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IS BAPTISM OF DESIRE AND BLOOD A CATHOLIC TEACHING?
Rama P. Coomaraswamy, M.D.

And Jesus said to them... Can you drink the chalice that I drink of: or be baptized with the baptism wherewith I am baptized?

                                                                Mark 10:38

"Let not the son of the stranger, that adhereth to the Lord, speak, saying the Lord will divide and separate me from his people... For thus  saith the Lord... they that shall keep my sabbaths, and shall choose the things that please me, and shall hold fast my covenent: I will give to them in my house, and within my walls, a place, and a name better than sons and daughters: I will give them an everlasting name which shall never perish."

                                                                                Isiah, 56.3 

"it is one God who justifies the circumcision by faith and the uncircumcisin through faith."

                                                                             Romans 3:30

                                

The continued debate among traditionally minded Catholic groups with regard to Baptism of Desire and Baptism of Blood can only be resolved by examining the constant teaching of the Church throughout the ages. With this in view, the various arguments, which bear on this matter will be reviewed in a semi-historical sequence. Melchior Cano has pointed to the ten sources or locis theologicis from which Catholic doctrine can be determined. He lists among these:

1)       Holy Scripture             

2)       Oral Tradition              

3)       The Authority of the Catholic Church    

4)       The Authority of the Councils

5)       The Authority of the Roman Church       

6)       The Authority of the Holy Fathers          

7)       The Authority of the Scholastic Theologians       

8)       The worthiness of natural reason            

9)       The Authority of the philosophers          

10)    The Authority of History.

It will be seen in what follows that we have documented the Church's teaching on the issue of Baptism of Desire from all but the 4th and 9th of these loci. In a certain sense one can state that the issue is outside the realm of philosophy. That the Councils have not addressed the issue is understandable if one considers the fact that issues raised in the Councils were always relative to matters in dispute. The validity of Baptism of Desire has, before the present century, never been in doubt.  It should be clear that many of the examples we point to fall within the province of "the ordinary and universal magisterium" of the Church.

Theologians have spoken of the triple form of baptism - namely water, desire and blood. St. Paul in Hebrews 6:2 speaks of the doctrines of baptism in the plural (doctrinae baptismatum), implying the possibility of more than one form - the sacrament of course being one by its nature as in "one faith, one baptism."[1] And indeed, Scripture provides us with examples in both the Old and New Testament. In the Old Testament we have the example of Job who was "from the North Country," and not a Jew. In the New Testament we have the slaughter of the innocents, and later the case of the Centurian as in Matthew 8:1-13. Scripture also tells us that the good thief went to heaven, despite the fact that he was not baptized with water. However, those who argue on the absolute need of baptism by water will respond by noting that the Church was not officially "founded" till the day of Pentecost - and that hence baptism by water only became a requirement subsequent to that time. In support of this position they will quote Matt. xxviii, 19 where Christ says "Going therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." This opinion is not grounded on any teaching of the Church. In point of fact, this statement was made before Pentecost - though after the Resurrection. And further, the argument forgets that Christ told Nicodemus, prior to His Crucifixion, that "unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.[2] Also pertinent is the teaching of St. Paul with regard to Circumcision, which he likened to Baptism. In Romans 2:25-27 he teaches: "Circumcision profiteth indeed, if thou keep the law; but if thou be a transgressor of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. If, then, the uncircumcised keep the justices of the law, shall not this uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?"_

Granting for the sake of argument that these Scriptural examples fail to close the debate, let us look to the constant practice and teaching of the Church for further clarification.

TERTULLIAN: Born in the year 160 and writing about the year 200, this author, despite his later defection to Montanism, is usually considered as a "Church Father" and certainly one of the earliest exponents of orthodox Catholic doctrine. The following passage is taken from his writings under the section de baptismo in the Enchiridion Patristicum:

"In truth we also have a second laver which is the same as the first, namely that of blood, concerning which Our Lord said, "And I have a baptism wherewith I am to be baptized' (Luke 12:50) after He had already been baptized; for He came by water and blood as John wrote, that He might be baptized by water and glorified by blood, likewise too that He might make us called by water and chosen by blood; He poured forth these two baptisms from the wound dug in His side so that those who believed in His blood might be cleansed by water and those who were cleansed by water might bear His blood; this is the baptism which takes the place of the laver which has not been received and restores what was lost." (emphasis mine)

ST ALBAN AND HIS FELLOW MARTYR: The Venerable Bede tells us in the Ecclesiastical History of the Church of the English Nation tells us the story of an early English Martyr. The story is well summarized by Dom Gueranger (who St. Theresa of Lisieaux considered to be a saint) in his Liturgical Year:

"When the mandates of the emperors Diocletian and Maximian were raging against the Christians, Alban, as yet a pagan, received into his house a certain priest fleeing from persecution. Now, when he [Alban] beheld how this priest persevered day and night in constant watching and prayer, he was suddenly touched by divine grace, so that he was fain to imitate the example of his faith and piety; and being instructed by degrees, through his salutary exhortations, forsaking the darkness of idolatry, he with his whole heart became a Christian."

"The persecutors, being in search of this cleric, came to Alban's house, whereupon, disguised in the cleric's apparel - namely, in the caracalla - he presented himself to the soldiers in the place of his master and guest; by them he was bound with things, and led off to the judge. This latter finding himself thus deceived, ordered that the holy confessor of God should be beaten by the executioners; and, perceiving at last that he could neither overcome him by torments, nor win him over from the worship of the Christian religion, he commanded his head to be struck off."

"Alban having reached the brow of the neighboring hill, the executioner who was to dispatch him, admonished by a divine inspiration, casting away his sword, threw himself at the saint's feet, desiring to die either with the martyr, or instead of him. Alban, being at once beheaded, received the crown of life, which God hath promised to them that love him."

"The soldier who had refused to strike him, was likewise beheaded: concerning whom it is quite certain that, albeit he was not washed in the baptismal font, still was he made clean in the laver of his own blood and so made worthy of entering into the kingdom of heaven. Alban suffered at Verulam, on the tenths of the Kalends of July. And the judge, astonished at the novelty of so many heavenly miracles, ordered the persecution to cease immediately, beginning to honor the death of the saints [only St. Alban and the soldier had been executed], by which [death] he had before thought that they might be diverted from the Christian faith."

As Martin Gwynne points out, this last paragraph is taken verbatum from the writings of Bede, and Bede is a Doctor of the Church. Moreover, St. Alban, who died on June 22 in the year 303, is considered to be the proto-martyr of the English Church.[3]

SAINT EMERENTIANA: Those familiar with the traditional Breviary (dropped from the Novus Ordo "missals") will know the story of this virgin and martyr. The idea that the Church would have her religious commemorate such a person who was - according to those who deny Baptism of Desire and Blood - on a yearly basis for some 1800 years - is to say the least "offensive to pious ears." Let us quote the Breviary directly:

"Emerantiana, a Roman virgin, step-sister of the blessed Agnes, while still a catechumen, burning with faith and charity, when she vehemently rebuked idol-worshippers who were stealing from Christians, was stoned and struck down by the crowd which she had angered. Praying in her agony at the tomb of holy Agnes, baptized by her own blood which she poured forth unflinchingly for Christ, she gave up her soul to God."

This virgin and martyr died in Rome about the year 350. A church was built over her grave. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia (1908), some days after the death of St. Agnes, Emerentiana who was still a catechumen, went to the grave to pray, and while praying she was suddenly attacked by the pagans and killed with stones. Her feast is kept on January 23 and she is again commemorated on Sept 16 under the phrase in caemeterio maiore (where she is buried). She is represented in the iconography of the church with stones in her lap and a palm of lily in her hands. Some have argued that she was baptized - but such is absurd as she is both called a catechumen, and the Church states in her liturgy that she was "baptized in her own blood."[4]

Yet another example, enshrined in the Breviary in the office of Nov. 10, is that of ST. RESPICIUS.

"During the reign of the emperor Decius, as Tryphon was preaching the faith of Jesus Christ and striving to persuade all  men to worship the Lord, he was arrested by the henchmen of Decius. First, he was tortured on the rack, his flesh torn with iron hooks, then hung head downward, his feet pierced with red hot nails. He was beaten by clubs, scorched by burning torches held against his body. As a result of seeing him endure all these tortures so courageously, the tribune Respicius was converted to the faith of Christ the Lord. Upon the spot he publicly declared himself to be a Christian. Respicius was then tortured in various ways, and toggether with Tryphon, dragged to a statue of Jupiter. As Tryphon prayed, the statue fell down. After this occurredboth were mercilessly beaten with leaden tipped whips and thus attained to glorious martyrdom."

ST AMBROSE, another doctor of the Church, provides us with the fourth example. He has the following to say with  regard to the death of Valentinian II, who was murdered at Vienne in the year 371. Valentinian II was the son of the Emperor Valintinian I, Emperor of the West, and his second wife Justina. Valintinian I and Justina had been displaced by Mangus Maximus, and had sought support from the Arian Theodosius, who was Emperor of the East. As a result  Valentinian II for many years he sat on the fence and tried to bring about a compromise in the arguments between the Arians and the Orthodox. In this he was opposed by St. Ambrose. When his mother died, Valentinian II abandoned Arianism, became a catechumen, and invited St. Ambrose to come to Gaul and administer baptism to him. He was however assassinated before this could happen and his body was brought to Milan where the saint delivered his funeral oration "De obitu Valentiniani consolatio" which dwelt on the efficacy of baptism of desire. The following is extracted from this oration:

"But I hear that you are distressed because he did not receive the sacrament of baptism. Tell me, what attribute do we have besides our will, our intention? Yet, a short time ago he had this desire that before he came to Italy he should be initiated [baptized], and he indicated that he wanted to be baptized as soon as possible by myself. Did he not, therefore, have that grace which he desired? Did he not have what he asked for? Undoubtedly because he asked for it he received it. Whence it is written, 'The just man, by whatsoever death he shall be overtaken, his soul shall be at rest'(Wisdom, 4:7)."[5]

ST. AUGUSTINE, another doctor of the Church has also spoken to this issue. In his City of God he makes his position more than clear.

"Those also who die for the confession of Christ without having received the laver of regeneration are released thereby from their sins just as much as if they had been cleansed by the sacred spring of baptism. For He who said, 'Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,' (John 3:5) by another statement made exceptions to this when He said no less comprehensively: 'Everyone... that shall confess me before men, I will confess before my Father who is in Heaven.' (Matthew 10:32)."

Lest anyone claim that this was an isolated opinion of Augustine's, we also give the following drawn his de baptismo and found in the Enchiridion Patristicum, a source which provides Catholic Scholars with approved texts on doctrinal issues (paragraph 1629).[6]

"I do not doubt that a Catholic catechumen, burning with Divine charity, is superior to a baptized heretic. But even inside the Catholic Church we consider a good catechumen better than a bad man who has been baptized; and for this reason we do no injury to the sacrament ob baptism, which the one has not yet received and the other has, nor do we consider the sacrament of the catechumen superior to the sacrament of baptism by considering a particular catechumen more faithful and better than a particular person who has been baptized. For the centurion Cornelius was better when he was not yet baptized than was Simon [Magus] after he had been baptized. for the former was filled with the Holy Ghost even before baptism, while the latter was full of the evil spirit even after baptism...

"That the place of baptism can sometimes assuredly be taken by suffering, the blessed Cyprian takes as no mean proof the words addressed to the thief who was not baptized: 'This day thou shalt be with me in paradise' (Luke 23:43). In considering which again, I find that not only suffering for the name of Christ can supply that which was lacking in respect of baptism [id quod ex baptismo deerat], but also faith and conversion of heart if perchance in straitened times it is impossible to arrange for the celebration of the mystery of baptism."

Since reference to ST. CYPRIAN (martyred in the year 257) has been made by St. Augustine, it seems appropriate to quote him directly. Again, we use as our source the Enchiridion Patristicum (paragraph 1328):

"Some people, as if by human argument they could rob of its truth the teaching of the Gospel, present us with the case of catechumens, demanding whether, if one of these, before he was baptized in the church, were captured and killed in the confession of his belief, he would forfeit his hope of salvation and the reward of his confession because he had not previously been born again by water. Men of this kind, who laud and abet heretics, are well aware that those catechumens who first hold inviolate the faith and truth of the Church and advance, with full and sincere knowledge of God the Father and Christ and the Holy Ghost, to fight off the devil from the Divine battlements are certainly not thereupon deprived of the sacrament of baptism seeing that they have been baptized with the greatest and most glorious baptism of blood, concerning which Our Lord said that He had another baptism wherewith to be baptized (Luke 12:50). The same Lord, however, affirms in the gospel that those who are baptized by their own blood and sanctified by their sufferings, are consummated and receive the grace of the Divine promise. This is implied by His words when he spoke to the thief who believed in and confessed His passion, promising that he would be with him in paradise."

At this point we will return to examples taken from history - specifically drawing on the Bollandists who are the official hagioraphers of the Church. We take two examples drawn from Les Petits Bollandistes:[7]

The first is the story of the brother martyrs SAINTS DONATIEN AND ROGATIEN, who were martyred during the reign of Maximien about the year 287 and who are the patron saints of the city of Nantes in France.

"There was a young man in Nantes called Donatien. Born into an illustrious family, he was even more illustrious for his faith.... He had received baptism, and fortifies by the holy mysteries, he publicly proclaimed the triumph of Jesus Christ and spread the divine wheat that had been so fruitful in him own heart, in the hearts of the Gentiles around him."

"He gained his elder brother Rogatien who was still an idolator to the Christian faith at a time of great peril, for it was a period when the profession of Christianity was proscribed. But such considerations did not deter Rogatien from adhering to the truth and committing himself to following Jesus Christ, even unto death. In order to have the strength to undertake this dangerous combat, he sought out the sacrament of baptism with great ardor, but in the absence of a priest (sacerdotis absentia fugitiva) - for the priests had been forced to flee the land - he could only be baptized in his own blood.

Rogatien and his brother were placed in the same goal and Rogatien had only one sorrow - that he had not receive baptism. Continuing the story as provided by the Bollandists:

"But the faith which he had in God led him to hope that the kiss of his brother would take the place of the sacred bath [baptism]. Donatien, informed of the sorrow of his brother, made the following prayer to God: 'Lord Jesus Christ, with whom desires have the same merit as works, when it is absolutely impossible to fulfill the wishes of someone who is completely devoted to you, as is the case with your servant Rogatien, grant if the judge persists in his obstinacy, that his pure faith may take the place of baptism, and that his blood may become the sacred oils  ."

The following morning both brothers were slain, and "Donatien, having gained his brother to Jesus Christ, had the consolation of seeing him respond with dignity to the graces of his vocation; Rogatien, baptized in his own blood, showed himself in no way inferior to his brother, and the two achieved an illustrious victory and were united in the happy flock that is never to be separated from the immortal Lamb, the author and consummator of their beatitude." There are many churches in the districts around Nantes dedicated to these two saints.

There is yet another saint that the Bollandists tell us of - ST VICTOR OF BRAGA in Portugal - a saint who is commemorated in the Breviary on April 11. According to our source, "St. Victor of Braga, was as yet only a catechumen when he refused to adore an idol and confessed with great courage his belief in Jesus Christ. He was decapitated after many tortures and thus had the good fortune to be baptized in his own blood - this about the year 300 during the reign of Diocletian."

Returning once again to the doctors of the Church, we find the following statement in the writings of ST. CYRIL OF JERUSALEM who died in the year 386.

"If anyone does not receive baptism, he does not have salvation, excepting only martyrs who gain the kingdom even without water."[8]

ST. GREGORY NAZIANZEN who according to the Catholic Encyclopedia (1908), is one of the greatest theologians of the Church has the following to say about Baptism:

"I now also that there is a fourth kind of baptism [i.e., apart from the baptism of Moses, of John, and of Jesus], namely that which is acquired by martyrdom and blood, by which Christ Himself was also baptized, and which indeed is nobler than the others, because it is contaminated by no subsequent defilements."[9]

Yet another authority is that of ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOME, (died 407) who the Catholic Encyclopedia (1980) describes as generally considered "the most prominent doctor in the Greek Church and the greatest preacher ever heard in the Christian pulpit" makes the following statement in his Panegyric on St. Lucianus:

"Do not be surprised that I should equate martyrdom with baptism; for here too the spirit blows with much fruitfulness, and a marvellous and astonishing remission of sins and cleansing of the soul is effected; and just as those who are baptized by water, so, too, those who suffer martyrdom are cleansed with their own blood."

Yet another authority is that of ST. FULGENTIUS who died in the early part of the sixth century:

"From the time when Our Saviour said 'Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,' without the sacrament of baptism, apart from those who pour forth their blood for Christ in the Catholic Church without baptism, no one can receive the kingdom of Heaven, nor eternal life."[10]

It might seem that most of our examples are taken from the lives of the martyrs and that hence we only defend a baptism of blood and not one of desire. However, in the practical order, one who desires baptism and is not martyred or assassinated, usually is in no way impeded from obtaining it. Thus it is that the desire for baptism is almost always demonstrated and proven only by the complimentary baptism of blood - and indeed, the theologians almost always discuss them together. Let us demonstrate this by turning to ST. THOMAS AQUINAS whose authoritative teaching few will debate.:

 Summa, Part III, Question 66, Eleventh Article

"As stated in question 62, fifth article, baptism of water has its efficacy from Christ's Passion, to which a man is conformed by baptism, and also from the Holy Ghost as first cause. Now although the effect depends on the first cause, the cause far surpasses the effect, nor does it depend on it. consequently, a man may, without baptism of water, receive the sacramental effect from Christ's Passion, in so far as he is conformed to Christ by suffering for Him. Hence it is written (Apocalypse 7:14): 'these are they who are come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.' In like manner a man receives the effect of baptism by the power of the Holy Ghost, not only without baptism of water, but also without baptism of blood: forasmuch as his heart is moved by the Holy Ghost to believe in and love God and to repent of his sins: wherefore this is also called the baptism of repentance. Of this it is written (Isaias 4:4): 'If the Lord shall wash away the filth of the daughters of Sion, and shall wash away the blood of Jerusalem out of the midst thereof, by the spirit of judgement, and by the spirit of burning.' Thus, therefore, each of these other baptisms is called baptism, forasmuch as it takes the place of baptism."

St. Thomas completes this article by quoting the passage from St. Augustine we have ourselves quoted above. He then moves on to the next question (66):

"Augustine [Ad Fortunatum], speaking of the comparison between baptisms says: 'the newly baptized confesses his faith in the presence of the priest; the martyr in the presence of the persecutor. The former is sprinkled with water, after he has confessed; the latter with his blood. The former receives the Holy Ghost by the imposition of the bishop's hands; the latter is made the temple of the Holy Ghost.'"

"As stated above (article 11), the shedding of blood for Christ's sake, and the inward operation of the Holy Ghost, are called baptisms, in so far as they produce the effect of the baptism of water. Now the baptism of water derives its efficacy from the Holy Ghost, as already stated. These two causes act in each of these three baptisms; most excellently, however, in the baptism of blood. For Christ's Passion acts in the baptism of water by way of desire; but in the baptism of blood by way of imitating the (Divine) act. In like manner, too, the power of the Holy Ghost acts in the baptism of water through a certain hidden power; in the baptism of repentance by moving the heart; but in the baptism of blood by the highest degree of fervor of dilection and love, according to John 15:13 'Greater love then this no man hath that a man lay down his life for his friends.'"

ST. THOMAS AQUINAS discusses the matter again in his Commentary on the Gospel of St. John (section 444):

"Two questions arise here. First, if no one enters the kingdom of God unless he is born again of water, and if the fathers of old were not born again of water (because they were not baptized), then they have not entered the kingdom of God. Secondly, since baptism is of three kinds, that is, of water, of deire and of blood, and many have been baptized in the latter two ways (who we say have entered the kingdom of God immediately, even though they were not born again of water), it does not seem to be true to say that unless one is born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.The answer to the first is that rebirth or regeneration from water and the holy spirit takes place in two ways: in truth and in symbol. Now the fathers of old, although they were not reborn with a true rebirth, were nevertheless reborn with a symbolic rebirth, because they always had a sense perceptible sign in which true rebirth was prefigured. So according to this, thus reborn, they did enter the kingdom of God, after the rasom was paid. The answer to the second is that those who are reborn by a baptism of blood and fire, although they do not have regeneration in deed, they do have it in desire. Otherwise neither would the baptism of blood mean anything nor could there be a baptism of the Spirit. Consequently, in order than man may enter the kingdom of heaven, it is necessary that there baptism of water in deed, as is the case of all baptized persons, or in desire, as in the case of the martyrs and catechumens, who are prevented by death from fulfilling their desire, or in symbol as in the case of the fathers of old."[11]

PETER LOMBARD, the master of the sentences, also held this doctrine. To quote him directly:

 

 

"With regard to this issue it should be noted that Our Lord said in John 3 that 'unless a person be reborn of water and the holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Now this is generally true... it it is to be understood of those who  are capable of receiving but despse baptism. For them, apart from baptism by water and the Holy Spirit there is no salvation. But this same regeneration can be achieved, not only by baptism of water, but also by rependence [and hence desire] and by blood. Hence it follows that many apostolic authorities teach that baptism can be of water, repentence or blood... and this is only reasonable... Whence Augustine asks: which is greater, faith or water? Unquestionably everyone would respond faith. Therefore, iuf what is the lesser can sanctify, why cannot the greater, namely faith, with regard to which Christ said, ' He who believes in me, even though he should die, livith.'" Lib IV, De Sacramentis.

Again, ST. BONAVENTUR teaches that: "there are three distinct forms of Baptism, namely that of fire, that of water and that of blood. Baptism of fire is that provided by repentance and the grace of the Holy Spirit, and purifies from sin. In Baptism of water we are both puurified from sin and absolved of all temporal punishment due to sin. In Baptism of blood we are purified from all misery." [12]

 

Yet another mediaeval theologian of authority, HUGH of ST. VICTOR, has spoken to the issue. As his statement is rather lengthy, it is added as an appendix.b

Let us next turn to the authority of a pope, namely that of POPE INNOCENT II who reigned from 1130-1143. He wrote to the Bishop of Cremona in a letter entitled Apostolicam Sedem:

"We assert without hesitation (on the authority of the holy Fathers Augustine and Ambrose) that the 'priest' whom you indicated (in your letter) had died without the water of baptism, because he persevered in the Faith of Holy Mother Church and in the confession of the name of Christ, was freed from original sin and attained the joys of the heavenly fatherland. Read [brother] in the eighth book of Augustine's City of God where among other things it is written: 'Baptism is administered invisibly to one whom not contempt of religion, but death excludes.' Read again the book also of the blessed Ambrose concerning the death of Valentinian where he says the same thing. Therefore, to questions concerning the dead, you should hold the opinions of the learned Fathers, and in your church you should join in prayers and you should have sacrifices offered to God for the 'priest' mentioned."[13]

"Similarly, in a letter to a Bishop Berthold of Metz on August 28, 1206 he stated: "You have, to be sure, intimated that a certain Jew, when at the point of death, since he lived only among Jews, immersed himself in water while sahying: 'I baptize myself in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.'"

"We respond that, since there should be a distinction between the one baptizing and the one baptized, as is clearly gathered from the words of the Lord, when he says to the Apostles: 'Go baptize all nations in the names etc.' (cf. Matt. 28:19, the Jew mentioned must be baptized again by another, that it may be shown that he who is baptized is one person, and he who baptizes another... If, however, such a one had died immediately, he would have rushed to his heavenly home without delay because of the faith of the sacrament, although not because of the sacrament of faith." [14]

We next provide a brief quotation taken from the Dictionnaire de Theologie Catholique - not that the quotation adds any significant information, but rather it demonstrates that this weighty and orthodox text published around the turn of the century, is in full concordance with all that has so far been said.

"Nevertheless, regardless of the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation, are there not other means [than that of water] of providing for it? The Fathers [of the Church] admit to baptism of blood or martyrdom, and in a certain measure the baptism of desire, as a means of replacing the baptism of water." [15]

THE COUNCIL OF TRENT is often appealed to by those who would deny baptism of blood and desire. The argument put forth is based on the second canon of the Council which states:

"If anyone should say that true and natural water is not necessary for baptism and should therefore twist 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."

Now, there is nothing in such a statement which contradicts what has been said throughout this essay. As is always the case, one must take things in their proper context. This particular anathema was directed against Calvin who argued that water was simply a metaphor for the grace of the Holy Ghost. Thus, reference to the Decree on Justification promulgated by the Council of Trent is necessary for the full understanding of the doctrine in question. Quoting from Denzinger, yet another unquestionably Catholic source, we make note of the following:

"This ... translation [i.e. from the state of original sin to the state of grace 'of the adoption of sons' (Romans 8:15) after the promulgation of the Gospel cannot take place without the laver of regeneration or the desire for it...' (Denzinger 796)

Some have argued against Baptism of Blood and Desire on the basis of the CATECHISM OF THE COUNCIL OF TRENT where it is stated that "the Sacrament of Baptism can be said to exist only when we actually apply the water to someone by way of ablution, while using the words appointed by our Lord." This statement of course is only meant to apply to the "normative" form of baptism with water, and was never meant to be taken out of context as an absolute statement in and of itself. Proof of this is provided by the fact that in the Definition of Baptism given in the same section of this Catechism we find the following statement - "For He gave power to men to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in His name, who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God," footnoted by a reference to St. Thomas Aquinas as quoted above, and to a section in St. Alphonsus Liguori's Moral Theology. It is worth while seeing what the latter has to say on this issue.

According to ST ALPHONSUS LIGUORI:

"Truly Baptism of Blood is the pouring forth of blood, or undergone for the sake of the faith, or for some other Christian virtue; as teaches St. Thomas, Viva; Croix along with Aversa and Gobet, etc. This is equivalent to real baptism because [it acts] as if it were ex operato and like Baptism remits both sin and punishment. It is said to be quasi - as if, because martyrdom is not strictly speaking like a sacrament, but because those privileged in this way imitate the Passion of Christ as says Bellarmin, Suarez, Sotus, Cajetane, etc., along with Croix; and in a firm manner, Petrocorensis."

"Therefore martyrdom is efficacious, even in infants, as is shown by the Holy Innocents which are indeed considered true martyrs. This is clearly taught by Suarez along with Croix and to oppose such an opinion is indeed temerarious. In adults it is necessary that martyrdom be at least habitually accepted from supernatural motives as Coninck, Cajetan, Suarez, Bonacina and Croix etc. teach. ...."

Not in passing that such was also the teaching of Coninck, Cajetan, Suarez Bonacina and Croix.

Such also is the teaching of St. CATHERINE OF SIENNA. Christ addressed the issue of Baptism in response to her question in the following terms:

"I wished thee to see the secret of the Heart, showing it to thee open, so that tyou mightest see how much more I loved than I could show thee by finite pain. I poured from it Blood and Water, to show thee the baptism of water which is received in virtue of the Blood. I also showed the baptism of love in two ways, first in those who are baptized in their blood shed for Me which has virtue through My Blood, even if they have not been able to have Holy Baptism, and also those  who are baptized in fire, not being able to have Holy Baptism, but desiring it with the affection of love. Thereis no baptism of desire without the Blood, because Blood is stteped in and kneaded with the fire of Divine charity, because through love was it shed. There is yet another way by which the soul receives the baptism of Blood, speaking, as it were, under a figure, and this wayh the Divine charity provided, knowing the infirmity and fragility of an, through which he offends, not that he is obliged, through his fragility and infirmity, to commit sin, unless he wish to do so; byt falling, as he will, into the guild of mortal sin, by which he loses the grace which hd drew from Holy Baptism in virtue of the Blood, it was necessary to leave a continual baptism of blood. This the Divine charity provided in the Sacrament of Holy Confession, the soul receiving the Baptism of blood, with contrition of heart, confessing, when able, to My ministers, who hold the keys of the Blood, sprinkling It, in absolution, upon the face of the soul. But if the soul is unable to confess, contrition of heart is sufficient for this baptism, the hand of My clemency giving you the fruit of this precious Blood... Thou seest then that these Baptisms, which you should all receive until the last moment, are continual, and though My works, that is the pains of the Cross were finite, the fruit of them which you receive in Baptism, through Me, are infinite..."[16]

One penultimate argument is drawn from CANON LAW. Those who deny Baptism of Desire and Blood are prone to quote Canon 1239 which states:

"Those who have died without baptism are not to be given ecclesiastical burial."

However this canon is immediately followed by Canon 1239 (ii) which states:

"Catechumens who die without baptism through no fault of their own are to be counted among the baptized."

Two final witnesses to the constant teaching of the Church:

“It must indeed be held by faith that outside the Apostolic roman Church no one can be saved; that this is the only ark of salvation; that he who shall not have entered theein will perish in the flood; but, on theother hand, it is necessary to hold for certain that they who labor in ignorance of the true religion, if this ignorance is invincible, are not stained by any guilt in this matter in the eyes of God. Now, in truth, who would arrogate somuch to himself as to mark the  limits of such ignorance, because of the nature and variety of peoles, regions, innate dispositions, and of so many other things?”  Piux IX, Singulari quadam, Dec. 8, 1854, Cf. Denz. 1647)

 And again,  Pope Saint Pius X.’s  Catechism of Christian Doctrine, paragraph 132 states:

"A person outside the Church by his own fault, and who dies without perfect contrition, will not be saved. But he who finds himself outside without fault of his own, and who lives a good life, can be saved by the love called charity, which unites unto God, and in a spiritual way also to the Church, that is, to the soul of the Church." (italics in original)[17]

CONCLUDING COMMENTS: Once again, let it be clear that examples of baptism of desire apart from those who undergo martyrdom are hard to come by, for the simple reason that those so desirous who do not suffer martyrdom or untimely death, are able to receive the sacrament in a "normal" manner.

We have provided more than ample evidence that the Church has always accepted Baptism of Desire and Baptism of Blood as efficacious means of "regeneration." This doctrine has been taught by doctors of the Church throughout her history from the earliest days down to recent times. Individuals so graced have been repeatedly raised to her altars. The principle has been incorporated into her liturgy as is demonstrated by examples taken from the Breviary. The doctrine is accepted by the Bollandists, by those who promulgate the Church's official "dictionaries," by innumerable saints and theologians[18] and by Canon Law. As opposed to this, one cannot point to a single official document of the Church's Magisterium that denies the efficacy of these other forms of Baptism.[19]

It is true that there are "anecdotal" stories of individuals who have been brought back to life in order to receive baptism of water, or who have received the "laver of regeneration" in some other miraculous manner. Such stories however - and there is no reason to deny their veracity - in no way prove the contrary to our thesis. No one can deny but that God is able to achieve His ends in ways beyond our ken. But such stories are not points of doctrine; they are not to be found in the liturgy of the Church; they are not discussed by the doctors of the Church; they are not pointed to in her Catechisms; and edifying as they may be, they do not command our belief and acceptance.

I think it can be said that the Church has more than adequately spoken to this issue. No Catholic "in good faith" can deny the efficacy of Baptism of Desire and of Blood. May we all have the purity of heart and faith that those who have been regenerated through such means are known to have had.

We can do no better than to conclude this essay with a passage from Father Lacordaire, translated and taken from the writing of Kenhelm Digby, an Englsh Catholic convert who live well over 150 years ago.

"Christ has created the society of souls founded on Him in love. All persons, it is true, do not know the source of the fire that consumes them. Some cannot name Jesus Christ because He has never been named to them. Obscure victims of the cross which saves them,  they have not been led from their birth to the feet of Calvary. But a drop of this blood has searched for them across invisible furrows, and mixed with theirs as an aroma of eternal life; they have responded by a silent groaning to the appeal of charity. The Church, therefore, is not alone  what it appears to us. It is not only in this visible construction, where all is history, authenticity, hierarchy, virtues and external miracles; it is also in the twilight, in the evanescent shades, in that which has neither form nor memory, sanctities lost to the vision of men, but not lost to that of angels. There is not a single soul besides, however well known, which has not an impenetrable sanctuary, and which does not offer to God, in this holy of holies, a mysterious incense, that does not reckon on the manifestation of this world, but which weighs in the glory of the other. Thus the Church partly invisible; and, remark here, neither is the creation confined wholly to the luminous globes of firmament. It is not alone in the cedars of Solomon, in waves of the ocean, in the wings of the eagle, in the continence of the lion; it is also in the sand of the desert, in the herb that stoops under a drop of water, in the insect which the sun warms, and which it does not see. Love, which is the foundation of the Church, is the most palpable of living fluids; and if the eye of man has never been able to detect, in the light tissue of his nerves, the ambrosia which animates them, how much more ignorant is he of the ways of divine love? Young as you are, then, you know enought not to limit the Church to the visible walls of Jerusalem and to the exterior towers of Sion. Wherever the love of God is, there is Jesus Christ. Wherever Jesus Christ, there is the Church with Him. And if it is true that every Christian ought to unite himself to the body of the Church as soon as he knows of its existence, so it is also certain that invincible ignorance dispenses with this law, to leave its victim under the immediate government of Jesus Christ. The Church, then, has an extension which no human eye can embrace; and those who oppose to us the limits which it seems to their eyes to have, are persons who have no idea of the twofold radiance which is in its nature, raising up for it souls from the east and from the west, under the sun that has gone down as well as under the sun that is above the horizon." (Evenings on the Thames or Serene Hours, Longman, Green, 1864.)                                    

APPENDIX

Taken from Book Two, Part Six of De Sacramentis by Hugh of St. Victor, (13th Century)[20]

Some either through curiosity or zeal are accustomed to inquire whether anyone after the enjoining and proclaiming of the sacrament of baptism can be saved, unless he actually receives the sacrament of baptism itself. For the reasons seem to be manifest and they have many authorities, (if, however, they are said to have authorities, who do not understand); first, because it is said: “Unless a man be born again of the water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” (Cf. John 3, 5), and again: “He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved,” (Mark 16, 16). There are many such passages which seem, as it were, to affirm that by no means can he be saved who has not had this sacrament, whatever he may have besides this sacrament. If he should have perfect faith, if hope, if he should have charity, even if he should have a contrite and humble heart which God does not despise, true repentance for the past, firm purpose for the future, whatever he may have, he will not be able to be saved, if he does not have this. All this seems so to them on account of what is written: “Unless a man be born again of the water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” (Cf. John 3, 5).

Yet if someone would ask; what has happened to those who, after shedding blood for Christ, departed this life without the sacrament of water, they dare not say that men of this kind are not saved. And, although one cannot show that this is written in what is mentioned above, yet they dare not say that, because it is not written there, it is to be denied. For he who said: “Unless a man be born again of the water and the Holy Ghost,” did not add: “or by pouring forth his blood instead of water, “ and yet this is true, although it is not written here. For if he is saved who received water on account of God, why is he not saved much more who sheds blood on account of God?  For it is more to give blood than to receive water. Moreover, what some say is clearly silly, that those who shed blood are saved because with blood they also shed water in the very water which they shed they receive baptism. For if those who are killed are said to have been baptized on account of the moisture of water which drips from their wounds together with the corruption of blood, then those who are suffocated or drowned or are killed by some other kind of death where blood is not shed have not been baptized in their blood and have died for Christ in vain, because they did not shed the moisture of the water which they had within their body. Who would say this? So, he is baptized in blood who dies for Christ, who, even if he does not shed blood from the wound, gives life which is more precious than blood. For he could shed blood and, if he did not give life, shedding blood would be less than giving life. Therefore, he sheds blood well who lays down his life for Christ, and he has his baptism in the virtue of the sacrament, without which to have received the sacrament itself, as it were, is of no benefit. So where this is the case, to be unable to have the sacrament does no harm.

Thus, it is true, although it is not said there, that he who dies for Christ is baptized in Christ. Thus, they say, it is true, although it is not said there, and it is true because it is said elsewhere, even if it is not said there. For He who said: “Unless a man be born again of the water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God,” the same also said elsewhere: “He who shall confess me before men, I will also confess him before my Father,” (Cf. Matt.10, 32). And so what is not said there, is nevertheless to be understood although it is not said, since it is said elsewhere. Behold therefore why they say it. They say that what is not said is to be understood where it is not said, because it is said elsewhere. If, therefore, this is to be understood in this place where it is not said, since it is said elsewhere: “He who believeth in me, shall not die forever,” (Cf. John 11, 26). Likewise He who said: “Unless a man be born again of the water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God, “ He himself said: “He who believeth in me, shall not die for ever.” therefore, either deny faith or concede salvation. What does it seem to you? Where there is faith, where there is hope, where there is charity, finally, where there is the full and perfect virtue of the sacrament, there is no salvation because the sacrament alone is not and it is not, because it cannot be possessed. “He that believeth,” He said, “and is baptized, shall be saved,” (Mark 16, 16).  Therefore behold there is no doubt but that where there is faith and is baptism, there is salvation.

And what follows? “But he that believeth shall not be condemned,” (Cf. Mark 16, 16). Why did He wish to speak thus? Why did He not say: “He that believeth not and is not baptized, shall be condemned,” just as He had said: “He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved?” Why, unless because it is of the will to believe and because he who wishes to believe cannot lack faith. And so in him who does not believe, an evil will is always shown, where there can be no necessity which may be put forth as an excuse. Now to be baptized can be in the will, even when it is not possibility, and on this account justly is good will with the with the devotion of its faith not to be despised, although in a moment of necessity he is prevented from receiving that sacrament of water which is external. Do you wish to know more fully whether or not this reason is proven elsewhere by more manifest authority, although even those authorities which we have mentioned above seem so manifest that there can be no doubt about the truth of them?

Listen to something more, if by chance this matter about which you should not be in doubt can be shown you more clearly. Blessed Augustine in his book, “On the One Baptism,” speaks as follows: again and again as I consider it, I find that not only suffering for the name of Christ can fulfill what was lacking to baptism but also faith and conversion of heart, if perhaps assistance could not be rendered for the celebration of the mystery of baptism in straitened circumstances. You see that he clearly testifies that faith and conversion of heart can suffice for the salvation of good will where it happens that the visible sacrament of water of necessity cannot be had. But lest perhaps you think that he contradicted himself, since afterwards in the Book of Retractions he disapproved of the example of the thief which he had assumed to establish this opinion where he had said that the shedding of blood or faith and change of heart could fulfill the place of baptism, saying: “In the fourth book, when I said that suffering could take the place of baptism, I did not furnish a sufficiently fitting example in that of the thief about whom there is some doubt as to whether he was baptized,” you should consider that in this place he only corrected an example which he had offered to prove his opinion; he did not reject his opinion. But if you think that that opinion is to be rejected, because the example is corrected, then what he had said is false, that the shedding of blood can take the place of baptism, since the example itself was furnished to prove that. For he does not say: “When I said that faith could have the place of baptism,” but he says: “When I said that suffering could have the place of baptism,” although he had placed both in the one opinion. If, therefore, regarding what he said, that suffering can have the place of baptism, an example has been furnished, since it is established that it is true without any ambiguity, it is clear that  the example was afterwards corrected by the opinion was not rejected.

You should, therefore, either confess that true faith and confession of the heart can fulfill the place of baptism in the moment of necessity or show how true faith and unfeigned charity can be possessed where there is no salvation. Unless perhaps you wish to say that no one can have true faith and true charity, who is not to have the visible sacrament of water. Yet by what reason or by what authority you prove this I do not know. We meanwhile do not ask whether anyone who is not to receive the sacrament of baptism can have these, since this alone as far as this matter is concerned is certain: if there were anyone who had these even without the visible sacrament of water he could not perish. There are many other things which could have been brought up to prove this, but what we have set forth above in the treatment of the sacraments to prove this point we by no means think needs reconsideration.

 

ă R Coomaraswamy, 2001



[1]                               The Thomistic commentator Billuant has a pertinent discussion regarding this 3-fold baptism.

[2]                               Most theologians hold that the Sacrament of Baptism was instituted at the time Christ was Baptized by John and the Blessed Trinity indicated its presence.

[3]                     Martin Gwynne has discussed this issue in his Briton's Catholic Library, Letter No. 5. Some of the material in this essay is drawn from this source. It should be made clear that Mr. Gwynne's approval for this journal is not to be presumed, nor do the editors of this journal give their unequivocal support to the opinions of Mr. Gwynne. Thomas Hutchinson in his Desire and Deception explains away this episode by first telling us a miraculous fountain provided St. Alban with the water required for baptism, and then stating that St. Bede, "writing four centuries after the fact, using ancient documents, didn't miss somwthing."

[4]                     Thomas Hutchinson explains this away by assuring us that  if at the time of her martyrdom "she had truly not been baptized, it must be expected that someone would have done it while she lay dying."

[5]     Thomas Hutchinson informs us that St. Ambrose was using a political ploy, and that he made this statement in an "highly charged atmosphere  of grief, fear, and popular anger surrounding the funeral."  He then assures us that St. Ambrose in fact "knew" that Valentinian had indeed been baptized, but was not at liberty to reveal the circumstances of the evnet, which presumably were bound up with the Emperor's mysterious death."

[6]                     Published by B Herder and printed by Typographus Editor Pontificus. Needless to say, this text carries a Hihil Obstat and Imprimatur, dated 1911 in my edition. Hutchinson tells us that "St. Augustine appears at one point to have misread his old mentor's views."

[7]                     Hagiography is the study of the lives of the saints. The Bollandists, branch of the Jesuits organized under the initial direction of Father Bolland, (with papal approval)  have taken it as their special function to research the lives of the saints and provide official versions of both their acts and writings.

[8]     Enchiridion Patristicum, (811)

[9]     ibid, 1139

[10]    ibid, 2269.

[11]    Once again, Thomas Hutchinson assures us that St. Thomas Aquinas, failed to study St. Ambrose as carefully as he had studied Aristotle, and that in his teaching about Baptism of Desire he was plain and simply wrong.

[12]      Centiloquij, Tertia pars and De Sacramentorum virtute, Lib. VI.

[13]    As Mr. Gwynne points out, the original letter to which the pope was responding has been lost. The title 'priest' obviously was not applied to a person in holy orders and probably implies his 'priestly' act of sacrifice. The letter Apostolam Sedem written by Celestine II (1143-1144) was sent to the Bishop of Cremona and is quoted in The Seraph, March, 1993.

[14]                    Thomas Hutchinson assures us on hiis own authority that these quotations taken from Denzinger only represent "a private commiication regarding a prudential and disciplinary jusgment," and that "there is no question of the lack of infallibility of such a document."  Now Denzinger is entitled “Enchiridion Symbolorum, definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum.”   Is everything in Denzinger which Mr. Hutchinson doesn’t agree with to be declared fallible and hence eroneous?

[15]    Section on Baptism - Bapteme d'apres les peres Grecs et Latins.

[16]    I am grateful to Bishop McKenna for directing me to this passage.

[17]    Father E . Hugueney, O.P. further explains: "Of those who  are members of the Church, the elect will greatly outnumber the damned; and if we include as members of the Church all those who are hers in spirit by the baptism of desire, this immense number of elect will be very great indeed. Yet, we must not forget that, outside the Church, the chances of salvation are much less; this means that many pagans will probably lose their souls, because they are almost defenseless against the devils and their own passions." (L'Opinion traditionnelle sur le nombre des Elus" in La Revue Thomiste, 1933, pp. 217 and 533.)

[18]                    How is it possible for a Catholic to deny tha authority of such theologians as Ambrose, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Alphonse Liguori and Catherine of Sienna without declaring themselves "out of communion" with the Church?

[19]                    I have in several places made reference to Thomas A. Hutchinson's defence of the position that there is no possibility of salvation without Baptism with water. One cannot dismiss the writings of the saints and the practice of the Church because of the reasons he offers.  One could give other examples of where he suggests and insinuates that saints like St. Chrysostome or St. Louis IX fully agree with him. (Desire and Deception, ,Charlmagne Press, Arcadia)

[20]                      Translated by roy Defarri, published by The Mediaeval Academy of America, Cambridge, Mass., 1951