Friday, February 29, 2008

Invalid Baptism formulae

Dr. William Tighe sent me this today by e-mail:

From "Whispers in the Loggia" blog, 29 Feb. 2008:

In other things Vatican today, the Pope formally rejected two illicit
formulae of baptism as invalid.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a "response" to a query on the validity of formulas such as "I baptize you in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer, and of the Sanctifier" and "I baptize you in the name of the Creator, and of the Liberator, and of the Sustainer" in the rite.

Replying that the formulas were, indeed, invalid, the Congregation also specified that anyone who had been baptized with said exhortations must be baptized again by a minister of the sacrament in forma absoluta -- the traditional baptism "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

Dated 1 February but only made public this morning, the response was issued with the explicit approval of Benedict XVI. The decision dropped in Italian, French, Spanish, English and German alongside the definitive Latin.

This is relevant for us, as I will explain shortly.

First, let us recall the theology of why we say what we say. A description of something that is either an attribute or the work of God most strongly associated with a specific Person of the Godhead, could be called a title, but not a name. "The Son" is a name, or rather, part of a Name; but nowhere is "the Redeemer" revealed as a Name. "The Son" relates the Logos Himself to the Father, as "the Father" relates the first Person to the Son, without whom He is not Father. This speaks of the Son who is eternally begotten of the Father. The Holy Spirit is part of the Name as well, since this relates Him to the Father from whom He eternally proceeds, and speaks of his equality to the Father and the Son, whereas "Sanctifier" only describes one of His workings in relation to creation, specifically to man. Furthermore, St. Basil, in On the Holy Spirit, reminds us that the Risen Christ told us that the Name is not three names, but One Name. "In the Name.." not, "in the names."

Once again I take the liberty of quoting one of my own articles:

To the ancient Hebrews, a name represented the very person. After Israel returned to their land from Babylon, they ceased to pronounce the holy ineffable Name of God. In place of the mysterious YHVH they would say the word Adonai, which was translated into Greek as Kyrios, and into English as ‘‘Lord.’’ From this we see that the New Testament proclaims Jesus as God by calling him Lord (and also the Holy Spirit 2 Corinthians 3. 17). Also, we see that the Tetragrammaton (יהוה YHVH) pronunciation has been lost, perhaps providentially. We do not need the ineffable Name; a far greater revelation shines in the brilliant light of the New Covenant.

The first mention of prayer is ‘‘Then began men to call upon the Name of the Lord (Genesis 4.26).’’ In the greater glory of the New Covenant revelation, he teaches us: ‘‘In this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name’’ (Matthew 6.9). When uttering what is called the High Priestly Prayer, he addresses God with that same Name, ‘‘Father.’’ He says: ‘‘I have manifested Thy Name unto the men whom Thou gavest Me out of the world’’ (John 17.6). Whether we ever again can say the ineffable Name, we have this greater revelation by which we call God ‘‘our Father’’ –– the gift of the Father’’s love.

After rising from the dead, the Lord fully revealed the Divine Name by commanding us to baptize ‘‘in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost’’ (Matthew 28.19). We see that ‘‘The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost’’ is the Name of God. The revelation of the Trinity did not come as an abstract proposition; it came in the life of Jesus Christ, intricately bound up in his salvation. So it is that the Creeds teach us the truth of the Trinity and also of our redemption in Christ; for the revelation of one is intimately tied up in the revelation of the other. And, only in this Person, our salvation himself, is God revealed and known (John 17.3). This is not an image created by human imagination, but rather the saving revelation.

Relevance for Continuing Anglicans

The formulae rejected by Pope Benedict XVI have been used by rebellious and revisionist Roman Catholic clergy in the past. It has been used also by Episcopal clergy. To the people who come our way we have the obligation of asking not only if they have been baptized, but also if it has been in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost (or Holy Spirit, of course). Desperate times call for desperate measures, perhaps even of conditional baptism for those who don't know.


Sandra McColl said...

To the best of my knowledge and belief (which I trust in this case), I was 'done' by an elderly conservative north-end evangelical in 1959 using a 1662 BCP. Think that makes me a Christian.

While I'm not as papalist as many clergy I know (and a few laity, although I think extreme papalism is largely a clerical game played out before a bewildered laity), if Papa keeps endorsing sensible decrees like that, he can be as infallible as he likes ;-)

These 'alternative' designations for the Persons of the Trinity, which I suspect are a lame attempt at 'inclusive' language, are blatant modalism. Strange how every novelty harks back to an ancient heresy.

Warwickensis said...

It beggars belief that people think that changing a direct command by the Lord is a good idea.

It's the arrogance that they and they alone know what the Lord meant when He say "baptise in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" and so feel "enabled" to alter very specific words.

To me, that sounds like some people ought to be down at the quarry cutting themselves millstones.

Liturgy said...

I posted my thoughts at
and then went to look at what other thoughts were out there.

Liturgy said...

Here is my reflection, prior to reading yours:

Alice C. Linsley said...

Feminists press for reform of Trinitarian language, proposing the following:

• "Mother, Child, and Womb"
• "Lover, Beloved, Love"
• "Creator, Savior, Sanctifier"
• "Rock, Redeemer, Friend"
• "King of Glory, Prince of Peace, Spirit of Love"

In regard to these proposed changes, Presbyterian seminary professors Andrew Purves and Charles Partee said, "We not only lose the ground for our language of God, we in fact lose the Trinity. We lose God. We do not need a diluted, metaphorical Trinity; rather, we need our confidence in the Christian doctrine of God to be restored." (Source:

Thank God for some sane voices in the PCUSA!

liturgy said...

Here's a suggestion about baptism in the name of a gender-neutral Trinity:

Dr.D said...

This becomes a problem particularly for people baptized as infants. They may have technically heard the words with their own ears (if they were not raising the roof at the time), but they will not remember what words they heard. If there is not written record, such as a baptismal certificate, then they are dependent on knowing the custom of their congregation at the time they were baptized, including the custom of the minister who baptized them. This is fraught with problems and difficulties.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

The baptism certificate should read that a person was baptized "in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." Also, the fine tradition of clergy being kept in line by the orthodoxy of the laity needs to be revived.

Dr.D said...

My point was exactly the case where there is no baptismal certificate. I know that I personally have none, having been baptized as an infant almost 70 years ago in the Methodist Church. Thus there is nothing at all to read.

poetreader said...

I was baptized 66 years ago in a Lutheran Church. There was a baptismal certiciate issued, which does indeed specify the form of baptism. However, I nad misplaced the certificate for some years, and the pastor had forgotten to enter the act in his church records. There was no doubt, however, as a/ my mother and my godfather, both still living, witnessed the act, b/ the pastor's rigid orthodoxy was well-known, and c/ in that congregation there would have been a fiece hue and cry if it had not been just so. I finally did locate the original certificate, but there had never been the smallest doubt.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

It is possible, about something 70 years ago, that a Methodist minister might have baptized "In the name of Jesus Christ" (I forget which Methodist sect did that). Although a careless reading of Acts makes this seem scriptural, the Church regards it as invalid.