Christian baptisms given outside the Catholic Church are still valid baptisms, but that doesn’t mean that everything about those separated churches is valid. We should recognize the validity of their baptism, says St. Augustine, but it’s vital to heal the wound of schism.
Suppose someone is brought to the surgeon with a serious wound in some vital part of the body, and the surgeon says that unless it is cured it must be fatal. Are the friends who brought him in so foolish as to count up all his healthy limbs, point them out to the surgeon, and answer him, “Do you mean to tell me that all these healthy limbs aren’t enough to save his life, and one wounded limb is enough to kill him?”
No, they entrust their friend to the surgeon to be cured. And once they’ve done that they don’t ask the surgeon to cure the limbs that are healthy, too. But they do ask him to apply drugs as carefully as possible to the one part that threatens death to the other healthy parts as well, knowing full well that death must come unless it is healed.
What good does it do someone, then, if he has healthy faith, or perhaps only health in the sacrament of faith, when the health of his charity is destroyed by the fatal wound of schism? By the downfall of that, the other points that were healthy in themselves are brought into the infection of death.
To prevent that, the mercy of God, through the unity of his holy Church, never stops struggling, so that they may come and be healed by the medicine of reconciliation. In the health of the sacrament, because they are not against us, they are for us; but in the wound of schism, because they do not gather with Christ, they scatter abroad.
–St. Augustine, On Baptism, Against the Donatists, 1.8IN GOD’S PRESENCE, CONSIDER . . .
In a world with so many different kinds of Christians, what can I do to heal the wound of schism?
Is there even one person I can help find the way back to the Catholic Church?
Father, it is your will that we should all come to know you in unity. Let me always struggle to hold out a hand to those who have strayed, and help me persuade them to abandon their errors.
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