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The juridic configuration of baptism (Part I)

The juridic configuration of baptism (Part I)

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle baptizes a woman as he celebrates the Easter Vigil at the Manila Cathedral on March 31, 2018. ROY LAGARDE

By Fr. Jaime B. Achacoso, J.C.D.

THERE is an anti-juridic tendency in people—and the ecclesiastical world is no exception—that leads them to do (as somebody once put it) what they damn please. At bottom it is really nothing but an echo of that cry of rebellion at the dawn of human history, that led our first parents to disobey a simple commandment, with the diabolic pretension to be like God, determining good and evil. It is the same tendency that lies behind the lack of care with the liturgy, such that every minister feels himself empowered to do what he likes, with little regard for the rubrics.

What would really be painful would be to see this same phenomenon in the realm of the sacraments established by Jesus Christ. Thus, the bulk of the canons of Book IV of the Code of Canon Law deal with sacramental discipline—constituting a veritable Sacramental Law of the Church.


The juridic relevance of baptism

The juridic dimension of Baptism stems from two principles, which can be gleaned from the Instruction on the Baptism of Children, issued by the SCDF in 1980, as follows.[1]

1º Baptism is necessary for salvation. It is both a sign and an instrument of the love of God. It is a gift.

2º Baptism incorporates the human person to the Church. Measures must be established to guarantee his posterior development in it.

A.  Juridic consequences of the necessity of baptism for salvation

The theological doctrine of the necessity of baptism for salvation—in fact or at least in intention—expressed in c.849, is the basis not only of the fundamental right of all men to its reception, but also the canonical foundation of many aspects of its regulation. Noteworthy are the following:

1) General norm for the baptism of adults: Every person not yet baptized and only such a person is able to be baptized (c.864). Can.865, §1 specifies the minimum requirements that adults:

  1. a) have manifested the will to receive Baptism;
  2. b) be sufficiently instructed in the truths of faith and in Christian obligations;
  3. c) be tested in the Christian life by means of the catechumenate;
  4. d) be exhorted to have sorrow for personal sins.

2) General norms for the baptism of infants of Catholic parents: Parents are obliged to see to it that infants are baptized within the first weeks after birth; as soon as possible after the birth or even before it, parents are to go to the pastor to request the sacrament for their child and to be properly prepared for it (c.867, §1).

3) The disciplinar exceptions in case of urgency or danger of death: (cc.850; 853; 857; 860; 862; 865, §2; 867, §2). So taxative is this principle that it capacitates and legitimates any person with the right intention to confer baptism in case of necessity (c.861, §2).

  1. a) Infant of Catholic parents: An infant in danger of death is to be baptized without any delay (c.867, §2).
  2. b) Infant even of non-Catholic parents: The infant of Catholic parents, in fact of non-Catholic parents also, who is in danger of death is licitly baptized even against the will of the parents (c.868, §2).
  3. c) Live fetuses: If aborted fetuses are alive, they are to be baptized if this is possible (c.871).
  4. d) Adult in danger of death: An adult in danger of death may be baptized if, having some knowledge of the principal truths of faith, the person has in any way manifested an intention of receiving Baptism and promises to observe the commandments of the Christian religion (c.865, §2).

4) General guarantees for its valid reception:

  1. a) Conditional reiteration in case of doubt. If there is a doubt whether one has been baptized or whether baptism was validly conferred, and the doubt remains after serious investigation, baptism is to be conferred conditionally (c.869, §1).
  2. b) Baptism of foundlings. A foundling or abandoned child is to be baptized unless upon diligent investigation proof of baptism is established (c.870).

B.  Juridic dimension of the incorporation to the Church

The capital canon of Title I: Baptism immediately declares the juridic situation effected by the reception of the sacrament of Baptism: Baptism [is] the gate to the sacraments, by which men and women … are reborn as children of God [and] are incorporated in the Church (c.849). The incorporation to the Church—understood as People of God juridically constituted—that is carried out by Baptism has serious juridic consequences. Among these we can point out the following:

1) Canonical guarantees for its licit administration to infants. Since an infant is incorporated to the Church without his conscious consent, there must be sufficient guarantees that the gift he receives in Baptism will have a fair chance for growth and development. These guarantees operate on the adults who will play a part in the child’s growth and development—i.e., his parents, godparents or whoever takes their place.

  1. a) The parents of an infant who is to be baptized and likewise those who are to undertake the office of godparent are to be properly instructed in the meaning of this sacrament and the obligations which are attached to it (c.851, §2).
  2. b) For the licit baptism of an infant it is necessary that the parents or at least one of them or the person who lawfully takes their place, gives consent (c.868, §1, 1º) and there be a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion; if such a hope is altogether lacking, the baptism is to be put off (2º).

2) By Baptism, a person is constituted as a Christian faithful, a subject in the ecclesial juridic order, who participates in the priestly, prophetic and royal function of Christ (cf. cc.96 & 204). This brings about the subject’s ecclesial personality—i.e., the members of the People of God are not just individuals comprising a people, but rather persons: personae in Ecclesia Christi.  This in turn has several consequences:

  1. a) Baptism is the origin and basis of the fundamental rights and duties of the faithful. On it is founded the radical equality of the faithful, their common dignity, their common call to holiness and their co-responsibility for the building up of the Body of Christ in accord with each one’s own condition and functions (cf. c.208). Just as the dignity of the human person gives rise to a series of fundamental human rights and duties, from the condition of baptized—call it Christian dignity—are derived the fundamental rights and duties of the faithful.
  2. b) Baptism determines the passive subjects of merely ecclesiastical laws, which bind those baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it and who enjoy the sufficient use of reason and, unless the law expressly provides otherwise, have completed seven years of age (c.11).
  3. c) Baptism capacitates a person for the other sacraments, and thus for Christian worship. Conversely, one who has not received Baptism cannot be validly admitted to the other sacraments (c.842, §1).

3) All men—properly disposed—have a right to receive Baptism. This is in stark contrast to the case of the other sacraments—to which only the baptized have a right—and is premised on the fact that the only Mediator and way to salvation is Christ, who is made present to all in His Body, the Church (LG, n.14); therefore, membership in the Church is necessary for salvation. Since one gains entry to the Church through Baptism, this sacrament is thus understood as the object of a right of all men duly disposed to receive it.

While the Code does not expressly state the right of all men to receive Baptism, c.748, §1 clearly implies it: All persons are bound to seek the truth in matters concerning God and God’s Church; by divine law they also are obliged and have the right to embrace and to observe that truth which they have recognized.     [To be continued.]

[1] Cf. SCDF, Instruction Pastoralis actio (20.X.1980), in AAS, 72 (1980), 1137-1156.