ASK FATHER: Rebaptism and membership in two Churches at the same time?

baptismFrom a reader…


Is a person who was baptized a Roman Catholic and later re-baptized in the Coptic Orthodox Church a member in good standing of both Churches who can receive communion in either one?

A dear friend of mine was baptized and raised in the Roman Catholic Church. As an adult, he was drawn to the Coptic Orthodox Church and decided to become a full member of that Church. He had to be re-baptized to do so because the Coptic Orthodox Church does not accept Roman Catholic baptism. He believes that he is now a full member in good standing in both the Roman Catholic and Coptic Orthodox Churches and can receive communion at either one or go to Mass at either one on any given Sunday.

My friend is hoping that I, too, will get re-baptized in the Coptic
Church. I decided that I can never do so. I thought that baptism was a sacrament that could only occur once, and so I am therefore concerned that getting re-baptized somehow implies a rejection of the Roman Catholic faith. Also, it makes no sense to me to belong to both Churches because (while most of the Christian faith is held in common) the two Churches have a few contradictory beliefs that as best as I can tell are incompatible with each other. Additionally, I am concerned about my friend; hoping that if he is separated from the Roman Catholic Church that this will be remedied and wondering what he would need to do to go about doing this.

Of course you can be members of both Churches! What was it St. Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians? “There are two Lords, two faiths, two baptisms.”

Oh wait …no!  That’s not what he said, is it!

A person can only be baptized once.  Once means once.  I’ll leave aside here the issue of conditional baptism as it doesn’t apply.

If the first baptism is valid, it can never be repeated.

Some of our Eastern friends do not believe that Catholic baptisms are valid, and so, when a Catholic wishes to join their Church, they are rebaptized. They’re, of course, dead wrong about the validity of our baptisms.  They are wrong about a lot of things. But even they would agree with us that a person can’t be simultaneously a member of two Churches.

In seeking entrance into a different Church, your friend has committed an act of schism (defined in can. 751) and in submitting to a rebaptism, thereby denying the validity of his original baptism, has committed an act of heresy. Depending on his level of understanding, he may have incurred the automatic excommunication spoken of in can. 1364.

In any case, he is NOT in good standing with the Catholic Church, whose baptism he has rejected by seeking a second baptism elsewhere!

This person should be encouraged to seek out a good confessor, posthaste, to help him sort out his situation and return fully (and exclusively) to the practice of the Catholic Faith.

If he is attracted to the liturgy and spirituality of the Coptic Orthodox Church, he might do well to seek out the nearest Coptic Catholic Church, which is in union with Rome. As a Catholic, he may participate fully in the liturgy of the Coptic Catholic Church without renouncing his Catholic baptism.

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  1. TheDude05 says:

    Ah bad catechisis strikes again. Even my mom an ardent Protestant knew the answer to this, when she was joining the Baptist church they wanted her to be rebaptized and she told them she wouldn’t join because there was nothing wrong with her first one. I would be curious to find out why certain Eastern Sects find that our baptism is invalid, it follows Christ’s instructions and I thought they schismed after the one baptism argument had been settled.

  2. Elizabeth D says:

    Also, the Coptic Orthodox Church is monophysite aka monothelite (they believe Christ has one divine nature, rather than having both human and divine natures; the historical reasons behind this split are highly political and language-group-related). Probably the issue is they do not accept the baptisms of non-monophysite Churches.

    My Catholic parish hosts a small Coptic Orthodox group to have their liturgies on our premises. I am not aware of any kind of problems or confusion that have arisen, generally there is no contact between them and the Catholic parishioners.

  3. FL_Catholic says:

    Trying to be a member of two Churches at the same time strikes me as a spirtual form of polygamy. Just as you can’t be married to two spouses at the same time, you can’t be “married” to two “Spouses” at the same time. You can’t serve two masters.

  4. TWF says:

    Elizabeth D:
    This is not true. Yes, the Oriental Orthodox (which most of us in the West are not even aware of) have been in schism with both Rome and Constantinople since the 5th century in the wake of the Council of Chalcedon, and yes, for the better part of 1500 years we did indeed condemn them as monophysite heretics…but this is no longer the case. After years of dialog between our theologians, Pope St. John Paul II signed a common declaration of faith on Christology with the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch (who is in full communion with the Coptic Orthodox Pope) in 1984. It sadens me that three decades later so many Catholics still dismiss them as monophysite heretics when Pope St. John Paul made it clear that they are not.
    Oddly, while the Coptic Orthodox Church re-baptizes Catholics, I believe the Syriac Orthodox Church recognizes all of our sacraments…even though they are both in full communion with each other.
    Many also confuse Eastern Orthodox (Byzantine tradition in communion with Constantinople) and the Oriental Orthodox (Non-Chalcedonians including the Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopian, Armenian, and Malankara Orthodox Churches) , but they are two completely distinct communions with very distinct traditions. In some ways, despite the schism with the latter being much more ancient, I feel we Catholics are closer to the Orientals than we are to the Easterners. The Copts and Syriacs, for example, seem to attribute a true primacy to their Pope / Patriarch that goes beyond the mere primacy of honor promoted by the Byzantines.

  5. David Zampino says:

    Thank you, TWF, for your clarification — you responded before I had a chance to do so.

    In 1988, there was an “Agreed Official Statement” between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria regarding Christology. Here follows the key portion of the text:

    “We believe that our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Incarnate-Logos is perfect in His Divinity and perfect in His Humanity. He made His Humanity One with His Divinity without Mixture, nor Mingling, nor Confusion. His Divinity was not separated from His humanity even for a moment or twinkling of an eye. At the same time, we anathematize the Doctrines of both Nestorius and Eutyches.”

    Two years later, a similar statement of agreement was made between the Coptic Church and the Orthodox Churches.

    It must be remembered that the controversies in Egypt in the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th centuries were political as well as theological — and that there were significant language difficulties as well.

    Elizabeth D., there is also a key difference between the “monophysite” heresy and the “monothelite” heresy, although the latter did arise from the former. The “monophysite” heresy denied (or, at best, minimized) the human Nature of Jesus. The “monothelite” heresy, while acknowledging that Jesus had a human Nature, denied that He had a human Will. The former heresy was addressed at the 4th and 5th Ecumenical Councils, while the latter was addressed at the 6th.

    I agree TWF that in some respects the Catholics and the Orientals do seem closer in some respects than the Catholics and the Orthodox. I fervently pray for unity — authentic unity — within the Body of Christ.

  6. DetJohn says:

    There only two active fulltime Coptic Catholic parishes in the USA.

    St. Mary on Newell St., in Los Angeles, CA 90039

    Resurrection Chapel on 14th/St., Brooklyn, NY 11215

    There are once in awhile Coptic Catholic Liturgies in Boston, MA and Nashville, TN

  7. Father P says:

    Speaking as the Ecumenical Officer for my Diocese there a few things I have learned about the Coptic Orthodox.

    (1) Their sacramental theology does not have a category or the language for the “conditional” celebration of the sacraments so the language they use is “re-baptism”. For most Coptic Orthodox (they have their “raddy-traddies” too who would take a harder line) this would be understood in the same way that we would speak of as a “Conditional” Baptism.

    (2) Because of the situation in Egypt intercommunion and Orthodox belonging to Catholic parish and vice versa is common. Which means that for most Coptic Christians the schism is experienced as “de jure” but not “de facto”. As one Coptic Orthodox priest put it to me “You can’t be concerned with all the particulars and distinctions of canon law when there are people trying to kill you.”

    (4) Membership in the Coptic Orthodox Church provides some privilege and protection under Sharia Law in Egypt especially with regards Marriages but I think that only applies to those “Baptized” as Coptic Orthodox so the re-baptism is more a result of the particular situation in Egypt than a theological rejection of Baptisms celebrated in the Catholic Church.

    (5) The Coptic Pope is trying to change some of the practices such as re-baptism and forbidding mixed marriages especially for the Coptic Orthodox outside of Egypt where the political and religious situation is more relaxed, ie the US but is getting some pushback from fearful members of the Holy Synod of Alexandria

  8. Elizabeth D says:

    My pastor stated to parishioners via the parish bulletin that the Coptic Orthodox held monophysite views, and the way I recall it he said he had a conversation with the Coptic Orthodox priest asking about this and was told that this is so. Was there some kind of misunderstanding? I have no idea, but I do know this did not affect them being welcomed to have their liturgies in our parish facilities.

    Also, it seems to me anyone who believes Christ has only one (divine) nature, also believes He has only one (divine) will. These are overlapping concepts. But I actually meant to use “miaphysite” as an alternate term for monophysite, since I understand monophysite is considered pejorative by some whereas miaphysite isn’t.

  9. Flavius Hesychius says:

    Elizabeth D—

    There is a difference between the two. As I understand it, monophysitism holds that Christ had only a divine nature, but miaphysitism holds that the two natures of Christ are united. I realise the difference is… hair-splitting at best, and Byzantines and Orientals have used tons of paper and ink discussing the differences, and miaphysitism’s relationship to the view of Chalcedonian Christianity.

    And actually, none of the eastern churches, whether Oriental or Byzantine, recognise Catholic sacraments as valid; however both Churches practice an extreme form of economia wherein those who have been baptised are received via Chrismation only. Now, in some cases, the convert may, out of his own discretion, choose to be baptised within the Byzantine/Oriental tradition. Any convert has this option if previously baptised. I do note, however, that the Orientals are more hard-line about this, strongly preferring all converts be baptised in the Oriental tradition. We Eastern Orthodox, however, are generally more lenient, with the possible exception of the Russian Church.

    The rationale behind this is that both bodies claim to be the Church, and therefore exclusively recognise their own sacraments as valid, and no others.

    And, TWF, no, the Coptic Pope does not hold any primacy in the Catholic sense of the word. The Syriacs do not view him as their pope—he is merely the Patriarch of Alexandria, as they have their own patriarch. The Catholic sense of ‘primacy’ is totally foreign to both Orthodox bodies, and his authority ends once one has passed from his jurisdiction. Now, his jurisdiction is certainly very large, but he has zero authority in other autocephalous Churches*. For example, when the Ethiopian and Eritriean Churches were granted autocephaly (self-rule), his authority immediately ceased. So, there is no difference in the Byzantine and Oriental views of episcopal authority.

    *I should mention that many of the larger branches of the Coptic Church (not the Oriental Church entirely, but the Oriental Church of Alexandria) have been granted ‘autonomy’, meaning they are essentially independent, except when it comes to the appointment of bishops (amongst other, more minor things). Those are not done by the Pope, but by the Synod of the Coptic Church, which is the highest authority of the Coptic Church.

    Father P is correct about the situation (as far as I know, exclusively) in Egypt: the Greek and Coptic Patriarchs of Alexandria now recognise the Mysteries of Baptism and Marriage from each other’s Churches. I also believe this matter is to be further explored at the Pan-Orthodox Council in 2016, with the possibility of extending it to the entire Orthodox Church (of course, the Council may also declare Alexandria to be in error—these things happen).

    To be brutally honest, I don’t think either ‘flavours’ of Orthodoxy see themselves as being any closer to communion with the Roman Catholic Church than they’ve ever been. Whilst they do see communion with each other (that is, the two Orthodox bodies) as a real future possibility (there are three things really separating us and the Orientals: the calendar, the distinction—if one exists—between miaphysitism and dyphisitism, and overlapping jurisdictions) I am not so certain either of them even view communion with the Roman Church as a real possibility. They may be optimistic, but optimism is a poor substitute for reality.

    I should also clarify one small point (and, I don’t think TWF meant anything by it, nor am I trying to single him/her out): being in communion with Constantinople does not define us as Orthodox. I realise that one of the hallmarks of being Catholic is communion with the Bishop of Rome, but that idea, the idea that communion with a particular bishop determines where one stands, is, as far as I know, of no currency in the Orthodox Church. We attach very little real importance to particular episcopal sees. They may have respect by virtue of their age, but that is the extent of it. Simply put, being in communion with Constantinople no more makes us Orthodox than being in communion with the Metropolis of Rhodes.

  10. TWF says:

    No I didn’t mean anything by the Constantinople comment. I am well aware that Constantinople could cease to exist as a see tomorrow without compromising the workings of Orthodoxy. That being said, for political reasons it historically had far more influence over Orthodoxy than it does today. Furthermore, ancient canons grant Constantinople the right to hear appeals from other Churches, no? Regardles it remains a convenient way to identify your communion for outsiders.
    Regarding primacy, I wasn’t speaking of universal primacy. Primacy is exercised at all levels of the Church. I know that the Coptic Pope has no authority outside of the Coptic Church. What I meant is the Coptic Pope seems to have more authority over the Coptic Church, and the Syriac Patriarch seems to have more authority over the Syriac Church, than an Eastern Orthodox Patriarch has over his church. Even within the local church, I am constantly informed by Eastern Orthodox that the patriarch or head bishop has no real authority beyond a primacy of honour outside of his local diocese. This doesn’t seem to be true in Oriental Orthodoxy. Eastern Catholic Patriarchs, while they work with their synods, likewise have real authority over the entire Church Sui iuris, and not just their own local diocese.

  11. Legisperitus says:

    Wonder if there might also be a sin of sacrilege involved (simulating a sacrament), if there had already been a clearly valid baptism.

  12. aquinas138 says:

    TheDude05 –

    I think that Flavius Hesychius addressed your question about Eastern non-acceptance of Western baptism, but I would add the following. Generally speaking, the Eastern Churches follow a “Cyprianic” (as in St. Cyprian of Carthage) view of the sacraments, rather than the “Augustinian” view the Roman Church has. A very practical illustration of the difference is in the case of schismatic bishops ordaining men as bishops, priests and deacons. The Augustinian/Roman view is that such ordinations (assuming proper form and matter) are valid but illicit. The Cyprianic view is that such ordinations are simply invalid, as there is no real distinction between validity and liceity. The reasoning is that the Church’s “powers” cannot be transferred outside of the Church, and schismatics are outside of the Church. This position, though rejected by the Catholic Church, does have the advantage of taking care of the problem of episcopi vagantes – they aren’t bishops no matter how perfectly the ritual is observed. This is also the reason very many Orthodox (whether a majority or not, I don’t pretend to know) believe Catholic sacraments to be “without grace”, i.e., not true sacraments – Catholics are outside of the Church, and so the Church’s sacraments do not go with them.

    Besides this theological difference, the Orthodox (whether Eastern or Oriental) take the necessity of triple immersion in Baptism very seriously. Though Western baptisms by infusion or aspersion can be “perfected” by extreme economia, the emphasis would definitely be on “extreme,” even if such is regularly applied. They would insist that the Pauline image of death and burial in Baptism is not adequately reflected in the practices of infusion and aspersion, and thus is not adequately visibly signifying what is happening invisibly.

  13. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    It would be interesting to hear from the “friend”. For example, does he consider his Coptic baptism conditional? Does he think he is merely living out the 1988 “Agreed Official Statement”? Does he see it as an extrapolation in line with the possibilities in some circumstances for Orthodox and Catholic faithful to receive communion from each other’s Celebrants?

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