8

The Catholic Church teaches that once a person is baptized, they cannot (or must not) be baptized again. I'm asking this question in that context, looking for a Catholic answer.

What is the consequence or effect of being baptized a second time?

Generally, if there is any concern that a person may have been baptized before, a conditional baptism may be used, in essence saying "This is a baptism only if you haven't been baptized before." I'm not asking about a conditional baptism. I'm asking about one proper baptism, followed by another proper baptism.

Here's an example of how this situation could come up:

Susie is raised in an atheist family. As an adult, she becomes a Christian and goes to her local priest to be baptized. He asks if she was ever baptized before, and she says she never was, believing this to be true. The priest baptizes her.

Later, Susie discovers that her parents weren't always the strict atheists they are today, and that when she was an infant, they had her baptized (in a way the Catholic church would consider valid).

What would the priest tell Susie when she asks about the consequences or effects of her second baptism?

  • In my experience, the RCC goes to great pains to avoid this kind of thing for people entering the church. Five years assisting our RCIA ministry found this: a great deal of effort is put in to tracking down such background information. That said, your scenario could happen in the case of the person herself not being aware until someone tells her after the fact. – KorvinStarmast Feb 7 '16 at 13:21
10

Nothing.

The Code of Canon Law states:

Every person not yet baptized and only such a person is able to be baptized.

(Canon 864; emphasis added)

Here's what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about baptism and why it can only be received once:

Incorporated into Christ by Baptism, the person baptized is configured to Christ. Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ. No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation. Given once for all, Baptism cannot be repeated.

(Catechism, paragraph 1272)

In other words, baptism (the first time) marks a person out as belonging to Christ. It is a consequence of this marking (the "seal" of Baptism) that a person is made part of the Body of Christ, purified from original sin, and given justifying and sanctifying grace:

Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte "a new creature," an adopted son of God, who has become a "partaker of the divine nature," member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.

(paragraph 1265)

The Most Holy Trinity gives the baptized sanctifying grace, the grace of justification:

  • enabling them to believe in God, to hope in him, and to love him through the theological virtues;

  • giving them the power to live and act under the prompting of the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Holy Spirit;

  • allowing them to grow in goodness through the moral virtues.

(paragraph 1266)

The baptized have become "living stones" to be "built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood" By Baptism they share in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission. They are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that [they] may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called [them] out of darkness into his marvelous light." Baptism gives a share in the common priesthood of all believers.

(paragraph 1268)

If someone is inadvertently re-baptized, nothing particular happens. The person has already been marked out as part of Christ's flock; has already been made part of the Mystical Body of Christ. A second baptism has no effect on that:

Baptism imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual sign, the character, which consecrates the baptized person for Christian worship. Because of the character Baptism cannot be repeated.

(Catechism, paragraph 1280)

No penalty or censure is attached by the Church to conferring or receiving a second baptism (inadvertently or otherwise); however, the importance the Church places on baptizing only once can be seen in their instructions (in the Code of Canon Law) to priests on baptizing those who might possibly have been baptized before (including in another Christian community whose baptism is recognized as valid):

Canon 869 §1. If there is a doubt whether a person has been baptized or whether baptism was conferred validly and the doubt remains after a serious investigation, baptism is to be conferred conditionally.

[That is, the priest is required to carry out a thorough investigation, and if after that the priest has any reason at all to believe that the person might possibly have been baptized, he is to give only a conditional baptism—saying not "I baptize you" but instead, effectively "If you haven't been baptized, I baptize you."]

Canon 869 §2. Those baptized in a non-Catholic ecclesial community must not be baptized conditionally unless, after an examination of the matter and the form of the words used in the conferral of baptism and a consideration of the intention of the baptized adult and the minister of the baptism, a serious reason exists to doubt the validity of the baptism.

[If someone has been baptized by another Christian denomination, they're presumed to have been baptized validly, and thus will not be re-baptized at all—even conditionally—unless there is serious reason to believe that the Catholic Church doesn't recognize that baptism as valid.]

Canon 869 §3. If in the cases mentioned in §§1 and 2 the conferral or validity of the baptism remains doubtful, baptism is not to be conferred until after the doctrine of the sacrament of baptism is explained to the person to be baptized, if an adult, and the reasons of the doubtful validity of the baptism are explained to the person or, in the case of an infant, to the parents.

[So if the priest determines that the person has, or may have, already been baptized, he needs to explain to the adult baptizand or to the parents just exactly why the Church considers them already baptized, and why they're going to be baptized conditionally or not at all. They have to understand what's going on and why.]

Canon 870 An abandoned infant or a foundling is to be baptized unless after diligent investigation the baptism of the infant is established.

[Even in the case where there aren't any parents available, you still have to investigate the possibility that a child might have been baptized.]

This is something the Church takes quite seriously, even though it doesn't penalize for it. To make it easier to discover whether someone has been baptized, the Church requires priests who baptize to make a record of the fact in the permanent parish record:

The parish priest of the place in which the baptism was conferred must carefully and without delay record in the register of baptism the names of the baptised, the minister, the parents, the sponsors and, if there were such, the witnesses, and the place and date of baptism. He must also enter the date and place of birth.

(Code of Canon Law, Canon 877, section 1)

And this record needs to be duplicated in the diocesan records as well:

A diocesan bishop is to take care that the acts and documents of the archives of cathedral, collegiate, parochial, and other churches in his territory are also diligently preserved and that inventories or catalogs are made in duplicate, one of which is to be preserved in the archive of the church and the other in the diocesan archive.

(Code of Canon Law, Canon 491, section 1)

Thus, even if the pastor doesn't know whether someone has been baptized, he needs to at least ask where they grew up—the chancery office (administrative division) of the diocese including that city or town will have a record of any such person being baptized.

  • The problem is that different denominations have differing ideas about what is a 'proper baptism'. There is no definitive interpretation, but the consequences of a second baptism are a matter of convention rather than serious theology, so it's no big deal. – Gordon Stanger Nov 3 '15 at 22:21
  • 5
    @Gordon In the Catholic Church there is a definitive interpretation, and there is a lot of serious theology around it. – Matt Gutting Nov 3 '15 at 22:54
3

In your example, Susie's second baptism would, as others have already explained, be invalid. Since neither she nor the priest knew about her previous baptism, the invalid baptism would not constitute a sin. Nevertheless, there's a problem for Susie: An invalid baptism does not remit sins. Any mortal sins that she committed after her first (valid) baptism and before the second (invalid) one would have to be confessed in order to obtain the forgiveness that she thought she already had from the second baptism.

1

Moreover, in addition to what has been said above, do not forget to add to the introductory premise the scriptural answer to justify Canon Law (for both the Orthodox and Catholic Churches): …(4) There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; (5) one Lord, one faith, one baptism, (6) one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.… Ephesians (4:4-6)

Furthermore, a fundamental truth of the original "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church", in order to unify the Church and dispel heresies and contradictions to the true Logos of God, can be referred to the acknowledgement of Holy Baptism in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (381 A.D.) from the First Council of Constantinople: "... we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins, we expect the Resurrection of the dead, and life of the ages to come." This fundamentally shows how Baptism is to be understood in the axioms of Christianity.

Another individual in a response comment indicated that "there is no definitive interpretation, but the consequences of a second baptism are a matter of convention rather than serious theology; so it is no big deal". Nevertheless, by the above premise, this statement is a contradiction to Holy Scripture and to the original and true form of the Christian Church, and therefore cannot be true. By direct example, Protestantism continues to re-define original Christian dogma and alters original Church doctrine by individual interpretation, which is dangerous in its acceptance of origin and assumption by man's fallibility.(1)

(1)Refer to the topic of hermeneutics for a complete delineation between Protestantism's interpretations and that of the Orthodox Church for scriptural assertiveness: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_hermeneutics

Additionally, in his forward to R. C. Sproul’s 'Knowing Scripture', J. I. Packer observes that Protestant theologians are in conflict about biblical interpretation. To illustrate the diversity of biblical interpretations, William Yarchin(2) pictures a shelf full of religious books saying different things, but all claiming to be faithful interpretations of the Bible. Bernard Ramm(3) observed that such diverse interpretations underlie the “doctrinal variations in Christendom.” A mid-19th century book on biblical interpretation observed that even those who believe the Bible to be “the word of God” hold “the most discordant views” about fundamental doctrines.”

(2) William Yarchin, History of Biblical Interpretation: a Reader (Hendrickson, 2004), xi.

(3) Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation:A Textbook of Hermeneutics, 3rd rev ed (Baker Academic, 1980)

The original Christian Church (defined by Orthodoxy) is pre-demoninational by definition, (is not differentiable into alternate sub-forms) and therefore cannot be placed in the subspace of churches that defy the origins of the incorruptible Body of Christ, and that consequently re-define Church dogma.

For a more complete theological explanation of the juxtaposition and consequences of baptism and salvation, please refer to this thesis paper by Victor E. Klimenko, Ph.D., a graduate of the Pastoral School of the Chicago and Mid-America of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.

Specifically, section 1.9,1.10,1.11,1.12,1.13 for those who wish to see how baptism relates to the continued struggle of committing sin: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/46463.htm

Excerpt:

"The grace of baptism lost because of sins can be restored in the Mystery of Repentance. The Church has always viewed confession of sins as “second baptism”: just like in baptism, God, seeing one’s true desire to reject sin, erases it and gives him strength to stay in this decision. This reconciliation to God is something we are called to renew again and again. In 2 Corinthians Apostle Paul, addressing the baptized Christians, says: “We pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20)."

  • Welcome to Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. When you have a minute, be sure to check out the site tour and read up on how this site is a little different than other sites around the web. This is not a comment on the quality of your answer, but rather a standard welcome message. – ThaddeusB Nov 6 '15 at 5:05
  • I'm not sure I understand -- what are you trying to say the effects of an inadvertent second baptism are? – Joe Nov 6 '15 at 6:36
  • Second baptism falls into the realm of man's reinterpretation of scripture and questioning the authenticity of established dogma of the original Christian Church; having already defined itself since the first councils in 325AD and 381AD. Hermeneutics of scripture is controversial with neo-groups altering traditional sacraments by randomly re-defining original Christian practices, all the while referring to their standards as "Christian". This consequently brings into question the definition of salvation, the theological concept of the wedding garment in Christ, and authenticity of scripture. – Blasius Boundary Layer Nov 6 '15 at 7:03
  • That is to say, what would stop another group from saying that "salvation requires 3,4 or 5 baptisms to be saved"?, which is contradictory to scripture and the explanation of early Church fathers. This similarly reflects the turmoil of Martin Luther who had difficulty in believing that God never truly forgave him for his sins, even though he religiously attended confession. Baptism is the official marriage in Christ (enveloping the entire body in the Holy Spirit). – Blasius Boundary Layer Nov 6 '15 at 7:24
  • “…the sacraments act ex opere operato (literally: “by the very fact of the action’s being performed”) by virtue of the saving work of Christ, accomplished once for all. It follows that “the sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God.” From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister... Catechism of the Catholic Church (1128-1129) – Blasius Boundary Layer Nov 6 '15 at 7:36

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.