It is interesting to try to imagine what must be going on inside the head of Fr Peter Kennedy, the priest of St Mary’s South Brisbane who performed that invalid baptism in the video posted on YouTube.
Fortunately, we don’t have to imagine, because we have his own words from an article published in the (now defunct) “Online Catholic” e-journal back in “Issue 36, 26 January 2005” titled: ““The Brisbane Baptism Bunfight”. In what follows, my own comments appear as [bold italics]:
Is a baptism invalid if the words are changed? No, say the priests at St Mary’s, South Brisbane. And the Pope agrees! [is that so? Which pope? And would he really have agreed with Fr Kennedy’s practice?]
In the pontificate of Pope Zachary (741-752)[Ah. So already it becomes clear that we are not talking about “THE” Pope, then, but “a” pope. Now to see if what he said agrees with Fr Kennedy’s practice], an Archbishop by the name of Boniface wrote to the Pope about a problem that two of his brother bishops had raised with him. It concerned the liturgical practice of a priest who, having a limited knowledge of Latin, had unwittingly [note this: “limited knowledge” and “unwittingly”]breached the accepted scriptural formula for baptism ie “Ego te baptizo in nomine patris et filii et spiritus sancti,” translated into English as: “I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Unfortunately the priest used the words “Ego te baptizo in nomine patria, et filia, et spiritus sancti.” In other words “I baptise you in the name of the Fatherland, and in the name of the Daughter and of the Holy Spirit.” The Bishop wanted a ruling from the Pope as to whether the Priest needed to re-baptise. The Pope’s response was “I direct that there should be no re-baptism unless you are certain that he advanced some error leading to heresy. Ignorance of the Latin language does not invalidate his ministry of baptism.” [Precisely. The poor priest would have been mortified if he had known his error. The issue here is not a mechanical notion of the formula as a set of magical words, but compliance with the teaching, practice and intention of the Church to follow the institution of Christ himself.]
In other words, as Dr Paul Collins said in The Courier Mail on 4th December 2004 and I quote, “The sacrament of baptism goes on the intention which is as important, if not more important, than the use of the traditional formula.” [The intention is important – but not MORE important than the formula. How can one have the “intention” of doing what the Church does when one intentionally uses a form contrary to the Church’s practice? The way Kennedy chooses to apply Collins statement one would conclude that ANY formula could be used (“In the Name of the Cat, the Dog and the Guinea Pig”?) as long as the “intention” was there.]
As I understand it, the official Church position is that the scriptural formulation of Father, Son and Spirit, in its relational language, is simply too universal across the entire christian spectrum [“too universal” for what?] – an argued [does he mean “agreed”?]formula that is uncompromisingly Trinitarian. I note however that Hans Kung (P58 of the Catholic Church) [what authority does this opinion have in the Church? Zilch.] makes the comment that both Catholic and Protestant theologians of the west “hardly seem to be aware that they are interpreting the relationship between Father, Son and Spirit not so much in the light of the New Testament, as in the light of Augustine.” [I would strongly challenge both Fr Kennedy and Fr Kung to do some proper study on the Trinitarian formulae used in the New Testament. In any case, the later theology of Trinity is neither here nor there, but the fact that this is according to the institution of Christ himself in Matthew’s Gospel.]
For centuries all those who made rulings on the Trinitarian formula, Father, Son and Holy Sprit, for the universal church were men [here we go]. Although women outnumber men in the church, it is they who have to bear with this exclusive formula at the heart of all liturgies, and who are prevented officially from exploring alternative formula such as “Creator, Redeemer (Liberator) and Sustainer of Life.” This is an injustice [Deary me]. And this injustice is set aside in favour of doctrinal purity. [Deary deary me.]
It is in Matthew’s gospel where we find the baptismal formula “Make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and of the Holy Spirit.” [Ah – he’s read it then.] It is a statement given to [“by”?] the RISEN Jesus- the closing paragraph of Matthew’s gospel. Hence, it probably is referring to one of the emerging liturgical practices in the Matthean church [and not to Jesus’ own institution? Undoubtedly the formulae reflects the practice of the apostolic Church, but that is because the Apostles did what Jesus commanded them to do “baptising them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”.]. Given the tensions in the Matthean community around a number of issues, there may have been [!!!] tension around this formula as a new and emerging one in the community; to put it on the lips of the departing risen Jesus would have been to give it an authority in what may have been competing baptismal formula (baptising for the forgiveness of sins for example). [You see how this is done?]
In the Acts of the Apostles- we are now talking about the Lucan communities – St Luke being the author of Acts of the Apostles – the imagery associated with baptism is similar, but the formula seems to be different. “Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2/38.) [this is often cited against the requirement of the traditional Trinitarian formula. In fact, many pentecostal churches do baptise with this formula (as they base their practice on the Book of Acts). However, we have no evidence that “I baptise you in the name of Jesus” was ever used in the liturgies of the apostolic or early church or ever since up until our own day in the aforementioned sectarian groups. That one is “baptised in the name of Jesus” is a theological statement – all of us who have been baptised “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” have been “baptised in the name of Jesus”.]
(Acts 8/14-16) “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them and they went down there and prayed for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit, for as yet he had not yet come down on any of them; they had only been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”
(Acts 10/48) “While Peter was still speaking the Holy Sprit came down on all the listeners. Jewish believers who had accompanied Peter were all astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit should be poured out on the pagans too, since they could hear them speaking strange languages and proclaiming the greatness of God. Peter himself then said, “Could anyone refuse the water of baptism to those people, now they have received the Holy Spirit just as much as we have?”
He then gave orders for them to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ.
This Lucan formula is most likely to have been an earlier one than the Matthean Formula [as I have pointed out, there never was a “Lucan formula” which was used in the liturgy of the Church as an alternative to the “Matthean formula”; rather it is a theological statement about the nature of Christian baptism]. The question is why choose one over the other now and say that only one can be used. [the reason is because the Church does not employ the same skepticism with regard to the historical veracity of the Gospels as does Fr Kennedy – Christ himself commanded us to baptise “in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit”. Fr Kennedy needs to study the theological importance of the DOMINICAL INSTITUTION of the sacraments.]
Is the Matthean formula more effective? More holy? More? [Not more anything. Just what Jesus commanded us to do. We are not authorised to make it up as we go along.]
What we see here is the dynamic of developing theology and practice. Jesus never links baptism with one set unchangeable formula [???Que??? didn’t he do that in Matthew 28? Oh, but that is the “emerging Matthean Community” isn’t it, not Jesus. So what evidence will Fr Kennedy accept as to what Jesus did or didn’t do?], which is important in the current debate. A church which wants to mould itself so rigidly rather than make creative responses to new and engaging issues and circumstances seems to be a church that is acting quite contrary at least to the spirit and actions of the churches of the gospel. [Since the Church springs from and is sustained by the sacraments, she has for 2000 years preserved these rites in the purity of the Christ’s original institution. This is her sacred duty. Not “creativity” and “engaging issues”.] Only well into the second century does the tradition of the right creed and right code and right cult begin to develop in the churches of the pastoral letters and they are not core or dominant in the New Testament. [O dear. The Jesus Seminar people would welcome Fr Kennedy with open arms. Perhaps he should go and talk to Francis McNab… Such skepticism about the canonical authority of the whole New Testament, when just a few paragraphs earlier he was citing Hans Kung’s preference for the NT over Augustine… For the record, this 2nd Century concern over “the right creed and right code and right cult” arose in the face of the challenge of the Gnostic heresies – among whom it appears Fr Kennedy might have felt right at home.]
Another piece of history prior to the Reformation in England and long after it, as attested by the Douay Ritual of 1610, the formula used was, “I christen thee (Tom) in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” The Douay Ritual was intended for Seminary Priests going to England, at great peril to themselves, to keep the Catholic faith alive in Protestant England.
Note the words “I christen thee” rather than “I baptise thee”. Not the words of washing but of christening ie incorporating them with Christ. And they are certainly not the words that Jesus used. [Lord help us. At this point, Fr Kennedy shows up his liturgical ignorance. The words “I baptise/christen thee” are not essential to the rite. In fact, the Orthodox Church uses the following formula: “You are Baptised; you are illuminated; you are anointed with the Holy Myrrh; you are hallowed; you are washed clean, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”. The crucial thing is that washing is done (“Baptising them…”) with the Trinitarian formula (“…in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”).]
To sum up, the first thing that characterises the New Testament in relation to baptism as with many other areas of exploration is that there is wide diversity [but we have no firm liturgical evidence of any diversion from the use of the formula “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. The only significant diversity in regard to this which might be mentioned is the occasionally attested practice of phrasing the formula in question form (like the creedal examination) and immersing after each answer: eg. “Do you believe in God the Father?” “I do.” Immerse once etc. There was never any diversion from naming God in the act of baptism as “the Father” and “the Son” and “the Holy Spirit”.]. Because the documents were written over a period of extraordinary development in early and emerging Christianity, and because they came from different places, DIVERSITY both in practice and theology is evident. This is not only characteristic of early Christianity but throughout its history also. Baptism has changed very significantly from the early adult catechumenate over a period of three years, to infant baptism, links with confirmation and then separation from confirmation.[This is, of course, quite true. But the essential form of baptism – washing with water with the use of the Trinitarian name of “the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” has never varied.]
Change and adaptation could be said to characterise each period of the Church’s history of baptism and the present is no exception. Communities which are seeking justice, especially in relation to exclusive and tired metaphors [You see? What is really at stake is not the question of the formula for baptism, but how God is named in the liturgy of the Church. Fr Kennedy makes the common modern mistake of confusing a “name” and a “metaphor”. Peter Kennedy is the “name” of the author of this article – it is not a “metaphor” for the priest of St Mary’s South Brisbane. The whole “Yahweh” issue hangs on this point too.] that characterise the formula for baptism, are contributing to the diversity which will ensure that the tradition is continually living.
The community of faith needs a richness of metaphors for God [to be sure – but we don’t make up “names” for God – we use only those he has revealed to us], for Trinity, in order to expand our religious imagination and enliven our faith. This is clearly a key issue in this debate. [He’s got that right.] And if we need a richness of metaphors, the way we [who? you? the liturgy belongs to the whole church, not just you] develop those is in the liturgy [Why pick on the liturgy? Develop the “metaphors” in preaching, theology, private prayer, poetry, song – but not in the liturgy, ta very much], as that is where the community will encounter them.