Liberal theologians for a long time have been attempting to foist upon docile Catholics the idea that the theological expression baptism of desire is an unassailable doctrine approved by the highest Church authority and taught officially by the Solemn Magisterium. That this expression has been around for a long time nobody denies, but that it has been officially taught by the Church is simply not true.
The Council of Trent held in the mid 1500s dealt with the subject of desire and resolve to receive the sacraments, which implies of course desire for baptism, and the role this resolve and desire play in the justification and salvation of mankind. To help clear the air in terms of what the Council of Trent taught in this regard, it will suffice to show in what context desire and resolve to receive the sacraments exist as part of the infallible truths taught at the Council of Trent. The following five points with supporting documentation will put before the reader the proper understanding of the Church’s teaching on justification, salvation, and desire for the sacraments.
1. The Catholic Faith is the foundation of all Justification.
Session 6, Chapter VI, Decree Concerning Justification (January 13, 1547):
Now, they are disposed to that justice when, aroused and aided by divine grace, receiving faith by hearing, they are moved freely toward God, believing to be true what has been divinely revealed and promised, especially that the sinner is justified by God by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; and when, understanding themselves to be sinners, they, by turning themselves from the fear of divine justice, by which they are salutarily aroused, to consider the mercy of God, are raised to hope, trusting that God will be propitious to them for Christ’s sake; and they begin to love Him as the fountain of all justice, and on that account are moved against sin by a certain hatred and detestation, that is, by that repentance that must be performed before baptism; finally, when they resolve (desire) to receive baptism, to begin a new life and to keep the commandments of God.
Session 6, Chapter VII, Decree Concerning Justification (Jan. 13, 1547):
This disposition or preparation is followed by justification itself,…
Session 6, Chapter VIII, Decree Concerning Justification (Jan. 13, 1547):
But when the Apostle says that man is justified by faith and freely, these words are to be understood in that sense in which the uninterrupted unanimity of the Catholic Church has held and expressed them, namely, that we are therefore said to be justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation and root of all justification, without which it is impossible to please God and to come to the fellowship of His sons;…
Session 5, The Decree Concerning Original Sin (June 17, 1546):
…our Catholic Faith, without which it is impossible to please God,…
2. A person who has the Catholic Faith can attain the state of Justification if that person receives the Sacraments or has the resolve (desire) to receive them.
Session 6, Chapter IV, Decree Concerning Justification (Jan. 13, 1547):
In which words is given a brief description of the justification of the sinner, as being a translation from that state in which man is born a child of the first Adam, to the state of grace and of the adoption of the sons of God through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, our Savior. This translation however cannot, since the promulgation of the Gospel, be effected except through the laver of regeneration or its desire, as it is written: Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
Session 6, Chapter VII, Decree Concerning Justification:
This disposition or preparation is followed by justification itself, which is not only a remission of sins but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man through the voluntary reception of the grace and gifts whereby an unjust man becomes just and from being an enemy becomes a friend, that he may be an heir according to hope of life everlasting. The causes of justification are: the final cause is the glory of God and of Christ and life everlasting; the efficient cause is the merciful God who washes and sanctifies gratuitously, signing and anointing with the holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance; the meritorious cause is His most beloved only begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who, when we were enemies, for the exceeding charity wherewith He loved us, merited for us justification by His most holy passion on the wood of the cross and made satisfaction for us to God the Father; the instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which no man was ever justified,…
Session 7, Canon 4 of the Sacraments in General from the Decree Concerning the Sacraments (March 3, 1547):
If anyone says that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary for salvation but are superfluous, and that without them or without the desire of them men obtain from God through faith alone the grace of justification, though all are not necessary for each one, let him be anathema. [Notice, faith and desire are necessary for justification, not only desire and not only faith.]
3. The reception of the Sacraments is required for Salvation.
Session 7, Canon 4 of the Sacraments in General from the Decree Concerning the Sacraments:
If anyone says that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary for salvation but are superfluous, and that without them or without the desire of them men obtain from God through faith alone the grace of justification, though all are not necessary for each one, let him be anathema.
Session 7, Canons 2 & 5 of the Canons on Baptism from the Decree Concerning the Sacraments:
Can. 5. If anyone says that baptism is optional , that is, not necessary for salvation, let him be anathema.
Can. 2. If anyone says that true and natural water is not necessary for baptism and thus twists into some metaphor the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost,” let him be anathema.
[In terms of a syllogism, we have the infallible major premise: "Baptism is necessary for salvation," the infallible minor premise: "True and natural water is necessary for Baptism," and the conclusion: "True and natural water is necessary for salvation." This conclusion is not itself infallible, because it is the product of reasoning external to the Council's. Still, it is a strong argument.]
4. In Conclusion, Justification can be attained by a person with the Catholic Faith together with at least a desire for the Sacraments. He cannot attain Salvation unless he receives the Sacraments.
As the foregoing discussion from the Council of Trent points out, justification and salvation are two different things. Justification is the road to salvation, and not salvation itself. After all we are Catholics who believe in a dogmatic faith, good works, and sanctifying grace, not Protestants who believe in confidence alone!
5. Regarding baptism of desire:
- No Pope, Council, or theologian says that baptism of desire is a sacrament.
Likewise no Pope, Council, or theologian says that baptism of desire incorporates one into the Catholic Church.
- Question: Without contradicting the thrice defined Dogma, “No Salvation Outside the Catholic Church”, and the infallible teaching of the Council of Trent, how can one define the expression baptism of desire?
Answer: The following definition of baptism of desire can be made which will be totally consistent with the infallible teaching of the Council of Trent and with the thrice defined dogma of “No Salvation Outside the Catholic Church”. This definition of baptism of desire goes as follows:
In its proper meaning, this consists of an act of perfect contrition or perfect love [that is Charity, which necessarily implies that one has the True Faith], and the simultaneous desire for baptism. It does not imprint an indelible character on the soul and the obligation to receive Baptism by water remains. (From page 126 of The Catholic Concise Encyclopedia , by Robert Broderick, M.A., copyright 1957, Imprimatur by Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York, August 31, 1956) (Emphasis mine)
Two changes have been made to the article “Desire, Justification, and Salvation at the Council of Trent.” The first change is contextual in nature and the second is an addition.
The quote from Session 6, Chapter VII, ( the Decree Concerning Justification) has been moved from Point #3 to its proper location under Point #2 since that reference more aptly supports what Trent taught regarding Faith and Justification. I would like to thank Fr. Francois Laisney, S.S.P.X. for bringing that discrepancy to my attention.
Change number two is the addition of the source of the references themselves to the Council of Trent. This is being done to dispel any foolish notions that I am using unofficial or unapproved translations in my documentation.
Brother David Mary, M.I.C.M. Tert.
March 7, 2001
St. Thomas Aquinas
Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent , English Translation,
by Fr. H.J. Schroeder, O.P., © 1941 by B. Herder Book Co.
Nihil Obstat — Fr. Humbertus Kane, O.P., Fr. Alexius Driscoll, O.P.
Imprimi Potest — Fr. Petrus O’Brien, O.P.
Nihil Obstat — A.A. Esswein, Censor Deputatus
Imprimatur — Archbishop Joannes J. Glennon, September 5, 1941