1 March 2008


Hooray for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith! I used to say that quite often, but this is the first time I've said it since my favourite dicastery came under new management. Baptism 'conferred' with any other formula than Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is to be deemed, not doubtfully valid, but certainly invalid. CDF has said so.

The reasons for this decision are, of course, obvious to students of the New Testament. As the 'Name' of the First Person is Father (witness most of the New Testament and especially John 17), and his Son is his Son, non-gender-specific substitutions ('Creator, Redeemer ...' or whatever) clearly represent indicate initiation into something other than Christianity. But the ecumenical implications of this are enormously important and need to be taken account of immediately.

Not that the CDF was trespassing on the territory of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. The decision was necessary because errant clergy within the RC Church have been messing around with this feminist bilge. But if Fr Naughty O'Sullivan cannot validly confer the sacrament by such a formula, neither, obviously, can non-RC ministers. And my suspicion is that such hanky panky has been going on for some time in some Anglican circles and, probably, all the more so among non-conformists. It is also obvious that although, predictably, some RC clergy have been doing it, it is likely that the disciplinary structures of the RC Church will be more able to restrain such abuses within the Roman Communion than outside it. A decade ago it was reported that the woman dean of an Anglican cathedral 'baptised' using some such formula; a couple of months ago, television appeared to show a (male) priest in Sussex baptising 'in the name of the Spirit'. And, while we're on the subject of baptismal validity, I supect that protestant ministers cannot be relied on to use adequate matter; I have seen on television a presbyterian minister 'baptising' by marking the forehead of a baby with her damp thumb.

Two implications. Firstly, I imagine it would now be prudent praxis when people enter the RC Church not to assume that non-Catholic baptism is valid. Either inquiries could be made into how baptism was conferred at a given time by a particular minister, or given the practical problems involved in that, Baptism could be conferred sub conditione, just as it used to be before the ecumenical movement. Perhaps this is even more necessary with regard to baptisms since, say, 1990 ( before when protestants were more inclined to operate on the endearing old protestant principle that if our Lord commanded something in the text of Scripture he should be obeyed). Secondly, and more broadly, we should remember that the Ecumenical Movement is based on the notion that all Christians share a common baptism. That assumption cannot now be made. Just as adherents of the New Religion insisted on Women Priests although this created doubt about the ordination of a great percentage of those in the Anglican ministry and accordingly ruptured communion within the Anglican family and soured relations with the ancient churches, so they are now introducing the same doubts into the practice of Baptism. Their attitude, in the latter as well as in the former case, is that their novel dogmas are so peremptorily important that they must be given immediate effect however grave the effect is on what used to be considered the imperative of Christan Unity.

Has an important moment of truth now arrived? I do hope so.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

Said a few things about this myself.


Gengulphus said...

…it would now be prudent praxis when people enter the RC Church not to assume that non-Catholic baptism is valid.

And vice versa. In the light of these disgraceful circumstances, it would appear that Anglican priests receiving RC converts will have to be equally circumspect.