QUESTION 70: OF CIRCUMCISION
We have now to consider things that are preparatory to Baptism: and (1)
that which preceded Baptism, viz. Circumcision, (2) those which accompany
Baptism, viz. Catechism and Exorcism.
Concerning the first there are four points of inquiry:
(1) Whether circumcision was a preparation for, and a figure of, Baptism?
(2) Its institution;
(3) Its rite;
(4) Its effect.
Article 1: Whether circumcision was a preparation for, and a figure of Baptism?
Objection 1: It seems that circumcision was not a preparation for, and a
figure of Baptism. For every figure has some likeness to that which it
foreshadows. But circumcision has no likeness to Baptism. Therefore it
seems that it was not a preparation for, and a figure of Baptism.
Objection 2: Further, the Apostle, speaking of the Fathers of old, says (1
Cor. 10:2), that "all were baptized in the cloud, and in the sea": but
not that they were baptized in circumcision. Therefore the protecting
pillar of a cloud, and the crossing of the Red Sea, rather than
circumcision, were a preparation for, and a figure of Baptism.
Objection 3: Further, it was stated above (Question , Articles ,3) that the baptism of
John was a preparation for Christ's. Consequently, if circumcision was a
preparation for, and a figure of Christ's Baptism, it seems that John's
baptism was superfluous: which is unseemly. Therefore circumcision was
not a preparation for, and a figure of Baptism.
On the contrary, The Apostle says (Col. 2:11,12): "You are circumcised
with circumcision, not made by hand in despoiling the body of the flesh,
but in the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in Baptism."
I answer that, Baptism is called the Sacrament of Faith; in so far, to
wit, as in Baptism man makes a profession of faith, and by Baptism is
aggregated to the congregation of the faithful. Now our faith is the same
as that of the Fathers of old, according to the Apostle (2 Cor. 4:13):
"Having the same spirit of faith . . . we . . . believe." But
circumcision was a protestation of faith; wherefore by circumcision also
men of old were aggregated to the body of the faithful. Consequently, it
is manifest that circumcision was a preparation for Baptism and a figure
thereof, forasmuch as "all things happened" to the Fathers of old "in
figure" (1 Cor. 10:11); just as their faith regarded things to come.
Reply to Objection 1: Circumcision was like Baptism as to the spiritual effect of
the latter. For just as circumcision removed a carnal pellicule, so
Baptism despoils man of carnal behavior.
Reply to Objection 2: The protecting pillar of cloud and the crossing of the Red
Sea were indeed figures of our Baptism, whereby we are born again of
water, signified by the Red Sea; and of the Holy Ghost, signified by the
pillar of cloud: yet man did not make, by means of these, a profession of
faith, as by circumcision; so that these two things were figures but not
sacraments. But circumcision was a sacrament, and a preparation for
Baptism; although less clearly figurative of Baptism, as to externals,
than the aforesaid. And for this reason the Apostle mentions them rather
Reply to Objection 3: John's baptism was a preparation for Christ's as to the act
done: but circumcision, as to the profession of faith, which is required
in Baptism, as stated above.
Article 2: Whether circumcision was instituted in a fitting manner?
Objection 1: It seems that circumcision was instituted in an unfitting manner.
For as stated above (Article ) a profession of faith was made in
circumcision. But none could ever be delivered from the first man's sin,
except by faith in Christ's Passion, according to Rm. 3:25: "Whom God
hath proposed to be a propitiation, through faith in His blood."
Therefore circumcision should have been instituted forthwith after the
first man's sin, and not at the time of Abraham.
Objection 2: Further, in circumcision man made profession of keeping the Old
Law, just as in Baptism he makes profession of keeping the New Law;
wherefore the Apostle says (Gal. 5:3): "I testify . . . to every man
circumcising himself, that he is a debtor to do the whole Law." But the
observance of the Law was not promulgated at the time of Abraham, but
rather at the time of Moses. Therefore it was unfitting for circumcision
to be instituted at the time of Abraham
Objection 3: Further, circumcision was a figure of, and a preparation for,
Baptism. But Baptism is offered to all nations, according to Mt. 28:19:
"Going . . . teach ye all nations, baptizing them." Therefore
circumcision should have been instituted as binding, not the Jews only,
but also all nations.
Objection 4: Further, carnal circumcision should correspond to spiritual
circumcision, as the shadow to the reality. But spiritual circumcision
which is of Christ, regards indifferently both sexes, since "in Christ
Jesus there is neither male nor female," as is written Col. 3 [*Gal.
3:28]. Therefore the institution of circumcision which concerns only
males, was unfitting.
I answer that, As stated above (Article ) circumcision was a preparation for
Baptism, inasmuch as it was a profession of faith in Christ, which we
also profess in Baptism. Now among the Fathers of old, Abraham was the
first to receive the promise of the future birth of Christ, when it was
said to him: "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed"
(Gn. 22:18). Moreover, he was the first to cut himself off from the
society of unbelievers, in accordance with the commandment of the Lord,
Who said to him (Gn. 13:1): "Go forth out of thy country and from thy
kindred." Therefore circumcision was fittingly instituted in the person
Reply to Objection 1: Immediately after the sin of our first parent, on account
of the knowledge possessed by Adam, who was fully instructed about Divine
things, both faith and natural reason flourished in man to such an
extent, that there was no need for any signs of faith and salvation to be
prescribed to him, but each one was wont to make protestation of his
faith, by outward signs of his profession, according as he thought best.
But about the time of Abraham faith was on the wane, many being given
over to idolatry. Moreover, by the growth of carnal concupiscence natural
reason was clouded even in regard to sins against nature. And therefore
it was fitting that then, and not before, circumcision should be
instituted, as a profession of faith and a remedy against carnal
Reply to Objection 2: The observance of the Law was not to be promulgated until the people were already gathered together: because the law is ordained to the public good, as we have stated in the FS, Question , Article . Now it behooved the body of the faithful to be gathered together by a sensible sign, which is necessary in order that men be united together in any religion, as Augustine says (Contra Faust. xix). Consequently, it was necessary for circumcision to be instituted before the giving of the Law. Those Fathers, however, who lived before the Law, taught their families concerning Divine things by way of paternal admonition. Hence the Lord said of Abraham (Gn. 18:19): "I know that he will command his children, and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord."
Reply to Objection 3: Baptism contains in itself the perfection of salvation, to
which God calls all men, according to 1 Tim. 2:4: "Who will have all men
to be saved." Wherefore Baptism is offered to all nations. On the other
hand circumcision did not contain the perfection of salvation, but
signified it as to be achieved by Christ, Who was to be born of the
Jewish nation. For this reason circumcision was given to that nation
Reply to Objection 4: The institution of circumcision is as a sign of Abraham's
faith, who believed that himself would be the father of Christ Who was
promised to him: and for this reason it was suitable that it should be
for males only. Again, original sin, against which circumcision was
specially ordained, is contracted from the father, not from the mother,
as was stated in the FS, Question , Article . But Baptism contains the power of
Christ, Who is the universal cause of salvation for all, and is "The
Remission of all sins" (Post-Communion, Tuesday in Whitweek).
Article 3: Whether the rite of circumcision was fitting?
Objection 1: It seems that the rite of circumcision was unfitting. For
circumcision, as stated above (Articles ,2), was a profession of faith. But
faith is in the apprehensive power, whose operations appear mostly in the
head. Therefore the sign of circumcision should have been conferred on
the head rather than on the virile member.
Objection 2: Further, in the sacraments we make use of such things as are in
more frequent use; for instance, water, which is used for washing, and
bread, which we use for nourishment. But, in cutting, we use an iron
knife more commonly than a stone knife. Therefore circumcision should not
have been performed with a stone knife.
Objection 3: Further, just as Baptism was instituted as a remedy against
original sin, so also was circumcision, as Bede says (Hom. in Circum.).
But now Baptism is not put off until the eighth day, lest children should
be in danger of loss on account of original sin, if they should die
before being baptized. On the other hand, sometimes Baptism is put off
until after the eighth day. Therefore the eighth day should not have been
fixed for circumcision, but this day should have been anticipated, just
as sometimes it was deferred.
On the contrary, The aforesaid rite of circumcision is fixed by a gloss
on Rm. 4:11: "And he received the sign of circumcision."
I answer that, As stated above (Article ), circumcision was established, as
a sign of faith, by God "of" Whose "wisdom there is no number" (Ps. 146:5). Now to determine suitable signs is a work of wisdom.
Consequently, it must be allowed that the rite of circumcision was
Reply to Objection 1: It was fitting for circumcision to be performed on the
virile member. First, because it was a sign of that faith whereby Abraham
believed that Christ would be born of his seed. Secondly, because it was
to be a remedy against original sin, which is contracted through the act
of generation. Thirdly, because it was ordained as a remedy for carnal
concupiscence, which thrives principally in those members, by reason of
the abundance of venereal pleasure.
Reply to Objection 2: A stone knife was not essential to circumcision. Wherefore
we do not find that an instrument of this description is required by any
divine precept; nor did the Jews, as a rule, make use of such a knife for
circumcision; indeed, neither do they now. Nevertheless, certain
well-known circumcisions are related as having been performed with a
stone knife, thus (Ex. 4:25) we read that "Sephora took a very sharp
stone and circumcised the foreskin of her son," and (Joshua 5:2): "Make
thee knives of stone, and circumcise the second time the children of
Israel." Which signified that spiritual circumcision would be done by
Christ, of Whom it is written (1 Cor. 10:4): "Now the rock was Christ."
Reply to Objection 3: The eighth day was fixed for circumcision: first, because
of the mystery; since, Christ, by taking away from the elect, not only
guilt but also all penalties, will perfect the spiritual circumcision, in
the eighth age (which is the age of those that rise again), as it were,
on the eighth day. Secondly, on account of the tenderness of the infant
before the eighth day. Wherefore even in regard to other animals it is
prescribed (Lev. 22:27): "When a bullock, or a sheep, or a goat, is
brought forth, they shall be seven days under the udder of their dam: but
the eighth day and thenceforth, they may be offered to the Lord."
Moreover, the eighth day was necessary for the fulfilment of the
precept; so that, to wit, those who delayed beyond the eighth day,
sinned, even though it were the sabbath, according to Jn. 7:23: "(If) a
man receives circumcision on the sabbath-day, that the Law of Moses may
not be broken." But it was not necessary for the validity of the
sacrament: because if anyone delayed beyond the eighth day, they could be
Some also say that in imminent danger of death, it was allowable to
anticipate the eighth day. But this cannot be proved either from the
authority of Scripture or from the custom of the Jews. Wherefore it is
better to say with Hugh of St. Victor (De Sacram. i) that the eighth day
was never anticipated for any motive, however urgent. Hence on Prov. 4:3:
"I was . . . an only son in the sight of my mother," a gloss says, that
Bersabee's other baby boy did not count because through dying before the
eighth day it received no name; and consequently neither was it
Article 4: Whether circumcision bestowed sanctifying grace?
Objection 1: It seems that circumcision did not bestow sanctifying grace. For
the Apostle says (Gal. 2:21): "If justice be by the Law, then Christ died
in vain," i.e. without cause. But circumcision was an obligation imposed
by the Law, according to Gal. 5:3: "I testify . . . to every man
circumcising himself, that ne is a debtor to do the whole law."
Therefore, if justice be by circumcision, "Christ died in vain," i.e.
without cause. But this cannot be allowed. Therefore circumcision did not
confer grace whereby the sinner is made righteous.
Objection 2: Further, before the institution of circumcision faith alone
sufficed for justification; hence Gregory says (Moral. iv): "Faith alone
did of old in behalf of infants that for which the water of Baptism
avails with us." But faith has lost nothing of its strength through the
commandment of circumcision. Therefore faith alone justified little ones,
and not circumcision.
Objection 3: Further, we read (Joshua 5:5,6) that "the people that were born
in the desert, during the forty years . . . were uncircumcised." If,
therefore, original sin was taken away by circumcision, it seems that all
who died in the desert, both little children and adults, were lost. And
the same argument avails in regard to those who died before the eighth
day, which was that of circumcision, which day could nol be anticipated,
as stated above (Article , ad 3).
Objection 4: Further, nothing but sin closes the entrance to the heavenly
kingdom. But before the Passion the entrance to the heavenly kingdom was
closed to the circumcised. Therefore men were not justified from sin by
Objection 5: Further, original sin is not remitted without actual sin being
remitted also: because "it is wicked to hope for half forgiveness from
God," as Augustine says (De Vera et Falsa Poenit. ix). But we read
nowhere of circumcision as remitting actual sin. Therefore neither did it
remit original sin.
On the contrary, Augustine says, writing to Valerius in answer to Julian
(De Nup. et Concup. ii): "From the time that circumcision was instituted
among God's people, as 'a seal of the justice of the faith,' it availed
little children unto sanctification by cleansing them from the original
and bygone sin; just as Baptism also from the time of its institution
began to avail unto the renewal of man."
I answer that, All are agreed in saying that original sin was remitted
in circumcision. But some said that no grace was conferred, and that the
only effect was to remit sin. The Master holds this opinion (Sent. iv, D,
1), and in a gloss on Rm. 4:11. But this is impossible, since guilt is
not remitted except by grace, according to Rm. 3:2: "Being justified
freely by His grace," etc.
Wherefore others said that grace was bestowed by circumcision, as to
that effect which is the remission of guilt, but not as to its positive
effects; lest they should be compelled to say that the grace bestowed in
circumcision sufficed for the fulfilling of the precepts of the Law, and
that, consequently, the coming of Christ was unnecessary. But neither can
this opinion stand. First, because by circumcision children. received the
power of obtaining glory at the allotted time, which is the last positive
effect of grace. Secondly, because, in the order of the formal cause,
positive effects naturally precede those that denote privation, although
it is the reverse in the order of the material cause: since a form does
not remove a privation save by informing the subject.
Consequently, others said that grace was conferred in circumcision, also
as a particular positive effect consisting in being made worthy of
eternal life; but not as to all its effects, for it did not suffice for
the repression of the concupiscence of the fomes, nor again for the
fulfilment of the precepts of the Law. And this was my opinion at one
time (Sent. iv, D, 1; Question , Article ). But if one consider the matter
carefully, it is clear that this is not true. Because the least grace can
resist any degree of concupiscence, and avoid every mortal sin, that is
committed in transgressing the precepts of the Law; for the smallest
degree of charity loves God more than cupidity loves "thousands of gold
and silver" (Ps. 118:72).
We must say, therefore, that grace was bestowed in circumcision as to
all the effects of grace, but not as in Baptism. Because in Baptism grace
is bestowed by the very power of Baptism itself, which power Baptism has
as the instrument of Christ's Passion already consummated. Whereas
circumcision bestowed grace, inasmuch as it was a sign of faith in
Christ's future Passion: so that the man who was circumcised, professed
to embrace that faith; whether, being an adult, he made profession for
himself, or, being a child, someone else made profession for him. Hence,
too, the Apostle says (Rm. 4:11), that Abraham "received the sign of
circumcision, a seal of the justice of the faith": because, to wit,
justice was of faith signified: not of circumcision signifying. And since
Baptism operates instrumentally by the power of Christ's Passion, whereas
circumcision does not, therefore Baptism imprints a character that
incorporates man in Christ, and bestows grace more copiously than does
circumcision; since greater is the effect of a thing already present,
than of the hope thereof.
Reply to Objection 1: This argument would prove if justice were of circumcision
otherwise than through faith in Christ's Passion.
Reply to Objection 2: Just as before the institution of circumcision, faith in
Christ to come justified both children and adults, so, too, after its
institution. But before, there was no need of a sign expressive of this
faith; because as yet believers had not begun to be united together apart
from unbelievers for the worship of one God. It is probable, however,
that parents who were believers offered up some prayers to God for their
children, especially if these were in any danger. Or bestowed some
blessing on them, as a "seal of faith"; just as the adults offered
prayers and sacrifices for themselves.
Reply to Objection 3: There was an excuse for the people in the desert failing to
fulfil the precept of circumcision, both because they knew not when the
camp was removed, and because, as Damascene says (De Fide Orth. iv) they
needed no distinctive sign while they dwelt apart from other nations.
Nevertheless, as Augustine says (Questions. in Josue vi), those were guilty of
disobedience who failed to obey through contempt.
It seems, however, that none of the uncircumcised died in the desert,
for it is written (Ps. 104:37): "There was not among their tribes one
that was feeble": and that those alone died in the desert, who had been
circumcised in Egypt. If, however, some of the uncircumcised did die
there, the same applies to them as to those who died before the
institution of circumcision. And this applies also to those children who,
at the time of the Law, died before the eighth day.
Reply to Objection 4: Original sin was taken away in circumcision, in regard to
the person; but on the part of the entire nature, there remained the
obstacle to the entrance of the kingdom of heaven, which obstacle was
removed by Christ's Passion. Consequently, before Christ's Passion not
even Baptism gave entrance to the kingdom. But were circumcision to avail
after Christ's Passion, it would give entrance to the kingdom.
Reply to Objection 5: When adults were circumcised, they received remission not
only of original, but also of actual sin: yet not so as to be delivered
from all debt of punishment, as in Baptism, in which grace is conferred