St. Robert Bellarmine (+1621AD)
CHAPTER X. THE TENTH PRECEPT, WHICH IS ON THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM
HAVING now explained the principal virtues which teach us how “to live well”. I shall add some remarks on the Sacraments, which, no less than the former, instruct us in this most necessary Art.
There are seven Sacraments instituted by Christ our Lord: baptism, confirmation, holy Eucharist, penance, holy orders, matrimony, and extreme unction. These are the divine instruments, as it were, which God uses by the ministry of his servants, to preserve, or increase, or restore His grace to us; that so being freed from the servitude of the devil, and translated to the dignity of the " Sons of
God," we may one day arrive at eternal happiness with the holy angels.
From these holy Sacraments, therefore, it is our intention briefly to show who are they that advance in the “Art of living well," and who fail in it. We may then know who can hope for a happy death; and who, on the contrary, may expect a miserable one, unless he change his life.
Let us begin with the first Sacrament. Baptism, being the first, is justly called the "gate" of the
Sacraments, because, unless baptism precede them, no one is in a state to receive the other Sacraments. In baptism the following ceremonies are observed.
First of all, he who is to be baptised ought to make a profession of his belief in the Catholic faith, either by himself or by another. Secondly, he is called upon to renounce the devil, and all his works and pomps. Thirdly, he is baptised in Christ, and thus translated from the bondage of the devil to the dignity of a son of God; and all his sins being washed away, he receives the gift of divine grace, by which he becomes the adopted son of God, an heir of God, and co-heir with Christ.
Fourthly, a white garment is placed on him, and he is exhorted to keep it pure and undefiled till death. Fifthly, a lighted candle is put into his hand, which signifies good works, and which he ought to add for innocence of life as long as he lives. Thus our Lord speaks in the Gospel: "So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (St. Matthew v. xvi.) (Sic luceat lux vestra coram hominibus ut videant vestra bona opera et glorificent Patrem vestrum qui in caelis est)
These are the principal ceremonies which the Church uses in the administration of baptism; I omit others which do not relate to our purpose. From these observations, each one of us may easily discover whether we have led a good life from our Baptism until now. But I strongly suspect that few are to be found who have fulfilled all those things which they promised to do, or which they ought to have done. " Many are called, but few are chosen ;" and again, " Narrow is the gate, and straight is the way that leadeth to life, and few there are that find it."
We will begin with the Apostles Creed. How many of the country people and lower orders either do not remember this, or have never learnt it, or only know the words of it, but not the sense! And yet at their baptism they answered by their sponsors that they believed in every Article. But if Christ is to dwell in our hearts by faith, as the apostle saith, how can He dwell in the hearts of those who can scarcely repeat the Creed, and much less have it in their hearts ? And if God by faith " purifies" our hearts, as St. Peter speaks, how base will the hearts of those be, who have not in them the faith of
Christ, although they have received baptism outwardly! I am speaking of adults not of infants.
Infants are justified by possessing grace, faith, hope, and charity; but when they grow to maturity, they ought to learn the Creed, and believe in their heart the Christian faith "unto justice," and confess it with the mouth "unto salvation," as the Apostle most plainly teaches us in his Epistle to the Romans.
Again: all Christians are asked, either by themselves or by their sponsors, whether they renounce the devil, and all his works and pomps. And they answer: “I do renounce them." But how many renounce them in word, but not in reality! On the other hand, how few are there who do not love and follow the pomps and works of the devil! But God seeth all things, and will not be mocked. He therefore that desires to live well and to die well, let him enter into the chamber of his heart, and not deceive himself; but seriously and attentively consider over and over again whether he is in love with the pomps of this world, or with sins, which are the works of the devil; and whether he gives them a place in his heart, and in his words and actions. And thus, either his good conscience will console him, or his evil conscience will lead him to penance.
In the other rite is manifested to us the goodness of God in so sublime and wonderful a manner, that, were we to spend whole days and nights in admiration and thanksgiving for it, we should do nothing worthy of so great a benefit. good Lord! who can understand, who is not amazed, who does not wholly dissolve into pious tears when he considers how man, justly condemned to hell, is suddenly by means of Baptism translated from a miserable captivity to a right in a most glorious kingdom!
But how much the greater this benefit is to be admired, so much the more is mans ingratitude to be detested; since many, scarcely before they arrive at the age of reason, begin to renounce this wonderful benefit of God, and to enrol themselves the slaves of the devil. For what else is it to follow in our youth " the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life," but to enter into friendship with the devil, and to deny Christ our Lord in deed and in word? Few is the number of those, who, prevented by a special grace of God, carefully preserve their baptismal grace, and, as the prophet Jeremias expresses it, have borne the yoke of the Lord "from their youth" But unless we preserve either our baptismal grace, or by true penance again renounce the devil, and return to the service of God, and persevere in it till the end of our life, we cannot possibly live well, nor be delivered from a miserable death.
The fourth ceremony is, when the baptized receives the white garment, and is ordered to wear it until he shall appear before God. By this rite is signified " innocence of life," which acquired by the grace of Baptism, is most carefully to be preserved until death. But who can number the snares of the devil, that perpetual enemy of the human race, who desires nothing more than to disfigure that garment with every kind of stain? Very few, therefore, are there, who if they live long, do not contract stains of sin; holy David calls those blessed who are " undefiled" in their way. But the more difficult it is to walk undefiled in a defiled way, so much the more glorious will be the crown of an innocent life. All therefore, who desire to live well and to die well, must be careful to preserve to the very best of their power the white garment. But if it should contract some stains, we must wash it often in the blood of the Lamb; and this is done by true contrition and penitential tears. When David had bewailed his sin for a long time, he began to hope for pardon, and giving thanks to the Lord, he confidently said: “Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed; thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow." (Asparges me hysopo et mundabor lavabis me et super nivem dealbabor) (Psalm 50)
The last ceremony is, to put a lighted candle into our hand; this, as we have remarked above, signifies nothing more than good works, which must be joined with a holy life. And what these good works are that men must do who are born again by Baptism in Christ, the apostle teaches us by his example, when he says, " I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord the just judge will render to
me in that day." “Bonum certamen certavi cursum consummavi fidem servavi. In reliquo reposita est mihi iustitiae corona quam reddet mihi Dominus in illa die iustus iudex non solum autem mihi sed et his qui diligunt adventum eius” (2nd to Timothy iv. 7, 8.)
Here in a few words are mentioned the " good works" which must be performed by those who are born again by baptism in Christ. They must fight manfully against the temptations of the devil, " who goeth about like a roaring lion, seeking whom to devour." They must also complete the “course" of good works by the observance of the Commandments of the Lord, according to the words of the
Psalm: "I have been in the way of thy commandments, when thou didst enlarge my heart." (118.)
They must, in fine, preserve fidelity to their master in multiplying their talents, or in cultivating their vineyard, or in attending to the stewardship entrusted to them, or in the government of their family, or in any other matter appointed them by the Almighty. Our most bountiful Lord wishes to admit us as adopted sons to His heavenly inheritance; but that this may be done to His greater glory and our own, it hath pleased the divine wisdom that by our good works, performed by His grace and our own free will, we should merit eternal happiness. Wherefore, this most noble and glorious inheritance will not be given to those that sleep, or are idle, or fond of play; but only to the watchful, to the laborious, and to those that persevere in good works unto the end.
Let every one then examine his works, and diligently inquire into his manner of life, if he wish to live
well and die well; and if his conscience testifies to him that he has fought the "good fight" with his vices and concupiscences, and with all the temptations of the old serpent, and that he has finished a happy " course" in all the commandments and justifications of the Lord without reproof, then he may exclaim with the Apostle, For the rest there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord the just judge will render to me in that day." (2nd to Timothy iv.) But if, having carefully examined ourselves, our conscience shall testily that in our contest with the enemy of the human race, we have been grievously wounded, and his "fiery darts" have penetrated even unto our soul, and this not once but often, and that we have often failed in the performance of good works, and not only ran on slothfully, but sat in the way through fatigue or laid down; and in fine, that we have not preserved our fidelity to God in the business entrusted to us, but have taken away part of the profit, either by vain-glory, or acceptance of persons, or any thing else; then must we have immediate recourse to the remedy of penance, and to God himself, and not defer this most important business till another time, because we know neither the day nor the hour.
I shall be presenting this work at length, but in chapter-length installments each Sunday. If you simply can't wait for the next chapter, or want to read it all at once, you can find the full text here: http://goodcatholicbooks.org/pdf/bellarmine_art-of-dying-well.pdf