Of Pageantry, Baptism, and the Catholic Church
Of Pageantry, Baptism, and the Catholic Church

A lively editorial page from January 26, 1935, touched on such topics as the activity of the Holy Spirit, the Roosevelts planning to serve wine at the White House (Prohibition had been repealed in 1933), and reaction to a Robert Benchley essay called “The Sunday Menace” (the humor author had suggested outrageous acts “to get rid of the dullness of midafternoon on Sunday”).

But the editorial we share today is a measured, almost melancholy observation about how baptism is practiced in the Roman Catholic Church.

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Editorial; January 26, 1935; p. 4

There is a real mystery in the fact that the Roman Catholic Church ever dropped immersion as the form of baptism. The church had direct contact with those who practiced the original form, and its own theologians admit immersion to be the form of Scriptural baptism. The change in form was made by the Roman Church.

That, however, is not the real cause of our marveling. What seems so strange to us is the fact that a church that makes so much of pageantry should have lost entirely the wonderfully dramatic elements in Christian baptism. Theoretically, the Roman Church has grasped somewhat better than have the Protestants the fact that the Lord intended His people to center their worship in certain great symbols. Protestants have, for the most part, made too much of talk and mere reading. They have supposed that it developed upon them to create masterful philosophies and explanations of doctrine. The New Testament church centered everything in the breaking of bread, a simple, but picturesque, memorial of the Lord and His death. While the Roman Church has, of course, overdone the matter in the development of the elaborate mass, it is nonetheless correct in putting the emphasis upon the picture rather than upon the philosophy of theology.

It seems strange, therefore, that the Roman Church lost the other picture, which is even more vividbaptism as the burial and resurrection. What a distinct lapse in the Roman Church’s ordinary astuteness that was, in which, merely for case and convenience, she let slip from her hands this wonderful symbol of the soul’s death and resurrection, this outward picture of an inner rebirth, this washing away of sin.

And certainly there can not possibly be any restoration of the unity of the ancient church until there is restored to its place this picture of the great fact that the Roman church appreciates as the center of Christian faiththe death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord.

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