+++ 33. Turning to the Saints & Doctors +++


With that said, let us turn our attention to that which is also 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 words of the saints & doctors. Specifically, to those saints & doctors that BOD (or BOS, as it was called prior to the last few hundred years) proponents like to think ‘prove’ their case.


How so?


By the turn of the second millennium, several major theologians of the Church had adopted the position of BOS. And by the time of the ascendency of the scholastic doctors --- during the 13th century --- the position of BOD for catechumens had been cemented amongst pretty much all theologians. Indeed, as far as I can tell thus far in my studies, by the middle of the second millennium pretty much no saint, doctor, theologian or leader of Christ’s Singular Roman Catholic Body doubted this opinion. And it is this later universal spread of the BOD teaching --- during the second millennium, but not the first! --- which permits the BOD camp to wax so utterly confident about their special enthusiasm for a waterless spiritual regeneration.


 “See!” say BOD adherents. “Saints, doctors, popes and other leaders of the Church uphold ‘baptism of desire’. And one of the greatest of saints after the Council of Trent --- who was a doctor of the Church, too! --- teaches that Trent infallibly defined it. So how can anyone dispute it? How could anybody have the audacity to be skeptical, as if the Church hasn’t spoken clearly in this matter? To deny ‘baptism of desire’ is either proof of a person’s glaring ignorance or else proof of his blatant heresy and rebellion!”


This is what they say. Is it really true?


The claim depends on several unrecognized and, for the most part, unwarranted assumptions… as well as, ironically, a great deal of ignorance on the part of BOD enthusiasts. But since these enthusiasts tend to champion four particular saints & doctors more than any others as ‘proof’ of their baptismal notion, then we will focus on them one after another in chronological order, dispelling the ignorance and dispensing with the assumptions accordingly.


+++ 34. BOD Doctoral Exhibit No. 1: +++

St. Ambrose of Milan


First on our list is St. Ambrose, bishop of the city of Milan in northern Italy. Ambrose lived from roughly AD 340 to April 4, 397, becoming bishop of the diocese of Milan in AD 374. He is one of the four great ancient doctors (‘teachers’) of the West and an early Church father, living at a time when more than half of the Roman Empire was Catholic and Christianity legal.


What did he have to say about ‘baptism of desire’ or ‘baptism of spirit’?


Absolutely nothing explicit. The record of his words is entirely circumstantial. That is to say, Ambrose never once mentioned ‘baptism of desire’ by actual name in the writings we still have from his hand; nor did he use the phrase ‘baptism of spirit’, which is the terminology officially adopted by the scholastic theologians near the beginning of the second millennium.


So what did Ambrose say?


A young man, Valentinian, had been raised under the influence of Arian heresy in the imperial family. However, once free of Arian influence, he converted to Catholic orthodoxy and was in training as a catechumen, asking St. Ambrose to baptize him. This Ambrose fully intended to accomplish as soon as he could find time to join Valentinian in France.


Unfortunately, Valentinian had many enemies and was Emperor of the West more in title than in reality. One of those enemies assassinated him on May 15, AD 392. (Modern historians treat this as an uncertainty, saying that Valentinian may have committed suicide. But good Catholic scholars have always derided this notion, pointing out that this is what his foe, Arbogaster, wanted it to look like so that he himself would not appear guilty of murder.)


Valentinian therefore died without Ambrose having baptized him, and --- there being no clear public testimony or ultimate proof that Valentinian had received baptismal water from someone else prior to his dying breath --- the general assumption was that he had passed from this earth bereft of the sacrament of regeneration.


This left Ambrose in the most awkward of positions. Asked to deliver a eulogy at his funeral in Milan, Ambrose had to juggle several balls in the air at the same time:


First, he felt crushed that he had not gone to Valentinian sooner in order to baptize him into the Church. How could he express his sorrow without taking on more responsibility than he could reasonably bear or sound like he was falling into despair for the soul of his spiritual son?


Second, Valentinian’s foe, Arbogaster, had not only been a threat to Valentinian, but was a menace to anyone who dared to uphold Valentinian’s claim to the throne of the Roman Empire. Ergo, Ambrose had to choose his words very, very carefully, especially since he did not have any indisputable evidence which he could make public that Arbogaster had murdered him, the official stance of the reigning government being that Valentinian was a suicide.


Third, the general Catholic populace mourned for Valentinian’s soul and not just his body, very logically presuming him to have lost the hope of Heaven due to his apparent lack of baptism. How could Ambrose openly dispute this conclusion without appearing to deny the dogma of baptism, and yet how could he comfort the mourners without solid public testimony that somebody --- no matter who --- had baptized Valentinian before he left this earth?


And, fourth, were this not enough, amongst the general Catholic populace Ambrose also faced Valentinian’s devastated sisters at the funeral in Milan. They were good, orthodox Catholics, yet were understandably heartbroken in the wake of their brother’s assassination. What could he say to assuage them while not provoking Valentinian’s enemy’s wrath? And how could he soothe their souls in person without blatantly contradicting the supposed ‘fact’ of his suicide? For remember… if truly a suicide, then in hell forever since murder of one’s self is a mortal sin!


+++ 35. What Ambrose Actually Said… +++

and What His Words Actually Mean


All this to say, then, that it is not an automatic given that Ambrose meant what other people --- long after he wrote --- claim he meant when he stated these words at Valentinian’s funeral:


“But I hear that you grieve because he did not receive the sacrament of baptism. Tell me: what else is in your power other than the desire, the request? But he even had this desire for a long time, that, when he should come into Italy, he would be initiated [baptized], and recently he signified a desire to be baptized by me, and for this reason above all others he thought that I ought to be summoned. Has he not, then, the grace which he desired; has he not the grace which he requested? And because he asked, he received, and therefore is it said: ‘By whatsover death the just man shall be overtaken, his soul shall be at rest.’ [Wisdom 4:7]” (St. Ambrose’s Funeral Oratory for Valentinian II, Paragraph 51. All emphasis & annotation added.)


People in later times --- in the last thousand years or so --- always assume that, by these words, St. Ambrose meant Valentinian received the Holy Ghost and entered Heaven without the water of baptism. And maybe Ambrose did mean this by these words; I certainly can’t pretend omniscience to know the man’s private mind from my own position over 1600 years later.


Yet therein lays the point:


Because we can’t know for sure what Ambrose intended to say without him still alive to explain his words further or without other writings of his that shed more light on his thinking.


BOD enthusiasts think Ambrose’s meaning is open and shut because their prejudices already lie on the side of ‘baptism of spirit’ (BOS) or ‘baptism of desire’ (BOD). Consequently, they can’t imagine that Ambrose intended anything other than to uphold BOS or BOD. And again, maybe they’re right. Lots of learned men of the Church have thought so.


But, then again, maybe not!


Look at the paragraph quoted above closely. Ambrose nowhere uses the phrases ‘baptism of desire’ or ‘baptism of spirit’. He nowhere explicitly and openly says that Valentinian got into Heaven without the water of baptism or received the Holy Ghost.


He merely assures his listeners that Valentinian received the “grace” that he longed for… not that he got it without baptismal water.


Now a man can reasonably interpret that kind of statement in two ways. One, he can take “grace” to mean that Valentinian received the water of baptism --- and consequently the baptismal grace that goes along with it --- and even if we don’t know who performed the baptism for him, or when it happened. Or, two, he can take “grace” to mean that Valentinian didn’t get water baptism --- but got the saving grace that goes along with it regardless.


Either interpretation is reasonable. Either one rationally works.


+++ 36. So Why Did Ambrose Say What +++

He Said, the Way That He Said It?


Yet if Ambrose supposed that Valentinian did indeed get baptized, then why wouldn’t he just say so straight out? Why the roundabout way of speaking?


Imperial politics. Valentinian’s mysterious and unexpected death had both political causes and political ramifications. Ambrose, being an important public figure and entangled, to some extent, with the actions of other important public figures, was not himself at liberty to announce publicly everything that he knew or suspected about Valentinian’s death in unambiguous terms. This, in fact, is the considered opinion about Ambrose’s funeral speech from a 19th century expert in ancient Christian writings, Fr. J. P. Migne. (Patrologia Graeca et Latina, XVI, 412, n.19. Published in Paris in 1883.) Ambrose in his oration may have thus spoken circumspectly, using a very indirect way to assure his listeners of Valentinian’s eternal security despite the apparent lack of the Sacrament of Baptism.


Realize, too, that the question works the other way, against BOD. Because if Ambrose thought Valentinian to have been saved by BOS or BOD, then why wouldn’t he just say so bluntly? Why not say, straight out in no uncertain terms, that water baptism is not absolutely necessary for salvation, that God often makes exceptions? Why the rather obscure way of talking about it?


The point is, St. Ambrose’s words are not cut and dried. For example, if we look a bit further in this funeral oration, Ambrose states the following:


“Or if the fact disturbs you that the mysteries [the ceremonies of baptism] have not been solemnly celebrated, then you should realize that not even martyrs are crowned if they are catechumens, for they are not crowned if they are not initiated [not baptized]. But if they are washed in their own blood, his piety and his desire have washed him, also.” (St. Ambrose’s Funeral Oratory for Valentinian II, Paragraph 53. All emphasis & annotations added.)


At first glance, Ambrose would seem to be saying that martyrs who are catechumens cannot be saved if they are not baptized by water. Hence, how could Valentinian have attained salvation without the water of baptism? Yet, in the last sentence, Ambrose can appear to allow for the option of ‘baptism of blood’ and, therefore, for the possibility of ‘baptism of desire’ as well.


It just isn’t that clear; Ambrose’s intent is rather murky.


Nevertheless, are we impatient to reach a conclusion about Ambrose’s meaning without all the facts in hand? Then slow down and look still further in his funeral oration to find these words:


“Thus in the gates of his house he has fruits prepared, and not far to seek. He offers the new and the old which he has kept for his brother, that is, the mysteries of the Old Testament and of the Gospel, and says: ‘Who shall give thee [you] to me, O brother, for a brother, sucking the breasts of my mother?’ [Canticle of Canticles 7:13-8:5] That is, no ordinary person but Christ Himself enlightened you [i.e., Valentinian] with spiritual grace. He [Christ] baptized you [Valentinian], because the ministry of men was lacking you [no one else was around to baptize Valentinian]. Greater things have you gained, who believed that you had lost lesser. What are the breasts of the Church except the sacrament of baptism? And well does he say ‘sucking’, as if the baptized were seeking Him as a draught [like a drink] of snowy milk.” (St. Ambrose’s Funeral Oratory for Valentinian II, Paragraph 75. All emphases & annotations added.)


Here Ambrose sounds like he’s saying that Jesus Christ Himself is the One Who literally baptized Valentinian before he died!


Elsewhere in Ambrose’s writings we find him talking like this about baptism:


“Therefore the three witnesses in Baptism are one: the water, the blood, and the Spirit; for if you take away one of these, the Sacrament of Baptism does not exist. For what is water without the cross of Christ? A common element without any sacramental effect. Nor does the mystery of regeneration [water baptism] exist at all without water: ‘For except a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom.” [John 3:5] Now, even the catechumen believes in the cross of the Lord Jesus, wherewith he also signs himself; but unless he be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, [then] he cannot receive remission of his sins nor the gift of spiritual grace.” (St. Ambrose’s On the Sacraments, Ch. 4, No. 4. All emphases & annotation added.)


And also this:


“…for no one ascends into the Kingdom of Heaven except through the Sacrament of Baptism. No one is excused from Baptism: not infants nor anyone hindered by any necessity.” (St. Ambrose’s On Abraham, Bk. 2, Ch. 11, No. 79. All emphases added.)


So Ambrose would seem, in these last two quotes, to rule out any exception at all to the necessity for water baptism. In other words, he would seem to teach that baptism by water is an absolute necessity of means and not just an important but sometimes unachievable necessity of precept!


How do we reconcile this apparent stance of absolute necessity with the BOD supporter’s contention that St. Ambrose instead taught water baptism as a necessity of precept and thus not absolutely necessary?


+++ 37. The Bottom Line --- Whether or Not Ambrose +++

Taught BOD, BOD Was Not Believed from the Start!


Something does not quite jive in the standard presentations of Ambrose on baptism. Which then requires us, in order to remain logical and true to the facts, to seek a different understanding of his words than how BODers and WOers typically interpret them.


And what would that understanding be?


In my opinion he first believed in an almost absolute necessity of water baptism --- ‘baptism of blood’ being the only possible exception. However, when confronted with the tragic loss of the life of the young emperor, Valentinian, who had leaned upon him spiritually, Ambrose had a quandary… how to square the obvious sincerity of Valentinian’s resolve to enter the One & Only Church of Salvation --- and God’s unwillingness that any should perish --- with his untimely death (but not a martyrdom for the Faith!), apparently void of the Sacrament of Baptism?


The solution was simple. Ambrose reconsidered his position and decided that water baptism had to be a necessity of precept and not a necessity of means as he had previously thought.


However, this is only my opinion. I am neither omniscient nor infallible. I cannot know Ambrose’s private mind with perfect certainty. I therefore could be mistaken.


Meanwhile, we have seen what BOD supporters don’t ever suspect, that Ambrose’s words at Valentinian’s funeral are not a slam-dunk shot for ‘baptism of desire’. Indeed, that it is entirely possible that Ambrose was simply being diplomatic and hinting strongly that Valentinian got water baptism somehow, even if he wasn’t at liberty to reveal how or didn’t know who did it.


Yet whether or not Ambrose taught BOS or BOD, this we can know with great assurance:


That neither ‘baptism of spirit’ nor ‘baptism of desire’ was commonly believed by Catholics prior to the life of Ambrose since the time of Christ & His Apostles.


We repeat:


Never was BOS or BOD a dogma explicitly held in common by all Catholics since the time of Christ & His Apostles, prior to the life of St. Ambrose!


How can we know this?


Easy. Ambrose’s own words testify to it.


For he said, “But I hear that you grieve because he did not receive the sacrament of baptism…” As well as, “Or if the fact disturbs you that the mysteries [the ceremonies of baptism] have not been solemnly celebrated…” (St. Ambrose’s Funeral Oratory for Valentinian II, Paragraphs 51 & 53. Emphases & annotation added.)


Ambrose spoke these words at Valentinian’s funeral to those who were members of his own diocese. And it is a bishop’s duty to instruct members of his diocese. Ambrose being a saint, as well as one of four great early doctors (‘teachers’) of the Church in the West, can it be doubted that Ambrose did his duty well, catechizing his flock fully in the basic truths of the Catholic Faith during the nearly twenty years he had already been overseeing the Diocese of Milan?


Consequently, if St. Ambrose’s flock was ‘grieved’ and ‘disturbed’ at Valentinian’s death --- a death that was thought by the public to be without the Sacrament of Baptism --- then how can we not realize that they were taught by Ambrose himself, as well as his predecessors, to think of water baptism as an absolute necessity for entrance into Heaven?


This is simple logic, and Ambrose’s words from elsewhere in his writings confirm it.


For he asserted, “For what is water without the cross of Christ? A common element without any sacramental effect. Nor does the mystery of regeneration [water baptism] exist at all without water…” In addition, “…for no one ascends into the Kingdom of Heaven except through the Sacrament of Baptism. No one is excused from Baptism: not infants nor anyone hindered by any necessity.” (St. Ambrose’s On the Sacraments, Ch. 4, No. 4, and On Abraham, Bk. 2, Ch. 11, No. 79. Emphases & annotation added.)


There is no hint of BOS or BOD in either of these quotes above. Furthermore, the quotes are couched in the language of absolutes, leaving no room for ‘loopholes’ or ‘exceptions’. Hence, as Ambrose says, baptism cannot exist at all without water” and nobody “is excused” from the need for water baptism, “not infants nor anyone hindered by any necessity.”


In my experience, St. Ambrose is almost always the earliest evidence, thought to be explicit, cited by the BOD camp on behalf of their belief in ‘baptism of desire’.


(There is a claim that St. Cyprian of Carthage taught BOD in the middle of the 3rd century in his 73rd letter, which was to Jubaianus. Nevertheless --- like St. Ambrose --- he made no explicit reference to BOD and --- unlike Ambrose or any other important figure in the Church thought to have upheld BOD --- wrote only about rare exceptions prior to his century. Not to mention that Cyprian thought, mistakenly, while defying Pope Stephen’s authoritative teaching in the matter, that these rare examples were of persons baptized invalidly --- as opposed to not having any apparent, outward & visible water baptism at all. What’s more, these examples were of persons honestly thinking they were really baptized in waternot persons missing baptism of water altogether because accidental death seems to prevent it. At any rate, while Cyprian is very logically & arguably support for some kind of version of the idea of BOD, although not in the same way that it is held lately --- and whereas BOD supporters might cite Cyprian as a well-documented believer in ‘baptism of blood’ --- they almost never try to invoke Cyprian as an explicit defender of ‘baptism of desire’.)


But even if they’re right --- even if Ambrose taught a baptism and its effects without the water that goes along with it --- they are utterly wrong & unjustified in pretending that this single point means BOD was believed in by every member of the Catholic Church before Ambrose all the way back to the time of Christ & His Apostles!




+++ 38. BOD Doctoral Exhibit No. 2: +++

St. Augustine of Hippo


We now turn to St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo in north Africa. One of the other four great ancient doctors of the Church in the West --- and considered the greatest of all Church doctors until St. Thomas Aquinas usurped him in the second millennium --- Augustine lived from AD 354 to AD 430. A pagan in his youth despite his very virtuous mother (St. Monica), he was trained in the thinking of Plato and other Greek intellectuals, going through various false religions and philosophies before finally converting to the One True Faith of Catholicism.


What did he have to say about BOD in the year 400?


“That the place of baptism is sometimes supplied by [made up for by] martyrdom is supported by an argument by no means trivial, which the blessed Cyprian [St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage in north Africa during the 3rd century] adduces from the thief [the repentant thief who died on a cross next to Christ on His Cross], to whom, though he was not baptized, it was yet said, ‘Today shall you be with me in Paradise.’ [Luke 23:43] On considering which, again and again, I find that not only martyrdom for the sake of Christ may supply what was wanting of baptism [may make up for the lack of baptism], but also faith and conversion of heart, if recourse may not be had to the celebration of the mystery of baptism for want of time [if you can’t receive water baptism before you die due to lack of opportunity to do so]. For neither was that thief crucified for the name of Christ, but as the reward of his own deeds; nor did he suffer because he believed, but he believed while suffering. It was shown, therefore, in the case of that thief, how great is the power, even without the visible sacrament of baptism, of what the apostle says, ‘With the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” [Romans 10:10] But the want is supplied invisibly only when the administration of baptism is prevented, not by contempt for religion, but by the necessity of the moment [the lack of water baptism is made up for in an invisible way only when a person cannot, due to the most urgent of reasons, receive baptism in water under normal circumstances].” (St. Augustine’s On Baptism, Book 4, Chapter 22, Paragraph 30. Emphases & annotations added.)


This, then, is the second big reason that BOD aficionados believe in a baptism without any water, by way of citing an ancient authority --- because St. Augustine said it was so. Combined with St. Ambrose’s supposed support for BOD, it convinced later Catholic thinkers that BOD must be true. For example, St. Bernard of Clairvaux in a letter to Hugh of St. Victor says:


“We adduce only the opinions and words of the Fathers and not our own; for we are not wiser than our fathers… Believe me, it will be difficult to separate me from these two pillars, by which I refer to Augustine and Ambrose. I confess that with them I am either right or wrong in believing that people can be saved by faith alone [Bernard here means the common dogmas of the Roman Catholic Faith alone and not what many Protestant heretics mean by the phrase] and the desire to receive the sacrament, even if untimely death or some insuperable force keep them from fulfilling their pious desire.” (St. Bernard’s Letters, Letter 77, Paragraphs 1 & 8. All emphasis & annotation added.)


Now, Bernard of Clairvaux --- in addition to Augustine and Ambrose --- is a doctor of the Church and not to be scoffed at. Nonetheless, does anyone apart from a pope have an ability, derived from the Holy Ghost, to teach infallibly, in and of himself, without any mistakes?


Of course not.


Neither saints nor doctors nor bishops nor priests nor laity nor anyone apart from a legitimate Roman Bishop has this divine gift. Thus, if we have most excellent reasons to do so, as well as a most pious attitude while doing it --- not abandoning the unity of all of the simple, common dogmas of Catholicism --- then we are justified in holding an opinion that differs from these learned teachers. It should not be done lightly. I would never counsel making such contrary opinions into a reckless habit. But be done it must when the criteria above are met.




Because such men, however eminent in learning and sanctity (and aside from the common dogmas of the Catholic Faith, which any man of sound mind must hold in order to be Catholic in the first place), are never guaranteed absolute correctness in their theological opinions or ideas.


End of sentence.


+++ 39. Augustine’s BOD Stance +++

Was an Opinion, Not a Dogma


The first thing to realize, though, is that Augustine can give us no more solid certainty in this matter of ‘baptism of desire’. Aside from him, only Ambrose & Cyprian are ever claimed to have taught BOD (as opposed to BOB) in the ancient Church. And yet what is one of the very sensible theological rules of thumb in Roman Catholicism about teachings not yet explicitly defined or condemned by the infallible power of a pope?


That they must be taught both explicitly and unanimously by all of the Church Fathers in the first eight centuries after Jesus in order for us to be sure that they are part of the ‘ordinary’ teaching of the Catholic Church from the beginning. This is distinct from the ‘extraordinary’ teaching of the Pope, who is the Church’s Visible Head, wherein a Roman Bishop confirms or condemns a particular teaching by his own singularly unique authority in representing Christ on earth.


Now, do Ambrose and Cyprian and Augustine --- for all their impressive sanctity and learning --- amount to the entirety of the Church Fathers all by themselves?


Obviously not. There are dozens of Church Fathers, not three. And these three, no matter how eminent they are, cannot, then, by themselves, ‘induct’ a teaching into the ordinary magisterium of the Church. Not to mention that another of the Church fathers appears to have explicitly opposed BOD! (But more on this in Chapters 62 to 71.)


Notwithstanding, they are eminent, especially Augustine. This is why the idea of BOD entered into the thinking of future thinkers and leaders of the Church in the first few centuries following the time of Ambrose & Augustine (Cyprian never being touted as a supporter of BOD until recently, it would seem), and why St. Bernard of Clairvaux referenced them in the letter we looked at from Bernard to Hugh of St. Victor in the previous chapter.


Notice, though, how Bernard phrases his reference to them:


“I confess that with them I am either right or wrong in believing that people can be saved by faith alone [the common dogmas of the Roman Catholic Faith alone and not what many Protestant heretics mean by the phrase] and the desire to receive the sacrament…” (St. Bernard’s Letters, Letter 77, Paragraph 8. All emphasis & annotation added.)


In other words, Bernard does not pretend that either Ambrose or Augustine are infallibly right about BOD, or that BOD is an explicit part of the original Deposit of Faith and thus a part of the ordinary magisterium! It was merely the opinion of (supposedly) St. Ambrose and (certainly at one time) St. Augustine. An opinion that could be “either right or wrong” and, consequently, that Bernard would either stand or fall with Ss. Ambrose & Augustine in this opinion of theirs.


That’s it.


What’s more, Augustine himself reveals that his BOD stance was only an opinion. For what does he say just prior to stating his ‘baptism of desire’ stance?


On considering which, again and again, I find that not only martyrdom for the sake of Christ may supply what was wanting of baptism [may make up for the lack of baptism], but also faith and conversion of heart...” (St. Augustine’s On Baptism, Ch. 22, Paragraph 30. Emphases & annotation added.)


That is to say, St. Augustine doesn’t claim to have derived BOD directly from Christ or the Apostles, or from Sacred Tradition, or from the universal teaching of all the bishops in the world, or etc. No, he makes it plain that it comes primarily from his own personal reflection. To wit:


“On considering I find…”


Not “Christ commands us…” or “Holy Church teaches us…” or “The Apostles tell us…” or etc.


But rather, “On considering… I find…” I.e., from St. Augustine’s eminent but ultimately personal thinking that is all on his own. And while Augustine’s thoughts are surely useful & holy, they are not --- when representing his purely personal reflections --- guaranteed to be infallible.


A personal reflection that may have been influenced by St. Ambrose, incidentally. After all, Augustine was Ambrose’s disciple, and Ambrose baptized Augustine into the Catholic Church.


My bet is that Augustine had probably heard or perused all of Ambrose’s speeches and writings, including the one Ambrose had made for the funeral of Valentinian. Hence, although Augustine doesn’t say so straight out, I think he probably took the paragraph about Valentinian’s ‘desire’ for baptism and ran with it, deducing his own reasons for upholding what he took to be Ambrose’s position on BOD just eight years prior to what Augustine composed about the Sacrament of Baptism in AD 400 against the Donatist schismatics.


Whatever the case, we can know this:


Whereas Ambrose’s belief in ‘baptism of desire’ is doubtful due to the use of vague language, Augustine’s is very plain. He truly did believe in the idea of BOD or BOS.


+++ 40. It Would Seem Augustine Abandoned +++

the Opinion of BOD Later in His Life


Nevertheless, Augustine only believed in this BOD teaching for a while. How so?


St. Augustine upheld BOD in his book against the Donatist schismatics, On Baptism. As noted before, this occurred in AD 400, just eight years after St. Ambrose’s funeral speech for the young emperor, Valentinian, in the summer of 392.


It is, however --- and as far as I have been able to tell --- his sole explicit mention of BOD in any of his many writings. That is to say, after his one-time mention of it in AD 400 in the book, On Baptism, he apparently never wrote of ‘baptism of desire’ or ‘baptism of spirit’ again… and even though he had other logical opportunities to do so, where in his later writings he touched upon the Sacrament of Baptism several times.


For instance, in AD 413 Augustine finished his seminal work, The City of God. In Book 13, Chapter 7, of this lengthy writing, he very clearly teaches BOB and never once mentions BOD. Then, eleven years later in AD 424, he wrote On the Soul and Its Origin. In this work he also teaches BOB but not BOD. Finally, nearing the end of a long life, in AD 426 he composed Against Julian and taught only water baptism without mentioning either BOB or BOD. The same is true of The Predestination of the Saints, published in AD 428 or 429, where again he upholds water baptism without even once speaking up for ‘baptism of blood’ or ‘baptism of desire’.


The implication?


It would seem St. Augustine abandoned the notion of BOD (‘baptism of desire’). Or, at the very least, that Augustine didn’t consider BOD to be an integral part of the Catholic Faith --- certainly not a common dogma that any man must know and profess in order to be Catholic in the first place. Otherwise, why would he not have spoken about it elsewhere in his many works? Augustine was a prolific writer; surely he had plenty of natural chances to do so!


Of course, BOD partisans will like none of this. They will argue that Augustine’s teaching of BOB is tantamount to teaching BOD. Which is nonsense, as we found out earlier (please return to Chapter 28 of this book of ours, Baptismal Confusion, and re-read it if you don’t comprehend or have doubts). BOB and BOD are superficially similar due to a lack of water in both cases. However, the two things operate in very distinct ways: BOB through an outward sacrifice of bodily life, BOD through an inward act of perfect contrition. Hence two separate names for the two separate things (‘baptism of blood’ versus ‘baptism of desire’), and hence Augustine’s later support of BOB is in no way proof of his continued support of BOD.


At any rate, why then does Augustine not even speak of BOB --- not to mention BOD --- in the two writings we referenced above from the very end of his life? There he teaches baptism of water and nothing else. A very curious situation, no?


For the thinking man it is. Not that BOD enthusiasts are stupid. Many of them are smart. But when wedded wrongly to an idea, passions often come first and rationality only later. Or, to put it differently, when blindly alleged to a proposition, prejudice rules and logic is merely a tool employed afterward to make your prejudice look reasonable.


+++ 41. To Catch a Thief: +++

The Flaw in Augustine’s Earlier BOD Thinking


Yet do we doubt St. Augustine abandoned the notion of ‘baptism of desire’ or ‘baptism of spirit’ later in his life, dear reader? Then consider the following. In On Baptism from AD 400 --- his only touting of BOD --- Augustine makes much of the Good Thief. We quote it again:


“That the place of baptism is sometimes supplied by [made up for by] martyrdom is supported by an argument by no means trivial, which the blessed Cyprian [St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage in north Africa during the 3rd century] adduces from the thief [the repentant thief who died on a cross next to Christ on His Cross], to whom, though he was not baptized, it was yet said, ‘Today shall you be with me in Paradise.’ [Luke 23:43] On considering which, again and again, I find that not only martyrdom for the sake of Christ may supply what was wanting of baptism [may make up for the lack of baptism], but also faith and conversion of heart, if recourse may not be had to the celebration of the mystery of baptism for want of time [if you can’t receive water baptism before you die due to lack of opportunity to do so]. For neither was that thief crucified for the name of Christ, but as the reward of his own deeds; nor did he suffer because he believed, but he believed while suffering. It was shown, therefore, in the case of that thief, how great is the power, even without the visible sacrament of baptism, of what the apostle says, ‘With the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” [Romans 10:10] But the want is supplied invisibly only when the administration of baptism is prevented, not by contempt for religion, but by the necessity of the moment [the lack of water baptism is made up for in an invisible way only when a person cannot, due to the most urgent of reasons, receive baptism in water under normal circumstances].” (St. Augustine’s On Baptism, Ch. 22, Paragraph 30. Emphases & annotations added.)


In other words, Augustine thought the Good Thief was excellent proof of BOD because he presumed both that the necessity of water baptism had already been enacted and that the Good Thief had not been baptized by water before that point in time on his cross. Ergo --- thought Augustine --- the Good Thief is ‘proof’ that mere ‘desire’ for the Sacrament of Baptism is sufficient for salvation. Because, after all, Christ did say to the Good Thief on the cross just hours before they died, “Today shall you be with me in Paradise.”


The problem with this argument?


Toward the end of his life Augustine realized that there was no reason to assume, out of thin air, that the Good Thief had not been baptized. In fact, in AD 424 --- twenty-four years after he wrote On Baptism in AD 400, supporting BOD by way of the example of the Good Thief --- Augustine wrote On the Soul and Its Origin and said this about the Good Thief instead:


“As for the thief [the Good Thief], although in God’s judgment he might be reckoned among those who are purified by the confession of martyrdom [had his sins forgiven via ‘baptism of blood’], yet you cannot tell whether he was not baptized. For… what if he had been baptized in prison, as in after times some under persecution were enabled privately to obtain? Or what if he had been baptized previous to his imprisonment? If, indeed, he had been, the remission of his sins which he would have received in that case from God would not have protected him from the sentence of public law, so far as appertained to the death of the body. What if, being already baptized, he had committed the crime and incurred the punishment of robbery and lawlessness, but yet received, by virtue of repentance added to his baptism, forgiveness of the sins which, though baptized, he had committed? …If, indeed, we were to conclude that all those who have quitted [left] life without a record of their baptism died unbaptized, we should calumniate [spread lies about] the very apostles themselves; for we are ignorant when they were, any of them, baptized, except the Apostle Paul. If, however, we could regard as an evidence that they were really baptized the circumstance of the Lord’s saying to St. Peter, ‘He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet [does not need to wash except for the feet],’ [John 13:10] what are we to think of the others, of whom we do not read even so much as this—Barnabas, Timothy, Titus, Silas, Philemon, the very evangelists Mark and Luke, and innumerable others, about whose baptism we should never entertain any doubt, although we read no record of it?” (St Augustine’s On the Soul and Its Origin, Ch. 3, Paragraph 12. All emphasis & annotations added.)


Obviously, St. Augustine had changed his mind about the Good Thief. He no longer assumed --- out of thin air --- that the Good Thief had never been baptized. Yet in doing so, he also wholly eradicated the argument that he had relied upon for BOD in his much earlier work, On Baptism. Consequently, we now understand why he seemingly never wrote in favor of ‘baptism of desire’ later in his career, especially not after AD 424… because he had ceased to believe in it since he had ceased to believe in the main point of the argument that he had once made in its favor!


To wit, Augustine no longer believed it was correct to assume that the Good Thief was not baptized as he hung on his cross next to Jesus. Yet this then destroyed the basis upon which he had relied to show that the Good Thief had surely gone to Heaven by way of ‘baptism of desire’. As a result, Augustine could no longer believe it was correct to conclude that BOD was real… not based on his one & only original argument, at least.


Because it wasn’t necessarily real. It was just a clever idea --- a theological opinion --- that Augustine had come up with to supposedly ‘explain away’ those rare cases where a seemingly good-willed catechumen dies unexpectedly without getting the Sacrament of Baptism. How can this be reconciled with the certainty that God is not willing to let anyone perish in hell forever if they are sincerely trying to become Roman Catholic?


That’s the real crux of the problem. That’s why Augustine dallied with the notion of BOD. Nevertheless, before he ended his life, he had jettisoned that notion. A notion that later leaders and thinkers of the Church embraced, apparently not realizing that Augustine himself --- despite first raising the possibility in AD 400 --- then rejected it since his original argument for it was flawed. And so, irony of ironies, Augustine is the first inarguable & explicit support of the typical full-fledged version of BOD in the Church’s history while being, at the same time, practically the first --- if not the very first person --- in the Catholic Church to reject it.


C’est la vie.


+++ 42. BOD Doctoral Exhibit No. 3: +++

St. Thomas Aquinas


Next comes St. Thomas Aquinas. Born in AD 1225 (some say 1227) in the castle of Rocca Secca, in Italy, to a father who was the count of the nearby town of Aquino in the Kingdom of Naples, he lived until 7 March 1274. Never promoted to high rank in the Church --- although Pope Clement IV nearly made him archbishop of Naples, Italy, Thomas pleading to be left a simple teaching monk --- he became a priest around AD 1250. He entered the Dominicans as a teenager barely two decades after their illustrious founder, St. Dominic, had passed away, and, despite the egregious opposition of his family (they locked him in a tower for almost two years and his brothers even paid a whore to try to destroy his chastity), lived as a good religious the rest of his life. He was a pupil of St. Albert the Great, from whom he gained the makings of a scholastic theologian but surpassed him in ability of mind just as the moon excels the stars in brightness.


What did Thomas, the most extraordinary of all Church doctors during the past millennium --- perhaps ever --- have to say about ‘baptism of desire’ (BOD) or ‘baptism of spirit’ (BOS)?


Quite a bit, it turns out!


“…[T]he sacrament of baptism may be wanting [lacking] to anyone in reality but not in desire; for instance, when a man wishes to be baptized, but by some ill-chance he is forestalled by death before receiving baptism. And such a man can obtain salvation without being actually baptized, on account of his desire for baptism, which desire is the outcome of faith that worketh [works] by charity, whereby God, Whose power is not tied to visible sacraments, sanctifies man inwardly. Hence Ambrose says of Valentinian, who died while yet [still] a catechumen: ‘I lost him whom I was to regenerate, but he did not lose the grace he prayed for.’[Apparently, this quote is partly from Paragraph 30 of St. Ambrose’s Funeral Oratory for Valentinian II. In actuality, though, Ambrose nowhere said anything just like this in his Funeral Oratory, at least in the text that we now have available. However, St. Thomas is paraphrasing Ambrose’s overall meaning accurately enough.]” (St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, Book 3, Question 68, Article 2. All emphasis & annotations added.)


Answering the question ‘Should baptism be delayed?’, Thomas says as well:


“…in this matter we must make a distinction and see whether those who are to be baptized are children or adults. For if they be children, baptism should not be deferred [delayed]. First, because in them we do not look for better instruction or fuller conversion [i.e., little children aren’t able to learn all of the common dogmas of the Catholic Faith before getting baptized]. Secondly, because of the danger of death, for no other remedy is available for them besides the sacrament of baptism [little children can’t get into Heaven without water baptism]. On the other hand, adults have a remedy in the mere desire for Baptism, as stated above. [Question 68, Article 2]” (St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, Book 3, Question 68, Article 3. All emphasis & annotations added.)


And in explaining whether or not the Eucharist is necessary for salvation, Thomas says, too:


“And it has been said above [Question 68, Article 2], that before receiving a sacrament, the reality of the sacrament can be had through the very desire of receiving the sacrament. Accordingly, before the actual reception of this sacrament, a man can obtain salvation through the desire of receiving it, just as he can obtain it before baptism through the desire of baptism, as stated above.” (St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, Book 3, Question 73, Article 3. All emphasis & annotations added.)


+++ 43. BOD, a Story Grown in the Telling +++


My dear reader, it should be plain to the intelligent and honest man that St. Thomas Aquinas upheld BOD. The scholar who translated Thomas’ words into English took the same liberty with his original Latin text that scholars in our modern times take with the Latin of the Tridentine Council, mangling the Latin term ‘votum’ into being the English word ‘desire’ (go back and see Chapter 6 in this book if you don’t remember what I’m talking about) when --- in reality --- it is better understood as ‘vow’, ‘prayer’, ‘intent’ or ‘resolution’. But Thomas’ meaning is obvious. Clearly he was teaching that a catechumen can find salvation through BOS.




Notice, though, the progression from Ambrose through Augustine to Thomas Aquinas. The words of Ambrose are vague, there being no totally compelling reason (unless you’re already determined to believe in BOD) to think that he must be talking about ‘baptism of desire’. Augustine’s words are clearer, it being undeniable that he’s talking about BOD, but he merely mentions the matter once and he is brief as well as tentative, not pretending that he has tradition or apostolic teaching on his side. Meanwhile, Thomas tackles the subject multiple times (in both his Summa Theologica as well as elsewhere) and --- while the quotes above are relatively small for the sake of readability --- the entire passages are quite lengthy and go into much detail.


Where did he come up with all of that knowledge on the topic of BOD?


Either it comes from his own personal thinking or else he derives it from those theologians who lived not long before him in preceding centuries.


Certainly neither Ambrose nor Augustine had that much to say regarding ‘baptism of desire’!


The point is, this is a topic which has grown in the telling. In the first millennium, hardly anything was said about ‘baptism of desire’. Whereas by the 1200s and the second millennium, Thomas Aquinas was going on at huge length on the subject. From uncertainty and vagueness --- to tenuous certainty and briefness --- to great certainty and lengthy detail.


That is the story of BOD.


+++ 44. Thomas’ Aristotelian-Based Theology +++

Was at First Controversial


Indeed, Thomas put the notion of BOD into substantially its present form. Later theologians merely fleshed things out and added a few professional terms to the explanation of the subject. Meanwhile, the stellar theological reputation of Thomas Aquinas is what gave the subject its final seal of approval in the eyes of the learned. Pretty much most theologians, if not all, by the turn of the second millennium believed in the idea… but St. Thomas it was who, in the minds of his fellow ecclesial teachers, practically made the teaching into a dogma. Or, should we say, the great reputation of Thomas caused later generations of theologians to think that the notion was proximate to a dogma, i.e., almost a dogma.


It simply hadn’t been officially defined yet.


A reputation, ironically, that wasn’t perfectly great to start with. That is to say, St. Thomas was recognized as a great theological mind early on in his Dominican career. However, his choice of the ancient Aristotle as the primary pagan philosopher from which he derived his structure for logical thinking --- instead of from the equally ancient Plato, as Augustine and most other theologians of the Church had done up till then --- was controversial. For instance, the Catholic Encyclopedia has this to say about the fight over Thomas, by way of Thomas’ teacher, St. Albert the Great, who defended him:


“Something of his [St. Albert’s] old vigour and spirit returned in 1277 when it was announced that Stephen Tempier and others wished to condemn the writings of St. Thomas, on the plea [accusation] that they were too favourable to the unbelieving philosophers, and he journeyed to Paris to defend the memory of his disciple.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, entry for St. Albertus Magnus, section on Albert’s life, 1st paragraph. Published by the Robert Appleton Co. of New York City in 1912. Retrieved 13 August 2012 at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14663b.htm. All annotations & emphases added.)


In its article about Thomism, the Catholic Encyclopedia tells us even more about the fight early on amongst the Church’s theologians & leaders over Thomas’ teaching:


“Although St. Thomas... was highly esteemed by all classes, his opinions did not at once gain the ascendancy and influence which they acquired during the first half of the fourteenth century [forty-nine years after Thomas’ death] and which they have since maintained. Strange as it may appear, the first serious opposition [to Thomas’ teaching] came from Paris, of which he was such an ornament [Thomas taught at the University of Paris for some time during his life], and from some of his own monastic brethren [i.e., from some Dominicans themselves, Thomas having been a Dominican monk, of course]. In the year 1277 Stephen Tempier, Bishop of Paris, censured certain philosophical propositions, embodying doctrines taught by St. Thomas, relating especially to the principle of individuation and to the possibility of creating several angels of the same species. In the same year Robert Kilwardby, a Dominican, Archbishop of Canterbury, in conjunction with some doctors of [professors teaching at] Oxford, condemned those same propositions and moreover attacked St. Thomas's doctrine of the unity of the substantial form in man. Kilwardby and his associates pretended to see in the condemned propositions something of Averroistic Aristotelianism…” (Catholic Encyclopedia, entry for Thomism, section on early opposition to Thomas’ teaching, 1st paragraph. Published by the Robert Appleton Co. of New York City in 1912. Retrieved 13 August 2012 at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14663b.htm. All annotations & emphases added.)


The controversy really only ended with Thomas’ elevation to the altar nearly half a century after his death, when he was declared a saint by the authority of a fourteenth century pope:


“The canonization of St. Thomas by John XXII, in 1323, was a death-blow to his detractors.” (Ibid.)


+++ 45. Why Thomas’ Fabulous Reputation in the Church +++

Cannot, All by Itself, ‘Prove’ BOD Is Correct for Sure


Now, all of this history about Thomistic theology is not to say that just because Thomas based his doctrine on the philosophy of the pagan Greek thinker, Aristotle, then his teaching about BOD must be wrong. One does not follow from the other. And Thomas did not use the philosophy of Aristotle because he was pagan, but because there was useful truth in his philosophy regardless of his paganism.


In other words, St. Thomas’ purpose was to metaphorically ‘baptize’ Aristotle’s philosophy, weeding out the religious falsehoods, and use whatever was left, that was true & helpful, for the sake of better teaching and upholding the infallible Catholic Faith.


Notwithstanding --- and as we’ve said several times in reference to the saints or doctors of Jesus Christ’s Singularly Saving Roman Catholic Church --- Thomas’ wonderful reputation is not enough, all by itself, to ‘prove’ that his scholarly opinions were always correct.


We repeat:


St. Thomas’ fabulous reputation as the greatest of all Church doctors (i.e., teachers) is not ever enough, all by itself, to supposedly ‘prove’ that his learned opinions about Roman Catholic doctrine are always correct.




Because Thomas Aquinas was not a pope, and only legitimate --- i.e., real --- Bishops of Rome are guaranteed by the Holy Ghost, when officially teaching the Catholic Church as a whole about faith & morals, to be always right and never in error.


End of sentence.


And this is why it’s worth knowing that Thomas’ teaching was at first, in the fifty years following his death, controversial. That is to say, not everyone at the time he was alive or in the first half century after he died thought it was ‘obvious’ that Thomas was the greatest doctor of the Church or couldn’t ever be wrong about the Catholic Faith in matters not already infallibly defined. To the contrary… many of his theological opinions were tussled over and disputed hotly, even by his own fellow Dominican monks!


Again, why?


Because Thomas Aquinas was an innovator by bringing in the philosophy of the pagan thinker, Aristotle, as a framework for Catholic theology. And innovation --- something different and new --- is never received by good & thoughtful Catholics without at least some skepticism and some caution. This is why it took half a century for the controversy to play itself out before a pope ruled and made Thomas’ scholastic theology appear fully safe by canonizing him as a saint.


Of course, BOD was not an innovation at that moment in time when Thomas lived. He didn’t even necessarily come up with all of the explanations for BOD that have become standard since his time. Nonetheless, the fact that his opinions in theology could be challenged by some of the most learned theologians or leaders of his time before his canonization is evidence that his opinions are not intrinsically beyond question either before or after his canonization.


Nor are his theological opinions beyond question just because he was canonized.


Remember… canonization is not the same as saying that everything a saint teaches is correct! Rather, canonization only means that we as Catholics can be morally certain that nothing a saint teaches contradicts a dogma or moral of the Church up until the instant of canonization. The saint could still, however, hold a mistaken opinion as long as the mistaken opinion doesn’t contradict anything the Church has propounded as an infallible dogma or moral up till then.


+++ 46. St. Thomas Was Wrong About +++

the Immaculate Conception


For instance, when St. Thomas Aquinas lived in the thirteenth century, the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception had not yet been defined. Nor was it an infallible part of the ordinary magisterium (Church teaching that is explicit & universal from the beginning with Christ & His Apostles, but not yet affirmed by the solemn & authoritative teaching of a pope). It was instead disputed by the theologians of the time. And, for various reasons, Thomas decided to oppose this belief as erroneous. His prestige was so great as to cause his religious order, the Dominicans, to defend his opinion and become, ironically --- despite their huge reputation for Marian veneration and stolid purveyors of Her Most Holy Rosary--- the most staunch opponents of the teaching of the Immaculate Conception which there were in the Roman Catholic Church until Pope Alexander VII later forbade public debate on the matter prior to it being solemnly defined in 1854 by Pope Pius IX.


Yet where does St. Thomas address the Immaculate Conception, making clear his opposition to this teaching? In at least ten places in his compositions, per the Catholic Encyclopedia. But we shall examine one passage that makes it particularly plain:


“If the soul of the Blessed Virgin had never incurred the stain of original sin, this would be derogatory [disrespectful] to the dignity of Christ, by reason of His being the universal Saviour of all. Consequently after Christ, who, as the universal Saviour of all, needed not to be saved [did not need to be rescued from sin], the purity of the Blessed Virgin holds the highest place. For Christ did not contract [get] original sin in any way whatever, but was holy in His very Conception… But the Blessed Virgin did indeed contract [get] original sin, but was cleansed therefrom before her birth [that is, not at the point of Her Conception] from the womb… Although the Church of Rome does not celebrate the Conception of the Blessed Virgin, yet it tolerates the custom of certain churches that do keep that feast, wherefore [therefore] this is not to be entirely reprobated [disapproved]. Nevertheless the celebration of this feast does not give us to understand [does not mean] that she was holy in her conception. But since it is not known when she was sanctified, the feast of her Sanctification, rather than the feast of her Conception, is kept on the day of her conception [in the 1200s, some local Catholic churches in various places in the world celebrated Mary’s Sanctification rather than Her Conception]… Sanctification is twofold. One is that of the whole nature… The other is personal sanctification. This is not transmitted to the children begotten of the flesh: because it does not regard [concern] the flesh but the mind. Consequently, though the parents of the Blessed Virgin were cleansed from original sin, nevertheless she [the Blessed Virgin Mary] contracted [got] original sin, since she was conceived by way of fleshly concupiscence [desire of the body] and the intercourse of man and woman: for Augustine says: ‘All flesh born of carnal intercourse is sinful.’ [De Nup. et Concup. 1]” (St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, Book 3, Question 27, Article 2. All emphasis & annotations added.)


So we see that, although Thomas thought the Blessed Virgin Mary sanctified --- i.e., cleansed and made immaculate --- sometime before Her Birth, he did not think Her Immaculate from the moment of Her Conception. Yet if we’ve any doubts, the scholarly expertise of the Catholic Encyclopedia assures us about Thomas’ opinion against the Immaculate Conception:


“St. Thomas at first pronounced in favour of the doctrine [of the Immaculate Conception] in his treatise on the ‘Sentences’ [Sentences, Book 1, Chapter 44, Question 1, Article 3], yet in his ‘Summa Theologica’ he concluded [argued] against itHis great difficulty appears to have arisen from the doubt as to how she could have been redeemed if she had not sinned. This difficulty he raised in no fewer than ten passages in his writings…” (Catholic Encyclopedia, entry for the Immaculate Conception, section on the controversy surrounding this teaching in the early second millennium, paragraph four. Published by the Robert Appleton Co. of New York City in 1912. Retrieved 19 August 2012 at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14663b.htm. All annotations & emphases added.)


+++ 47. To Say One of Thomas’ Theological Opinions +++

Was Mistaken Is Meant as No Disrespect to This Great Saint!


And thus it is stark that saints, even doctors of the Church --- even the greatest doctor of the Church ever, as many consider Thomas Aquinas --- can be wrong in their theological opinions.


We do not say this to disdain St. Thomas or take from him the great honor that the Catholic Church has given him, nor do we say it needlessly, merely to win an argument or provoke a fight. No, we say it because it is true and because it is necessary to know in order to realize that it is neither innately evil nor automatically wrong to disagree with a saint or doctor.


Mind you… no one should dare to disagree with saints or doctors heedlessly and recklessly!


And, of course, every true Catholic should agree perfectly with every other true Catholic (saints and doctors included) on matters of common teachings of the Church, which, of course, are teachings that have always been simple, infallible & explicit.


But on theological opinions that are not infallible dogmas, whether ordinarily or solemnly, whether common or deeper… ah, these are things that can be disagreed upon, provided that the evidence and the logic and the orthodoxy are all there to support it.


Plainly, no one should do this only to increase his own wicked prestige while stripping noble saints or wise doctors of their holy & rightful due. I therefore do not delight in noting that St. Thomas was wrong about the Immaculate Conception. Yet I do not doubt, because of the trust I have in Holy Mother Church’s judgment, that Thomas truly was a saint on earth and one of the wisest of doctors that ever lived. He never sought to oppose the teaching of the Church; he simply erred in a matter that was not yet defined.


I also do not doubt, though, that, had Thomas lived to see the One True Church solemnly rule in the matter, he would have submitted humbly & obediently to Her Infallible Declaration, and that he would have been the first to revise his writings so as to reflect Her Truth more accurately.


He was, after all, a saint and a doctor.


+++ 48. St. Thomas’ Support for BOD Is a Big Argument +++

on Its Behalf --- But It Can’t Make It Absolutely Certain


The aim of all this is to say that if St. Thomas Aquinas was wrong about the Immaculate Conception, then, obviously, he could be wrong about BOD, too. And since the Catholic Church has never yet deigned to rule fully, explicitly & infallibly in the matter of BOD, then we cannot, as in the case of the Immaculate Conception, turn to a later solemn ruling by the Church in order to know for absolute certain which side of the argument is correct --- whether BOD (‘baptism of desire’) or WO (‘water only’). The only thing we can say about the subject infallibly is that popes and their councils have left the door wide open to the possibility that BOD for catechumens is true.


That’s it.


So is Thomas Aquinas’ sainthood and doctorship a powerful argument on behalf of ‘baptism of desire’, not to mention that many, even most, Catholics since the fourteenth century have considered him to be the greatest teacher the Church has ever seen?


Yes, it is.


That’s why many theologians by the middle of the second millennium came to think of BOD for catechumens as ‘proximate’ to dogma. That is to say, not quite dogma and thus infallibly certain, but the next thing to it. It’s also why the fathers of the Council of Trent laid a copy of Thomas’ Summa Theologica at the head of their meetings as both a symbol and tool for guidance in all their teachings. As Pope Leo XIII noted about every general council since Thomas’ time:


“The ecumenical councils, where blossoms the flower of all earthly wisdom, have always been careful to hold Thomas Aquinas in singular honour…” (Leo XIII’s Aeterni patris. Emphasis added.)


And in Chapter 12 of this very book, Baptismal Confusion, we have already observed:


“…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 http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14663b.htm. All annotations & emphases added.)


So, yes, plainly, St. Thomas Aquinas’ upholding of ‘baptism of desire’ is a powerful argument on its behalf!


But an absolutely certain argument?


No, because saints and doctors are not guaranteed infallibility.


Either, one, something must be taught universally by all (or nearly all, at the very least!) of the Fathers of the Church for us to know, with absolute certainty, that it comes explicitly from Christ & His Apostles and is hence infallible (this is the ordinary magisterium of the Church); or else, two, a pope --- or a pope with a general council --- must solemnly & clearly pronounce on a matter to the whole Church for us to know, with absolute certainty, that it is at least implicit in the ancient Deposit of Faith and hence infallible (this is the solemn magisterium of the Church).


Case closed.


Consequently, a Catholic man who has most excellent reason and pious purpose on his side --- and who does not pertinaciously defy what has been given to us by Holy Mother Church as Her Infallible Dogmas, especially those which are common from the beginning and without which no man can even begin to be truly Catholic in the first place --- may logically and respectfully disagree with the theological opinion of that saint or doctor.


Which is why --- need it be said? --- BOD enthusiasts cannot lob the opinion of Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, at WO supporters and then expect the most rational & learned of them to roll over and play dead in the dispute over ‘baptism of desire’. Truly rational & learned WO supporters cannot wilt at the opinion of St. Thomas on BOD for a very simple reason:


Because they honestly, intelligently & respectfully believe him to have been mistaken.


+++ 49. BOD Doctoral Exhibit No. 4: +++

St. Alphonsus Liguori


And now we turn to St. Alphonsus Liguori. Like Thomas Aquinas, he was born near Naples in southern Italy of a noble family. But whereas Thomas was a man of the 13th century, Alphonsus lived some five hundred years later from 27 September 1696 to 1 August 1787. A very decent young man as a Catholic yet no saint, he escaped the pleasures and distractions of the world when shocked at how he had almost unintentionally prosecuted a legal case without good grounds, mortally afraid that others would think him guilty of purposeful deceit.


He therefore retired from the world and its mires, becoming a priest a few years later in 1726. From thence onward his great passion was for the salvation of souls. Made bishop of St. Agatha of the Goths, he labored in this task, still aflame with the love of missions, for fourteen years. Eight times during his life he came so near to death that he received Extreme Unction, one of those occasions leaving him paralyzed and thus excused from his episcopal duties to live a quiet monastic life in preparation for eternity --- something which still did not occur for another twelve years. The great hallmark of his life, however, apart from missions and the writing of some excellent books (especially his master work, Moral Theology), was bitter tribulation.


It is difficult to think of another saint who faced more reversals of fortune and betrayals by friends than this man. Even in his holiest of undertakings, God permitted him to be thwarted, maligned, threatened and opposed. To top everything off, near the end of his life he had a ‘dark night of the soul’ that made him fear for his everlasting security, God at the mortal conclusion granting him such peace that he passed from this life in the odor of great sanctity.


What did he have to say about ‘baptism of desire’? A humdinger, as it turns out!


Baptism of desire is perfect conversion to God which, through contrition or love of God above all things along with the explicit or implicit desire of true Baptism of water; it supplies its power, according to Trent, with regard to the remission of the fault [of sin], but not the impression of the character [of water baptism, baptism being a special mark upon the body & soul and identifying us as joined to the Body of Christ and thus real & visible members of His One & Only Catholic Church], nor with regard to the complete taking away of the punishment due [to] sin --- thus teach [Alphonsus here mentions by name several Church theologians who teach BOD] Viva, the Salmanticenses, along with Suarez, Vasquez, Valentia; Croix and others [Alphonsus then gives the citations for these references]… It is de fide [a Latin phrase meaning that it is an infallible teaching of the Roman Catholic Faith] that men can be saved through baptism of desire: according to ‘Apostolicam’ [Apostolicam sedem, a private letter of uncertain date, apparently from a pope to the bishop of Cremona in Italy], concerning a priest not baptized; and according to Trent [Session 6, On Justification, Chapter 4], where it is said that no man can be saved ‘without the laver of regeneration or its desire.’”(St. Alphonsus Liguori’s Moral Theology, Book 6, Treatise 2, Chapter 1, Number 96. All emphases & annotations added.)


+++ 50. That Alphonsus Upheld BOD Based on Trent Is +++

Hard Evidence Against WOers That Trent Never Rejected BOD!


This, then, is the fourth big reason clever BOD enthusiasts think ‘baptism of desire’ is a sure thing --- because St. Alphonsus not only upheld it in his classic work, Moral Theology, but also taught that it was defined infallibly at the Council of Trent. It is thus, too, rock hard evidence (extremely rock hard evidence!) that Trent never ruled out BOD in favor of the WO position.


We repeat:


The fact that Alphonsus plainly upheld BOD in his book and that he is a canonized saint who lived 150 years after the Council of Trent --- as well as being an official doctor of the Catholic Church, to boot --- is ironclad evidence that the Tridentine fathers never explicitly & infallibly ruled out the idea of BOD with their Canons 2 & 5 about the Sacrament of Baptism.


Because if Trent had explicitly ruled out BOD with Canons 2 & 5, then why did Alphonsus bother to teach BOD and act like Trent is infallible proof for it, and why did the popes and the Vatican not only canonize Alphonsus but announce him to be a doctor of the Church when such a teaching is --- according to many WOers --- ‘infallibly opposed’ by the Council of Trent?




The implication is clear. And unless WO enthusiasts are prepared to denounce all of these post- Tridentine popes, saints and doctors as BOD-believing ‘heretics’ and thus excommunicated from the Church, then they must acknowledge that the fathers of Trent not only never intended to uphold the ‘water only’ position but also might have intended to refer tangentially to BOD during their session on justification.


This, at any rate, was the firm conviction of Alphonsus Liguori, saint and doctor of the Church. Indeed, per him, Trent didn’t just infallibly uphold BOD in a real though only implicit fashion, but --- if we take Alphonsus’ thinking to its logical conclusion --- it appears, too, that he presumed Trent to have done so explicitly.


End of story.


Or is it?


+++ 51. Driving Home the Difference Between a Fallible +++

Theological Opinion and an Infallible Solemn Ruling


This may be confusing for a thoughtful reader, especially a committed BODer. He may say at this point, “How could officials at the Vatican have vetted Alphonsus’ book during the process for his sainthood --- encountering the place where it says this about BOD and Trent --- and a pope wound up canonizing him, if Trent didn’t explicitly define BOD as true?”


Very simple, my dear soul. Because they all thought that he was right.


Remember… canonization is not an act of a pope’s charism of infallibility. But even if an emphatic BODer nevertheless insists on believing that canonizations are infallible, this still doesn’t mean that everything a saint writes or speaks is never mistaken.


Remember, too… both St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bernard of Clairvaux during their lives taught, mistakenly, that the Blessed Virgin Mary was not immaculately conceived. And yet we know today, by virtue of Pope Pius IX’s infallible definition of 1854, that Mary was indeed immaculately conceived. Ergo, Ss. Thomas & Bernard were just plain wrong about this, and thus their canonizations couldn’t have had anything to do with their opinions being always right!


That is to say, both these men --- officially canonized saints and officially declared doctors of the Roman Catholic Church though they are --- were fallible and held to a position that was then, not having been solemnly defined yet, a merely mistaken theological opinion.


As a result, since only a pope in his solemn capacity as the Successor to St. Peter, teaching the whole Church, can be guaranteed infallibility, then it is entirely possible for mere officials at the Vatican --- who are not guaranteed infallibility --- to hold a mistaken opinion, as well. To wit, if the WO position is actually correct, nevertheless they… in addition to St. Alphonsus… could hold to Alphonsus’ mistaken theological opinion about Trent ‘infallibly’ supporting BOD.


Is it any wonder, then, that they would vet his book as approved?


In fact, a pope himself could hold to this theological opinion about BOD at Trent, mistaken though it might be --- just as long as he doesn’t try to solemnize it. In which case, assuming WO is the truth, then the Holy Ghost would prevent him from doing so explicitly.


So it really isn’t shocking that Alphonsus, the Vatican officials who vetted his book prior to canonization, and the pope who ruled him to be a saint, would each of them think that Trent infallibly ruled for BOD. I mean, Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica teaches BOD repeatedly. Every priest since the fifteenth century has been taught to revere Thomas and his Summa as the very essence of Catholic doctrine. They know that the Fathers of Trent referred to his Summa like a lodestone; Alphonsus even wrote a detailed history about the Tridentine Council.


So why in the world wouldn’t each of them think, when Trent said “without the laver of regeneration or its desire,” that --- despite Trent’s words not being perfectly precise or explicit about BOD --- Trent was at least referring tangentially to ‘baptism of desire’?


Do you see?


The conclusion is natural. Not necessarily correct… but, given their circumstances, natural and understandable that they would think this.


+++ 52. A Little More About Infallibility +++

(Infallibility Redux)


Let’s do a little thought experiment, my dear reader. Let’s suppose for the moment that ‘water only’ (WO) really is the correct position when it comes to the Sacrament of Baptism. I know this is practically unthinkable and most distasteful to a committed ‘baptism of desire’ (BOD) devotee, but indulge me for a few minutes.


Now let’s suppose that the fathers of the Council of Florence, when they hinted about “another remedy” apart from water baptism, and the fathers of the Council of Trent, when they mentioned water baptism “or its desire,” were all of them referring indirectly to BOD and intending, in each of their minds at the time, to speak about BOD as if it is true.


Let’s say, too, that everyone who was a learned theologian or well-instructed priest naturally assumed this to be true, knowing that Thomas Aquinas plainly taught BOD and that the general councils of the Catholic Church since his time had used his Summa Theologica as a guide in their teachings. Hence, they, also, despite not omnisciently knowing the individual minds of each of the conciliar fathers, naturally presumed all of them to have referred to BOD as true when they happened to say those things in their papally-approved, and thus infallible, declarations.


What then?


My dear soul, let’s take a step further. Now let’s say a future pope --- or a future pope and a general council under his approval --- explicitly condemns the BOD teaching as untrue, instead explicitly declaring that the position of WO is infallibly certain.


How can this be reconciled with the above, when everyone thought BOD was true?


Very simple.


The Holy Ghost does not, in the exercise of infallibility, use the pope or his council like puppets, speaking through them as if they are robots. Nor does the Third Person of the Trinity necessarily inspire these men with the words that are best to say, or every word that they ought to say were they as wise as we could wish them to be.


That is not how infallibility works.


Rather, the Holy Ghost keeps these men from uttering things that are inescapably wrong.


Which, as I’ve said before --- and when you get right down to it and when the words of an infallible declaration or condemnation are not perfectly explicit & clear --- means there will always be at least one orthodox way to rationally interpret these words that is never explicitly & indisputably tainted with error or opposed to what we infallibly know is orthodox & true.


End of sentence.


This is how --- as shocking as it may be to a committed BOD believer --- the fathers of the Florentine and Tridentine Councils could say what they said, very possibly intending to refer to BOD as true in a tangential way, and yet not, in the end, be guilty of teaching error or heresy if a future pope were to make it clear & explicit that BOD is false.


Because their words, while infallible, were not adequately explicit or sufficiently concise in their meaning when it comes to the subject of BOD. Therefore, only if a future pope were to approve an infallible statement that explicitly & clearly condemns WO with all precision of terminology or that explicitly & clearly upholds BOD with exact description by name could we then, after the fact and with infallible certainty --- as opposed to a merely human conviction, regardless of how great our learning --- conclude that the Holy Ghost through these earlier popes and councils was allowing them to refer to the teaching of BOD as infallibly true.


Hence, too, then, their lack of adequately explicit or sufficiently concise words in infallible statements when it comes to the subject of BOD --- where previously assumed to refer to BOD and thus seeming in some people’s sight to uphold a waterless position --- instead permits us to reasonably interpret them in a way that does not oppose WO.


Case closed.


+++ 53. A Small Digression Re a Private Papal Letter +++


By the way, you may wonder at some other things St. Alphonsus said in the quote we began with. Specifically, where he asserted:


“It is de fide [a Latin phrase meaning that it is a solemn & infallible teaching of Catholicism] that men can be saved through baptism of desire: according to ‘Apostolicam [Apostolicam sedem, a private letter of uncertain date, apparently from a pope to the bishop of Cremona in Italy], concerning a priest not baptized…” (St. Alphonsus Liguori’s Moral Theology, Book 6, Treatise 2, Chapter 1, Number 96. All emphases & annotations added.)


This Apostolicam sedem was a letter that Pope Innocent II purportedly sent to the bishop of Cremona around the beginning of the 13th century. No one knows for sure when it was written; it isn’t even entirely certain that Innocent II wrote it (some scholars think that Pope Innocent III --- III, not II! --- may have written it roughly fifty years later). But if either of them actually did write it, then it is a private letter, not originally intended for the Catholic public at large.


That is to say, the words of a man are only protected by the Holy Ghost as infallible and without error if that man is certainly a pope; if he speaks officially as the Successor to St. Peter ruling from his universal throne to clarify a teaching with greater detail and absolute surety; if his words are about faith or morals; and if he teaches the Church as a whole, rather than merely speaking to one person or to a few people or to part of the Church without authoritatively requiring his words to them to be broadcast later to all of the Church’s members.


(Re-read Chapter 22 in this book, Baptismal Confusion, for a brief refresher on infallibility if you’re still shaky on the subject, my dear soul.)


Scholars are unsure who wrote Apostolicam sedem; hence, there is at least a little bit of unsureness that the author is even a pope. Nevertheless, regardless of a pope writing it --- and despite not knowing which pope for sure --- the letter was apparently never required by him to be broadcast later to all of the Church’s members everywhere. And, if that were not enough, the reputed papal author never spoke solemnly, making it plain that he was acting to clarify this teaching beyond what any pope had ever done before… to wit, with absolute certainty.


This letter thus has no infallibility.


In any case, the bishop of Cremona asked for advice. He had a recently deceased priest in his diocese who, it was discovered, had never actually been properly baptized in water.


What to do?


The response was essentially, “Don’t worry. He thought he was baptized and surely wanted to be. He had ‘baptism of desire’ and everything is okay. Go ahead and hold religious services for him, bury him in a consecrated cemetery for Catholics, and pray for his soul.”


In reality, though, everything was not necessarily okay. BOD may be fine when believing it to apply to catechumens who die ‘accidentally’ before they receive water baptism… but for a man who has been going around for years acting like he’s a priest?


Way different!


+++ 54. Serious Problems With Innocent’s Letter +++


To begin with, a priest cannot be a priest, period, unless he’s baptized in water. This is not just a matter of “Are your mortal sins remitted through perfect contrition?” and hence “Can you be saved without actual water baptism?” But, rather, “Are you joined visibly to the Body of Christ?” and therefore “Can you be a legitimate & valid candidate for the priesthood?”


Without water baptism --- and despite the man himself and everybody else around him honestly thinking that he was a priest --- there was no actual priesthood. Ergo, no real sacraments (apart from baptizing others) were ever confected by this man. And, as a result, a very real and very serious conundrum was in hand…


What to do?


What about all those people who had confessed their mortal sins to him and hadn’t really had them absolved? What about all those times he had served at mass and it was just bread and wine that he had handed out, all the while simple & devout souls were worshipping it as if it were the Very Flesh & Blood of Almighty God? What about the souls he had assisted at death, they thinking he was pardoning them their mortal sins and giving them the Holy Eucharist?


The implications are sobering.


Now, maybe the pope did address these things and we just don’t know about it. The part usually quoted from his letter about BOD and available for most of us to read is an extremely selective quote, and might not accurately reflect all that he wrote on the subject in that letter.


All the same, it’s troubling that those things are not addressed wisely, at least not in the quote that we usually see. Which is why it’s hard to believe such a holy and knowledgeable man like Innocent II or Innocent III wrote this. It doesn’t smell right. It almost seems more like something an enemy might cook up and then plant in the Vatican records somewhere just so that it might appear to be the writing of a holy and knowledgeable pope, thereby giving it the ‘odor’ of irreproachable Catholicism.


Yet apart from these conspiratorial (and mostly unfounded) speculations, the facts are clear:


Alphonsus Liguori certainly thought that it was a real letter from Pope Innocent II or III. And he therefore took it as ‘proof’ that BOD is true. It would seem, too, that he thought that this letter had the charism of infallibility. As a result, he cited it as a ‘proof’ that BOD is unassailable.


And again we respond:


The same thing can be said about Innocent’s letter that has been said about Alphonsus and the Council of Trent. Simply because he thought that Trent infallibly defined BOD does not make it so. It was his theological opinion and hence not guaranteed to be an infallible truth.


(Again, please review Chapters 5 to 15 in this book, Baptismal Confusion, if you are still unsure or skeptical about why it is both logically & empirically incorrect to claim that Trent explicitly & infallibly upheld the ‘baptism of desire’ position.)


Likewise the letter from Innocent II or Innocent III to the bishop of Cremona. Simply because Alphonsus thought it was infallible does not make it so. It was his theological opinion and hence not guaranteed to be an infallible truth.


We may thus with a good conscience respectfully disagree with him about this letter.


Don’t get me wrong. Alphonsus was a great saint and a wise doctor. I am not advising that anyone go around constantly contradicting or second-guessing the teachings and counsels of this wonderful Catholic. I am merely pointing out that even saints & doctors can hold mistaken theological opinions, and that this is a prime example of that possibility made real.


That’s all.


+++ 55. Another Larger Digression Re the Terms +++

‘Explicit’ and ‘Implicit’ as Applied to BOD


The reader might also wonder about these words from St. Alphonsus in the earlier quote:


Baptism of desire is perfect conversion to God which, through contrition or love of God above all things along with the explicit or implicit desire of true Baptism of water; it supplies its power… with regard to the remission of the fault [of sin], but not the impression of the character [of water baptism, baptism being a special mark upon the body & soul and identifying us as joined to the Body of Christ and thus real & visible members of His One & Only Catholic Church], nor with regard to the complete taking away of the punishment due [to] sin…” (St. Alphonsus Liguori’s Moral Theology, Book 6, Treatise 2, Chapter 1, Number 96. Emphases & annotation added.)


“Ah!” cry out some WOers, who are usually strong supporters of the ‘no Salvation outside the Church’ dogma held in common by all true Catholics in its most ancient, narrow & correct sense. “Alphonsus looks like a salvation heretic. This is distressing.”


WO advocates are upset by these words because clever & educated modernists in the last one or two hundred years have used the phrase ‘implicit desire for baptism’ to mean either:


One, someone who doesn’t know about Catholicism and thus blithely believes in a false religion or philosophy (such as Hinduism, Scientology, Islam, Atheism, Agnosticism or etc… in short, anything other than the Catholic Faith whole & entire). Sincerely thinking his beliefs true and trying his best --- say modernists --- this man can save his soul even though he’s visibly outside the Catholic Church and practices a false religion. Such a man, say they, would be Catholic and would get water baptism if only he could know… he has implicit desire for baptism.


Or, two, someone who knows about Catholicism and yet doesn’t think it’s true, having been taught by others that it’s false. He thus blithely believes in a false religion or philosophy (such as Buddhism, Christian Science, Shintoism, Monism, Protestantism or etc… in short, anything other than the Catholic Faith whole & entire). Sincerely thinking his beliefs true and trying his best --- say modernists --- this man can save his soul even though he’s visibly outside the Catholic Church and practices a false religion. Such a man, say they, would be Catholic and would get water baptism if only he could know better… he, too, has implicit desire for baptism.


Both these kinds of persons, say clever & educated modernists, can be saved without professing the Catholic Faith because they are ‘invincibly ignorant’. They are joined to the Catholic Church ‘invisibly’, say they, and hence ‘implicitly desire’ water baptism (as opposed to knowing about the Church and Her requirement that men enter Her visible membership through baptism, which, by intending to obey, they therefore have an explicit & conscious desire for baptism in water).


The alert reader will remember that we touched on this in Chapter 1. It is the ‘salvation through ignorance’ heresy and not directly related to the fight between BODers and WOers over baptism in water. It is, though, indirectly related --- but more on that later, near the end of this book.


However, we needn’t worry about Alphonsus Liguori being infected with this deadly teaching, who was only following Thomas Aquinas’ lead when talking about a so-called ‘implicit’ desire for baptism. For a very simple reason, too. Because he quite explicitly taught the absolute necessity of embracing Christ’s Catholic Faith in order for a man to save his soul!


+++ 56. Indisputable Neither Alphonsus Nor Aquinas +++

Intended ‘Implicit’ BOD to Mean What Modernists Teach


How so?


We read what St. Alphonsus had to say about persons raised without knowing --- or who were taught against --- the Catholic Religion:


“Still we answer the Semi-Pelagians [a type of heretic during the 1st millennium], and say that infidels [people without the Catholic Faith] who arrive at the use of reason [are no longer small children and old enough to start thinking for themselves], and are not converted to the [Catholic] Faith, cannot be excused, because though they do not receive sufficient proximate grace [grace that is all around you and obvious, such as what people raised in good Catholic countries would have by virtue of the Catholic testimony all around them], still they are not deprived of remote grace, as a means of becoming converted. But what is this remote grace? St. Thomas [Aquinas] explains it, when he says that if anyone was brought up in the wilds, or even among brute beasts, and if he followed the law of natural reason, to desire what is good, and to avoid what is wicked, we should certainly believe either that God, by an internal inspiration [an inspiration of the heart or mind], would reveal to him what he should believe, or would send someone to preach the [Catholic] Faith to him, as [just like] he sent Peter [the first pope] to Cornelius [a Roman commander first converted to the Old Testament Religion before becoming a Catholic --- see Acts 10 in the Bible]. Thus, then, according to the Angelic Doctor [St. Thomas Aquinas, see the second quote below], God, at least remotely, gives to infidels [those who aren’t Catholic], who have the use of reason, sufficient grace to obtain salvation [to become Catholic and die in the state of grace], and this grace consists in a certain instruction of the mind, and in a movement of the will, to observe the natural law [the basic law of religion & morality that God places in every person’s heart who has the use of reason and whether or not he’s Catholic to start with]; and if the infidel cooperates with this movement, observing the precepts of the law of nature, and abstaining from grievous sins, he will certainly receive, through the merits of Jesus Christ, the grace proximately sufficient to embrace the [Catholic] Faith, and [thus] save his soul.” (St. Alphonsus Liguori’s The History of Heresies, Refutation 6, No. 11. All emphasis & annotations added.)


So Alphonsus Liguori did not believe in ‘salvation through ignorance’. Nor need we worry about St. Thomas Aquinas where he says about implicit BOD:


“As stated above [Question 68, Article 2] man receives the forgiveness of sins before Baptism in so far as he has Baptism of desire, explicitly or implicitly; and yet when he actually receives Baptism, he receives a fuller remission, as to the remission of the entire punishment. So also before Baptism[,] Cornelius [the Roman commander who had embraced the Old Testament Faith and was converted to Catholicism by St. Peter, see Acts 10] and others like him receive grace and virtues through their faith in Christ and their desire for Baptism, implicit or explicit: but afterwards when baptized, they receive a yet greater fullness of grace and virtues. Hence in Psalm 22:2, ‘He hath brought me up on the water of refreshment,’ a gloss [commentary] says: ‘He has brought us up by an increase of virtue and good deeds in Baptism. Yet catechumens who die without baptism can be saved but only as through fire. That is, they are absolved of eternal punishment, not temporal punishment.’” (St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, Book 3, Question 69, Article 4. Emphases & annotations added.)


Because Thomas Aquinas elsewhere clearly upholds ‘no Salvation outside the Church’ in its most ancient, narrow & correct sense, when --- stating first a typical objection that people have against needing to know the Catholic Faith in order to save your soul --- he replies:


“Objection: It is possible that someone may be brought up in the forest, or among wolves; such a man cannot explicitly know anything about the [Catholic] faith… Reply [the objection rebutted and answered correctly]: It is the characteristic of Divine Providence to provide every man with what is necessary for salvationprovided on his part there is no hindrance.  In the case of a man who seeks good and shuns evil, by the leading of natural reason, God would either reveal to him through internal inspiration what had to be believed, or would send some preacher of the [Catholic] faith to him…” (St. Thomas Aquinas’ Quaestiones Disputatae de Veritate, Question 14, Article 11. Emphases & annotations added.)


Consequently, my dear reader, you see that neither Alphonsus nor Aquinas can be faulted for holding the heresy of ‘salvation-through-ignorance-and-sincerity’!


+++ 57. A Correct Understanding of ‘Ambiguity’ +++


Some WOers, however, will still accuse one or both of these saints of the crime of willful ‘ambiguity’. That is to say, they claim that such men defend the salvation dogma in one place while upholding salvation heresy in another place --- and all for the purpose of deceiving & misleading others into salvation heresy while they themselves can appear to be orthodox.


In my experience, these accusations of ‘ambiguity’ always come from people who are not only WOers but who are also ‘Catholic fundamentalists’ (CFs). CFs love to misinterpret the infallible words of the Church’s Magisterium just like Protestant fundamentalists love to twist the words of inerrant Sacred Scripture. They act like this out of ignorance (as well as out of impatience, stubbornness, cruelty and wicked pride, too!)… but twist & misinterpret words they do.


CFs twist other people’s words, too, and the accusation of ‘ambiguity’ is a favorite tactic of theirs. Lacking wisdom, they fail to see that anybody’s words can be made to look contradictory if only there are enough words to choose from and you misinterpret these words to mean what the person saying them never intended them to mean. Then, lacking patience, they will not listen if somebody dares to defend the accused’s words intelligently. Yet, finally, being cruel & proud, the CF does not care that he mistakenly attacks an innocent person’s reputation and is not willing to admit that he, the accuser, could be wrong and thus slanderously lies about another man.


You can read much more about Catholic fundamentalism here, but the bottom line is this:


‘Ambiguity’ is a fair charge if --- and only if! --- the words that are said to contradict orthodoxy have solely heretical (and nothing but heretical!) interpretations that are rationally possible.


We repeat:


The charge of ‘ambiguity’ is a fair & just accusation if --- and only if! --- the statement said to contradict orthodoxy has solely & exclusively heretical (and nothing but heretical!) interpretations that are both rationally & logically possible.


End of sentence.


Without this just and logical requirement for charges of ambiguity, then anyone can accuse anyone else in the Catholic Church of being a heretic, whether or not the charge of ambiguity is reasonable. And all because the accuser refuses to interpret the purportedly ‘heretical’ statement in an orthodox fashion, and even though such a statement may be easily interpretable to mean something completely orthodox, provided the one doing the interpreting is a fair, patient, intelligent & compassionate man without an axe to grind against the accused.


Which then leads to a very sensible question:


So what did Ss. Alphonsus & Aquinas mean by talking about an ‘implicit’ desire for baptism, in a way that can square with orthodoxy without denying ‘no Salvation outside the Church’ in its most ancient, narrow & correct sense?


+++ 58. The Right Understanding of ‘Implicit’ BOD +++

in Its Entirely Orthodox & Catholic Sense


Very simple, my dear soul.


The orthodox and acceptable idea of BOD is that it is for catechumens. That is, for those who are old enough to understand all of the common dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church and are trying to do so, being students of the Catholic Faith until they are ready for water baptism.


Yet what if one of them dies ‘accidentally’ before he can receive water baptism?


That’s the dilemma that gave rise to the ‘baptism of desire’ notion in the first place.


Yet what if the new convert is in a place far from any Catholic testimony, and only just understands the barest rudiments of the One True Faith? Or what if the new convert is a product of false religion and was immersed in anti-Catholicity… but finally begins to see the light and realizes that the Catholic Church really is the Sole Pillar & Foundation of Jesus’ Truth, outside of which no man can hope to be saved?


And what if neither of these examples has had enough time to learn about the need for water baptism? What if all they know is that there is the Trinity --- Three Persons in One God --- and that the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, became man to redeem us from sin, His Body being the Roman Catholic Church and Source of All of His Singularly Saving Truth?


And what if they are each of them willing to do whatever the Church of Rome teaches and commands, knowing that She, the One True Roman Church, is the Sole Entrance into Heaven?


What then?


And then death strikes him down before he can learn anything more. He wanted to know & obey what the Church would teach him to do in order to save his soul. Had he been able to find out about Her commandment to be baptized in water, he would have certainly resolved to do so, being of good will. His failure to know, and failure to obey, was inculpable.


Will such a man wind up in hell?


According to Ss. Alphonsus Liguori & Thomas Aquinas, no. He wanted to do whatever the Church commands. He knew that Catholicism is God’s Singular Religion. He grasped the Trinity and the Incarnation, as well as Jesus’ Truth being found only in the Catholic Church. He didn’t yet know water baptism is the beginning of visible union with this Church --- but would have happily received the Sacrament of Baptism had he only known and had time to be baptized.


Per Alphonsus & Thomas, this man had an implicit desire for baptism. He couldn’t yet consciously know about the need for water baptism, but would have known and would have obeyed if only he had had the time before dying to do so. His intent to be baptized in water could not yet become explicit --- but was surely there implicitly since he intended to do whatever Jesus’ Singular Catholic Body would teach him to do and thereby save his immortal soul.


Such is the orthodox understanding of an ‘implicit’ desire for baptism.


+++ 59. Proof That Alphonsus’ Opinion Re BOD Being +++

Infallibly Defined Is Not Shared by All Theologians


A last observation about St. Alphonsus before we move on to the next thing in our careful consideration of ‘baptism of desire’ (BOD) versus ‘water only’ (WO), especially at this point in our look at the saints and the doctors of the Holy Catholic Church.


To wit, lest a skeptical reader think it is merely my own personal opinion that Alphonsus is wrong when it comes to BOD being, supposedly, infallibly defined at the Council of Trent without any doubts in the matter, then mull upon this. A very eminent German theologian of the middle of the 20th century, Dr. Ludwig Ott, teaches the BOD notion in a section on baptism in the textbook he wrote for divinity and seminary students. He even cites Trent as part of his backing for this belief!


“In case of emergency[,] Baptism by water can be replaced by Baptism of desireBaptism of desire is the explicit or implicit desire for sacramental baptism (votum baptismi) associated with perfect contrition (contrition based on charity). The Council of Trent teaches that justification from original sin is not possible ‘without the washing unto regeneration or the desire for the same’ (sine lavacro regenerationis aut eius voto)…” (Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Pages 356-7. Published by TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., in 1974 at Rockford, IL. First published in English by The Mercier Press at Cork, Ireland, in 1955, with a fourth edition in 1960. Originally published in German in 1952 under the title, Grundriss der Katholischen Dogmatik, by Verlag Herder at Freibury, Germany. All emphasis & annotations added.)


Nevertheless, this same Dr. Ott --- eminent and systematic theologian that he is --- carefully notes at each juncture what the standing of a particular teaching is within the Catholic Church. That is to say, is it infallibly true? Almost but not quite infallibly true? Only morally certain? A belief common amongst most Catholics at the present time? And etc., etc.


So what does he note as the ‘theological grade of certainty’ when it comes to BOD?


“(Sent. fidei prox.)” (Ibid., Page 356. Italics in the English text of the TAN edition.)


And what does “Sent. fidei prox.” mean?


It is abbreviated Latin for ‘sententia fidei proxima’, which, as Dr. Ott explains, means:


“A Teaching proximate to Faith… is a doctrine, which is regarded by theologians [but not declared infallibly so by the pope or by a pope in conjunction with a council!] generally as a truth of Revelation, but which has not yet been finally promulgated as such [infallibly defined & hence most certainly a revealed truth] by the Church.” (Ibid., Page 9. Emphases & annotations added.)


This lesser & fallible degree of theological certainty is in contrast to the greatest degree of certainty, as Dr. Ott also helpfully explains:


“The highest degree of certainty appertains [is connected] to the immediately revealed truths… and if the Church, through its teaching, vouches for the fact that a truth is contained in Revelation [what God has revealed as necessary to know is true], one’s certainty is then also based on the authority of the Infallible Teaching Authority of the Church If truths are defined by a solemn judgment of faith (definition) of the Pope or of a General Council, they are ‘de fide definita’.” (Ibid., Page 9. Emphases & annotations added.)


An example of this highest & infallible degree of theological certainty for a teaching is found in Dr. Ott’s textbook right before he teaches about BOD, where he says:


“Baptism by water… is, since the promulgation of the Gospel [since the infallible teaching of the Roman Catholic Religion], necessary for all men without exception, for salvation. (De fide.)” (Ibid., Page 356. Annotation added.)


And what does ‘de fide’ mean?


It is a shorter Latin phrase for the fuller phrase quoted above from Page 9 of Dr. Ott’s textbook regarding the highest & infallible degree of certainty. In particular, where that highest degree of certainty has been vouched for solemnly by an infallible definition of a pope, or by a pope in conjunction with a general council. Accordingly, “de fide definita” (Ibid., Page 9), which is oftentimes shortened to ‘de fide’ in official or scholarly writings.


In other words, eminent theologian Dr. Ludwig Ott says that the necessity of baptism in water is an infallible definition of the Roman Catholic Faith. Whereas the possibility of ‘baptism of desire’ is only a teaching that is related to the infallible teachings of the Catholic Church (and which is generally assumed by theologians of the last millennium to be a truth revealed by God through His Church), but which has never yet been explicitly & finally defined by the infallible authority of the Roman Catholic Church’s Magisterium as an absolutely certain dogma.




+++ 60. St. Alphonsus’ BOD Opinion Explained Simply +++


So why would St. Alphonsus think that BOD is ‘de fide’, as if it had been very clearly & explicitly defined at the Council of Trent?


Because, while he was a learned saint & doctor of the Church, his specialty was moral theology… not dogmatic theology. He therefore had simply never thought the subject out far enough, not knowing all of the facts --- after all, just because a man is a Church doctor doesn’t logically mean that he is either all-knowing or never-wrong! --- and hence made a very natural & innocent mistake.


A mistake that it would seem several other learned Catholics have committed about BOD and the Tridentine Council, too.


I’m sure it’s not just Alphonsus.


But it’s not a heresy; it’s just an error.


If the Church later explicitly & infallibly rules that BOD is true, then it’s still just an error on his part to have thought that Trent explicitly taught it. But if a future pope explicitly rules out BOD, then --- although his opinion in favor of BOD will now be a heresy --- Alphonsus is nonetheless guiltless by having held the opinion before it was ruled out. The only thing that would have to be done afterword is either to edit out his BOD stance from later editions of his Moral Theology book, or else add a note explaining that ‘baptism of desire’ can no longer wittingly be held by Catholics, having become a heresy from thence onward due to the Church’s solemn & infallible pronouncement.


Oh, and a final note about Dr. Ludwig Ott:


He is a salvation heretic.


I must hence warn readers about studying Ludwig Ott’s textbook. Yet despite this, he is excellent on other things. He was much respected for his learning, his textbook carrying an imprimatur from the pertinent bishop. Which doesn’t, unfortunately, make his writings utterly safe since most bishops were lax or apostate by the end of the 19th century. All the same, it shows us he wasn’t condemned or faulted for contradicting Alphonsus about BOD being ‘infallibly defined’ at Trent, and that many other theologians must have agreed with Dr. Ott… and despite them citing Trent as support for believing in BOD as being a truth that is ‘proximate’ to the Faith!


+ + +


Part One of Baptismal Confusion (Chapters 1-32)


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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