Friday, July 3, 2009

The current Catholic position on Mormon baptism


I recently received an email from one of the readers of this blog who wrote:

I was wondering if you had seen this Mormon scholar's article concerning the CDF declaration of Mormon baptism's invalidity:http://mi.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=13&num=2&id=394

There are many points he desires to make about subordinationism, basically along the lines that if Mormon baptism is invalid because Mormons are not Trinitarian, then the early Christian's would too be invalid because they also were not Trinitarians but rather subordinationists.

I was wondering what your thoughts were on this subject, knowing that you are knowledgeable about both Mormonism and subordinationism.


I remember discussing this issue at the now defunct message board ZLMB back in 2001. I have tried to access the pages from that period, but alas, no success. As such, I will comment anew on Father Ladaria’s document, THE QUESTION OF THE VALIDITY OF BAPTISM CONFERRED IN THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS , and Gaskill’s review.

It was back on June 5, 2001 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ruled that baptisms by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were not valid. Ladaria, a spokesman for the CDF, stated that his document was written to “explain the reasons that have led to this decision and to the resulting change of practice.” The following excerpts (in red) are from Ladaria’s document (bold emphasis is mine):

This explanation becomes even more necessary if one considers that errors of a doctrinal nature have never been considered sufficient to question the validity of the sacrament of Baptism. In fact, already in the middle of the third century Pope Stephen I, opposing the decisions of an African synod in 256 A.D., reaffirmed that the ancient practice of the imposition of hands as a sign of repentance should be maintained, but not the rebaptism of a heretic who enters the Catholic Church

Precisely because of the necessity of Baptism for salvation the Catholic Church has had the tendency of broadly recognizing this right intention in the conferring of this sacrament, even in the case of a false understanding of Trinitarian faith, as for example in the case of the Arians

What are the reasons which now led to this negative position regarding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which seems different from the position of the Catholic Church throughout the centuries?


We have seen that in the texts of the Magisterium on Baptism there is a reference to the invocation of the Trinity (to the sources already mentioned, the Fourth Lateran Council could be added here [DH 8021). The formula used by the Mormons might seem at first sight to be a Trinitarian formula. The text states: "Being commissioned by Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (cf. D&C 20:73). The similarities with the formula used by the Catholic Church are at first sight obvious, but in reality they are only apparent. There is not in fact a fundamental doctrinal agreement. There is not a true invocation of the Trinity because the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, according to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are not the three persons in which subsists the one Godhead, but three gods who form one divinity. One is different from the other, even though they exist in perfect harmony (Joseph F. Smith, ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [TPJSI, Salt Lake City: Desert Book, 1976, p. 372). The very word divinity has only a functional, not a substantial content, because the divinity originates when the three gods decided to unite and form the divinity to bring about human salvation (Encyclopaedia of Mormonism [EM], New York: Macmillan, 1992, cf. Vol. 2, p. 552). This divinity and man share the same nature and they are substantially equal. God the Father is an exalted man, native of another planet, who has acquired his divine status through a death similar to that of human beings, the necessary way to divinization (cf. TPJS, pp. 345-346). God the Father has relatives and this is explained by the doctrine of infinite regression of the gods who initially were mortal (cf. TPJS, p. 373). God the Father has a wife, the Heavenly Mother, with whom he shares the responsibility of creation. They procreate sons in the spiritual world. Their firstborn is Jesus Christ, equal to all men, who has acquired his divinity in a pre-mortal existence. Even the Holy Spirit is the son of heavenly parents. The Son and the Holy Spirit were procreated after the beginning of the creation of the world known to us (cf. EM, Vol. 2, p. 961). Four gods are directly responsible for the universe, three of whom have established a covenant and thus form the divinity.

As is easily seen, to the similarity of titles there does not correspond in any way a doctrinal content which can lead to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The words Father, Son and Holy Spirit, have for the Mormons a meaning totally different from the Christian meaning. The differences are so great that one cannot even consider that this doctrine is a heresy which emerged out of a false understanding of the Christian doctrine. The teaching of the Mormons has a completely different matrix. We do not find ourselves, therefore, before the case of the validity of Baptism administered by heretics, affirmed already from the first Christian centuries, nor of Baptism conferred in non-Catholic ecclesial communities, as noted in Canon 869 §2.

The last two paragraphs above constitute what I believe to be the most significant reasons why the CDF declared LDS baptisms to be invalid. Even more precisely, the perceived teachings that “God the Father is an exalted man, native of another planet, who has acquired his divine status through a death similar to that of human beings”; that “God the Father has relatives and this is explained by the doctrine of infinite regression of the gods who initially were mortal”; that “God the Father has a wife, the Heavenly Mother, with whom he shares the responsibility of creation”; and that “Four gods are directly responsible for the universe, three of whom have established a covenant and thus form the divinity”, were probably the most influential.


Ladaria then went on to state:

The differences are so great that one cannot even consider that this doctrine is a heresy [e.g. Arianism] which emerged out of a false understanding of the Christian doctrine. The teaching of the Mormons has a completely different matrix.

Before moving on to Gaskill’s review, I would like to point out that all of the above LDS teachings are from non-official sources (i.e. they are not contained in the recognized LDS canon of Scriptures). As to whether or not they are ‘official’ teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I do not believe that they are—even though they have been, and are, widely held (the evidence I have complied to support this view is quite extensive—but, it lies beyond the scope of this thread to present it at this time).

Now, moving on to Gaskill, I was a bit disappointed with his contribution. The review is well written (though there are a couple of minor mistakes), however, he completely avoided discussing the above LDS teachings that Ladaria referenced. Rather than deal with those teachings, he instead focuses on the subordinationism of the pre-Nicene Church Fathers, pointing out that they were not Trinitarian in the same sense as the Nicene and post-Nicene definitions. Gaskill completely misses the point made by Ladaria—the problem is not with subordinationism, the problem is that Ladaria and the CDF concluded (right or wrong) that: “The teaching of the Mormons has a completely different matrix.”


More, of course, could be said, but I think I have outlined the most significant points of this issue.


Grace and peace,

David

11 comments:

Ben said...

THANK YOU!

I would definitely be interested in an expansion of the topic of Mormon cosmology. You state that you do not believe that the enumerated teachings are the official teachings of the LDS, teachings which seem rather foundational.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dave,

I understand why Fr. Ladaria explains himself as he does and why the congregation so ruled. But I think conditional baptisms would be the better course of action. There are people who baptize in the LDS faith who put aside the "folk theology" which influenced the decision. On a case by case basis, I would think that most LDS baptisms would be invalid for the reasons stated. But I doubt if the congregation appreciates how LDS theology is subject to change and what great diversity of views is permitted among the LDS faithful. Keeping strictly to official documents seems to be a more common course for many Mormons today, and if they do so, ignoring the speculations which have been popular in the past (what I have called following them as folk theology), I find it very likely that there are a significant number of valid baptisms.

I think it is important to note as you did in your thread title that this is the "current Catholic position", not infallible, subject to review.

Rory

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello David,

I'd be interested in your opinion as to how (or whether) canon 861 and CCC §1256 relate to this.

If an un-baptized person can validly Baptize with the right intention, and if it's understood that the right intention need not be explicit, then it would seem that there would be no impediment to the validity of a Mormon baptism insofar as it has the required form (it appears that it does) and the intention on the part of the minister to do the right thing.

I'm not challenging the present policy; I'm merely seeking to understand things. Personally I feel entirely comfortable with the present policy because of the rather abhorrent ideas of the Godhead within the LDS!

Thanks,

RdP

baptism cakes said...

Baptism should always be taken seriously. You should aim to do it once, and only need to do it once. It is good for the soul in many ways to begin anew upon being baptized.

David Waltz said...

Hi Reginald,

I would like to apologize for the tardiness of my reply; but, in my defense, it was a very busy weekend. You posted:

>> I'd be interested in your opinion as to how (or whether) canon 861 and CCC §1256 relate to this.

If an un-baptized person can validly Baptize with the right intention, and if it's understood that the right intention need not be explicit, then it would seem that there would be no impediment to the validity of a Mormon baptism insofar as it has the required form (it appears that it does) and the intention on the part of the minister to do the right thing.>>

Me: I don’t think that the CCL or the CCC had much bearing on the CDF’s 2001 decision. In the New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (English – 2000), under Can. 869 we read:

“Two types of doubt may arise: a doubt about the fact of a baptism (whether it was ever received at all) and doubt about the validity of the baptism previously conferred…Doubt about the validity of a baptism may arise if there is reason to question whether the washing with water was omitted, whether the required verbal form was used, or whether the minister or the one baptized as an adult had the proper intentions.” (p. 1057)

On the next page, the commentator lists various, “Non-Catholic ecclesial communities whose baptisms are recognized as valid by the Catholic Church”. What I find interesting is that the majority of the ecclesial communities listed DO NOT believe that the baptism confers that same actions/results as Catholic dogma affirms (e.g. baptismal regeneration, forgiveness of original and all previous sins); many of them understand baptism as merely a symbol. As such, the issue of “proper intentions” is a bit confusing to me.

You then wrote:

>> I'm not challenging the present policy; I'm merely seeking to understand things. Personally I feel entirely comfortable with the present policy because of the rather abhorrent ideas of the Godhead within the LDS!>>

Me: I understand your concerns; however, I have some difficulty believing that the LDS “ideas of the Godhead” are any more “abhorrent” than those of the early Christian Gnostics (and some other early heretical sects—e.g. the anthropomorphites and Collyridians).

And further, there have been some interesting develops in recent LDS theology that moves their doctrine of the Godhead much closer to ‘mainstream’ Christian thought—see:

Blake Ostler’s

Re-vision-ing the Mormon Concept of Deity.

And, David Paulsen’s

Are Mormons Trinitarian.


Grace and peace,

David

David Waltz said...

Hi Ben,

You wrote:

>> I would definitely be interested in an expansion of the topic of Mormon cosmology. You state that you do not believe that the enumerated teachings are the official teachings of the LDS, teachings which seem rather foundational.>>

Me: To do justice to the topic would take a series of related threads—I will have to put it on the ‘back burner’ for now, but shall attempt to delve into the task in the near future, after my current ‘plate’ of issues is covered (the Lord willing). Send me an email in 2-3 weeks and remind me…


Grace and peace,

David

P.S. You may be interested in the material found at the two links I suggested to Reginald in my previous post.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

You wrote:
>>>“Two types of doubt may arise: a doubt about the fact of a baptism (whether it was ever received at all) and doubt about the validity of the baptism previously conferred…Doubt about the validity of a baptism may arise if there is reason to question whether the washing with water was omitted, whether the required verbal form was used, or whether the minister or the one baptized as an adult had the proper intentions.” (p. 1057)

On the next page, the commentator lists various, “Non-Catholic ecclesial communities whose baptisms are recognized as valid by the Catholic Church”. What I find interesting is that the majority of the ecclesial communities listed DO NOT believe that the baptism confers that same actions/results as Catholic dogma affirms (e.g. baptismal regeneration, forgiveness of original and all previous sins); many of them understand baptism as merely a symbol. As such, the issue of “proper intentions” is a bit confusing to me.<<<

Rory writes:
As I understand it, the intention is not necessarily faulty merely because a Baptist believes the action is symbolic. If the minister "intends to do what the Church does", that is provide a valid baptism, the intent is fulfilled. Intent seems to be easily satisfied. As you pointed out, this list includes some sects with a broad range of views on baptism.

I wonder if the decision of the Congregation was not that the intent was faulty, but that the form was invalidated. Mormons may use the correct words, but if they mean something significantly different, could the Congregation be concerned about a violation of form with a correct intent (to do what the Church does)?

Based on the broad range of views acceptable within the LDS community, and no creedal statements, I think it is very difficult to make a general case which applies to all Mormons. That is why, not wishing to rebaptize, I think conditional baptisms would be more advisable for LDS converts to the Catholic Church.

Rory

David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,

Thanks for responding; you wrote:

>> I wonder if the decision of the Congregation was not that the intent was faulty, but that the form was invalidated. Mormons may use the correct words, but if they mean something significantly different, could the Congregation be concerned about a violation of form with a correct intent (to do what the Church does)?>>

Me: The selection from Ladaria that I provided was all under the heading “The Form”; as such, I am in agreement with you on this (see the link I provided for full context).

>> Based on the broad range of views acceptable within the LDS community, and no creedal statements, I think it is very difficult to make a general case which applies to all Mormons. That is why, not wishing to rebaptize, I think conditional baptisms would be more advisable for LDS converts to the Catholic Church.>>

Me: Once again, I concur.


Grace and peace,

David


P.S. Did you see the Federer/Roddick match? IMHO, one the greatest of all time…

Anonymous said...

Hey Dave,

I got back from Mass and the match was over. I tend to think that if Federer were ten or fifteen years older, no one would remember Sampras and Agassi so well as we do. And perhaps Mr. Roddick would be less forgettable than he is going to be.

R

David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,

You wrote:

>>I got back from Mass and the match was over. I tend to think that if Federer were ten or fifteen years older, no one would remember Sampras and Agassi so well as we do. And perhaps Mr. Roddick would be less forgettable than he is going to be.>>

Couple of items: first, you need to get a DVR !!! Second, I have a feeling that Roddick may have taken his game to a new level—if he can sustain that level over the next 3-4 years, I suspect he will have added a few majors to his legacy.

The Beachubm

Thomas Harvey said...

Here's one point: the required intention for sacramental validity is the minister's intention to do "as the church does". Hence, e.g., if a non-Christian correctly performs Lay Baptism and intends to baptise as the church does, a valid baptism is performed.

Could it be that, nearly always, an LDS baptism is performed by someone who does not intend to baptise as the Catholic church does?