Introduction       TOP

A heated topic of debate in many a Traditional Roman Catholic chapel is that of the Church’s infallible teaching regarding One Baptism vs. the fallacy of “Baptism of Desire & Baptism of Blood” taking the place of the Sacrament of Baptism. However, this debate cannot be avoided since the topic of salvation and how one must attain it should be the most important concern of a Catholic who wishes to reach heaven, and we must expect Satan to sow his errors in something so fundamental for salvation.

One would presume, however, that all Catholics were on the same page when it came to the topic of what is necessary for Salvation. From the dogmatic pronouncements of the Catholic Church, it is clear that she has believed, does believe, and always will believe – for her Teachings do not change (Gal. 1:8) – that the reception of the Sacrament of Baptism is necessary for salvation. Every Sunday, Catholics recite in the Nicene Creed “I confess one Baptism for the remission of sins”, not three.

The Sacrament of Baptism was already prefigured in the Old Testament. Archetypes of Baptism are, according to the Apostles and Fathers of the Church, the hovering of the Spirit of God over the waters (Gen. 1:2); the Flood (1 Peter 3:20 et seq.); circumcision (Col. 2: 11 et seq.); the passing through the Red Sea (1 Cor 10:2) and through the Jordan (Jos. 3:14). A formal prophecy of the Sacrament of Baptism is found in Ez. 36:25: “I will pour upon you clean water and you shall be cleansed from all your filthiness: and I will cleanse you from all your idols.”

An obvious immediate preparation for the Sacrament of Baptism was the baptism of St. John the Baptist (Mt. 3:11) which encouraged its recipients to do penance for the remission of their sins. The Johannine baptism was one of preparation, not of grace, as was declared by the Council of Trent (Canon 1 On Baptism).

It was Our Lord who gave the mandate to baptize (Jn. 4:2). He explained to Nicodemus the nature and the necessity of Baptism: “Amen, amen I say unto thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5), and before His Ascension into heaven Our Lord gave a universal mandate to baptize: “Going therefore, teach ye all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Mt 28:18). St. Mark’s gospel records the necessity of baptism with Our Lord’s words: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned” (Mk. 16:15).

The command to baptize, recorded in St. Matthew’s gospel (28:18), is guaranteed by all the manuscripts and all the old versions of his gospel. The passage is also cited twice in The Didache (chapter 7).

From the very beginning of the Church, following Our Lord’s command to baptize, the Apostles faithfully fulfilled the divine mandate (Acts 2: 38, 41; 8:12 et seq.; 8:36 et seq.; 9:18; 10:47 et seq.; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:5; 1 Cor 1:14 et seq.). The most ancient Church documents, such as The Didache (chapter 7), the Letter to Barnabas (2:2), St. Justin Martyr (Apol. 1:61) attest the perpetuation of the apostolic tradition of baptizing.

Baptism: The Sacrament        TOP

Baptism is one of the seven Sacraments of the Church. St. Bonaventure speaks of its institution in the following way. According to the matter (materialiter) Baptism was instituted when Christ was baptized by St. John; according to the form (formaliter) when Our Lord gave the form to His disciples (Mt. 28:19); according to the effect (effective), when He suffered, for it received its power from the Passion; according to the purpose (finaliter), when He foretold its necessity and its benefit (Jn. 3:5).

In the confection of a sacrament, there are three requirements: “things for its matter, words for its form, and the person of the minister conferring the Sacrament with the intention of doing what the Church does. If any one of these be wanting, there is no Sacrament” (Decretum pro Armenis, Council of Florence).

The remote matter of the Sacrament of Baptism is true and natural water.  This is a “De Fide” teaching of the Church. The Council of Trent declared against Luther who held that any fluid suitable for ablution was permissible in case of emergency (Canon 2 On Baptism).

The only matter of the Sacrament of Baptism known to Sacred Scripture and Tradition is water (Jn 3:5; Acts 8:36; Acts 10:47; Eph. 5:26). One of the oldest proofs from Tradition is that offered by The Didache (chapter 7): “Baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost in living [flowing] water. But if thou hast no living water, then baptize in another water; if thou canst not do it in cold, do it in warm. If thou hast neither [in sufficient quantity], then pour water on the head three times, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”

The proximate matter of the Sacrament of Baptism is the ablution, by physical contact, of the body with water. This washing may occur by immersion, infusion or aspersion. Against the Greek Orthodox, who formerly did not accept as valid Baptism by infusion, the Council of Trent declares: “If anyone says that the Roman Church does not teach the true doctrine concerning the sacrament of Baptism, let him be anathema” (Canon 3 On Baptism).

The form of the Sacrament of Baptism consists of the words of the minister which accompany it and more closely determine it. For the valid administration of Baptism, the invocation of the Three Divine Persons, and, according to the teaching of most theologians, also the designation of the actual baptismal action is requisite. The Roman Rite baptizes with the formula: N. I Baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost (From the Rituale Romanum).

Baptism: Its Effects        TOP

The Sacrament of Baptism confers the grace of justification. 

The Council of Trent teaches that the Sacrament of Baptism effects: a) the eradication of sins, both original sin and, in the case of adults, also all personal, mortal and venial sins; b) inner sanctification by the infusion of sanctifying grace, with which the infused theological and moral virtues and gifts of the Holy Ghost are always joined. Together with sanctifying grace the justified person also receives a claim to those actual graces which are necessary for the fulfilment of the obligations assumed in Baptism (Session VI, Ch. 7).

In its Decree on Original Sin, the Council of Trent declared: “If any one denies that by the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ which is conferred in Baptism, the guilt of original sin is remitted; or even asserts that the whole of that which has the true and proper nature of sin is not taken way… let him be anathema” (Session V, 5).

The Sacrament of Baptism effects the remission of all punishments of sin, both the eternal and the temporal.

The Council of Trent teaches that “in the spiritually reborn nothing remains behind that is hateful to God, and that keeps them from entering Heaven” (Session V, 5). It is presupposed that the recipient of the Sacrament of Baptism interiorly renounces all sins, including venial sins. St. Paul teaches the remission of all punishment of sin when he states that the old man dies and is buried and a new man arises (Rom. 6:3 et seq.).

The Sacrament of Baptism places an indelible character on the soul. 

The Council of Trent teaches that “even if it be unworthily received, valid Baptism imprints on the soul of the recipient an indelible spiritual mark, the Baptismal Character, and for this reason, the Sacrament cannot be repeated” (Session VII, On Sacraments in General, Canon 9; On The Sacrament of Baptism, Canon 11).

The Baptismal Character, then, distinguishes the baptized from the unbaptized, not visibly, but to the spiritual eye. By his reception of the Sacrament of Baptism, the individual is entitled to receive the other Sacraments of the Church (Canon Law 737.1), and to receive all treasures of grace and truth, which Our Lord has entrusted to His Church.

The Necessity of the Reception of The Sacrament of Baptism for Salvation        TOP

The Council of Trent teaches that baptism of water (Baptismus fluminis) is, since the promul-gation of the Gospel, necessary for all men without exception, for salvation.

“If anyone says that true and natural water is not necessary for baptism and thus twists into some metaphor the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ, ‘Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost,’ let him be anathema” (Session VII, Canon 2 On Baptism).

With the above-stated anathema, the Council of Trent dogmatically defines that Our Lord’s words in John 3:5 are not to be distorted into a metaphor, under pain of damnation. That being said, Our Lord expects mankind to take His words literally. Therefore, Baptism of Water is necessary for salvation.

“If anyone says that baptism is optional, that is, not necessary for salvation, let him be anathema” (Canon 5 On Baptism). The Sacrament of Baptism is necessary for salvation because Our Lord said it was necessary for salvation: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned” (Mk. 16:16).

Therefore, the necessity of the reception of the Sacrament of Baptism for salvation is, according to Sacred Scripture (Jn. 3:5, Mk. 16:16), a necessity of means, and, according to Mt. 28:19, also a necessity of precept.

The necessity of Baptism for salvation is even more evident by the Church’s insistence that “conditional baptism is always necessary whenever there is a doubt, even a slight doubt, about the validity of the Baptism received, because the sacrament is indispensably necessary for salvation” (Jone’s Moral Theology, p. 325). 

Again, if something – anything – could take the place of water baptism for salvation, why would the Council of Florence state that “In case of necessity, however, not only a priest or a deacon, but even a layman or a woman, yes even a pagan and a heretic can baptize, so long as he preserves the form of the Church and has the intention of doing as the Church does” (From the Bull Exultate Deo, 22 Nov 1439)?

As mentioned above, it should be quite clear from the statements of the Catholic Church – both by way of Sacred Scripture and Tradition – that the Sacrament of Baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation. Since dogmatic councils have defined this, all Catholics must accept this truth. However, many confused Catholics ask: “What about Baptism of Desire and Baptism of Blood? Have these not been taught by the Church, too?” We will answer these questions next.

The Three Baptisms Metaphor In The Baltimore Catechism        TOP

While Catholics are bound to accept the Church’s teaching regarding the Sacrament of Baptism as necessary for salvation, as we have stated above, for some this concept “just does not seem fair” for those outside of her fold. “After all,” some will say, “God would not damn somebody who was sincere in life but failed to receive the Sacrament of Baptism and become a member of the Church”.

This attitude, quite common among Catholics today, is one of the greatest dangers to the salvation of souls. It is nothing less than an attempt to change the Catholic Church’s teaching on Baptism and Salvation. What is shocking to most is the fact that, while much has happened to the Church since the 1960’s, this assault against the Faith has not come about solely as a result of the Modernists at Vatican Council II. On the contrary, the attacks, both from outside and within the Church, on the teaching of the Necessity of the Reception of the Sacrament of Baptism has been present for quite some time. All of this seems to stem from the incorrect (un-Catholic) definition given to the metaphorical terms “Baptism of Desire” and “Baptism of Blood.”

The strongest affront against the Dogma of the Necessity of the Sacrament of Baptism for salvation is coming from those Traditional Catholics who purport to be defenders of the Faith! Clergy and laity alike have taken it upon themselves to state that the Church’s teaching regarding the necessity of water baptism for salvation can and is replaced by baptism of blood and baptism of desire. In essence, they are stating that there are Three Baptisms that bring about salvation. 

In corresponding with another priest recently, I was told that I should not have used the term “Three Baptisms” when writing on this topic because nowhere in any of the Church’s writings concerning Baptism, Justification and Salvation is there any mention of "three baptisms,” as if there is more than one Sacrament of Baptism. And he was right to state that because the Church does not – she cannot – teach that there is more than one Baptism. In fact, individuals who support baptism of desire and baptism of blood will say that they are not Sacraments. But they will say, nevertheless, that there are three Baptisms - Water, Desire, Blood - and that, in certain instances, the last two can replace the first. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, they believe in “Three Baptisms”. I intend, then, to continue to label it the error of “Three Baptisms,” identifying it for what it is: three means by which they say men can be saved.

This horrific crisis of faith in the United States is due, in part, to the fact that the Catholic Faith in this nation is always ascribed to The Baltimore Catechism. This is especially true among those attending Traditional Latin Mass Chapels since that catechism is held up as the sole source needed to properly educate children of Catholic families. Many of the Traditional clergy also see it as a litmus test for the true faith of their parishioners.

This being the case, it is necessary to understand something about this book. A group of American Bishops under the control and influence of James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, composed The Baltimore Catechism during the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore. 

Cardinal Gibbons’ main ambition in life was to show that Catholicism was good Americanism. It is for that reason he went out of his way to take such metaphorical expressions in theology such as baptism of desire and baptism of blood and put them side by side with Baptism of Water.

As a result, every Catholic child in his parochial classroom, from the time of Gibbons on, has been required to say, in answer to the question,

Q.    “How many kinds of Baptism are there?” :

A.    “There are three kinds of Baptism: Baptism of Water, Baptism of Desire, and Baptism of Blood.”

This is nothing but heresy. There is only one Baptism, just as there is only one Lord and one Faith (Eph. 4:5). The Council of Vienne explicitly defines that “all the faithful must confess only one baptism, which regenerated in Christ all the baptized, just as there is one God and one faith. We believe that this Sacrament, celebrated in water and in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, is necessary for children and adults alike for salvation” (De Summa Trinitate et Fide Catholica). Yet, defenders of The Three Baptisms have their children spew forth error in the name of Traditional Catholicism by professing heresy?

As we have seen, The Council of Trent, in its second canon on the subject of Baptism, declares dogmatically: “If anyone shall say that true and natural water is not of necessity in Baptism, and therefore shall turn those words of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, ‘unless one be born again of water and the Holy Ghost’ (John 3:5), into some metaphor, let him be anathema.”

So, “metaphorical” water is forbidden under pain of heresy. Yet, baptism of desire is nothing but “metaphorical” water substituting itself for the necessary requirement, demanded by Our Lord, of natural water.

But the Catechism Couldn’t Be Wrong, Could It?        TOP

Catechisms are not protected by infallibility. Introduction XXXVI from the Fifteenth Printing of The Catechism of the Council of Trent states: “Official documents have occasionally been issued by Popes to explain certain points of Catholic teaching to individuals, or to local Christian communities; whereas the Roman Catechism comprises practically the whole body of Christian doctrine, and is addressed to the whole Church. Its teaching is not infallible; but it holds a place between approved catechisms and what is de fide.”

Since catechisms are not infallible, there is a possibility that erroneous theories such as baptism of desire and baptism of blood could make their way into them. Moreover, the original edition of The Catechism of the Council of Trent did not contain baptism of blood or baptism of desire. This is attested to by Fr. Wathen in his work Who Shall Ascend (p.225), where he states, “In the original edition of The Catechism, there is no mention of either term. In fact, one will not find the insertion of these terms [baptisms of desire and blood] until the late nineteenth century.”
“Baptism of Desire”--Where did it come from?        TOP

“The Fathers and theologians frequently divide baptism into three kinds: the baptism of water (aqua or fluminis), the baptism of desire (flaminis), and the baptism of blood (sanguinis)” [Baptism, The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907 Edition].

We must dissect the above-quoted sentence carefully. The fact that a position has only been “frequently” put forth has never been considered a determining factor on whether or not it is part of the Church’s Magisterium. Rather, “always and everywhere” has been the unchanging traditional factor used to determine whether a position or teaching is part of the Deposit of Faith. Secondly, the sentence starts with a fallacy, since not “all” Fathers of the Church – nor even most – “frequently” divide Baptism into three kinds. In fact, the vast majority of Church Fathers do not make this distinction regarding Baptism at all. 

A very small number of Church Fathers, Doctors, and Saints believed in the theory known as baptism of desire. Most noteworthy among them were St. Augustine, St. Bernard, and St. Thomas Aquinas. They all expressed views which supported this theory. Other great doctors of the Church, such as St. Robert Bellarmine and St. Alphonsus, followed the error. Bellarmine defined baptism of desire as:

“Perfect conversion and penitence is rightly called baptism of desire, and in necessity at least, it supplies for the baptism of water. It is to be noted that any conversion whatsoever cannot be called baptism of desire; but only perfect conversion, which includes true contrition and charity, and at the same time a desire or vowed intention of baptism”(De Sacramento Baptismi, Liber I cap. VI).

St. Robert Bellarmine’s belief that the grace of baptism could be supplied without the sacra-ment itself being administered is found later in his catechetical and theology manuals. He never states where this opinion of his comes from and so we must raise it ourselves.

Most defenders of the theory called baptism of desire rest themselves upon a fourth century sermon delivered by St. Ambrose. This saint was delivering a funeral oration for his close friend, Emperor Valentinian II, a catechumen, who, at twenty years of age, was assassinated. At the funeral, St. Ambrose spoke of Valentinian, who had intended to receive Baptism on his return from battle:

“But I hear that you mourn, because he [Valentinian] did not receive the sacraments of Baptism…. Does he not have the grace that he desired; does he not have what he asked for? Certainly what he asked for, he received.”

In light of this statement, the defenders of baptism of desire claim that this theory was held by the unanimous consent of the early Church Fathers. Some even dare to say that baptism of desire has always been held by the common consent of Catholics which, according to Pius IX in Tuas Libenter, must therefore be held as a matter of faith.  However, a closer look into Church history and the Magisterial teachings of the Popes will clearly show that such claims in favour of baptism of desire are untrue.

The Theory’s Defenders        TOP

Many priests have elevated the theory of baptism of desire to the status of Catholic dogma. We hear it preached from pulpits. Some even refuse Holy Communion to those who do not hold the erroneous theory. These mistaken clerics state that the ordinary and universal Magisterium – which is infallible according to Vatican Council I – has taught the “dogma” of baptism of desire. Thus, those who deny this “dogma” (according to them) are public heretics.

Such antics, employed by many priests, are not consistent with Church teaching. Let us consider Canon Law # 1323 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law which was taken from Pope Martin V at the Council of Constance in his apostolic constitution, Inter Cuntas, 22 February 1418, Article 11: “All those truths must be believed fide divina et catholica, which are contained in the written word of God or in tradition and which the Church proposes for acceptance as revealed by God, either by a solemn definition or through her ordinary and universal teaching. To pronounce a solemn definition is the part of an Ecumenical Council or of the Roman Pontiff speaking ex cathedra. No religious teaching is to be understood as dogmatically declared unless such declaration or definition has clearly been made.”

We challenge the defenders of baptism of desire to produce a single dogmatic definition of such a “Baptism”. They will look in vain, for no such pronouncement exists. Nor can these defenders quote a single Church council (neither regional nor dogmatic) since not one has ever mentioned the term “baptism of desire”. The absence of such a term from the dogmatic teachings of the Church would tell any reasonable Catholic that he is not bound to believe it. Those clerics who continue such a charade of theory as dogma – and deny the sacraments to those who hold the Church’s true teaching – are most certainly not acting in a Catholic way.

Let us address ourselves to the defenders of baptism of desire who claim that it was held by a unanimous consent of the early Church. The fourth century doctor, St. Gregory Nazianzen, was vigorously opposed to the theory of baptism of desire: “If you were able to judge a man who intends to commit murder, solely by his intention and without any act of murder, then you could likewise reckon as baptized one who desired Baptism, without having received Baptism. But, since you cannot do the former, how can you do the latter? Put it this way: if desire has equal power with actual Baptism, you would then be satisfied to desire Glory, as though that longing itself were Glory!” (Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 2:1012).

This quote from a Doctor of the Church quashes the myth that baptism of desire was held by the unanimous consent of the Church Fathers. Furthermore, St. Gregory Nazianzen is not alone in his defense of the Sacrament of Baptism. A further study of St. Ambrose reveals that he firmly defended the necessity of water for the effects and grace of Baptism.

St. Ambrose Defends Water Baptism, Not Baptism of Desire        TOP

Recall what was stated above regarding St. Ambrose’s sermon for the catechumen Valentinian. Consider the opening words: “But I hear that you mourn, because he did not receive the sacraments of baptism….”

Reflect on what was said first. The faithful are gathered in the church and are mourning. Why? They are mourning because there is no evidence that Valentinian, a known catechumen, received the Sacrament of Baptism. But if baptism of desire was something contained in the Deposit of Faith and a part of the apostolic teachings, why should they mourn? After all, he was a catechumen preparing for Baptism. Surely he would have been “desiring” it all along. If the faithful believed such a thing, they would be at peace. Instead, we see the mourners were grief stricken because they had been taught, and therefore believed, that “unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5). And who taught them this? It was their bishop, St. Ambrose.

It is evident from the words of St. Ambrose that Valentinian got what he asked for. And for what did he ask? Water Baptism. Moreover, if St. Ambrose had intended to convey the idea of baptism of desire, why did he use the term sacraments (plural) of baptism, instead of sacrament? Was he lamenting the fact that Valentinian was not able to receive Confirmation and Holy Communion, which were commonly administered together with baptism in the early Church?

What St. Ambrose exactly meant by his sermon, we may never know, but we are permitted to assume that it was not his intention to contradict, in an emotionally charged sermon, what he had put down with much thought and precision in his work De Mysteriis and elsewhere. Here is what St. Ambrose wrote:

1)    “You have read, therefore, that the three witnesses in Baptism are one: water, blood, and the spirit; and if you withdraw any one of these, the Sacrament of Baptism is not valid. For what is water without the cross of Christ? A common element without any sacramental effect. Nor on the other hand is there any mystery of regeneration without water: for unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. [Jn 3:5] Even a catechumen believes in the cross of the Lord Jesus, by which also he is signed; but, unless he be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, he cannot receive the remission of sins nor be recipient of the gift of spiritual grace” (Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 2:1330).

2)    “The Church was redeemed at the price of Christ’s blood. Jew or Greek, it makes no difference; but if he has believed he must circumcise himself from his sins so that he can be saved;… for no one ascends into the kingdom of heaven except through the Sacrament of Baptism” (Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 2:1323).

3)    “Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. No one excepted: not infant, not the one prevented by some necessity” (Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 2:1324).
The Catholic Encyclopedia, in defense of the necessity of Baptism for catechumens, states: “A certain statement in the funeral oration of St. Ambrose over the Emperor Valentinian II has been brought forward as a proof that the Church offered sacrifices and prayers for catechumens who died before baptism. There is not a vestige of such a custom to be found anywhere…The practice of the Church is more correctly shown in the canon (xvii) of the Second Council of Braga (572 AD): ‘Neither the commemoration of Sacrifice [oblationis] nor the service of chanting [psallendi] is to be employed for catechumens who have died without baptism’” (Baptism, The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907 Edition).

So, the great “defender” of the theory of baptism of desire turns out to be a true defender of the Church’s teaching on the necessity of water baptism for salvation. In fact, no Church Father has ever so staunchly defended the requirement of this sacrament of salvation than St. Ambrose. This great doctor, however, was not the only defender of the Sacrament of Baptism.

A Poll of the Church Fathers    TOP

[Taken from Fr. Feeney and the Truth About Salvation, St. Benedict Center, 1995]

Saint Ambrose died in A.D.397, the very end of the fourth century. Before and after his time, there lived hundreds of holy men and saints who are called "Fathers of the Church." Tixeront, in his classic Handbook of Patrology, lists over five hundred whose names and writings have come down to us.

Michael Malone, author of the splendid reference book, The Apostolic Digest, has spent many years researching the works of these Fathers that have been translated into English, especially their writings pertaining, or relating, to the dogma, Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus. In what he calls a "Poll of the Fathers," he tabulates the different opinions on baptism by water, blood and desire as recorded by eleven of these holy men. Listed chronologically by year of death, the eleven are:

Tertullian. . . . . . . . . circa 220 
St. Cyprian. . . . . . . . . . . .258 
St. Basil the Great. . . . . . .379 
St. Cyril of Jerusalem. .. . .386 
St. Gregory Nazianzen. . ..389 
St. Ambrose. . . . . . . . . . .397    
St. John Chrysostom . . . . 407 
St. Augustine . . .. . . . . . . .430
St. Prosper of Aquitaine. .. 463
St. Fulgentius . . . . . . . . . . 533
St. Bede . . . . . . . . . .. . . . 735

As we discuss the opinions expressed by these Fathers, the reader should keep in mind that they were referring only to catechumens, persons undergoing instruction preparatory to the reception of Baptism and admission into the Church. That anyone else could qualify for salvation without first receiving the sacrament of Baptism was never considered as even a possibility.

All eleven of these Fathers, of course, said that Baptism of water was the first requirement for Salvation.

All eleven maintained that a martyr went directly to heaven regardless, apparently, of whether or not he had been baptized with water.

Tertullian, St. Cyprian, and St. Augustine also held that "desire" replaced the need for Baptism of water.

All of these Fathers seemed to contradict themselves in other places, or were explicitly con-tradicted by other writers who claimed they meant otherwise. St. Augustine, for instance, con-stantly expressed fear for the fate of catechumens who died before Baptism. He felt certain that they were lost.

In support of the "Baptism of water only" category must go the remainder of the thirty-six listed by Mr. Malone in The Apostolic Digest, as well as the mass of the Fathers catalogued by Tixeront. 

What are we to learn from these facts presented thus far? It should be clear to us that, during the early centuries of the youth of the Church, there was no unanimity among the Fathers in their opinions on so-called "Baptism of Desire." Some were for it; more appear to have been against it; and most taught and practiced simply in conformity with Our Lord’s prescription — Baptism by water and the Holy Ghost. The idea that desire could replace water for the Sacrament was not believed everywhere, always, and by everyone. To claim, therefore, that "baptism of desire" was a constant tradition of the Fathers is a serious misrepresentation of Church history and Tradition, and to censure those who object to this misrepresentation is an equally serious injustice.
-[End of Transcript]

The Catholic Church has always adhered, both in theory and practice, to the use of water (not desire or blood) as the only valid element of Baptism. Tertullian exclaims: “O happy Sacrament of our water, by which, cleansed of the faults of pristine blindness, we are made free unto eternal life” (On Baptism, Ch. 1, n.1). St. Augustine says: “What is the Baptism of Christ? A bath in the word. Take away the water, and there is no Baptism; take away the word, and there is no Baptism” (Tract on St. John, 15, n. 4).

Yet the defenders of baptism of desire continue to use the Doctors of the Church as proof of their theory. They will state that since one has been elevated to "Doctor", his teachings and writings have been found to be without error. Thus, Catholics can have complete trust in their writings with the assurance that their teachings are without doctrinal error. They hold that there are no contradictions between the teachings of the Church and those who are Doctors of the Church.

There are many parts in the writings of the Doctors of the Church where they are not inline with the Dogmatic Teachings of the Church. Just consider, for one, St. Thomas Aquinas on the Immaculate Conception. That does not mean, however, that we disregard everything that St. Thomas wrote. We do, however, ignore his opinion on the Immaculate Conception because it WAS AN ERROR. And there are six other Doctors of the Church who also did not believe in the Immaculate Conception: St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Bonaventure, St. Peter Damian, St. Albert the Great, St. Anselm of Canterbury, and St. John Damascene.

To conclude the consideration of what are and what are not the true teachings of the Church Fathers pertaining to Baptism, we need only reference the infallible pronouncements of the Council of Trent. Everything that had ever been said or written, prior to the Council, about the necessity of Baptism for salvation must be accepted or rejected solely on the basis of its conformity or lack of conformity with the solemn and irreformable decrees promulgated by that Council, regardless of the authority or saintliness of any previous speaker or writer. The same must be said for anything written or said following Trent’s pronouncements.

The defenders’ canonization of everything that a Doctor of the Church has written is not what the Church teaches. Pius XII's address to the Gregorian University on 17 October 1953 states:

"The Church has never accepted even the most holy and most eminent Doctor, and does not now accept even a single one of them, as the principal source of truth. Certainly, the Church considers Thomas and Augustine great Doctors, and accords them the highest praise, but the Church recognizes infallibility only in the inspired authors of the Sacred Scriptures. By divine mandate the interpreter and guardian of the Scriptures, and the depository of Sacred Tradition living within her, the Church alone is the entrance to salvation: She alone, by herself, and under the protection and guidance of the Holy Ghost, is the source of truth."

Baptism of Desire and Baptism of Blood:
Necessary because God Cannot Manage Otherwise?

Catholic theology manuals state correctly that “Baptism of Water is necessary for the attainment of salvation as an indispensable means for reaching that end” (Jone’s Moral Theology p.325). Such a statement, of course, is the infallible teaching of the Church.

HOWEVER, these same theology manuals then go on to state that “only in exceptional cases can the baptism of desire or of blood take its place” (Jone’s Moral Theology p. 325).

Well, which is it? How can a theology manual state that “Baptism of Water is necessary for the attainment of salvation as an indispensable means”, but then go on to state that there are “exceptions” to an indispensable means? The Webster’s Dictionary defines indispensable as: “adj. That cannot be dispensed with: absolutely necessary.” Such a definition is what one would expect from any intelligent man when asked to define the word indispensable. 

This error is only developed further in The Catholic Encyclopedia:

“It is the teaching of the Catholic Church that when the baptism of water becomes a physical or moral impossibility, eternal life may be obtained by the baptism of desire or the baptism of blood” [Baptism of Desire, The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907 Edition].

We say that the fallacy is developed “further” because there are four additional errors in this statement. Aside from the fact that it speaks of the infamous Three Baptisms, it contains these errors:

1.    No Magisterial Teaching Supports Such a Statement           TOP

This sounds like a very “official” statement, listed in a “Catholic” Encyclopedia. It seems to declare that there is a dogmatic teaching on the matter of two additional means of salvation. We know that the Council of Trent has infallibly taught that water baptism is necessary for salvation. By the definition proposed by The Catholic Encyclopedia, one would assume that the “other baptisms”  were defined at some other point in time, either before or after Trent. Where, we must ask, is the documentation that baptism of desire or baptism of blood bring about the eternal salvation of a soul that has not received water baptism? It is not found in Sacred Scripture. It is not found in the Councils of the Church or in an Infallible Definition by any Pope. The above definition provides nothing to support what it has just declared as “the teaching of the Catholic Church”.

2.    It is an Implicit Denial of the Attributes of an Omnipotent and Omniscient God          TOP

Is there anything, any circumstance which is actually invincible against God? Or is there any circumstance that God cannot, or does not foresee? To believe that there is, or to put forth such a scenario which implies such a thing, as the definition from The Catholic Encyclopedia presumes, is to deny that God is Omnipotent (Almighty) and Omniscient (All Knowing).

Such a statement implies, at least implicitly if not explicitly, that there are some circumstances that God cannot overcome in order to enable an individual to fulfill His own Commandment requiring the necessity of baptism of water for salvation. Surely, God foresees all situations, from all eternity, for He is all-knowing. And, since God is perfect in goodness, He would never withhold from someone who sincerely desires the Sacrament of Baptism that He has commanded as necessary for salvation in the first place.

The defenders of baptism of desire imply that God is impotent (powerless) or indifferent in the circumstances that require the “other two baptisms” for the salvation of souls. This, of course, is impossible and such a position is blasphemous. Our Blessed Lord has stated without qualification that no one can enter the kingdom of heaven unless he is born again of water and the Holy Ghost (Jn 3:5). Since God is omnipotent and omniscient, as well as all just, every Catholic must believe that there is absolutely no circumstance which would prevent God from getting the waters of Baptism to anyone who needed it. “For nothing is impossible with God” (Lk 1:37) and “He promises to reward those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6).

Those who hold to baptism of desire implicitly deny two of the attributes of Almighty God that have been solemnly defined as dogmas: His Omnipotence and Omniscience.

“Firmly we believe and we confess simply that the true God is one alone, eternal, immense, and unchangeable, incomprehensible, omnipotent and ineffable” (On the Catholic Faith, Ch. 1, Fourth Lateran Council).

“The holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Church believes and confesses that there is one, true, living God, Creator and Lord of heaven and earth, omnipotent, eternal, immense, incomprehensible, infinite in intellect and will, and in every perfection;” (Vatican I, Session III, Ch. 1).

Since there is no distinction between God and His attributes (for God is one and simple), the defense of baptism of desire is one which in effect denies God Himself. We may also argue that such a defense contradicts God’s goodness and justice as well.

3.    It Presumes a Commandment of God Impossible to Fulfill              TOP

The definition from The Catholic Encyclopedia reads: “…when the baptism of water becomes a physical or moral impossibility, eternal life may be obtained by the baptism of desire or the baptism of blood.”

What do they mean by “moral impossibility”? Do they mean that one is unable to do something moral, or that something moral cannot be done, or that morality is impossible in certain instances? They are stating that God has commanded something that some cannot morally fulfill. They believe that, in some cases, God demands the morally impossible.

There has NEVER been a consideration of “physical or moral impossibility” in Sacred Scripture or in any document of the Church’s Magisterium. We know that there cannot exist any physical or moral impossibilities for God. The defenders of baptism of desire, and the authors of The Catholic Encyclopedia, however, have chosen to add such a clause as “physical or moral impossibility”, although they have no authority to do so. Such a qualification pertaining to the necessity of water baptism for salvation exists nowhere in any magisterial document of the Church.

Could water baptism ever be physically impossible? Only if God were to cease to exist. We know that God can transport people around the world as He chooses. Therefore, if God wills, then He will move someone to the person needing Baptism. Does this sound a bit “far fetched” for people living in the twenty-first century? For those who doubt, consider this passage from the Acts of the Apostles (8:26-39):

“Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying: Arise, go towards the south, to the way that goeth down from Jerusalem into Gaza: this is desert. And rising up, he went. And behold a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge over all her treasures, had come to Jerusalem to adore. And the Spirit said to Philip: Go near, and join thyself to this chariot…And as they went on their way, they came to a certain water: and the eunuch said: See, here is water: what doth hinder me from being baptized? And Philip said: If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he answering, said: I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch: and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord took away Philip; and the eunuch saw him no more. And he went on his way rejoicing.”

So, how can Water Baptism be physically impossible? The answer is: never. Recall the teaching of the Church: What is impossible for man is possible for God. Our Blessed Lord pronounced this numerous times (Mt. 19:26; Mk.10:27).

A physical or moral “impossibility” necessarily means that, due to some unforeseen circum-stance, those who cannot get to the waters of Baptism, even though they want it, are unable to fulfill what God has commanded. In fact, the entire premise of the defenders of baptism of desire is that, due to some “unforeseen” circumstances, for some individuals the commandment to be baptized is just impossible to fulfill. In short, they state that God has commanded the impossible. The Council of Trent has solemnly defined that God does not require anything that cannot be fulfilled:

“God does not command impossibilities, but by commanding admonishes you both to do what you can do, to pray for what you cannot do and [He] assists you that you may be able…” (On Justification, Chapter 11).

“If anyone shall say that the commandments of God are, even for a man who is justified, impossible to observe, let him be anathema” (Canon 18 On Justification).

In exposing this presumption of an “impossibility” for God, the entire argument in support of baptism of desire falls. Such a situation presumes that God has commanded and required that which is impossible for at least some.

4.    It Denies the Divine Promise of God as “Deliverer of Goods”       TOP

There are two “Divine Promises” that God has given to mankind which will assist those who still hold to the fallacy of baptism of desire and baptism of blood:

First, Our Blessed Lord declared “Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds… how much more shall you Father Who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him” (Mt. 7:7-8,11; Jn. 14:13-14). If someone truly desires the Sacrament of Baptism, then, by definition, he will ask for it. According to what God has promised, if someone asks to be baptized, then God will get them to the waters of baptism.

Since nothing is impossible for God (Lk 1:37), and since God promises that He will reward those who seek Him (Heb. 11:6), and that He will give to those who ask (Mt. 7:7) and since God has commanded all to receive Baptism if they wish to enter His Kingdom (Jn. 3:5; Mk. 16:16), then He will not withhold water baptism from those who sincerely ask for it and seek it, especially since it was He Who commanded it of them in the first place.

Therefore, we must conclude that if someone does not receive water baptism before they die, they were not sincerely seeking it and/or did not truly want it. If you refuse to believe this, then you must hold that it is God’s fault that they did not receive the Sacrament of Baptism. It would mean that God had failed to keep His own promises. Therefore, with the defenders of baptism of desire, God becomes either a liar or impotent (unable to fulfill His promises).

Second, we must believe that God completes what He begins (if we let Him). Is the “desire” for baptism a mere human emotion or is it the result of Divine Grace to which men must respond? The Church has solemnly defined the latter: “Actual grace, working inwardly, is necessary to make a good act of the will and/or even a religious thought which is conductive for salvation” (Council of Orange, On Original Sin, Canons 4 & 7; Trent, On Justification, Canons 1 & 3). 

This can only mean that the desire of an individual to seek baptism comes from God. It is He Who leads one to wish for the sacrament in the first place. God has revealed in Sacred Scripture that He will complete the work that He has begun in us. St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Philippians, writes: “Being confident of this very thing, that He Who hath begun a good work in you will perfect it” (Phil. 1:6). If God has begun in someone the desire to receive that which He has solemnly commanded men to receive, that is, baptism of water, then we must believe that God will get that person to the holy waters of baptism. He will not forsake them but will complete what He began. If not, then you must believe that God has forsaken someone in whom He has placed the desire for baptism in the first place, in whom He has “begun a good work”, but He [God] chooses not to complete it. Let us remember that God “neither deceives nor can be deceived”. Since there is no circumstance invincible against Almighty God or unforeseeable by the All-knowing God, then the only thing that can prevent one from receiving the Sacrament of Baptism is his own bad will, his own lack of openness and good will in cooperating with God’s grace.

But Did Not the Council of Trent Also Say…?           TOP

There is only one place in all of the twenty Councils of the Catholic Church that those who hold to the theory of baptism of desire claim for support of their error. That is from Session VI, Chapter 4, of the Council of Trent, which states: “…This translation [to the state of grace] however cannot, since the promulgation of the Gospel, be effected except through the laver of regeneration or its desire, as it is written: ‘Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God’.”


In light of that, those holding the error of baptism of desire will state that Trent dogmatically teaches that justification can take place by water baptism or the desire for it.

This passage of the Council of Trent does not teach that Justification can take place by the water of baptism or the desire for it. It says that justification in the impious CANNOT TAKE PLACE WITHOUT the water of baptism or the desire for it. This is totally different from the idea that justification can take place by the water of baptism or the desire for it.

Pope Paul III, Council of Trent, Sess. 6, Chap. 4: “In these words there is suggested a description of the justification of the impious, how there is a transition from that state in which a person is born as a child of the first Adam to the state of grace and of adoption as sons of God through the second Adam, Jesus Christ our savior; indeed, this transition, once the gospel has been promulgated, CANNOT TAKE PLACE WITHOUT the laver of regeneration or a desire for it, as it is written: Unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5)” Denzinger 796, Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, Vol. 2, p.672.

In the first place, we must note that this crucial passage from Trent has been horribly mistranslated in Denzinger, the Sources of Catholic Dogma. The critical phrase, “this transition, once the gospel has been promulgated, cannot take place without the laver of regeneration or a desire for it” has been mistranslated to read: “this transition, once the gospel has been promulgated, cannot take place except through the laver of regeneration or a desire for it…” This mistranslation of the Latin word “sine” (without) to “except through” completely alters the meaning of the passage to favour the error of baptism of desire. 
Looking at the correct translation, which is found in many books, the reader also should notice that, in this passage, the Council of Trent teaches that John 3:5 is to be taken as it is written (Latin: sicut scriptum est), which excludes any possibility of salvation without being born again of water in the Sacrament of Baptism. There is no way that baptism of desire can be true if John 3:5 is to be taken as it is written, because John 3:5 says that every man must be born again of water and the Spirit to be saved, which is what the theory of baptism of desire denies. The theory of baptism of desire and an interpretation of John 3:5 as it is written are mutually exclusive (they cannot both be true at the same time) – and every baptism of desire proponent will admit this. That is why all of them must – and do – opt for a non-literal interpretation of John 3:5.

Now we shall consider the next claim in defense of baptism of desire: the use of the word “or” (Latin: aut) in the above passage means that justification can take place by the water of baptism or the desire for it. A careful look at the correct translation of this passage shows this claim to be false. Suppose one were to say, “A bath cannot take place without water or the desire to take one.” Does this mean that a bath can take place by the desire to take a bath? On the contrary, it means that both (water and desire) are necessary.

One could give hundreds of other examples. Suffice it to say, the passage above in Trent says that Justification CANNOT TAKE PLACE WITHOUT water or desire; in other words, both are necessary. It does not say that Justification does take place by either water or desire!


Aut (or) Used to Mean “and” in the Context of Councils   TOP

The Latin word aut (“or”) is used in a similar way in other passages in the Council of Trent and other Councils. In the Bull Cantate Domino from the Council of Florence, we find the Latin word aut (“or”) used in a context which definitely renders it meaning “and.”

Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence, “Cantate Domino,” 1441, ex cathedra:
“The Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that all those who are outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans but also Jews [aut] or heretics and schismatics, cannot share in eternal life and will go into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless they are joined to the Church before the end of their lives; that the unity of this ecclesiastical body is of such importance that only those who abide in it do the Church’s sacraments contribute to salvation and do fasts, almsgiving and other works of piety and practices of the Christian militia productive of eternal rewards; and that nobody can be saved, no matter how much he has given away in alms and even if he has shed blood in the name of Christ, unless he has persevered in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.”

The Council of Florence using the word “or” (aut) to have a meaning that is equivalent to “and.” The Council declares that not only pagans, but also Jews or (aut) heretics and schismatics cannot be saved. Does this mean that either Jews or heretics will be saved? No. It clearly means that none of the Jews and none of the heretics can be saved. Thus, this is an example of a context in which the Latin word aut (or) does have a meaning that is clearly “and.”

Similarly, in the introduction to the decree on Justification [Session VI], the Council of Trent strictly forbids anyone to “believe, preach or teach” (credere, praedicare aut docere) other than as it is defined and declared in the decree on Justification.

Does “or” (aut) in this passage mean that one is only forbidden to preach contrary to the Council’s decree on Justification, but one is allowed to teach contrary to it? No, obviously “or” (aut) means that both preaching and teaching are forbidden, just like in chapter 4 above “or” means that justification cannot take place without both water and desire. Another example of the use of aut to mean “and” (or “both”) in Trent is found in Session XXI, Chap. 2, the decree on Communion under both species (Denz. 931).

Pope Pius IV, Council of Trent, Sess. 21, Chap. 2: “Therefore holy mother Church… has decreed that it be considered as a law, which may not be repudiated or be changed at will without the authority of the Church.”

Does aut in this declaration mean that the Council’s decree may not be repudiated, but it may be changed? No, obviously it means that both a repudiation and a change are forbidden. This is another example of how the Latin word aut can be used in contexts which render its meaning “and” or “both.” And these examples, when we consider the wording of the passage, refute the claim of baptism of desire supporters: that the meaning of aut in Chapter 4, Session 6 is one which favors baptism of desire.

Why does Trent define that the desire for Baptism, along with Baptism, is necessary for Justification?     TOP

This chapter Trent is defining what is necessary for the iustificationis impii – the justification of the impious. The impii (“impious”) does not refer to infants, who are incapable of committing actual sins (Trent, Sess. V, Denz. 791). The word “impii” in Latin is not used to describe an infant in original sin only. It is sometimes translated as “wicked” or “sinner.” Therefore, in this chapter, Trent is dealing with those above the age of reason who have committed actual sins, and for such persons the desire for baptism is necessary for Justification. In fact, the next few chapters of Trent on Justification (Chaps. 5-7) are all about adult Justification, further demonstrating that the Justification of adult sinners is the context, especially when the word impii is considered. That is why the chapter defines that Justification cannot take place without the water of baptism or the desire for it (both are necessary).

The interpretation of “or” in Session VI, Chap. 4 as “and” is not only possible, but it is perfectly compatible with all of these infallible definitions, while the interpretation of “or” as meaning baptism of desire is incompatible with all of these definitions, not to mention (most importantly) the words “as it is written, unless a man is born again of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” which come immediately after “or a desire for it” and in the same sentence.

The interpretation of “or” as meaning baptism of desire is also incompatible with the teaching of the Council of Florence on John 3:5, and there cannot exist disharmony between dogmatic councils.

Pope Eugene IV, The Council of Florence, “Exultate Deo,” Nov. 22, 1439, ex cathedra: “Holy baptism, which is the gateway to the spiritual life, holds the first place among all the sacraments; through it we are made members of Christ and of the body of the Church. And since death entered the universe through the first man, ‘unless we are born again of water and the Spirit, we cannot,’ as the Truth says, ‘enter into the kingdom of heaven’ [John 3:5]. The matter of this sacrament is real and natural water.”


Defenders of the theory of baptism of desire will state that one cannot make such an assumption as has just been done. They will state that the Council of Trent said “or the desire” because the teaching of baptism of desire was accepted as a replacement for the Sacrament of Baptism, and that the Fathers of the Church were unanimous in this teaching. We have already proved that not to be the case. In addition, if the ability to “desire” Baptism were accepted as a valid means of salvation, the same council would not have stated the following:


Canon 2 [On Baptism]: "If anyone shall say that real and natural water is not necessary for Baptism, and on that account the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ: "Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost..." (Jn 3:5), are distorted into some sort of metaphor: let him be anathema". This canon is clear in stating that water is essential for Baptism. It excludes any possibility of Baptism by mere desire.


Canon 5 [On Baptism]: "If anyone saith that Baptism is optional, that is, not necessary for salvation; let him be anathema". This canon is clear in stating that the Sacrament of Baptism is necessary for salvation.


Even the most staunch defenders of the "Three baptisms" must concede that baptism of desire is not a sacrament, but [according to them] merely bestows the grace of baptism [Justification] without conferring the character or mark (which, of course is not Catholic teaching).


Let us next consider what the Council of Trent taught regarding the means by which one is put into the state of Justification (Sanctifying Grace). It will help us to see that the Church teaches one is unable to “desire” justification, since the act of Justification for the unbaptized comes solely through the reception of the Sacrament of Baptism.

Trent on Justification       TOP

The Council of Trent, in dealing with the topic of the Causes of Justification, taught (Session VI, Chapter 7):

In What the Justification of the Sinner Consists, and What are its Causes:

“Of this Justification the causes are these: the final cause indeed is the glory of God and of Jesus Christ, and life everlasting; while the efficient cause is a merciful God Who washes and sanctifies gratuitously, signing, and anointing with the Holy Ghost of promise, Who is the pledge of our inheritance; but the meritorious cause is His most beloved only-begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who, when we were enemies, for the exceeding charity wherewith He loved us, merited Justification for us by His most holy Passion on the wood of the cross, and made satisfaction for us unto God the Father; the instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which no man was ever justified; lastly, the alone formal cause is the justice of God, not that whereby He Himself is just, but that whereby He maketh us just, that, to wit, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are, just, receiving justice within us, each one according to His own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to every one as He wills, and according to each one's proper disposition and co-operation. For, although no one can be just, but he to whom the merits of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet is this done in the said justification of the impious, when by the merit of that same most holy Passion, the charity of God is poured forth, by the Holy Ghost, in the hearts of those that are justified, and is inherent therein: whence, man, through Jesus Christ, in Whom he is engrafted, receives, in the said justification, together with the remission of sins, all these (gifts) infused at once, faith, hope, and charity. For faith, unless hope and charity be added thereto, neither unites man perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of His body.”

The text of Trent speaks, when teaching on Justification’s efficient cause, of “washing, signing, anointing”; all of which are found in the administration of the Sacrament of Baptism. These are external actions, carried out by the priest in the ceremonies of Baptism. There is no mention by Trent that one can “desire washing, signing, and anointing” and be justified.

This text also designates as THE instrumental cause of justification the Sacrament of Baptism - not a "desire" or "vow" to receive it. Therefore, the reception of the Sacrament of Baptism, which is the “Sacrament of Faith”, is the ONLY instrumental means by which man was ever justified. Therefore, there is no justification without the reception of the Sacrament of Baptism, which is administered with water.

It is an infallible teaching of the Church, therefore, that upon the reception of water baptism we receive our justification. Those who believe in baptism of desire or that one who is unbaptized can be justified by desire, believe that a desire is the instrumental cause of Justification. However, as we have just seen, the Council of Trent teaches that the instrumental cause is the Sacrament of Baptism.

In short, Justification cannot occur before the Sacrament of Baptism. The sacrament, which is confected with water, is the sole instrumental means of this transformation of man from the state of Original Sin to that of Sanctifying Grace.

Besides this change, at the moment of Justification, the soul also receives the infusion of supernatural virtues: “whence, man, through Jesus Christ, in Whom he is engrafted, receives, in the said justification, together with the remission of sins, all these (gifts) infused at once, faith, hope, and charity.”

This statement dealing with the remission of sins poses a great problem for those who believe in baptism of desire. Why? Because if baptism of desire were true, then catechumens who possess a true desire for baptism would have received their Justification before water baptism – something the above statement from Trent says cannot be so. If a catechumen were to be justified before the reception of water baptism by a baptism of desire, then he would receive full remission of sins and the infused virtues of faith, hope, and charity by such a desire. Now, if the catechumen lives to receive water baptism, the defenders of baptism of desire would have to admit that the already justified catechumen (made so by his desire) would not receive the remission of sins when he finally received actual water baptism. His sins would not be remitted in baptism because they were already remitted by his desire. 

This scenario, however, was expressly condemned by the Council of Trent, when, in the Decree on Original Sin, it taught: “If anyone denies that by the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which is conferred in baptism, the guilt of original sin is remitted…let him be anathema” (Session V, Canon 5).

Regarding Justification, the Council of Trent states “This faith, in accordance with apostolic tradition, catechumens beg of the church before the Sacrament of Baptism, when they ask for ‘faith which bestows life eternal,’ which, without hope and charity, faith cannot bestow” (Session VI, Chapter 7).

From the defenders of baptism of desire we wish to hear their explanation of how catechumens beg for faith which ‘bestows life eternal’ and at the same time possess faith which ‘bestows life eternal’. Not only do catechumens not possess the supernatural virtue of faith (which is infused into the soul at Baptism), but they also lack the infused virtues of hope and charity which come with the virtue of faith at the moment of Justification.

In light of these infallible decrees of the Council of Trent, it simply is not licit for any Catholic to cite its authority in support of any of the following errors:

·    Water is not absolutely necessary for Baptism, but may be replaced by a desire for the sacrament.

·    The Sacrament of Baptism is not necessary for salvation.

·    At the Council of Trent, the dogma of salvation by means of "baptism by desire" was solemnly defined; thus, actual reception of baptism of water is not required for salvation.

In completing this section pertaining to baptism of desire, having seen what is taught by Sacred Scripture, Tradition, and the Dogmatic Councils of the Church, one must decide whether or not his answers to the following questions agree with those of Holy Mother Church:

Question:     Did the Council of Trent define that the Sacrament of Baptism requires water? 
Answer:     Yes.

Question:     Did the Council of Trent define that the Sacrament of Baptism is necessary for salvation? 
Answer:     Yes.

Question:     Did the Council of Trent define that desire for Baptism was equivalent to the sacrament and sufficient for salvation? 
Answer:     No.

Baptism of Blood       TOP

Along with the defenders of baptism of desire come those of baptism of blood. Here, too, they claim that the latter also effects salvation for those who do not receive the Sacrament of Baptism. As in the case of baptism of desire, those Catholics who refuse to accept such a theory as baptism of blood are marked by certain traditional priests as heretics. However, the previous argumentation used to reveal the error of salvation by desire can be used to disprove it by shedding one’s blood.

As with baptism of desire, the defenders of baptism of blood turn to the Church Fathers, stating that there was unanimous consent among them pertaining to this “doctrine”. They usually quote the small minority of Church Fathers who believed (incorrectly) that one could be saved by shedding his blood for the Catholic Faith, even without water baptism. However, it is absolutely false that all the Church Fathers “unanimously” believed this. Even if some of them did, they were wrong in believing so.

Before going any further, a distinction needs to be made between the baptism of blood referred to by the “Three Baptisms” defenders, and the baptism of blood spoken of by Church Fathers and theologians. We will now address the distinction.

Baptism of Blood: What’s In a Name?       TOP

Our Blessed Lord spoke of the “baptism of blood”. He, of course, gives us the true meaning of such a baptism. We must hope that the defenders of The Three Baptisms would accept His definition.

“And Jesus said to them: You know not what you ask. Can you drink the chalice that I drink of: or be baptized with the baptism wherewith I am baptized? But they said to him: We can. And Jesus saith to them: You shall indeed drink of the chalice that I drink of: and with the baptism wherewith I am baptized, you shall be baptized” (Mk. 10: 38-39).  

We can see, from this Gospel passage, that Our Lord, although already baptized with water by St. John the Baptist, speaks of another baptism which He is to receive. This is the baptism of His Passion on the cross, not the Sacrament of Baptism. Thus, “martyrdom” is described by Jesus Christ as a baptism, a “washing” which occurs in the martyr’s own blood. Likewise, true baptism of blood is defined not to mean a substitute for an unbaptized person, but rather a Catholic martyrdom which remits all the fault and punishment due to actual sin. Catholic martyrs go straight to Heaven.

The term baptism is used in many different ways throughout Sacred Scripture and by the Fathers of the Church. The baptisms “of water, of blood, of the spirit, of Moses, and of fire” are all terms that have been used by Church Fathers to characterize different things, but not to describe that an unbaptized martyr can attain salvation:

“And all in Moses were baptized, in the cloud, and in the sea: And did all eat the same spiritual food, And all drank the same spiritual drink: (and they drank of the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10: 2-4).

Are we meant to think, considering this quote from the Epistle to the Corinthians, that there was an actual “baptism” taking place in the cloud and sea? Not at all.

There can be no doubt in our minds that types (prefigurements) of baptism have been illustrated by Church Fathers by applying the term “baptism” to them. In this way – and only in this way – has baptism of blood been properly used throughout Church history. St. John Chrysostom spoke of the martyrdom of St. Lucian as being a “baptism”, even though St. Lucian had already been baptized with water (Jurgens, Vol. 2: 1139).

The biggest objection, however, brought up by the defenders of baptism of blood is that the Roman Martyrology contains Saints who, according to them, were never baptized with water. 

We now quote from Br. Robert Mary in Father Feeney and the Truth About Salvation (pp. 173-175):

We will now examine the historical evidence put forth by those who claim that "baptism of blood" is a substitute for, even superior to, the sacrament of Baptism.

This evidence is found in the many writings that have been handed down to us over the centuries as recorded in various martyrologies, acts of the martyrs, lives of the saints and similar sources. The most concise information on martyrs is found in martyrologies.

The present Roman Martyrology is a catalogue of saints honoured by the Church, not only those martyred for the Faith. It first appeared in 1584, and was derived from ancient martyrologies that existed in the fourth century, plus official and non-official records taken from acts of the martyrs that date back to the second century. It has been revised several times since its first compilation. When he was assigned to revise the ancient accounts, Saint Robert Bellarmine himself had to be restrained from overly sceptical editorial deletions.

As the reader studies the extracts presented below, he should bear in mind several important considerations:

First, it was not the intent of those who first reported the circumstances of the deaths of the martyrs to provide information from which "baptismal registers" could later be compiled. If the chronicler makes no mention of the martyr’s Baptism, it does not necessarily mean that he was never baptized. A case in point is Saint Patrick. He was not a martyr, but his Baptism was never recorded. Yet, we know positively that he received the sacrament since he was a bishop.

Next, even if a chronicler states positively that a martyr had not been baptized, it should be understood to mean that he was "not recorded" as having been baptized. In those times especially, no person could hope to know with certainty that another had not been baptized.

Third, if the chronicler says that a martyr was "baptized in his own blood", this does not automatically preclude prior reception of the sacrament by water. When Christ referred to His coming Passion as a "Baptism", He had already been baptized by Saint John in the Jordan. Note, in that regard, this quote from Saint John Damascene: "These things were well understood by our holy and inspired fathers - thus, they strove, after Holy Baptism, to keep...spotless and undefiled. Whence some of them also thought fit to receive yet another Baptism: I mean that which is by blood and martyrdom." (Barlaam and Josaphat, St. John Damascene — our emphasis)

Fourth, "baptism of blood" should be understood as the greatest act of love of God that a man can make. God rewards it with direct entrance into heaven for those who are already baptized and in the Church: no purgatory — it is a perfect confession. If it were capable of substituting for any sacrament, it would be the sacrament of Penance, because Penance does not oblige with a necessity of means, but precept only.

In his book Church History, Father John Laux, M.A., writes: 
If he [the Christian] was destined to lose his life, he had been taught that martyrdom was a second Baptism, which washed away every stain, and that the soul of the martyr was secure in immediate admission to the perfect happiness of heaven.

Fifth, when a martyr is referred to as a "catechumen," it does not always mean he was not yet baptized. A catechumen was a person learning the Faith, as a student in a class called a catechumenate, under a teacher called a catechist. That students continued in their class even after they were baptized is confirmed conclusively by these words of Saint Ambrose to his catechumens: "I know very well that many things still have to be explained. It may strike you as strange that you were not given a complete teaching on the sacraments before you were baptized. However, the ancient discipline of the Church forbids us to reveal the Christian mysteries to the uninitiated. For the full meaning of the sacraments cannot be grasped without the light which they themselves shed in your hearts." (On the Mysteries and On the Sacraments, Saint Ambrose)

Sixth, in those days, a formal Baptism was a very impressive ceremony conducted by the bishop. However, the Church has always taught that, in case of necessity, any person of either sex who has reached the use of reason, Catholic or non-Catholic, may baptize by using the correct words and intending to do what the Church intends to be done by the sacrament. Therefore, in the early Church, baptized Christians and unbaptized catechumens were instructed to administer the sacrament to each other, if and as needed, whenever persecutions broke out.

Seventh, salvation was made possible for us men when, on the Cross on Calvary, Our Lord Jesus Christ sacrificed His Sacred Body and Blood in atonement for our sins. Hence, a man is saved, not by sacrificing his own human blood, but by the sacrifice of the Most Precious Divine Blood of Our Holy Saviour.

Let us put it another way: In our opinion, the absolutely certain remission of original sin and incorporation into Christ and His Church are accomplished only by the water to which, alone, Christ has given that power. A man’s blood has no such power. Martyrdom is the greatest act of love of God a man can make, but it cannot substitute for the sacrament of Baptism.
– [End of Transcript]

There is absolutely no need to examine the less than 20 individual cases of the Martyrology (out of millions) which seem to have occurred without water baptism. All that is needed is to prove that the Catholic Church has infallibly taught that such claims are false. “And if he will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican” (Mt. 18:17). We need only quote Pope Eugene IV, who spoke ex cathedra at the Council of Florence in 1441:

"It [the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church] firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that none of those outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but neither Jews, nor heretics and schismatics, can become participants in eternal life, but will depart ‘into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels’ [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life they have been added to the Church; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those abiding in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practised, even if he has shed [his] blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has abided in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church."

How can the defenders of baptism of blood as a means of salvation for the unbaptized continue to state that all the Church Fathers, Doctors, Popes unanimously taught what is dogmatically false? Pope Eugene IV explicitly excludes from salvation even those who “shed blood for the name of Christ”, unless they are living within the bosom and unity of the Church. The unbaptized are not living within the bosom and unity of the Church.

In closing the discussion on baptism of blood, we offer a quote from Pope Pius XII’s Mystici Corporis (29 June 1943): 

“Actually only those are to be numbered among the members of the Church who have received the laver of regeneration and profess the true faith.”

In Conclusion       TOP

We must conclude, from our study, that the Catholic Church has clearly and infallibly defined that the Sacrament of Baptism, administered with water, is absolutely necessary for salvation, and that there are no exceptions to this teaching. Therefore, according to Divine Revelation infallibly proposed and defined by the Church, we are bound to hold that God, in His great Providence, will provide those who are of good will and who seek the Truth with the means to know His truth by coming to the One Faith and will provide a way for them to be baptized with water.

To use the truth that “God desires all men to be saved” as the exception to the necessity of Baptism with water is to deceive. Both parts are presented as absolute truths which are not contradictory yet which are above our reason. It is a mystery of God’s mercy and justice. Neither truth is open to interpretation because dogmatic statements are to be understood by the very words the Church “has once declared” (Vatican I, Dei Filius, 4). 

The defenders of the Three Baptisms mislead the faithful into interpreting non infallible statements with the pre-established view that there can be exceptions to what has already been infallibly defined, rather than reading and understanding these statements in light of what has already been previously defined.

What arrogance and deception it is to set up before the faithful non infallible and non-definitive statements, of writings from Doctors, Catechisms, Sermons, etc., as the final judge over those Church documents which have no judge, but by which all else is to be judged: the infallible and definitive dogmatic decrees, canons and definitions of the extraordinary Magisterium.


Confiteor Unum Baptisma
A Compilation of Sources In Defense of the Catholic Church’s Teaching on Baptism 

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