Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Response to a “dubium” on the validity of baptism conferred by “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” called “Mormons.”
Question: Whether the baptism conferred by the community “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”, called “Mormons” in the vernacular, is valid.
The Supreme Pontiff John Paul II, in the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, approved the present Response, decided in the Sessione Ordinaria of this Congregation, and ordered it published.
From the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 5 June 2001
Sunday, March 11, 2012
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ…In him we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us.” – Ephesians 1:3-5a, 7-8
Who is St. Paul speaking to with these beautiful words? He is reminding those who have been baptized of the infinite depths of God’s love, and of the gift they have received in baptism (cf. v. 11-14). Before the first moment of creation, the Father intended each and every one of us to be holy as he is holy (cf. Leviticus 11:44, 19:2). The only way for us to be holy is to become actual participants, sharers, partakers, in the very life of he who alone is holy, namely Father, Son and Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Peter 1:4). How is this possible after original sin, which put us in a state of opposition to God? It is possible through the magnificent gift of baptism. In baptism the Father begins to lavish his divine life (i.e. grace) upon us.
Many Catholic parents think of baptism as just something you do to get family and friends together soon after the birth of a child. Many Catholics in the pews during a baptism are only thinking of how much longer this is going to make the Mass. If your first thought is how much time a baptism will add to the Mass, reflect on what is actually happening when that water is poured, the priest invokes the name of the Trinity and the infant begins to cry. If we truly understood, we would fall on our knees in worship and praise of the living God.
Every single human person since the fall, except the Immaculate Mary, was born in a state of disgrace, no longer sharing in God’s divine life. Adam and Eve were created in a state of sonhood. However, after the fall, they, and us before baptism, are more like slaves than sons and daughters. How did the Father decide to fix our sin problem? He decided to send us the Son so that we could become sons and daughters in the Son, participants in the very sonhood of the Second Person of the Trinity. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of woman, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God” (Galatians 4:4-7).
In baptism we are brought back to a state of true sonhood. When the water is poured and the priest says, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” the Trinity comes to dwell in that person. Trinitarian life is infused into the body and soul of the baptized person, and there is a change is the core of who that person is. “For we are the temple of the living God; as God said: ‘I will live with them and move among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people. Therefore, come forth from them and be separate, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will receive you and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty’” (2 Corinthians 16b-18).
On the natural level, the one thing the parent of an adopted child cannot give that child is his own biological life. On the supernatural level, in baptism, God can and does give us his divine life. This is not mere metaphor; this is a metaphysical reality. The person after baptism is not still in a state of total depravity as John Calvin would say. Nor is man after baptism “a dung hill covered in snow,” as Martin Luther would say. Grace is not a mere covering, like snow, to shield God’s eyes from our wretchedness. The grace given to us in baptism is God’s life infused into the center of our being and existence. It builds on, sanctifies and elevates human nature to the status of divine adoption. What Christ is by nature we are now my grace. We can now call the Father, “Abba.” God is no longer for us just the almighty, transcendent, omnipotent and perhaps seemingly impersonal, “God.” He is Papa, Daddy!
In baptism, original sin, and all personal sin committed to that point, is washed away in the flood of baptism. “…In the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you…” (1 Peter 3:20-21). Baptism is thus necessary for salvation. (cf. John 3:5)
As the waters of the flood and the Red Sea brought forth death and life, so too does baptism. There is a true death and resurrection. The person dies to the old self and is raised to newness of life. “Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we might live in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).
Let us pray that when a baptism takes place we call to mind what is actually happening. It should cause us to be awe struck and rejoice at such a great gift. I pray that each one of you may “…lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called…There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1, 4-6).
A man in the desert cannot wait for even the smallest sip of water. This is rightly so because he needs it to sustain his life. When he finally receives water, there is a sense of relief and joy, and he wants to drink more. What is true of the natural level is also true on the supernatural level.
We all thirst, whether we are conscious of it or not, for peace, joy, happiness and love. We realize that this thirst cannot be quenched by anything in our everyday life. We have an infinitely deep well that can only be filled by he who is infinite and eternal love. Jesus says to the Samaritan women, “…whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).
Adam and Eve lost the gift of divine life they were created with. Christ came to make it possible once again for us to, “share in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4, cf. “Catechism of the Catholic Church” number 460). Jesus also came to save from sin. He came to make it possible for us to share in his own divine life and sonship. This new life in Christ begins in the sacrament of baptism. However, God the Father, who knows how to teach, prepared us to understand baptism through foreshadowing and prophecy in the Old Testament. As the Fathers of the church taught, the figures of baptism in the Old Testament were given to authorize and explain baptism. The Father does not abolish the Old but gives it definitive fulfillment in the Son, and through the Spirit. In the next column, I will write about the New Testament fulfillment in Christ.
When God created, his Spirit moved over the face of the waters, and then he spoke his Word (cf. Genesis 1:1-2, John 1:1-5). So, in the beginning we have a link between the Trinity and water. This first creation foreshadows the new creation. Here we see the Holy Spirit associated with the sanctifying of water. “Since the beginning of the world, water, so humble and wonderful a creature, has been the source of life and fruitfulness” (CCC 1218). Tertullian once said, “Once the elements of the world were set in order, when it was to be given inhabitants, it was the primordial waters which were commanded to produce living creatures. The primordial waters brought forth life, so that no one should be astonished that in Baptism the waters are able to give life.”
The first letter of Peter mentions the event of the flood, “…in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you...” (3:20-21). During these events, sinners are washed away, and Noah and his family are saved. Water brings both death and life. It brings forth the destruction of something old and re-creates something new. In the deluge, we find many types of things to come. We have water and wood, baptism and the cross; Noah the just, Christ; the dove, the Holy Spirit; the ark, the Church; eight, the day of the Lord’s resurrection; the ark coming to rest, the Church resting on the Lord’s day.
The catechism identifies the crossing of the Red Sea as a type of baptism, “…literally the liberation of Israel from the slavery of Egypt, announces the liberation wrought by Baptism” (1221).Once again we see water bringing forth death, for those who brought about slavery; and life, for those who were in slavery. St. Paul teaches, “…our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1-2). Origen says, “That which the Jews consider to be the crossing of the Sea, St. Paul calls Baptism. That which they believed to be a cloud proves to be the Holy Spirit.” The exodus was their salvation from slavery; they were saved through water; and the cloud was the sign of God’s presence with them as they wandered through the desert.
Another typological prefiguration of baptism is found in the event of the crossing of the Jordan river by the people of God, led by Joshua, as they enter the promised land. Joshua, leading the people into the promised land, is a type of Christ, who is baptized in the Jordan, leading us to our heavenly homeland through baptism. Jesus’ name in Hebrew is Joshua. Jesus, the new Joshua, tells Nicodemus, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God, without being born of water and Spirit (John 3:5). St. Gregory of Nyssa draws further connections: “The Hebrew people did not receive the land of promise before they had crossed the Jordan under the leadership of Joshua. And also Joshua, in setting up the twelve stones in the stream, clearly prefigures, the twelve apostles, the ministers of Baptism.”
Last, we hear from the prophet Ezekiel how God will put the Holy Spirit back into us. He prophesies, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities…I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you…I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees. You shall live in the land I gave your fathers; you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” (36:25-26a). Through the instrumentality of water, God will give us once again the gift of divine life, by which it will be possible for us to live in the land promised to our fathers, which is nothing less than living in the midst of the eternal exchange of love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.