What is Baptism?

A Catholic Baptism, What is it?

The validity of baptism isn’t something a lot of people think about often outside the Catholic Church. It is also something that some inside the Church take for granted. I was thinking about this issue this evening and thought I would write a little on it.

To start there are mainly two views on baptism, that of most Protestants, and that of Catholics.

Protestant view:
Most protestants view baptism as having no “effect” and being a symbol of the person dedicating themselves to God, the following of Christ, or an outward symbol of the internal acceptance of Jesus Christ as their personal lord and savior.

Catholic View:
Catholics view Baptism as one of the seven sacraments, that is, a direct bestowment of God’s Grace given to us by Christ. Catholics view baptism as actually having an “effect” in addition to the outward symbol. That effect is the forgiveness of Original Sin(the sin we inherited from Adam and Eve, often called Inherited Sin), forever marking ones soul making salvation possible as a follower of Christ. Once forgiven of this Original Sin and our other past sins, we start anew as a follower of Christ. This forgives us of all sins including Original Sin, but we are still imperfect beings and are still prone to sin, thus making salvation an ongoing process.

As Catholics, we believe, of course, that both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are equally God’s Word, but in Sacred Scripture alone there is a wealth of proof to this.
In Rom 6:3 we see when we are baptized we are baptized into Christ’s death.
In 1 Cor. 6:11 we see baptism equated to being sanctified. In Gal 3:26, 27 we see that when we are baptized we become a member of Christ’s body of believers.
In Eph. 5:26 we see that when we are baptized, we are cleansed.
In Col. 2:11-13 we see that baptism is related to the previous custom of the Jews, circumcision, again a relation to being buried with Christ and finally a relation of baptism to the forgiveness of all of our transgressions.
In Titus 2:5 we see that baptism saves us.
In 1 Peter 3:20-21 we see that baptism is likened to the flood of Noah, a complete renewal in the resurrection of Christ.
In Acts 2:38 and 22:16 we see that Baptism forgives sins.

In all these verses it is apparent that baptism has an effect. Their many of the Early Church Fathers also confirm this as a teaching of the early church, such as Clement of Alexandria when he says in 191 AD,
“When we are baptized, we are enlightened. Being enlightened, we are adopted as sons. Adopted as sons, we are made perfect. Made perfect, we become immortal . . . ‘and sons of the Most High’. This work is variously called grace, illumination, perfection, and washing. It is a washing by which we are cleansed of sins, a gift of grace by which the punishments due our sins are remitted, an illumination by which we behold that holy light of salvation”.

Tertullian in 203 AD says the following:
“appy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life”
And even devoted an entire letter on the subject.

Even our Nicene Creed, our statement of beliefs from 381 AD states we believe in “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins”.

Even with this much proof on the teaching of Scripture and the early church, some find arguments to raise against it, such as what of those who do not get the chance to be baptized but want to be. Would our God of love condemn those just because they were not baptized? No. Therefore baptism is not a requirement for salvation.

I state that the statement is correct, our God of love would not condemn those who did not have a chance to be baptized.
St. Thomas Aquinas has many, many extensive writings on this, of which we have now come to call the Baptism Of Desire. In scripture, it states in many passages of those who are washed in the blood of the lamb, such as Rev. 7:14, Is. 4:4, etc.
It is this teaching: That if one does not have sufficient chance to be baptized, whether by death or not being able to find a Christian to be baptized by, then that person desires to be baptized and to come into communion with Christ’s Church. This desire is, in effect, their baptism, and our God of love would not hold something out of their control against them.

Who then may baptize a person? And what makes it a valid baptism?

We see in scripture and of the writings of the early church fathers that baptism must be done by water. It is the matter of water that we must be baptized by for it to be valid. Not the essence of water, that is, it must be water in its liquid form, not ice, steam or what have you.

With this water, any validly baptized Christian may perform the baptism as long as he has the proper intent to do so, but it is best to use water that is consecrated for this purpose, so the priest, who is the administer of the sacraments of the Church, usually confers baptism with blessed water.

When I speak of a validly baptized person, I mean that we stick to the form of baptism that has come to be called the Trinitarian Formula of Baptism. This form is direct from scripture, with these words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. Outside of these words given to us, we cannot validly confer the sacrament because we were not given any other forms, nor the authority to make new forms of baptism. This is why we make sure a person is validly baptized before their admission to the other sacraments of the Church.

This brings up another question, what of non-christian groups who confer their ‘baptism’ by the proper formula, such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses?

While their use of the formula is correct and would be valid, the intention is not.
Different denominations and theological beliefs have no bearing on baptism, as long as the formula and intention are correct. But with these two denominations in particular do not believe in God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, or the Holy Spirit in the same way Christians do, so their intent on the baptism is not the same, and does not fulfill the requirement for a valid baptism.

I hope this is helpful, answers the reader’s questions on what we are talking about when we refer to a valid baptism, and encourages fellow believers to think about this subject a little more often.