After posting my previous article on baptism, many questions were raised regarding some of these intricacies. Part of this was due to a lack of clarity on my part and also because I didn’t show the entire magisterial AAS document from 1916 in that article. That can be read here.
I was not anticipating such a large number of people who have had issues with this before. One of the problems with Protestantism is that it is constantly dividing. And for each division comes another interpretation regarding what baptism is and a new way of baptizing. This is why this needs to be treated on a case-by-case basis, and if you have any doubt, instruction from a priest who is informed about these issues is needed.
So if anyone has a doubt regarding his Protestant baptism, please contact a traditional priest. That being said, I wanted to address some of the many questions that I received regarding this issue.
If the minister pours water or immerses immediately after the words are said, is this baptism valid?
It is possible, but how exactly this is done isn’t clear, which leaves some room for doubt. The AAS document I provided says this about the issue: “Common doctrine holds that the physical union of matter and form is not required for the validity of a baptism, but that a moral union suffices, which is considered as often as if ablution happens immediately before the form is brought to an end, so often if it happens immediately afterwards. This moral union seems to exist in the case that is laid out [before us], since the immediate succession between the pronouncement of the words and the descent of the woman into the pool is signified. Hence from this summary, there appears to be no reason for invalidating the baptism [in this regard].” So as we can see here, the Church does not say that it must happen at the exact same time, but rather that there must be a moral union between the words and the action to the point where it can be said that it is one action.
That being said, the document uses strict words. It says “immediately,” and by going off the text alone, especially with the other documents cited, it is clear that this is uncompromising. The document later says, “Catholic doctrine most certainly holds that the matter ought to be placed by one and the same minister at the same time as the form of the baptism is offered.” This document clearly does not say it is okay to separate these two things; they need to be together.
The interpretation I have received from priests is that if the minister started to immerse as he finished the statement, they would say it is valid. But if there was a period in between the words and the actions, they would recommend a conditional baptism.
Is a baptism made invalid if there was only one ablution — that is, if the minister poured or immersed once rather than thrice?
No, the baptism would not be invalidated because of this alone. Pope Saint Gregory the Great approved this method of baptism in his letter to Leander, Bishop of Seville, found here. Here he says, “[I]t cannot be in any way reprehensible to immerse the infant in baptism either thrice or once, seeing that by three immersions the Trinity of persons, and in one the singleness of the Divinity may be denoted. But, since up to this time it has been the custom of heretics to immerse infants in baptism thrice, I am of opinion that this ought not to be done among you.” The only issue here is the intent of the minister — a bad sign nowadays, as now the situation has flipped. Catholics are now the ones who immerse thrice, and heretics are the ones who typically immerse once.
Is a baptism made invalid if the minister does not intend to do what the Church does?
To answer this question, we need a proper understanding as to what that means. Firstly, it is obvious that heretics can validly baptize. In Canon IV of Session VII of the Council of Trent, the Council states, “If any one saith, 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.” So heretics can baptize, but they must have the intention of doing what the Church does. What does this mean?
It certainly doesn’t mean that the minister must have a perfect understanding of the sacrament. If this was needed, there would be complete disorder within the Church. To ascribe to this position is to fall into the heresy of Donatism. Everyone would be wondering if his pastor truly understands baptism.
How does this fit within the context of “Outside of the Church there is no salvation?
Baptized heretics receive forgiveness for their sins only when returning to the Catholic Church (Boniface VIII, Unam Sanctam). Take a close look at Council of Trent, Session 6, Canon 6: “If anyone says that the sacraments of the New Law do not contain the grace that they signify, or that they do not confer that grace upon those who do not place any obstacle in their way … let him be anathema.” In Fr. François Laisney’s book “Is Feeneyism Catholic?,” he writes “The Church teaches that baptized heretics only receive grace and forgiveness of sins when, returning to the Catholic Church, they are absolved from their sins by the Sacrament of Penance. Do they have to confess Original Sin? No, since the matter of the Sacrament of Penance is the sins committed after Baptism. What happens is this: through the confession of heresy and of the sacrilegious reception of Baptism (and of the sins from then on), all sins from the time of Baptism are forgiven in virtue of the absolution, and all sins prior to Baptism (including Original Sin) are forgiven in virtue of the very Sacrament of Baptism which can THEN bring its fruits, since the ‘obstacle in the way’ spoken of by Trent is now removed.”
What “to do what the Church does” means is simply to do the ceremony common among Catholics. This is why pagans can baptize. The issue with my friend’s Protestant baptism is that the people who attempted to baptize him made it clear that its baptism was distinct and that what they were doing was a different ceremony. They made it clear that they were not doing what the Church does, but intending to do something else. This is why they rebaptized Catholics at that place, and this is why there was a true doubt as to my friend’s reception of the sacrament.
Isn’t this conversation very legalistic, Pharisaical, scrupulous?
I understand why someone would say that, because this is exhausting. I don’t like having to talk about it.
Typically, the people who say this will use Matthew 15:3: “But he answering [the Pharisees], said to them: Why do you also transgress the commandment of God for your tradition?” But Our Lord here criticizes the Pharisees not for having laws, but rather because their manmade laws were getting in the way of divine law.
Saint Chromatius of Aquileia says this about this passage: “Among other observations, some of the Jewish elders ruled that a person should not take or eat food unless he first washed his hands. This observation, however, reveals a particular custom that is human and produces no beneficial effect. Therefore this tradition of the elders is practically useless, for it does not benefit a person’s health. No justification is gained from this tradition, and no harm is done in disregarding it.”
What must be understood is that baptism is no small matter. Our ecclesiastical laws are to support the salvation of souls, which we strive to achieve through divine law. Baptism is a sacrament founded on divine law, not just a man-made ecclesiastical law. Ludwig Ott lists the doctrine “[b]aptism is a true Sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ” as de fide in Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. It was created by God, who is the creator of the world.
We must ask ourselves: is Catholicism really true? If it is, we must understand the implications — that we are a sacramental religion and that God pours forth His grace by the sacraments, which are enacted through a particular matter, form, intention, and administration. Questioning whether or not these things are utilized correctly is not legalism or Pharisaical if the questioning is reasonable.
All of my arguments have come from Church documents, and the most prevalent of them are magisterial. Questioning their interpretation is unreasonable if you don’t have any reasoning behind doing so. We can’t fall into the trap of doubting every document we don’t like because it doesn’t fit into our narrative. That’s modernism. Sure, the AAS isn’t infallible, but it still demands religious submission. For more information about why the AAS is indeed a part of the authentic magisterial, check out this article.
An example of what legalism would be in this scenario would be to say there is no case of necessity by which anyone other than a priest could baptize. This is absurd and pointless, has no basis in divine law, and gets in the way of the salvation of souls.
I also don’t think simply questioning whether or not one of the three needs for a baptism was validly administered can be called scrupulosity. Again, the Church has issued these documents, not me. An example of scrupulosity in this situation would be worrying that something that is not at all related to the matter, form, and intent of baptism is essential to the validity — e.g., someone saying, “Is my baptism valid because the priest used a cup instead of a shell to pour water on my head?” That doesn’t matter; it doesn’t pertain to the essentials. I certainly will warn anyone who thinks he should get a conditional baptism despite having no valid reason to that that would be a sacrilegious act. Request one only if you have a valid doubt.
Why even bother trying to find a priest to baptize you? Why not just get a friend to conditionally baptize you?
Priests are the ordinary ministers of baptism. If you disregard this and say everyone should just baptize everyone, then why not just disregard the fact that they are also the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion? If someone just conditionally baptizes you because you don’t want to go through this mess, it will be valid but illicit. This is because Canon 857.1 states: “Apart from a case of necessity, the proper place of baptism is a church or oratory.” Canon 861.2 states, “When an ordinary minister is absent or impeded, a catechist or another person designated for this function by the local ordinary, or in a case of necessity any person with the right intention, confers baptism licitly. Pastors of souls, especially the pastor of a parish, are to be concerned that the Christian faithful are taught the correct way to baptize.”
So as you can see, it must be a case of necessity, or else you are purposefully doing something illicit. You have to at least try. We can’t just flippantly ignore canon law.
But doesn’t God work outside the sacraments? You always have a baptism of desire!
If God were limited to the sacraments then He wouldn’t be God, because God cannot be limited. But God has given us a great gift: the gift of being sure about His grace. He gives us material signs of spiritual realities in his sacraments. This is why being unsure about the sacraments makes the sacraments pointless and why the Church puts these laws that might seem rigid to some in place.
As for baptism of desire, this is true for salvation, although the full truth about it remains a mystery. But I would warn against two things. The first would be against the sin of presumption. This is a wicked sin, and we should be wary about trying to do the bare minimum to achieve salvation, thinking we can somehow “cheat” God. I would also bring up again the implications of someone who is unbaptized and doesn’t receive a conditional baptism. Not only will he not receive any grace from the sacraments other than through extraordinary means that we don’t understand, but if this person ever chooses to pursue a religious vocation, the ordination will be invalid. This is a huge deal, and we absolutely cannot have fake priests running around giving out sacraments. This is the exact reason why the Church needs to be 100% sure about a convert’s baptism and why this needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
Now for some more practical advice for those in the same position that I was. If you have an actual and substantial doubt, I definitely would recommend you refrain from receiving the Eucharist until after you speak with a priest. Something I regret so much was receiving the Eucharist after my pastor gave me that false information about my Protestant baptism. I would hate to recommend not going to confession if you are in mortal sin, so I won’t — just talk with a traditional priest and ask him. Pray the rosary, and ask Our Lady for help under her title of Our Lady of Sorrows. My aforementioned friend also wanted me to mention the power that Our Lady has under her title Our Lady of Peñafrancia. Meditate on Our Lord’s passion, and understand that this is a sacrifice by which you can connect yourself with Our Lord more. Our Lord let this happen! He let this happen because He wants us to grow closer to Him. That’s the whole reason for the crisis in the Church! He wants everyone to go to Heaven and will use extraordinary means outside the sacraments to do so if you choose to cooperate with Him. Have faith! God will lead you through this!
Murray Rundus is a senior in high school, former child actor as Wendell on Gamers Guide to Pretty Much Everything seen on Disney XD and Disney Channel, and convert to Catholicism. Murray converted to Catholicism in 2018 after finding Christ through St. Augustine’s Confessions and the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas. Murray advocates for traditional Catholicism and is working to become a better follower of Christ through the traditional sacraments and devotion to Our Lady.