The term “cradle Catholics” usually denotes those who were baptized in infancy and raised in the Catholic faith of their parents. I am a “cradle Catholic.” I was baptized a week after my birth, learned my prayers at home, went to church with my parents and siblings every Sunday and attended our parish grade school. That was just the way things were in my little world. Being a Catholic brought neither privilege nor persecution.
Things were not always that way. The first three centuries after Christ was the era of the martyrs. Failure to recognize the Roman Emperor and refusal to worship the gods of Rome was an act of treason, a capital offense. Being a Christian could and did lead to martyrdom.
In the era of Constantine and his son, being Christian often brought political and social advantages. Being a Christian garnered privileges and political jobs. Christianity became the stepping stone to greater influence and power in this world, depending upon whether the emperor was Christian. As time passed, many Christians lost their way and followed worldly standards even though they were baptized as infants and “raised” as Christians. They still considered themselves believers even if they no longer lived the faith they claimed.
In the sixteenth century, some of the reformers recommended ceasing the practice of infant baptism. These radical reformers taught that a person baptized as an infant would have to be baptized again as an adult, if they truly believed in Jesus and chose baptism. That was the origin of the Anabaptist movement, from the Greek word for “baptize again.” Because most Anabaptists were pacifists, both Catholics and Protestants persecuted them during the wars of religion, which flared up in the Reformation and lasted until the Peace of Westphalia took hold in Europe during the late seventeenth century.
I first encountered real, living Anabaptists while I was studying theology prior to ordination. Quakers and Mennonites impressed me with their belief that rejection of warfare is a part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They were like Franciscans in many ways.
Some Church historians describe the Anabaptist approach as a call for a “believers’ church” in which the members are adult believers who are people of peace. Would that the Catholic Church could be a “believers’ church” where all of us were converted to the Lord and lived in peace with everyone.
St. Francis, who once sought to be a glorious, heroic knight, eventually rejected the sword. He proved to be a lover of God, neighbor and all creation—not a warrior. As a Franciscan I long for peace in the Catholic Church, peace in this nation and peace in countries currently torn apart by warfare and violence. Yes, a believers’ church is pretty attractive in this day and age. Why can’t all the members of the Church just live in peace?
Photo Credit: PhotoXpress/Giordano Aita