PODCAzT 31: Hilary on the the gift of baptism; valid and invalid sacraments

In today’s PODCAzT we hear St. Hilary of Poitiers (+367), the malleus Arianorum speak across the centuries.  He talks about what the Holy Spirit does in us by baptism.  He does so, of course, against Arian and Sabellian heretics.

I rant a while about Mormon baptism and also staying away from the sacraments because you don’t think your priest is good enough.

For the first time I can integrate some audio feedback into a PODCAzT, this time from Colm in Ireland! 



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Of all things! Senator Clinton in order to get the catholic vote is commenting on the Holy Spirit and giving her two cents worth about valid and invalid sacraments.She should go back to talking about socialistic healthcare.There is a separation of Church and Sate.

  2. Fr. Z,

    Out of curiosity, what is that opera piece near the end of your podcast?

  3. Lucevan le stelle from Tosca.

  4. Happy Anniversary, Father.

  5. Toni B says:

    Happy Anniversary, Father. You’re a treasure!

  6. Charles Robertson says:

    Great podcast Father Z! I really like hearing both the readings from the Fathers and your commentariy on them. I thought your discussion of the validity of Mormon baptism lacked some necessary precision however.For instance, when you say that their understanding of the Trinity is defective, you leave the impression that a proper understanding of the Trinity is necessary for valid baptism. The problem with the Mormon understanding is not that it is simply defective (heretical), but bears no relationship at all to any kind of Christian thought (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three “gods” who have the same nature as us). Also, as regards the defective intention, this springs from their belief that baptism was instituted by God at the creation of the world and not by Christ. Their baptism, then, is not Christ’s baptism, but their own. Sorry to nitpick you like this, I really love your blog and can’t wait for your next podcast (especially if it happens to be on Augustine). God bless!

  7. Charles: I don’t think I left the impression that one proper belief in the Trinity is necessary for baptism to be valid. I think I was pretty clear that Mormons very clearly DON’T intend what the Church does and that their beliefs have nothing to do with Christian beliefs. They manifestly believe something contrary to the Church’s teaching about a lot of things. And one can’t do everything in the short time alloted. Thanks anyway. I am glad someone listened and paid attention enough to produce comments.

  8. Father,happy anniversary!

  9. Geometricus says:

    Father, I thank God that you are a priest. Thank you for putting your estimable gifts at the service of Holy Mother Church. Thank you for sharing your knowledge of the Fathers with all of us, especially me, a “homo minor ad intellectum iudicii et legum.” Happy Anniversary. St. Phillip Neri, pray for us!

  10. Clara says:

    “They don’t intend to do what Christians do; they intend to do what they do.”

    But of course, Mormons think they are Christians, so they would say that, through baptism, they are initiating people into the Christian faith. Is that not what Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans and all the rest think they are doing when they baptize? Presumably your reply would be that, when Mormons are try to bring a person into “the Christian faith,” they don’t have the right understanding of what that is. So, whatever they’re initiating people into, it isn’t Christianity.

    Fine, okay. But then a lot comes down to defining what the Christian faith is, which is hard to do. I think Mormons understandably feel a bit persecuted at times, when it seems like liberal Protestants of all kinds (including people who seem to disbelieve at least half the things written in the New Testament, and people who think that Christ’s miracles, up to and including the Resurrection, never really happened) are let under the wire while the Mormons are left out. Probably you’d agree that a lot of the liberal Protestant types aren’t Christians either, but a lot less talk is dedicated to excluding them from the Christian family. Mormons are left scratching their heads: we don’t have the right understanding of God, but all these people do? You can see how that must sound to them.

    You said above that Mormon beliefs have “nothing to do with Christian beliefs.” That’s rather an exaggeration, don’t you think? Perhaps you think there’s some slippery double-talk going on when they make statements about “God”, so I won’t get into that. Some things, though, are less ambiguous. Let me explain it this way. Let’s suppose that we set up two booths outside two churches, one Mormon and one Catholic. When the people came out of church on Sunday, they’d be asked to take a little survey with questions like the following: Do you believe that Jesus Christ was literally born of a virgin? Do you think he walked on the Sea of Galilee during a storm? Do you believe that he literally died (no pulse and no heartbeat for a period of days) and then rose from the dead? With the Catholic church the results would depend a lot on which parish you chose, but in some I’d bet a goodly percentage would answer “no” or “not sure” to at least some questions. But in just about any Mormon church you picked, I’m betting the vast majority would give a resounding “yes” to all the questions listed above, with no hesitation. Now, I realize that there’s more to being a Christian than taking these Gospel stories as literally true. But it seems mighty funny to say of a group like that that their beliefs “have nothing to do with Christian beliefs.”

    Perhaps I should clarify at this point that I’m basically on your side. I think Mormons are, strictly speaking, not Christians. I even put my money (or perhaps I should say my soul) where my mouth is when I apostized from my native Mormon faith a couple of years ago, and was baptized a Catholic. So. I agree that they’re confused about a number of things, but I think Mormons are in some respects a lot closer to orthodoxy than many Protestants I’ve known. That might make them more pernicious in the long run, since they draw people away from the true faith who would never consider becoming Unitarians, but it raises a lot of questions when the Church declares that they’re not Christians.

    I suppose, on the one hand, the Nestorians and the Monophysites were declared heretics for offences that seem in retrospect much less egregious than the errors of the LDS church. But in those cases the Church was making a clear pronouncement on an issue that had already crystalized in the minds of the theologians. The truth is, it’s difficult to evaluate the orthodoxy of Mormon dogma because their beliefs aren’t clearly codified in anything equivalent to a Catholic catechism. There’s a strong anti-intellectual streak in the Mormon church, and a lot of their top brass tend to be businessmen, not trained theologians. They don’t have brilliant, philosophically sophistocated folk like Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict articulating their dogma. So I guess it’s not surprising that it’s pretty hard to get to the bottom of what the Mormons really think. The crazier bits are always the ones that make the press, but they aren’t necessarily that central to the religious lives of actual Mormons. For example, anti-Mormon writers make a lot of the “what man is God once was, and what God is man may become” business, and that idea has had a lot of influence in the Mormon church, but you don’t hear very much about it if you attend an actual Mormon Sunday School class. It’s impossible to say whether that doctrine should count as “de fide” for Mormons, since there really is no such thing.

    Okay, I’m rambling now, but here’s what I really wanted to tell you. Two things, actually. The first is a friendly tip: the simplest way I know to explain why Mormons can’t be Christians. That is: they don’t accept Catholic baptisms as valid. If you’re a Catholic and you want to be a Mormon, you have to be baptized again. Now, of course, that itself is not *the reason why* Mormons aren’t Christians, but it seems like a good way to judge. Lutherans who baptize might be badly confused about what God is or what the Church is, but at least they think they’re doing the same thing the Catholics are doing when they baptize. So it’s possible for us to understand them as, in a sense, imperfect Catholics; they’re under the Church’s mantle without fully realizing it. Mormons, on the other hand, think of themselves as having a church entirely independent of the Catholic church, and that’s what they’re bringing people into when they baptize. So they can’t be intending to do “what the Church does” in even an imperfect sense. I find that that nutshell explanation satisfies many people who are just confused when I tell them that Mormons “understand God in a different way.”

    My second comment is this: when you discuss people who think they’re Christians and aren’t, I don’t think the Mormons should always be the flagship example. I mean, I’m in favor of truth, and thus I’m in favor of helping the world understand why Mormons aren’t Christians, but if that’s the only group you hear about it does start to seem like a kind of bizarre discrimination. (Sometimes the Jehovah’s Witnesses are thrown into the mix too, but the Mormons are always the favorite.) Mormons can perhaps be *systematically* excluded since they have a whole organization whose beliefs can, to a certain degree, be scrutinized abd declared false. But if they’re not Christians because they have a wrong understanding of God, there have to be a lot of other folks out there who wrongly think that they’re Christians. I think people need to hear more often about Protestant groups who are like this. If your church baptizes people in the name of “mother, child, womb”, you’re not a Christian. If your Protestant sect prizes the writings of Rudolph Bultmann or The Jesus Seminar, you should maybe be worried about the validity of your baptism. A lot of people entering the Catholic church from Protestantism get conditionally rebaptized, which seems like an excellent idea to me. I know the Church always likes to be as generous as possible in extending her graces to anyone whose baptism was anywhere close to valid, but as I say, if the Mormons don’t count as Christians, it seems to me that there must be a host of other people who are likewise living under false assumptions, and the Church might have some obligation to make that more widely understood.

    Thanks, Fr. Z, for everything that you do.

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