27 August 2014

Sub Conditione (1)

It is the teaching of the Catholic Church that certain Sacraments leave a mark (character) upon the soul which can never be erased  ... or duplicated. An apostate may renounce their baptism with all the formality they can devise .... but they are still baptised and, if they repent, will be absolved but never rebaptised. A disgraced priest may be laicised and forbidden even to dress as a priest, but he is still a priest and, in extreme circumstances, may absolve the dying. (Confirmation is the third such Sacrament.)

But what if there is some doubt about the validity of a Sacrament? That doubt needs to be removed; but simply to repeat the Sacrament would be sacrilege if the original administration of that Sacrament was, after all, valid. So the Sacrament is administered sub conditione; Si non es baptizatus, ego te baptizo etc..

I believe there are two areas where Conditional Administration ought to be part of the Church's normal practice. The first regards the baptism of converts. In a less ecumenical age, converts were always conditionally baptised in England in case their baptisms had not been adequately carried out in another ecclesial body. But nowadays, since there is no doubt that Anglican baptism, according to the rites authorised in the Church of England, is certainly valid, current Catholic praxis rightly accepts it.

But these assumptions are no longer safe. We hear of fashionable Anglican churches with fashionable, indeed episcopable, clergy where, contrary to the rules of the Church of England, baptism is invalidly done in the name of Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. It is probable that such aberrations will become more, not less, common (indeed, an Australian Catholic parish proved to have been doing exactly the same). The baptismal register of such churches will not record that this illegal and invalid formula was employed. Baptismal certificates may then subsequently be issued certifying that N or M was baptised "according to the rites of the Church of England", when this will be untrue.

Former Anglicans need no 'rebaptism' when there is evidence that the Sacrament was validly administered in accordance with the rites and ceremonies authorised in the Church of England. But I believe that a mere certificate of baptism is no longer adequate proof of this, and that when this is the only evidence provided, Baptism should be administered to a convert conditionally.

A safe rule of thumb would be to apply this praxis to Anglican baptisms done later than, say, 2000. Or 1990?

14 comments:

Clare Underwood said...

When my (formerly Anglican) husband was received into the Catholic Church in 1986, our parish priest was concerned about what form his baptism had taken "was the water poured, or was it a wet thumb?" Discreet enquiries suggested it was the latter, so he received conditional baptism

Clare Underwood said...

I should have said, he was baptised in 1947.

Christopher said...

Given the overwhelming practice these days of people video recording practically everything they do (even more so now with their i-gadgets), I imagine that the evidence would be there in many cases as to whether the proper form was used.

Pastor in Valle said...

The wet thumb is distressingly common, especially among our Free Church brethren whose baptisms we officially recognise. Sprinkling too seems to be on the rise. I have generally not conditionally baptised Anglicans, but your post makes me wonder whether I should reconsider. I note that conditional baptism should be given in forma privata so as not to give scandal.

Romulus said...

As catechist of adult converts, I wonder about those being received from the Baptist denomination. In Baptist thought, Christian initiation is a matter of profession of faith; baptism is seen as the ritual recognition of that transformative event. Though the minister uses the Trinitarian formula (and full immersion!), can it be said that he intends to do what the Church intends? It is a question of real practical concern to me.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Romulus: the Church's answer is unambiguously YES. Such a baptism is certainly valid. The Holy Office dealt with this in the 1860s. The reason is given in a passage by S Robert Bellarmine which I have printed several times and which you can find in my blog via the search engine.

Mr Grumpy said...

I would suggest our concern should extend particularly to those who stay in the Church of England and wrongly assume they are validly baptised. I don't for a moment imagine the Ordinariate enjoys much influence when it comes to encouraging the C of E to enforce its own rules, but anything that can be done surely should be. Any case where unconditional baptism proves necessary ought to be drawn to the attention of the relevant bishop.

RichardT said...

Thank you for the Bellarmine reference, Father.

I had a similar concern about Anglican marriages, whether the CofE's increasing willingness to marry the divorced (with living spouses) means that we can no longer rely on the vow "till death us do part".

Of course that is different to baptism, as it is the couple's intention that counts, not that of the priest.

Would St Robert Bellarmine's approach cover that as well? I suspect it might not, given the way that Tribunals appear to approach intention in annulment cases.

Adrian said...

I have been wondering about this phenomenon for some time and feel it needs to be referred to the casuists. Those who use this formula seem to be invoking the three Persons of the Trinity by antonomasia, the device that occupied one of your posts not so long ago. If the expression 'the Little Corporal' unambiguously means Buonaparte, then 'the Creator' unambiguously means God the Father. If it merely COULD do so, then there is an element of doubt. But I do not suppose even the most wayward Anglican cleric has anything else in mind other than the Holy Trinity. That would urge a Possibiliorist position that such baptisms would be irregular but valid. However, the fact of the deliberate varying of the baptismal formula 'according to the rites authorised in the Church of England' suggests that there might be a wayward and idiosyncratic interpretation of baptismal theology present, in which case there may be defect of intention, and therefore a Probabiliorist argument for conditional baptism. The Tutiorist, of course, would baptise unconditionally, thus himself risking censures.

ansgerus said...

In Connection with this theme, an episode in the course of the reconciliation of my Lutheran family (my wife, myself and my 3 children) with Rome after 500 years, our so-called conversion, here in Northern Germany 3 years ago. Our local FSSPX-father tried to check-out in detail which form and matter was applied at our baptisms incl. my one almost 50 years ago, and contacted all Lutheran pastors in charge who fortunately all were still alive. Finally, he came to the conclusion that we do not need to be conditionally re-baptized. However, the local Lutheran Pastor here was very upset about the entire issue claiming that there is a Basic Agreement between Rome and the Lutherans that all baptisms are mutually regarded as valid - "which FSSPX of course either does not know or ignores" -, and he expelled us out of his congregation even before we converted to te Holy Catholic Church, to which we belonged already from the day of our baptism without knowing this.

Romulus said...

Thank you, Father.

Jonathan said...

The Catholic Church is not better in this regard. When I lived in London the baptisms at my local Catholic church were performed without water. On one occasion they were performed by the children receiving first holy communion making the sign of the cross on the toddlers' heads.
Conditional re-baptism for those baptised in parishes run by certain religious orders?

Patricius said...

Romulus, the irony is that the Baptists administer Baptism in the way it really ought to be done: by full immersion; not the aspersion and pouring so common in the West.

William said...

"… the way it really ought to be done"

Hum. According to whose lights, I wonder? While the matter is far from settled, the archæological and artistic evidence (as opposed to literary evidence Рand even then vide the Didache) suggests that baptism by affusion was, at least, accepted as a legitimate variation on total immersion from the very earliest times.