Who’s rewriting history in this story?

Son of Trypho pointed me to a rather bizarre story on ABC Radio’s AM program this morning concerning the fallout of Fr Peter Kennedy’s use of invalid baptismal formulae at St Mary’s in South Brisbane: “Ruthless Church accused of re-writing history”. People there are not happy that their children need to be rebaptised and – get this – they are blaming the Catholic Church for this, NOT Kennedy himself! In fact, Kennedy’s argument is that

the Catholic Church is trying to re-write history. He says the baptisms it is now refusing to recognise were carried out under its watch, and before Rome objected to the practices at St Mary’s.

I think someone is missing the point here. It is well known that someone should have done something about Kennedy’s improper baptismal formula earlier than they did, and from rather closer to home than the Vatican. But whether or not the hue and cry had yet been raised, what invalidates baptism is not the Church’s objection to the use of invalid formulae, but the invalid formulae themselves. An invalid baptism is an invalid baptism, whether or not the authorities have taken action to put a stop to such practices yet.

And what about the formula of baptism. You be the judge. Here is what Kennedy has to say for himself. (Just note that the words I have put in bold here are missing from the transcript report on the ABC website, but can be heard on the audio recording on the same page. The words in Italics are only in the transcript and didn’t make it to air.)

We always used the formula I baptise you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the God of love who is creator, redeemer and sustainer of life. [T]here were a handful of baptisms where the parents objected to just having anything about Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. They didn’t want that rather exclusive formula. So the vast majority of children baptised at St Mary’s have been baptised validly in their theology. I mean you can only talk about God in metaphor. If you are going to describe the Trinity, it is Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. You can also describe the Trinity as creator, redeemer, sustainer of life.”

So. Just who is re-writing history here?

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20 Comments

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20 responses to “Who’s rewriting history in this story?

  1. Kyle

    His baptismal formula shows a total misunderstanding of Trinitarian theology. While we do appropriate particular actions to the individual divine persons, creation to the Father, redemption to the Son and sanctification to the Holy Spirit, these actions do not strictly distinguish these persons. Creation is an act of all three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What distinguishes the three persons is their origin and procession. The Father is God without procession; the Son is God by a procession from the Father, or more strictly by an act of generation; the Holy Spirit is God by mere procession from both. To say in the name of ‘creator, redeemer and sanctifier (or sustainer)’ does not properly invoke the whole Trinity or name each individual person.

    And there is something just so wrong about this ‘So the vast majority of children baptised at St Mary’s have been baptised validly in their theology.’ Surely it should matter much more whether it is valid to Jesus Christ?

  2. Tom

    “…I mean you can only talk about God in metaphor. If you are going to describe the Trinity, it is Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. You can also describe the Trinity as creator, redeemer, sustainer of life.”

    bzzzt, no deal.

    He has taken one point about Aquinas’ analogia entis, twisted it so it no longer says what it ordinarily says, and then used it justify something completely wrong.

    Creator, redeemer and sustainer are NOT an analogy of being. The very loose interpretation of the word ‘metaphor’ leads to this mess.

  3. An interesting observation, Tom. I brought up the analogy of being and aspects of David’s theology here some time ago. But that’s beside the point for now.

    I heard this report on the radio this afternoon, and yes, I thought the whole thing was obviously biased against the Catholic Church, although they did go to the trouble of getting a comment from the Brisbane Archdiocese. This would make a good study for the ‘Get Religion’ people.

  4. Paul

    Whenever I hear stories about Peter Kennedy and his followers, my head starts hurting. They spend all their time saying that the “institutional” church has no right to tell then what to do, in fact it has no right to exist at all.

    Then occasionally, at times like this, they fret about what the institution thinks of them. They remind me of the TV ad where the teenager leaves home, then returns after a couple of months to find his parents have turned his old bedroom into a bathroom. Do the Kennedyistas want independence or not? Why do they care if their old room is now a bathroom?

  5. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    Is it STILL 1968 in the RCC?

    It seems to be — beyond amazement that this should even be a matter of debate — that both sides have a point.

    How does the sacrament even begin (or at least used to)? Quid petis ab ecclesia Dei, that’s how, what dost thou ask of the church of God (which I so translate not out of a fondness for old sounding words, but to preserve the second person familiar English has lost but the original text has not).

    What is required for a sacrament to be valid? Correct form, matter and intent, that’s what.

    This is a gift. You do not get to determine what the gift is. It is something that already exists for which you ask. You don’t get to go in like a retail store and ask for it blue instead of red. The people in the “store” don’t have the option to offer blue instead of red.

    That is why the church is quite precise as to matter and form, since intent is not so easily ascertained, but one can insure the form and matter express it.

    What misses the point is not that the “product” is already invalid. Of course it is. Which is the whole point — what kind of “store” allows its people to “sell” it anyway, what kind of “store” does not have its “employees” explain the “products” to the “customers” if they don’t know?

    Apparently one that is content to say “that’s not what the church really teaches” and excuse itself from what the church actually does.

    Even the world knows this. What happens if you go into a Burger King and order a Big Mac? What happens if the BK manager gets you one, or whips up something of his own?

  6. Somebody really needs to do something about this priest. What is he living on? Does he have private means? Is his food and lodging being paid for by orthodox Catholics? (You are no doubt getting my drift.)

  7. I actually feel sorry for Fr Kennedy, as a sort of PE riff!

    After all, he simply went along, a little further but arguably more honestly and openly than most priests, with the whole “Vatican II is Year Zero, we believe a whole new religion, everything old is evil, everything new is good” type of dissenting substitute for orthodoxy – and for decades was benignly winked-at by Archbishop “I can’t be bothered” Bathersby, until Rome was alerted to the sort of gross sacramental malpractice that even the Vatican couldn’t avert its eyes from: as is well known, nearly every sort of barmy abuse on the progressive side is tolerated, short of utter invalid ministration of the sacraments, the most egregious heresy (e.g. Küng), serious financial malpractice or (in recent times, since the secular courts got involved) commission of sexual abuse.

    The gibe of many, that Rome tolerates almost anything for the sake of preserving Catholic unity, is actually rather close to the truth.

    The reason is twofold: actual Roman ability to enforce doctrine and discipline is quite markedly feeble (ever since the 1960’s breakout), and many even among the hierarchy are on the side of those deviating from the ideal.

  8. Ouch, Josh, that’s cutting pretty close to the bone.

  9. Christine

    Got to jump in on that one.

    Joshua is quite right, “unity at all costs” at the expense of orthodox belief and practice has driven many Catholics out of the church.

    The ELCA, too, tolerates many abberations. Dr. George Tiller, the late-term abortion provider who was murdered recently was an ELCA member. He would never have been tolerated in the LCMS or any other orthodox Lutheran body.

    Christine

  10. Christine

    The gibe of many, that Rome tolerates almost anything for the sake of preserving Catholic unity, is actually rather close to the truth.

    And, I’m sorry to say, that was the same state of affairs in pagan Rome, into the Christian era. As long as one paid homage to the state emperor as representative of state religion Rome pretty much left one alone.

    Which is why some of us refer to the RC as “the empire.”

    Christine

    • Only it is an odd sort of “empire”, because it has no armies. The Catholic Church seeks to maintain its members in unity with her and to draw others into it by persuasion, not by force. Some, of course, both in and out, are not persuaded. Doesn’t stop us trying. And let us not forget Christ’s own words about leaving the tares among the wheat lest we tear up some of the wheat in our eagerness to become a pure Church.

    • Yes, well, this is a clear blurring of the lines. That ain’t ecumenism – or interfaith relations according to the Catholic model either. Nevertheless, “dual-belonging” as they call it, is perhaps a little more widespread than we realise.

  11. Christine

    Only it is an odd sort of “empire”, because it has no armies. The Catholic Church seeks to maintain its members in unity with her and to draw others into it by persuasion, not by force. Some, of course, both in and out, are not persuaded. Doesn’t stop us trying. And let us not forget Christ’s own words about leaving the tares among the wheat lest we tear up some of the wheat in our eagerness to become a pure Church.

    Well, let’s be honest, that wasn’t always true. There have been times when the church used the power of the state to enforce her will.

    Didn’t Christ also speak about a little leaven leavening the whole loaf? When defiance continually goes unchecked, the tares tend to drag the wheat down with them. I don’t think anyone is asking for a “pure” church, that will never exist this side of heaven. But the very shepherds who should be forming the faithful are failing in their duty.

    It’s hard to believe this same church once brought emperors to their knees.

    Just saw the latest statistics from the diocese on the four parishes that form the “cluster” in my neighborhood. Mass attendance by registered Catholics is down to 29% on any given Sunday.

    Not good.

    • Well, let’s be honest, that wasn’t always true. There have been times when the church used the power of the state to enforce her will.

      Oh, quite. Not now though. (Sigh…)

      It’s hard to believe this same church once brought emperors to their knees.

      True, true. (Double sigh…). Mind you, she did that via persuasion, not with armies.

  12. Terry Maher (Past Elder)

    Yeah St Paul said that all the time — don’t worry about all this false doctrine and practice, let ’em alone like Christ said, hell, we might even hurt ourselves if we did anything.

    Then again he wasn’t “pope” so what did he know?

    • Exactly. Paul and Peter were a bit different, and had different roles. Peter/Pope = Pastor; Paul = evangelist. Pastors are always a little more prone to gentleness with the flock than evangelists.