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At about 80 words, the February 29 document wasn't much longer than the headlines it produced, like "Vatican Says Baptisms Using Wrong Words Are Not Valid, Must Be Redone."

Anyone baptized "in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer, and of the Sanctifier" or "in the name of the Creator, and of the Liberator, and of the Sustainer" didn't really get baptized, explained Cardinal Urbano Navarrete after the Vatican's brief statement. If you got married after such an invalid baptism, Navarrete said, your marriage isn't valid either (at least in the Roman Catholic sacramental sense).

Media reports only turned up one Catholic congregation that had been using the proscribed formula: in Brisbane, Australia. And it stopped using it in 2004.

Avoidance of "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" is, unfortunately, common in some North American streams of Protestantism. Gender-neutral language for the Trinity is often an emblem of progressive churches that see liberation from patriarchy as a hallmark of the gospel. After the Vatican's statement, one Methodist pastor howled about the Vatican's "liturgical fundamentalism that values human language over divine grace."

He failed to recognize that this particular instance of "human language" is a matter of divine grace. We use this rather than other Trinitarian formulas for a simple reason: Jesus—"very God of very God," as the Nicene Creed puts it—gave it to us and commanded its use (Matt. 28:18–20).

This formula is perfectly consistent with the self-revelation of God throughout the Bible. In the Gospels, Jesus refers to the Father and to himself as the Son. Yes, he also employs other metaphors for the Godhead, but never so consistently and starkly.

Furthermore, it is a mistake to focus ...

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May 2008

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