A reader asks:
What ontic or metaphysical status does baptism bestow upon one who is baptized in Christianity? Clarification: What ontic or metaphysical status does a newborn have pre-baptism vs. post-baptism?
I am not a theologian, nor do I play one in the blogosphere. But that never stopped me from pursuing my education in public on all sorts of topics including narrowly theological ones. So here are some thoughts.
Right off the bat we need two distinctions. One is between infant baptism and baptism that comes later in life. The latter, for an obvious reason, should not be called adult baptism. Some Christians are opposed to infant baptism. A famous example is Kierkegaard. (See Attack Upon 'Christendom', p. 205 f.) The other distinction is among different understandings of baptism within Christianity. Some sects such as Baptists are opposed to infant baptism. It is also worth noting that baptism antedates Christianity. According to the New Testament, John the Baptist baptized Jesus, which indicates that baptism was a Jewish practice before it was a Christian one.
As for the change in metaphysical status wrought by baptism, the main change is the forgiveness of all sins, whether original or individual (personal). The baptism of infants removes or rather forgives original sins only since infants cannot commit personal sins, while in the case of the baptism of adults, or rather non-infants, both original and individual sins are forgiven. The effects of original sin, such as mortality, of course remain. The above is true for both the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox.
One interesting difference, however, is that in the Roman church the three sacraments of Christian initiation, baptism, communion, and confirmation, are not all conferred on infants at the same time, while in the Eastern church they are. A second difference is that the Orthodox continue the primitive practice of baptism by total immersion, whereas the Romans merely sprinkle some holy water on the candidate's forehead. The Eastern objection to this 'watering down' of the primitive rite (pun intended) is that it destroys or at least weakens the symbolism. If all sins, whether original or not, are forgiven by baptism, then this is better symbolized by total immersion than by a little water on the forehead. (See Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, Penguin 1963, pp. 283-285)
The change in metaphysical status wrought by baptism would be better described as a change in soteriological status.
Puzzles and problems and questions galore lurk beneath the surface. Perhaps I shall address some of them later. One question that occurred to me: assuming that there are good arguments for infant baptism, why not pre-natal baptism, in the third trimester, say? How would the rite be implemented? Water could be sprinkled on the pregnant woman's abdomen.
A budding theologian friend of mine offers his thoughts here.