Catholic Baptism Quotes

At last week’s Catholic Baptism H&S, it seemed like a contest between history and theology; the accepting side has all the history, and the rejecting side has all the theology. But we didn’t get all the history we could have, because (if you listen to the recording), Ray was pressed for time, and kept having to skip his quotes. So I asked Ray for his notes so I could post a good pile of quotes, in the interest of showing that it’s not like these historical figures never thought about this question.

First off, we have Calvin (this best quote Ray did use in the debate):

“[Baptism] is a sacred and immutable testimony of the grace of God, though it were administered by the devil, though all who may partake of it were ungodly and polluted as to their own persons. Baptism ever retains its own character, and is never contaminated by the vices of men.”

This is from Calvin’s comments on Amos 5:26 in 1559 — the significance of 1559 being that the RC Church unchurched itself with Trent in 1557. From the same time, this is from the French Confession of 1559:

Yet nevertheless, because there is yet some small trace of a Church in the papacy, and that baptism as it is in the substance, hath been still continued, and because the efficacy of baptism doth not depend upon him who doth administer it, we confess that they which are thus baptized do not need a second baptism. In the meanwhile, because of those corruptions which are mingled with the administration of that sacrament, no man can present his children to be baptized in that Church without polluting his conscience.


But the question is, whether a man baptized in Papistry ought to be rebaptized when he cometh to knowledge? And I answer, he ought not: first, because Christ’s institution, as said is, could not be utterly abolished by the malice of Satan, nor by the abuse of man; secondly, because the Spirit of Christ purgeth and removeth from us all such venom as we received of their hands, and superstition makes not the virtue of Christ’s institution to be ineffectual in us. . . . The seal once received is durable, and needeth not to be iterated, lest by iteration and multiplication of the sign, the office of the Holy Spirit, which is to illuminate, regenerate, and to purge, be attributed unto it.


Here I will not hesitate to borrow from the lawyers, something very much to the point. The fault may be in the person, as when a magistrate is corruptly made, who in any case … is no magistrate. But the lawyers more subtly distinguish between the one who is a magistrate, (that is, a legitimate one) and the one who is in the magistracy; as when they dispute that it is one thing to be proconsul, and another thing to be in the proconsulship, or that to be praetor is different than to exercise the office of the praetorship…In conclusion, a faulty calling may hurt the conscience of the one who invades that office, but it does not defile those things that are done by him as though he were lawfully called.

This supports the de jure/de facto distinction that Ray was talking about with RC Priests, as well as this quote from William Perkins, who applies it directly to baptism:

By this doctrine they are justly to be blamed, who would have their children rebaptized, which were before baptized by Popish priests; because the sacrament, though administered by a Papist, if he stand in the room of a true pastor; & keep the form thereof, is a true sacrament.

Here’s more from Perkins:

“First, the preaching of the word, and administration of the sacraments are all one in substance. For in the one the will of God is seen, in the other heard. Now the word preached by heretics, is the true word of God, and may have his effect…. Now if the word taught by their ministry was powerful, why may not the sacraments ministered by the heretics standing in the room of true ministers be true sacraments?”

Here’s a modern quote from John Fesko, presumably from his recent book Word, Water and Baptism:

A Roman Catholic minister is a representative of an apostate church, but it helps to recognize that Protestant theologians, though they disagree with and condemn Roman Catholic apostasy, nevertheless still call the RCC a church. This is not to say that it is a manifestation of the visible church, but rather that there are still some elements of truth within the RCC. As Turretin argued, it is one thing to say that the whole body is sound, and entirely another to say that there are some sound organs.

And finally, an extensive quote from Turretin:

IV. However, if heretics retain the fundamentals of baptism (which constitute its essence) and do not change or corrupt its form, we hold that baptism administered by such is valid, although they may err on various articles of faith, and their baptism may be mixed up with various extraneous rites in accidentals.

V. The reasons are: (1) the essentials remain there as much as to form as to matter (to wit, the word with the element and the formula prescribed by Christ—that it be administered in the name of the Trinity). (2) Neither the prophets, nor Christ, nor the apostles ever reprehended circumcision as void which had been performed in the Jewish church by idolatrous and heretical priests, such as the Pharisees were. (3) The example of Zipporah teaches that an invalid circumcision as to men is valid with God. (4) We do not read of any who were baptized by heretics having been rebaptized by the apostles.

VI. Although heretics are not true members of the invisible church, that does not hinder them from administering true baptism provided they retain its essentials; for they accommodate the tongue and hand only in this act to God. It is God who baptized and who is efficacious through the minister; as God through a corrupt ministry can gather a church from adults, so through baptism administered by heretics from infants. For although they do not belong to the orthodox church, still they can belong to the external but impure church. In them, the infidelity of men does not make void the faith of God, because baptism is not of men, but of God, which he wishes sometimes to be conserved in an impure church; as we find that God still preserved a remnant under Ahab in the time of Elijah (1 K. 19:18), however much the church had been corrupted in other ways.

21 Responses

  1. On Fesko’s quote, one could reply that there are elements of truth in mormonism. But why then wouldn’t we acknowledge their “baptism”? Because mormons aren’t part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

    The folks who don’t acknowledge RC baptism are in the same boat as the baptists. They have to either admit that baptism doesn’t really matter, or assert that a number of so called “christians” weren’t really.

    You know, guys like Martin Luther.

    Either RC baptism works, baptism doesn’t matter, or Martin Luther isn’t our brother. There aren’t any other options.

    • Well Luther was baptized by a pre-Trent (non-self-cut-off) church. Even so, we wouldn’t say he’s not our brother, but that he did not have a valid baptism. And yes, we confess that there is a sense that baptism “doesn’t really matter” (WCF 28.5).

      I agree that those who reject RC baptism have a lot of unbapatized true Christians on their hands, but that’s not an argument any more than “Theonomy’s wrong because it’s hard”.

  2. Rube!

    Good to hear from you!

    WCF 28.5 accounts for the exceptions. The rest of that chapter takes up the norm, which is that baptism is effective. It works. It does something. This is because baptism is a word from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself regarding the party being baptized. I wouldn’t say there is any sense in which that doesn’t matter.

    • I’m sure you actually got my meaning already, but the sense in which it doesn’t matter, is that it is not absolutely essentially required for salvation.

  3. I agree that those who reject RC baptism have a lot of unbapatized true Christians on their hands

    Sounds like you think there is a pretty good chance of salvation outside the visible church.

  4. Ok, I didn’t realize you were equivocating on pure and true. Now I better understand your confusion. You should read some more Hodge on that fallacy.

  5. I’m just paraphrasing WCF 25. Sec 2, there is no ordinary possibility of salvation outside the visible church. Sec 4, among visible churches are more and less pure particular churches, where purer is judged by pure Word, Sacrament, and Worship (none of which Rome has).

  6. I’m sorry, I thought that by the statement “true (pure, three-marks, Reformed) ” you were equating “true” with “pure, three-marks, Reformed”, which the confession does not.

    So you agree that the RC is part of the visible church? Isn’t this the same as saying they are part of the true church?

    I am trying to understand your categories.

    • You are equivocating with “equivocating”. Equivocating means using different definitions for the same term. I am using multiple terms for the same concept.

      Yes I was equating “true” with “pure, three-marks, Reformed”, and I was also equating WCF 28 “pure(r) church” which has three marks, with BC29 “true church” which has three marks (different third mark, making 4 marks total!). BC admits of only true/false, and “These two churches are easy to recognize and thus to distinguish from each other.” WCF is more grey, with more/less pure.

      RC is neither part of the true/pure/marked nor the visible church, as it is a false church, and a synagogue of Satan. But the baptist community church down the street is in the visible church, though less pure. (And so is the PCUSA down the street, despite Machen’s damning argumentation in Christianity and Liberalism that it is a different religion — go figure. I noted this problem for baptismal validity purists in the other post I think.)

      • RC is neither part of the true/pure/marked nor the visible church, as it is a false church, and a synagogue of Satan.

        I’ll stick with the WCF that all true churches are more/less pure, including our Roman Catholic brothers in Christ.

        By the BC29 definition of true church, the baptists are excluded since their baptismal practices are detested by the BC (34), which can hardly qualify as the pure administration of the sacraments. If you are going to be consistent, you are going to have to oust the baptists too, Rube.

      • My take on it is that BC is much earlier, at a time when it was true that “These two churches are easy to recognize and thus to distinguish from each other,” i.e. there was Rome (false), and there was the Reformation (true). The Protestant church had not yet begun to fracture into so many denominations. By the time Westminster rolled around, the landscape had changed, and the divines wisely nuanced the doctrine of church marks into a continuum instead of a toggle; Rome is still black, nobody is actually white, but Presbyterians are off-white, and other Protestants span the range from grey to charcoal. So “These two churches are easy to recognize and thus to distinguish from each other” is not a statement of eternal principle, but a statement which was true of the historical context in which it was written, but not true for later stages of Protestant development. I.e. “These two churches are [at the moment] easy to recognize…”.

        And yes, I have already said, and still concede, that consistency demands a RC-baptism-rejector to also reject a lot more Baptisms than he originally bargained for. Not your garden-variety Baptist, I would argue (the line in the sand is still the gospel; credobaptism is simply a less pure administration of a valid sacrament), but PCUSA should be out, as well as Joel Osteen’s Baptism of Unrepentance (i.e. self-help).

        But I still maintain, so what? Just because a doctrine has hard implications doesn’t make it wrong.

  7. consistency demands a RC-baptism-rejector to also reject a lot more Baptisms than he originally bargained for. Not your garden-variety Baptist, I would argue (the line in the sand is still the gospel;

    So there is really only one mark of a true church in your view. Sounds arbitrary.

    As a refutation, let me point out that there were a number of churches in the first century that had the gospel mixed up. Where they not true churches? Were their baptisms invalid? Did they have a ‘grace period’ until Trent or something?

    • one mark

      Seems like it, but I’m not sure. Isn’t there schismatic/cultic group known as “Church of Christ” (I think there are lots of groups that share that name) that have heretical views about the necessity of baptism? I don’t know what they think about the gospel, but I would think maybe their baptism might be judged invalid. But yes, you’re right, it seems that hard-line anti-catholics are willing to overlook all sorts of sacramental/worship/(lack of)discipline hanky-panky and accept any baptism that comes from a protestant Gospel.

      And “arbitrary”? If there is to be a single mark, I can’t think of what else the bible emphasizes as more critical than the gospel. The trinity is also important, but with Wagner, I think the gospel is the place to draw the line. Besides, I don’t think it’s possible to have the gospel right, and the trinity wrong. (It is possible the other way round, as RC demonstrates)

      a number of churches in the first century that had the gospel mixed up

      In the first century? You mean like the church of Galatia, that Paul had to straighten out for abandoning the gospel he first preached to them? I don’t know what eventually happened to the Galatians; either Paul’s apostolic intervention was effectual, and they maintained orthodoxy, or they chose another gospel and at some point they crossed a line such that Paul’s anathemas apply, and they could no longer administer valid baptisms.

      • Any of St. Paul’s letters come to mind as evidence that the early church had the gospel mixed up. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have needed to restate so much by his hand which he had already brought them by his mouth. But I only need one example to refute your universal. The *CHURCH(es)* at Galatia had already received another gospel (1:6). Paul was trying to correct this “perverted” gospel (7), but in doing so, he never “unchurched” the Galatian brethren. The reformers followed him in his restraint.

        To the churches of Galatia. … is it not wonderful that the term “Church”, which always implies unity of faith, should have been applied to the Galatians, who had almost entirely revolted from Christ? I reply, so long as they professed Christianity, worshipped one God, observed the sacraments, and enjoyed some kind of Gospel ministry, they retained the external marks of a church. ~ Calvin’s Commentary on Galatians, 1:2, emphasis mine

        He charges them with turning aside, not only from his gospel, but from Christ; for it was impossible for them to retain their attachment to Christ, without acknowledging that he has graciously delivered us from the bondage of the law. But such a belief cannot be reconciled with those notions respecting the obligation of ceremonial observance which the false apostles inculcated. They were removed from Christ; not that they entirely rejected Christianity, but that the corruption of their doctrines was such as to leave them nothing more than an imaginary Christ.

        Thus, in our own times, the Papists, choosing to have a divided and mangled Christ, have none, and are therefore “removed from Christ.” ~ ibid., 1:6

        Note how Calvin defends Galatia as a true church, saying that they had “almost” entirely revolted from Christ, even whilst their doctrines left them with an “imaginary Christ”. But they still worshipped Christ, even though they didn’t see the sufficiency of His work.

        I’ll take my cue from the likes of St. Paul and John Calvin.

      • I’m not sure what you’re trying to assert here; you seem to have proven that Calvin considered Rome to have been severed from Christ. Congratulations, I agree. So then what’s your point, that Galatian churches are in the same boat? But filling in what you omitted from Calvin:

        the condition and aspect of the Church of Rome are widely different from what existed in Galatia. If Paul were alive at the present day, he would perceive the miserable and dreadfully shattered remains of a church; but he would perceive no building

        I know you will want to cling to that word “remains”, but in Calvin’s metaphor, since Paul could not perceive a building, it only makes sense to view ‘remains’ in the sense of ‘ruins’. As for Galatia, however (which is widely different from Rome)

        By using the present tense, (“ye are removed”) he appears to say that they were only in the act of failing. As if he had said, “I do not yet say that ye have been removed; for then it would be more difficult to return to the right path. But now, at the critical moment, do not advance a single step, but instantly retreat.”

        So Galatia has not yet been removed, and Rome is widely different from Galatia.

        I love it when you quote Calvin. It saves me the time of looking things up myself. I can just go to where you ripped text out of context, and see Calvin saying the opposite of what you want him to.

  8. LOL Ruben… Pardon me for citing what was pertinent to my argument and not quoting the entire commentary. Your first quote omits the reason Calvin states the difference between Rome and Galatia. You don’t even indicate that you have chopped a sentence in half. Talk about out of context.

    What I have shown is that Galatia “retained the external marks of a church”, i.e. were part of the visible church, even though they had “been removed from Christ”. Calvin makes a *comparison* on this point between Galatia and Rome (6:1). Sure there are distinctions, but those had to do with the authority Rome was asserting over the other churches (see the first half of the sentence you lopped off above).

    Whatever Calvin’s view, Paul addresses the Galatians as “churches”, and then tells them how they missed the gospel. Therefore, missing the gospel doesn’t “unchurch” a Christian church and doesn’t invalidate that church’s baptism. It’s a simple biblical argument that throws a wrench in your cultish assertion that only those who profess the gospel (as you see it) are part of the true church.

    I’m not sure if you have ever read the RC catechism, but the gospel of Jesus Christ is there. There are things there we would both frown at, but it is extremely Christ centered:

    At the heart of catechesis: Christ

    At the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son from the Father who suffered and died for us and who now, after rising, is living with us forever. To catechize is to reveal in the Person of Christ the whole of God’s eternal design reaching fulfillment in that Person. It is to seek to understand the meaning of Christ’s actions and words and of the signs worked by him. Catechesis aims at putting people in communion with Jesus Christ: only he can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity.

    • Whatever Calvin’s view, Paul addresses the Galatians as “churches”, and then tells them how they missed the gospel.

      If you want to disregard Calvin’s severity towards Rome, that’s fine (it’s not the first time), but the point is that Calvin sees Paul as describing how Galatia is not quite yet “removed”, whereas Rome is “miserable and dreadfully shattered”.

      So you differ from Calvin in seeing both Galatia & Rome as having another gospel, but not being unchurched (but since when do you admit that Rome has another gospel?); and I differ from Calvin’s inconsistency in that he rejected Rome’s non-gospel, but accepted Rome’s baptism.

  9. I was granting Rome’s so-called non-gospel for the sake of argument, which is why I included that link to their catechism. From a high level, I believe Rome preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ. They worship the true person of Jesus and spread the good news of forgiveness of sins through His blood. There are particular formulations of theirs I would disagree with (especially the universalism), but that’s no different to me than my disagreement with arminians (or you, for that matter). If consistent, arminians would have to admit that they bring something to the table that God justifies them on account of. Roman Catholics are just consistent arminians.

    The gospel is more that Sola Fide. The gospel is the entire story of Christ’s kingdom come, including His victory in time and space. So amils don’t have a full gospel, but I still count them my brothers. Nobody is perfect.

    The WCF states that turning from all sin is necessary for pardon, but not a cause of it (15.3). I don’t see how that is so far off from Rome with regard to the doctrine of justification.

  10. […] a few years back on The Validity of Roman Catholic Baptism (see here for audio, and the following two posts for discussion). I embolden some parts that I found […]

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