Baptism in Ecumenical Dialogue: Questions about the Trinitarian Formula

 — Apr. 12, 202412 avril 2024

With our recent celebration of the Easter Vigil in mind, it’s a good time to reflect on the ecumenical significance of baptism and offer a brief review of some of the dialogues that have taken place on this topic. From a Catholic perspective, the ecumenical significance of baptism is clearly affirmed in Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism, which states that: “all who have been justified by faith in baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers [and sisters] by the children of the Catholic Church” (#3).

Initially developed in the 1967 Directory Concerning Ecumenical Matters, implications of this statement are re-stated in the 1993 Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, which includes a section on validity of baptisms. It asserts: “Baptism by immersion, or by pouring, together with the Trinitarian formula is, of itself, valid.” The minister’s insufficient faith “never makes baptism invalid … unless there is serious ground for doubting that the minister intended to do what the Church does” (#95). While churches are encouraged to enter into dialogue in order to “arrive at common statements through which they express mutual recognition of baptisms,” the absence of a formal agreement “should not automatically lead to doubt about the validity of baptism” (#94, 99). If careful investigation indicates the need for conditional baptism, “the Catholic minister should show proper regard for the doctrine that baptism may be conferred only once,” and explain why a conditional baptism is necessary. Also, “conditional baptism is to be carried out in private and not in public” (#99). The ongoing ecumenical significance of baptism in Catholic thought is evident in the current Synod on Synodality (see the Synthesis Report 2023, ch. 7), where our common baptismal calling is a key theme in the discussions, particularly about vocation (ch. 3 and 14), orders (ch. 11-12), and the role of women (ch. 9).

Read the rest of this article in the One Body blog on Salt+Light Media

A 2001 report of the Roman Catholic-United Church Dialogue of Canada offers a concise summary of the first stage of addressing the question in this country:

In 1969, the Joint Working Group (JWG) of the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) received a request for an ecumenical study of baptism. The request was forwarded to the CCC’s Faith and Order Commission, which reported to the JWG on the results of its study in May 1972.

In its discussion of the topic on September 12, 1972, the JWG decided not to ask the churches to endorse the Report but to receive it “as documentation for a recommendation of mutual acceptance of baptisms.” The JWG formulated two recommendations which were forwarded to the churches on October 31, 1972:

1) that in the absence of evidence to the contrary they accept the validity of baptisms conferred with water, by pouring, sprinkling or immersion, accompanied by the Trinitarian formula;

2) that the churches adopt in addition to whatever certificate or certificates they now use, a common certificate to be agreed upon.

(Roman Catholic-United Church Dialogue of Canada, In Whose Name? The Baptismal Formula in Contemporary Culture, Appendix D.)

The CCCB’s December,1975 National Bulletin on Liturgy notes that in response to the 1972 JWG Report, Anglican, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian and United churches agreed that any one church would “recognize the validity of baptisms conferred according to the established norms of other churches.” Discussion on the question of a common baptismal certificate continued, but agreement couldn’t be reached and in 1980 that matter was dropped.

With the publication of the WCC’s Faith and Order study paper on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (BEM) in 1982, ecumenical dialogue on baptism was given new impetus. As many Canadian churches were considering their responses to BEM, the CCC’s Faith and Order Commission held a consultation in 1985 on the pastoral and practical implications of recognizing in that document an expression of “the faith of the church through the ages.” Among its recommendations was the suggestion that, given the agreement already achieved on the meaning and practice of baptism, a common catechesis might be developed.

Following the consultation’s recommendation, Commission members began their conversation in the spring of 1986. Consistent with the relationship between worship and belief expressed in the ancient Christian principle of lex orandi, lex credendi, the group agreed to base its study on the actual liturgical practice of its members: Anglican, Baptist, Disciples of Christ, Lutheran, Orthodox, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, and United churches. Results of the dialogue were published in 1992 under the title of Initiation into Christ: Ecumenical Reflections and Common Teaching on Baptism. The text marks an advance in reception of the ecumenical study of baptism in Canada. It was able to include a number of new participants: Coptic, Greek and Ukrainian Orthodox, as well as Mennonites, Salvation Army, and Society of Friends. Baptists –  most of whom firmly believe in adult baptism as a profession of faith – had felt marginalized in the earlier discussion but were now fully involved in the development of this 1992 document. In addition, the text is oriented towards use as a resource for ecumenical dialogue and study in a variety of different settings.

While there is much to celebrate in the Canadian churches’ efforts to promote the ecumenical reception of BEM, the possibility of new divisions arising out of contemporary concerns illustrates the fragility of what has been achieved. In particular, the CCCB’s Episcopal Commission for Ecumenism received reports of divergent practice in the use of the trinitarian formula among members of some of the churches who had been party to the earlier agreement on mutual recognition of baptisms. Brought to the attention of the CCC’s Commission on Faith and Witness (CFW) in the spring of 1995, members of the CFW agreed to survey the position and practice in their respective churches. In the spring of 1996, the commission reviewed the results of the survey and found no departure of any significance to the use of the Trinitarian formula (“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”) as stated in the earlier CCC agreement. In May 1996, the CCC Governing Board reviewed the Commission’s findings and agreed to forward them to the CCC’s member churches.

Bilateral dialogues have the advantage of being able to focus on concerns specific to the sponsoring churches, and in response to a proposal from the United Church’s Inter-Church and Inter-Faith Relations Committee, the Roman Catholic–United Church Dialogue of Canada agreed to look at the use of the Trinitarian formula in the baptismal liturgy. The dialogue began in October 1995 and took place over nine sessions, probing various aspects of the question and attempting “to spell out with clarity what might be gained and what might be put at risk if the United Church, or any other Christian community, were to give official approval to alternative baptismal formulae.” After an initial “review of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, and a summary of questions raised in feminist discussion of this doctrine,” participants gave careful thought to “what’s at stake in Trinitarian belief and language.” Taking account of personal experience as well as biblical, historical and theological positions, the group considered some criteria for proposing or recognizing alternative baptismal formulae, offered options for an ecumenically sensitive response to feminist concerns, and made recommendations specific to each of the sponsoring churches. A final editing of the report took place in November 1999 and the text, In Whose Name? The Baptismal Formula in Contemporary Culture, was published electronically in 2001. It included a brief study guide and an invitation to members of the two churches, as well as ecumenical partners and theological colleagues to join the dialogue.

Baptism and renewed interest in Trinitarian theology

Biblical evidence for early use of the Trinitarian formula in baptism is found in Matthew’s Gospel (28: 19), the composition of which is usually dated to about 95 CE. Like the followers of many other faith traditions, Christians maintain that God is mystery, beyond all human words and knowing. Yet, Christians also believe their encounter with God in the person of Jesus and the activity of the Holy Spirit has given them a special revelation about who God is. This experience is expressed in a Trinitarian monotheism, maintaining on the one hand, the oneness of God, as well as the divinity and full equality of the divine persons, and on the other hand, their mutual distinction from one another. From the initial debate on the oneness of Father and Son at the Council of Nicaea, later Councils have clarified the concept of Trinitarian Persons distinguished from one another through mutual inter-relatedness. This is well expressed at the Council of Florence (1441-1449) which affirms in God everything is one except for the relative opposition of the persons (Denzinger #1330).

In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in Trinitarian theology. Based on the idea of mutual indwelling in the Gospel of John (14:18-23, 15:4, 17:21) and the theme of perich?r?sis, or “coinherence” in the thought of John Damascene (675-721 CE), several theologians (e.g., Denis Edwards, Elizabeth Johnson, Catherine LaCugna, Richard Rohr) have reflected on the concept of relationship as central to the Christian understanding of a God who is Trinity. Further, more than mere speculation on the inner life of God, these theologians claim that it is an eminently practical doctrine, “one that has liberating implications for an understanding of the human person as a being-in-relationships, of creation as springing from divine communion, and of the church as a living sign of this divine communion.” (Denis Edwards, Ecology at the Heart of Faith, New York: Orbis Books, 2006, p. 74) Elements of these recent theological reflections could be helpful in developing a contemporary catechesis on the use of the Trinitarian formula in baptism.

More recently, a study document on Ecclesiological and Ecumenical Implications of Baptism produced by the Joint Working Group between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches in 2004 offers a comprehensive review of the growing convergence on a common understanding of baptism in the modern ecumenical movement. At the same time, the document recognizes that there still are important issues that need to be resolved before a genuinely common understanding of baptism can be affirmed. In addition, the text refers to the emergence of some new problems which will need to be addressed, lest the convergence and consensus achieved be somehow diminished. Among a list of eleven implications that the study paper draws from the growing ecumenical convergence on baptism, it is interesting to note that three of these have been on the agenda of Canadian dialogue groups: statements of mutual recognition (#103), development of an ecumenical catechesis (#104), use of Trinitarian language (#109).

Posted: Apr. 12, 2024 • Permanent link:
Categories: One Body, OpinionIn this article: baptism, Canadian Council of Churches, dialogue, Trinity, United Church of Canada, WCC Commission on Faith and Order
Transmis : 12 avril 2024 • Lien permanente :
Catégorie : One Body, OpinionDans cet article : baptism, Canadian Council of Churches, dialogue, Trinity, United Church of Canada, WCC Commission on Faith and Order

Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, speaks at a news conference to present the dicastery's declaration, <i>Dignitas Infinita</i> ('Infinite Dignity'), on human dignity at the Vatican press office

New Vatican document combines modern transparency with eternal teaching

 — Apr. 11, 202411 avril 2024

Two things struck me while reading Dignitas Infinita or “Infinite Dignity,” the new declaration on surrogacy, gender and life from the Vatican released April 8 by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

For one, the document sets a new standard for transparency about how it was written, and, second, it goes to lengths to impress on its readers how long the church has taught on these topics.

The document, which applies church teaching to current threats to human dignity, makes clear that human dignity does not depend on wealth, intelligence, social status or abilities, but on the intrinsic worth of every human being.
… Read more » … lire la suite »

Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada from 2019 to 2024

Anglican Primate Linda Nicholls announces plans to retire in September 2024

 — Apr. 9, 20249 avril 2024

Archbishop Linda Nicholls, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, has announced that she will step down from her role on September 15, 2024.

The canons of the Anglican Church of Canada require primates to retire upon reaching their 70th birthday. Archbishop Nicholls will reach mandatory retirement age in October.

Archbishop Nicholls was elected as the 14th Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada on July 13, 2019. She was the first woman to hold the office in Canada and only the second in the Anglican Communion.

Prior to her election, she served as Bishop of Huron (2016-2019) and Area Bishop of Trent-Durham in the Diocese of Toronto (2008-2016). She was also Coordinator for Dialogue for Ethics, Interfaith Relations and Congregational Development at the Anglican Church of Canada’s national office. She spent almost twenty years as a parish priest in the Diocese of Toronto.
… Read more » … lire la suite »

Pope Francis shakes hands with an Indigenous woman during an audience at the Vatican with people taking part in a workshop jointly sponsored by the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and of Social Sciences on the knowledge of Indigenous peoples and research carried out in the sciences

Indigenous wisdom and science can work together to solve crises, pope says

 — Mar. 14, 202414 mars 2024

The world’s cultures, traditions, spiritualities and languages must be acknowledged, respected and protected, especially those of Indigenous peoples, Pope Francis said.

The entire patrimony of human knowledge “should be employed as a means of overcoming conflicts in a nonviolent manner and combating poverty and the new forms of slavery,” he said in remarks read by an aide March 14 to participants attending a workshop at the Vatican.

The Pontifical Academies of Sciences and of Social Sciences jointly sponsored a workshop March 14-15 on the knowledge of Indigenous peoples and the work and research being carried out in the sciences.
… Read more » … lire la suite »

IARCCUM co-chairs Bishop David Hamid, the Church of England's Suffragan bishop in Europe, and Archbishop Donald Bolen, archbishop of Regina, Saskatchewan. Bishop pairs from 27 countries were commissioned by Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby at the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls on January 25, 2024

On recognition of ministries and the IARCCUM commissioning

 — Mar. 14, 202414 mars 2024

On January 25, at the annual ecumenical service in Rome that marks the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Pope Francis spontaneously invited Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to offer remarks after Francis’ own homily. Archbishop Justin’s reflection constituted a second homily, though it was called a “discourse” in the Vatican media. Such an invitation had only been offered to Orthodox bishops in the past, so this marked a significant sign of welcome between two leaders who have become close collaborators in a number of projects. On previous occasions, Archbishop Justin and his predecessors had been invited to offer remarks at a later portion of the liturgy, but never immediately after the homily.
… Read more » … lire la suite »

Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, speaks to Council of General Synod (CoGS). The primate will contact Canada's minister of health to express concerns over the expansion of medical assistance in dying and the need for palliative care, following a resolution passed by CoGS

Anglican Council of General Synod expresses concerns on medical assistance in dying

 — Mar. 13, 202413 mars 2024

The Anglican Church of Canada’s Council of General Synod (CoGS) has passed resolutions on the need for further discussion and education around medical assistance in dying (MAID), the formation of a discipleship and evangelism task force, and a review of the process by which ecclesiastical provinces elect CoGS representatives. General Synod last year referred all three resolutions to CoGS, which passed them at a March 9 online meeting held over Zoom.

Resolution C003, on MAID, reaffirmed “the teaching of Scripture that life is a divine gift, the call of the Baptismal Covenant to ‘respect the dignity of every human being,’ and the teaching of Jesus Christ that he has come so that people may have ‘abundant life’ (John 10:10).” It requested that Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, write to Canada’s minister of health expressing concerns about the expansion of the MAID program as well as the church’s support for a robust palliative care system.
… Read more » … lire la suite »

Coptic Pope Tawadros II, Patriarch of Alexandria

Copts suspend dialogue with Rome over same-sex blessings

 — Mar. 12, 202412 mars 2024

The Coptic Orthodox Church halts its theological dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church because of Vatican’s publication of “Fiducia supplicans

The Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria has made the momentous decision to suspend its two-decades-long doctrinal dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church after the Vatican recently approved blessings for same-sex couples, something Coptic officials have called a “heresy”.

The Holy Synod of the ancient, Egypt-based Church announced on March 7 that it had decided “to suspend the theological dialogue with the Catholic Church, re-evaluate the results that the dialogue has achieved since its beginning twenty years ago, and establish new standards and mechanisms for the dialogue to proceed.” The catalyst for the decision, however, was the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith’s publication last December of Fiducia supplicans, the document on blessings for couples “in irregular situations” — including those of the same sex.
… Read more » … lire la suite »

Members of the Methodist-Roman Catholic International Commission visited the offices of the Vatican's Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity

Methodists and Anglicans walking together with the Catholic Church in 2023

 — Feb. 29, 202429 févr. 2024

Original English text. A translation was published in the Italian edition of L’Osservatore Romano, 23 January 2023.

Like many ecumenical partners, Methodists and Anglicans walked very closely with the Catholic Church throughout many significant events in 2023. This common journeying has taken various forms, including sympathy and prayerful solidarity on the occasion of the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI at the very beginning of the year, to participation in the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in the later part of the year, with many other events and encounters in between.
… Read more » … lire la suite »

The Peace Tower on Canada's Parliament buildings

Announcing the Justice & Peace Library

 — Feb. 28, 202428 févr. 2024

The Canadian Council of Churches is pleased to announce the launch of a new archive website:!

This digital library contains over 25 years of theological resources, position statements, advocacy letters, briefing notes, and other materials. They can be used as a starting point for thought, conversation, advocacy, and ecumenical participation. These resources arose through ecumenical dialogue, communal prayer, bible study, and advocacy efforts amongst members of the CCC‘s Commission on Justice and Peace. Statements and letters from the Canadian Council of Churches, Canadian churches, and religious leaders are also included in the archives.
… Read more » … lire la suite »

A Canadian Pastoral Letter on Ukraine, Canada and the Church: As we approach the second anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine
Une lettre pastorale Canadienne sur l'Ukraine, le Canada et l'Église : À l'approche de deuxième anniversaire de l'invasion à grande échelle de l'Ukraine par la Russie

Church and Christian Leaders of Canada Call for Peace as War in Ukraine Enters its Second Year

 — Feb. 16, 202416 févr. 2024

As the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine approaches on February 24, Christian leaders of Orthodox, Catholic, Evangelical, and other faith traditions in Canada, together with the World Evangelical Alliance’s Peace & Reconciliation Network, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and the Canadian Council of Churches invite all Christians and people of goodwill to join in united prayer and action for peace.

This call to prayer and action—signed by 45 Canadian Church leaders—also acknowledges ongoing conflict elsewhere in the world:

“Without in any way minimizing or ignoring the suffering and sorrow caused by war and violence in other areas of the world, we stand together in inviting Christians and all people of goodwill to prayerfully consider how we are all called, and might contribute to, the achievement of peace in and for Ukraine.”
… Read more » … lire la suite »