A Catholic priest in Arizona used the wrong word when performing baptisms for over a quarter of a century. Now his diocese is saying that the baptisms are invalid.
The issue is that the priest, the Revered Andres Arango was saying “we baptize you” when he was supposed to say “I baptize you.” The Catholic teaching is strict to their exact wording and because he say “we” instead of “I,” they are viewing these baptisms are invalid.
Baptism is a subject where there is a vast array of beliefs across Christendom. There are opinions on what baptism accomplishes, when a person can be baptized, who can do the baptizing, how a person is baptized, what is said when a person is baptized, the necessity of baptism. And then there are procedural questions. Are they sprinkled or dunked? If they’re dunked is it once, or is it three times (Father, Son, Holy Spirit)? And there are many other questions.
Because baptism is such an important part of the Christian faith, there have been many views over the centuries.
For the record, my view is that baptism is an outward action that is a public display of an inward faith. True baptism is done by the Holy Spirit for a person who is regenerated. That is the actual cleansing of the human soul, and this cleansing is symbolized with water through baptism. And so in my view, I don’t take the rigidity that Catholics have on baptism where it can be nullified by a person unwittingly saying one wrong word. It’s based in places such as Ezekiel 36 and John 3.
Why does one little word matter so much?
On the website for his local diocese, they say:
“It is not the community that baptizes a person and incorporates them into the Church of Christ; rather, it is Christ, and Christ alone, who presides at all sacraments; therefore, it is Christ who baptizes. The Baptismal Formula (the words used in the Rite) has always been guarded for this reason: so it is clear that we receive our baptism through Jesus and not the community.”
I find that argument interesting (I also find it to be a bad argument, but still interesting). I find it interesting that you can’t say “we” because it’s not the church who is doing the baptizing but that you must say “I” because it is Christ who baptizes…
But in practice, it is the priest who’s doing the baptizing. And I find it interesting that if the priest says “I,” that it’s tantamount to Jesus himself saying “I.”
So the baptism is contingent upon the grace of Christ and (in the Catholic view) a human priest serving as a mediator. Yet, if the priest says the wrong word, then the grace of Christ can’t be conferred to the person who has made a good faith attempt to be baptized? So Jesus is gracious, but the priest can make a mistake where the sacramental benefit of baptism is withheld? Sincere question. Doesn’t that imply that the priest is more powerful than Jesus? (I’m sure no Catholic would agree with that statement).
This certainly goes to part of the heart of the disagreement between Catholics and Protestants. Scripture and tradition. The Catholic Church gives essentially equal weight to tradition as scripture. And so their tradition and teaching is a certain wording. And even though that wording is found nowhere in the Bible, they view their interpretation as being absolutely binding.
There is also the issue of human priest as mediators. The role of a priest is that they serve as a mediator between man and God. Jesus is the great high priest who mediates between us and God (Hebrews 4:14-16). This is why most Protestants don’t believe in a priestly office today. Because we don’t have fallible priests who can say the wrong thing and mess us up with God. We believe in a great high priest who is perfect, Christ the Lord.
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