What’s in a Name?

Many of our readers have probably heard about last week’s reply from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) on questions concerning the proper formula for Baptism. The CDF said that a Baptism conferred “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” is invalid and must be repeated with the appropriate Trinitarian formula.

Nearly a decade ago I was privileged to co-edit Catholic for a Reason: Scripture and Mystery of the Family of God with Dr. Scott Hahn. It was the first book produced by Emmaus Road Publishing, and it became a Catholic bestseller. I thought our readers would appreciate this discussion from page 9 of Scott’s introductory chapter to that book, which addresses the importance of Baptism “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”:

The importance of getting this right [i.e., accurately seeing God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit] really hit me one Sunday while attending Mass at a small parish in the Midwest. Standing up front, next to the priest, was the director of religious education, a middle-aged woman religious in a white robe. She began by making the Sign of the Cross, while intoning, “We gather together in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier.”

Now I had heard of this sort of thing happening before, but I had never actually seen it. It instantly struck me as wrong, quite apart from liturgical norms, feminist motives, or political agendas. But I wasn’t sure exactly why–until three ideas suddenly converged in my mind. First, we were no longer naming God in terms of who He is–in Himself, from eternity; rather, we were addressing Him simply in terms of what He has done–for us, in history. Second, although there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging God’s works (of creation, redemption, and sanctification), nonetheless the act of thanksgiving is a lesser expression of worship than praise–which we offer God precisely for who He is. Third, no matter how old creation may be, it’s definitely not eternal, in which case God cannot be an eternal Creator (let alone an eternal Redeemer or Sanctifier).

It follows that the Trinity is God’s eternal identity. This implies that God’s most proper name is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Anything else will invariably lead to a shallower understanding of–and relationship with–our God and Savior.

Perhaps this strikes you as theological nit-picking. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Trinity is not only the most proper name for God, it also reveals to us the deepest dimensions of all God does, whether it be creating, redeeming, or sanctifying. For whatever God does, it flows freely from who He is. We may thus discern–with the eyes of faith–a familial purpose in all of God’s words and deeds. In short, the world bears a certain Trinitarian trademark, what older theologians called “the footprints of the Trinity” (vestigia Trinitatis).

This initial volume of the Catholic for a Reason series is available through Emmaus Road Publishing, and CUF members receive substantial discounts on all purchases.

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