Recently, Pope Gaffs-a-lot… er… Francis stated that if Martians landed today, and asked him to be baptized… that he would do so. Now, it is true that he never explicitly says that he would baptize a martian… however his further statements make it clear that he was using that as an example to say that the Roman “Catholic” Church should not turn people away from Baptism simply because they do not fit the typical understanding of who is coming into the Church. The implication, of course, being that he would in fact baptize an alien if the alien sought baptism.
Today, I want to explore this statement and take a look at the theological problems it betrays. Disclaimer: I know that the Pope isn’t infallible in general, I know that he is able to make theological mistakes, and I know that systematic theology is not his focus. If you’re Roman Catholic and offended… then the blog of a Reformed theologian is probably not the best place for you to expect compassion or quarter.
For the sake of transparency and accuracy, here is the quote from the Official Vatican News Network
That was unthinkable. If – for example – tomorrow an expedition of Martians came, and some of them came to us, here… Martians, right? Green, with that long nose and big ears, just like children paint them… And one says, ‘But I want to be baptized!’ What would happen?
He then goes on to say
When the Lord shows us the way, who are we to say, ‘No, Lord, it is not prudent! No, lets do it this way’… and Peter in that first diocese – the first diocese was Antioch – makes this decision: ‘Who am I to admit impediments?’ A nice word for bishops, for priests and for Christians. Who are we to close doors? In the early Church, even today, there is the ministry of the ostiary [usher]. And what did the ostiary do? He opened the door, received the people, allowed them to pass. But it was never the ministry of the closed door, never.
In the ineffable words of Mike Goldberg: HERE WE GO
Now, I think that there are three primary perspectives that we can analyze these statements from. The first will be the Roman Catholic position, followed by the Reformed Position, and trailing with the Anabaptist position.
Now, the Roman Catholic understanding of Baptism is nuanced and complex, however I think it’s fair to say that the basic thrust of the position is that Baptism accomplishes (at least) three things.
- It washes the stain of Original Sin (CCC 405)
- It brings one into communion with the Church both institutionally and spiritual (CCC 1267-1269)
- It effects initial justification, including the remission of all sin both original and personal (CCC 1263)
As you can see, Original Sin plays a significant role in Roman Catholic baptism, so that leads us to ask: If Baptism is directly related to original sin, and the Pope would baptize Aliens, then do Aliens bear original sin?
Original Sin, according to the Roman Catholic Church, is passed on in a hereditary fashion from parents to children, primarily through the concupiscence of the parents in the sexual act. This transmission of Original Sin is one of the primary theological motivations for the doctrine of Mary’s sinlessness. How then, could an alien have Original Sin? Was there some kind of parallel event to the Fall of Adam on Mars? It seems to this writer that they would not have Original Sin, so one of the primary purposes of Baptism seems to not apply.
Second, we would have to ask if such an Alien has personal sin which needs to be remitted. Without Original Sin, I see no strong reason to think that Personal Sin (on the Catholic Model) is a necessary conclusion. In fact, again the example of Mary seems to discredit the idea. Mary, because she was preserved from Original Sin, was able to live a sinless life. From what I understand, this was not a matter of a special grace from God that protected her from committing personal sin, but a result of her own personal piety. Although an Alien MAY have personal sin, it certainly isn’t a necessary conclusion.
Third, it seems to me that at least for a while, the Alien would have to remain on Earth. While Baptism may bring the Alien into institutional and spiritual communion with the Roman Pontiff, that Alien could not return to Mars and retain this status. Primarily because there can be no valid sacraments without a Bishop bearing apostolic succession. Now, one COULD make the argument that this Martian could be made a Bishop after a short training period (Ambrose went from Pagan to Bishop in 8 days), however the Cyprianic dictum that where the Bishop is so is the Church is still in effect. Although possible, it seems highly unlikely that this state of affairs would obtain. That is to say, if there is no Bishop on Mars… there is no valid sacraments on Mars… and with no Bishop or valid sacraments, there is no Church and no Christians.
Fourth, from a purely pragmatic stance, it does not seem as though Alien baptism is viable. Prior to Baptism “The catechumens should be properly initiated into the mystery of salvation and the practice of evangelical virtues, and they should be introduced into the life of faith, liturgy, and charity of the People of God by successive sacred rites.” (CCC 1248) Now, Francis did not clearly state WHEN he would baptize an alien… but there seemed to be a sense of immediacy and urgency. What would it even look like to integrate an Alien into the life of faith, liturgy, and charity?
The Reformed position would object on slightly different grounds. Primarily because of the objective nature of atonement in Reformed thought. Baptism is the association of a person with the death and resurrection of Christ. It is a proclamation of the Gospel, which on Reformed theology is “Christ suffered the penalty for sin on behalf of the elect, objectively obtaining their salvation which will be applied through Faith and confirmed by a profession of faith.” imbedded in the assumptions of Penal Substitution is Chalcedonian Christology, namely that Christ took on a human nature in order to actually substitute. Christ had to be one of us, die as one of us, in order to be punished in our place. Baptizing an Alien would require us to theologically affirm one of the following propositions
- The human nature and the alien nature are identical. That is, the only difference between a Martian and an Earthling on a metaphysical level is the planet that they were born on.
- Christ ALSO took on the alien nature, but we have no record of it or indication of such a thing. (This includes a sub proposition that the Alien nature does not affect the physical form of Christ in such a way that would contradict with the human form, or would give any reason for someone to think something was suspicious about this man)
Beyond that, Federal Headship operates on the assumption that we not only inherit the corruption of Adam due to the Fall, but are actually guilty of his personal sin. That is, he is our covenant representative, and as our covenant representative his failure to obey the covenant causes us to suffer the sanctions of said covenant. Christ then serves as the covenant representative of the Elect and succeeds at fulfilling the covenant that Adam failed to obey, and we gain the benefits of said covenant due to the success of our new Federal Head. Similar to the above objections from Penal Substitution, this would require us to affirm the following three propositions.
- Adam was the Federal Head of these aliens such that his place as the covenant vassal could obligate the aliens to the same covenant.
- Adam was the Federal Head of these aliens such that his failure could result in the sanctions of the covenant being applied to the aliens.
- Christ is the Federal Head of these aliens such that his successful covenant keeping could result in the blessings of the covenant being applied to the aliens. (with the sub proposition that these Aliens are among the Elect)
Now, while it isn’t IMPOSSIBLE that either of these scenarios are the case… we have absolutely no reason to think that they are.
Alright… I couldn’t think of a single reason an Anabaptist wouldn’t baptize an Alien. Other than the fact that according to M Night Shyamalan… water kills aliens.