Overland Monthly / OV171 - Civil Baptism in France

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OV171 CIVIL BAPTISM IN FRANCE

BY C. T. RUSSELL Pastor Brooklyn and London Tabernacles

THERE IS AN old adage which says, "Politics makes strange bed-fellows." So the efforts of humanity to get free from ignorance and superstition often leads to ridiculous procedures. Long centuries ago our good forefathers got the impression that our great loving Heavenly Father had a devilish disposition, and was intent on the eternal torture of nearly everybody. The account in Genesis, which explicitly tells that death is a penalty for sin—"Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return"—was twisted into meaning what the poet styles, "A death that never dies," whatever kind of a death that might be. Generally the thought prevailed that God had condemned Adam and all his posterity to eternal torture, and the only escape from it lay through Church membership. One of the early "fathers" decided that this included children, and forthwith it became the custom to have all the little ones immersed. Then came the decree that immersion was not necessary, but that a few drops of water on the head, with the words, "Father, Son and Holy Spirit," would make the child fireproof—God would not hand it over to the devils, but would count it a member of the Church and save it. If it grew and became a rare saint, it would go to heaven; otherwise it would go to purgatory, there to be refined and made ready for heaven. Gradually the subject became still more intensely interesting. The question arose and was debated: When does the child’s life begin?

What if the child should die in the moment of being born? Would God then send the little one to the devils and eternal torment? The theologians of that day decided "Yes." Consequently our Catholic forefathers decided that the only way to keep even with God’s determination to torture all the unbaptized, all not Church members, would be to have the attending physician fully authorized to baptize the child "in utero," if there were any danger of the child dying in birth. How strange all this sounds to-day. However, these practices still go on, as for centuries past; but those who authorize and practice them keep quiet and do not discuss them, well knowing that the more general education of our day and our broader appreciation of Divine Justice and Divine Love would be shocked by the truth respecting these ceremonies instituted in the "Dark Ages." Nevertheless, the majority of Protestants, as well as Catholics, still are very careful and particular about the baptism of infants. If a babe show signs of illness, the inquiry will pass throughout the relationship, "Has the child been baptized?" which means, Have you taken out the fire insurance against eternal torture? How sad that the great Heavenly Father’s name and character should be thus misunderstood and misrepresented amongst those who profess to be His people, His children, and who profess to be taught of God through His Word, the Bible. There was an excuse for our forefathers, when Bibles were expensive luxuries and when few could read them. But there is less excuse to-day when Bibles, paid for by legacies, can be had free from some of our great Bible societies, and when all can read.

OV172 Is it not time for us to awaken from heathenish doctrines?

His Two Babies in Hell.

Not long since, when delivering lectures in various parts of Wisconsin, we were introduced to a man who had followed us from city to city, a journey of nearly three hundred miles, intent upon hearing the "good tidings of great joy." We were told the story of his interest. He was a saloon-keeper and a Roman Catholic. A colporteur called at his house selling Pastor Russell’s "Studies in the Scriptures," or helps to the understanding of the Bible. The man replied, "No, I do not want to know anything about the Bible nor anything about God. He has treated me most cruelly. He uses His power unjustly. He has punished my two little girls, dead within a few days of each other of diphtheria. Our hearts already were suffering greatly because of their sudden taking away. As Catholics, we went to our priest desiring for him to arrange for the funeral service and the burial of the little children in holy Catholic ground. The priest sent me word that he would have nothing to do with the matter, that I had not been a regular attendant at the Church, and had not had my children baptized, and that they had gone to hell—not even to purgatory. Can I love a God who would send my two innocent little children to be roasted by devils simply because I neglected my duty and did not have them sprinkled with water in the Holy Name? No, I cannot." The colporteur explained the matter from the Bible standpoint. The bereaved parents became deeply interested. They both are reading the books. They have experienced a complete turn-over of their minds. They have learned that God is Love, and that all of His provisions are gracious and reasonable. There is indeed a doctrine of baptism in the Bible—a most beautiful doctrine, and full of meaning. Our Baptist friends come the nearest to an understanding of the Bible teaching on the subject. But, alas, they, too, are far from appreciating the true meaning of baptism, as the Bible teaches it. If any of our readers are interested in pursuing this subject further and exhausting it, we recommend to them the reading of one chapter in the series of Pastor Russell’s "Studies in the Scriptures," which are sold at cost price. Those unable to purchase may obtain the loan of a book free, we are told.

French Perversion of Baptism.

There is in progress to-day in France a most peculiar perversion of the Bible teaching respecting baptism. As is well known to many, the French Government recently passed laws which put the Church of Rome in France on nearly the same basis as are the Roman Catholic churches in America. The principal difference in the arrangement is that there the Church properties were taken possession of by the Government in the name of the people, under the claim that they were built by the money of the people and rightly belonged to the people and not to the hierarchy. It was not, however, the intention to hinder the use of the buildings for Church purposes. Merely the congregations were commanded to organize as congregations and to receive the right to use the buildings as formerly. The Government wished it to be understood that the buildings belong to the people and not to the Pope at Rome. The bishops and clergy, acting under the advice of the Pope, withdrew and left the churches without priestly services, masses, etc., probably under the belief that the people would demand of the Government a restoration of the old order of things. Not that Catholics more than Protestants are interested in the study of the holy things and desire priestly instruction! Not that they wanted to go to church!

Rather they said to themselves, As death comes into the family, the people will crave the ministries of the priests and the holy water, the holy

OV173 candles, unction, holy burial ground, etc. Furthermore, they will want, as heretofore, to have their babies christened, and thus preserved from eternal torture!

Then they will call for the priests, and the Government will be obliged to hear them, and we will make our own terms respecting return. The Catholics of France no longer believe in the infallibility of the priests and the value of the masses, the holy oil, consecrated burying-ground, etc. Indeed, like the thinking people of every other part of the world they are going rapidly away from all faith and calling everything religious superstition. Alas, that the pendulum swings from one end to the other! Alas, that the beautiful simplicity of the Bible and the reasonableness of its teachings and the comfort thus inspired are thus unseen, unknown, to the masses, both Catholic and Protestant! The French are a very practical people, and are adapting themselves to the new order of things. They now have civil marriages and civil burials. And the last innovation is civil baptism. Here is the account of this latest innovation: "Paris, Aug. 5.—Civil baptism, invented by that picturesque figure, M. Coutant, mayor and deputy of Ivry, near Paris, has been taken up with enthusiasm in various parts of the country. At Macon, in Burgundy, the ceremony is specially popular, and the Mayor of Flace-les-Macon has just instituted a form of procedure more elaborate than anything yet devised. This was first employed on the 14th of July, the national fete. "After receiving at the mairie, the parents of the infant, accompanied by the god-parents, he handed the family a copy of the following remarkable document which was previously transcribed on a special register:

Civil Baptism.

"Marie Philiberte Seve, daughter of Louis Seve and of Philomena Charcosset, gardeners at Flace, welcome to the great family of those whose minds are freed from religious dogma!

"In the presence of M. Philibert Seve and of Madame Marie Claudine Bacot, thy godfather and godmother.

"I, Anthony Coran, officer of the civil authority, Mayor of the commune of Flace-les- Macon; "In the name of the universal principles of free thought!

"In the name of the glorious revolution of 1789, mother of the rights of man and of the citizen!

"In the name of the French Republic, democratic and laic!

"I baptize thee and give thee these three commandments, for which I take publicly and solemnly as witnesses and guarantors these thy godparents, here present:

"1. Thou shalt honor thy country, thy father and mother, and shalt serve them.

"2. Thou shalt uphold with all thy strength, justice and truth.

"3. Thou shalt fear nothing except to do ill to thy neighbor.

"And now, Citizeness Marie Philiberte Seve, return to the home of thy parents to be their joy and to live in peace."

Here follow the signatures of the Mayor, the parents and the godparents.

Alas! how one superstition and error, falling, gives place, not to the Truth, but to another error! How glad we are that the Bible declares that Messiah will soon establish His Kingdom, and that then the saintly ones of Christ’s followers, irrespective of denominational lines and creeds and irrespective of nationality, will be with Him and associated with Him in His kingly and ruling office and in His priestly and teaching office. Then, and not till then, will the knowledge of God cover the whole earth as the waters cover the great deep. Then, and not until then, will the darkness flee away before the true light—"the Sun of righteousness with healing in His beams."