Friday, March 31, 2006

HFH Reading Group: On-Line RCIA

Here we are in the fourth week of Lent, with Lenten resolutions going fairly well (okay, not the one about staying off the internet, except where compelled by a recent vacation to Vancouver). Time, in this pre-Easter season to resurrect (sorry) the patristics reading group.

Lent is, foremost, the time of preparation for entry into the Church. Therefore the readings for a while will reflect the catechumenal journey. First, the Catechetical Lectures (aka On the Christian Sacraments) of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, the fourth-century bishop whose feast day was just observed in both east and west. This is reasonably short reading, for a full book; for those who prefer more modern language, there is a dead-tree version available from the always-excellent SVS Press. Since I don't (yet) own the volume of Patrology including St. Cyril, there will be no Quasten commentary.

From the Prologue:

"Already there is an odour of blessedness upon you, O ye who are soon to be enlightened: already ye are gathering the spiritual flowers, to weave heavenly crowns: already the fragrance of the Holy Spirit has breathed upon you: already ye have gathered round the vestibule of the King's palace; may ye be led in also by the King! For blossoms now have appeared upon the trees; may the fruit also be found perfect! Thus far there has been an inscription of your names, and a call to service, and torches of the bridal train, and a longing for heavenly citizenship, and a good purpose, and hope attendant thereon. For he lieth not who said, that to them that love God all things work together for good. God is lavish in beneficence, yet He waits for each man's genuine will: therefore the Apostle added and said, to them that are called according to a purpose. The honesty of purpose makes thee called: for if thy body be here but not thy mind, it profiteth thee nothing."

Cyril's account of baptism shows us early on the doctrine that baptism of adults that is carried out without purity of intention is, on the one hand, real baptism; but on the other hand, insufficient to convey the sacramental grace, and in fact sacrilegious. Thus his lecture, delivered as it is to those about to be baptized, is full of caution and urging to prayer and right intention. Yet he addresses also those who come "on another pretext," for instance to please a spouse, or a servant wishing to please a master, and rather than condemning the intent, entrusts the catechumen to God's grace given in the sacrament, and welcomes them into the Church.

Cyril speaks also about baptism outside the Church, in the context of explaining the singularity of the sacrament:

"We may not receive Baptism twice or thrice; else it might be said, Though I have failed once, I shall set it right a second time: whereas if thou fail once, the thing cannot be set right; for there is one Lord, and one faith, and one baptism: for only the heretics are re-baptized, because the former was no baptism."

This early understanding of "rebaptism" of the unorthodox has gone in two directions in eastern and western theology. In the east, the underlying theology is that baptism can only be understood in the context of the Church, and therefore baptism outside the Church (by heretical communities) is no baptism simply because it lacks the ecclesial context. Thus many (most? someone else may be able to tell me) Orthodox Churches "rebaptize" converts to Orthodoxy. In the west, the theology turned instead on the trinitarian nature of baptism. The "heretics" of Cyril's day were those who denied key tenets of trinitarianism: Arians, Patripassians, Adoptionists, etc. Thus their baptism is seen as not truly baptism, as it isn't baptism in the Trinity. Thus the Catholic Church today continues to "rebaptize" converts from communities without an orthodox trinitarian theology: Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, modalist Pentecostals, etc., but not from Christian communities with trinitarian baptism.

Okay, for those who wish to continue the reading group, please be sure to read the entire Prologue; then, on to the first Lecture.

UPDATE: Friend-of-blog Sophia has first-hand information regarding Orthodox baptism in the comments box.


Blogger sophia said...

I am no theological giant, but when we became Greek Orthodox coming from Protestant churches which were Trinitarian in their beliefs, we were chrismated, but not rebaptized. My priest explained to us that we need not be rebaptized because it was already accomplished in a church which acknowledges the Trinity. Our kids had had "baby dedications" at the Protestant church, so they were babtized in the Orthodox church. I'm not sure what all other Orthodox churches do, but this was our experience. So I assume this is the way of the Eastern church in general.

7:18 AM  
Blogger The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Interesting. I have heard different things about "rebaptism" from different Orthodox sources; the common theological core, though, has always been an ecclesiological understanding of the mystery.

Here's the relevent Wikipedia entry on current Orthodox practice:

"Practice in the Orthodox Church for converts from other communions is not uniform, but the original baptism is not necessarily regarded as valid even when no new baptism is performed. Situations where a new baptism is not done might arise where the form of the original baptism was acceptable, consisting of a triple immersion in the name of the Holy Trinity. Instead, whatever form is used to receive the convert is taken as retroactively filling with grace a correct form that is held to have been graceless. If the original baptism was lacking in form then it is more likely, although not certain, that a new baptism will be required. Otherwise, a convert might be received by chrismation or confession. The exact procedure is dependent on local canons."

There is a very interesting document I hadn't been aware of at
It's a 1999 joint statement by Orthodox and Catholic theologians, regarding baptism, and gives some of the history of "rebaptism" practices and theology.

9:03 AM  
Blogger sophia said...

Well, that's why I was somewhat reticient to say that my experience as an Orthodox convert was the norm. The longer I am Orthodox the more variety I see within different nationalities and canons. I don't know too much about the Catholic church, but it seems logical to me that it would be more unified in this type of thing because of one leader. My husband was commenting one time that the Orthodox church is not quite as precise because decisions are made more by the church as a whole.

I began reading the Prologue for Saint Cyril. I thought his wording in #5 was so relevant even today, "I accept this bait for the hook, and welcome thee, though thou camest with an evil purpose, yet as one to be saved by a good hope." Also, this might be obvious, but can you tell me what he is referring to when he talks about the 40 days for repentance in #4?

1:55 PM  
Blogger The Opinionated Homeschooler said...


I'm betting your experience was the norm in much of Orthodoxy today; I wasn't trying to correct you, but rather note that a quick look at Wikipedia backs up your experience. I'm glad you let me know I was mistaken about the common Orthodox practice. I did get told once that anybody converting to Orthodoxy had to receive Orthodox baptism; but the person was ROCA, and I gather they're a little more hard-core on various issues than most Orthodox.

Honestly I don't see perfect consistency of liturgical practice to be a virtue, and certainly there's great inconsistency in the Catholic Church (just on different issues!), even regarding the sacraments, with individual dioceses or even parishes having different practices.

The 40 days refers to the days before Easter, during which the catechumens Cyril is addressing would be preparing for baptism.

4:14 PM  
Blogger sophia said...

Again, I'm struck by St. Cyrils's practical way of leading the faithful. I just stumbled upon this quote: And those who were once married-let them not hold in contempt those who have entered into a second marriage. Continence is a good and wonderful thing; but still it is permissible to enter upon a second marriage, lest the weak might fall into fornication.

8:34 PM  

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