What the Validity of Protestant Baptisms Means

In our last post, we saw that the Church holds Protestant baptisms to be valid (or, to be more accurate, baptism is valid when done seriously and in water with the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”). What implications should be drawn from this fact?

If a baptism is valid, then it does what the Church says that baptism does. We looked at this before but let’s do so again. The Council of Florence (15th century) says this about the effects of Baptism:

Holy baptism, which is the gateway to the spiritual life, holds the first place among all the sacraments; through it we are made members of Christ and of the body of the Church.

In other words, it makes us Christians. But this is not the whole story, because there is more to be considered than baptism. For baptized infants nothing more needs to be said, but what about validly baptized Protestant adults who happen not to have received baptism in the Catholic Church? Well, as we have seen their baptisms are valid, but there are other defects. They may not believe what the Church teaches, and consequently they are not in full communion with the Catholic Church. The Fathers of Vatican II addressed this in Unitatis Redintegratio.

Even in the beginnings of this one and only Church of God there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly condemned. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions made their appearance and quite large communities came to be separated from full communion with the Catholic Church-for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame. The children who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic Church embraces upon them as brothers, with respect and affection. For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect. The differences that exist in varying degrees between them and the Catholic Church-whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning the structure of the Church-do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion. The ecumenical movement is striving to overcome these obstacles. But even in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ’s body, and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church. [UR 3; emphasis added]

Some have supposed that the extra ecclesiam nulla salus of Unam Sanctam is contradicted by this declaration of Vatican II, but as Dr. Michael Liccione has admirably demonstrated this cannot be the case because even at the time Unam Sanctam was promulgated the Church already taught that unbaptized martyrs (by virtue of “baptism of blood”) and catechumens (by virtue of “baptism of desire”) were to be reckoned among the sons of the Church. There have always been exceptions. Liccione writes elsewhere:

it is one thing to say that there’s no salvation outside the Church; it’s another to say what being inside the Church can consist in.

As we have seen the Council of Florence said that Baptism makes one a Christian. The fact that one’s communion with the Catholic Church is imperfect doesn’t make this any less true; the fact that it is imperfect does not mean that it is non-existent.

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Posted in Baptism, Council of Florence, Protestantism

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