Augustine on Baptism
How did Augustine (354 to 430 AD) view Baptism? Did he follow the current view of many Protestants and “Bible only” Christians of today that Baptism is only symbol or public declaration of one’s faith in Christ? The Catholic Church, on the other hand, teaches that through Baptism all our past sins (original and personal sins) are forgiven and we will be reborn as new person (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1263, 1265). In one of his sermons Augustine wrote (English translation from Augustine through the Ages, an Encyclopaedia, page 88):
If the forgiveness of sins were not to be had in the Church, there would be no hope of future life and eternal liberation. We thank God, who gave his Church such a gift. Here you are; you are going to come to the holy font, you will be washed in saving baptism, you will be renewed in the “bath of rebirth” [Titus 3:5], you will be without any sin at all as you come up from that birth. All the things that were plaguing you in the past will be there be blotted out.
Augustine, Sermon 213.9
Augustine also compared Baptism with the crossing the Red Sea in Exodus. Just like the Israelites who crossed the Red Sea while the pursuing Egyptians were drowned, the candidates must cross the Red Sea of Baptism and their sins will be left drown in the water. In his other work, based on Romans 6:4, he wrote (English translation from Augustine through the Ages, an Encyclopaedia, page 88):
Paul spoke of the great mystery of holy baptism as bound up with the cross of Christ; and this he does in terms that make us understand that baptism in Christ is nothing but an image of Christ’s death, and the Christ’s death on the cross is nothing but an image of the remission of sin. Just as his death was real, so also the remission of ours is real; and just as his resurrection was real, so also our justification is real.
Augustine, Enchiridion ad Laurentium de fide spe et caritate
(A Handbook of Faith, Hope and Love) 8.52
He also stated that Baptism marks the beginning of our renewal process and this process is gradual, following 2 Corinthians 4:16: our inner nature is being renewed every day (cf. De peccatorum meritus et remissione et de baptismo parvulorum or On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins and on Infant Baptism, 2.7.9 – 2.8.10)