Wednesday, February 22, 2006

History and Paedocommunion

I have put some thoughts about Paedocommunion up at Westminster Brass. I thought here I would continue the subject by examining the claims of Paedo or Infant communionists that history supports the practice of giving infants communion.

Tim Gallant gives a few quotes and comments upon them. Tommy Lee gives a fuller set of quotes and discussion. Neither, in my opinion, proves their case. While I will grant that Africa around the time of Augustine must have practiced giving communion to infants, a wide spread practice of paedocommunion seems hard to establish. Nor can any firm proof be brought forth from 1st or 2nd century documents. A few examples of their overstatement of the facts are in order.

Both men cite the Apostolic Constitutions as proof of Infant Communion. They point out that the document tells the catechumens, hearers, and non-believers to leave before communion is served. It then goes on to state, "Let the mothers take their children" and goes on to give the order in which communion should be received. ". . .the deaconesses, and the virgins, and the widows; then the children; and then all the people in order." Here we see that children were to receive the sacrament. Sounds like proof, but all is not finished. Gallant neglects to point out the prayer mentioned in the book. Lee shares it with us. It concludes by praying,

sanctify Thy people, keep those that are in virginity, preserve those in the faith that are in marriage, strengthen those that are in purity, bring the infants to complete age, confirm the newly admitted; instruct the catechumens, and render them worthy of admission...

Now Lee takes this to mean that infants were to be at the table. Yet, he neglects to see if there is a difference between the use of the word infant and the word children. The above proofs all speak of children coming to the table, and the prayer mentions infants specifically. Are they overlapping groups? The prayer seems to indicate not. The prayer is to "bring infants to complete age." What this means is not precisely known, but it seems probably that this is a prayer for infants to come to an age of understanding to partake in the Supper. This is bolstered by the rest of the prayer, "instruct the catechumens, and render them worthy of admission." The same section of the prayer is praying for catechumens, who were dismissed, to be taught so that they might be worthy of admission. It seems likely that the infants need to be of complete age to be worthy of admission as well. At the very least, this is no longer a clear proof for infants having been at the table, and more likely proof they were not allowed.

Let us add to this an earlier citation, one even earlier than Cyprian and Augustine. Justin Martyr tells us of the eucharist and who partakes of it. "This food is called with us the eucahrist, of which none can partake, but the believing and baptized, who live according to the commands of Christ." Clearly, Justin Martyr reports to us that infants were not allowed at the table. For the only ones allowed at the table were baptized, believing, and obedient to Christ. Not something that would be said of infants at their mother’s breast, and probably not something that would be said about very little children. Justin sees more than just baptism as a requirement to gain admission to the table. Remember Justin is not telling us his opinion of the Lord’s Supper, he is merely reporting the common practice of his time, the common practice of the 2nd century Christians.

In the end, the Paedocommunionists can do nothing more than prove that around the 3rd and 4th centuries paedocommunion was practiced in North Africa. This I will grant. But they need to be more honest and admit that the general custom and the earlier custom seems to be forbidding infants from the table.