Baptismal Confusion


Please scroll down for the sequential hyperlinks to all parts of the

book posted (there are seven altogether), along with individual summaries

of the contents of each part. For hyperlinks alone, please go here.


·       Part One of Baptismal Confusion (Chapters 1-32)


What the confusion is not, and what the confusion really is. Put simply, ‘baptism of desire’ vs. ‘water only’ for catechumens --- which is it? (Chapters 1-3)

The infallible evidence for the two clashing opinions. Strangely enough, both sides claim to be upheld by the Council of Trent! It becomes plain that Trent never explicitly addressed either WO or BOD. Lastly, a quick but close look at infallibility, what it is… and what it is not. (Chapters 4-22)

The evidence from the martyrs. ‘Baptism of desire’ proponents like to think it helps them, however, there is just as much help for ‘water only’ enthusiasts. (Chapters 23-32)


·       Part Two of Baptismal Confusion (Chapters 33-60)


Turning to the saints & doctors, everyone likes to think St. Ambrose first upheld ‘baptism of desire’ (BOD), but this is only because they already assume BOD to be true. His words are rather vague & contradictory. (Chapters 33-37)

St. Augustine, meanwhile, obviously upheld BOD but was tenuous & brief in his description. Too, he later crushed his own argument and apparently abandoned BOD by the end of his life. (Chapters 38-41)

St. Thomas Aquinas approved of BOD at great length & detail. He is thus powerful support for BOD. However, no doctor or saint is infallible and he was wrong about the Immaculate Conception. (Chapters 42-48)

St. Alphonsus Liguori also approved of BOD, supposing it explicitly defined at Trent. But again no doctor or saint is infallible and an eminent imprimatured theologian --- who strongly believed in BOD! --- disagreed with him about Trent. (Chapters 49-60)


·       Part Three of Baptismal Confusion (Chapters 61-82)


Continuing with another doctor --- and even though he wasn’t trying to address BOD as we understand it today --- St. Gregory Nanzianzen obviously disagreed with BOD and very much logically opposed the essence of its argument. (Chapters 61-71)

Meanwhile, St. Fulgentius not only stressed the almost absolute necessity for water baptism but explicitly mentions a mere single exception to it… BOB and not BOD! (Chapters 72-75)

Finally, one of the most influential theologians of the 12th century, Hugh of St. Victor, doesn’t like WO yet reveals that it’s only his opinion and that some disagree with him. (Chapters 76-80)

The upshot? The idea of BOD grew in popularity from the AD 400s until it reached a tipping point during the AD 1100s. Also, a warning to WOers not to make more out of this point than is warranted since solely an explicit magisterial ruling will resolve this debate. (Chapters 81-82)


·       Part Four of Baptismal Confusion (Chapters 83-105)


Turning to catechisms, we re-examine infallibility before we dive in. (Chapters 83-84)

Having re-examined this criteria, we then see that no catechism yet has ever been infallible in every one of its words. For proof, we look at the imprimatured & scholarly text of a famous 20th century publication of the Catechism of the Council of Trent in English. (Chapters 85-88)

Now we begin our tour of catechisms with the Catechism of St. Cyril. It says nothing about BOD, insisting on water baptism’s urgency, BOB alone admitted to be an exception. (Chapters 89-90)

The aforementioned Catechism of the Council of Trent admits the possibility of BOD, but not explicitly by name. However, since WOers go schismatic over BOD, we then drive it home hard that it is a moral certainty that Trent’s Catechism teaches BOD. (Chapters 89-101)

We find additional proof that Trent never infallibly ruled out BOD by looking at the writings of St. Robert Bellarmine, a famous Church doctor & Jesuit cardinal who lived after Trent. (Chapters 102-103)

Lastly, we re-visit St. Alphonsus Liguori, an eminent post-Trent Church doctor & bishop whose writings also prove --- with ironclad certainty --- that Trent never infallibly ruled out BOD. (Chapters 104-105)


·       Part Five of Baptismal Confusion (Chapters 106-132)


Next we examine the English Catechism of 1583, which was actually first published in 1567. It mentions BOD, but not explicitly by name. (Chapters 106-107)

We take a short digression into a very confusing theological point about BOD. Specifically, what exactly is the necessity of water baptism? Is it of means or of precept? (Chapters 108-110)

The Douay Catechism of 1649 also teaches BOD, but not explicitly by name. (Chapters 111-112)

The Penny Catechism is especially curious for modern times in that it doesn’t mention BOD at all, whether implicitly or explicitly. Period! (Chapters 113-114)

Then, suddenly, near the beginning of the 20th century, Baltimore Catechism No. 3 mentions BOD explicitly by name. Unfortunately, it teaches salvation heresy, too. (Chapters 115-118)

Rounding out the catechisms examined, we look at Christian Doctrine Drills from the 1920s. It as well mentions BOD explicitly by name. (Chapters 119-120)

Now we can draw some conclusions based on this catechetical evidence. First, BOD can’t be part of the Ordinary Magisterium. Second, it can’t be part of the Extraordinary Magisterium, either. And, third, at the very moment BOD ascends to the throne of certainty in all people’s minds, the salvation heresy of modern times is also universally believed. (Chapters 121-132)


·       Part Six of Baptismal Confusion (Chapters 133-169)


Now we turn to Sacred Scripture, which is the least evidence for either side. (Chapter 133)

Taking up BOD, we see how waterless folks like to argue for the need for confession (Matthew 10:32), the importance of love (John 14:21) and the efficacy of a good heart (Romans 2:29) as being enough, all by themselves, to get you salvation apart from water. (Chapters 134-141)

We sum up these BOD arguments in the old --- and no longer current --- argument for BOD based on the passage of Mark 16:16 that St. Bernard of Clairvaux used. (Chapters 142-143)

Taking up WO, we see how waterful people like to argue for the need for water (John 3:5), the uniqueness of baptism (Ephesians 4:5) and the importance of visibility (1 Peter 3:19-21a) as making it impossible to save your soul without water. (Chapters 144-152)

Returning to Mark 16:16, we review how BODers once used this passage, but note how it can just as easily --- and quite logically --- be used by WOers for their position. Neither Mark 16:16 nor any of the verses cited can conclusively ‘prove’ either side. But Mark 16:16 does make one thing clear… that baptism is necessary for salvation. Yet is this a necessity of precept or of means when it comes to the water of baptism? That’s the real question. (Chapters 153-157)

Turning from Sacred Scripture, the BOD camp sometimes invokes Pius IX’s Tuas libenter as a fallback that supposedly ‘proves’ you can’t be Catholic and doubt BOD. (Chapters 158-165)

Also, rarely, the BOD camp might invoke St. Catherine of Siena from her book, The Dialogue. Unfortunately for them, this argument isn’t decisive either. (Chapters 166-169)


·       Part Seven of Baptismal Confusion (Chapters 170-197)


Now we turn to the conclusion, weaving all the various threads of this long book into a comprehensive whole. Unfortunately for the impatient or careless reader, there’s still some distance to go. It’s been confusing Catholics for millennia --- that is to say, is the sacramental water always necessary in order to truly take part in a visible Sacrament of Baptism? (Chapter 170)

And so we examine one last popular argument for ‘baptism of desire’ that is, arguably, the weakest of all the arguments when you really think about it carefully & ruthlessly. To wit, the ‘it’s-in-the-1917-Code-of-Canon-Law’ stance. Based mostly on one single canon amongst 2414 canons altogether, are we really to think this canon (BODers will occasionally tout one other canon, too) is infallible papal support for BOD? We review the infallible definition of papal infallibility from the Vatican Council and proceed to devastate this notion. (Chapters 171-175)

Having destroyed the idea that the 1917 Code of Canon Law is an act of ‘papal infallibility’ with three devastating points, we go on to show --- with the fourth & last devastating point driven home like a sword into the bowels --- how the 1917 Code daringly & imprudently innovated by adding a clause saying ‘accidentally dead’ catechumens could be buried in consecrated ground in a Catholic cemetery without a visible water baptism. This innovation defied ancient canon law, the proof for this demonstrated by not one, or two, or even three, but, indeed, four expert theologians of the past century-and-a-half, who knew very well ancient Catholics never had the audacity to presume salvation for unbaptized catechumens. (Chapters 176-186)

The true best argument for BOD, and the true best argument against BOD. Likewise, the true best argument for WO, and the true best argument against WO. Nevertheless, today’s Great Apostasy changes things re these two theological opinions. And where do I stand? I’ve tried very hard to be impartial and present both sides knowledgeably. Still, I’ve an opinion in the matter. Every real Catholic right now can choose either opinion in their orthodox senses. Yet how did earlier Catholics wind up thinking BOD couldn’t be wrong? A subtle change in our thinking about the importance of will vs. intellect is the missing ingredient to explain it. A real & legitimate pope must, of moral obligation, clear things up with an adequately explicit exercise of the Charism of Infallibility as soon as possible in the future. Meanwhile, if WO turns out to be infallibly true, then we’ve an amazing & miraculous possibility of how God could choose to act in the not-too-distant future. (Chapters 187-197)


+ + +


Pilate’s query met:



if you’ve come to this webpage directly from a search

engine or other website, then, when done viewing this webpage

 --- and assuming you wish to view more of this website’s pages ---

please type the website’s address (as given above right before this

note) into the address bar at the top of your browser and hit the

enter’ button on the keyboard of your computer.


Please go here about use of the writings

on this website.


© 2018 by Paul Doughton.

All rights reserved.