05 May 2008

Catholics and baptism for the dead

A recent order from the Vatican prevents the release of parish records to the LDS Church.

CNS reported the Vatican had "grave reservations" about the LDS Church's practice of posthumous baptisms by proxy, a practice in which the names of the deceased are baptized into the LDS faith so that they may be united in the afterlife with LDS families, if they so choose.

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I feel the need to comment on this issue.

"Posthumous baptisms by proxy" is called "baptisms for the dead" within the LDS faith. The definition given above is accurate, but I've run across a lot of confusion about the practice.

We believe everyone needs to be baptized to return to live with God. Jesus taught, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:5)

Many of God's children have been born and died without ever having the opportunity to hear about Jesus, let alone be baptized. In God's mercy, He gives everyone a chance to do both.

After death, those who have not heard about Jesus or been baptized will be taught the gospel and then given the choice as to whether they want to accept Him and baptism or not. Because after death we don't have bodies, those individuals who want to be baptized after they die cannot receive the ordinance themselves.

That's where baptism for the dead comes in. Members of the LDS church can be baptized in proxy for those who have already passed on. Those who accept this baptism receive all the blessings that come from that, and can return to live with God.

Thos who don't accept Christ or baptism are not required to do so. Freedom to choose is sacred.

Now, here's where I don't get what the Catholic church is doing.

Why bring it up now? Baptism for the dead has been going on for over 150 years. LDS church members have been using Catholic parish records for this practice for almost as long. Suddenly it is offensive to Catholics?

Where's the harm? The Catholic church obviously doesn't believe baptism for the dead has any efficacy. For them to have "grave reservations" about what we're doing makes no sense unless they think baptisms for the dead actually mean something in the afterlife.

This isn't about adding to our membership numbers. Official records of the LDS church never count dead individuals as part of the living membership.

If someone wanted to make my great-great-grandpa a Wiccan or Muslim by performing some kind of ritual, this wouldn't bother me in the least. In my opinion, such a ritual would make no difference in my great-great-grandfather's eternal salvation.

So I don't get it. And to a lot of LDS church members with Catholic ancestors, this is a major problem. They want to be the ones to help their family members have this opportunity to be baptized. And the Catholic church is preventing them from doing that.

Today is not a good day in Mormon/Catholic relations.


Filbert Karo said...

They are offended? What ever. 150 years and now they complain? Whatever.

James H said...

Speaking as a Catholic , I have no problems with the Church denying these records. IT is a Doctrinal issue. That being said it very much might have come to the Vatican attention that this was occuring widespread and they needed to issue a order of clarification.

I am not sure why this should harm Mormon Catholic Relations. As I put it on my blog if Catholics went to say the SOuthern Baptist and said we want all the names of your Baptized dead so we can pray for them in Purgatory and they gave to us to take a leap into the pond in response I would not be offended

Brandon said...


I appreciate you coming here and giving your opinion on the issue.

That said, you haven't exactly said why the idea offends you.

If you want to pray for my ancestors, who you believe are in Purgatory, go for it.

MooKoo Joe said...


If you don't mind, I would like to post this on my Blog as well. Of course I would like to have your permission first.

Brandon said...

No problem, Mookoo.

Aliese Fry said...

Oh my word...Brandon, I concur. If they don't believe in it's purpose, that what does it hurt?

Sharon said...

Even if they DID believe that the baptism is effective in the next life, there is also the fact that the person for whom the baptism is being done must accept that ordinance in the next life or it isn't effective.
Just my two cents.

Anonymous said...

In the battle for souls, a little bit of marketing has crept in. Certainly everyone thinks his brand of religion is the correct one. I can't think anyone believes they belong to the wrong church. Recently, the LDS have been making serious conversion inroads amongst Catholics in Latin and South America in addition to other places including Africa and Asia. It seems to have become a turf thing. While Mormonism was merely an amusement but nothing serious amongst many denominations, they have now recognized that these Mormons have serious and growing influence. Up until now they have been content to stay in Utah and the western US wastelands. But that has changed. Even the august Southern Baptist Conventions Dr. Richard Land has openly acknowledged that the 300,000 Baptist converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has opened Evangelical eyes to the competition.

What makes this growing influence even more troubling to traditional Christianity is Mormons tell people they don't have to rely on some priest or pastor to interpret scripture or provide the last word on doctrine. Mormons say everyone can find out for themselves whether what they preach is right or not by humbly reading the Book of Mormon and approaching God for a confirmation of whether it is as they say, the restoration of Christ's original church and His original doctrines. Given there is considerable difference between the old traditional doctrines and LDS doctrine, there isn't much negotiating room or even a place for traditional Christian beliefs such as the Nicene and other related creeds. They even offer New Testament passages as proofs and then say to put everything to the test by asking for Holy Spirit confirmation - even the doctrine the LDS Church teaches.

The interesting thing about how this whole affair has evolved is how the traditional Christians have responded. Rather than acknowledging the effectiveness of recommending people humbly approach God in prayer and fasting as to whether what the traditionalists say is true, they have demonized Mormons and attacked them as an enemy. They have placed the correctness of the Nicene Creed and others as the bedrock of their doctrine and understanding to the point where there is no wiggle room for discussion. If the NC is not correct then much of their religious doctrine is not correct. The traditional Christians have used individual differences between the two doctrines as proof of Mormon heresy. But it is almost always through the lens of the Nicene and other traditional creeds and relies on mankind's understanding and traditions. But to Mormons, the discussion ought to be whether God has in fact opened the canon and restored prophets and apostles to lead His restored Church. They offer direct access to God as their proof. Their detractors offer tradition and the understanding of men as their proof. Or so it seems to me.

Brandon said...

Excellent post, anon. I'd love to put your comments where more people can read them... can I do so? And if yes, do you want any kind of attribution?

Anonymous said...

Go ahead Brandon. Use JLFuller as writer if you think atribution is needed for accountability.

Anonymous said...

"Mormons say everyone can find out for themselves whether what they preach is right or not by humbly reading the Book of Mormon and approaching God for a confirmation of whether it is as they say, the restoration of Christ's original church and His original doctrines."

This is verification of "truth" by the "burning in the bosom." It's more a matter of feeling of what's right rather than hard evidence or truth of what's right. One can take it as a matter of faith, solely on faith, but I'd call it blind faith--faith with faith as its only support. With that kind of faith, one can believe in the Illuminati, outer-space aliens, or a world only 6,000 years old. Anyone who reads the Book of Mormon with a smattering of historical knowledge about the ancient Americas or Israel knows that there's something seriously wrong with either what God has revealed in the Book of Mormon or what archaeologists have dug up and deciphered in the New World. As fast as members come into the fold, so do old and informed members fall out of it.

Ryan said...

Actually, this is a case where we are picking up where the Catholic church left off.

Baptism for the dead was performed by the dominant church (Catholic Church) until forbidden by the sixth canon of the Council of Carthage in 397 of the Common Era.

The restoration of the gospel is implicit of the Apostasy that gradually occurred. It started around 70 C.E. and continued through out the centuries that preceded it. At around the 3rd christian century there are many writings of early church fathers that reflect the contemporary LDS view of divinization and salvation for the dead. Many of these doctrines, although once embraced by the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Church were eventually deemed heretical.

This is evidence that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the source of his teachings were divine revelation rather than human scholarly opinion. The academic world view of the historical content of the gospel was not something that the Prophet Joseph had access to or used as source points.

I go into Baptism for the dead at length on my blog, you may enjoy it.


Delirious said...

This is very interesting in light of this article I just read that reports that someone had Pres. Obama's grandmother baptized.


I also think this is a great article about the subject.