BAPTISM - The Baptism of Heretics and the Orthodox Church
One of the most serious accusations leveled against Traditional Orthodox Christians is that we ‘re-baptize’ non-Orthodox believers who have already been baptized using the Trinitarian formula in their former churches. The allegation is serious because if it is true then every Traditional Orthodox Bishop and priest who has administered the sacrament of baptism to non-Orthodox believers is liable to be deposed. The canons of the Church are absolutely clear on this point. Canon 47 of the Canons of the Holy Apostles of the Pedalion says:
If a Bishop or Presbyter baptize anew anyone that has had true baptism, or fail to baptize anyone that has been polluted by the impious, let him be deposed, on the ground that he is mocking the Cross and death of the Lord and failing to distinguish priests from pseudo-priests.
Critics often use this Canon to claim (wrongly) that Traditional Orthodox priests and Bishops have all been ‘deposed’ for daring to ‘re-baptize’ those with ‘valid Trinitarian baptisms’. Well, there are two things we need to consider before we can even talk about depositions, excommunications and reductions to the lay-state – all catchphrases tossed about carelessly in today’s extremely chaotic ecclesiastical atmosphere.
Firstly, despite their fondest wishes, our critics may need to note one troublesome point: they claim that Traditional Bishops and priests are ‘automatically’ deposed by the very act of ‘re-baptism’. This is a very convenient thing, this ‘automatic’ defrocking – but unfortunately, it is not an Orthodox thing. It is a Roman thing. Only the canon law of the Roman Church knows excommunications and depositions incurred latae sententiae – in other words, automatically. Orthodox ecclesiology knows no such thing as automatic sentences. The juridical body in the Orthodox Church is the Holy Synod of Bishops canonically in charge of a particular geographical area – the province. Only the Synod may apply the rules (canons) of the Church in a particular case. In the Orthodox understanding, rules – no matter how perfectly framed – do not have immediate juridical power. They have to be applied by the living successors of the Apostles, the Bishops. Of course, these successors have to be successors in fact, not successors merely in name. For example, if you have a so-called ‘Orthodox’ bishop who has communion in prayer with heretics, schismatics and pagans, overturns the Church calendar so as to celebrate feasts in common with other so-called ‘sister-Churches of world(ly) Christianity’, allows the cremation of the dead – you get the idea…
So, you have a rule, given in wisdom by the Fathers. It has to be applied to a particular case by the living successors of the Apostles who carry on the mantle of apostolic authority given by our Lord. These successors have to be true successors in faith and not merely in name. Then, you have a valid deposition. (This is why, although we all know that Nestorius was an out and out heretic and heresiarch even before the Third Ecumenical Council was convened, he validly occupied the post of Patriarch of Constantinople until the Council met and deposed him. Church history is full of such examples.)
My question is this, then: when was this process completed against any Traditional Bishop or presbyter?
Now we come to the more interesting (and important) issue: critics attack the Church for ‘re-baptising’ heterodox who in their opinion already have a ‘valid Trinitarian baptism’ (that is baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’). Let us read Canon 47 again. The Canon does not make any reference to ‘a valid Trinitarian baptism’ – it only alludes to a ‘true baptism’. So, in the mind of the Orthodox Church, there isn’t any issue of a ‘valid Trinitarian baptism’. Either a baptism is a true baptism, or it isn’t. If it is a true baptism, then, well – you are baptized and fully in communion. If it is not a true baptism, oops - you have a false baptism and you are not in communion.
Therefore, when a Traditional Orthodox Bishop or presbyter baptizes an heterodox believer, he is not ‘re-baptizing’ the person, but baptizing him or her for the very first time with the true Orthodox baptism which alone guarantees salvation.
Thus, in the first instance, there is no such thing as ‘re-baptism’ when the issue concerns people joining the Church from a schism or heresy. There is only baptism. In the second instance, Orthodox priests and Bishops are specifically commanded by this Canon to administer this baptism - for if they do not administer true baptism to those who do not have it, then they would be guilty of mocking ‘the Cross and death of Our Lord and failing to distinguish between true priests and pseudo-priests.’
So, in effect, we have only one question we need to ask ourselves: what is true baptism? If we could define what true baptism administered by true priests is, then it would follow quite simply that everything else would be false baptism, thus requiring a true baptism to be administered at the point of admission to the Orthodox Church.
The problem is that today many Orthodox are caught up in the ecumenist propaganda and believe that what constitutes ‘true’ baptism is the mechanical repetition of the Trinitarian formula. In other words, as long as a person has had water poured, sprinkled, splashed on him or her with the words ‘I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit’ – then, the person is magically and automatically baptized, no matter who the person saying the words (and doing) the action is.
Is this what we are to understand of the dogma of salvation – that it is merely mechanical thing, requiring nothing more than a magic act?
This bizarre theology is the product of the Western mindset, that as long as a man has had hands laid on him by a valid Bishop, then he too becomes a valid bishop. So, whatever this ‘valid’ Bishop does, whether baptizing, chrismating or ordaining also became automatically valid ad infinitum. This error was further perfected by Thomas Aquinas, the Latin doctor, who declared that as long as the baptism had the right ‘matter’ (water – poured, sprinkled or thrown, whatever) and the right ‘form’ (the ‘right’ words – the Trinitarian formula), then the baptism was valid.
[Thomas incidentally got his theology not from the Bible, but from Aristotle, and that, by the way of commentaries of Islamic scholars such as Avicenna. The idea of form and matter is an entirely Aristotelian concept. Thomas applied it to all sacraments (mysteries) until each one of them, in the Roman conception, has an appropriate ‘matter’ and ‘form’, that makes them automatically and magically valid. Well, if you said Hey Presto and you waved the wand…]
What is the Orthodox teaching, then? The mysteries (or sacraments), including baptism, are the continuation of Christ’s presence and work in the world, and the visible means of Christ’s invisible grace. They are, in short, the means to participation in the life of the Risen Lord. It is this life that transforms man by grace into god (theosis). This is the aim of the Christian life – to be transformed so that our very being closely resembles by grace what God is by nature.
This life is ever present in the Church, which is the True Vine into whom the life of Christ is forever flowing. It is for this reason that the Apostle St Paul makes the connection between faith and baptism in his famous line to the Ephesians ‘One Lord, one faith, one baptism’ (Ephesians 4:5). Only by knowing the One Lord may one come to the one, true Faith. If one’s knowledge of the one Lord, the Holy and Indivisible Trinity, existing in three hypostases (persons) of Father, Son and Holy Spirit – but sharing the one indivisible ousia (essence) is deficient, then one’s understanding of the Faith will also be deficient. If one’s Faith is deficient, then one’s baptism by which one enters in communion with the Risen Christ will also be deficient and non-existent. [St Maximos the Confessor teaches that the aim of Faith is the salvation of man. To him, perfect faith, or union with God is achieved by means of growing from simple faith based on hearing and keeping the dogmas of Revelation to a perfect faith, based on directly attaining union with God. St Maximos points out that the heretic who fails to keep the Revelation as received by the Apostles intact, loses any possibility of growing to perfect faith, and consequently, attaining union with God, and thus, salvation).
The Orthodox Church, by ever proclaiming the True Faith (orthos ‘right’; doxia ‘praise, belief) in the Holy Trinity, never deviating even for a moment into the errors of the Arians, Monophysites and Nestorians preserves the true knowledge of God. This allows it to worship rightly the ineffable Godhead in Three Persons. This preserves its baptism from error and invalidity.
Also, because the Faith is one, as the understanding of the one true God can only be one, then the Church is also one – because only a community that preserves and proclaims this true and one Faith can be the visible sign of the life in Christ. Anyone, who believes as this Church believes, is in communion with it. Anyone, who does not, is not. The true Church by its adherence to the truth of the Faith administers true baptism. Anyone, who believes differently from how this Church believes, administers false baptism.
This is why the Roman Church and the Anglican Church and the myriad Western Churches do not possess true baptism: because they do not possess the true faith and the true understanding of the Trinity. All of them, without exception, subscribe to a erroneous view of the Trinity, ascribing the procession of the All-Holy Spirit to the Father and the Son. This degrades and destroys the monarchical principle of the Father who sends; the Son who is sent by the Father and the Spirit who proceeds from the Father.
Of course, one is forced to admit that they baptize in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit – but we ask with fear and trembling– which Father, which Son and which Holy Spirit are they referring to? Their error is as serious as the error of the Arians who by the word ‘Son’ believed in something altogether different from the Orthodox who believed that the Son of God was God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity who is sent. To the Arians, the Son was merely a pre-eminent creature. This is why St Athanasius, whose words were confirmed by the Sixth Ecumenical Council says in his third discourse against the Arians [quoted in the commentary on the Pedalion by:D.Cummings, P 68, W.H. Houldershaw Ltd, 1908]:
“The Arians are in danger even in the very plenitude of the mystery – baptism, I mean. For while perfection through baptism is given in the name of the Father and of the Son, the Arians do not refer to the true Father owing to their denial of the likeness of the essence emanating from Him, thus they deny even the true Son, and conjuring up another in their imagination built out of nothing real, they call this one the Son…” (emphasis mine)
St Basil in his First Canon makes this point even clearer.
“But who, though he has attained the acme of wisdom, can maintain or believe that merely the invocation of the names of the Holy Trinity is sufficient for the remission of offenses and for the sanctification of the baptism, even when, the one baptizing is not Orthodox?” (Ibid., emphasis again mine)
These two examples, among others, show very clearly, how the baptism of heterodox Romans and Protestants, who like the Arians do not preserve the true knowledge of the work of, and relations between, the Persons of the Holy Trinity, is always invalid, and therefore, a false baptism. They have not known the One Lord, because they have not received the One Faith – therefore, their baptism is not the one baptism administered by the one Church, and is thus, void.
Lastly, our critics like to point to occasions in Church history when Romans and others were, indeed, received by chrism (even before the heresy of ecumenism). This was hardly an innovation! At various times in Church history, the baptism of heretics and schismatics has been accepted as valid as a measure of economy (see 7th rule of the Second Ecumenical Council and the 95th rule of the 6th Ecumenical Council). St Basil, who was nobody’s idea of an ecclesiastical compromiser, states in his First Canon that while schismatical baptisms are in fact, invalid, the decision of the Fathers of Asia to declare them as valid ‘for the sake of economy of the multitude’ may be accepted. As Cummings notes in page 70 of his commentary, economy was used to facilitate the returning of the heretics and schismatics to the salvific Faith of the Church so that they may not become even more confirmed and depraved in their error. It never meant that heretical and schismatical baptisms were valid. They just meant that the Church was exercising compassion to draw as many men to the true knowledge of Christ as possible by making up for the deficiencies in their baptisms by the authority it had received from the Lord to ‘loose and bind’. Receiving converts by chrismation was an exception to the normative rule of the Church that considered all baptisms outside the Church to be false and devoid of grace. It was always an extraordinary act of charity exercised by the deliberations of Synods of God-bearing Fathers. It was never a normative dogmatic decision.
It was in this spirit that the Church of Constantinople and Russia had accepted some heterodox throughout history by chrismation. The ecumenists attempt to subvert this exceptional act into a permanent ruling just shows a remarkable failure in their reasoning.
The Orthodox Church has never, God forbid, rejected the constant teaching of the Fathers that baptisms outside the Church are truly invalid, and all seeking admission to the One Fold of Christ must be baptized with the true baptism of the Church.
This is what the traditional Christians have done and continue to do. Those who reject and criticize us, only confirm more strongly their departure from the Patristic mindset and praxis.
And this need not surprise us: their teachers, sadly, are no longer the Fathers of the Undivided Church, but the scholars and theologians of ecumenism and the lowest common denominator Christianity of present day Constantinople, Rome, Canterbury and Geneva.