Summa Theologica, by St. Thomas Aquinas, , at sacred-texts.com
We have now to consider the ministers by whom the sacrament of Baptism is conferred. And concerning this there are eight points of inquiry:
(1) Whether it belongs to a deacon to baptize?
(2) Whether this belongs to a priest, or to a bishop only?
(3) Whether a layman can confer the sacrament of Baptism?
(4) Whether a woman can do this?
(5) Whether an unbaptized person can baptize?
(6) Whether several can at the same time baptize one and the same person?
(7) Whether it is essential that someone should raise the person baptized from the sacred font?
(8) Whether he who raises someone from the sacred font is bound to instruct him?
Objection 1: It seems that it is part of a deacon's duty to baptize. Because the duties of preaching and of baptizing were enjoined by our Lord at the same time, according to Mat. 28:19: "Going . . . teach ye all nations, baptizing them," etc. But it is part of a deacon's duty to preach the gospel. Therefore it seems that it is also part of a deacon's duty to baptize.
Objection 2: Further, according to Dionysius (Eccl. Hier. v) to "cleanse" is part of the deacon's duty. But cleansing from sins is effected specially by Baptism, according to Eph. 5:26: "Cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life." Therefore it seems that it belongs to a deacon to baptize.
Objection 3: Further, it is told of Blessed Laurence, who was a deacon, that he baptized many. Therefore it seems that it belongs to deacons to baptize.
On the contrary, Pope Gelasius I says (the passage is to be found in the Decrees, dist. 93): "We order the deacons to keep within their own province"; and further on: "Without bishop or priest they must not dare to baptize, except in cases of extreme urgency, when the aforesaid are a long way off."
I answer that, Just as the properties and duties of the heavenly orders are gathered from their names, as Dionysius says (Coel. Hier. vi), so can we gather, from the names of the ecclesiastical orders, what belongs to each order. Now "deacons" are so called from being "ministers"; because, to wit, it is not in the deacon's province to be the chief and official celebrant in conferring a sacrament, but to minister to others, his elders, in the sacramental dispensations. And so it does not belong to a deacon to confer the sacrament of Baptism officially as it were; but to assist and serve his elders in the bestowal of this and other sacraments. Hence Isidore says (Epist. ad Ludifred.): "It is a deacon's duty to assist and serve the priests, in all the rites of Christ's sacraments, viz. those of Baptism, of the Chrism, of the Paten and Chalice."
Reply to Objection 1: It is the deacon's duty to read the Gospel in church, and to preach it as one catechizing; hence Dionysius says (Eccl. Hier. v) that a deacon's office involves power over the unclean among whom he includes the catechumens. But to teach, i.e. to expound the Gospel, is the proper office of a bishop, whose action is "to perfect," as Dionysius teaches (Eccl. Hier. v); and "to perfect" is the same as "to teach." Consequently, it does not follow that the office of baptizing belongs to deacons.
Reply to Objection 2: As Dionysius says (Eccl. Hier. ii), Baptism has a power not only of "cleansing" but also of "enlightening." Consequently, it is outside the province of the deacon whose duty it is to cleanse only: viz. either by driving away the unclean, or by preparing them for the reception of a sacrament.
Reply to Objection 3: Because Baptism is a necessary sacrament, deacons are allowed to baptize in cases of urgency when their elders are not at hand; as appears from the authority of Gelasius quoted above. And it was thus that Blessed Laurence, being but a deacon, baptized.
Objection 1: It seems that to baptize is not part of the priestly office, but proper to that of bishops. Because, as stated above (A, OBJ), the duties of teaching and baptizing are enjoined in the same precept (Mat. 28:19). But to teach, which is "to perfect," belongs to the office of bishop, as Dionysius declares (Eccl. Hier. v, vi). Therefore to baptize also belongs to the episcopal office.
Objection 2: Further, by Baptism a man is admitted to the body of the Christian people: and to do this seems consistent with no other than the princely office. Now the bishops hold the position of princes in the Church, as the gloss observes on Lk. 10:1: indeed, they even take the place of the apostles, of whom it is written (Ps. 44:17): "Thou shalt make them princes over all the earth." Therefore it seems that to baptize belongs exclusively to the office of bishops.
Objection 3: Further, Isidore says (Epist. ad Ludifred.) that "it belongs to the bishop to consecrate churches, to anoint altars, to consecrate [conficere] the chrism; he it is that confers the ecclesiastical orders, and blesses the consecrated virgins." But the sacrament of Baptism is greater than all these. Therefore much more reason is there why to baptize should belong exclusively to the episcopal office.
On the contrary, Isidore says (De Officiis. ii): "It is certain that Baptism was entrusted to priests alone."
I answer that, Priests are consecrated for the purpose of celebrating the sacrament of Christ's Body, as stated above (Q, A). Now that is the sacrament of ecclesiastical unity, according to the Apostle (1 Cor. 10:17): "We, being many, are one bread, one body, all that partake of one bread and one chalice." Moreover, by Baptism a man becomes a participator in ecclesiastical unity, wherefore also he receives the right to approach our Lord's Table. Consequently, just as it belongs to a priest to consecrate the Eucharist, which is the principal purpose of the priesthood, so it is the proper office of a priest to baptize: since it seems to belong to one and the same, to produce the whole and to dispose the part in the whole.
Reply to Objection 1: Our Lord enjoined on the apostles, whose place is taken by the bishops, both duties, namely, of teaching and of baptizing, but in different ways. Because Christ committed to them the duty of teaching, that they might exercise it themselves as being the most important duty of all: wherefore the apostles themselves said (Acts 6:2): "It is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve tables." On the other hand, He entrusted the apostles with the office of baptizing, to be exercised vicariously; wherefore the Apostle says (1 Cor. 1:17): "Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel." And the reason for this was that the merit and wisdom of the minister have no bearing on the baptismal effect, as they have in teaching, as may be seen from what we have stated above (Q, A, ad 2; AA,9). A proof of this is found also in the fact that our Lord Himself did not baptize, but His disciples, as John relates (4:2). Nor does it follow from this that bishops cannot baptize; since what a lower power can do, that can also a higher power. Wherefore also the Apostle says (1 Cor. 1:14, 16) that he had baptized some.
Reply to Objection 2: In every commonwealth minor affairs are entrusted to lower officials, while greater affairs are restricted to higher officials; according to Ex. 18:22: "When any great matter soever shall fall out, let them refer it to thee, and let them judge the lesser matters only." Consequently it belongs to the lower officials of the state to decide matters concerning the lower orders; while to the highest it belongs to set in order those matters that regard the higher orders of the state. Now by Baptism a man attains only to the lowest rank among the Christian people: and consequently it belongs to the lesser officials of the Church
to baptize, namely, the priests, who hold the place of the seventy-two disciples of Christ, as the gloss says in the passage quoted from Luke 10.
Reply to Objection 3: As stated above (Q, A), the sacrament of Baptism holds the first place in the order of necessity; but in the order of perfection there are other greater sacraments which are reserved to bishops.
Objection 1: It seems that a layman cannot baptize. Because, as stated above (A), to baptize belongs properly to the priestly order. But those things which belong to an order cannot be entrusted to one that is not ordained. Therefore it seems that a layman, who has no orders, cannot baptize.
Objection 2: Further, it is a greater thing to baptize, than to perform the other sacramental rites of Baptism, such as to catechize, to exorcize, and to bless the baptismal water. But these things cannot be done by laymen, but only by priests. Therefore it seems that much less can laymen baptize.
Objection 3: Further, just as Baptism is a necessary sacrament, so is Penance. But a layman cannot absolve in the tribunal of Penance. Neither, therefore, can he baptize.
On the contrary, Pope Gelasius I and Isidore say that "it is often permissible for Christian laymen to baptize, in cases of urgent necessity."
I answer that, It is due to the mercy of Him "Who will have all men to be saved" (1 Tim. 2:4) that in those things which are necessary for salvation, man can easily find the remedy. Now the most necessary among all the sacraments is Baptism, which is man's regeneration unto spiritual life: since for children there is no substitute, while adults cannot otherwise than by Baptism receive a full remission both of guilt and of its punishment. Consequently, lest man should have to go without so necessary a remedy, it was ordained, both that the matter of Baptism should be something common that is easily obtainable by all, i.e. water; and that the minister of Baptism should be anyone, even not in orders, lest from lack of being baptized, man should suffer loss of his salvation.
Reply to Objection 1: To baptize belongs to the priestly order by reason of a certain appropriateness and solemnity; but this is not essential to the sacrament. Consequently, if a layman were to baptize even outside a case of urgency; he would sin, yet he would confer the sacrament; nor would the person thus baptized have to be baptized again.
Reply to Objection 2: These sacramental rites of Baptism belong to the solemnity of, and are not essential to, Baptism. And therefore they neither should nor can be done by a layman, but only by a priest, whose office it is to baptize solemnly.
Reply to Objection 3: As stated above (Q, AA,4), Penance is not so necessary as Baptism; since contrition can supply the defect of the priestly absolution which does not free from the whole punishment, nor again is it given to children. Therefore the comparison with Baptism does not stand, because its effect cannot be supplied by anything else.
Objection 1: It seems that a woman cannot baptize. For we read in the acts of the Council of Carthage (iv): "However learned and holy a woman may be, she must not presume to teach men in the church, or to baptize." But in no case is a woman allowed to teach in church, according to 1 Cor. 14:35: "It is a shame for a woman to speak in the church." Therefore it seems that neither is a woman in any circumstances permitted to baptize.
Objection 2: Further, to baptize belongs to those having authority. wherefore baptism should be conferred by priests having charge of souls. But women are not qualified for this; according to 1 Tim. 2:12: "I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to use authority over man, but to be subject to him [Vulg.: 'but to be in silence']." Therefore a woman cannot baptize.
Objection 3: Further, in the spiritual regeneration water seems to hold the place of the mother's womb, as Augustine says on Jn. 3:4, "Can" a man "enter a second time into his mother's womb, and be born again?" While he who baptizes seems to hold rather the position of father. But this is unfitting for a woman. Therefore a woman cannot baptize.
On the contrary, Pope Urban II says (Decreta xxx): "In reply to the questions asked by your beatitude, we consider that the following answer should be given: that the baptism is valid when, in cases of necessity, a woman baptizes a child in the name of the Trinity."
I answer that, Christ is the chief Baptizer, according to Jn. 1:33: "He upon Whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, He it is that baptizeth." For it is written in Col. 3 (cf. Gal. 3:28), that in Christ there is neither male nor female. Consequently, just as a layman can baptize, as Christ's minister, so can a woman.
But since "the head of the woman is the man," and "the head of . . . man, is Christ" (1 Cor. 11:3), a woman should not baptize if a man be available for the purpose; just as neither should a layman in the presence of a cleric, nor a cleric in the presence of a priest. The last, however, can baptize in the presence of a bishop, because it is part of the priestly office.
Reply to Objection 1: Just as a woman is not suffered to teach in public, but is allowed to instruct and admonish privately; so she is not permitted to baptize publicly and solemnly, and yet she can baptize in a case of urgency.
Reply to Objection 2: When Baptism is celebrated solemnly and with due form, it should be conferred by a priest having charge of souls, or by one representing him. But this is not required in cases of urgency, when a woman may baptize.
Reply to Objection 3: In carnal generation male and female co-operate according to the power of their proper nature; wherefore the female cannot be the active, but only the passive, principle of generation. But in spiritual generation they do not act, either of them, by their proper power, but only instrumentally by the power of Christ. Consequently, on the same grounds either man or woman can baptize in a case of urgency.
If, however, a woman were to baptize without any urgency for so doing. there would be no need of rebaptism: as we have said in regard to laymen (A, ad 1). But the baptizer herself would sin, as also those who took part with her therein, either by receiving Baptism from her, or by bringing someone to her to be baptized.
Objection 1: It seems that one that is not baptized cannot confer the sacrament of Baptism. For "none gives what he has not." But a non-baptized person has not the sacrament of Baptism. Therefore he cannot give it.
Objection 2: Further, a man confers the sacrament of Baptism inasmuch as he is a minister of the Church. But one that is not baptized, belongs nowise to the Church, i.e. neither really nor sacramentally. Therefore he cannot confer the sacrament of Baptism.
Objection 3: Further, it is more to confer a sacrament than to receive it. But one that is not baptized, cannot receive the other sacraments. Much less, therefore, can he confer any sacrament.
On the contrary, Isidore says: "The Roman Pontiff does not consider it to be the man who baptizes, but that the Holy Ghost confers the grace of Baptism, though he that baptizes be a pagan." But he who is baptized, is not called a pagan. Therefore he who is not baptized can confer the sacrament of Baptism.
I answer that, Augustine left this question without deciding it. For he says (Contra Ep. Parmen. ii): "This is indeed another question, whether even those can baptize who were never Christians; nor should anything be rashly asserted hereupon, without the authority of a sacred council such as suffices for so great a matter." But afterwards it was decided by the Church that the unbaptized, whether Jews or pagans, can confer the sacrament of Baptism, provided they baptize in the form of the Church. Wherefore Pope Nicolas I replies to the questions propounded by the Bulgars: "You say that many in your country have been baptized by someone, whether Christian or pagan you know not. If these were baptized in the name of the Trinity, they must not be rebaptized." But if the form of the Church be not observed, the sacrament of Baptism is not conferred. And thus is to be explained what Gregory II [*Gregory III] writes to Bishop Boniface: "Those whom you assert to have been baptized by pagans," namely, with a form not recognized by the Church, "we command you to rebaptize in the name of the Trinity." And the reason of this is that, just as on the part of the matter, as far as the essentials of the sacrament are concerned, any water will suffice, so, on the part of the minister, any man is competent. Consequently, an unbaptized person can baptize in a case of urgency. So that two unbaptized persons may baptize one another, one baptizing the other and being afterwards baptized by him: and each would receive not only the sacrament but also the reality of the sacrament. But if this were done outside a case of urgency, each would sin grievously, both the baptizer and the baptized, and thus the baptismal effect would be frustrated, although the sacrament itself would not be invalidated.
Reply to Objection 1: The man who baptizes offers but his outward ministration; whereas Christ it is Who baptizes inwardly, Who can use all men to whatever purpose He wills. Consequently, the unbaptized can baptize: because, as Pope Nicolas I says, "the Baptism is not theirs," i.e. the baptizers', "but His," i.e. Christ's.
Reply to Objection 2: He who is not baptized, though he belongs not to the Church either in reality or sacramentally, can nevertheless belong to her in intention and by similarity of action, namely, in so far as he intends to do what the Church does, and in baptizing observes the Church's form, and thus acts as the minister of Christ, Who did not confine His power to those that are baptized, as neither did He to the sacraments.
Reply to Objection 3: The other sacraments are not so necessary as Baptism. And therefore it is allowable that an unbaptized person should baptize rather than that he should receive other sacraments.
Objection 1: It seems that several can baptize at the same time. For unity is contained in multitude, but not "vice versa." Wherefore it seems that many can do whatever one can but not "vice versa": thus many draw a ship which one could draw. But one man can baptize. Therefore several, too, can baptize one at the same time.
Objection 2: Further, it is more difficult for one agent to act on many things, than for many to act at the same time on one. But one man can baptize several at the same time. Much more, therefore, can many baptize one at the same time.
Objection 3: Further, Baptism is a sacrament of the greatest necessity. Now in certain cases it seems necessary for several to baptize one at the same time; for instance, suppose a child to be in danger of death, and two persons present, one of whom is dumb, and the other without hands or arms; for then the mutilated person would have to pronounce the words, and the dumb person would have to perform the act of baptizing. Therefore it seems that several can baptize one at the same time.
On the contrary, Where there is one agent there is one action. If, therefore, several were to baptize one, it seems to follow that there would be several baptisms: and this is contrary to Eph. 4:5: "one Faith, one Baptism."
I answer that, The Sacrament of Baptism derives its power principally from its form, which the Apostle calls "the word of life" (Eph. 5:26). Consequently, if several were to baptize one at the same time, we must consider what form they would use. For were they to say: "We baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost," some maintain that the sacrament of Baptism would not be conferred, because the form of the Church would not be observed, i.e. "I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." But this reasoning is disproved by the form observed in the Greek Church. For they might say: "The servant of God, N . . ., is baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost," under which form the Greeks receive the sacrament of Baptism: and yet this form differs far more from the form that we use, than does this: "We baptize thee."
The point to be observed, however, is this, that by this form, "We baptize thee," the intention expressed is that several concur in conferring one Baptism: and this seems contrary to the notion of a minister; for a man does not baptize save as a minister of Christ, and as standing in His place; wherefore just as there is one Christ, so should there be one minister to represent Christ. Hence the Apostle says pointedly (Eph. 4:5): "one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism." Consequently, an intention which is in opposition to this seems to annul the sacrament of Baptism.
On the other hand, if each were to say: "I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost," each would signify his intention as though he were conferring Baptism independently of the other. This might occur in the case where both were striving to baptize someone; and then it is clear that whichever pronounced the words first would confer the sacrament of Baptism; while the other, however great his right to baptize, if he presume to utter the words, would be liable to be punished as a rebaptizer. If, however, they were to pronounce the words absolutely at the same time, and dipped or sprinkled the man together, they should be punished for baptizing in an improper manner, but not for rebaptizing: because each would intend to baptize an unbaptized person, and each, so far as he is concerned, would baptize. Nor would they confer several sacraments: but the one Christ baptizing inwardly would confer one sacrament by means of both together.
Reply to Objection 1: This argument avails in those agents that act by their own power. But men do not baptize by their own, but by Christ's power, Who, since He is one, perfects His work by means of one minister.
Reply to Objection 2: In a case of necessity one could baptize several at the same time under this form: "I baptize ye": for instance, if they were threatened by a falling house, or by the sword or something of the kind, so as not to allow of the delay involved by baptizing them singly. Nor would this cause a change in the Church's form, since the plural is nothing but the singular doubled: especially as we find the plural expressed in Mat. 28:19: "Baptizing them," etc. Nor is there parity between the baptizer and the baptized; since Christ, the baptizer in chief, is one: while many are made one in Christ by Baptism.
Reply to Objection 3: As stated above (Q, A), the integrity of Baptism consists in the form of words and the use of the matter. Consequently, neither he who only pronounces the words, baptizes, nor he who dips. Where fore if one pronounces the words and the other dips, no form of words can be fitting. For neither could he say: "I baptize thee": since he dips not, and therefore baptizes not. Nor could they say: "We baptize thee": since neither baptizes. For if of two men, one write one part of a book, and the other write the other, it would not be a proper form of speech to say: "We wrote this book," but the figure of synecdoche in which the whole is put for the part.
Objection 1: It seems that in Baptism it is not necessary for someone to raise the baptized from the sacred font. For our Baptism is consecrated by Christ's Baptism and is conformed thereto. But Christ when baptized was not raised by anyone from the font, but according to Mat. 3:16, "Jesus being baptized, forthwith came out of the water." Therefore it seems that neither when others are baptized should anyone raise the baptized from the sacred font.
Objection 2: Further, Baptism is a spiritual regeneration, as stated above (A). But in carnal generation nothing else is required but the active principle, i.e. the father, and the passive principle, i.e. the mother. Since, then, in Baptism he that baptizes takes the place of the father, while the very water of Baptism takes the place of the mother, as Augustine says in a sermon on the Epiphany (cxxxv); it seems that there is no further need for someone to raise the baptized from the sacred font.
Objection 3: Further, nothing ridiculous should be observed in the sacraments of the Church. But it seems ridiculous that after being baptized, adults who can stand up of themselves and leave the sacred font, should be held up by another. Therefore there seems no need for anyone, especially in the Baptism of adults, to raise the baptized from the sacred font.
On the contrary, Dionysius says (Eccl. Hier. ii) that "the priests taking the baptized hand him over to his sponsor and guide."
I answer that, The spiritual regeneration, which takes place in Baptism, is in a certain manner likened to carnal generation: wherefore it is written (1 Pet. 2:2): "As new-born babes, endowed with reason desire milk [Vulg.: 'desire reasonable milk'] without guile." Now, in carnal generation the new-born child needs nourishment and guidance: wherefore, in spiritual generation also, someone is needed to undertake the office of nurse and tutor by forming and instructing one who is yet a novice in the Faith, concerning things pertaining to Christian faith and mode of life, which the clergy have not the leisure to do through being busy with watching over the people generally: because little children and novices need more than ordinary care. Consequently someone is needed to receive the baptized from the sacred font as though for the purpose of instructing and guiding them. It is to this that Dionysius refers (Eccl. Hier. xi) saying: "It occurred to our heavenly guides," i.e. the Apostles, "and they decided, that infants should be taken charge of thus: that the parents of the child should hand it over to some instructor versed in holy things, who would thenceforth take charge of the child, and be to it a spiritual father and a guide in the road of salvation."
Reply to Objection 1: Christ was baptized not that He might be regenerated, but that He might regenerate others: wherefore after His Baptism He needed no tutor like other children.
Reply to Objection 2: In carnal generation nothing is essential besides a father and a mother: yet to ease the latter in her travail, there is need for a midwife; and for the child to be suitably brought up there is need for a nurse and a tutor: while their place is taken in Baptism by him who raises the child from the sacred font. Consequently this is not essential to the sacrament, and in a case of necessity one alone can baptize with water.
Reply to Objection 3: It is not on account of bodily weakness that the baptized is raised from the sacred font by the godparent, but on account of spiritual weakness, as stated above.
Objection 1: It seems that he who raises anyone from the sacred font is not bound to instruct him. For none but those who are themselves instructed can give instruction. But even the uneducated and ill-instructed are allowed to raise people from the sacred font. Therefore he who raises a baptized person from the font is not bound to instruct him.
Objection 2: Further, a son is instructed by his father better than by a stranger: for, as the Philosopher says (Ethic. viii), a son receives from his father, "being, food, and education." If, therefore, godparents are bound to instruct their godchildren, it would be fitting for the carnal father, rather than another, to be the godparent of his own child. And yet this seems to be forbidden, as may be seen in the Decretals (xxx, qu. 1, Cap. Pervenit and Dictum est).
Objection 3: Further, it is better for several to instruct than for one only. If, therefore, godparents are bound to instruct their godchildren, it would be better to have several godparents than only one. Yet this is forbidden in a decree of Pope Leo, who says: "A child should not have more than one godparent, be this a man or a woman."
On the contrary, Augustine says in a sermon for Easter (clxviii): "In the first place I admonish you, both men and women, who have raised children in Baptism, that ye stand before God as sureties for those whom you have been seen to raise from the sacred font."
I answer that, Every man is bound to fulfil those duties which he has undertaken to perform. Now it has been stated above (A) that godparents take upon themselves the duties of a tutor. Consequently they are bound to watch over their godchildren when there is need for them to do so: for instance when and where children are brought up among unbelievers. But if they are brought up among Catholic Christians, the godparents may well be excused from this responsibility, since it may be presumed that the children will be carefully instructed by their parents. If, however, they perceive in any way that the contrary is the case, they would be bound, as far as they are able, to see to the spiritual welfare of their godchildren.
Reply to Objection 1: Where the danger is imminent, the godparent, as Dionysius says (Eccl. Hier. vii), should be someone "versed in holy things." But where the danger is not imminent, by reason of the children being brought up among Catholics, anyone is admitted to this position, because the things pertaining to the Christian rule of life and faith are known openly by all. Nevertheless an unbaptized person cannot be a godparent, as was decreed in the Council of Mainz, although an unbaptized person: because the person baptizing is essential to the sacrament, wherefore as the godparent is not, as stated above (A, ad 2).
Reply to Objection 2: Just as spiritual generation is distinct from carnal generation, so is spiritual education distinct from that of the body; according to Heb. 12:9: "Moreover we have had fathers of our flesh for instructors, and we reverenced them: shall we not much more obey the Father of Spirits, and live?" Therefore the spiritual father should be distinct from the carnal father, unless necessity demanded otherwise.
Reply to Objection 3: Education would be full of confusion if there were more than one head instructor. Wherefore there should be one principal sponsor in Baptism: but others can be allowed as assistants.