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AN

INQUIRY

CONCERNING THE

ANTIQUITY OF THE PRACTICE

OF

INFANT COMMUNION,

As founded on the Notion of its STRICT NECESSITY.

AN INQUIRY

CONCERNING

INFANT COMMUNION.

THE article of Infant Communion, though not much thought of amongst us, (as we have not had much occasion,) is a part of the general subject of the Eucharist, and may deserve some consideration at this time; if it be only for the sake of clearing up a point of doctrine in some degree, and for the obviating such scruples as have been raised about it.

Some have censured it, as ancient practice built upon erroneous principles, aggravating every circumstance after an invidious manner, in order to raise a general prejudice against the ancients a, as of slight authority.

Others have laid hold on the same topic, for sinking the credit of the Fathers with respect to one particular point; namely, that of Infant Baptism: for, say they, if the ancients were so widely mistaken in regard to Infant Communion; what great stress can be laid, either upon their judgment or their practice, in the article of Infant Baptism b?

Others, lastly, (though very few in these parts of the world,) have declared their approbation of Infant Commu

a Dallæus de Usu Patrum, lib. i. c. 8. p. 175. lib. ii. c. 4. p. 293. De Cult. Relig. lib. v. c. 3, 4, 20. Clericus, Animadv. in Op. Augustini, p. 521. Whitby, Stricturæ Patrum, p. 212, &c.

Sec Dr. Wall, Hist. of Inf. Bapt. part ii. c. 9. sect. 17. vol. ii. p. 447.

ed. 3.

nion, and have seriously pleaded for a revival of it. Dr. Bedell, of the last century, (Bishop of Kilmore in Ireland,) seems to have been in those sentiments: and now lately, a pretty large essay has been published, on purpose to recommend the ancient practice (as it is supposed) of Infant Communion &.

These things considered, the question appears to be worth the looking into: and so my present design is to offer some thoughts upon it, in order to set that matter, so far as I may, in a just light, for the removing scruples, or for the rectifying misconceptions.

It seems to be a mistake to imagine, that Infant Communion (if we understand it of mere infants) was the ancient practice of the Church. There is no appearance of any thing of that kind before the middle of the third century, the time of Cyprian; and that in the African churches only and all that can be proved from Cyprian is, that children (boys and girls, not mere infants) were then and there brought to communion. Neither is there any clear proof, that they were brought thither under a notion of any strict necessity: for it might be done upon such prudential reasons as move us to bring children to church at this day, training them up in the way that they should go; or, if it was founded upon stronger reasons, they might be such as resolved only into the then present expediency, or into a superabundant caution; as I shall endeavour to make out more at large in the sequel.

From the middle of the third century, down to the beginning of the fifth, we hear little or nothing of the practice. We must take a large stride, from St. Cyprian down as low as to St. Austin, before we come at any thing which does but look that way. In St. Austin's works, from the time of the Pelagian controversy, (which began about A. D. 410.) there are some passages which have been thought uncontestable evidences of the practice

• Bishop Bedell, in Usher's Letters, No. 163. p. 442, 445.

d An Essay in Favour of the ancient Practice of giving the Eucharist to Children. By James Peirce of Exon. A. D. 1728.

of Infant Communion in his time, as likewise of its being founded upon a notion of strict necessity, as taught in John the sixth.

I.

St. Austin hath been supposed to maintain, that Infant Communion is as necessary to life eternal, as Infant Baptism; and that baptized infants have as much need of the Eucharist, as the unbaptized have of the other sacrament; both sacraments being alike necessary to the salvation of all persons.

But St. Austin hath never directly and in terms said, that baptized infants cannot be saved without the Eucharist it is no express doctrine of that great man, but a consequence only, drawn from his words; and not by any considerable writers of his time, or near it, (so far as appears,) but by some who came long after him, and in contradiction to those who lived in the ages next to him. Whether the consequence, so drawn and fixed upon him in later ages, be really just; and whether his meaning was truly such as hath been pretended, is now the point of inquiry and I shall proceed to examine into it with

some care.

First, If St. Austin's other most avowed, and often repeated principles are a standing contradiction to the supposed necessity of Infant Communion; that will afford a strong presumption against what he has been charged with, and such as cannot, or in reason ought not, to be overruled, but by something stronger. This being premised, as a safe general ground to rest upon, and abide by, I now go on to the inquiry.

St. Austin's doctrine of the complete sufficiency of Baptism to the salvation of infants, is so fully expressed many ways, and so frequently inculcated in his works, that it is scarce conceivable, how he could imagine the Eucharist to be necessary over and above; unless we could suppose him the most inconsistent, self-destroying writer in the world. To come to particulars.

1. In the first place, his constant, standing doctrine is,

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