Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Council of Trent and Fr. Feeney

We find a number of statements in the Council of Trent relevant to baptism of desire.

" By which words, a description of the Justification of the impious is indicated,-as being a translation, from that state wherein 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 Saviour. And this translation, since the promulgation of the Gospel, cannot be effected, without the laver of regeneration, or the desire thereof, as it is written; unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God."(Decree on Justification)

"If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary unto salvation, but superfluous; and that, without them, or without the desire thereof, men obtain of God, through faith alone, the grace of justification;-though all (the sacraments) are not ineed necessary for every individual; let him be anathema."(Decree on the Sacraments)

It is very clear from the decree on justification that the effect of baptism can be received through desire for the sacrament. The decree on the sacraments makes a more general statement, because it includes the other sacraments which one can receive the effects of by desire, such as Penance.

Fr. Feeney recognized that the council of Trent was saying that one could receive the effect of Baptism through desire for it, but he distinguished between justification and salvation, and said that while desire for baptism sufficed for justification, it could not suffice unto salvation. He seems to justify this partly from the fact that the statement about desiring baptism is made in the decree on justification, and not in the treatise on baptism, and partly from the second text which says that the sacraments are necessary for salvation. From this Fr. Feeney concludes that the desire of the sacrament suffices for justification, but the sacrament itself is required for salvation. The two following texts from the treatise on Baptism are commonly cited to support this opinion:

"If any one saith, that true and natural water is not of necessity for baptism, and, on that account, wrests, to some sort of metaphor, those words of our Lord Jesus Christ; Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost; let him be anathema."

"If any one saith, that baptism is free, that is, not necessary unto salvation; let him be anathema."

Father Feeney has this to say about the first quote:
"The Council of Trent, in its second Canon on the subject of Baptism, declares, with the majestic authority of the Church: If anyone shall say that true and natural water is not of necessity in Baptism, and therefore shall turn those words of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, "unless one be born again of water and the Holy Spirit" (John 3:5), into some metaphor, let him be anathema. Therefore, I repeat, metaphorical water is forbidden under pain of heresy. And what is "Baptism of Desire," as the Liberals teach it, but metaphorical water dishonestly substituting itself for the innocent requirement of Christ?" (Bread of Life, The Waters of Salvation)

This is a sorry misreading of this text. First of all, the Council is primarily concerned here with anathematizing those who use something other than water in baptizing. Thus, they are not even talking about the necessity of baptism as such. The fact that they are talking about wresting the words of Christ into some metaphor shows this, i.e., Christ would be speaking metaphorically if he said "water" and used it to signify anything flowing.

Second, even if the Council was actually concerned about asserting the necessity of water baptism here, (which they are not) this does not deny baptism of desire. In the second quotation I gave above they are speaking about the necessity of baptism by water. Nevertheless, when they say this, they are including the desire of the sacrament in that statement. To make this clear, let us look at a similar statement made about the sacrament of Penance:

"So that penance has justly been called by holy Fathers a laborious kind of baptism. And this sacrament of Penance is, for those who have fallen after baptism, necessary unto salvation; as baptism itself is for those who have not as yet been regenerated."(On the Sacrament of Penance)

Notice that that the Council says that the sacrament of Penance is necessary unto salvation just as baptism itself is for those who are not regenerated. Hence, if we are to follow the logic of those who say that receiving the sacrament of baptism itself is necessary for salvation, then we must say that someone who sins after baptism cannot be saved unless he receives the sacrament itself of penance.

The synod makes it clear that one can receive the effect of the Sacrament of penance without actually receiving the sacrament:

"The Synod teaches moreover, that, although it sometimes happen that this contrition is perfect through charity, and reconciles man with God before this sacrament be actually received, the said reconciliation, nevertheless, is not to be ascribed to that contrition, independently of the desire of the sacrament which is included therein."

Thus, if we follow out Fr. Feeney's logic, not only does it follow that one must always receive baptism by water to be saved, but one must, after sinning gravely, always receive the sacrament of penance to be saved. This is something that most feeneyites, we may presume, would be unwilling to hold.

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