“Barely Christian…Through Defective Baptism”?

The intrinsic difference is that ignorance simply implies lack of awareness about something, while stupidity denotes the inability of a person to understand something due to insufficient intelligence, thus leading to the misinterpretation of a fact.

Ignorance Clipping the Wings of Progress

Ignorance is the great satan of all time. A recent exchange with a Protestant colleague and some research into the Reformists’ understanding of the very carefully crafted documents promulgated by the fathers in Rome illustrates this point clearly. Here’s a personal experience:

A colleague recently wrote:

H., if you read the encyclical “Dominus Iesus”, written in 2000, I believe – it pretty well reverses that sentiment and notes that those of us who are not RC are barely Christian, through our ‘defective’ baptism – and the purpose of dialogue is to prepare the ground in non-Christians so that they can hear the word of God and be converted to ‘true’ Christianity. The language is a little more delicate than I’ve put it, but that’s essentially the sentiment. The World Association of Reformed Churches pretty well went off the wall at that one. World Association of Christian Communication wasn’t entirely happy either.

My response was:

Thank you for your inputs. Yes, the Church is very careful on how they word things and rightly so (because of the effects of pragmatic implication as evidenced in your message). I have read and studied the encyclical and what I read is this: “…the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense; however, those who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church.” [17] The correct interpretation of this passage must take the passage in its entirety (you are, in fact, prooftexting, and liberally interpreting what is being taught). It is the “communion with the [RC] Church” that is imperfect, and it is the fact of the Baptism that creates the “communion.” The Church’s teaching is that there is one Baptism, and as long as the communicant is baptized in the Trinitarian formula, “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” the Baptism is valid.

In other words, you have misapprehended what is actually being promulgated in Dominus Iesus, especially in terms of the validity of Christian Baptism, one of the two [major] sacraments almost universally celebrated by all Christian denominations, and confusing that with the “imperfect” communion with the [RC] Church; “imperfect” is a word most English speakers can easily misconstrue, as you have done, and it has nothing to do with “defective” as you put it, but carries more of the meaning of “incomplete.” Again, the “communion” or unity with the [RC] Church is what is incomplete or imperfect, NOT the Baptism. In fact the statement is that those who are baptized in those communities not in communion with the Church are incorporated in Christ and are “in a certain communion” (certain is read not as “approximate” or “undefined” but as ‘indisputable,’ ‘unquestionable’ here).

We must be careful when reading these documents and read them very carefully with a very fine eye and mind for the nuances of very carefully chosen expression.

I do hope this clarifies your understanding somewhat and that others reading your misconstruction will also be enlightened (read unburdened as well as illuminated) by my explanation of the language.


Continuing…I prefer to call my response a clarification versus a “correction.” When the Vatican documents uses “Church” it means the Roman Catholic Church or the some 22 Eastern traditions in 100% communion (= accepts the primacy of the bishop of Rome and the Roman magisterium etc.). In other texts not RC or Vatican or promulgated by the traditions in communion with Rome, Church, I would safely conclude means the Christian Church or those in communion with the Body of Christ through sacramental Baptism, or “baptism of blood” or “baptism of desire.”

Again you are tripping down the path of mixing up Baptism with “communion.” Please! If you are baptized in the Trinitarian formula and are Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, etc. but NOT Unitarian (you are not professing the Trinitarian faith), you are in communion with the Church in faith BUT in imperfect communion with the [RC] Church (read: in virtue of the sacrament of Baptism you are in partial communion, hence “imperfect” but not “defective,” because the [RC] Church would require you to accept Baptism and the Eucharist (the sacrament, not the celebration, and it’s attendent Real Presence sacramentology + affirmation of the doctrine of transubstantiation–although some RC theologians have argued in favor of restating that doctrine), plus the other five sacraments of the RC tradition (reconciliation, confirmation, matrimony, holy orders, sacrament of the sick) plus the dogma of the RC Church, some of which is not acknowledged by the Protestant, Reformist or Orthodox traditions.

You mention objections to rules of [re]marriage that miffs some Catholics. But let me remind you that there is little consensus among the Reformist traditions as to what marriage is, notwithstanding the acknowledgement of its sacramentality. For example, the Lutherans have a social model, the Calvinists a covenantal model, the Anglicans a commonwealth model, the rest have a contractual model, and the Catholics a sacramental model.

Now, I won’t broach, nor do I have any intention of getting into a discussion of the myriad “disgruntled” Catholics or Lutherans or Reformed or Jews…pick a denomination, faith, or tradition and tell me none of its adherents or quasi-adherents don’t have something to bitch about. The Catholic tradition is ancient, very complex, it has rules and standards, it is not democratic and has not been secularized, it has many traditions within it, most Catholics are ignorant and poorly formed in their tradition. It is generally the person carrying a lot of other baggage and with a PARTICULAR problem who publicly announces his/her displeasure with one or another dogma, doctrine, or rule of the [RC] Church. It’s human, all too human to badmouth and slander when one doesn’t get it his/her way. Too, bad! And I’ll be the first to tell them so. Faith is there if it’s there; if it’s not, don’t blame it on the Church. Moreover, make the distinction between what is God-given and what is human-made, or a human-made rule. But in my book, rules are there for a purpose and if they work, we keep them. That’s how the Catholic Church as a religion and as an institution has survived, through thick, thin, and questionable times, and it will survive and evolve as it has done for more than 2000 years. Rather than count the disgruntled,let’s be more positive and count the gruntled and those former Reformists who come back either as individuals or as entire churches.

The dinner rules are different in different households. Some households take dinner in front of the TV; others take their evening meal individually, not as a family, others have a set time and place for their family communal meal, and some even have a decorum that is enforced at table. So, too, the churches. Some of us have spent years studying the why’s and wherefore’s of the traditions and how they got to where they are. In the end, though, does it matter. After all the greatest law is to Love God and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. If we love as that “love” is meant, and define neighbor as intended, we’ve done good in a trinitarian fashion: vis-a-vis God, vis-a-vis ourselves, and with respect to our “neighbor” or, as I teach it, the rest of Creation.

After all, our vocation of pastoral/spiritual care providers has more to do with the great Law than all the talk of Jesus, Christ, Church or church, and sometimes it’s easy to cough up chunks when inundated with Jesus this and Jesus that. His name is overused, invoked carelessly, it’s become almost pedestrian. It’s like the f-word: you use it often enough and it loses its impact. Let’s reframe the approach and, if we’re going to be interfaith, let’s leave Jesus in peace. Most all traditions would agree that simply the great Law will suffice, if taught and lived circumspectly, to make great a caregiver of anyone of any faith or tradition.

Duc in altum!


In response to several questions, I followed up on the sources of my comments and the various responses to Dominus Iesus in 2000 (see, for example,  Christianity Today article). The evidence would indicate that Reformed churches (the Calvinist tradition)  appear to be the most aggressive in promoting misinformation and misunderstanding, and is most enimical to the Roman Catholic Tradition. Why then do we (Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany) send our deacons, seminarians, pastoral care students to enjoy the tutelage of a Calvinist who refers to his own church as the “Deformed Church of America?” See my postings at Interfaith, Chaplain Wuss, Disciple Syndrome.


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