Old Princeton: Charles Hodge—Don’t Throw Out the Roman Catholic’s Baptism with its Baptism Water

Hodge on: Is Roman Catholic baptism valid baptism?

While history is of great importance for Hodge, he also turns to logic.  His argument begins by defining what baptism is with Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 94, and then offers three points of reference for a litmus test: first, baptism must be by washing with water; second, it must be Trinitarian; and third, its intent must be that of understanding it to mean the signifying, sealing and applying of Christ and His benefits.  He points out that Roman Catholic baptism meets all three criteria.

 

In the context of conforming more consistently to the Westminster Confession of Faith, our Session revisited re-baptism while studying sections 27:3 and 28:6-7, especially pondering these closing words: “The sacrament of baptism is but once to be administered unto any person.”

This led us to consider how to countenance the baptism of a potential Roman Catholic convert, and Charles Hodge’s important work on the subject became our chief guide in learning not to throw out the baptism with the baptism water.

During the May 1845 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church the subject of not acknowledging Roman Catholic baptisms as valid and thus the need to re-baptize Catholic converts was raised.  In his article “The General Assembly” for the Princeton Review of that year, Dr. Hodge lamented this novel change in his, “The Validity of Romish Baptism”[1]:

The question as to the validity of baptism as administered by a Roman Catholic priest was brought before the Assembly, by an overture from the Presbytery of Ohio, … In favour of returning a negative answer to the question, the votes were 169, against 8, non liquet 6. We feel almost overwhelmed by such a vote … What stern necessity has induced the Assembly to pronounce Calvin, Luther, and all the men of that generation, as well as thousands who with no other than Romish baptism have since been received into the Protestant Churches, to have lived and died unbaptized?[2]

Hodge appeals to the fact that the French (see the French Confession), Genevan (Reformed), and Dutch churches had the same practice, as did the Church of England.

While history is of great importance for Hodge, he also turns to logic.  His argument begins by defining what baptism is with Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 94, and then offers three points of reference for a litmus test: first, baptism must be by washing with water; second, it must be Trinitarian; and third, its intent must be that of understanding it to mean the signifying, sealing and applying of Christ and His benefits.  He points out that Roman Catholic baptism meets all three criteria, and writes: “The error of the Romanists concerning the absolute necessity and uniform efficacy (in the case of infants) of baptism, is very great, but it cannot invalidate the nature of the ordinance.”[3]

[1] Charles Hodge, “The Validity of Romish Baptism,” in Discussions in Church Polity(New York: Charles Scribner’s, Sons, 1878) , 191-215.  Another more recent work on the topic that warrants study is Francis Nigel Lee’s “Calvin on the Validity of ‘Romish’ Baptism”.

[2] Hodge, 192.

[3] Ibid., 198.

Read More

×

2019 Matching Funds Campaign: Goal is $7000 ... Donate now!