Hodge on the Church

When the Presbyterian General Assembly determined that Catholic baptism was not valid, Charles Hodge was “overwhelmed.” He was sure it was an anomaly, and that most Presbyterians would not believe that Catholics “lived and died unbaptized,” since such a position was “in opposition to all previous practice, and to the principles of every other Protestant church.”

He was wrong. As Paul Gutjahr notes in his Charles Hodge: Guardian of American Orthodoxy (236-9) , Hodge’s argument for the validity of Catholic baptism was “tremendously unpopular” among Presbyterians. Hodge claimed that the Catholic church was “corrupted and overlaid by false and soul-destroying abuses and errors,” but that it was still a body of believers and Catholics were members of the visible church. Catholic baptism was done with the “intention of complying with the command of Christ,” and thus should be accepted as Christian baptism.

He worried too that Presbyterian sectarianism would “unchurch almost the whole Christian world; and Presbyterians, instead of being the most catholic of churches, and admitting the being of a church, wherever we see the fruits of the Spirit, would become one of the narrowest and most bigoted of sects.”

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