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Invalid Baptism?

Before proceeding, let me stress: I am a strong advocate of keeping to what you have vowed and signed up to. In our Church, and in others, that includes saying what we have agreed to say, and doing what we have agreed to do.


Roman Catholic Father Andres Arango has resigned as pastor of St. Gregory Church (Diocese of Phoenix), and the diocese has declared all of his baptisms invalid because he used the word “we” (“We baptise you…”) instead of “I” (“I baptise you…”) in the words at the time of baptism. His diocese set up a special web page about this. The diocese declares Fr Andres as invalidly baptising for at least a quarter of a century and the diocese seems unclear how far back before 1995 this goes. Because baptism is the foundational sacrament, it is needed for the validity of all other sacraments. Because of Father Andres using the first person plural (“we”) rather than the first person singular (“I”), in this view people may be not validly sacramentally married (baptism is a requirement for that). And there may, following this reasoning, be people who are (or in the future will be) not validly ordained (all the way to bishop, and the flow on to the invalidity of ordinations etc from such a bishop).

Let’s be clear: this is not a unique, exceptional situation – a deacon was in the news for invalidly baptising; two priests were in the news for discovering their baptisms were, in this view, invalid – that meant they weren’t priests, and the Eucharists they presided at and the marriages they officiated over, were not valid.

I do not agree with this perspective.

I am not here going to argue with the Vatican approach that, in baptising, the one baptising acts in persona Christi (in the Person of Christ) and this requires “I baptise” rather than “We baptise”. Ted Eastman wrote a book, The Baptising Community. Following Ted Eastman’s approach, the one baptising is doing that in nomine ecclesiae (in the name of the gathered community). Might I suggest that the distinction is not this binary. The one baptising is doing both – acting in persona Christi and in nomine ecclesiae. Furthermore, the gathered community, the church, is the Body of Christ. But, as I said, in this post, I am not making that argument.

I am here arguing that the focus on the words at the time of baptism, technically called “the form” of the sacrament of baptism, is a relatively new focus.

The concept of a baptismal “form” (the words required to be said at the time of the sacramental action) dates from the 13th Century. I argue that verbally proclaiming “…in the name of the Father, and of the Son…” at the time of the baptism is a lens we use to read such a form back into early documents. Early church mentions of baptising “in the name of…” can be seen as baptising on behalf of and into the nature of rather than the verbal proclamation(s) that we now associate with such language. If you want to follow this thinking read:

Baptised in Paul’s Name (Part 1)
Baptised in Paul’s Name (Part 2)
How to Baptise?


Baptism in the name of is not what you think

To underscore my point: I am convinced that in the early church, proclaiming words: “I baptise you in the Name of…” at the time of baptism was rare or non-existent. If such words are required for the validity of baptism, and valid baptism is required for ordination, valid bishops, etc. then there are, currently, no valid bishops etc. in the world. And there have not been any valid bishops, no valid Eucharists, etc. in church history.

The Vatican position reflected in Father Andres’ resignation is not helped by the biblical evidence! Because the early church did not understand baptising “in the name of” as some sort of verbal proclamation of a formula (what since the 13th Century has been called the “form”), it gives quite a variety of options (in the name of Jesus Christ; in the name of the Lord Jesus). Baptising “…in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” occurs least in the scriptures – only once, in fact, Matthew 28:19. And this single biblical occurrence argues against the Vatican’s insistence on the singular (“I baptise…”). The instructions are all given by Christ IN THE PLURAL! πορευθέντες Go – you (plural) … βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς baptise – you (plural) them.

So, why should I care? Because the Roman Catholic Church is, by far, the largest and most influential denomination – if the Vatican sneezes, many, many others catch a theological or liturgical cold! Secondly, do a quick online search of “we baptise” (and “we baptize”) and you will find a plethora of mainline churches and denominations that use that language. If this invalidating of baptism spreads, ecumenical agreements may be being dismantled. Mutual recognition of baptism is at risk.

In conclusion, let me repeat – for those who misunderstand my point – I am not advocating for abandoning the agreements that we vowed to and signed up for by altering our agreed wording. This is simply suggesting that if not using these currently-authorised words is used to argue that baptism (and hence all subsequent sacraments) are thereby invalid, then the logical consequence might be that possibly all sacraments are no longer valid because these words were not used in the early church.

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7 thoughts on “Invalid Baptism?”

    1. Yes, Tobias, I thought of that also, and would love to have some examples. If you, or other readers, know any – please let us know. Blessings.

      1. I found a copy of the 1916 BCP of the Nihon Seikokwai, in a somewhat archaid Romaji transcription, which uses this formula:
        _Nanigashi_ (i.e., N.), Chichi to Ko to Seirei no Na ni yorite ware nanji Senrei wo hodokasu. Amen.

        It’s basically, “N., into Father and Child and Spirit’s Name by Baptism you are put.” (My Japanese is limited, but I think that’s the sense of it.) The point being that it is simply a declarative statement about what is happening, rather than an “I” statement about what the Officiant is doing.

        1. Thanks, Tobias. My understanding is that is the manner in which baptism occurs in (Eastern) Orthodoxy: “The servant of God [Name] is baptized in the name of the Father [immerse, or pour]. Amen. And of the Son [immerse, or pour]. Amen. And of the Holy Spirit [immerse, or pour]. Amen”; or “Let this servant of Christ be baptized…” or “This person is baptized by my hands…” Blessings.

  1. Nancy Barnard Starr

    My goodness. I heard about this sad incident, and had a think about those I baptised. Does intention count? Does this mean the loving, sorrowful, creative baptism my husband and I (then a laywoman) performed over our newborn fragile son Matthew, invalid? We did so at our priest’s direction and baptised him not with water, but with our tears. Matty died Trinity Sunday 1988. His life was brief but utterly holy.

    1. Speechlessly sad with you, Nancy. And you know my response is totally in affirming of you and what you did, and assuring you that Matty is with God who loves Matty. Blessings.

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