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Related: What is the earliest extrabiblical teaching of baptism using a trinitarian formula?

According to Oneness Pentecostals and others, baptizing in the name of Jesus, instead of the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is the correct form, and they point to Acts 2:38, 8:16, 10:48, and 19:5 as evidence for this position.

Of course, critics will argue that the main reason for this argument is that its proponents are avowed non-trinitarians. Still, it seems theoretically possible to me that even a trinitarian Christian, on this scriptural basis, might conclude that it is legitimate to baptize a new trinitarian Christian "in the name of Jesus."

So, my question. Would the Catholic Church ever recognize a baptism "in the name of Jesus" (i.e., without the trinitarian formula) as a valid baptism? If the baptizer and baptized were both Nicene trinitarians at the time of the baptism, might a "Jesus-name" baptism be considered valid? Are there any other conditions that could be met that would make it valid? By "valid," I mean that the baptized would not be required to be rebaptized upon conversion to Catholicism.

Perhaps suggesting "no," the Catechism reads:

In the Latin Church this triple infusion is accompanied by the minister's words: "N., I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." [1240]

But on the other hand, Cyprian suggests that Pope Stephen thought "Jesus-name" baptism was acceptable:

But, says [Stephen], the name of Christ is of great advantage to faith and the sanctification of baptism; so that whosoever is anywhere so-ever baptized in the name of Christ, immediately obtains the grace of Christ [Epistle 74.18]

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No, it could not be considered valid in that form. (Per the current teaching of the church). Valid baptism (per the Catholic Church) requires use of water and the Trinitarian form.

From the Catechism:

1239 The essential rite of the sacrament follows: Baptism properly speaking. It signifies and actually brings about death to sin and entry into the life of the Most Holy Trinity through configuration to the Paschal mystery of Christ. Baptism is performed in the most expressive way by triple immersion in the baptismal water. However, from ancient times it has also been able to be conferred by pouring the water three times over the candidate's head.
CCC 1240 In the Latin Church this triple infusion is accompanied by the minister's words: "N., I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." In the Eastern liturgies the catechumen turns toward the East and the priest says: "The servant of God, N., is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." At the invocation of each person of the Most Holy Trinity, the priest immerses the candidate in the water and raises him up again.

The shorthand for the above is "use of the Trinitarian form and water."

CCC 1271 Baptism constitutes the foundation of communion among all Christians, including those who are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church: "For men who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church. Justified by faith in Baptism, [they] are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church. Baptism therefore constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn."

That is a kinder statement than the one from the Council of Trent some centuries ago, which you can find at this link, in a summary from a ruling by The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:

The Council of Trent, confirming this tradition, defined that Baptism administered by heretics in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, with the intention of doing what the Catholic Church does is true Baptism (cf. DH 1617).

Without all three, and the use of water, the test for validity is not met.

The Code of Canon Law requires that the baptizing official determine whether or not a previous baptism was valid before baptizing someone. If a person had a valid baptism, a second one will not be administered. (Per the Nicene Creed "I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins ... ").

(Canon 864)Every person not yet baptized and only such a person is able to be baptized.

Canon Law further states:

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.

The test of correct matter and form in your question is easily discerned: if it lacks the proper matter and form of water and the Trinity, it does not meet the test of validity in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church.

An example mentioned in this question, and included in the previous link shows the detailed treatment given to establish validity or not (example being a Mormon Church).

The conclusion is that the rite/sacrament must meet the test of validity, or it will be held invalid by the Catholic Church:

Summing up, we can say: The Baptism of the Catholic Church and that of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints differ essentially, both for what concerns faith in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in whose name Baptism is conferred, and for what concerns the relationship to Christ who instituted it. As a result of all this, it is understood that the Catholic Church has to consider invalid, that is to say, cannot consider true Baptism, the rite given that name by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints.

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Christian baptism, as a practice, was instituted by Jesus Christ’s own command as contained in Matthew 28:16-20. With specific regard to baptism, Jesus is quoted as directing the apostles (and, by extension, the whole Church) to “[baptize] them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). For this very reason, the early Church taught that true baptism would have to follow in that formula. These are not the words of any priest, but the words of Christ Himself.

For that reason, the Roman Catholic Church –and any other historic church (Anglicans, Lutherans, etc), and/or any church that professes a Trinitarian faith/creed (belief in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit)- will not deem the Unitarian baptism (baptism into the name of Jesus alone) as being Biblical.

What does that do to our interpretation of the passages in Acts that you mentioned above ( Acts 2:38, 8:16, 10:48)? First, we must be careful to note the historical context within which these passages are mentioned. For all these passages, the people believed in God but had not yet believed in Jesus as the Messiah. For them, a Messianic understanding of God was the missing link. We receive forgiveness of sin through the Messiah. Therefore, it was required that they be baptized into the name of Jesus the Messiah. But if I’m not mistaken, this would then mean that another prayer for baptism of the Holy Spirit would have to be made in order for them to be filled with the Holy Spirit! And Acts 8:16, this is exactly what had to happen.

Baptism in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit appropriates to us all the benefits that come with being in fellowship with each member of the Trinity. If baptism into the name of Jesus alone was enough, then there would have been no need for what was recorded in Acts 8:16.

I wish I could explain it better, but I hope you find this helpful.

  • Welcome! Thanks for contributing. Ideally, I'd like to see evidence from official Catholic sources specifying that such a baptism would be invalid even in the circumstances I've described, but still, this answer might be helpful to some. If you haven't already done so, I hope you'll take a minute to take the tour and learn how this site is different from others. – Nathaniel is protesting Mar 9 '16 at 12:10

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