Sunday, January 8, 2023

Accepting the baptism of others. . .

We have since the third century lived in somewhat uneasy conflict about accepting the baptism of those who come from non-sacramental churches but whose baptism was according to recognizable form (water, the Name of the Triune God).  We have taken this position since the conflict over the baptism of heretics.  The Roman Bishop Stephen laid chief stress on the objective nature of the sacrament, the virtue of which depended neither on the officiating priest, nor on the receiver, but solely on the institution of Christ. Hence he considered heretical baptism valid, provided only it was administered with intention to baptize and in the right form, to wit, in the name of the Trinity (or even of Christ alone).  Cyprian opposed this and insisted that outside the Church (in heretical groups) there was no salvation and no sacrament.  Period.

The doctrine of Cyprian was the more consistent from the hierarchical point of view; that of Stephen, from the sacramental. The former was more logical, the latter more practical and charitable. The one preserved the principle of the exclusiveness of the church; the other, that of the objective force of the sacrament, even to the borders of the opus operatum theory. Both were under the direction of the same churchly spirit, and the same hatred of heretics; but the Roman doctrine is after all a happy inconsistency of liberality.

The Council of Trent declares (Sessio Sept., March 3, 1547, canon 4): "If any one says that the baptism, which is even given by heretics in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, with the intention of doing what the church doth, is not true baptism: let him be anathema." The Greek church likewise forbids the repetition of baptism which has been performed in the name of the Holy Trinity, but requires trine immersion.

We have tended to be rather charitable in accepting the baptism of those who were baptized  according to proper form and in the right name but within a group that did not confess baptism properly.  I have always found this an uncomfortable thing.  In my heart I feel more comfortable with the consistency of Cyprian than I do with the charity of Stephen.  But my own church body has followed Rome in its charity and it is hard to go against, well, 1700 years of established tradition and practice.

Interestingly, we seem to have less qualms about saying that there is no sacrament when non-sacramental churches pull out the bread and wine (or Welch's) and say the proper words of Christ over the elements but intend no Real Presence, but only symbolic memorial meal.  Without intention it is no Sacrament.  Or so we have said.  Perhaps I am being rather quick and purposefully leaving out the nuance of our position here.  It may be more accurate to say we do not know for sure if Christ is present there but without faith in that presence located in the bread and wine, there is no way to grasp and receive and rejoice in the mystery of Christ's presence.  Nevertheless, we have treated baptism and the Eucharist rather differently.  We have consoled those baptized to comfort their distress and we have distressed those comfortable with their sign that does not convey any grace.  Perhaps we need more consistency here.... what do you think? 

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