Questions Answered

  • Is Baptism by water “Baptism in the Holy Spirit?”
  • Can medical research on incapacitated patients ever be justified?

Is Baptism by water “Baptism in the Holy Spirit?”
Question:  I have often heard the phrase “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” used as a deeper experience of grace than the baptism by water.  Is baptism by water in some way incomplete without baptism in the Holy Spirit?

Answer:  The term, “Baptism in the Holy Spirit,” comes from Pentecostalism.  In Protestant circles, and those Catholic charismatics who adopt it uncritically from Pentecostalism, it can be quite problematic.

The question of the ability of sacraments as rituals to give grace is very unclear in Protestantism.  The famous Lutheran theologian, Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930), maintained that Luther’s principal difficulties with Catholicism did not stem from the authority of the Church.  Rather, he reacted against the whole idea of the sacraments as works that could give grace.  The sacraments of the New Testament are treated as if they were the same as the sacraments of the Old Testament.  Those of Old Testament times were rituals instituted by God, but they brought faith only by stimulating the faith of the believer in the future Messiah.  The Church, on the other hand, has always taught that the sacraments of the New Testament communicate grace as a work ex opere operato (“by the work worked”)—the sacraments confer grace when the sign is validly effected, not as the result of activity on the part of the recipient, but by the power and promise of God.

Of course, there is some common ground in the sense that Lutherans maintain that God has joined his Word to the visible element, but they tend more to an occasionalism in this.  This is the idea that God gives the grace when the sacrament is administered, but contemporaneously with it, and not through it.  Catholics can certainly agree that this work is only efficacious because it is connected to Christ by his institution.  The classic analogy for this is that the soul works through the hand, so that the pen may write the novel; and God works through the human nature of Christ, so that the touch of the water gives grace; because it is, by extension, the touch of Christ which acts by the power of God.

Since the nature and necessity of infant baptism is somewhat unclear, Protestants are accustomed to distinguishing between water baptism and the adult acceptance of baptism, as to when one would actually receive the fullness of the grace of the Holy Spirit.  In Lutheranism, this is often attributed to confirmation, which though it is not a sacrament, is still the adult acceptance of one’s religion.  In Pentecostalism, this is often attributed to a baptism in the Holy Spirit, which is distinct from water baptism, and often entails the possession of a charismatic gift—like speaking in tongues.  Texts from Scripture, which refer to the difference between the baptism of John and that of Christ, are often used to justify this approach.

This whole idea is foreign to Catholicism. Since the Church maintains that in baptism one receives sanctifying grace (the virtues and sanctifying gifts of the Holy Spirit), then the baptism of Christ truly justifies.  In this baptism, one receives “the Spirit, the water and the blood”. (1 Jn 5:8)  All three concur.  This involves the divine indwelling of the Holy Trinity.  No further or deeper presence is necessary, though of course, the person must allow this presence to further influence his life.  The water baptism of Christ is baptism in the Holy Spirit.  This occurs from the time one makes one’s first reasoning act, around the age of seven.

The term “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” may be used by Catholic Charismatics, provided it does not detract from the mystery of baptism by water, which gives the ontological presence of the Holy Spirit.  It can mean a deeper experience of the grace of conversion on the part of the subject.  Most charismatics differentiate between “praise in tongues” (the ‘gift’ commonly experienced in the awakening of the awareness of the Spirit), and preaching or prophesying in tongues (something very rare and always to be closely scrutinized).  If one does hold that one receives the gift of tongues, the latter experience, one must remember that this is not a sign of holiness.  One can exercise charismatic gifts in the state of mortal sin.  One should rather seek to grow in charity in ordinary things.

Medical Research on Incapacitated Patients
Question:  Can research without consent ever be justified for patients who are incapacitated in some way from making an informed decision?

Answer:  This question is one which is central to the rights of patients to refuse treatments which may be harmful, unproven, or aggressive.  Ethicists in some European universities have proposed, for example, that patients in a “persistent vegetative state” (PVS) may be treated as though they were dead.  These authors have suggested that such patients may perhaps want their bodies used for medical experiments which might benefit mankind.  There are already protocols in place for people who are brain-dead to permit their bodies to be used to benefit the living, but these authors would extend such protocols even to those who are in PVS.

Furthemore, they would approve of taking animal organs and placing them in human beings in order to do research—again, with promises to benefit mankind.  One author even refers to these sorts of people as “PVS cadavers.”  Significantly, he advocates that a researcher might tell the family that “their relative had died (providing them with a body for burial) and then abducting the PVS cadaver for research in a secure location.” (Robert Sparrow, “Right of the living dead? Consent to experimental surgery in the event of cortical death.” Journal of Medical Ethics, 32 (2006): 604).

Of course, all such outrageous suggestions clearly contravene the moral law, and the patient’s fundamental rights as a person.  PVS is not “brain death,” but merely a prolonged sleep.  The Church has always underlined, in the strongest terms, that these wild experiments are contrary to the dignity of the human person, whose body is certainly a part of  his being, and must be treated with due respect.  Nor can researchers relegate the responsibility, for whatever invasive procedures they may engage in, to the subject or a proxy, on either a present or future basis.  One cannot really know what treatments might be beneficial—or harmful—until the patient is actually experiencing difficulties where such treatments may or may not be helpful.

There are a great number of risks involved in doing research, even on those patients who may not be completely incapacitated mentally, but are nonetheless vulnerable.  This would be the case, for example, with the mentally ill, or with children.  The prestige among those in the medical profession is very high in our society, which can bring undue pressure to people who are not fully competent to make moral choices.  One would have to be careful—even with those who were competent—not to err on the side of exposing patients to treatments which might not be completely safe, might cause great pain, or may not be useful at all beyond the purpose of experimentation.

Having said that, some moralists and ethicists do not think all research, which might be invasive but not necessarily curative, should be forbidden from being used on those who cannot consent.  In a recently published article, Helen Watt has pointed out that rigid control (as opposed to total prohibition) might be used in certain types of research considered non-therapeutic (“Justifying Research without Consent,” Incapacity and Care, The Linacre Center, St. Albans, Oxford, 58-74).  Even if a given type of research does not benefit the person who participates, it might benefit others. An incapacitated person would not have any obligation to engage in such research, but should they be excluded from engaging in types of research which are minimally burdensome and relatively free of risk to a patient in order to help society, is the question.  To exclude them from this altogether would be to rob them of an important contribution they could make.

Here, one is speaking of things like experimenting with healthy breakfast food for children.  Granted, this is a trivial example, but there is obviously some discomfort in even allowing this.  Helen Watts concludes:  “Mentally incapacitated people are members of the human community, with the same moral status as everyone else.  This arguably implies that, like other members of the community, they may be exposed sometimes to minor risks and burdens for the benefit of others, particularly in their group.” (Watt, “Justifying,” 74).  However, this requires that they have more protection in their participation in such experiments, from any potential risks and burdens, than others who are not so incapacitated.

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, “Questions Answered.”

Please send your questions to:
Fr. Brian T. Mullady, O.P.
375 NE Clackamas St.
Portland, OR 97232
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  1. Father Brian Van Hove, SJ Father Brian Van Hove, SJ says:

    The best thing to read is “The Gift of Tongues” by Nathan Busenitz [2006]:

    Whatever contemporary “tongues” may be, Busenitz insists that it is self-induced

    and not from God.


  1. […] FROM Charismatic Church source < In Pentecostalism, this is often attributed to a baptism in the Holy Spirit, which is distinct […]