal servitude for life, or not less than three years; and so is any person who administers poison, or uses instruments upon the woman with such intent. Whoever supplies drugs, poison, or instruments for the same purpose is guilty of a misdemeanor, and liable to penal servitude for three years. The concealment of birth is also a criminal offence. Whoever, after a child is born, by any secret disposition of the body, endeavors to conceal its birth, is guilty of a misdemeanor, and liable to imprisonment for two years. This is the offence which, perhaps, is most frequently committed, or at least made the subject of prosecution in such cases, as the attempt to establish the larger crime of murder to the satisfaction of a jury is frequently foiled by the secret sympathy shown towards the mother, who is presumed to have been the victim of seduction, or otherwise wronged" (Chambers). But one of the greatest difficulties we are beginning to encounter in our own day, in several Christian lands, among which our own is perhaps the most prominent, is the practice of abortion, only another form of infanticide, so general among the so-called higher classes of society. It is really alarming to the Christian man to see how extensive this great sin has become in this country, as well as in England.

We do not deign to speak of France, for that country, in this respect at least, can scarcely make the profession of being a Christian land. Houses for abortion are among us in the best parts of the largest cities. They are kept with the approval of our citizens, and are suffered to further a crime which must sooner or later prove the greatest curse that has yet befallen us. Mr. Greenwood, in his Seven Curses of London, speaks of "baby farming" as "a mischief of gigantic extent." Recent statistics, and, indeed, the unblushing advertisements of abortionists, male and female, in the daily prints, proclaim the equally fearful extent of the crime of infanticide in our own land. It is high time that the clergy raise their voice against this varied form of feticide, which threatens to decimate the population in the higher classes, and is poisoning the moral sense of outwardly respectable families. (J. H. W.)

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Infant Communion'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/i/infant-communion.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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