This is a historical question. I'm interested in the earliest instance that the Catholic Church (whether by the Vatican or by a bishop) accepted a Protestant baptism for a catechumen (a convert), thus the Confirmation sacrament did not have to be preceded by even a conditional sacrament of Baptism. Was this before Trent, after Trent but before Vatican II, or only after Vatican II? Which bishop did it first?

What was the occasion, the rationale? Was the original rationale back then the same as the current rationale? Maybe the council of Trent itself addressed this? Was there a document?

A related question that does not need to be answered, but only to sharpen the issue to be addressed in the rationale. By the same rationale to accept Protestant baptism for catechumens, what if these same Protestants did NOT become catechumens? Was it possible for them to be saved (since baptism is only a factor) while remaining in their Protestant churches because the Catholic church teaches that by any valid baptism they would have received the Trinitarian life (born again)?

If the answer is yes, wouldn't this contradicts the (older) Catholic notion that Protestants who denied certain Catholic-specific dogmas were not saved? Or perhaps only Protestants who through no free and conscious act of denials were saved? For example: they live in a country whose prince is Protestant (cuius regio, eius religio) so they were not free to convert to the Catholic Church, OR they were open minded about these dogmas?

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    I think you will find a satisfactory answer beginning on the actual pg. 357 of St. Francis de Sales' "The Catholic Controversy": ia800302.us.archive.org/22/items/catholiccontrove00sain/… (Chapter 3---The Intention Required in the Administration of the Sacraments)
    – DDS
    Aug 16, 2023 at 15:46
  • @I.Chekhov Thanks. that's helpful. A non-PDF direct link to page 357 is here. Aug 17, 2023 at 14:26
  • Thank you for providing the page link. Perhaps some day I'll learn how to do that. :)
    – DDS
    Aug 17, 2023 at 14:29
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    @I.Chekhov Basically, you can analyze the URL pattern which follows an established website convention (although older). As you can see in the second link, the PDF link is subsidiary to the page about the book (see "Download Options" section). So the root link starts with "details/" followed with the URL segment catholiccontrove00sain, and followed by additional URL segment indicating the page number. The archive.org book reader automatically updates the full URL as you navigate the book. Aug 17, 2023 at 14:31

4 Answers 4


The Catechism of the Council of Trent fully accepted baptism administered by heretics and infidels, provided that those who administered the sacrament intended to do what the Catholic Church did [does]. That is, even heretics, let alone other Christians. In Part 2: Baptism, it deals with the three "gradations" of those who may administer it.

Those who may administer baptism, in case of necessity, but without its solemn ceremonies, hold the third and last place; and in this class are included all, even the laity, men and women, to whatever sect they may belong. This power extends, in case of necessity, even to Jews, infidels, and heretics; provided, however, they intend to do what the Catholic Church does in that act of her ministry. Already established by the decrees of the ancient Fathers and Councils, these things have been again confirmed by the Council of Trent, which denounces anathema against those who presume to say, " that baptism, even when administered by heretics, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, with the intention of doing what the Church does, is not true baptism."

As the Catechism of Trent says, that practice was "already established by the decrees of the ancient Fathers," that is, the earliest Councils of the Church.

It is an immemorial custom.

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    Is there a definition of "doing what the Church does"? (How could a Jew—I assume this refers to religion rather than ethnicity—or infidel intend to do that?)
    – adam.baker
    Aug 17, 2023 at 11:31
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    @adam.baker yes, intending to do what the Church does means that your intention is that the Sacrament be effiicacious in the way that the Sacrament is held to be by the Church. So, as the Church teaches that baptism cleanses the soul of original sin and regenerates it unto new life in Christ, anyong who baptizes with valid matter (water) and form (correct words) and has that intention effects a valid baptism. Even an atheist could do so, as he could condition his intention (if God exists, I want to do what the Chruch does). Thus, Protestants who believe the same about baptism validly baptize.
    – jaredad7
    Aug 17, 2023 at 13:59
  • Yes, this answer feels right that the elements of intention (which includes meaning such as in @I.Checkov 's comment pointing to this book) and the formula (Trinitarian) and the manner (by water) are the only consideration since time immemorial, thus Protestants (a later schismatic that was not as "heretic" as those involving Christological / Trinitarian heresies, including LDS & JW today) can still be agents of baptism for the whole Christian church. Aug 17, 2023 at 14:23
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    @SLM: I would hold the LDS has no similar intent and does not even recognize the same god. While the Jews on the other hand I hold recognize the same God.
    – Joshua
    Aug 17, 2023 at 20:14
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    @adam.baker In theory, yes. In practice, I don't see them saying a Trinitarian formula in the right intent, since they don't believe in Trinity. And Mormons don't even believe in the same God as we do. Aug 18, 2023 at 8:13

Since when did the Catholic church accept Protestant baptism, and what was the original rationale for accepting?

This dates at least to the Council of Trent:

Canon IV - If any one saith, that the baptism which is even given by heretics in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, with the intention of doing what the Church doth, is not true baptism; let him be anathema.

In other words Protestants always employed back then the sacrament of baptism using the Trinitarian formula which is to be used even in the Catholic Church. The early Protestant sects were almost all unanimously Trinititarian.

This does not contradict the (older) Catholic notion that Protestants who denied certain Catholic-specific dogmas were not saved? Being born into an heretical sect is not the same as leaving the Catholic Church to become a Protestant. That is a huge difference in the eyes of the Church.

  • About your last paragraph, in the eyes of the Catholic church, is there a difference between a Protestant who remains "on the fence" regarding Marian dogmas & Papal infallibility than a Protestant who actively denounce them as "heresy"? Aug 17, 2023 at 14:37
  • @GratefulDisciple True enough, but I could make this post considerably longer.
    – Ken Graham
    Aug 17, 2023 at 14:46
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    Your penultimate sentence ("not the same") is undoubtedly correct as apparently one of each type cannot validly marry (as in the case of Boris Johnson), but it is not clear to me what the distinction is given both have had Christian baptisms and then held heretical beliefs.
    – Henry
    Aug 17, 2023 at 20:00
  • @GratefulDisciple it’s an old post but in my experience “on the fence” is not a neutral position or really a position at all. You can a) act as though the doctrine is true yet still be unsure if its justifiable or true or b) act as though the doctrine is untrue yet still be unsure if it is unjustifiable or true. If you are in b you are rejecting the teachings of the church and thus in schism from her doctrines.
    – Luke Hill
    Apr 11 at 2:14
  • @LukeHill I was going to argue for a third possibility, but in the end I think you're right about neutrality. I suppose I should clarify what I meant by "on the fence": someone who act as though the doctrine is untrue but is still unsure whether he is right. Versus someone who act as though the doctrine is untrue and is sure that the doctrine is false. You're saying that both count as "in schism", which I don't dispute. But is there another distinction that the Catholic Church offers? Maybe ignorant vs. culpable? Apr 12 at 14:35

Until recently, with its rejection of Latter Day Saints' baptism (see here and here), the Catholic Church has always accepted "Protestant" baptism as valid.

The question of whether the baptism of heretics and schismatics is valid or not, arose centuries ago about 250 CE between Pope Stephen and Bishops Cyprian and Firmillian.

Cyprian et al argued this way in short. (emphasis mine in the quotations)

and holding it for certain that no one can be baptized abroad outside the Church, since there is one baptism appointed in the holy Church. And it is written in the words of the Lord, “They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out broken cisterns, which can hold no water.”2812 And again, sacred Scripture warns, and says, “Keep thee from the strange water, and drink not from a fountain of strange water.”2813 It is required, then, that the water should first be cleansed and sanctified by the priest,2814 that it may wash away by its baptism the sins of the man who is baptized; because the Lord says by Ezekiel the prophet: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be cleansed from all your filthiness; and from all your idols will I cleanse you: a new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.”2815 But how can he cleanse and sanctify the water who is himself unclean, and in whom the Holy Spirit is not? since the Lord says in the book of Numbers, “And whatsoever the unclean person toucheth shall be unclean.”2816 Or how can he who baptizes give to another remission of sins who himself, being outside the Church, cannot put away his own sins? Epistle LXIX of Cyprian

If you are outside the Church, your baptism is invalid. The Catholic Church at the time argued heretics and schismatic baptisms were valid, even though the object (Trinity) was not the same in each instance (inside or outside the Church).

Cyprian, by the way, was very keen on the priestly line, requiring a valid priest to cleanse the water first. The heretics and schismatics do not have that "valid priest" he believed. Oddly Pope Stephen does not agree.

Cyprian sharpens the difference in another letter.

For the Lord after His resurrection, sending His disciples, instructed and taught them in what manner they ought to baptize, saying, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”2854 He suggests the Trinity, in whose sacrament the nations were to be baptized. Does Marcion then maintain the Trinity? Does he then assert the same Father, the Creator, as we do? Does he know the same Son, Christ born of the Virgin Mary, who as the Word was made flesh, who bare our sins, who conquered death by dying, who by Himself first of all originated the resurrection of the flesh, and showed to His disciples that He had risen in the same flesh? Widely different is the faith with Marcion, and, moreover, with the other heretics; nay, with them there is nothing but perfidy, and blasphemy, and contention, which is hostile to holiness and truth. How then can one who is baptized among them seem to have obtained remission of sins, and the grace of the divine mercy, by his faith, when he has not the truth of the faith itself? For if, as some suppose, one could receive anything abroad out of the Church according to his faith, certainly he has received what he believed; but if he believes what is false, he could not receive what is true; but rather he has received things adulterous and profane, according to what he believed. Epistle LXXII

Lastly, Firmillian replies to Stephen this way.

And as Stephen and those who agree with him contend that putting away of sins and second birth may result from the baptism of heretics, among whom they themselves confess that the Holy Spirit is not; let them consider and understand that spiritual birth cannot be without the Spirit; in conformity with which also the blessed Apostle Paul baptized anew with a spiritual baptism those who had already been baptized by John before the Holy Spirit had been sent by the Lord, and so laid hands on them that they might receive the Holy Ghost. Epistle LXXIV

This sharp distinction shows Church accepts only Trinity baptism, but not that of heretics and schismatics who do not believe the Trinity.

For the Catholic Church, however, heretics and schismatics baptisms' at that time were all valid. As already mentioned, only within the last century has the question of the sameness of belief in the Trinity entered its differences.

So, to answer the OP, the earliest reference to the Catholic Church recognizing the validity of heretical or schismatic (ie Protestant) baptism is circa 250 CE.

As to the question of salvation, whether a valid baptism, is all that is necessary, it seems to be a different question.


I could not found the full answer to your questions. What I did find may be far to local and particular for you, but maybe it can be of any help:

I found that the three major protestant churches of the Netherlands and the Roman catholic Church in the Netherlands officially recognised each others baptisms in 1967. In 2012 nine Dutch churches, the Roman Catholic Church included, (re)affirmed these earlier declarations. In this declaration all baptisms, including those outside of any of the nine churches, that were within the norms in this statement, were recognised by all nine.

Within the context of these statements, I found a study that says that the discussion between the churches and about recognition of baptisms started at least with Cyprianus and Stephanus in the third century, between Augustinus and the Donatists, and between Calvijn and Zwingli and a group I don’t know how to translate, but in Dutch something like the re-baptisers.

In all these documents and studies I did not find a formal recognition by the Roman Catholic Church as a whole of “outside” baptisms, but I cannot imagine the Dutch statements could have been signed without historical precedent or papal agreement.

I hope this can be a small help.

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    I think re-baptiser = anabaptist. Aug 16, 2023 at 16:43
  • Thank you. The Donatists sets a good pattern, yes, for Catholic post-Reformation acceptance of Protestant baptism, but the rationale is different. In the Donatists' case the rationale is the validity of baptism by priest/bishop in a state of mortal sin. I don't think this Is directly applicable as rationale for Protestants since Protestant pastors don't claim apostolic lineage like in the Donatists case. Aug 16, 2023 at 17:26
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    Yes, thank you, anabaptist was the word I was looking for!
    – ABM K
    Aug 17, 2023 at 8:00
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    @GratefulDisciple, that is correct. The rationale given in the Dutch documents is different, it is more focussed on the validity of the act, than on the validity of the minister. If you’d like I can try to translate some of it here, but I hope someone can find sources more of the world Church than my recent (1967, 2012) Dutch documents
    – ABM K
    Aug 17, 2023 at 8:03
  • I sometimes find it useful to ask the question, "what if the other position were correct?" Let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that the Donatists had got it right. Let's also suppose that a priest has secretly ceased to believe, but he continues to perform his duties because he has no marketable skills. What happens when he performs a baptism? If the Donatists were right, the baptism would have no effect. In the orthodox interpretation, OTOH, if the congregation hear him use the correct words, they know the baptism was valid. IMHO the orthodox position is more practical.
    – user59106
    Aug 17, 2023 at 8:26

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