Only One Baptism: Catholic
One complaint that is often waged against our Lord is that He often said definitive things, and this is not confined to morality. Those who wish to make Christ in their own image really need to come to terms with this. Many things our Lord says have to do with His own identity and mission. A key reason for this is because He was trying to establish correct faith and belief in Him as the eternal Son of God, and to let us know that God is hardly made in our image.
These realities certainly may make many uncomfortable nowadays because many are not living as they should. We are made by God and that God came to redeem us from sin in a very specific way, and we are to conform ourselves to Him. Learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of heart (Mt. 11:29).
When God is perceived in the wrong way, it becomes very easy to act wrongly and then to justify ourselves in things that are actually offensive to Him.
Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the dictatorship of relativism afflicting the Western world, a dictatorship because it makes truth arbitrary and holy religion a matter of opinion. Fallen human nature, when left to its own devices, will always tend in this direction, and so we see why Christ in coming to set the record straight then establishes a Church with clear marks of identification and divine origin – unity, holiness, universality, and apostolicity – that will constantly keep setting the record straight until the end of time.
In his epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, writes one faith, one Lord, one baptism. (Eph. 4:5)
This acknowledges that the unity God desires amongst men is something that goes beyond what this world can provide. It is of supernatural origin and is a unity that exists consequent of a unity of belief founded upon the willful submission to the same authority, which is then expressed through the unity of authorized worship.
In a nutshell, it is authority that inseparably links together correct faith and correct worship. When Christ commanded St. Peter and the rest of the Apostles to teach, govern, and sanctify all nations until the end of time, Christ bestowed upon them (and their successors) His own divine authority that guarantees that the unity of belief in the Church will be maintained, a unity that is positively willed by God and is most necessary for the salvation and sanctification of our souls. (cf. Mt. 28:19)
The Baptism of our Lord, which is the octave day of Epiphany, is very significant for the matter at hand because it amounts to the first of three validations by God the Father of all of Christ’s words and works (the Transfiguration and Resurrection are the other two). In the Gospel read for the Mass of the feast, we hear the testimony: He upon whom thou shall see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, He it is that baptizes with the Holy Ghost. (Jn. 1:33) In the Gospel according to St. Luke accounting the same event, this is exactly what happens: the Holy Ghost descends upon Christ in the form of a dove and the Father’s words are heard: Thou art My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. (Lk. 3:22)
The divine power and authority Christ possesses is clear and so Baptism – and all the other Sacraments which form the Church’s worship – have their spiritual power and efficacy on Christ’s account. Moreover, in virtue of their origin from Christ, these same Sacraments belong solely to His Church and only the Church has the authority and right to regulate the administration of the Sacraments.
So when the Holy Ghost, speaking through St. Paul, says that there is only one baptism, it indicates the baptism Christ instituted that belongs to His visible Church on earth, having its power and efficacy from the Cross, and placed under the authority of the Apostles and their successors. Recall that when a person is baptized, the question is asked of what he wants from the Church of God, and the reply is “Faith,” that is, belief in all that God has revealed through Christ and entrusted unchanging to His Church which possesses His authority.
In consequence, since there is only one Baptism, there can only be one true Faith. By getting baptized, a person’s soul, in being cleansed of original (and any actual) sin, is then marked and configured to the special work of the Holy Ghost for the maturing of that one true Faith, which has as its end the vision of God and eternal life.
In essence, and in virtue of Christ’s command to the Apostles to baptize all nations, the person who is baptized acquires the right to correct instruction in the one Faith because the soul is now configured and disposed to receive it; along with this comes the right to be admitted to the other Sacraments for the purpose of perfecting that Faith.
This is why Baptism is called the seed of eternal life and is the most necessary of all the Sacraments. However, sanctity is gained through the perfection of charity by way of correct Faith, so our heavenly happiness actually begins at Baptism, and is matured through the fulfillment of that Great Commandment to love God with our whole mind, soul, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.
This totality God commands is only possible if there is only one true Faith to guide us. Any religion outside the Catholic Church, though perhaps possessing some elements of the true Faith, deviates from the entirety and fullness which God wills for us to possess and enjoy, either by way of deviation from the Church’s teaching, a loss of the Sacraments, or a rejection of the Church’s authority.
Therefore, if there can only be one Baptism, then this Sacrament admits entry into the one and only Faith which Christ bestowed upon His Church and was entrusted to His Apostles until the end of time. Baptism comes from Christ and is ordered towards the Faith He established – the effects must always be the same when and where it is validly performed. So when a phrase like “non-Catholic” or “Protestant baptism” is used, it denotes a baptism performed outside of the Church’s authority, but all the while having the same effect with the same rights for further instruction.
True, God does take ignorance into consideration but, objectively, the thought of any Baptism that admits for and validates any other faith runs contrary to Sacred Scripture.
Nonetheless, Baptism, since it has its origin in Christ, always will carry with it a dispositive quality towards the reception of the entirety of divine truth. For those baptized outside the Catholic Church, this requires humility to accept; for those baptized within the one true Church, this requires charity and good example in enlightening those who share the same one and only Baptism, but not the same profession of the Faith it infuses. Both situations, however, require patience and courage because, when dealing with our eternal salvation, we must stand ready to be excluded by the world in making decisions to firmly walk the path Christ commands.
But in the end, it is not so much Catholics being excluded by the world (are we not feeling the pressure?), but Catholics having the conviction to exclude its errors from our lives – to be in the world but not of it – and that only happens if we firmly believe, live, and evangelize the reality of only one Faith which comes from one Lord and one Baptism.
January 13, 2021