Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mormons, the CDF, &c.

The CDF issued a decision some years back saying that Mormon baptisms were to be considered invalid because, even though they use the Trinitarian formula, Mormon teachings about God are so different that the terms can't even be considered to refer to the same realities.

Of course, many of the early heresies were of a Trinitarian nature too (Arianism, for example). But those who support the CDF decision
argued that,
"The differences are so great that one cannot even consider that this doctrine is a heresy [e.g. Arianism] which emerged out of a false understanding of the Christian doctrine. The teaching of the Mormons has a completely different matrix."

To be honest, I'm not sure I buy this. They say the same words, they apply water, and they identify what they're doing with what Christ did. Unlike Anglican ordinations invalidated under the Edwardian ordinal, they didn't even change the formula for the purpose of intentionally expressing a rejection of the orthodox teaching (as the Edwardian ordinal did; though the words they changed it to, ironically, also must be recognized as potentially valid in-themselves if used with an intent that is orthodox, given how close they are to the Novus Ordo formula of ordination!)

I'm not sure we can or should say, "Little heresies don't invalidate baptism, big ones do" as if there is really a difference. If they don't express an intent to do something other than what Christ did through changing the formula itself, then I really see no reason to doubt them.


Now, I don't really have a horse in this race. I'm definitely fine with at least conditionally baptizing Mormon converts. But from a purely speculative theological position, I'd say I'd be inclined to the view that even their heresy is not so extreme as to invalidate a baptism that is by all externals correct, and which is identified with what Christ did.

Yes, it can be said that something like Arianism was a "a heresy which emerged out of a false understanding of the Christian doctrine" whereas Mormonism is something with "a completely different matrix." But I think that's a rather modern/ecumenicist view of the early heresies; the orthodox alive at the time certainly weren't inclined to look upon Arianism as merely some sort of benign purely semantic "misunderstanding"! And are Mormonism's teachings really any weirder or more extreme than those of various branches of early Christian Gnosticism??

My opinion on this decision is thus inclined to be more like that about allowing non-olive-"oils" to be used in the Sacraments, or the one allowing Chaldean Catholics to receive communion at Assyrian liturgies without Words of Institution in their anaphora. I think none of these are definitive infallible acts, and in these cases I am doubtful if they have reached the correct conclusion. Frankly, sometimes it seems like almost every decision the institutional church makes in a manner not covered by infallibility...is wrong!

Anyway, say what you will about them, I have a certain sympathy for the Mormons. Mine is basically the "South Park" position: their teachings are nuts, but they're nice people, so let's not be too hard on them. Honestly, their ideas are sort of cool in a Gnosticky sort of way, and though nowhere near to being "sorted out" yet in some internally consistent systematic cohesion, I could see them evolving into something that is more cohesive given a few hundred years. In that regard, they're sort of like the early Christian church before Nicaea, I guess.

And there is something very cozy about a world where almost everyone is saved, where you're with family forever, where you populate your own planet, and where God was like us once too. And where you can convert people even after they're dead.


Which is something else I want to mention: I'm all for Mormons baptizing non-Mormons after we're dead. Why not? If Catholics can pray for or offer Mass for the dead (of any religion in life), why should all sorts of groups get offended when Mormons try to baptize their dead members? I think that's a big double-standard.

The Jews got Mormons to promise not to baptize holocaust victims. I have to say to all these people: mind your own business! You don't own "the idea of" your own dead members! Mormons can proxy-baptize us, and we can have Masses said for them. I'm all for it.

The Jews strong-arming the Mormons into not proxy-baptizing their own gets dangerously close to them demanding that Catholics stop praying for their conversion. Oh.
Wait. Seriously though, if a Mormon wants to proxy-baptize me once I'm dead, I think (considering their own beliefs) that's a very nice and caring gesture. The Jews should fuck off about this question. The minute you say something like,
"We do not ask for or want your love"...I have no sympathy for you. I'm all for the Mormons in that battle.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think 'intent' is the operative thing here. do Mormons really want to incorporate the baptized into the Church as we (eastern and western) understand it? Do they really want to unite the person with Christ the second person of the Holy Trinity, both God and Man? somehow I don't think so.

As for their baptism of the dead, I can't see how that correlates in any way with any other Christian practice. Fine, if they want to do it, but so what?

Do any other nominally Christian groups practice the same ordinances they observe intheir temples? I don't think so. Telestial world, Celestial world, Terrestial world? Melchidechial and Aaronic priesthoods? where did they get all that stuff? theologically they are far beyond classical Gnosticism, although they remain 'nice people who would mow your lawn if you were sick'.

Just my take on it.
Rdr. James
Orthodox but likes Catholics and most other people...

FrGregACCA said...

I think that there are a couple of completely separate questions here.

However, given that the Mormon Doctrine of God is so bizarre (God the Father is an exalted man who literally fathered the pre-incarnate son by the "Heavenly Mother" and He, the son, is our "elder brother" in that we all originally came into existence in the same way), I am completely with the CDF on this one. The United Methodist Church came to the same conclusion, that Mormon baptism is invalid.

For a good, objective overview of Mormonism, see a book called "Mormon America: the Power and the Promise".

Here is also a piece I wrote some time ago comparing and contrasting Apostolic Christianity with Mormonism:

http://vagantepriest.blogspot.com/2008/04/what-hath-rome-to-do-with-salt-lake.html

A Sinner said...

To be fair, though, some Orthodox even question CATHOLIC baptism, so the attitudes on your side of the aisle are a little less forgiving on this question in general.

I will also add that ideas about God as an exalted human and such, while popular, are not "official" Mormon dogma yet either. They're more like theologumenons.

Either way, in the Catholic tradition...even an ATHEIST can validly baptize as long as he "intends to do what the Church does" which does NOT require believing what the Church believes, but merely identifying his action as the same as that which the Church does or which Christ implemented.

The Mormons use valid matter, form, and identify the action they preform as the same baptism instituted by Christ. Their beliefs ABOUT it may be radically different (the same can be said, to varying degrees, for many Protestants)...but to me it seems hard to distinguish it as a type or kind of action.

The argument that invalidates Mormon baptism would seem, on the ontological level, to also validate arguments that say, for example, that Muslims do not worship the same God as Christians just because they don't believe God is a Trinity or incarnated.

But that's a fallacy: incorrect attribution/predication TO the same subject is different than talking about an entirely different subject.

I find it hard to believe that Mormon baptism is an action whose resemblance to Christian baptism is entirely a superficial coincidence. Mormon baptism uses the same form and matter, I assume, exactly BECAUSE they identify it with the same action Christ instituted as we do. Any other explanation for the resemblance strikes me as facetious.

Mark of the Vineyard said...

@Rdr. James:

Either the internet is very small indeed, or the circles we move in are small. I seem to bump into you everywhere :-D

Who Am I said...

"To be fair, though, some Orthodox even question CATHOLIC baptism, so the attitudes on your side of the aisle are a little less forgiving on this question in general."

Those would be The Orthodox who don't adhere to The Moscow Synod of 1667 which under oikonomia allows for Latin Christians and Uniates to be received into Orthodoxy via Chrismation.

http://jbburnett.com/resources/dragas_baptism.pdf


"I will also add that ideas about God as an exalted human and such, while popular, are not "official" Mormon dogma yet either. They're more like theologumenons."

Doesn't Mormonism teach that GOD and Jesus Christ are two distinct beings ? Not in The Catholic sense of distinct persons, but that GOD The Father and Jesus as it were are separate deities ?

http://www.whatdomormonsbelieve.com/2009/05/do-mormons-believe-in-the-trinity/

Aren't they in effect baptizing into a Triad and not a Trinity ?

Likewise, don't they in essence teach against original sin and adhere to pelagianism ?

"Their beliefs ABOUT it may be radically different (the same can be said, to varying degrees, for many Protestants)...but to me it seems hard to distinguish it as a type or kind of action."

I assume here you're speaking of Oneness Pentecostals, who adhere to sabelianism (I baptize you in Jesus' Name). Assuming that is the group in question, my understanding is that their baptisms are invalid. Again, assuming those are the groups you're thinking of.

For all intents and purposes, the fact remains that Protestants regardless of the many errors they may adhere to, as regards to The Trinity most hold to the very same teachings Catholics and Orthodox Christians do.

"The argument that invalidates Mormon baptism would seem, on the ontological level, to also validate arguments that say, for example, that Muslims do not worship the same God as Christians just because they don't believe God is a Trinity or incarnated."

I'm not so sure how far you want to go with that one. Are you familiar at all with what The Koran says regarding The Christian (and Jewish (not in relation to The Trinity, OTHER things) understandings of GOD ? Take a read on the subject. It may have began as a misattribution/heresy (Arianism), but as such it evolved into something ENTIRELY distinct. Think of the relationship between Judaism and Samaritanism. Errors creeped in, but as Christ said, you worship that which you do not know (I'm paraphrasing.).

Likewise, Islam rejects the validity of The OT in line of revelation making the claim that what Christians hold to is corrupted. What exactly does that indirectly imply about The NT ? Think about it.

The Masoretic Canon of scripture while corrupted, STILL espouses that which Catholics hold sacred (Even if corrupted).

FrGregACCA said...

Actually, that God the Father is an exalted man is official Mormon teaching. What is theological opinion is that this Man is in fact Adam. That is another can of worms, one that most contemporary Mormons don't like to open today, and so not relevant to this discussion.

In my brand of vagante, non-chalcedonian Orthodoxy, we approach baptism almost exactly the same way that Rome does. I understand what you are saying about an atheist baptizing with the intention of doing what the Church does, but I would argue that the Mormon doctrine of God (really doctrine of godS) would pretty much prevent a believing Mormon from baptizing with that intention. The same would be true of Jehovah's Witness because of their neo-arianism.

A Sinner said...

Wait, so neo-arianism invalidates even though Arianism itself didn't?? I don't quite understand the double-standard there.

The Catholic understanding of "intent" at least is simply to intend to do what the Church does (or, in the case of baptism especially, what Christ did).

This is very different than requiring that the person believes what the Church believes, or even that they "intend to do what the Church intends to do." Intending to do what someone does is different than intending to do what they intend to do. The Church requires only the former for validity.

The Mormons clearly identify their baptism as the self-same action as Christ instituted, and it "resembles" Christian baptism in matter and form for this very reason. It's not merely a coincidence. As such, I find it hard it to call it a different sort of action. It seems to be pretty self-consciously and intentionally the same action as Christ mandated. And that's always been considered enough for validity in the past, regardless of the content of their beliefs ABOUT it.

Mark of the Vineyard said...

Moroni 8 has some interesting comments on infant baptism. I invite you to take a look.

http://www.2think.org/hundredsheep/annotated/moroni8.shtml

Who Am I said...

@MotV: Thanks. That is precisely why I claimed they adhered to pelagianism. They don't believe in Original Sin. Another one for the booklet I might add.

Who Am I said...

There is a lot to be said about what constitutes valid Baptism as demonstrated in this article: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02258b.htm#VIII

I didn't know that some theologians had accepted "baptism in The Name of Jesus" as valid.

Read through it.

Anonymous said...

Kind of late to this discussion, but I'm with you, A Sinner. Besides, what harm is there in Mormons being baptized for the dead? At worst (as I believe) nothing happens. Maybe the Jews are just pissed because they can't reciprocate the favor. Circumcision for the dead? Aw hayyyull no!