Sunday, May 30, 2010

Council of Trent on desire for Baptism

A reader recently left a comment on my previous post concerning The council of Trent and St. Thomas on whether or not the council of Trent admits the possibility of Baptism by desire. I decided to make a particular post on this, both because it seems to be something that is misunderstood by some people, even intelligent ones, (I had a Theology professor once who held a similar position) and because blogger would not allow me to post my response in the comment box because it was too long. :)

Here is the comment left by an "anonymous" reader:
You can't get around the FACT that baptism of desire is NEVER once mentioned at Trent when discussing Baptism, which is where any logical person would expect it( just like a perfect act of contrition is clearly explained in the section on Penance). The Holy Ghost has never put His seal on your theory. You can argue ceaselessly, but the FACT remains that baptism of desire has no dogmatic infallible status, while the need for water baptism does (at Trent).

For one to believe your "take" on Trent, one would have to believe that from before the beginning of the world, that he was going to save people by baptism of desire (people who God's grace could not penetrate, or who God put out of His reach), and save some by baptism of water in his Church, and save others by no desire whatsoever (implicit faith), and save others by bringing them back from the dead. In your disbelief in EENS you have created for yourself one bumbling God.
In response to this, I would like to point out that the council of Trent quite clearly mentions baptism of desire; the comment by our reader seems to imply that he is aware of this as well, since he says, "Baptism of desire is never once mentioned at Trent when discussing Baptism, which is where any logical person would expect it."(emphasis added)

Despite this fact, I will go over the places where baptism by desire is clearly referred to. There are several places. The first is from the decree on Justification:
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.
What possible reason could the council of Trent have for saying that justification cannot take place without "the laver of regeneration", i.e., baptism by water, or the desire thereof, if not to say that in fact in some cases the desire itself for baptism is sufficient for justification? There does not seem to be another reasonable interpretation.

This is how St. Alphonsus Liguori interprets this text. I quoted this text earlier in discussing his position:
Baptism, therefore, coming from a Greek word that means washing or immersion in water, is distinguished into Baptism of water, of spirit, and of blood. ... But Baptism of spirit is perfect conversion to God by contrition or love of God above all things accompanied by an explicit or implicit desire for true Baptism of water, the place of which it takes as to the remission of guilt, but not as to the impression of the character or as to the removal of all debt of punishment. It is called 'of spirit' because it takes place by the impulse of the Holy Spirit. Now it is de fide that men are also saved by Baptism of spirit, by virtue of the Canon Apostolicam, 'de presbytero non baptizato' and of the Council of Trent, session 6, Chapter 4 where it is said that no one can be saved 'without the laver of regeneration or the desire.
This text, however, is not the only place where the council of Trent speaks concerning the desire for baptism. In the decree on the sacraments, which is introduced as being necessary "to complete the saving doctrine on justification," the fourth general canon on the sacraments says the following:
CANON IV.-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 indeed necessary for every individual; let him be anathema."
The council of Trent is clearly saying two things: that the sacraments are necessary for salvation, and that the grace of justification is given only through the sacrament or the desire thereof. The clearest example of this given in the council is that of the sacrament of penance, where it is explicitly stated that one may receive the grace of justification before actually receiving the sacrament itself, through the desire for the sacrament.

Our "anonymous" commenter seems to want to make a distinction between the necessity for Baptism, and the necessity for Penance in the council of Trent, such that it is possible to be justified by a perfect act of contrition before receiving the sacrament of penance, but not possible to be justified before receiving baptism by water. This however must be denied. The council says in considering the differences between the sacrament of penance and baptism that:
For, by baptism putting on Christ, we are made therein entirely a new creature, obtaining a full and entire remission of all sins: unto which newness and entireness, however, we are no ways able to arrive by the sacrament of Penance, without many tears and great labours on our parts, the divine justice demanding this; 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.
The council of Trent says here that the sacrament of penance is necessary for the salvation of those who have fallen after baptism, as baptism itself is for those who have not as yet been regenerated. However, as the commenter himself admitted, it is very clear that Trent admits that a man can receive the effect of the sacrament of penance by desire, before actually receiving the sacrament itself.

Thus, if one wishes to hold that baptism by water is necessary in such a way that the effect of baptism cannot be received before the sacrament itself, one must also hold that the same thing is true of penance, since otherwise it would not be true that the sacrament of penance is necessary after sinning just as the sacrament of baptism before being baptized.

However, this position is clearly contradictory to the decree on penance, which clearly asserts that one can receive the effect of the sacrament of penance, without actually receiving the sacrament itself. Hence we must conclude that Baptism and Penance are similar in that one can receive their effects through desire for the sacrament without actually receiving the sacrament itself.

It is further clear that this is the position of the council of Trent by examining the Catechism of the Council of Trent, which was published shortly after the conclusion of the council. St. Charles Borremeo, who had a profound influence on the Council of Trent, edited the text of the first publication of the Catechism, and would certainly have caught anything that was blatantly contradictory to the council's intention. Nor should it be supposed that the Church would have allowed a Catechism, ordered by the council and purporting to present the teaching of the Council, to foment error among the faithful.

In the Catechism of the Council of Trent, we read:
The faithful are earnestly to be exhorted to take care that their children be brought to the church, as soon as it can be done with safety, to receive solemn Baptism. Since infant children have no other means of salvation except Baptism, we may easily understand how grievously those persons sin who permit them to remain without the grace of the Sacrament longer than necessity may require, particularly at an age so tender as to be exposed to numberless dangers of death . . . On adults, however, the Church has not been accustomed to confer the Sacrament of Baptism at once, but has ordained that it be deferred for a certain time. The delay is not attended with the same danger as in the case of infants, which we have already mentioned; should any unforeseen accident make it impossible for adults to be washed in the salutary waters, their intention and determination to receive Baptism and their repentance for past sins, will avail them to grace and righteousness.
This is all very clear, and needs no explanation. This confirms our interpretation of the council of Trent's teaching on Baptism.

One last point that might be mentioned as well is the fact that the teaching of St. Thomas had a very strong influence on the Council of Trent; the Summa was the only other work besides the Bible that was placed upon the altar at the Council of Trent. St. Thomas quite clearly holds that baptism of desire is sufficient to justify an adult; it is again reasonable to bear in mind the background of St. Thomas, and to interpret the council of Trent in the light of his teaching.