Is Roman Catholic Baptism Valid?


Order of Contents

Articles  2
Quotes  4+
History in the Church of Scotland



Articles  2

Rutherford, Samuel – A Peaceable and Temperate Plea, ch. 10, pp. 120-131  1642  The whole chapter is here typeset at Naphtali Press.

Rutherford, one of the Westminster divines, argues masterfully: Yes.



Ch. 10 – Whether or not it is lawful to separate from a true, visible Church for the corruptions of teachers and wickedness of pastors and professors, where faith is begotten by the preaching of professed truth? [No]

8 distinctions.


1. We are to separate in the true visible Church from all communion wherein necessarily we cannot choose but sin, though we do not separate from the Church.

2. Separation in part from some acts of public worship in a true Church wherein we cannot but choose to sin is lawful.

3. About separation from Rome.


1. It is most false which Bellarmine says, that Churches all withered as branches separated from trees when they separated from Rome.

2. The faithful before Luther made a negative separation from Rome and did neither hold, nor profess their gross idolatries, though they did not erect a new Church because the separation was not ripe for harvest.

3. Rome made the separation from the Reformed Churches, and not we from them, as the rotten wall falls from the house.

4. We separate not from acts of love to have the reliques of Babel saved, though we have separated from communion in faith and worship.

5. The essential ingredients and reasons of a lawful divorce are here: 4 listed.

6. The Church of believers might lawfully use a necessary defense for salvation and forsake her corrupt guides and choose others. So we had the consent of the Church to the separation, and a voice from Heaven, ‘Come out of her my people.’ (Rev. 18:4)

7. A collateral and sister-Church, such as Rome ever was, is not said to separate from another. The lesser separates always from the greater, the member from the body. Yet this is not the case with sister-Churches.

8. We separate not from men but from errors. We separate from Papism properly and totally; from Christian articles, in no sort.

About our reformers deriving their ministerial calling from Rome: 3 distinctions.

Objection: An Antichristian Church cannot ordain Christian ministers.  Answer. Distinctions.

Our reformers were ‘extraordinary doctors’; 2 reasons.

Suppose the call of our reformers was from the Roman Church, yet we have a true ministry, per these distinctions:

1. The court of Roma and clergy vs. the seduced people.

2. There is (1) a teaching court professing and teaching Popery and obtruding it on the consciences of others, (2) a people professing and believing this with heat and zeal, (3) a people misted, ignorant, not doubting, but following, (4) there is a people of God, “Come out of her my people…” therefore there is a covenanted people of God there, as Antichrist sits in the temple of God. (2 Thess. 2:4)

3. There is a true Church in verity of essence, as a sick man is a true man and has a reasonable soul, vs. a true Church morally true that is a whole, pure Church professing the sound faith. Rome is the former.

4. Either a teaching and ministerial Church professing Christ, the Word and Baptism, vs. a believing Church and Spouse of Christ.

5. Rome being relatively a wife in comparison of other Churches, or considered absolutely in herself.

6. If Rome be by right and merit a spouse or a harlot, vs. a wife not having received a bill of divorcement as the Church of the Jews.

7. If Rome according to some parts be a spouse and keeps any marriage kindness to her husband, or if she be according to other parts a cast off whore.

8. If Rome be materially a Church having in it the doctrine of faith, or if it formally be no Church, having no professed faith that has the nature of faith.

Hence, Rome as Popish is the falling-sickness of the Church, not the Church. But the same court teaching something of Christ, baptism, good works, etc. has something of the life and being of a Church, howbeit her skin is leprous and polluted. Reasons:

1. In a Church that is no Church, there cannot be a true seal of God’s Covenant, but in Rome there is true baptism. New Testament and Old Testament reasons.

2. The Word of God, and so the contract of the Covenant, is professed amongst them, and so there is an external active calling there (the Word of the Covenant being found amongst them), and there is a passive calling also as many secretly believe and obey.

3. Many fundamental truths are taught that may beget faith, and so there are true and valid pastoral acts in the Church.

Further distinctions.


Peru Mission – The Reformed Churches and Roman Catholic Baptism – An Anthology of Principle Texts  PDF  106 pp.

The answer is Yes.  This anthology includes quotes and brief analyses of the French Confession of Faith (1559), Calvin, Knox, Beza, Perkins, Rutherford, the Westminster Confession of Faith, Baxter, Turretin, and Hodge, all of whom said yes. 





Knox, John – ‘Answer to Some Questions on Baptism’, pp. 254-255, in Select Practical Writings of John Knox

The French Confession of Faith – Article 28  1559  in Synodicon in Gallia Reformata, or the Acts, decisions, decrees and canons of those famous national councils of the reformed churches in France, vol. 1, p. xii  1692

The Discipline of the Reformed Churches of France – Ch. 11, ‘Of Baptism’, Canon XIII  1559  in Synodicon in Gallia Reformata, vol. 1, p. xlvi  1692

This demonstrates that though a previous baptism in the Roman Church was considered valid, yet to voluntarily have one’s child baptized in the Roman Church was considered sinful and a disciplinable offense.



Bucan, William  1606

Institutions of Christian Religion, pp. 704-6, 714, 738-9

“Whether may that baptism be allowed which is administered by heretics or Papists?

If it be meant of such heretics as deny the principles of heavenly doctrine and utterly corrupt the essential form of baptism (as the Arians, Samosatians, Manichaeans and Macedonians) which are not sincere in the doctrine of the Trinity, baptizing so in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, that they deny nevertheless that the Son and Holy Ghost are coeternal, coessential and of equal honor with the Father, or that the Son of God did truly assume the human nature; then such baptism is not to be ratified, but to be accursed.  For the essential form being once taken away, the matter itself is also taken away.  And therefore it is to be thought that such are not so much to be rebaptized, but as that indeed they should rather be first consecrated with true baptism, who being converted to the knowledge of the truth, desire to be engrafted into the orthodox Church.  And this agrees with the decree of the Nicene Council.

But we must judge otherwise of the baptism of some other heretics: as the Novatians and Donatists, who delivered the true doctrine of the Trinity, or of Papists (who are out of the way of truth in some part of doctrine, and who possess the place of pastors and use the public ministery, either by common error, by long sufferance or by force, though they be not to be accounted as truly called).  Wherein, although there be many things needless and superstitious, yet still Christ is retained and held, at least in title, to be the matter itself, the chief head and essential form of the institution, and the native meaning (without idolatry) of the words of baptism, “I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost,” is retained.  Moreover it pleased God in mercy to conserve a remnant of his Church in the midst of Popery itself, even as the Israelites continued the use of circumcision though they embraced a false and impious service of God; and the vows are made in the name of Christ and not of Antichrist, or of any idol.  Therefore that baptism is not void, but of value and force: for it is the ministry of those person, but of the Church as yet covered or hidden in Popery.

They, I grant, did sprinkle the head or body, but Christ baptized inwardly.  And therefore such baptism [is] neither to be annihilated, neither does it require Anabaptistical rebaptizing.  But, forasmuch as they teach wickedly in other matters, they give just cause why the faithful should necessarily depart from them, as it is written, 1 John 5:21, “Flee idols.”

Whether may they that are truly instructed in Christian religion with good conscience bring their children to be baptized of Popish priests?


1. It is one thing, the validity of a thing received, and another thing to seek that [which] is falsely and [in] many ways superstitiously administered.

2.  Because we should give no occasion by our example to approve and confirm the corruptions both of the doctrine and of the sacraments, as also of the superstitious worship of the false and unlawful calling of the ministers of Antichrist: for that we must abstain from all appearance of evil and from communicating with the sins of other men.

3.  Because whatsoever we take in hand, even in things indifferent, that is in things mean, indifferent and least matters, as meat and drink, with a doubting conscience, not being assured of the lawfulness thereof by the Word of God, it is sin, Rom. 14:5,23. We must not do evil that good may ensue thereof, Rom. 3:8.  And it becomes us to to profess Christ and not always to flatter our own weakness too much.

4.  Because we are bidden to fly from the temple of idols and to take heed of idols, to hold accursed whosoever teach any other Gospel, Gal. 1:8, to hear the voice of Christ, not to hear a stranger’s voice, but to fly from it, Jn. 10:3-5,27; and finally, to beware of the leaven, that is the pestilent doctrine of the Pharises and Sadducees, Mt. 16:6,11-12. The Galatians, joining the observation of ceremonies to their profession of the Gospel, are said by the apostle to have forsaken the Gospel, to have rejected Christ and to have received his grace in vain, although they acknowledge Him for their Savior.

5.  Because that the administration of pure baptism should be of such excellent estimation amongst godly men that they should spare no labor nor cost to obtain the same for their dear children and offspring.

6.  Because that if by reason of this godly purpose, baptism, being deferred (which indeed ought to be done) the children in the meantime die, yet notwithstanding they are partakers of God’s Covenant and are heirs of eternal salvation: for, not the privation, but the contempt of the sacrament does condemn.

Are the children of Papists to be admitted to the baptism of the true Church?

They are:

1. Because it is presumed, and that rightly, that the Church, though hidden, does yet continue under the dregs of the Papacy (in regard of the elect, who in their time get forth), for [in] 2 Thess. 2:4 it is said, he which opposes himself, that is, Antichrist, sits in the Temple of God, not in the Temple at Jerusalem, which never shall be built again, as Christ witnesses, but in the Church: according to that 2 Cor. 6:16, “You are the temple of God”:

2. As also because the earnest of Christianity, although blemished with many spots, is notwithstanding retained in its substantial form: yea, and the very doctrine of the foundation of Christianity (in that which belongs to the Trinity and the person of Christ), yea, a residue of the Covenant continues there on God’s part, as Paul speaks of the Jews, Rom. 3:3-4, and it is said to beget children unto God, but such as she exposes to Moloch and defiles with false worships. As it is said of the Church of Samaria and Israel which retained the sign of circumcision, and professed the Law, but in title only, and withal observed idolatrous worships of the Gentiles.

Therefore the children of the Papists are not in my opinion to be kept from baptism if any of the parents require it or if any be present which will promise for their right education.

What is contrary to this Doctrine?

8.  Of the Anabaptists, which do urge that they which are baptized of idolaters in the papacy are to be baptized again…

10.  The sin of them, which though they know the truth of the Gospel, yet deliver their children to be baptized of false pastors, in the Papacy.”


Samuel Rutherford

Thomas Hooker, a congregationalist, had erroneously thought that Rutherford taught that baptism was the formal cause of entrance into the visible Church.  Rutherford in this chapter is correcting him.  This is important, as the issue does not proceed from a valid baptism to a valid Church, but from a valid Church to a valid Baptism.

The congregationalists, holding to separatistic principles, held that the Roman Church was not a Church; Rutherford corrects him.

A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church-Discipline Penned by Mr. Thomas Hooker  (1658), Book 1, ch. 21, pp. 119-120

“Mr. Hooker:  ‘It shall follow that the Church of Rome is a true Church, for all the members of that Church have true baptism, which is the formal cause of a true Church: but that is false, that that Church is a true Church.’

[Rutherford’s] Answer:

[1.]  The conclusion of the connex proposition is nothing against me, who deny Baptism to be the formal cause of Mem­bership.

2.  Such a Baptism that is valid, as touching the substance of the seal, as is in Rome: such a Church according to the meta­physic entity and being of a Church, is Rome a Ministerial Church, teaching necessary fundamentals, though darkening and contradicting all; but it is not morally a true Church, but leprous and unclean.  See what Junius, Whitaker, Calvin and Ri­vetus say hereupon:  Mr. Hooker is far from their sound expressions…



History in the Church of Scotland

ed. James Gordon, History of Scots Affairs, vol. 2 (Aberdeen: Spalding Club, 1841), bk. 3, ch. 49, p. 58 mid


John MacPherson

Unity of the Church: the Sin of Schism  from The Doctrine of the Church in Scottish Theology

“Our Scottish theologians were so generous in their conception of what constitutes a true church of Christ that, keen as their antagonism to Rome of necessity was, they did not seek to unchurch her, or to treat her baptism as invalid.  We might not have been surprised had they scrupled as to whether the priests of the Romish church should be recognized as minsters of the word.  But here again the recognition of the church in which they served as a branch of the church of Christ, notwithstanding her manifold and grievous corruptions, weighed so heavily with them that they did not raise the question as to the validity of the orders of the priests of Rome.   So little disposed were the divines of Scotland, and with them those of the Reformed churches generally, to question the validity of baptism administered within any Christian church that…  [they] introduced a distinction, useful though somewhat fine, between a valid and a lawful baptism…

In the application of this distinction, however, they carefully restricted themselves to the recognition of baptism administered by those who had some claim to be recognized as men ordained by the church. Women and laymen, who presumed, in accordance with Romish practice in cases of emergency, to dispense the ordinance, were not only themselves dealt with as profaners of the holy sacrament, but their action was regarded as invalid as well as unlawful.  Any child who had received a so-called baptism from a woman or a layman must be presented in a regular way and receive baptism as a child not yet baptized.

It should not indeed be overlooked that the Scottish Confession of Faith of 1560 lays down two things as requisite to true baptism: (1.) That it be ministered by lawful ministers, preachers of the word, chosen thereto by some kirk, and (2.) that it be ministered in such elements and in such sort as God has appointed.  Then it proceeds to declare the Papistical ministers are no ministers of Christ Jesus, Yea (which is more horrible) they suffer women, whom the Holy Ghost will not suffer to teach in the congregation, to baptize, and also they adulterate the Sacrament by using oil, salt, spittle, and such-like inventions of men.  And so in theory they make Romish baptisms not only unlawful but also invalid.

In an exactly contemporary document, however, the First Book of Discipline, drawn up by the same six Reformers, it is only enjoined that the introducers of these inventions be punished.¹  So far as appears, even from the beginning of the Reformation in Scotland, the idea of the unity of the church so prevailed that even in regard to Romish baptism, against which so much could be said, only its lawfulness, but not its validity, was called in question.

¹ Laing’s KnoxUt sup. p. 187. Dunlop, Ut sup. p. 521. Such as would presume to alter Christ’s perfect Ordinance you ought severely to punish.




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