Should We Talk to Babies
So I’m on a bit of a Peter Leithart kick lately. I recently finished Leithart’s newest publication Traces of the Trinity from Brazos Press and I hope to have my full review of it up by Friday. At the same time, I’m also reading two other Leithart books: A House For My Name and The Baptized Body. Caroline and I read through A House For My Name last year together and I’m currently reading through it with a friend from church, in all honesty I’ll probably read it two or three more times, it’s that good. If you read here regularly then you probably already knew that I've been reading The Baptized Body from my post the other week. This is my first time through The Baptized Body but I doubt it will be my last. I wanted to take today’s post as an opportunity to share a quotation from the book that I found interesting.
In the paragraphs preceding the following quotation Leithart is challenging many false assumptions people make about “symbols.” We tend to believe that symbols are only signs that point to something else, “the reality.” For some reason we don't believe that symbols participate in the “reality” they point to. But this is all messed up. Leithart shows this by revealing that language is symbolism.
When we speak to one another (using language) we are using symbols in the form of sound (all language transfer, not just speaking, is symbolic). Further, the words we are using aren’t merely pointing to some other reality. The words we use do point beyond themselves but they participate in the reality that they are pointing to. It would be nonsensical to believe that we could even construct some sort of “reality” that is not entirely dependent on the symbolism of language; for even your thinking is comprised of using the symbols of language.
Having laid this groundwork. Leithart makes an astounding argument for the necessity and “efficacy” (yes, I used that word) of infant baptism. In explaining that all symbols are much more than we tend to credit them, Leithart shows the same profound nature of infant baptism:
As we establish loving and trusting relations with our infants through symbols [think language], so God speaks to infants and establishes a relation with them through the "visible word" of baptism. Thus, the question "Should we baptize babies?" is of a piece with the question "Should we talk to babies?" Paedobaptism is neither more nor less odd and miraculous than talking to a newborn. In fact that is just what paedobaptism is: God speaking in water to a newborn child. (pg. 10)
Newborns learn who they are through the symbols (language and others) that they receive from their parents. A baby learns its name through the exterior symbols of language. Parents name their child and use that name for months before the child begins to inhabit the name on a conscious level. The same thing should be true of infant baptism. In and through the symbol God is speaking a new name to the infant ("son" or "daughter"). In response, the church should speak to that child with the same name that the child’s father (our Father in Heaven) has bestowed upon the child. In the same way that a newborn child learns it’s given name through symbols so too does an infant who is baptized learn it’s Christian name.
Food for thought.