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The Sacrament of Baptism - III

Examining the Nature of the Sacrament

Fr. Paul Alvarez
Although the Sacraments work by virtue of the Passion of Our Lord, Baptism was effective even before insofar as it prefigured Christ's Sacrifice on Cavalry. (1)

Medieval depiction of baptism

Baptism was effective even before Christ's Sacrifice

Even if we consider that the Sacraments obtain their effectiveness by the command of Christ and Christ gave the mandate to baptize after the Resurrection, (2) we must clarify that the precept of the need for Baptism was solemnly extended to all men after the Passion and the Resurrection.

As previously said, the valid matter in Baptism is water, even if it contains other materials in small quantities and even if such additions change its color or taste. For the solemn ceremony of Baptism, it is necessary to use baptismal water, but for the private one, common water suffices.

The formula of this Sacrament is "Ego te baptizo in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti" [I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit]. The word "Ego" (I) is not expressly part of the substance of the form but is important to better express the intent. On the other hand, the phrases "te baptizo" and "in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti" are necessary for the validity of the Sacrament.

Minister & subject

The minister must be one: A Baptism carried out simultaneously by two persons is not valid: e.g. if one pours the water and another says the words.

A painting of a priest baptizing indians

One Dominican  priest baptizing a multitude of Indians

But he may not be oneself: It is important, however, to consider the words of Pope Innocent III in his Debitum pastoralis officii where he states this after describing a man who tried to baptize himself in the face of a great danger: "If, however, he would die immediately, he would have hastened to his heavenly motherland without delay because of his faith in the sacrament, but not because of the sacrament of faith [Baptism]." (3)

The person can be anyone who performs the ceremony with the intention of doing what the Church does: This essentially means introducing the baptized into the Catholic Church, but we must remember that keeping the form of the sacrament is still required. Even private baptism (4) conferred by heretics or pagans that follows the ritual of the Church is valid. There should be two witnesses or at least one.

On the other hand, solemn Baptism or other Sacramentals cannot be done by a layman. (5)

In the name of the Trinity

The Sacrament of Baptism must be ministered in the name of the Trinity and not only in the name of Christ. There are those who affirm that in the apostolic era (6) some persons were baptized only in the name of Christ, and that some theologians and Popes seem to have favored this opinion. (7) The judgment of the Church is that the words "in nomine Iesu" [In the name of Jesus] actually means "in the Baptism of Christ and with the virtue of Christ," as opposed to the Baptism of John.

An ancient mozaic depicting the baptism of Christ

A 6th century mosaic of Christ's baptism surrounded by the 12 Apostles. He mandated to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Some, for example, say that St. Ambrose baptized in the name of Jesus, but he himself explained this with these words: "Unless they are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, they cannot receive remission for their sins." (8)

Also, the words of Pope Nicholas I on this topic must be understood as referring to the intention of the minister, because for justification faith in the Holy Trinity is required, but that faith can still be fulfilled by mentioning only Christ.

In short, it would be very unlikely that the Apostles and the first Popes of the apostolic era would be unaware of the explicit mandate of Christ: "Go forth, therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." (9)

Now, the Sacrament of Baptism is so necessary and important that, as said before referring to the canons of the Council of Trent, even a Baptism conferred by heretics is valid. Notwithstanding the heretic’s sins, principally his sin of heresy, he still conserves in his soul the indelible character he received in his Baptism, which explains why he can validly confer this Sacrament.

Also suspension, excommunication or degradation does not eliminate the power to confer the sacraments. Neither does the heretic lose the character imprinted on his soul by Baptism. If he goes to Hell, he will go to Hell with it.

The Council of Trent says: "If anyone 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 does, it is not true baptism, let him be anathema." (10) If the heretics keep the form of the Church, they confer the sacramentum (11), but not the grace of the Sacrament. (12)

Now, one of the clearest quotes on this point is that of Pope St. Nicholas I (858-867) who states: "You ask if those who have received Baptism from one who pretends to be a priest are Christians or if they have to be baptized again. If they have been baptized in the name of the Supreme and undivided Trinity, they are certainly Christians and regardless of the Christian who baptized them, it is not convenient to repeat the Baptism." (13)


  1. Lk 12:50
  2. Mt 28:19
  3. Quamvis, sit alis continuo decessisset, ad [caelestem] patriam protinus evolasset propter sacramenti fidem, etsi non propter fidei sacramentum (DS 788).
  4. CIC n. 737 § 2.
  5. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, p III. q. 67,. a. 3. “Illa sacramentalia baptismi pertinent ad solemnitatem, non autem ad necessitatem baptismi. Et ideo fieri non debent nec possunt a laico, sed solum a sacerdote, cuius est solemniter baptizare.” [“These sacramental rites of Baptism belong to the solemnity of, and are not essential to, Baptism. And therefore they neither should nor can be done by a layman, but only by a priest, whose office it is to baptize solemnly.”]
  6. Acts 2:38; 8:12; 8:19; 10:48 (Cf. Catechismus Concilii Tridentini, Parts II on the Sacrament of Baptism).
  7. Cayetano, San Ambrosio (St. Ambrose, De Spiritu Sancti, lib. I, c.2 y 3§ 42-44, PL 16 [1880] 742 s.), and Pope Nicolas I (DS 646).
  8. Nisi baptizatus fuerit in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, remissionem non potest accipere peccatorum (De Mysteriis, c. 4, n. 20 ).
  9. Ite, baptizate omnes gentes in nomine Patris, Filii, et Spiritus Sancti (Mt. 28:19).
  10. Ds 1617, 1611
  11. When Saint Leo says that "in Sede Alexandria sacramentorum lumen esse extintum", he means that they (the Sacraments of that particular case) do not confer grace, and not that they are not valid. St. Vincent de Lerins, alluding to those who held the erroneous theses (of the invalid sacraments of heretics), says: "Here is a paradoxical situation. The authors of that opinion are considered Catholic and yet their followers are heretics; the teachers were forgiven and the disciples condemned" (OC n. 6, p. 32).
    And St. Augustine affirms: " As far as I am concerned, I will say in a few words what I think of this question: that those who re-baptized the heretics committed a human error; but that those who still continue to re-baptize Catholics today act on a diabolical presumption (De unico bautismo contra Petilianum, apud Vicente de Lerins, o.c., p. 32, n. 13,.)" Not because of the defect of faith, but because the one who receives from them the Sacrament sins (if is not ignorant of to whom he ask for the Sacrament).
  12. This is not because of the defect of faith, but because the one who receives from them the Sacrament sins (unless he is ignorant about the one administering the Sacrament).
  13. He continues, "The bad administering the good accumulates a multitude of evils for himself and not for the others; for this reason, it is certain that that Greek did not harm those whom he baptized: This is the one who baptizes (Jn. 1:33), that is, Christ; and also: it is God that gives the increase (1. Cor. 3:7), with it being understood that it is "not man" (DS 643).

Blason de Charlemagne
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Posted March 2, 2018