What the Fight Over

‘Baptism of Desire’ vs. ‘Water

Only’ Is All About


Where Both Sides Get It

Very Wrong, Falling into Heresy

or Schism as a Result





“…Jesus [said to His Apostles]… ‘All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore, teach ye [every one of you] all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe [obey] all things whatsoever [absolutely everything] I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:18-20a DRC. All emphasis & annotations added in this and the next eight quotations.)


“…[Jesus] said… ‘Go ye into the whole world, and preach the [Catholic] gospel to every creature. He that believeth [believes] and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not [doesn’t believe] shall be condemned.’” (Mark 16:15-16 DRC]


“These apostles Jesus sent: commanding them, saying… ‘Every one therefore that shall confess me before men [admits he’s Catholic when asked by other people], I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven [I’ll say he’s Catholic, and thus belongs to me, in front of my Heavenly Father]. But he that shall deny me before men, I will also deny him before my father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:5a, 32-33 DRC)


For if thou [you] confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus [if you publicly acknowledge as true everything that Jesus teaches in His Catholic Religion], and believe in thy [your] heart that God hath [has] raised him up from the dead [truly believe what you say you believe by the words of your mouth], thou shalt [will] be saved.” (Romans 10:9 DRC)


“For you are all the children of God by [His Catholic] faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:26-27 DRC)


“…and behold [look] waters issued [came] out from under the threshold [entrance] of the house [God’s Temple] toward the east… but the waters came down to the right side of the temple to the south part of the altar… And by the torrent [next to the river of water from God’s Temple] on the banks thereof [on the riverbanks] shall grow all trees that bear fruit: their leaf shall not fall off, and their fruit shall not fail [to grow]: every month shall they bring forth firstfruits, because the waters thereof [the river water] shall issue [come] out of the sanctuary: and the fruits thereof [of the riverbank trees] shall be for food, and the leaves thereof [of these trees] for medicine.” (Ezechiel 47:1b, c, 12 DRC)


“And now why tarriest thou [why do you wait]? Rise up [get up], and be baptized, and wash away your sins, invoking his [Jesus’] name.” (Acts 22:16 DRC)


“And he [Jesus] said… ‘To him that thirsteth [thirsts], I will give of the fountain of the water of life, freely.’” (The Apocalypse 21:6b DRC)


“Jesus answered: ‘Amen, amen I say to thee [you], unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’” (John 3:5 DRC)







Intended by the Author of This Book

for the Greater Glory of the Adorable Triune Catholic God,

for the Worship of the Sacred Heart of King Jesus Christ of Nazareth,

for the Praise of the Immaculate Heart of Queen Mary, the Blessed Ever-

Virgin Mother of God,

unto the Protection & Propagation of the Holy Roman Catholic Church &

Her Most Precious Heavenly Dogmas,


under the Euphonious Patronage of St. Cecilia, the Eloquent Patronage

of St. Catherine of Alexandria & the Efficacious Patronage of

Ven. Mariana de Jesus Torres, Virgins &





Domine, non est exaltatum cor meumneque elati sunt oculi meiNeque ambulavi in

magnis, neque in mirabilibus super me. Si non humiliter sentiebam, sed exaltavi animam

meamsicut ablactatus est super matre suaita retributio in anima mea.Speret Israel

in Domino, ex hoc nunc et usque in saeculum. (Psalmus CXXX,Vulgata)


St. Francis Xavier, Patron of Catholic Missioners, Ss. Catherine of Alexandria & Francis of Sales, Patrons of Catholic Philosophers & Apologists, respectively, and St. Peter of Verona, the Glorious Martyr, may you be pleased to guide this arrow to its target, either unto eternal life or eternal death! Now thanks be to God, who always maketh us to triumph in Christ Jesus, and manifesteth the odour of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are the good odour of Christ unto God, in them that are saved, and in them that perish. To the one indeed the odour of death unto death: but to the others the odour of life unto life. (2 Corinthians 2:14-16b DRC)


St. Francis of Assisi, Humble Seraph of the Incarnate God, and St. Dominic the Preacher, Dogged Cherub of the Triune Deity, pray for your children that they may not fail the test but suffer the malice of the wicked gladly and so gain the Crown of Life!




+++ 1. What the Confusion Over Baptism Is Not About +++


The confusion over the Sacrament of Baptism is not about ‘no Salvation outside the Church’.


Most people who call themselves Catholic and consider themselves traditional mix the two things up. These two very different topics are indirectly related but otherwise wholly separate.


The ‘no Salvation outside the Church’ fight is about whether or not someone has to be Catholic to save his soul. Those who think non-Catholics can be saved without believing in Catholicism or intending to enter Her Body often tout the idea of an ‘implicit baptism’ to bolster their argument.


An ‘implicit desire for baptism’ --- as the phrase is used during the last one or two hundred years --- is an entirely imaginary baptism, a baptism that a person doesn’t even know he wants and that is combined with both a total lack of belief in and total lack of any real & visible intent to join the Most Holy Roman Catholic Church… which is not what we’re talking about here!


+++ 2. The Actual Confusion, Part 1: +++

‘Baptism of Desire’ vs. ‘Water Only’… Which Is It?


So what is the real confusion over the Sacrament of Baptism all about?


Some Catholics say catechumens can die without being baptized in water and might still get into Heaven. A catechumen is someone who wants to be Roman Catholic and is learning what the Church teaches --- but who is usually not yet baptized, which is how he joins the Church.


This hypothetical catechumen was trying to become Catholic. He intended to be baptized. It wasn’t his fault he died too soon. Hence, say these folks, he wanted to obey God’s command and God can make an out-of-the-ordinary exception for him. He has a so-called ‘baptism of desire’.


Other Catholics say if a catechumen dies without being baptized in water then he won’t ever get into Heaven. There are never any exceptions to this requirement.


According to them, God makes water baptism an absolute necessity and will always give good-willed catechumens water to be baptized --- even miraculously --- along with someone to baptize them, no matter what else happens before their eternal judgment. This is the ‘water only’ stance.


+++ 3. The Actual Confusion, Part 2: +++

Has the Church Ruled Infallibly in This Dispute?


Both ‘baptism of desire’ (BOD) folks and ‘water only’ (WO) people claim the One True Church has spoken infallibly on this topic… which only adds to the confusion. Because if the Church has decreed infallibly, then anyone who disagrees with the decree is obviously in heresy.


Of course, there’s still the question of whether this putative heresy is fully intentional and therefore formal (you’re guilty of the sin since you know better) or only accidental and hence purely material (the sin exists yet you aren’t to blame since you couldn’t know to avoid it), but neither side cuts the other side any slack. Patience and mercy are not their strong points.


BOD folks treat WO people with a fierce disdain, as if they have a plague of idiocy, whilst WO devotees react to BOD adherents with cold disgust, like they’re filthy lepers. There is no reasonable meeting of minds. A calm, respectful & factual debate never seems to happen.


As a result, new converts to Catholicism --- what few there are nowadays --- tend to get sucked up mindlessly into one position or the other. It is a matter of prejudice for them, not fact or intelligence. This continues the confusion and also the conflict.


+++ 4. (More Catholic Than Thou) Everybody +++

Wants to Have the Council of Trent on His Side!


Strangely enough, both sides invoke the Council of Trent.


This is because even a Vatican II liberal knows how Trent is the most Catholic of all councils. That is to say, since Trent strongly condemned the Protestant Rebellion of the 1500s and hence everything that followed during our turbulent modern times, then Trent is the very essence of Catholicism.


Thus, if the Council of Trent upholds your stance, then your position must be the infallible position of the Roman Catholic Church... and your stance is totally unassailable.




There’s just one catch.


Because an infallible (never wrong) council can’t be explicitly & infallibly saying one thing as well as its exact opposite and still be infallible.


But Trent is infallible.


As a result, either BOD is infallibly correct or WO is infallibly correct, but not both at the same time --- or else neither of them is correct.


Indeed, one suspects it is neither. After all, how can an infallible council speak clearly and not be clearly understood? Trent ruled on lots of other things and no one has any trouble understanding what Trent clearly meant, including non-Catholics who hate these rulings with a passion!


So why should Trent’s supposed teaching on ‘baptism of desire’ vs. ‘water only’ be any less clear? Why can’t everyone agree about what Trent taught regarding BOD vs. WO? I mean, if Trent ruled infallibly in the matter, then shouldn’t it be clear enough to settle the fight for good?


The answer is stark:


People are reading into Trent what Trent didn’t literally say; Trent never intended to rule explicitly on the topics of BOD or WO. It is wishful or ignorant thinking on their part, not rational & learned thought.


+++ 5. Trent Invoked, Part 1: +++

‘Baptism of Desire’ Justified?


For instance, BOD folks like to cite the Council of Trent from Chapter 4 of Session 6, which is where the Tridentine Fathers made the following Decree on Justification:


“And this translation [this spiritual adoption as a child of God], since the promulgation of the Gospel [since the Roman Catholic Faith has been preached], cannot be effected [put into effect] without the laver of regeneration [water baptism] or the desire thereof [or desire for baptism in water], as it is written: ‘Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’ [John 3:5]” (Translated from the original Latin into English by Canon Waterworth as of 1848. Published by Devin-Adair Company in 1912 in New York City. Cited from p.26 of the paperback republishing by TAN Books & Publishers in 1977 in Rockford, Illinois under the title, Dogmatic Canons and Decrees. All annotations added.)


“See,” say BOD enthusiasts, “Trent infallibly declared that desire for baptism is sufficient for salvation. Because the council specifically stated ‘the laver of regeneration or the desire thereof’ --- thereby proving that a simple desire for baptism is enough in at least some situations!”


This is what they say. Is it really so?


At first glance, the evidence looks impressive. But only if it’s your first glance and only if you’re already determined to believe in BOD without looking any further at evidence for the opposite side.


In other words, it’s only convincing if you think you’re infallible and couldn’t be wrong!


The point is this:


The honest man always looks carefully at the evidence for the other side --- especially when the topic is important --- and in spite of his opinion about things to start with. This is wisdom & justice since, before we investigate carefully, any one of us can have a mistaken opinion.


+++ 6. A Dubious Desire +++


The first thing to realize is this --- that the translation quoted above is not necessarily a very good translation. The Tridentine Fathers (the bishops at the Council of Trent) wrote in Latin, the language of the Church. The English quote above is here given in Trent’s original Latin:


 “…quae quidem translatio post Evangelium promulgatum sine lavacro regenerationis aut eius voto fieri non potest, sicut scriptum est: ‘Nisi quis renatus fuerit ex aqua et Spiritu Sancto, non potest introire in regnum Dei.’” (Enchiridion Symbolorum by Denziger & Bannwart, S.J., as published by Herder & Co. in 1922 at Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany. Found in the section regarding the Council of Trent, Session 6, Chapter 4. All emphases added.)


Note from the highlighted clause the following phrase, “…lavacro regenerationis aut eius voto…” This is what, rendered in English --- “the laver of regeneration or the desire thereof” --- a BOD enthusiast cites, emphasis on ‘voto’, thinking it proves ‘baptism of desire’ infallibly.


Next examine ‘voto’ in that phrase. This is just a form of the Latin word, ‘votum’. A classic Latin textbook tells us that ‘votum’ means a “vow; prayer, desire”. (Latin Grammar by Scanlon & Scanlon, A.M., as originally published by B. Herder Book Co. in 1944 at St. Louis, Missouri. Later republished by TAN Books & Publishers in 1976 & 1982 in Rockford, Illinois. Quote found on p.328.)


Do you see how ‘desire’ is in last place in this definition, after ‘vow’ and ‘prayer’? Do you also see how ‘vow’ is first and followed by a semicolon? The order of the list tells us ‘vow’ is most likely to be a correct rendering, the semicolon that ‘vow’ is almost always the best translation.


Additional proof of this is easy to see. In the Most Holy Mass we see this sentence in Latin, “…tibíque reddunt vota sua aetérno Deo, vivo et vero.” Did you notice the highlighted word, which is vota and thus a plural form of the word ‘votum’? Now we read the English version of this Latin sentence in a well-known missal of the past century, “…who now pay their vows to Thee, the eternal, living and true God.” (The St. Andrew Daily Missal, Prayers of the Mass, Part Four, p.972. Originally published by E.H. Lohman Co. in 1945. Republished by St. Bonaventure Publications in Great Falls, Montana, in July 1999.)


There you have it. No pretense about “vota” being ‘desires’ in this rendering. It is simply “vows” --- solemn resolutions or intents --- the most common & correct translation of ‘votum’.


In other words, the term ‘desire’ is almost certainly not a very good choice for a translator to make in rendering the Latin words ‘voto’ or ‘votum’. It would, in fact, normally be the last choice to make and only rarely ever the best choice for ‘votum’. Hence, while we can use the term ‘desire’ in this or other cases without totally mangling the actual meaning of the Latin word, realize how misleading it can be, lending itself easily to heretical interpretation.


Realize, too, how medieval Catholics did not use the phrase so popular nowadays in English, ‘baptism of desire’. Instead, they would say ‘baptism of spirit’ --- which in Latin was ‘baptismus flaminis’ --- or they would say ‘baptism of vow’, the proper and better translation of ‘baptismus voti’, while making it clear that this ‘baptismus voti’ was a distinct and separate thing from ‘baptismus aquae’ or ‘baptismus fluminis’ (both of which mean ‘baptism of water’). The ‘baptism of desire’ (BOD) terminology only originated or later became common amongst English-speaking Catholics after Trent.


The upshot?


Trent was never talking about BOD directly. If they were, then they would have said ‘baptism of spirit’ (‘baptismus flaminis’) or, conversely, ‘baptism of vow’ (‘baptismus voti’) while making it crystal clear that this ‘baptism of vow’ was very distinct in meaning from an actual baptism of water (‘baptismus aquae’ or ‘baptismus fluminis’). Rather, they spoke merely of a vow for baptism. I.e., a solemn resolution to receive water baptism once you know & obey Roman Catholicism enough to be ready.


+++ 7. What Infallibility Is, and What It Is Not +++


Nevertheless, it is likely that Trent was talking about BOD indirectly. Indeed, it is my firm opinion that they were --- as we’ll see a little later in this book, it is a hard fact the Tridentine Fathers believed in the ‘baptism of desire’ stance. Hence, it is not only plausible but probable that they meant to juxtapose the sacrament with the intent to receive it, thinking a resolution to receive baptism adequate if unable, for some legitimate reason, to obtain the baptism itself.


The problem is, an opinion is only an opinion… not infallible certainty.


“Yet isn’t everything stated in the Council of Trent infallible?” a reader might protest.


And the answer:


Everything in Trent carries the aura of infallible certainty. I.e., understood rightly, it can’t be wrong. However, therein lays the catch --- because an infallible statement is only as useful as it is plain & clear. For if it is not plain & clear, then how can we be sure to understand it rightly?


This is why it is crucial that the Tridentine Council did not address BOD explicitly & directly. To do this they’d have had to say something explicit about ‘baptism of spirit’ (BOS) or explicitly ruled out that water baptism is an absolute necessity, the idea being that God makes an exception to His usual baptismal rule so that, even without water, a catechumen can still receive the miraculous indwelling of the Holy Spirit.


Consequently, when the meaning of the infallible words of the Church’s Magisterium is unclear and not perfectly explicit --- even for those Roman Catholics who are learned & well-instructed, so much so that these learned Catholics cannot agree on what it means --- and these words can be interpreted in a way that is both logical & orthodox, then that interpretation is an acceptable interpretation. That is to say, you may be able to legitimately disagree with this interpretation, but you cannot condemn it as if it were certainly wrong. Yet if these same infallible words can be interpreted in yet another way that is both logical & orthodox, then that interpretation is also an acceptable interpretation.


Which leads to a very sensible question…


So which way is the correct way? Which interpretation is the right interpretation?


This is why the gift of infallibility is only as useful as it is plain & clear. Remember --- the Holy Ghost in providing infallibility does not dictate text or put words into the mouths of the Church’s Magisterium. The Third Person of the Divine Trinity merely prevents these men from saying something that is an indisputable error. As for how useful it is, that’s another story.


So is there another way to interpret the words of the Council of Trent here that is both logical & orthodox, a way that does not seem to uphold the ‘baptism of desire’ position?


As a matter of fact, there is.


+++ 8. Taken Literally, the ‘Or’ in +++

This Quote Can’t Work Both Ways for Adults


BOD folks want to think that, when Trent says “the laver of regeneration or the desire thereof”, the or means desire alone is sufficient for an adult without any need for baptismal water (“the laver of regeneration”). Yet they focus only on the words after the “or” --- “the desire thereof”.


Now think about it. If this is true (that “or the desire thereof” means desire alone suffices for justification of an adult in God’s Holy Sight, even without water) then why isn’t the opposite true, too? To wit, that the laver all by itself can justify a man, even without desire for it?


You can’t pull this desire of theirs (pun intended) out of thin air. To be honest & logical, if it works one way with the “or” for a grown adult then there’s no grammatical reason it can’t work the other way, too. That is to say, if Trent meant grammatically that desire alone is good enough to save you, without the water of baptism, then, logically speaking, the statement in and of itself gives no reason to think Trent didn’t mean by “or” that the laver all by itself is good enough to save adults as well, without having to intend or desire the water of baptism at all.


Unfortunately for BOD devotees, this is impossible.


Because the Church has never taught that an adult can be justified merely by getting water baptism without also desiring and intending to receive that baptism. Not even babies can escape this requirement totally; a guardian or caretaker must intend water baptism on a baby’s behalf. Indeed, a water baptism given to an adult without his consent is an invalid baptism, a baptism that is forced and thus not legitimate or real.


Which, to recap, leads us to conclude the following two points:


One, that even if someone wants to think Trent was talking about BOD here (or BOS, as it was called then), his interpretation of “or” grammatically requires him --- to be perfectly logical --- to admit that Trent could also have been teaching that water all by itself can save an adult as well.


But, two, since it’s impossible for the laver of regenerating water all by itself to justify an adult without intent to receive it, then saying the “or” works in only one direction for an adult --- that of desire alone without water --- is, all by itself, an arbitrary interpretation pulled out of thin air. I.e., the grammar doesn’t demand it, and nothing in the statement explicitly requires it. To say otherwise is to assume out of thin air what was supposedly (think most BOD enthusiasts) just then at that time in the history of infallibility stated ‘explicitly’ for the very first time.


Which is nonsensical. Because since when do assumptions ever ‘prove’ anything explicitly, let alone doing so infallibly?


+++ 9. Another Way to Interpret +++

This Passage in an Orthodox Fashion


So what orthodox point could Trent have meant by its “the laver of regeneration or the desire thereof” statement if they weren’t directly talking about BOD?


It’s pretty simple, my dear soul. The Council of Trent was dealing with newly arisen Protestant heresy --- not with the notion of BOD or BOS, which they never mention anywhere directly by name.


Many of these Protestants condemned infant baptism as a violation of free will. For while a baby’s guardian or caretaker must intend to have the baby receive water baptism, the baby itself cannot, of course, have any such intention. The baby’s mind is incapable of knowing any better.


Thus, if Trent had said “the laver of regeneration and the desire thereof” --- which are two basic things required for an adult to be validly baptized --- then people could have misinterpreted Trent as denying the validity of infant baptism. This would have appeared to uphold Protestant heresy. Meanwhile, Protestants have never cared about BOD one way or the other, and so there was no need to literally or explicitly address ‘baptism of desire’ in any way, shape or form.


It wasn’t even on Trent’s radar.


Hence why they could have chosen the word “or” instead of “and”. And hence, ironically, we see after all that Trent could have meant the “or” to be interpreted grammatically as meaning the one thing can work without the other. I.e., babies, so to speak, can be justified by the laver all by itself. But not, as some would have it, that adults can, with explicitly infallible certainty, be justified through desire alone!


The word “and” could not convey this nuance of meaning, allowing for both adults and babies to be included in the decree’s statement, without misinterpreting the Council of Trent to deny the validity of infant baptism.


The word “or” could.


It’s that simple.


+++ 10. One’s Opinion of How to Interpret an +++

Infallible But Unclear Statement Is Not Infallible


This is also not the only alternative orthodox interpretation of this passage from Trent.


For instance, at least two groups of traditionalists think the Tridentine Fathers intended the “or” to be understood as meaning either without water baptism itself (“the laver of regeneration”) or without a solemn resolution to receive it (“the desire thereof”) you cannot be justified --- and not that either the one alone or the other alone is sufficient for justification & salvation.


This, too, is both a grammatically logical and doctrinally orthodox interpretation.


Which is not to say that I think this interpretation is probable. However, neither your opinion nor my opinion --- of what an infallible statement means about something that is not perfectly clear from the words used in the infallible statement --- carries the charism of infallibility!


We cannot drive this home too pointedly:


When an infallible statement is not clear enough for all honest men of at least adequate intelligence & learning to come up with the same interpretation of what it means, then those words cannot infallibly solve a rational & learned dispute over their meaning. The charism of infallibility does not apply to the non-papal interpreters of this infallible yet ultimately unclear statement… only popes can propound dogma without error!


Consequently, if two or more logical & orthodox interpretations of an unclear infallible statement exist, then these non-papal interpretations cannot be taken as infallible in and of themselves. They each could be correct, there is no infallible way to know for sure without a further and more explicit exercise of papal infallibility on this particular subject to be absolutely certain.


We repeat:


If two or more logical & orthodox interpretations of an infallible statement exist regarding a topic that is not explicitly & clearly addressed in this infallible statement, then these non-papal interpretations cannot be taken as infallible in and of themselves. Either non-papal interpretation could be correct, we just cannot know for sure until the pope gets more explicit and infallibly defines the disputed topic further and more clearly.


Meanwhile, the unclearness of an infallible statement does not nullify its infallibility.


Again, remember --- infallibility is not the Holy Ghost speaking through a pope like he’s a puppet, or making his words perfectly all-encompassing and informing him of all disputes or confusions to come.


To the contrary, infallibility merely guarantees that a papal pronouncement is not erroneous.


Which means, when you get right down to it, that there will always be a way to interpret an infallible statement --- no matter how unclear that infallible statement may be originally --- in an orthodox manner. Hence, intelligent & learned dispute over what an unclear infallible statement means can never destroy its infallibility. As long as any logical & orthodox interpretations of this statement exist, then the unclear statement cannot be directly responsible for spreading error.


(Although if a pope should have known better and yet still approves an infallible statement that is unclear, then that unclear infallible statement is indirectly spreading error by not grappling with the subject clearly, and thus such a careless or wicked pope indirectly permits error to fester.)


The BOD controversy is just such an example.


Yes, pretty much all Catholics since the time of Thomas Aquinas up until recently have believed in BOD. So, yes, in my opinion, Trent was probably making a tangential reference to BOD in its words about “…the laver of regeneration or the desire thereof…” Nonetheless, no, this is not absolutely certain --- an opinion, however rational & learned, is not the same as an infallible certitude. Trent never addressed BOD explicitly by name. At least two other logical and orthodox interpretations of Trent’s words here exist, which do not uphold BOD.


Thus, BOD is not a slam dunk, being protectively taught via the charism of the Holy Ghost.


Yet would any of this matter if every Catholic still assumed BOD to be true?


Not likely. But when most excellent & sound arguments against BOD now exist (please read further in the book to see what I am talking about), then the controversy is neither needless nor impious. Far from it! Because rational & learned supporters of WO are operating from a most pious concern for the One True Church, determined to protect Her from diabolic harm.


+++ 11. Trent Invoked, Part 2: +++

‘Water Only’ Canonized?


Nonetheless, it’s not just BOD people who like to invoke Trent. ‘Water only’ enthusiasts of a less rational & learned ability have a special dalliance with this council, too.


For example, they love to quote Canons 2 & 5 about Baptism from Session 7:


“Canon II. If anyone saith [says] that true and natural water [real water, not beer or milk or some other liquid] is not of necessity for baptism [is not necessary for an actual baptism] and, on that account [for that reason], wrests to some sort of metaphor [turns it into a metaphor, something that’s not really what it sounds like it means] those words of our Lord Jesus Christ: ‘Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost;’ let him be anathema [let him be cursed]… Canon V. If anyone saith [says] that baptism is free [optional], that is, not necessary unto salvation [not needed to be saved]; let him be anathema.” (Translated from the original Latin into English by Canon Waterworth as of 1848. Published by Devin-Adair Company in 1912 in New York City. Cited from pp. 62-3 of the paperback republishing by TAN Books & Publishers in 1977 in Rockford, Illinois under the title, Dogmatic Canons and Decrees. All annotations added.)


“See,” say the WO folks, “Trent infallibly declared that baptism is not optional for salvation. They also said baptism isn’t a metaphor --- it must have water involved. ‘Baptism of desire’ doesn’t have anything to do with water and turns the sacrament into a metaphor, making it optional as well. This contradicts the Council of Trent and is flat out heresy!”


This is what they say. Is it really so?


At first glance, the evidence looks impressive. Indeed, so impressive I was a WO advocate for a few years back in the early ’00s… but only if it’s your first glance and only if you’re already determined to believe in WO without looking any further at evidence for the opposite side. In other words, it’s only convincing if you think you’re infallible and couldn’t be wrong!


The point once again is this:


The honest man always looks carefully at the evidence for the other side --- especially when the topic is important --- and in spite of his opinion about things to start with. This is wisdom & justice since, before we investigate carefully, any one of us can have a mistaken opinion.


+++ 12. Swimming in the Riptide +++


Again, the first thing to realize is this --- the Council of Trent says nothing straight out about BOD. Neither the term ‘baptism of desire’ nor the term ‘baptism of spirit’ (BOS, or, in Latin, ‘baptismus flaminis’) is mentioned explicitly by name in the infallible text of its canons.


As a result, whatever Trent said about the Sacrament of Baptism, it most literally wasn’t trying to focus on ‘baptism of desire’ and we thus cannot know for an infallible certainty, or even a moral certainty, that it intended to rule out BOD.


As a matter of fact, the opposite is true!


Because we know that St. Thomas Aquinas very plainly taught BOD --- or, rather, BOS --- at least three times in his Summa Theologica (please go to Chapter 42 in this book to see the exact references). This was in the 13th century. We also know that, by the time of the Council of Trent in the 16th century, Aquinas was so highly respected as a doctor of the Church that, as the Catholic Encyclopedia notes:


“…the chief and special glory of Thomas, one which he has shared with none [not one other] of the Catholic doctors, is that the Fathers of Trent made it part of the order of the conclave [part of the daily process of the council] to lay upon the altar, together with the code of Sacred Scripture and the decrees of the Supreme Pontiffs, the Summa [Theologica] of Thomas Aquinas, whence to [from where they could] seek counsel, reason, and inspiration. Greater influence than this no man could have.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, entry for St. Thomas Aquinas, section on his doctrinal influence, 4th paragraph. Published by the Robert Appleton Co. of New York City in 1912. Retrieved 7 February 2012 at All annotations & emphases added.)


Consequently, how could the Council of Trent via Canons 2 & 5 on Baptism have denied a ‘baptism of desire’ that they obviously thought was true due to their massive respect for the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, a copy of which they laid beside the Bible and a collection of papal decrees so as to guide them doctrinally during their sessions?


At the very most, a WO aficionado can intelligently argue that ‘water only’ is at least one possible logical & orthodox interpretation of these canons. But not that it is the sole logical & orthodox interpretation, or that we can know --- with infallible certainty --- that ‘water only’ is for sure a correct orthodox interpretation of Canons 2 & 5. Indeed, to conclude that ‘water only’ is certain despite all of the evidence to the contrary then requires the WO person to treat BOD folks of the orthodox variety as if they are heretics. Which could only be true if the very fallible WO interpretation of these canons is instead an infallible certainty!


‘Water only’ devotees are swimming in exceedingly dangerous surf. The perilous tide of their fierce prejudice against BOD clashes with the unstoppable tide of cold hard fact that pretty much all learned Catholics since the time of Thomas Aquinas --- except for most recent decades --- have believed in BOD… including the fathers of the Council of Trent.


Are WO supporters prepared to anathematize the men who wrote the canons to which they cling?


+++ 13. If BOD Had Been Ruled Out, +++

Then Aquinas Would Have Been Edited


Not only that, but consider this:


If the fathers of the Council of Trent had intended to rule out BOD, then the popes after Trent would have edited the text of Aquinas’ Summa to reflect this new dogmatic certainty. That is to say, either they would have ordered publishers to edit out the offending passages on BOD in the Summa (so that Thomas’ mistaken teaching on BOD could not mislead Catholics into what is now defined as a heresy) or else, at the very least, they would have ordered them to insert admonishments against the BOD teaching (ditto the parenthetical statement above).


And yet popes since the Council of Trent have done none of this!


Is this not a huge red flag, warning us about the error that WO enthusiasts indulge?


Again, think about it.


Trent was the most Catholic and dogmatic general council in all of Church history thus far. Its leaders were hyper-vigilant compared to our more lax times. How could we think that they would be so stupid or careless as to dogmatically define the absolute necessity of water baptism and then tolerate older teachings in support of BOD to stick around and mislead into damnation?


It does not add up.


And this doesn’t even begin to mention how both the catechism produced at Trent’s direction and a Roman cardinal soon after this same council publically allowed for the very real existence of ‘baptism of desire’… but more details about this later in Chapters 91 to 103 of this book.


The point to realize right now is that vigilant leaders like those at the time of Trent would not ever allow heresy to be taught under the guise of orthodoxy if that is what BOD had become due to the canons of the Council of Trent regarding water baptism.




+++ 14. ‘Necessity of Precept’ +++

Versus ‘Necessity of Means’


So what was Trent trying to say in Canons 2 & 5 on the Sacrament of Baptism?


Very simple, my dear reader. We’ve even said it before:


The Council of Trent was dealing with newly arisen Protestant heresy --- not with the notion of BOD or BOS, which they never mention anywhere by name.


Many Protestants taught that baptism is powerless to remit sins and completely irrelevant for salvation. A mere symbol at best, they thought it a public testimony that you choose to ‘follow’ their imaginary Jesus. Thus, if baptized, the water doesn’t matter… any old liquid will do. Thus, also, there was no need at all for baptism in order to enter Heaven. Whereas Catholics know how baptism is --- at the very least --- a necessity of precept. I.e., you must intend to know about it and obey it if possible. Yet if doing it is not possible, then you can be excused for not doing so.


This, by the way, is where most BOD folks go awry. They talk as if BOD were another baptism, or a substitute for water baptism. This is mistaken. To call it ‘baptism of desire’ or ‘baptism of spirit’ is only a metaphor. It is no real baptism and cannot ‘take the place’ of water baptism --- although, if real, the scholastic doctors teach that it is in some sense connected to baptism. Rather, if true, then BOD is an exception that God makes to His normal rule for baptism.


A supposed exception which is in contrast to the WO stance. Because if WO is true, then water baptism is not just a necessity of precept but a necessity of means. I.e., there is no way around this rule --- you cannot be excused from it for any reason at all. It is an absolute necessity.


+++ 15. Absolute Language +++

and the Possibility of Exceptions


And here is where the rubber meets the road.


Because this question of ‘necessity of precept’ vs. ‘necessity of means’ Holy Mother Church has never yet dogmatically defined for water baptism, the proof being that She has tolerated --- even fostered! --- the BOD opinion amongst Her doctors, saints & leaders since the 5th century (please read further in this book to find proof of this fact). Consequently, should it turn out that water baptism is indeed a necessity of means, then the Church’s leaders will have to use solemn, absolute & explicit language to rule out all possibility of exceptions to this universal rule.


Curiously, we can see the need for absolute & explicit language --- in order to rule out all possibility of exceptions to a universal rule --- demonstrated by the Council of Trent itself in Session 5. For, in explaining how Original Sin infects the whole human race, they make an infallible anathema against those who deny this teaching and cite St. Paul where he says, “By one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death, and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned…” (Translated from the original Latin into English by Canon Waterworth as of 1848. Published by Devin-Adair Company in 1912 in New York City. Cited from p.17 of the paperback republishing by TAN Books & Publishers in 1977 in Rockford, Illinois under the title, Dogmatic Canons and Decrees. All emphases added.)


Now, are we to interpret all as meaning every single human being with no exceptions possible… not even the Blessed Virgin Mary?


If so, then we are Catholic fundamentalists (about which you may read more here ) and have not the patience or intelligence to consider complexity & nuance in language. Something Trent confirms a little later where they state:


“This same holy synod [council] doth [does] nevertheless declare that it is not its intention to include in this decree, where original sin is treated of [where original sin is talked about], the blessed and immaculate Virgin Mary, the Mother of God…” (Ibid., p.18. Emphases & annotation added.)


And so we see that there can be exceptions --- even with infallible statements! (because “all” didn’t mean every single human has Original Sin, since Mary is an exception) --- and that, if the Church has tolerated Catholics believing in an exception (e.g., BOD), then this same Church must go the extra mile, so to speak, in closing the loopholes if they rule later to the contrary.


That is to say, if BOD is false, then --- given that the Hierarchy has permitted and even fostered belief in ‘baptism of desire’, and in order to avoid further controversy --- the Church must use solemn, absolute & explicit language to rule out all possibility of exceptions to water baptism.


The Church has not yet done so. We are hence free, thus far, to believe in BOD for catechumens.


Be careful, though. One group of WO defenders (who really are Catholic fundamentalists and go schismatic over this dispute) goes so far as to pretend that, since the Council of Trent went out of its way to strike down the notion that the Virgin Mary was sinful along with the rest of us, only if the Magisterium explicitly mentions such an exception can such exceptions then exist.


But stop and think:


Because if Trent hadn’t taken time to explicitly tell us that Mary was an exception to the “all” in “all have sinned,” then would the exception of Mary in sinfulness have been non-existent?


May God forbid!


Because some three hundred years later Pope Pius IX infallibly defined that Mary was indeed immaculate --- that is, without sin --- from Her Conception. And if true that She was entirely sinless at that moment of the infallible definition in 1854, then it was true, too, well before Pius IX at the time of the Council of Trent in the mid-1500s. Ergo, Mary had to have been an exception to the “all” in the infallible “all have sinned” statement of Trent whether or not they chose to mention it, and thus mentioning these exceptions explicitly cannot be a requirement for all infallible statements or condemnations in order to make these possible exceptions real.


End of story.


+++ 16. More Magisterial Statements +++

That ‘Water Only’ Purists Try to Wield


However, Canons 2 & 5 are not the only magisterial statements that WO enthusiasts try to use to support their ‘water only’ stance. For instance, they also quote Trent where it teaches:


“‘By one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death...’ [Romans 5:12a] so that in them there may be washed away by regeneration [water baptism], what they have contracted by generation [physical birth, which causes a human being to contract Original Sin and hence the eventual punishment of both temporal and eternal death], for ‘unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’ [John 3:5]” (Translated from the original Latin into English by Canon Waterworth as of 1848. Published by Devin-Adair Company in 1912 in New York City. Cited from pp.17 & 19 of the paperback republishing by TAN Books & Publishers in 1977 in Rockford, Illinois under the title, Dogmatic Canons and Decrees. Quote from Chapters 2 & 4 of Session 5. All emphasis & annotations added.)


And the Council of Florence where it states:


“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 [St. Adam], unless we are born again of water [baptism] and the Spirit, we cannot, as the Truth says, enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Session 8, Paragraph 12, which is part of Pope Eugene IV’s Exultate deo. Found in Paragraph 696 of the 30th Edition of the Enchiridion Symbolorum by Denziger & Bannwart, S.J., as translated by Roy J. Deferrari and published originally by Herder & Co. in 1954 at Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany. Emphases & annotations added.)


Or Pope St. Leo the Great in his letter to Flavian, the Patriarch of Constantinople, where he says:


“Let him listen also to the blessed Apostle Peter when he declares, that sanctification by the Spirit takes place through the sprinkling of the blood of Christ [1 Peter 1:2]… This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not in water only, but in water and blood; and it is the Spirit that beareth [bears, i.e., gives forth] witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear witness --- the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and the three are one. [1 John 5:4-8] That is, the Spirit of sanctification, and the blood of redemption, and the water of baptism; which three things are one, and remain undivided, and not one of them is disjoined from connection with the others…” (Leo’s Lectis dilectionis tuae, with quote as found in The Seven Ecumenical Councils, pg. 258, which is Volume 14 of Series II in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers as edited by Philip Schaff, D.D., LL.D., and Henry Wace, D.D., and printed by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in, apparently, 1899. Emphases & annotations added. Accessed online at,_Schaff._Philip,_3_Vol_14_The_Seven_Ecumenical_Councils,_EN.pdf as of 2 December 2014.)


+++ 17. The Problem With the WO Quotes +++


These quotes are not necessarily comprehensive. I.e., WO adherents may quote other statements, too, which they claim infallibly ‘prove’ their position. Notwithstanding, the quotes above easily demonstrate the same problem with all such magisterial quotes by ‘water only’ purists.


To wit, that none of them explicitly & absolutely rule out by literal name all possibility of God-given exceptions to entering Heaven or being sanctified or getting redeemed --- or etc. --- apart from the water of baptism. That is to say, none of these quotes use the kind of explicit & absolute language that would make it indisputably plain how water baptism is a totally inescapable necessity of means and not just a crucial yet rarely unavailable necessity of precept.


For example, to properly do so they would have to say something like:


“Holy baptism, which is the sole gateway to the spiritual life… through it alone we are made members of Christ and of the body of the Church… unless we are born again of water [baptism] and the Spirit, we absolutely cannot in any other way enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This therefore rules out all possibility of justification and salvation by baptism of spirit or baptism of blood. Which, if anyone dares to believe otherwise after this our solemn declaration, let him be anathema.(Imaginarily derived from the Council of Florence to very clearly demonstrate our point, any language of an explicit & absolute nature being added in italics.)


This logically just requirement for explicit & absolute language trumps all that I’ve seen thus far, as wielded by the WO camp. Because the Church has not only tolerated the BOD opinion both before and after the magisterial words that WO folks like to quote, but has even nurtured it.


How, then, can the Magisterium have properly signaled its intent to rule out every possibility of exception to water baptism if they don’t use language that is explicit & absolute?


+++ 18. More Magisterial Statements +++

That ‘Baptism of Desire’ Partisans Try to Use


Unfortunately, ‘water only’ devotees are not the only ones who misuse magisterial statements to try to make it look like Holy Mother Church infallibly approves of their pet teaching. BOD adherents do the same thing. To wit, they also quote Trent. Specifically, from Canon 4 of Session 7 where the Tridentine Fathers say:


“If anyone says that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary for salvation but are superfluous, and that without them or without the desire thereof men obtain from God through faith alone the grace of justification, though all [of the sacraments] are not necessary for each one [for every single person], let him be anathema.” (Translated from the original Latin into English by Canon Waterworth as of 1848. Published by Devin-Adair Company in 1912 in New York City. Cited from pg. 60 of the paperback republishing by TAN Books & Publishers in 1977 in Rockford, Illinois under the title, Dogmatic Canons and Decrees. All emphasis & annotations added.)


And the Council of Florence where it states:


“Regarding children, indeed, because of danger of death, which can often take place, when no help can be brought to them by another remedy than through the sacrament of baptism, through which they are snatched from the domination of the Devil and adopted among the sons of God, it advises that holy baptism ought not to be deferred for forty or eighty days…” (Session 11, Paragraph 12, which is part of Pope Eugene IV’s Cantate domino. Found in Paragraph 712 of the 30th Edition of the Enchiridion Symbolorum by Denziger & Bannwart, S.J., as translated by Roy J. Deferrari and published originally by Herder & Co. in 1954 at Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany. Emphases added.)


Or Pope St. Pius V, where he chides the following propositions of the theologian, Baius:


“31. Perfect and sincere charity, which is from a ‘pure heart and good conscience and a faith not feigned’ [1 Timothy 1:5], can be in catechumens as well as in penitents without the remission of sins… 33. A catechumen lives justly and rightly and holily, and observes the commandments of God, and fulfills the law through charity, which is only received in the laver of baptism, before the remission of sins has been obtained.” (Ex omnibus afflictionibus, Propositions 31 & 33. Found in Paragraphs 1031 & 1033 of the 30th Edition of the Enchiridion Symbolorum. See publication data for quote just above for further details. Emphases & annotations added.)


+++ 19. The Problem with the BOD Quotes +++


These quotes as well are not necessarily comprehensive. I.e., BOD adherents may quote other statements, too, which they claim infallibly ‘prove’ their position. But the quotes above easily demonstrate a similar problem with all such magisterial quotes by ‘baptism of desire’ purists.


As for the first quote --- from the Council of Trent --- BOD folks do the exact same thing that they do to the Tridentine quote we mentioned before. To wit, they seize on the poorly translated phrase “or without the desire thereof” and then proceed to build a house of mere ‘desire’ upon its foundation. When, in fact --- and as we have already shown --- the statements need not be interpreted at all to uphold desire alone as a means to receive justifying & saving graces.


What’s more, if this first of three magisterial statements as quoted above supposedly ‘proves’ BOD, then how about the other sacraments? For it speaks of “the sacraments of the New Law” in the plural (in other words, all Seven of the Sacraments of the Church) and not simply baptism in the singular (the one Sacrament of Baptism all by itself). Yet since when have the ‘baptism of desire’ people ever taught that there can be a ‘confirmation of desire’, an ‘extreme unction of desire’, a ‘matrimony of desire’ or --- even better still --- a ‘holy orders of desire’?


The last example is particularly telling. Because can you imagine the confusion if so-called Catholics (both men and women) went around claiming to be priests merely because they desire to be priests and not because they have actually received the Sacrament of Holy Orders from the very real hands of a bishop, a thing by the New Covenant Law of God reserved solely for men?


This is the kind of absurdity that belief in a mere ‘desire’ for the sacraments can lead to!


As to the second quote, the Council of Florence does hint of “another remedy” apart from the laver of baptismal regeneration. (This, at least, is how it’s translated for Denziger’s Enchiridion. The quote is a little different in other translations.) Which is what I mean by saying that the Magisterium has left the doctrinal door ajar to the possibility of BOD being infallibly affirmed. However, Florence was neither explicit nor direct in its statement. It never once mentioned ‘baptism of desire’ by name (or, rather, ‘baptismus flaminis’, the ‘baptism of spirit’ or BOS of the scholastic doctors). What is left unsaid is hence entirely up to the reader’s imagination or prejudice to fill in the blanks.


Consequently, this fleeting phrase (“another remedy”) is only a very strong possibility for BOD and not a specific & infallible certainty. Ergo, a rational and learned man can, for example --- if he’s determined to be skeptical about ‘baptism of desire’ while remaining rational & learned --- interpret the phrase as an example of hyperbole. That is, useful exaggeration to make an intelligent point… and not as an extremely vague nod toward an unnamed BOD.


(There is a demonstration of hyperbole in the Gospels. To wit, where Christ says that if your eye causes you to sin, then gouge it out. (Matthew 5:29, Mark 9:46) The Church has always taught that Jesus did not mean these words to be taken literally, as if we must bloodily rip our eyes out of their sockets; but, rather, was useful exaggeration to tell us how much we must strive to avoid seeing that which can cause us to sin. And if this can be the case with very plain words from Christ, then how much more with rather obscure words from the Magisterium!)


In other words, death happens so often, quickly & unexpectedly to little newborns that it is even more important not to delay water baptism for any reason in their cases than it is for adults, whose constitutions are generally stronger and less susceptible to sudden death, and who, in Catholic countries at least, are usually already long ago baptized by water.


Not that I think this interpretation likely, mind you… but it is logical and within the pale of orthodoxy. And one’s opinion about what a vague infallible statement means is simply that --- an opinion. An opinion that, however learned and intelligent, is not --- nor can it ever be --- all by itself, in and of itself, infallibly certain.


Because the mere opinions of non-papal interpreters are never infallibly certain.


End of sentence.


+++ 20. The Specially Troublesome Case +++

of the Theologian, Michel de Bay


Concerning the third quote, it also never mentions ‘baptism of water’ explicitly by name.


Notwithstanding, if you can fathom its somewhat complicated & obtuse language, you see it is talking about catechumens --- those normally not yet baptized in water but seeking to learn the dogmas of the Church so that they may enter Her Communion --- and that St. Pius V is chiding the notion that remission of sins (which the Church teaches occurs with water baptism) cannot happen before you are baptized. That is to say, he’s throwing cold water --- no pun intended --- on the idea that God never forgives anyone his sins (especially mortal sins, which, unforgiven, condemn to everlasting hell) unless a person literally receives the water of baptism.


On the surface, this would seem like a powerful argument on behalf of BOD. Because this is what well-instructed ‘baptism of desire’ aficionados love to assert --- that an act of perfect contrition merits the complete remission of mortal sins even before the catechumen is baptized!


There’s just one catch.


Because in his dissing of the French theologian, Michel de Bay (also known by his latinized name of Baius), Pius V states at the end of the papal document:


“These opinions have been carefully considered and examined before us; although some of them could be maintained in some way, yet in the strict and proper sense intended by those asserting them, we condemn them respectively as heretical, erroneous, suspect, rash, scandalous, and as giving offense to pious ears.”


Now think about it --- Pius admits that some of the condemned statements (there are seventy-nine altogether) “…could be maintained in some way…” I.e., some of the statements can be true & orthodox if comprehended in the correct manner.


Well, which ones? And in what ways?


Pius doesn’t say.


Furthermore, he groups all the statements together without distinction and condemns “…them respectively as heretical, erroneous, suspect, rash, scandalous, and as giving offense to pious ears.”


Yet to be ‘erroneous’ (only wrong) is not the same as ‘heretical’ (to oppose infallible dogma specifically). And to be ‘rash’ is not necessarily to be wrong (erroneous) or to oppose dogma (heretical), while the term ‘suspect’ only means that someone thinks --- maybe --- that you might be erroneous or heretical, but, then again, you might not. We can’t know until we investigate.


Do you see the difficulty, dear reader?


To top it off, Pius never tells us which labels apply to which statements. Hence, we’re left totally in the dark, guessing blindly without any infallible guidance as to which ones are which… and how. It is almost the ultimate in unclear infallible condemnation by a pope.


Hence, far from clearing up the matter --- telling us whether or not BOD with infallible certainty is true --- we are left scratching our heads in puzzlement and wondering why the pope bothered to issue such a document. What actual purpose did it serve?


In reality, it served at least a political purpose. It served to notify all Catholic bishops, priests and theologians during the 16th century that Michel de Bay was a man who was not in favor with the Vatican. Therefore, beware of him and his teachings.


Beyond that, it did little of practical doctrinal consequence, least of all in clearing up any debate over BOD vs. WO. It is an exercise in theological obfuscation, not clarification.


+++ 21. We’ve Examined Their Infallible Arguments; +++

Everything Else They Tout Is Without Doubt Fallible


These are the main arguments that ‘water only’ folks and ‘baptism of desire’ people use for their sides, quoting from documents where the Church is exercising Her Solemn Infallibility. Everything else they cite is from sources that are fallible.


This cannot be stressed enough.


The most powerful arguments from both sides have already been examined. Everything else is less impressive --- fallibly so.


Which is not to say that the remaining arguments are worthless. Far from it. Merely that they cannot resolve the dispute with infallible certainty. I.e., there will always remain the possibility that one’s conclusion is mistaken --- and regardless of one’s intelligence, learning or effort.


What’s more, if the remaining arguments are relatively strong & numerous for both sides of the dispute, then there cannot even be a decisive moral certainty for either side… only opinions (not infallible certainties!) passionately held in opposition to one another.


Yet what are the sources of infallibility when it comes to Church Teaching?


+++ 22. The Sources of Infallibility +++


Surprisingly, this is a subject of confusion & conflict. Amongst those few who claim to be truly Catholic during these days of dark apostasy, you’d think the matter would be plain.


Unfortunately not.


The Vatican Council, though --- the only real Vatican Council of 1869-70 thus far, not the phony ‘Vatican II’ of the early 1960s which publicly veered into various heresies of modernism --- helps us get a handle on it. This council stated, and I quote:


“We teach and define that it is a dogma divinely revealed [that] the Roman Pontiff [the Bishop of Rome, a Pope], when he speaks ex cathedra [from the chair, to wit, from the throne of St. Peter], that is, in discharge of the office of pastor and teacher of all Christians [when he teaches all Catholics everywhere]… he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the universal Church [he clarifies a teaching on faith or morals that should be believed by all Catholics], is… possessed of [he has]… infallibility [i.e., he cannot be mistaken]…” (Pius IX’s Pastor aeternus, as crafted by the Vatican Council during Session 4 in AD 1870, Chapter 4, Paragraph 9. Emphases & annotations added.)


What does this mean?


For one thing, only a pope is infallible. No one else can be infallible for him. If someone else teaches --- for instance, a council of bishops --- then the pope must join himself to their council as a fellow bishop (even if he wasn’t present) and, by virtue of his supreme authority (i.e., from the Throne of St. Peter as the universal leader of all truly Christian and hence Catholic followers of Christ), approve their teaching as if it were he himself teaching. Only then can the council be infallible.


Ergo, officials or offices in the Vatican are not infallible. Even if they possess delegated authority from the pope, and even if their decisions or words are sanctioned or signed by the pope, his papal infallibility cannot be ‘transmitted’ to them. None of them sit upon the Throne of St. Peter. Only a real bishop of Rome can rule from Peter’s Throne over all true Christians (read: Roman Catholics) everywhere. Consequently, for such persons’ words to be without error (for instance, various men or offices who work in the Vatican under the authority of a pope), the pope must make their words into his very own --- as if coming literally from his own person --- before anything they say could take on the aura of infallibility.


For another thing, a pope can only be infallible about faith or morals. Nothing else is guaranteed infallibility like this and thus nothing else is absolutely & totally irreformable. For example, the Holy Mass is priceless. It should not be touched lightly. Nevertheless, from time to time over the last two thousand years, the popes have made relatively minor yet worthy additions to its sacred text. This is because the Mass, while impinging on faith & morals, is not itself in all of its words a dogma or moral.


Likewise canonizations of saints. Their lives, to be saintly, must have heroically upheld faith & morals. Nevertheless, the canonization itself is not an irreformable dogmatic rule or moral law; were further investigation after the act of canonization to reveal a grave flaw in the purported saint, then the particular act of this canonization could be amended. It is a disciplinary act resulting from the moral certainty of a careful investigation --- not a dogmatic or moral pronouncement guaranteed infallible certainty by the Holy Ghost.


(Which also means, when you think about it --- and applying the first principle already mentioned above about only a pope being infallible --- that canonization cannot confer some sort of ‘infallibility’ on the writings or teachings of saints. For instance, St. Thomas Aquinas upheld the wrong position about the Immaculate Conception back in the 1200s when he was alive --- please see Chapters 46 to 47 in this book, Baptismal Confusion, for proof of this assertion. He did not believe in Her Immaculacy as was later infallibly defined to be true by Pope Pius IX in 1854. So how could canonization --- which occurred for him back in the 1300s --- have made his teachings ‘infallible’, or implied that there was never a mistake in his writings? The careful & official Vatican investigation of Aquinas merely gave Catholics moral certainty that he did not teach anything in plain opposition to the dogmas or morals of the Church while he was alive --- not that he never believed or taught something mistaken. The charism of infallibility, when teaching about faith or morals, belongs to popes solely…. not to saints or even doctors!)


For yet another thing, a pope must be teaching the whole Church. That is to say, if he’s writing a private letter to a single person that --- while not necessarily meant to be kept ‘secret’ or ‘hidden’ from everybody else --- is not intended for anyone else to read, then he’s not infallible in what he teaches. (Which doesn’t mean he’s certainly wrong when teaching privately, only that he’s not certainly right when doing so.) Or if, for example, he’s preaching a homily to a local group of Roman Catholics, the text of which he does not require to be copied and promulgated to all Catholics everywhere, then what he teaches in this homily cannot be infallible.


For still another thing, a pope must define --- i.e., clarify --- the teaching. What this means in practice is either, one, that he uses the word ‘define’ or ‘declare’ or ‘pronounce’ or some similar (and by now, traditional) terminology; or else, two, that he condemns a particular teaching. If neither of these criteria are met… if, for instance, he simply repeats a dogma or moral without ever making it apparent that he is trying to teach the topic to a greater degree than it has been taught up until that point in time… then, while he might repeat the infallible definitions or condemnations of a past time, he is not teaching infallibly in his own person.


(The description just given explains the Extraordinary Magisterium of the Church, incidentally. There is the Ordinary Magisterium, too, which is also a source of infallibility. For detailed information on the latter see Chapters 121 & 153 in this book, Baptismal Confusion.)


These points are important to realize, my dear reader. Because many people who consider themselves Catholic are very, very, very confused on this subject. Some of them think that catechisms are infallible. Others think the Roman Martyrology is infallible. Still others think (as mentioned above) that the writings of canonized saints are infallible, that you can never find an error in a saint’s writings. And others imagine that every single word in every single papal encyclical is infallible, or that every single thing a pope says or writes is infallible.


There are all kinds of mistakes when it comes to the matter of infallibility. Which is only to be expected, since people without a spiritual shepherd or infallible pope to protect them from error are like sheep wandering astray at midnight while wolves howl at the moon in hunger for their souls! Of course, these folks are sincerely mistaken --- they honestly think they’re helping the Papacy or the Catholic Faith by doing so. In reality, though, they are hurting the Saving Truth.


Because claiming more for a Pope or the Church than is actually true does not defend Catholicism. To the contrary, it can make them look unreliable… and make us look like fools.


+++ 23. Turning to the Martyrs +++


With that said, let us turn our attention to that which is not infallible, for which a pope has not used his gift of infallibility to guarantee that it is absolutely certain. Let us turn to the accounts of the martyrs. Specifically, to those martyrs that BOD proponents like to think ‘prove’ their case.


How so?


Very occasionally in these accounts from the earliest centuries of persecution, it is mentioned that a particular martyr was a ‘catechumen’. Or, conversely, that someone who is apparently not Catholic --- but who is witnessing the martyrdom of a Catholic --- is then motivated, on the spot, to profess Christ and become a martyr along with that Catholic at the same time.


The significance?


“Aha!” say BOD adherents. “This is proof positive that someone doesn’t have to be baptized in order to enter Heaven. Because these particular martyrs are catechumens. Catechumens… as in, they haven’t been baptized yet and are still learning the Catholic Faith. What’s more, those on-the-spot converts who became martyrs obviously didn’t have time or opportunity for baptism. Their immediate martyrdom prevented it! And yet the Church honors them as saints in Heaven. How can anyone know these facts and not admit that ‘baptism of desire’ must be real?”


This is what they say. Is it actually true?


The claim depends on several unrecognized and, for the most part, unwarranted assumptions. We will examine them one by one and dispense with them accordingly.


+++ 24. Out-of-Thin-Air Assumption No. 1: +++

Catechumens Aren’t Ever Catechumens After Baptism


First of all, BOD enthusiasts assume --- without actually knowing the facts --- that a catechumen stops being a catechumen as soon as he’s baptized. Which is the very same thing as saying that every catechumen is therefore unbaptized.


This is because someone is called a ‘catechumen’ due to him learning about the Catholic Faith. Once the catechumen knows everything he needs to know about Catholicism, thinks the BOD partisan, then --- and only then --- does he receive baptism. After baptism he no longer needs to learn the Faith and thus he can no longer be called a ‘catechumen’.


End of story.


Or is it?


A simple yet thorough study of early Church history reveals the truth. For instance, St. Cyril of Jerusalem taught Roman Catholicism to catechumens in the fourth century. And he composed the text for a catechism that we still have available to read today, some 1600 years later. (Please see Chapter 88 in this book, Baptismal Confusion, to find out more.) From this ancient text, as well as others of the time, we see that the normal pattern was for a long, detailed instruction prior to water baptism, a baptism which the catechumen usually received quite late on Holy Saturday night or very early on Easter Sunday morning right before sunrise… depending on which way you look at it.


Now turn in St. Cyril’s catechism to the section meant to be studied after Easter Sunday.


“I have long been wishing, O true-born and dearly beloved children of the Church, to discourse to you concerning [to tell you about] these spiritual and heavenly Mysteries [Sacraments]; but since I well knew that seeing is far more persuasive than hearing, I waited for the present season [i.e., Easter Week, the week following Easter]; that finding you more open to the influence of my words from your present experience [of having just been baptized in water], I might lead you by the hand into the brighter and more fragrant meadow of the Paradise before us; especially as you have been made fit [ready] to receive the more sacred Mysteries, after having been found worthy of divine and life-giving Baptism. Since therefore it remains to set before you a table [a display] of the more perfect instructions, let us now teach you these things exactly, that you may know the effect wrought [worked, the word being in the past tense!] upon you on that evening of your baptism. First ye [all of you] entered [past tense!] into the vestibule [the entrance] of the Baptistery [the place in a church where new Catholics are baptized], and there facing towards the West ye listened [past tense again] to the command to stretch forth your hand, and[,] as [if] in the presence of Satan[,] ye renounced [past tense!] him…” (Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 18, Paragraphs 1 & 2. All emphasis & annotations added.)


Lo and behold, we find that their instruction continued on for at least one week beyond their baptism on Easter Sunday morning!




Because certain mysteries, such as the Most Holy Eucharist, were thought unfit for (and not able to be properly understood by) the unbaptized man, who has neither yet received the Holy Ghost in baptism, nor the fullness of wisdom that the Spirit of God dispenses at this point. Ergo, these catechumens completed their training in the week after Easter Sunday. Consequently, they did not fully lose the title of ‘catechumen’ until the Sunday following Easter at the earliest.


Incidentally, Cyril is not only a canonized saint but a bishop, father and universal doctor of the Church, too. We may thus take his testimony as a moral certainty.


Which in turn, then, means that martyred catechumens are not automatically for sure to be thought of as unbaptized.


+++ 25. Out-of-Thin-Air Assumption No. 2: Catholics +++

Never Baptize Right Away When Heavy Persecution Strikes


But BOD enthusiasts also assume that Catholics during pagan times didn’t baptize their catechumens immediately when the Roman Empire persecuted them severely.


How so?


Most BOD partisans don’t think about it. They have no learning, study or education in the matter. They just assume, out of thin air --- and without even realizing what they’re doing --- that it wasn’t a problem for the ancient Church.




Because they assume --- again, out of thin air --- that the earliest Catholics were just like them today when it comes to BOD. That is to say, they think ancient Catholics believed in ‘baptism of desire’ and hence weren’t worried about anyone dying without baptism in water. After all, if the heavenly benefit of the sacrament is easily supplied by a mere ‘yearning’ for it… then why in the world fret about not actually getting it?


This is what they presume. The reality is very different.


Most ancient Catholics had no conception of a ‘baptismus flaminis’ (‘baptism of spirit’ or BOS), what we now call ‘baptism of desire’ in English. BOD proponents claim St. Ambrose taught it in the 4th century. This may or may not be so. The correct interpretation of his words is debatable. But certainly St. Augustine, Ambrose’s pupil, taught it at the start of the 5th century.


(Please see Chapters 32 to 41 in this book, Baptismal Confusion, for more information.)


And that’s it. Aside from a claim that St. Cyprian during the 3rd century taught a kind of BOD, no other Church Father of ancient times is even said to uphold BOS or BOD. One of them, in fact --- St. Gregory Nazianzen --- explicitly denies it.


(Please turn to Chapters 62 to 71 to find out more about what Gregory Nazianzen has to say about the Sacrament of Baptism, dear reader.)


As a result, the truth is clear:


BOD is not part of the ordinary magisterium of the Church. To be an ordinary infallible teaching, a doctrine must be mentioned outright and affirmed by all (or nearly all, at the very least) of the Early Church Fathers in their writings. Three such fathers out of dozens upon dozens of fathers altogether doesn’t cut it. Not by far. And one of these fathers seems to blatantly rebut it!


Of course, the clever BOD aficionado will then invoke ‘baptism of blood’ (BOB). Every Church Father believed in this, they will say. (This is only partly true. I find in my research thus far that only about half of the Church Fathers, maybe, teach BOB.) Yet while BOB is, in a sense, a very narrow subset of its broader sibling --- BOD --- the two are nevertheless extremely different.


BOB, say scholastic theologians of the early 2nd millennium, makes up for the lack of baptismal water by paying a price that remits mortal sin, including original sin. This price is a man’s own life given to God in martyrdom for the Catholic Faith. Whereas BOD can only be effectual --- in removing the debt of mortal sin --- by a state of perfect contrition for that terrible sin. A perfect contrition that… while not impossible to have… is not really easy to attain, either.


The best theological opinion of the scholastic doctors was, in fact, that this kind of contrition could only be found in some catechumens. Very few, perhaps.


Consequently, even if ancient Catholics had believed in BOD (which the vast majority did not), and even though they may have (many of them) believed in BOB, it would have been reckless to the point of scandal to think catechumens would be safe for sure in either case. This could not be counted on. Perfect contrition is tough enough to maintain for BOD. In the case of BOB, a man needs every grace he can get in order to face brutal persecution. Unbaptized catechumens would be at a great disadvantage in contrast to the baptized catechumen who can draw on his baptism and other sacraments in the Church so as to combat the devil’s tortures more courageously.


And so Roman Catholics have, since most ancient times, practiced what we nowadays call ‘emergency baptism’. That is to say, when a catechumen is in grave danger of immediate death, water baptism is never withheld despite whatever training the catechumen is still missing. As a matter of fact, when death threatens in this dire manner, the Church is so eager to have converts baptized in water right away that She authorizes anyone --- be it a lowly layman or a laywoman or even a non-Catholic! --- to give water baptism immediately to the threatened soul.


Need we point out how this contradicts the man who presumes calling someone a ‘catechumen’ means the person is certainly unbaptized? Or how emergency baptism does not jive with the easy assumption, on a BOD enthusiast’s part, that salvation is readily available to anyone seeking to be Catholic but who dies without the actual water of a real baptism?


Incidentally, evidence for the practice of emergency baptism can be found in the very scholarly (albeit often modernistic) Catholic Encyclopedia’s extensive article on Baptism, as well as a simpler article at Wikipedia on Emergency Baptism itself.


+++ 26. Out-of-Thin-Air Assumption No. 3: On-the-Spot +++

Converts Couldn’t Have Been Baptized Before Conversion


Yet BOD supporters make more mistakes.


Because they assume --- out of thin air --- that an ‘on-the-spot convert’ could never have been Catholic prior to his martyrdom. When, in reality, we know no such thing if it is not stated explicitly in the account of this particular martyr.


That is to say, if an historical account of the martyrdom doesn’t say so straight out, then we have no idea what the background of this on-the-spot convert was before he became a sudden martyr. In all honesty --- and to be intellectually accurate --- the on-the-spot martyr could have been an apostate or lapsed Catholic who is suddenly moved by the graces of God and the example of a brave Catholic to reconcile with God and so return to His One & Only Catholic Religion. Or, to put it differently, he could have been baptized long ago, having converted to the Faith years earlier. He might even have been raised Catholic from infancy, being baptized as a baby.


We simply do not know.


Hence, to assume otherwise (that the on-the-spot convert could never have been baptized earlier) is to assume what we don’t actually have any real knowledge about. Christianity spread quickly in the ancient Roman Empire. Some scholars very conservatively estimate that at least one third of the Empire’s population was Catholic by the time of Emperor Constantine’s conversion. Others surmise that it could have been up to one half of the Empire’s total population.


Consequently, there is every possibility that an ‘on-the-spot convert’ was really just an on-the-spot reconversion… and not an entirely new conversion out of the blue. Out of the blue converts are certainly possible; but unless the martyrology explicitly says so one way or another, we just can’t know for sure.


Therefore, any on-the-spot converts very well could have been baptized already, prior to their martyrdoms. And, logically speaking, their martyred lives would have then been the price they happily paid in order to remit the damnable sin of a former loss of the One True Faith.


+++ 27. Out-of-Thin-Air Assumption No. 4: On-the-Spot +++

Converts Couldn’t Have Been Baptized During Martyrdom


But this leads us to another mistake by BOD partisans.


Namely, that an ‘on-the-spot convert’ couldn’t have been baptized in water during his martyrdom. I.e., that there is little or no way he could have received water baptism from the moment he decided to publicly align himself with the other martyrs for the Catholic Faith until the very moment he dies, he himself physically murdered for the sake of the True Religion.


Why do BOD enthusiasts do this?


Again, most of them don’t think about it. They just assume --- out of thin air --- that ancient Catholics were exactly like them, not believing baptism in water is necessary in an absolute way to enter Heaven. Hence, they just assume, as well --- out of thin air --- that all ancient Catholics figured BOD (that is, BOS, or ‘baptism of spirit’) would take care of these on-the-spot converts… and despite the converts dying without the sacramental water.


Of course, well-educated BOD supporters know that BOS (that is, BOD) was not a widespread belief amongst Catholics then. Or, rather, they know they can find hardly any explicit evidence for BOS in the writings of earliest Catholics (although BODers almost always assume ancient Catholics believed in BOS, regardless of this lack of evidence). Consequently, they turn to BOB (‘baptism of blood’), knowing that many early Catholic writers upheld BOB in writing. And this, they assume --- out of thin air --- is so similar to BOS that they consider it ‘proof positive’ for BOD… and can’t understand when intelligent WO persons aren’t bowled over by this ‘proof’.


That is to say, since both BOB and BOS do away with any supreme ‘need’ for water baptism, then the BOD proponent assumes the two are so identical as to ‘prove’ that BOD was believed in by ancient Catholics. When, in reality, whilst BOB can be thought of as a kind of ‘subset’ of BOD, the two are very distinct. As noted above, scholastic theologians taught that mortal sin is remitted by a perfect contrition for this sin in the case of BOS. Whereas, in the case of BOB, sin is remitted by the sacrifice of the martyr’s life for the sake of the Catholic Faith.


This distinction may seem nominal to the untrained mind; it is utterly crucial to the learned man. In BOS, it is an act of the mind and heart alone which remits mortal sin. In BOB, it is an act of the body in conjunction with the will which attains remission. An act that --- even if a martyr does not have perfect contrition to begin with --- achieves remission of sins by the sheer enormity of the ultimate sacrifice of his life.


Nevertheless, a skeptic might say, what does any of this matter if no martyrology mentions explicitly that an on-the-spot convert received water baptism right before his martyrdom? Is not the BOD camp then justified, at least in part, in believing in some kind of BOD because of this?


A few simple observations:


First, water baptism stripped of all of its ceremonies is extremely quick & easy. It takes no more than five or ten seconds to perform.


Second, water is the most prevalent necessity of life, available just about anywhere. God has given His Church mere water as the matter for baptism, a matter so widespread that it is practically sure to be found wherever human beings live since it is urgent for earthly life.


Third, it only takes a single drop of water to cross the forehead as the words of baptism are said in order to make the baptism valid. Anything more than this is purely extra or ceremonial.


Fourth, God is all-knowing & all-powerful. It is illogical to say water baptism can’t be absolutely necessary lest some souls die ‘accidentally’ without it, when, in fact, He is perfectly capable of providing both opportunity and the water for baptism no matter where someone may be.


And, fifth, where details are given, the accounts of an on-the-spot convert’s martyrdom can be highly suggestive of water baptism in spite of an account not saying so straight out.


For instance, St. Alban’s martyrdom (whose feast is June 22nd) --- as St. Bede tells us in his account --- involved a miracle that converted his would-be executioner on the spot. During the confusion that followed, wherein the pagans tried to figure out who would now execute both St. Alban and his former executioner, St. Alban climbed a small hill nearby and prayed to God that water would spring forth from the earth. Which it did!


Now, stop and think. Bede gives us no more details about this sudden flow of water at a totally unexpected spot. Nevertheless, what in the world could that miraculous water be used for?


How about… baptism?


The point is, we have no infallible assurance of BOD or BOB. Meanwhile, the accounts of martyrologies are both fallible (not infallible!) and often skeletal, leaving out many poignant details. And the assumptions of later Catholic writers in favor of BOB or BOD, based on their own personal interpretations of these fallible & skeletal accounts of a few ancient martyrs, are merely human opinions --- not infallible certainties.


Hence, it is an utterly fallible assertion --- and thus an assertion that an intelligent man can justifiably doubt as long as he has most excellent reason to do so --- that supposed ‘on-the-spot converts’ could not have been baptized in water after their on-the-spot conversion but before their resultant martyrdom.


+++ 28. Out-of-Thin-Air Assumption No. 5: ‘Baptism +++

of Blood’ Is the Same Thing as ‘Baptism of Desire’


Bringing us to the final out-of-thin-air assumption, one we’ve already touched upon twice in the chapters just above. To wit, that to believe in BOB is the exact same thing as believing in BOD.


Why would BOD enthusiasts do this?


Again, most of them don’t realize what they’re doing. They aren’t very learned. They’ve never thought about these things very deeply, and have probably never taken the time to discuss it with a well-instructed WO adherent. And, to be fair to them, if they’ve ever studied it in some detail, they’ve found that some of the greatest of theologians and leaders of the Catholic Church have plainly upheld BOD --- although only for catechumens --- and really only in widespread earnest since the start of the second millennium.


As a result, they just assume --- out of thin air --- that the lack of evidence for belief in BOD by most ancient Catholics is easily made up for by early Catholics’ more prevalent belief in BOB.


After all (think these BOD folks), both BOB and BOD operate without any actual water involved… so if only one is spoken about favorably to a great degree (namely, BOB by many ancient Catholics) then why on earth shouldn’t we assume that this means they certainly believed in BOD, too? Neither one of them requires water --- so if lots of early Catholics supported BOB, is it really that big of a leap to assume that they believed in BOD as well, which also doesn’t require water to be involved?


Or that, even if most of them didn’t consciously believe in BOD, that they might as well have believed in BOD in addition to BOB, too, since the two are so obviously similar!


This is what the BOD camp reasons, if indeed they even think about it.


Unfortunately for them, the appearance is superficial. Both BOB and BOS (the ancient name for BOD, you’ll recall, meaning ‘baptism of spirit’) are metaphorically called ‘baptism’ and both do away with, supposedly, the need for sacramental water. Beyond that, the two are distinct.


Indeed, the scholastic theologians of the early second millennium recognized right away that BOB and BOS could not be the exact same thing. Because if not, then why did earlier Catholics call BOB ‘baptism of blood’ as distinct from a ‘baptism of spirit’? And why did St. Augustine make this distinction stark between the two near the beginning of his career in his writings?


The scholastic theologians concluded, logically, that the efficacy of BOB lay in the sacrifice of one’s bodily life, whereas the efficacy of BOS resides in a perfect contrition for one’s mortal sins. Hence --- and as we’ve noted before --- even if a martyr did not possess this perfect contrition, nevertheless, the ultimate sacrifice of his life remits all of his sins. Or, to put it another way, the sacrifice of his life is, as it were, a kind of ‘perfect contrition’ in the flesh. (Indeed, this is hinted at by St. Thomas Aquinas where he states that BOB includes BOS or BOD in itself, and not the other way around! Here he made the point that BOB is an act of the highest ‘perfect charity’ for God --- Summa Theologica, Book 3, Question 66, Article 12.)


All the same, the distinction remains very stark:


BOS or BOD is an act of the internal forum. I.e., it takes place inside a man, within the mind and within the heart. Meanwhile, BOB is an act of the external forum. I.e., it takes place outside a man, via the body allied with the will --- and regardless of this man very possibly lacking contrition that is perfect inside his heart & mind!


This is why, then, BOB and BOS or BOD are not the same thing. BOB can be thought of --- in a way --- as a kind of narrower ‘subset’ of BOS. However, it is but an allegorical categorization. Because the two separate things are, at a profound level, substantially different.


Case closed.


+++ 29. St. Emerentiana Is the Best Evidence the BOD +++

Camp Has for Their Position When It Comes to Martyrs


Hence, when it comes to the martyrs, St. Emerentiana is the ‘best’ evidence BOD aficionados have for their stance.


Best not because the martyrological account is infallible --- it’s not. We have never yet been guaranteed absolute certainty in the details of the martyrology, only a degree of human moral certainty. And best not because it’s the only account of a martyr that makes it plain the martyr supposedly died without water baptism --- there are actually two more accounts of martyrs that make the same thing plain in the Roman Martyrology, these being St. Victor, whose feast day is April 12, as well as St. Plutarch & His Companions on June 28.


(The few others in the Roman Martyrology to whom BOD enthusiasts refer as ‘proof’ of their position make no such thing indisputably plain. They merely refer to a martyr as a ‘catechumen’, which can mean --- as we’ve seen --- only that the martyr was still being taught how to be Catholic at the time of his martyrdom… and not that he was, for sure, unbaptized.)


Rather, ‘best’ because St. Emerentiana is the greatest known of the three, having been venerated widely & highly since ancient times. And since the end of the first millennium most, if not all, Catholics have openly believed her to be a recipient of the metaphorical ‘baptism of blood’, which they tout --- perhaps unwittingly --- as a ‘substitute’ for baptism of water in these situations.


Incidentally, the exact words of the Roman Martyrology for her feast day on January 23rd are as follows:


“At Rome, the holy virgin and martyr, St. Emerentiana. Being yet a catechumen, she was stoned to death by the heathens while praying at the tomb of St. Agnes, her foster sister.” (Emphasis added.)


The “yet” in the quote above is what shows us that the original writer, or later editor, of her martyrdom thought her unbaptized. This detail is brought out into the open even more by the account of St. Plutarch:


“At Alexandria, in the persecution of Severus, the holy martyrs Plutarch, Serenus, Heraclides a catechumen, Heron a neophyte, another Serenus, Rhais a catechumen, Potamioena, and Marcella her mother.” (Emphases added.)


A “neophyte” is what a catechumen becomes when the catechumen is newly baptized in water, although the catechumen can still be called a catechumen for a while longer, as we have seen. Ergo, for the writer or editor of the Roman Martyrology to distinguish certain martyrs who were “catechumens” from another who was a “neophyte” tells us that, when it comes to someone who was “still” a catechumen (St. Victor) or “yet” a catechumen (St. Emerentiana), he believed them to be unbaptized.


This, therefore, combined with the fact that Emerentiana was so celebrated in her martyrdom from the fourth century and that Catholics by the second millennium universally believed her to have died without water baptism, is what makes the martyrological account of her martyrdom the most powerful evidence BODers have for their position based on the martyrs in general.


Nevertheless, this account of St. Emerentiana is not only not infallible --- and thus permissible to doubt in some of its details if one has most excellent reasons for doing so --- but concerns ‘baptism of blood’ (BOB) and not ‘baptism of desire’ (BOD)!


So why are BODers so happy with this so-called ‘evidence’?


As we remarked earlier, they see practically no difference between BOB and BOD. Consequently, they just assume --- out of thin air --- that an account upholding BOB is then somehow ‘proof’ of their much-cherished belief in an equally waterless BOD.


When, in reality, Emerentiana… even if her martyrdom really was without water baptism… is thus simply strong evidence of nothing more than that BOB is true, and not that the notion of BOD is a slam-dunk certainty.


+++ 30. The Other Side of the Coin: +++

Miraculous Water Just to Get Baptized


This is a rather biased use of evidence, taking something that supports BOB and acting like it ‘proves’ BOD. However, the BOD partisans are just as biased in the evidence that they won’t touch. Probably unintentional for most of them, they ignore into oblivion the circumstantial evidence from the Church’s history that contradicts their positions of ‘desire’ and ‘blood’.


For instance, the life of St. Peter the First Pope presents us with evidence against ‘baptism of blood’. In the Acts of St. Linus --- Linus being Peter’s immediate papal successor and the writer of his martyrdom --- we find that St. Peter converted two of his guards while he was in the Mamertine Prison of ancient Rome, the soldiers Processus and Martinian.


Not surprisingly, these two converts ended up being martyred along with St. Peter. But before they were martyred and, more tellingly, without the fact being overlooked or forgotten by other Catholics of the time, Linus informs us that Peter baptized them with water while in prison.


Indeed, not only that he baptized them in water, but that he performed a miracle in order to obtain the precious sacramental water by which he baptized them!


It doesn’t take too much brain to realize that if God is willing to perform a miracle so as to provide water for the Sacrament of Baptism inside a dungeon-like prison during the first major persecution of pagan Rome against the newly arisen Christians during the AD 60s, then why is it we’re to believe He wouldn’t do this for other unbaptized converts during terrible persecution?


In other words, why is ‘baptism of blood’ supposed to be necessary for the salvation of those who are unbaptized catechumens or on-the-spot converts when God is obviously willing to provide miraculous water in the darkest & deepest of horrible prisons for the Sacrament of Baptism?


What is the point?


Plainly, miraculous water for the baptism of converts or catechumens tends to argue strongly against the need for an exception like ‘baptism of blood’. We begin to see that BOB is merely an analogy for suffering terrible torments for the sake of the Faith --- and not a supposed ‘substitute’ for real water baptism. It is, were we to say it properly, a kind of massive & unique application of the Sacrament of Penance to wipe out all eternal & temporal debts of our sins in one fell swoop, and thus operate like a ‘second baptism’ in our own life’s blood.


Incidentally, beware of clever BOD enthusiasts who might challenge the veracity of the Acts of St. Linus in order to do away with this powerful circumstantial evidence against BOB. LinusActs is fallible, that’s true. It’s not canonized scripture and thus inerrant, granted. It is, rather, part of the ‘apocryphal’ writings, a word here which only means ‘hidden’ (and not ‘unreliable’!) --- that is, not well-known or widely recognized like the Bible. Nevertheless, kneejerk Protestant or modernist skepticism against it is unwarranted. Earlier Catholics knew about this account of Peter’s life and derived many precious traditions from its narrative.


But even if we were to discount LinusActs out of hand, the archeological remains of the ancient Mamertine Prison itself still exist in Rome and are massive proof of this Petrine miracle. Never forgotten, long ago Catholics remembered this wonder from century to century and, when Jesus’ One & Only Catholic Body ceased to be persecuted, these Christians of Rome turned the site into a kind of shrine.


There, to this day, curious tourists may enter underground to the spot where Peter was in jail. And there, to this day, visitors may see the fountain of water that Peter, by God’s Power, caused to flow unexpectedly in that most unlikely of places… and all for the purpose of baptizing on-the-spot converts in water.


+++ 31. The Other Side of the Coin, Part 2: +++

Miraculous Resurrection Just to Get Baptized


BOD partisans usually avoid another line of evidence, too, that tends to contradict their position of baptismal aridity. We have seen how BOB is called into question by St. Peter’s first century miracle of water for baptism in an unexpected place; now we will look at a fourth century miracle on behalf of a catechumen that calls into question the very idea of BOD itself!


In the Life of St. Martin, written in ancient times by Sulpitius Severus, we read of a new catechumen at Martin’s monastery who became very ill and died suddenly. Martin was away at the time, but, returning to the tragic scene, immediately shut himself up in the cell with the dead man and prayed earnestly for his recovery. Without doubt or hesitation, he then waited patiently at the corpse’s side for two hours. His soul finally returning, the catechumen twitched slightly while his eyes fluttered. St. Martin rejoiced loudly, his disciples entering the cell to behold the mighty wonder. The key point, though, comes next in Sulpitius’ ancient text.


“Thus being restored to life, and having immediately obtained baptism, he lived for many years afterwards… The same man [this catechumen who had died but was resurrected] was wont to relate [used to say often] that, when he left the body, he was brought before the tribunal [courtroom] of the Judge [i.e., God], and being assigned to gloomy regions and vulgar crowds [i.e., hell], he received a severe sentence. Then, however, he added, it was suggested by two angels of the Judge that he was the man for whom Martin was praying; and that, on this account [for this reason], he was ordered to be led back by the same angels, and given up to Martin, and restored to his former life.” (Sulpitius Severus’ Life of St. Martin, Chapter 7. Volume 11 of the Second Series of The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, as translated & edited by Phillip Schaff and Henry Wace. Published by Wm. Eerdmans Publishing Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1865 (?). All emphasis and annotations added.)


The implication is clear. ‘Baptism of desire’ was not an option for this unbaptized catechumen.


Because if his lack of water baptism was not a big deal, then why did St. Martin pray so earnestly and patiently for the return of his soul to his body? What’s the point? Isn’t BOD or BOS supposed to be able to supply adequately in the absence of baptismal water? So why would Martin be so concerned for the catechumen that he, by his miracle-working faith, would restore to life this dead man… and all that he might “immediately” obtain the Sacrament of Baptism!


And why would God cooperate with Martin’s prayer? If BOD is applicable --- if water baptism is not an absolute necessity --- then why wouldn’t He instead tell Martin that he had no need to worry about the unbaptized man’s eternal fate since the Sacrament of Baptism is merely a necessity of precept and not a necessity of means?


It doesn’t add up.


Moreover, to add insult to injury for the BOD crowd, the editors of the translation make a small footnote about the “severe sentence” that the unbaptized catechumen received, he being “assigned to gloomy regions and vulgar crowds” as a result:


“Here again it is to be noted what fatal consequences were supposed to flow from dying without receiving baptism.” (Ibid., Footnote 20, emphases added.)


We repeat:


“…fatal consequences…”


In other words, there was no universal teaching of ‘baptism of spirit’ or ‘baptism of desire’ in ancient times. It was not a common dogma originating with Christ’s Twelve Apostles. Earliest Catholics presumed simply the absolute necessity of baptism in water; to die without it was, in their minds, equivalent to hell forever. The sole exception admitted might be BOB. Whereas the idea of BOD did not seriously enter into the thinking of members of the Roman Catholic Church until St. Augustine of Hippo supported it at the very beginning of the 5th century in one of his writings. Then --- and only then --- did the notion start to gain traction amongst Catholic leaders & thinkers due to Augustine’s enormous reputation & theological influence.


A reputation that, however holy & learned, does not make him a pope with the ability to teach infallibly on matters of faith or morals. And an influence that, while being both a saint and a doctor of the Church, does not make his writings free from all error or mistakes.


Hence, the example of St. Martin of Tours’ tragically unbaptized yet miraculously resurrected catechumen is not only powerful evidence against Augustine’s novel hypothesis (for it was indeed a novelty at that time, not having been explicitly taught in the first century’s most precious Deposit of Faith) but also a strong argument against BOD to this very day.


For while we could cite other miraculous resurrections of unbaptized persons in addition to Martin’s catechumen, a single noteworthy account like his is all that is needed to show us that --- without an infallible & explicit ruling in this matter --- the idea of BOD is a fallible notion and hence open to doubt when both good evidence and valid reasoning argue against it. As a result, much like St. Emerentiana and her ‘baptism of blood’ is the best argument BODers have on their side when it comes to the saints, so St. Martin and his resurrected catechumen is the best argument WOers have for their ‘water only’ stance when considering the same.


+++ 32. A Warning to ‘Water Only’ Purists Lest They Try +++

to Make More Out of This Point Than Is Warranted


It may seem that we have hammered the ‘baptism of desire’ (BOD) camp more harshly in the past ten chapters than we have the ‘water only’ (WO) people. However, let neither side take refuge in pretended certainties, whether merely moral (a fallible human certainty based on what are thought to be correct facts and valid logic) or even magisterial (an infallible divine certainty based on dogmatic revelation in conjunction with facts that have long been known by members of the Church to be correct and logic that they have long known is valid).


Hence, let this be a warning:


WO folks may seem to have the upper hand over BOD aficionados when considering such accounts of martyrs or catechumens. Nevertheless, a clever and honest BODer could rebut them. The BOD camp, as far as I can tell, doesn’t ever do this since they are ignorant of the intelligent arguments on the WO side and proudly assume that their side --- the stance of ‘baptism of desire’ --- is unassailable. All the same, BODers could, if they only took the time and weighed their opponents’ arguments carefully, make a clever response.


For instance, BOD, if true for catechumens, need not apply equally to every catechumen who might die ‘accidentally’ before he receives the water of baptism. Scholastic theologians at the start of the second millennium taught that the efficacy of BOD --- in the Sight of God --- lay in an act of perfect contrition for his sins found in the catechumen’s heart. Yet a contrition that is perfect is not something we can find in every single catechumen’s heart.


Rather, the contrary is true. Only a minority of catechumens who might die ‘accidentally’ prior to water baptism might be reasonably expected to have perfect contrition for their sins. Ergo, the fantastic resurrection of St. Martin’s catechumen could be explained --- from the point of view of a committed BOD supporter --- as a merciful act from God in order to overcome the lack of perfect contrition on the part of the poor catechumen.


That is to say, at the powerful prayer of St. Martin, God mercifully brought the catechumen back to life since BOD, in his individual case, was not sufficient to save his soul due to a very imperfect contrition for his many, many mortal sins.


Similarly the two converted soldiers who St. Peter baptized in prison.


A clever BODer could argue that God worked this miracle at Peter’s prayer due to the two converts’ inability --- without the mighty graces of water baptism --- to stand firm in the face of hideous tortures & threats. That is to say, their wills & hearts were not strong enough on their own, without being joined to Christ’s Body in the Sacrament of Baptism, to die for Christ short of the help they would receive by being washed in the life-giving waters of God’s Holy Church.


The point is, without an explicit & infallible ruling regarding this topic, no Catholic can know for absolute certain which of these explanations might be the right explanation.


We repeat:


Without an explicit & infallible ruling on this topic, no Catholic can know for absolute certain which of these explanations might be the right explanation.


And that takes a pope exercising his special charism as the visible head of Jesus’ Ecclesial Body… not a non-papal member of this same Church touting his own personal opinion. For no matter how learned, intelligent or holy that member may be, the Holy Ghost does not deign to operate through this member infallibly apart from the supreme leadership of the visible head.


End of story.


+ + +


Part Two of Baptismal Confusion (Chapters 33-60)


Part Three of Baptismal Confusion (Chapters 61-82)


Part Four of Baptismal Confusion (Chapters 83-105)


Part Five of Baptismal Confusion (Chapters 106-132)


Part Six of Baptismal Confusion (Chapters 133-169)


Part Seven of Baptismal Confusion (Chapters 170-197)


+ + +


NOTE: If the reader has enjoyed, or benefited from, this book, you may wish to examine Baptismal Confusion: Sheepishly Shy or Gaunt as a Goat? and Baptismal Confusion: Dilemmas of ‘Desire’; or, It Is Foolish to Presume Either ‘BOD’ or ‘WO’, as of Yet in Our Era, to Be the ‘Inarguable’ Stance, Not Even Bothering to Honestly Study Each Sides’s Evidence! , in the Letters & Admonishments and Great Apostasy sections, respectively. The three deal with similar dilemmas resulting from confusion, during the Great Apostasy, over the Sacrament of Holy Baptism after the Vatican II Pseudo-Council, resulting in acrimony, stupidity, cruelty, rashness, impatience, heresy & schism in the fight of BOD vs. WO.


+ + +


Pilate’s query met:



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