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An Agreed Statement of The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation

Baptism and "Sacramental Economy"

St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary, Crestwood, New York, June 3, 1999


A. Conclusions

The "inconsistencies" to which we referred at the beginning of our second section turn out, on closer inspection, to be less significant than they might appear to be. Granted, a vocal minority in the Orthodox Church refuses to accord any validity to Catholic baptism, and thus continues to justify in theory (if less frequently in fact) the (re)baptism of converts from Catholicism. Against this one fact, however, we present the following considerations:

1. The Orthodox and Catholic churches both teach the same understanding of baptism. This identical teaching draws on the same sources in Scripture and Tradition, and it has not varied in any significant way from the very earliest witnesses to the faith up to the present day.

2. A central element in this single teaching is the conviction that baptism comes to us as God's gift in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. It is therefore not "of us," but from above. The Church does not simply require the practice of baptism; rather, baptism is the Church's foundation. It establishes the Church, which is also not "of us" but, as the body of Christ quickened by the Spirit, is the presence in this world of the world to come.

3. The fact that our churches share and practice this same faith and teaching requires that we recognize in each other the same baptism and thus also recognize in each other, however "imperfectly," the present reality of the same Church. By Gods gift we are each, in St. Basils words, "of the Church."

4. We find that this mutual recognition of the ecclesial reality of baptism, in spite of our divisions, is fully consistent with the perennial teaching of both churches. This teaching has been reaffirmed on many occasions. The formal expression of the recognition of Orthodox baptism has been constant in the teaching of the popes since the beginning of the sixteenth century, and was emphasized again at the Second Vatican Council. The Synods of Constantinople in 1484 and Moscow in 1667 testify to the implicit recognition of Catholic baptism by the Orthodox churches, and do so in a way fully in accord with the earlier teaching and practice of antiquity and the Byzantine era.

5. The influential theory of "sacramental economy" propounded in the Pedalion commentaries does not represent the tradition and perennial teaching of the Orthodox Church; it is rather an eighteenth-century innovation motivated by the particular historical circumstances operative in those times. It is not the teaching of scripture, of most of the Fathers, or of later Byzantine canonists, nor is it the majority position of the Orthodox churches today.

6. Catholics in the present day who tax the Orthodox with sins against charity, and even with sacrilege, because of the practice of rebaptism should bear in mind that, while the rebaptism of Orthodox Christians was officially repudiated by Rome five hundred years ago, it nonetheless continued in some places well into the following century and occasionally was done, under the guise of "conditional baptism," up to our own times.

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