Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Validity of Holy Baptism

Thank you so very much for your excellent letter about your Baptism. Please rest assured that you have no need to doubt the validity of your Baptism in Jesus Christ, for all that is necessary for a valid Baptism is the administration of the sacrament with the proper matter and form, water that flows on the head with the simultaneous recitation of the sacramental form, the Name of the Blessed Trinity. Water and the Name of the Trinity are all that are necessary for valid Baptism, regardless of the interior intention of the celebrant, so long as the ecclesiastical community in which the baptism is given affirms the dogma of the Holy Trinity. Although non-Trinitarian baptisms could theoretically be valid, as was the case with Arian baptism, today the Church declines to recognise the validity of baptisms conferred by unitarian or polytheistic sects, such a Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons.

In 1949 the Roman Catholic Holy Office in an official notice recognised the validity of almost all Trinitarian Christian baptism, including that of Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and, of course, Episcopalians. There is only 'one baptism for the remission of sins,' which is the Church's one baptism, and so long as the matter and form of the sacrament as instituted by Our Lord and possessed by the Catholic Church are used, the sacrament is always, always valid ex opere operato - the sacrament is valid because of the covenantal power and promise of Christ, Who alone is the true Priest Celebrant and Administrator of all the sacraments, including Baptism. All the baptised, regardless of what sect or ecclesial body to which they belong, are in fact baptised into the Holy Catholic Church and incorporated into Christ by virtue of the One Baptism of the One Lord and One Faith (Ephesians 4).

Even the Eastern Orthodox recognise, under normal circumstances, the validity of all Trinitarian Christian baptism. You see, the interior intention of the celebrant does not effect or convey the efficacy or validity of Holy Baptism; rather it is the very matter and form given directly by Our Lord Himself. Even Jews, pagans and atheists can validly baptise in an emergency; they can administer clinical baptism or baptism in extremis, so long as they merely intend to perform the rite of Baptism as Christians understand it, in other words, to 'do what the Church does' in a general sense. Baptism is the universal sacrament of salvation, and so Our Lord has made it to be the easiest sacrament to administer, as it is the most necessary. Thus it is virtually impossible to invalidate a Christian baptism, if one uses the matter, water, and form, Trinitarian formula, given by Christ. Only those heretics who actually change the Trinitarian formula to something other than that instituted by the Saviour in Saint Matthew 28 can really invalidate a baptism - for example, if one were to change the form to 'Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier,' as many wrong-headed Episcopalians and even Roman Catholics have done in recent years, such a modalist formula would render a purported baptism invalid. Even the use of the form 'in the Name of Jesus Christ' is of doubtful validity, and such a baptism would have to be re-administered sub conditione, conditionally. But the normal administration of Baptism in any Christian communion, with water and the invocation of the Thrice Holy Name, is always and everywhere valid.

To quote from an earlier post on the sacraments:

Holy Baptism depends for its sacramental validity upon those same five components which are necessary for any valid sacrament: proper minister, matter, form, subject, and intention. The necessary intention for a valid baptism is, simply, 'generally to do what the Church does.' This is not to intend what the Church intends, but to do what the Church does, i.e., simply baptise. This general intention suffices, even if the minister and the subject hold to an heretical doctrine of the sacrament being conferred. So long as one intends seriously to perform the rite of baptism that is, seriously to perform the Christian rite however understood, the intention is valid for the administration of the sacrament. So long as one merely intends to do what Our Lord Jesus Christ or the true Church do in baptism (even in opposition to the Catholic Church's doctrine), such an baptism is valid, even if heretical views are maintained on baptism itself. Heretical views on the sacrament of order do not invalidate baptism (see below the decision of the Roman Holy Office on Oceanic Methodist Baptisms 1872). This position is precisely the position Saint Augustine of Hippo took against the Donatist schism, and it has been the general and authoritative teaching of the Western Church since the fourth century. Saint Thomas Aquinas echoes this teaching in the Summa Theologica, Supplement, Question 38, Second Article. Cardinal Robert Bellarmine defends this very point in his On the Sacraments In Gen. I.21. Those who dissent from the Catholic Church can validly baptise, even if they hold doctrines on the very sacraments themselves at odds with the Church, as long as the Church's basic rule on baptism is preserved.

Sacramental intention, for Anglicans at least, is usually understood as external or exterior intention, which is manifested ritually, in the liturgical rite used for the administration of the sacrament. Internal intention or personal intention are not usually brought into the discussion because it is impossible to determine in any given case what the personal or interior intention of the minister of a sacrament is. If the sacraments depend on the personal orthodoxy or right belief or interior disposition of the minister, no sacrament could ever be held to have a moral certainty of validity, as one could never determine such a needful state in the mind or heart of the bishop or priest in question. Sacraments are by nature ecclesial, ecclesiastical, and this is particularly the case with baptism, which makes us members of the Church. Sacraments belong to the Holy Catholic Church, and as such to a particular local Church specifically. What matters is the Church's intention. The necessary intention of the Church, and of the minister who functions publicly as the agent, officer and representative of the Church, is put forward in the Church's official rite, the matter and form, used for the conferral of the sacrament.

The Roman See's Response to the dubia concerning the Methodist Baptisms in Oceania (1872):

All theologians agree that concomitant error (or heresy) in the mind of the minister does not necessarily vitiate sacramental validity: nor does even openly professed lack of Catholic intention, provided that there be present the minimum intention of doing what Christ or the true Church does. Many decisions of the Holy See have confirmed this principle, perhaps the most often quoted in this context being the ruling of the Holy Office in 1872 about the validity of Methodist baptisms in Central Oceania. Two dubia had been proposed:

1. Whether baptism administered by those heretics [Methodists] is doubtful on account of defect of intention to do what Christ willed, if an express declaration was made by the minister before he baptised that baptism had no effect on the soul?

2. Whether baptism so conferred is doubtful if the aforesaid declaration was not expressly made immediately before the conferring of baptism, but had often been asserted by the minister, and the same doctrine was openly preached in that sect?

To these the Sacred Congregation replied:

Reply to the first question: in the negative, because despite the error about the effects of baptism, the intention of doing what the Church does is not excluded. The second question: provided for in the answer to the first.

The implications for the validity of Anglican Orders are clear as well...

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