Richard Baxter & Roman Catholic baptism

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Puritan Board Junior
Richard Baxter lived from 1615 until 1691 (long, long after the Council of Trent). He was a noted parish minister. He opposed Roman Catholicism, but also opposed the opposite extreme of sectarianism. In the following excerpt from his Christian Directory, Baxter argues for the traditional Reformed position on Roman Baptism, acknowledging how and to what extent Rome maybe considered a true church, and how and to what extent her baptism may be considered valid baptism.


Quest. II.
Whether we must esteem the church of Rome a true church? And in what sense some divines affirm it, and some deny it.

Want of some easy distinguishing hath made that seem a controversy here, which is so plain, that is can hardly be any at all but to protestants, if the question had been but truly stated.

Remember therefore that by a church is meant, not a mere company of Christians, anyhow related to each other; but a society consisting of an ecclesiastical head and body, such as we call a political society. 2. And that we speak not of an accidental head (such as the king is, because he governeth them suo modo by the sword); for that is not an essential constitutive part; but of a constitutive ecclesiastical head and body. 3. That the question is not, whether the church of Rome be a part of the church, but whether it be a true church? And now I answer.

1. To affirm the church of Rome to be the catholic or universal church, is more than to affirm it to be a true catholic church, that is, a true part of the catholic church: and is as much as to say that it is the whole and only church, and that there is no other; which is [an] odious falsehood and usurpation, and slander against all other churches.

2. The church of Rome is so called in the question, as it is a policy [i.e., polity] or church in a general sense; and the meaning of the question is, Whether it be a divine, or a human or diabolical policy [polity]; a lawful church.

3. The church of Rome is considered, 1. Formally, as a church or policy [polity]. 2. Materially, as the singular persons are qualified. It is the form that denominateth. Therefore the question must be taken of the Roman policy [polity], or of the church of Rome as such; that is, as it is one ruler pretending to be the vicarious, constitutive, governing head of all Christ´s visible church on earth, and the body which owneth him in this relation.

4 . Therefore, I conclude (and so do all protestants) that this policy [polity] or church of Rome is no true church of Christ´s instituting or approbation, but a human, sinful policy [polity], formed by the temptation of Satan, the prince of pride, deceit, and darkness. The proof of which is the matter of whole loads of protestant writings. And indeed the proof of their policy [polity] being incumbent on themselves, they fail in it, and are still fain to fly to pretended false tradition for proof, in which the sophisters know that either they must be judges themselves, and it must go for truth because they say it; or else that if they can carry the controversy into a thicket or wood of fathers and church history, at least they can confound the ignorant, and evade themselves. Of this see my "œDisput[ation] With Johnson," and my "œKey for Catholics," &c.

5. The bishop of the English papists, Smith, called bishop of Chalcedon, in his Survey, c.v. saith, "œTo us it sufficeth that the bishop of Rome is St. Peter´s successor; and this all the fathers testify, and all the catholic church believeth; but whether it be jure divino or humano, is no point of faith." The like hath Davenport,iii called Fransc. a Sancta Clara more largely. By this let the reader judge whether we need more words to prove their church to be such as Christ never instituted, when the belief of their divine right is no part of their own faith.

6. If the church of Rome in its formal policy [polity] be but of human institution, it is, 1. Unnecessary to salvation. 2. Unlawful; because they that first instituted it had no authority so to do, and so were usurpers. For either the makers of it were themselves a church or no church. If no church, they could not lawfully make a church. Infidels or heathens are not to be our church makers. If a church, then there was a church before the church of Rome, and that of another form. And if that former form were of Christ´s institution, man might not change it; if not, who made that form? And so on.

7. Our divines therefore that say that the church of Rome is a true church, though corrupt, do not speak of it formally as to the papal policy [polity] or headship, but materially. 1. That all papists that are visible christians are visible parts of the universal church. 2. That their particular congregations considered abstractedly from the Roman headship may be true particular churches, though corrupt; which yet being the only difficulty shall be the matter of our next inquiry.

Quest. III. Whether we must take the Romish clergy for true ministers of Christ? And whether their baptism and ordination be nullities?

I join these two distinct questions together for brevity.

I. As true signifieth regularly called, so they are commonly irregular and not true ministers. But as true signifieth real opposed to a nullity, so it is now to be further considered. The doubt lieth either of the sufficiency of his call, or of somewhat that is supposed to destroy it by contradiction or redundancy. 1. Whether he want any thing of absolute necessity to the office who is called in the church of Rome? Or, 2. Whether there be any thing in his office or entrance which nullifieth or invalidateth that which else would be sufficient?

For the first doubt, it is not agreed on among papists or protestants what is of necessity to the being of the office. Some think real godliness in the person is necessary; but most think not. Some think that visible, that is, seeming professed godliness, not disproved by mortal sin, is necessary; and some think not. Some think the people´s election is necessary, and that ordination is but ad bene esse [for its well being]; and some think ordination is necessary ad esse [for its existence], and election ad bene esse, or not at all; and some think both necessary ad esse, and some neither. Some think the election of the people is necessary, though after election by others; some think it must be the consent of all the flock, or near all; and some only of the major part; and some of the better part, though the minor. Some think the ordination of a diocesan bishop necessary ad esse, and some not. Some think the number of two, or three, or more ordainers to be necessary, and some not. Some think it necessary to the validity of the ministry that it come down from the apostles by a true succession of truly ordained bishops, and some think not. Some few think that the magistrates´ command or license is necessary, and only it, and most deny both. Johnson, alias Terret, the papist, in his Disputation against me, maintaineth that consecration is not necessary ad esse, nor any one way of election, by these or those, but only the church´s reception upon such an election as may give them notice, and which may be different, according to different times, places, and other circumstances. In the midst of these conditions, what is to be held? I have opened the case as fully and plainly as I can, in my second "œDisput[ation] Of Church Government," about ordination, to which I must refer the reader: only here briefly touching upon the sum.

1. There are some personal qualifications necessary to the being of the office, (of which anon,) and some only to the well being.

2. The efficient conveying cause of power or office, is God´s will signified in his own established law; in which he determineth that such persons so called shall receive from him such power, and be obliged to such office administrations.

3. Any providence of God which infallibly or satisfactorily notifieth to the church, who these persons are, that receive such power from God, doth oblige them to submit to them as so empowered.

4. God´s ordinary established way of regular designation of the person, is by the church´s consent, and the senior pastor´s ordination.

5. By these actions they are not the proper donors or efficients of the power, or office given, but the consent of the people and the ordination do determine of the recipient, and so are regularly causa sine qua non of his reception. And the ordination is moreover a solemn investiture in the office, as when a servant is sent by delivering a key to deliver possession of a house, by his master´s consent, to him that had before the owner´s grant; and so it ceremoniously entereth him into visible possession; like the solemnizing of marriage, or the listing of a soldier, &c.

6. The people´s consent (before or after) is not only by institution, but naturally necessary, that a man become a pastor to those persons (for no man can learn, obey, &c. without consent): but it is not of necessity to the being of the ministry in general, or in the first instant; a man without it may be authorized as a minister to go preach the gospel for conversion, and baptize and gather churches, thought not to be their stated pastor.

7. When death, distance, corruption, heresy, or malignity of pastors within reach, maketh it impossible to have ordination, God´s choice of the person may be notified without it: as by, 1.Eminent qualifications. 2. The people´s real necessities. 3.And the removal of impediments, and a concurrence of inviting opportunities and advantages. 4. And sometimes the people´s desire. 5. And sometimes the magistrate´s commission or consent; which though not absolutely necessary in themselves, yet may serve to design the person and invest him, when the ordinary way faileth; which is all that is left to man to do, to the conveyance of the power.

The case being thus stated, as to what is necessary to give the power or office, we may next inquire whether any papist priest have suchpower, by such means.


1. We have sufficient reason to judge that many of them have all the personal qualifications which are essentially necessary.

2. Many among them have the consent of a sober christian people (of which more anon). And Mr. Jacob, who was against bishops and their ordination, proveth at large, that by election or consent of the people alone, a man may be a true pastor, either without such ordination, or notwithstanding both the vanity and error of it.

3. Many of them have ordination by able and sober bishops, if that also be necessary.

4. In that ordination, they are invested in all that is essential to the pastoral office.

So that I see not that their calling is a nullity through defect of anything of absolute necessity to its being and validity; though it be many ways irregular and sinful.

II. We are next therefore to inquire whether any contradicting additions make null that which else would be no nullity. And this is the great difficulty. For as we accuse not their religion for having too little, but too much, so this is our chief doubt about their ministry. And, 1. It is doubted, as to the office itself, whether a mass priest be a true minister, as having another work to do, even to make his Maker, and to give Christ´s real flesh with his hands to the people; and to preach the unsound doctrines of their church; and these seem to be essential parts of his function. The case is very bad and sad; but that which I said about the heresies or errors which may consist with christianity, when they overthrow it but by an undiscerned consequence, must be here also considered. The prime part of their office is that (as to the essentials) which Christ ordained: this they receive, and to this they sew a filthy rag of man´s devising; but if they knew this to be inconsistent with christianity or the essentials of the ministry, we may well presume (of many of them) they would not receive it. Therefore as an error which consequentially contradicteth some essential article of faith, nullifieth not his christianity who first and fastest holdeth the faith, and would cast away the error if he saw the contradiction, (as Davenant, Morton, and Hall have showed, Epist. Conciliat.) so it is to be said as to practical error in the present case. They are their grievous errors and sins, but, for aught I see, do not nullify their office to the church. As a mass priest, he is no minister of Christ (as an anabaptist is not as a re-baptizer, nor a separatist as a separater, nor an antinomian, or any erroneous person, as a preacher of that error); but as a christian pastor ordained to preach the gospel, baptize, administer the Lord´s supper, pray, praise God, guide the church, he may be.

The same answer serveth to the objection as it extendeth to the erroneous doctrines which they preach, which are but by consequence against the essentials of religion. 2. But it is a greater doubt, Whether any power of the ministry can be conveyed by antichrist, or from him? And whether God will own any of antichrist´s administrations? Therefore seeing they profess themselves to have no office but what they receive from the pope, and Christ disowning his usurpation, the same man cannot be the minister of Christ and antichrist; as the same man cannot be an officer in the king´s army and his enemies´. But this will have the same solution as the former. If this antichrist were the open, professed enemy to Christ, then all this were true: because their corrupt additions would not by dark consequences, but so directly contain the denial of christianity or the true ministry, that it were not possible to hold both. But (as our divines commonly note) antichrist is to sit in the temple of God, and the pope´s treason is under the pretence of the greatest service and friendship to Christ, making himself his vicar-general without his commission. So they that receive power from him, do think him to be Christ´s vicar indeed, and so renounce not Christ, but profess their first and chief relation to be to him, and dependence on him, and that they would have nothing to do with the pope, if they knew him to be against Christ. And some of them write, that the power or office is immediately from Christ, and that the pope, ordainers, and electors do but design the person that shall receive it (because else they know not what to say of the election and consecration of the pope himself, who hath no superior). And the Spanish bishops in the council of Trent held so close to this, that the rest were fain to leave it undetermined; so that it is no part of their religion, but a doubtful opinion, Whether the power of bishops be derived from the pope, though they be government by him?

But as to the other, the case seemeth like this: if a subject in Ireland usurp the lieutenancy, and tell all the people that he hath the king´s commission to be his lieutenant, and command all the submit to him, and receive their places from him, and obey him; and the king declareth him a traitor, (antecedently only by the description of his laws,) and maketh it the duty of the subjects to renounce him; those now that know the king´s will, and yet adhere to the usurper, though they know that the king is against it, are traitors with him: but those from whom he keepeth the knowledge of the laws, and who for want of full information believe him to be really the king´s lieutenant, (and specially living where all believe it,) but yet would renounce him if they knew that he had not the king´s commission; these are the king´s subjects, though in ignorance they obey a usurper. And on this account it is that Archbishop Usher concluded, that an ignorant papist might be saved, but the learned hardly. But when the learned, through the disadvantage of their education, are under the same ignorance, being learned but on one side but to their greater seduction, the case may be the same. The same man therefore may receive an office from Christ, who yet ignorantly submitteth to the pope, and receiveth corrupt additions from him.

But suppose I be mistaken in all this, yet to come to the second question,

III. Whether baptism and ordination given by them be nullities? I answer, no, on a further account, 1. Because that the ministry which is a nullity to the receiver, (that is God will punish him as a usurper,) may yet perform those ministerial acts which are no nullities to the church. Else how confused a case would all churches be in! For it is hard ever to know whether ministers have all things essential to their office. Suppose a man be ignorant, or a heretic against some essential article of faith, or suppose that he feigned orders of ordination when he had none; or that he was ordained by such as really had no power to do it; or suppose he pretended the consent of the majority of the people, when really the greater part were for another: if all this be unknown, his baptizing and other administrations are not thereby made nullities to the church, though they be sins in him. The reason is, because that the church shall not suffer, nor lose her right for another man´s sin! When the fault is not theirs, the loss and punishment shall not be theirs. He that is found in possession of the place, performeth valid administration to them that know not his usurpation, and are not guilty of it. Otherwise we should never have done re-baptizing, nor know easily when we receive any valid administrations, while we are so disagreed about the necessaries of the office and call; and when it is so hard in all things to judge of the call of all other men.

2. And as the papists say, that a private man or woman may baptize in extremity, so many learned protestants think, that though a private man´s baptism be a sin, yet it is no nullity, though he were known to be no minister. And what is said of baptism, to avoid tediousness, you may suppose said of ordination, which will carry the first case far, as to the validity of the ministry received by papists´ ordination, as well as of baptism and visible christianity received by them. For my part, God used Parson´s "œBook of Resolution corrected," so much to my good, and I have known so many eminent christians, and some ministers, converted by it, that I am glad that I hear none make a controversy of it, whether the conversion, faith, or love to God be valid, which we receive by the books or means of any papist?

source: Baptism.pdf

[Edited on 9-14-2005 by biblelighthouse]
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