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Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1563) on the Efficacy of Baptism

September 4, 2007

1] If a Ethnic [Pagan] hear that Christ was raised from the dead, he will think it to be a fable. But a Christian not only believes that the same was done, but also will not doubt but that he himself as a member of Christ shall one day be raised up from the dead. Afterward Chrisostom comes to the visible Sacrament, and says: If an Infidel see Baptism, he will judge that there is but water only: but the faithful behold the washing of the soul by the blood of Christ.

Peter Martyr, “Of Sacraments, namely Circumcision,” in The Common Places, trans., and complied by Anthonie Martin, 1583, part 4, p., 97.

2] There is offered unto us remission of sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. And yet ought we not to think that it is given by reason of the work wrought as they use to speak: as though a holiness, or the spirit lay hidden in the water, and that it can regenerate us by the outward touching. For it is not so, but by the word of GOD, and the outward sign is signified unto us our reconciliation with God made by Christ: upon which reconciliation if we lay hold by faith, we are both justified and also sanctified. Wherefore Augustine upon John says: “From whence comes this so great a virtue unto the water, that it should touch the body and wash the heart, unless the word wrought it: not in that it is spoken, but that it is believed. But in infants which by reason of age cannot yet believe the Holy Ghost works in their hearts in the stead of faith. The effusion also of the Holy Ghost is promised in baptism, as it is expressly written in the Epistle to Titus, “Who has saved us by the fountain of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost which he has plentifully poured upon us.

Peter Martyr, “Of Baptism,” in The Common Places, trans., and complied by Anthonie Martin, 1583, part 4, p., 113.

3] Aristotle denies that children can be happy, but we on the other side affirm them to be happy, seeing Christ said, “Suffer them to come unto me,” (Mar 10:14), he embraces them with great favour, and with singular clemency. We know, indeed, that they as yet cannot be workers of excellent actions, but yet by Christ both original sin is forgiven them, and a way unto eternal life is opened to them.

Peter Martyr, The Common Places, trans., and complied by Anthonie Martin, 1583, part 1, pp., 157-158.

4] Lastly, unto sin death is due as a reward (Rom. 6:23.): therefore, where no sin is, there death can have no place. For this only appertains unto the Son of God, to die an innocent; For he died for our sins: but we therefore, die; because we be not without sin. And if it be so, then let us see what our adversaries can allege; why infants, which be now born anew in Christ, do die? For actual sins they have not, and the guiltiness or blame of original sin is taken away: there remains only lust and corruption of nature, not wholly amended: & corrupt motions, which Augustine in his eleventh book of confessions says, are found in infants; and he does confess, and accuses them as sins: and therefore, seeing these be sins, they do not unjustly die for them….

But they will object unto is, that we do injury against baptism, if we say that sin is not taken away thereby. But we cannot justly be accused of this crime: for we affirm that the guiltiness or imputation of fault is taken away by regeneration. For although these vices remain, as does the scripture declare, and experience teaches, yet their bond [of punishment] and guiltiness is discharged. Wherefore Augustine sundry times says; that Concupicience indeed remains, but the blame is taken away by Christ.

Peter Martyr, The Common Places, trans., and complied by Anthonie Martin, 1583, part 2, pp., 272 and 274.

5] [Theses for Debate:]

14. PROPOSITIONS FROM THE I6th AND 7th CHAPTERS OF
GENESIS

NECESSARY

14.N.1. The covenant of the fathers and what we have now after the
coming of Christ, are the same regarding the foundation which is Christ,
although there is some diversity in rites and ceremonies.

14.N.2. Circumcision and baptism are the same in regard to the matter
of the sacrament, despite the difference of ceremony.

14.N.3. The infants of Christians belong to God at birth no less than did
the children of the Jews in antiquity; therefore, in the same way they should be baptized with water as those were circumcised.

14.N.4. A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by God to signify and
exhibit grace to those who rightly receive it.

14.N.5. Sacraments in the Old Testament not only signified but also
exhibited the grace of God.

14.N.6. Sacraments are not the cause of grace, but means which God
uses while he sanctifies his own through them.

14.N.7. Sacraments are not such necessary means that God has tied his power to them completely as though he could not give salvation without them.

14.N.8, Just as sacraments cannot be neglected without the severest
fault, even so are they received with the greatest benefit.

Peter Martyr Vermigli,”Theses for Debate: Propositions from Genesis,” in Early Writings: Creed, Scripture, Church, trans., by Mariano Di Gangi and Joseph C. McLelland, (Kirksville, Missouri: Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies, 1994), 1:107.

6] 38.N. 11. Baptisms were before the Law, within the Law, and under the Gospel; in regard to their substance all have the same efficacy.

38.N. 12. It is not true that the ceremonies of the old fathers were only outward exercises in which there was no remission of sins.

Peter Martyr Vermigli,”Theses for Debate: Propositions from Genesis,” in Early Writings: Creed, Scripture, Church, trans., by Mariano Di Gangi and Joseph C. McLelland, (Kirksville, Missouri: Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies, 1994), 1:139.

Vermigli to Bullinger, an extract from a letter:

7] The enterprise which all good people were hoping for and which was dear to His Royal Majesty’s heart could not be brought to birth. Things therefore still stay in large part as they were before, except that the Book or Plan of Ecclesiastical Rites and of the Administration of the Sacraments has been revised, for everything that could have fostered superstition has been removed from it. The main reason why the other things that were being proposed did not prevail was because the sacramentarian question blocked the way–not indeed as regards transubstantiation or the real presence (if I may speak that way) either in the bread or in the wine since, thanks be to God, there seems to be no controversy about them among those who profess the Gospel, but many people wavered over whether the sacraments confer grace. There were some who asserted it absolutely and wanted a decision to that effect. Since others saw clearly how many superstitions that opinion carried along with it, at first they tried in every way to show that nothing more should be attributed to the sacraments than to the external word of God, for both kinds of the word signify and show to us the salvation gained for us through Christ. All those who believe in these words and signs partake of that salvation, not indeed through the power of the words and sacraments, but through the efficacy of faith. It was also stipulated that it is impossible to partake worthily of sacraments unless the recipients previously possessed what is signified through the sacraments. Without faith the sacraments are always put to an unworthy use. But if those who come to the sacraments are endowed with faith, through faith they have already taken hold of the grace which is proclaimed to us in the sacraments. The subsequent reception and use of the sacraments is then a seal and sign of a promise already received. Just as through faith the external words of God have power to arouse and awaken a faith that is often lazy and somehow asleep, so too by the power of the Holy Spirit the sacraments can do the same thing. Their use is very helpful in fortifying our otherwise weak minds about the promises and grace of God.

When children are baptized, due to their age they cannot make the assent to the divine promises, which is faith. In them the effect of the sacrament is that the forgiveness of original sin, reconciliation with God, and the grace of the Holy Spirit bestowed on them through Christ are signified in them, and just as they already belong to the church, so they are also visibly grafted into it. Still we should not deny that great good and advantage comes to those who are baptized, whether children or adults, from the invocation of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, which takes place over them, for God always hears the faithful prayers of his church.

We wanted these teachings about the sacraments to be decided and established so that their pure and simple use might finally be restored. But there was an outcry, and many people, including those who were otherwise not unlearned or evil, maintained that grace is conferred, as they say, through the sacraments. They also do not want to concede that children are justified and reborn before baptism. But when it comes to their arguments, there are none which have not been refuted, and that very easily. From this affair no little hostility was stirred up against us because we differed sharply from Augustine. If our teaching had been approved by public authority, they say that then Augustine would have been openly condemned. Why say more? People cannot be torn away from the merit of works. What is even more to be regretted is that they do not want to admit it. There are always infinite roadblocks, and they are mutually reinforcing so that day after day they postpone the restitution of divine worship. What a heavy task it is to bring back the pure truth into the church! But this is no reason to despair; indeed, we are quite confident that things can turn out differently than what has now unhappily transpired.

Peter Martyr Vermigli, “Letter No. 72: Peter Martyr to Henry Bullinger,” in Life, Letters and Sermons, trans., by John Patrick Donnelly, (Kirksville, Missouri: Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies, 1999), 5:123-125.

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