Were someone to willfully receive baptism under false pretenses, is the sacrament valid?


Am reading the novel Dayspring by Harry Sylvester. Part of the premise of the book is that a cynical anthropologist feigns conversion to gain trust among an order of lay brothers who are otherwise rather private if not secretive about their penitential practices. Have barely gotten into the book, but the description on the cover suggests the anthropologist gradually experiences the grace of true conversion. Which leads me to wonder–in such a case, given the initial conscious deception involved in his baptism, would someone in this situation be required to be rebaptised?


Interesting question. This is exactly what my aunt did 20 years ago: insisted on being received into the church while at the same time openly spoke about how it is all nonsense. I have no idea why she wanted to get baptised. I’d love to know if the sacraments were valid in her case.


The Sacrament of Baptism acts ex opere operato, thus what the person receiving it thinks cannot invalidate it.

The minister - that is, the person performing the Baptism - must, however, have the right intention and perform the sacrament correctly, otherwise it would be invalid.

This article states the following:

For the validity of a sacrament, the minister must have the intention at least of doing what the Church does. This intention must be internal and at least virtual. Such an intention is naturally linked to the performing of the rite prescribed by the Church, and so is always sufficiently present unless it has been destroyed by a contradictory intention.

When the minister has such an intention, and when he uses the proper matter and form, the sacrament is always valid.

While Baptism is essential to receive for the first time sanctifying grace, the Holy Spirit does grant - whenever it is His divine will to do so - a temporary grace (called auxiliating or actual grace) that moves us to repentance and allow us to perform certain acts that we could never do on our own (let’s keep in mind that without the Holy Spirit, as the apostle writes, we couldn’t even call God “Father”). It seems to me - but it’s just my impression - that this may be the case of your aunt.

This is why ever since the earliest profession of faith “we believe in one baptism” :slight_smile:


Can. 869

ß1 If there is doubt as to whether a person was baptized or whether a baptism was conferred validly, and after serious enquiry this doubt persists, the person is to be baptized conditionally.

ß2 Those baptized in a non-Catholic ecclesial community are not to be baptized conditionally unless there is a serious reason for doubting the validity of their baptism, on the ground of the matter or the form of words used in the baptism, or of the intention of the adult being baptized or of that of the baptizing minister.

ß3 If in the cases mentioned in ß1 and 2 a doubt remains about the conferring of the baptism or its validity, baptism is not to be conferred until the doctrine of the sacrament of baptism is explained to the person to be baptized, if that person is an adult. Moreover, the reasons for doubting the validity of the earlier baptism should be given to the person or, where an infant is concerned, to the parents.


[quote="Vico, post:4, topic:298566"]
unless there is a serious reason for doubting the validity of their baptism, on the ground of the matter or the form of words used in the baptism, or of the intention of the adult being baptized or of that of the baptizing minister.


Thank you, that was very useful. I think I was confusing the meaning of "ex opere operato". Re-reading CCC 1128, it seems to refer to the "righteousness" of the celebrant or the recipient, which does not affect the validity...however it is also written that

From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it

Perhaps, then, the "intention of the Church" must be present for both the minister and the recipient in order for the Sacrament to be valid? I'd love to learn more about this.


There’s enough ambiguity in the answers being offered thus far that, if someone with “credentials” doesn’t weigh in soon to cut the Gordian knot, I’m gonna ask the question in the “Ask An Apologist” page. As I’m seeing things now, to opine far above my pay grade, were I a parish priest, I would confer with my bishop, determine through close discernment if the formerly-false convert truly DID receive baptism with bad faith: and, if so, would confess and conditionally-rebaptise said penitent. Somewhere in the back of my brain I have the sense that OTHER sacraments (such as Confirmation) don’t need to be repeated. Not certain that’s true but seems like it. So: awaiting further elucidation?


St. Thomas Aquinas on baptism and intention


It should be clear since these factors must all be present for validity (per the CIC Can. 869.2):

*]the matter or
*]the form of words used in the baptism
*]the intention of the adult being baptized or
*]that of the baptizing minister.


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