Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Baptismal Controversy of the late 1800s

A comment from Father William McGarvey of the Clerical Union of the Maintenance and Defence of Catholic Principles (1900), with an added footnote by McGarvey+, given that at least one commenter has accused him of holding to a "protestant doctrine":

The doctrine of baptismal regeneration was the subject of hot dispute between High Churchmen and Evangelicals. The former insisted strenuously upon the doctrine, the latter repudiated it no less strenuously. But by regeneration High Churchmen understood a change of nature, at least they used such expressions as "regeneration of the nature." In opposing this the Evangelicals adduced the condition of the Christian man as conclusive proof that no such change was wrought by Baptism. They could not deny the evidence, which they had in themselves, that the nature of man is yet fallen and unregenerate. In their zeal against what must be regarded as a gross exaggeration of the grace of Baptism, they were led to make statements which seemed to deny that any change at all was wrought in baptism. Had both parties been acquainted with the clear-cut definitions of catholic divinity, and had they taken the pains to understand each other,
the Church might have been spared the miserable schism of 1874. As a matter of fact, Baptism does not change man’s nature. The change is made in the person, which is delivered from the guilt of original sin, brought into living union with God, and given power to struggle with the nature, and to bring it at length under the dominion of grace.

(A footnote to the material above written by Father McGarvey)
This distinction between the regeneration of the person and the regeneration of the nature is thus stated by St. Thomas: “Baptism cleanseth the infection of original sin in so far as the infection of the nature redounds upon the person; and, therefore, by Baptism the penalty which is due to the person is taken away, that is, the deprivation of the divine vision. But Baptism does not remove the infection of the nature in so far as that infection is to be referred to the nature itself; this will come to pass in the heavenly country when our nature will be restored to perfect freedom” (Scriptum in Sent. II. I. 32. 2). This distinction underlies St. Paul’s teaching with regard to the Christian man, and is the key to its interpretation. It is also brought out sharply in the Office of Baptism wherein the minister so positively declares that the baptized “is regenerate,” and yet prays that this same person “may crucify the old man (i. e., the unregenerate nature) and utterly abolish the whole body of sin” (i. e., the original infection which still remains).


Anonymous said...

"They could not deny the evidence, which they had in themselves, that the nature of man is yet fallen and unregenerate."

If they used the evidence of their continued sin as reason to deny baptismal regeneration, then they must have denied the entire concept of regeneration at any stage or event, since they continued in sin even after their "professions" and until their deaths.

"The change is made in the person, which is delivered from the guilt of original sin,"

In western thought, isn't the guilt of original sin exactly the problem with man's nature? Therefore, if we are taking away the original guilt then we have changed the person by taking away the defect of his nature.

Anonymous said...


It is impossible to predicate anything of a "person" without reference to the nature(s); else, in the technical sense, we do not know "what" we are talking about.

Anonymous said...

Persons must be something over and above nature, else we have only one Person (rather than three)—or else Modalism—in the Godhead, given the one divine nature. (We might risk Nestorianism too, but that's another matter.)

Not sure how that applies in this case (in response to the previous comments); I'm hurried, so I'll leave it up to you all. :) I will say that it seems at least possible (and so perfectly consistent) to say that original sin is a problem that afflicts human nature, but that persons are personally delivered from the guilt of original sin. This does not, so far as I can tell, make it the case that their nature is changed—it rather makes it the case that the person's nature no longer condemns them. Further (or at least I think this is a further point), given my initial comment, it may also be perfectly consistent to say that a change is made in the person without a change being made in the nature (if not, again, how can there really be three different Persons in the Godhead with the same nature? Differences in persons do not a difference in nature make.)

Rev. Dr. Hassert said...

Very good comment, Anon.

A note to everyone--I had to switch over to Google, so signing in as a blogger may have changed

Anonymous said...

of course person (who) is not reducible to nature (what). my claim is that we simply cannot speak of any person in a meaningful way without reference to his nature- what the person is. it makes no sense to say that God saves the person sitting next to me, but does not save the man sitting next to me.

by use of the word "change," the claim in the original post (change is in the person) appears to be ontological, but it is actually just an idiosyncratic way of stating the prot. dogma of purely forensic justification. the person is simply delivered from "the guilt" of original sin: the sin remains.

Anonymous said...


The first portion of my comment was not meant to imply that you thought otherwise regarding person/nature; its purpose was just to point to some potential guiding principles for the discussion. That said, I agree with the first paragraph of your most recent comment.

Regarding the second paragraph, while I don't necessarily dispute your interpretation of the passage, I do still reiterate that it isn't obvious to me that an ontological change (of at least some form(s)) with respect to the person necessitates a change in nature (as the first comment, which you initially "ditto"-ed, seems to suggest). Differences in person do not necessarily a difference in nature make, and my nod toward the dogma of the Trinity is some grounding for that claim. In this vein, I note the newly added footnote to the original post, which suggests something much like this in its citation of Thomas. There it is said that the person is no longer deprived of the divine vision, which was a penalty due because of his nature, although the "infection" remains in that nature itself. Likewise the original quotation speaks of the person being given power, etc. While this perhaps does not conclusively establish that the passage mentions some "ontological" change, it does at least seem to me to suggest something of that sort.

Anonymous said...

In fairness (and also because it just occurred to me), the passage could also be read as speaking about both justification (the person is "delivered from the guilt of original sin") and sanctification (the person is "brought into living union with God," etc.) in the same breath. In that case, it would be consistent with both an ontological change (with respect to sanctification) and a purely forensic reading (with respect to justification), and so perhaps consistent with both of our comments regarding it. Just figured I'd mention that as a possibility (though I'm not sure that I endorse it).

Jason (for clarity's sake)

Rev. Dr. Hassert said...

Good comments, everyone--giving some indication as to why this discussion was as heated as it was in the late 1800s. Along with Fr. McGarvey, I think that both sides had some valid points, but were talking past one another in many respects.

Anonymous said...

AC and Jason:

thanks for the clarification (Lord knows I need a lot of it).

I could slap myself for bringing up justification the way I did; no use tacking on lables instead of carefully and honestly evaluating arguments.

My appreciation for the place of reason in theology is on the rise, especially given the ambiguous way that Tradition functions as normative for Anglicans (who says what parts of small t traditon belong to big T Traditon? what authority gives us the right principles for discerning?). Of course, there is no shortage of Anglicans who are perfectly willing to denigrate reason, settling disputed matters by merely asserting their own (often strange) versions of Tradition.

as to the topic at hand:

change in nature need not mean eradication of all continuing effects of original sin. nor, postively, is the change effected by Baptism limited to the forgiveness of sins (at least, according to many theologians).
for thomas, justifying grace and the theological virtues are infused into the soul by Baptism. this has a direct effect upon whatever of sin (or its disastrous effects) remains in the nature:

"Difficulty in doing good and proneness to evil are in the baptized, not through their lacking the habits of the virtues, but through concupisence which is not taken away in Baptism. But just as concupisence is diminished by Baptism, so as not to enslave us, so also are both the aforesaid defects diminished, so that man be not overcome by them"
(ST III,69,iv, ad 3).

AC's thomas quote, in context, indicates that the change in nature with respect to the final purpose of Baptism (to fit man for the beatific vision) only pertains to the person (by way of forgiveness) in this life, but to the nature at the resurrection. but this does not exclude any temporal and immediate, though incomplete, changes in the nature due to Baptism (as indicated in the quote above).

I suppose we are talking past one another a bit, since it is hard to understand the precise meanings of and relation between nature and person; in the summa, thomas means by "person" an individual with a rational nature, specifically those with dominion over their own actions.

the distinction between individual and its nature (essential proerties) is analytic, and cannot be pressed too far- i.e., made a sustitute for metaphysics. unless we are willing to make reality conform to logic (analytic philosophy), and not vice versa (moderate realism per aristotle and st thomas), we must always come back to the concrete reality itself: we simply don't encounter any bare individuals (e.g., persons) or free-floating universals (e.g., natures) in reality. we encounter substances (e.g., men).

Also, as to justification/sanctification, I have come to the conclusion that, although having different connotations, they do not always refer to essentially different works of God in man. I don't think that they are hard and fast "categories" for St. Paul.

afraid I am breaching blog etiquette with the length of this comment; but you hit close to home: I am supposed to be writing a paper for the diocesan examining chaplains on: "any ontological change which may occur in the human person as a result of baptism"! peace.

Anonymous said...


Apparently I am just as in need of clarification as you allegedly are. :) For it turns out that we agree much more than I initially thought we did. I had taken you to be questioning the very possibility of any sort of ontological "change" at baptism, and so in light of what I thought were your concerns I was attempting to defend at least the possibility of a change in person without a change in nature (I thought that perhaps you were averse to the latter). But now you seem to be open to even some non-essential change in nature, which seems also quite right (or at least possible) to me (to cite another theological example in support of this: human nature was impaired, infected, etc., after Adam, and so changed in some way, and yet we all remain human beings with a human nature; likewise a change in the reverse direction could occur at baptism). So maybe my attempted suggestions were ultimately pointless, based on a failure to understand where you were coming from. Ah well; at least some interesting points came out of it, I think!

I should add that I agree with your points about St. Thomas, that I agree that it is dangerous to separate person and nature too far, and also that I agree about the lack of hard and fast categories of "justification" and "sanctification" in St. Paul. I moved to the use of those categories only because I thought that perhaps you were intending to emphasize them (due to your mention of justification); but again, that was because I misunderstood where you were coming from.

Thanks for taking the time to give those comments, and good luck on the paper you mentioned!


Rev. Dr. Hassert said...

I'm just happy that there are people reading this blog that are willing to engage in thoughtful discussion on these matters. I mean that sincerely--too often the blogs are filled with people taking shots at one another.