Basic Church Teachings on Baptism of Desire

Basic Church Teachings on Baptism of Desire

© Copyright 2009, T. Stanfill Benns (This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author.)


One might say, on sufficient reflection, that the spirit of Traditionalism first became apparent in the late 1940s with the unfolding of the Rev. Leonard Feeney, S.J. affair at St. Benedicts’ Center, Fall River, Massachusetts. Although Rev. Feeney, in his best selling book “Fish on Friday” declared in 1932 that Protestants could be saved, he later denied the constant teaching of the Church’s ordinary magisterium on the doctrine of baptism by blood and desire. At the time he first embraced and promulgated his erroneous teachings, Feeney was the director of the St. Benedict Center, originally established by three lay people to counsel students from Boston College. Today the Feenyites are considered yet another “branch” of Traditionalism, but in the 1940s they were the first American group since the advent of the Americanist heresy to be identified with a rigorist orthodoxy and contempt for Rome. While Traditionalists denying Feeney’s teachings would generally object to this most vehemently, a close examination of Feeney’s stance reveals many similarities among Traditionalists and the Feeneyites.

For refusing to obey the summons to Rome by Pope Pius XII to answer for his heresy concerning baptism of desire and blood, (not simply his “outside the Church there is no salvation” position), Feeney was excommunicated in 1953. The heads of two groups, then, pre-existing before Vatican II — one in America, one in France — were severed from communion with the one, true Church for disobedience and heresy. The other excommunicated priest was the self proclaimed (antipope) Clement XV, Michael Collin. Collin, ordained by Achille Lienart was the head of “Crusaders of the Rosary,” a group somehow affiliated with the condemned movement, Action Francais.

According to Feeney’s biographer Gary Potter, (“After the Boston Heresy Case”), Feeney identified this doctrine in 1947 as “Outside the Church there is no salvation,” with its attendant focus on baptism of blood and desire. Feeney insisted the Baltimore Catechism taught heresy in teaching the efficacy of baptism by blood and desire. He also accused Cardinal Gibbons of over-emphasizing this doctrine in his catechism and thus teaching heresy as well. He accused the Vatican and the Sacred Congregation of the Holy See of propagating heresy. Before his excommunication, he set up a school at the St. Benedict Center, (whose co-founder was none other then the present “Cardinal” Avery Dulles), without the permission or knowledge of either diocesan authorities or his Jesuit superiors. He then proceeded to found a lay order with married lay “brothers” and “sisters” which amounted to a commune. They published a periodical, From the Housetops, spreading their errors and rebellious spirit without benefit of an imprimatur. When ordered by his superiors to include other Jesuits in his ministry, Feeney refused. When transferred from St. Benedict’s to a different assignment, he at first left, only to return. He eventually was dismissed from the Society of Jesus. When twice ordered to give an accounting to Rome concerning his position on the teaching of baptism by blood and desire, he accused Rome of heresy and refused to defend his position. His excommunication was issued as much for his pertinacious defiance and disobedience as it was for his heresy, (please see the related article on Disciplinary Decrees).

This is confirmed in the decision “Suprema haec sacra,” addressed to the Archbishop of Boston from the Holy Office concerning Feeney. This determination of Feeney’s case was personally reviewed and approved by Pope Pius XII.

Proofs from Popes and Councils

Pope Innocent II wrote to the Bishop of Cremona: “To your inquiry we respond thus: We assert without hesitation (on authority of the holy Fathers Augustine and Ambrose) that the priest (a Jewish priest, not Catholic priest, I think) whom you indicated (in your letter) had died without the water of baptism, because he persevered in the faith of holy mother the Church and in the confession of the name of Christ, was freed from original sin and attained the joy of the heavenly fatherland. Read (brother) in the eighth book of Augustine’s ‘City of God’ where among other things it is written, ‘Baptism is administered invisibly to one whom not contempt of religion but death excludes.’ Read again the book also of the blessed Ambrose concerning the death of Valentinian (to which Saint Thomas Aquinas also refers in III, Q68 A2) where he says the same thing. Therefore, to questions concerning the dead, you should hold the opinions of the learned Fathers, and in your church you should join in prayers and you should have sacrifices offered to God for the priest mentioned,” (DZ 388).

Debitum pastoralis officii, Pope Innocent III, (August 28, 1206):

“You have, to be sure, intimated that a certain Jew, when at the point of death, since he lived only among Jews, immersed himself in water while saying: ‘I baptize myself in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.’ We respond that, since there should be a distinction between the one baptizing and the one baptized, as is clearly gathered from the words of the Lord, when He says to the Apostles: “Go baptize all nations in the name etc.” (Matthew 28:19), the Jew mentioned must be baptized again by another, that it may be shown that he who is baptized is one person, and he who baptizes is another. … If, however, such a one had died immediately, he would have rushed to his heavenly home without delay because of the faith of the sacrament, although not because of the sacrament of faith,” (DZ 413).

Pope St. Pius V — errors of Michael du Bay condemned DZ 1031: “Perfect and sincere charity, which is from ‘a pure heart and a good conscience and a faith not feigned’ [I Tim. 1:5], can be in catechumens as well as in penitents without the remission of sins.”

DZ 1033: “A catechumen lives justly and rightly and holily, and observes the commandments of God, and fulfills the law through charity, which is only received in the laver of Baptism before the remission of sins has been observed.”

Michael Du Bay’s propositions above are condemned because they assert that perfect charity can be in catechumens and penitents without the remission of sins. (Note: this says nothing one way or the other about whether or not perfect charity can be in catechumens with the remission of sins.) Du Bay’s propositions above are false because one cannot have perfect charity without the remission of sins.

The Council of Trent — Session 6, Chapter 4:

“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 (Romans 8:15) through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, our Saviour. And this translation, since the promulgation of the Gospel, cannot be effected except through the laver of regeneration (canon 5 Session 5), 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, (John 3:5).” 32

The Council of Trent — Session 7: “If anyone shall say that the Sacraments of the New Law are not necessary for salvation, but are superfluous, and that although all are not necessary for every individual, without them, or without at least the desire for them, through faith alone men obtain from God the grace of justification; let him be anathema,” (DZ 847).

Singulari Quadem, Pope Pius IX, (1854): “For, it must be held that outside the Apostolic Roman Church, no one can be saved; that this is the only ark of salvation; that he who shall not have entered therein will perish in the flood; but, on the other hand, it is necessary to hold for certain that they who labor in ignorance of the true religion, if this ignorance be invincible, are not stained by any guilt in this matter in the eyes of God. Now, in truth, who would arrogate so much to himself as to make the limits of such ignorance, because of the nature and variety of peoples, regions, innate dispositions, and of so many other things? For, in truth, when released from these corporeal chains ‘we shall see God as He is’ (1 John 3:2), we shall understand perfectly by how close and beautiful a bond divine mercy and justice are united; but, as long as we are on earth, weighed down by this mortal mass which blunts the soul, let us hold most firmly that, in accordance with Catholic teaching, there is ‘one God, one faith, one baptism,’ (Ephesians 4:5); it is unlawful to proceed further in inquiry.” (DZ 1626, 1722).

Quanto conficiamur moerore, Pope Pius IX, (August 10, 1863):

“And here, beloved Sons and Venerable Brothers, we should mention again and censure a very grave error in which some Catholics are unhappily engaged, who believe that men living in error, and separated from the true faith, and from Catholic unity, can attain eternal life. 40 Indeed, this is certainly quite contrary to Catholic teaching. It is known to Us and to you that they who labor in invincible ignorance of our most holy religion and who, zealously keeping the natural law and its precept engraved in the hearts of all by God, and being ready to obey God, live an honest and upright life, can, by the operating power of divine light and grace, attain eternal life, since God Who clearly beholds, searches, and knows the minds, souls, thoughts, and habits of all men, because of His great goodness and mercy, will by no means suffer anyone to be punished with eternal torment who has not the guilt of deliberate sin. But, the Catholic dogma that no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church is well-known; and also that those who are obstinate toward the authority and definitions of the same Church, and who persistently separate themselves from the unity of the Church, and from the Roman Pontiff, the successor of PETER, to whom “the guardianship of the vine has been entrusted by the Savior, cannot obtain eternal salvation,” (DZ 1677).

Mystici Corporis Christi, Pope Pius XII (June 29, 1943):

Concerning non-Catholics: “We have committed to the protection and guidance of heaven those who do not belong to the visible Body of the Catholic Church…We ask, each and every one of them to correspond to the interior movement of grace and seek to withdraw from that state in which they cannot be sure of their salvation. For, even though by an unconscious desire and longing they have a certain relationship with the Mystical Body of the Redeemer, they still remain deprived of those many heavenly gifts and helps, which can only be enjoyed in the Catholic Church. Therefore may they enter into Catholic unity, and joined with us in the organic Body of Jesus Christ may they together with us run on to the one Head in the Society of glorious love…We wait for them with open and outstretched arms to come, not to a stranger’s house, but to their own, their Father’s home.”

Suprema haec sacra, Pope Pius XII, (published in English on Sept. 4, 1952):

“In his infinite mercy, God has willed that the effects, necessary to salvation, which are directed toward man’s final end, not by intrinsic necessity, but only by divine institution, can also be obtained in certain circumstances when those helps are used only in desire and longing. This we see clearly stated in the Council of Trent, both in reference to the sacrament of regeneration and in reference to the sacrament of Penance. “The same in its own degree must be asserted of the Church, in as far as She is the general help to salvation. Therefore, that one may obtain eternal salvation, it is not always required that he be incorporated into the Church actually as a member, but it is necessary that at least he be united to Her by desire and longing. “However, this desire need not always be explicit, as it is in catechumens; but when a person is involved in invincible ignorance God accepts also an implicit desire, so called because it is included in that good disposition of soul whereby a person wishes his will to be conformed to the will of God. “These things are clearly taught in that dogmatic letter which was issued by the Sovereign Pontiff, Pope Pius XII, on June 29, 1943, on The Mystical Body of Jesus Christ…For in this letter the Sovereign Pontiff clearly distinguishes between those who are actually incorporated into the Church as members and these who are united to the Church only by desire,” (“Canon Law Digest,” Vol. III).

Proofs from the Fathers

(Rev. J.C. Fenton, Prof., Catholic University of America, personally commended by Pope Pius XII for his dogmatic teaching in The American Ecclesiastical Review:) “When one Father, or a group of them, actually stated some doctrine had been revealed by God and taught by Jesus Christ, this testimony has naturally a tremendous weight and significance… [Yet] on almost any given question there will be a considerable number of the Fathers who have left no instructions in writing.”

St. Vincent of Lerins

“Three years later a famous document on tradition and its use emanated from the Lerinese school, the ‘Commonitorium’ of St. Vincent. He whole-heartedly accepted the letter of Pope Celestine, and he quoted it as an authoritative and irresistible witness to his own doctrine that where quod ubique, or universitas, is uncertain, we must turn to quod semper, or antiquitas. Nothing could be more to his purpose than the pope’s: “Desinat incessere novitas vetustatem” The oecumenical Council of Ephesus had been held in the same year that Celestine wrote. Its Acts were before St. Vincent, and it is clear that he looked upon both pope and council as decisive authorities. It was necessary to establish this, before turning to his famous canon, quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus otherwise universitas, antiquitas, consensio. It was not a new criterion, else it would have committed suicide by its very expression. But never had the doctrine been so admirably phrased, so limpidly explained, so adequately exemplified. Even the law of the evolution of dogma is defined by Vincent in language which can hardly be surpassed for exactness and vigour. St. Vincent’s triple test is wholly misunderstood if it is taken to be the ordinary rule of faith. Like all Catholics he took the ordinary rule to be the living magisterium of the Church, and he assumes that the formal decision in cases of doubt lies with the Apostolic See, or with a general council. But cases of doubt arise when no such decision is forthcoming. Then it is that the three tests are to be applied, not simultaneously, but, if necessary, in succession.

“ ‘When an error is found in one corner of the Church, then the first test, universitas, quod ubique, is an unanswerable refutation, nor is there any need to examine further (iii, 7, 8). But if an error attacks the whole Church, then antiquitas, quod semper is to be appealed to, that is, a consensus existing before the novelty arose. Still, in the previous period one or two teachers, even men of great fame, may have erred. Then we betake ourselves to quod ab omnibus, consensio, to the many against the few (if possible to a general council; if not, to an examination of writings). Those few are a trial of faith “ut tentet vos Dominus Deus vester” (Deut., xiii, 1 sqq.). So Tertullian was a magna tentatio; so was Origen — indeed the greatest temptation of all. We must know that whenever what is new or unheard before is introduced by one man beyond or against all the saints, it pertains not to religion but to temptation (xx, 49).’ Who are the ‘Saints’ to whom we appeal? The reply is a definition of ‘Fathers of the Church’ given with all St. Vincent’s inimitable accuracy: “Inter se majorem consulat interrogetque sententias, eorum dumtaxat qui, diversis licet temporibus et locis, in unius tamen ecclesiae Catholicae communione et fide permanentes, magistri probabiles exstiterunt; et quicquid non unus aut duo tantum, sed omnes pariter uno eodemque consensu aperte, frequenter, perseveranter tenuisse, scripsisse, docuisse cognoverit, id sibi quoque intelligat absque ulla dubitatione credendum” (iii, 8). This unambiguous sentence defines for us what is the right way of appealing to the Fathers, and the italicized words perfectly explain what is a ‘Father’: ‘Those alone who, though in diverse times and places, yet persevering in time communion and faith of the one Catholic Church, have been approved teachers.’ The same result is obtained by modern theologians, in their definitions; e.g. Fessler thus defines what constitutes a ‘Father’:

1. Orthodox doctrine and learning;

2. Holiness of life;

3. (At the present day) a certain antiquity.

The criteria by which we judge whether a writer is a “Father” or not are:

1. Citation by a general council, or

2. In public Acts of popes addressed to the Church or concerning Faith;

3. Encomium in the Roman Martyrology as “sanctitate et doctrina insignis”;

4. Public reading in Churches in early centuries;

5. Citations, with praise, as an authority as to the Faith by some of the more celebrated Fathers,” (Catholic Encyclopedia).

St. Ambrose: (See Innocent II quote above and Rev. Demaris, St. Thomas below)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem

“If a person refuses Baptism, he does not gain salvation excepting only the holy Martyrs who gain the kingdom without water.” (“The Catholic Catechism,” Peter Cardinal Gasparri).

St. Cyprian

“Let them know…that the catechumens are not deprived of Baptism, since they are baptized with the most glorious and supreme Baptism of blood,” and also “No doubt men can be baptized without water, in the Holy Ghost, as you observe that these were baptized, before they were baptized with water…since they received the grace of the New Covenant before the bath, which they reached later.” (“The Sacraments,” Pohle and Preuss, Bk. 1).

St. John Chrysostom

“As those baptized in water, so also those who suffer martyrdom are washed clean, [the latter] in their own blood.” (“The Sacraments,” Pohle and Preuss, Bk. 1).

St. Augustine

“To all those who die confessing Christ, even though they have not received the laver of regeneration, [martyrdom] will prove as effective for the remission of sins as if they were washed in the baptismal font,” also “Not only martyrdom for the sake of Christ may supply what is wanting in Baptism, but also faith and conversion of heart, if recourse cannot be had to the celebration of the mystery of Baptism for want of time.” (“The Sacraments,” Pohle and Preuss, Bk. 1).

St. Leo the Great

“Those whom the wicked king removed from this world were brought to heaven by Christ, and He conferred the dignity of martyrdom on those upon whom He had not yet bestowed the redemption of his blood,” (In Epiph, I, 3; “The Sacraments,” Pohle and Preuss, Bk. 1).

St. Fulgentius, (De fide):

“No one save those who have shed their blood, without Baptism but in the Catholic Church, can without Baptism enter the kingdom of heaven, or obtain eternal life…For…he will not have that salvation which is the virtue of the Sacrament if he receives the Sacrament itself outside the Catholic Church,” (“The Catholic Catechism,” Peter Cardinal Gasparri).

St. Prosper of Aquitane

“They who without even having received the laver of regeneration, die for the confession of Christ, it avails them as much for the doing away of sins as if they were washed in the font of Baptism,” (“The Faith of Catholics,” Msgr. Capel, 1885).


“We have indeed likewise a second font, itself one [with the former], of blood to wit, (“The Sacraments,” Pohle and Preuss, Bk. 1).”

Proofs from the Doctors

St. Thomas of Aquinas

Pope Pius XI says of St. Thomas: “And as he is, as We have said, the perfect theologian, so he gives infallible rules and precepts of life not only for individuals, but also for civil and domestic society which is the object also of moral science, both economic and politic,” (“Studiorum Ducem”).

Reply to Objection 1: “In a case of necessity anyone may baptize. And since nowise ought one to sin, if the priest be unwilling to baptize without being paid, one must act as though there were no priest available for the baptism. Hence the person who is in charge of the child can, in such a case, lawfully baptize it, or cause it to be baptized by anyone else. He could, however, lawfully buy the water from the priest, because it is merely a bodily element. But if it were an adult in danger of death that wished to be baptized, and the priest were unwilling to baptize him without being paid, he ought, if possible, to be baptized by someone else. And if he is unable to have recourse to another, he must by no means pay a price for Baptism, and should rather die without being baptized, because for him the baptism of desire would supply the lack of the sacrament.” And in III, Q68

A2: “I answer that, The sacrament of Baptism may be wanting to someone in two ways. First, both in reality and in desire; as is the case with those who neither are baptized, nor wished to be baptized: which clearly indicates contempt of the sacrament, in regard to those who have the use of the free will. Consequently those to whom Baptism is wanting thus,” (meaning those who have refused it) “cannot obtain salvation: since neither sacramentally nor mentally are they incorporated in Christ, through Whom alone can salvation be obtained.”

“Secondly, the sacrament of Baptism may be wanting 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 by charity,’ whereby God, Whose power is not tied to visible sacraments, sanctifies man inwardly. Hence Ambrose says of Valentinian, who died while yet a catechumen: ‘I lost him whom I was to regenerate: but he did not lose the grace he prayed for,’” (“Summa Theologica,” Pt. 1, Obj. 1, art. 5, objection 2).

St. Thomas’ interpretation here can be considered a doctrinally correct definition of what St. Ambrose meant by these words. Hence St. Ambrose’s comments on the death of Valentinian, above, were considered sufficient by St. Thomas to confirm baptism of desire long before the Council of Trent ever sat. So a catechumen, who dies before Baptism, is not necessarily lost. Let us take the example of a man who has studied and prepared for Baptism and is walking to Church on the day he is to be Baptized. However, he is hit by a truck and killed. Shouldn’t we believe that he has done all he could to prepare for Baptism and thus has been saved. And finally, this great founder of scholastic theology teaches clearly that an implicit desire for Baptism can suffice, in certain cases, for salvation in the following answer to questions on Explicit Desire.

(“Summa Theologica,” Pt. 1, Obj. 1, art. 5, objection 3):

Objection 3: “Further, many gentiles obtained salvation through the ministry of the angels, as Dionysius states (Coel. Hier. ix). Now it would seem that the gentiles had neither explicit nor implicit faith in Christ, since they received no revelation. Therefore it seems that it was not necessary for the salvation of all to believe explicitly in the mystery of Christ.”

Reply to Objection 3: “Many of the gentiles received revelations of Christ, as is clear from their predictions. Thus we read (Job 19:25): ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth.’ The Sibyl too foretold certain things about Christ, as Augustine states (Contra Faust. xiii, 15). Moreover, we read in the history of the Romans, that at the time of Constantine Augustus and his mother Irene a tomb was discovered, wherein lay a man on whose breast was a golden plate with the inscription: ‘Christ shall be born of a virgin, and in Him, I believe. O sun, during the lifetime of Irene and Constantine, thou shalt see me again,’ [Cf. Baron, Annal., A.D. 780. If, however, some were saved without receiving any revelation, they were not saved without faith in a Mediator, for, though they did not believe in Him explicitly, they did, nevertheless, have implicit faith through believing in Divine Providence, since they believed that God would deliver mankind in whatever way was pleasing to Him, and according to the revelation of the Spirit to those who knew the truth, as stated Job 35: 11: ‘Who teacheth us more than the beasts of the earth.’”

Thus we see that St. Thomas Aquinas had already taught Pope Pius XII’s teaching on implicit desire, for how could this not be so? And here it must also be remembered that if St. Thomas did not draw this teaching out further in his Summa, it was because he could consider only the plight of the Gentiles and the Jews who lived in Christ’s day, and those who were pagans. He did not have to consider, as did Pope Pius XII, the five centuries of Christians separated from the Church by the Protestant Reformation.

St. Bonaventure

“The reason why [martyrdom] has greater efficacy [than Baptism] is that in the Baptism of blood there is an ampler and fuller imitation and profession of the Passion of Christ than in the Baptism of water…In the Baptism of water death is signified; in the Baptism of blood, it is incurred,” (“The Sacraments,” Pohle and Preuss, Bk. 1).

St. Alphonsus Liguori

“So then, he that in reality has not received Baptism cannot reach heaven? To this I reply, that he also can be saved if he has conceived an ardent desire to be baptized, and believes in Jesus Christ, as happened to many, who, unable to receive Baptism, supplied its place by their desires.

“Baptism by fire, however, is the perfect conversion to God through contrition, or the love of God above all things, with the explicit desire, or implicit desire, for the true river of baptism. As the Council of Trent says (Sess. 14, Chap. 4), it takes the place of the latter with regard to the remission of the guilt, but does not imprint a character nor take away all the debt of punishment. It is called fire because it is made under the impulse of the Holy Ghost, who is given this name… Thus it is of faith (de fide) that men are saved even by the baptism of fire, according to c. Apostolicam, de pres. non bapt. and the Council of Trent, Sess. 6, Chap. 4, where it is said that no one can be saved without the laver of regeneration or the desire for it.”

“Baptism of blood is the shedding of one’s blood, i.e. death, suffered for the faith or for some other Christian virtue. Now this Baptism is comparable to true baptism because, like true Baptism, it remits both guilt and punishment as it were ex opere operato…

Hence martyrdom avails also for infants seeing that the Church venerates the Holy Innocents as true martyrs. That is why Suarez rightly teaches that the opposing view is at least temerarious,” (“Instructions on the Sacraments and the Commandments,” Part II, Ch. II, #2).

Canon Law and the Theologians

Canon 17: “Laws are authoritatively interpreted by the lawmaker and his successor and by those to whom the lawmaker has committed the power to interpret the laws…”

The Jesuits T. Lincoln Bouscaren and Adam Ellis: “The whole of Canon 17 refers to authoritative interpretation; that is, interpretation given with official authority… Authoritative interpretation is made by the legislator or his successor in office. The legislator means: a) for the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff…”

Canon 737 (1917 Code)

“Baptism — the door and foundation of all other Sacraments, the Sacrament which, if we are to attain salvation, must be either actually received or at least desired — is given validly by natural water,” (Revs. Woywod-Smith).

Rev. Demaris

14. “To show you, my children, your exact rule of conduct, I am going to apply to your situation, the principles of faith, and some examples of the history of religion which should develop all the senses and console you in the use you are able to make of them. It is of faith, the first and most necessary of all sacraments, Baptism! It is the doorway to salvation and eternal life. However, the desire, the wish for Baptism suffices in certain cases. Catechumens who were surprised by persecution, only received it in blood which they spilt for the faith. They found the grace of all the sacraments in the free possession of their faith, and they were received into the Church by the Holy Ghost, Who is the tie which unites all the members to the Head. It was thus that the martyrs saved themselves, their blood serving as Baptism (the Holy Innocents).

“It will be thus that you will be saved. Baptism of Desire is for all those who, instructed in our mysteries, shall desire, according to their faith, to receive them. Such is the law of the Church, founded on what St. Peter said that one cannot refuse the water of Baptism to those who have received the Holy Ghost. When one has the spirit of Jesus Christ, one cannot be separated from Jesus Christ. When we are persecuted for love of Him, deprived of all help, heaped with captives’ chains, when we are led to the scaffold, we then have all the sacraments in the Cross. This instrument of our redemption embraces all that is necessary for our salvation. The tradition and history of the better days of the Church, confirm this dogmatic truth. The faithful who desired the sacraments, the confessors and martyrs were saved without the sacraments since they could not receive them. From that it is simple for us to conclude that no sacrament is necessary when it is impossible to receive it, and this conclusion is the belief of the Church…St. Ambrose regarded the Pious Emperor Valentinian as a saint, although he died without the Baptism of water although he desired to do so, but which he had not been able to receive. “It is the desire and the will which saves us in this case.’ Said the doctor of the Church, “He who does not receive the sacraments from the hand of men, receives them from God who is not baptized by his piety and desire, is baptized by Jesus Christ,” (“They have Taken Away My Lord”).

Rev. Adolphe Tanquerey

Those achieving baptism of desire must evidence an implicit desire for Baptism of water, and this desire must include “a general resolution to fulfill all the precepts of God.” While Baptism of desire remits original and actual sin it “does not imprint the baptismal character…nor does it remit the entire temporal punishment due to sin,” (Ibid). So this concession of our Lord’s is not a “free ride” into Heaven by any means. Strictly speaking both baptism of blood and desire are not sacraments, and one does not obtain membership in the Church even though gaining this great favor of God’s mercy. If one receiving baptism of desire or blood survived, they would be required to receive Baptism of water before being able to receive any of the other Sacraments. In baptism of blood, however, the Church commonly admits that in the case of adults, there is remission of sin as well as remission of temporal punishment. “The Church does not pray for martyrs,” Tanquerey noted, “but if martyrdom operated only ex opere operantis, prayers would have to be offered for them,” (“Manual of Dogmatic Theology, Vol. II, Rev Adolphe Tanquerey, 1959.)

Rev. Tanquerey’s work was in general use in American seminaries pre-1958. As Rev. J. C. Fenton points out in his article “The Teaching of the Theological Manuals” in The American Ecclesiastical Review, April 1963: “Even more widely known than the works of Billot were those of the Sulpician Adolphe Tanquerey. Many thousands of priests were introduced to the study of sacred theology, and particularly of fundamental dogmatic theology, by courses based on Tanquerey’s [works]. If the theses taught by Tanquerey were opposed to those of ‘the most authentic Catholic tradition of all ages,’ then thousands of priests, educated during the first part of the twentieth century were being led into error by the men whom Our Lord had constituted as the guardians of His revealed message.”

Rev. Clarence McAuliffe, S.J.

“All men must be baptized in order to save their souls. However, in extraordinary circumstances baptism of love and baptism of martyrdom can substitute for baptism…Baptism of love [desire] regenerates a man, forgives original and mortal sins, and eternal punishment. It makes one a member of the Church in desire only. It does not necessarily remit venial sins and all temporal punishment due to sins. To accomplish this the act of love must be of most excellent quality.” For baptism of martyrdom to supply for the actual sacrament, those suffering this martyrdom “must have an intention, at least habitual, to suffer martyrdom…They must have at least an implicit intention to be baptized…[and] the martyr must be impelled by a motive based on faith, [i.e.] a perfect love for God, hope of eternal reward, preservation of chastity, guarding the seal of confession, love for the faith, etc…An act of supernatural faith must proceed or accompany martyrdom, one who has committed mortal sins must be sorry for them at least with imperfect contrition and the martyr cannot offer even lawful resistance to his persecutor.

“Necessity admits degrees…With regard to baptism, it is well to distinguish necessity of precept and of means…Necessity of precept means that something is necessary because a superior commands it…When the precept cannot be fulfilled, …[it] simply ceases,” (Ex: sickness excuses from attendance at Holy Mass). “Necessity of means signifies that some act or thing is obviously necessary as a means to obtain some purpose, which accordingly cannot be achieved without the act or thing. Thus air is necessary to human life with the necessity of means. Moreover, no substitute can be found for air and so it is necessary with absolute necessity of means. In the supernatural order, sanctifying grace is necessary for salvation nor is there any substitute for it. Repentance is necessary for the sinner in the same way. Although baptism is necessary with necessity of means, it is not necessary with this absolute necessity. An act or thing can be objectively necessary in order to obtain some purpose by hypothetical or relative necessity of means also. This signifies that in extraordinary circumstances, some substitute can be used in place of the ordinary act or thing,” (Ex.: eating dog food in case of famine or extreme hunger).

“Baptism is objectively required for salvation. However in unusual circumstances, baptism of love or martyrdom can substitute for it in the case of adults,” although infants can be saved only through baptism of blood,” and it is rare. Baptism, therefore is necessary with hypothetical or relative necessity of means…If the obligation to perform the act simply ceases, we have necessity of precept only. If some other act must be done in its place, we have necessity of means. In extraordinary circumstances…the unusual circumstances in which baptism of love or martyrdom can substitute for baptism are these: First, when a person, a pagan adult for instance, is ignorant of baptism or its necessity; second, when it is impossible for some other reason for a person to be baptized and third, when a person, at least implicitly desires baptism,” (“Sacramental Theology, Vol. I under Baptism, by Clarence McAuliffe, S.J., 1958. Rev. McAuliffe was a professor of theology at St. Mary’s College, St. Mary’s Kansas.)

Rt. Rev. Msgr. Joseph Pohle and Arthur Preuss

“The Baptism of desire …differs from the Baptism of water…in the same way in which spiritual differs from actual Communion…The primitive Church venerated in a special manner all those who suffered martyrdom for the faith, the unbaptized as well as the baptized…The Baptism of blood is more perfect than the Baptism of desire, and, in a certain sense, even excels Baptism by water…[yet] martyrdom is inferior to baptism because it is not a Sacrament,” (“The Sacraments,” Bk. 1).

Rev. J.C. Fenton (For an in-depth analysis of Rev. Fenton’s teaching on this dogma, please see Church Membership articles that follow).

Rev. Francis J. Connell

“Those who are not actual members of the Church can be sanctified and saved if they are invincibly ignorant of their obligation to join the Church and are in the state of sanctifying grace, since such persons have an implicit desire of membership in the Church. But they are they are not to be reckoned as members of the Church — not even invisible members,” (The American Ecclesiastical Review, “Questions and Answers,” January, 1958).

The Catechisms of the Church

“Catechisms and other approved books of Christian doctrine, insofar as they are adopted by the ordinaries of the various dioceses for teaching the content of the faith to the people of these dioceses, may be said to express the ordinary magisterium of the Catholic Church… The old standard Baltimore Catechism…[taught] faith to Catholics of an entire nation…Others, like the Roman Catechism or the Catechism of the Council of Trent have had worldwide popularity and use. The unanimous teaching of these catechisms can rightly be considered by the theologians as an indication of the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Catholic Church. The doctrine that is universally or unanimously proposed in these doctrinal books, in such a way that it is presented to practically all of the Catholics of the world as revealed truth, is certainly a verity taught and exposed infallibly in the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Catholic Church,” (“The Concept of Sacred Theology,” Rev. J.C. Fenton, 1941).

Here we must note that there is not one single catechism examined that fails to mention the supplying nature of baptism of blood and/or desire when water or one able to baptize is absent. Among those containing the dogma of baptism of blood and desire, we must mention:

• The Catechism of the Council of Trent, also known as the Roman Catechism, (Rev. Donavan, 1829)

• The Catholic Catechism, by Peter Cardinal Gasparri, based upon the Roman Catechism, (1932)

• The Catechism of the Summa Theologica, based on the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas

• The Baltimore Catechisms, edited by Rev. Thomas Kinkead, 1885

• The Catechism of Rodez, compiled by the Abbe Luche and approved by Louis, Bishop of Rodez, 1898

• The Flanders Catechism, by Rev. Deharbe, (1877)

• The Catechism Explained, by Revs. Spirago and Clarke, (1927)

• The Catholic Christian Instructed, by the Most Rev. Dr. Challoner, (1901)

• Catholic Belief, by Rev. Joseph Faa di Bruno, D.D., (imprimatured by Henry Cardinal Manning, (1884) and widely circulated in England and America to the tune of over 200,000 copies)

• Catholic Catechism, by Rev. W. Faerber, 1958, (for use in America’s parochial schools)

• Manual of Christian Doctrine, by a Seminary Professor, (1926)

• Systematic Study of the Catholic Religion, Charles Coppens, S. J., (1903)

• A Catechism for Inquirers, Rev. Joseph Malloy, C.S.P., (1927)

• Catechism of Christian Doctrine # 4, by the Brothers of the Christian Schools, (1921)

• The Sacraments, Seven Channels of Grace, by Richard Cardinal Cushing

• The Catholic Christian Instructed, Rev. George Hay, 19th century

From the Catechism of the Council of Trent:

Baptism of adults, why deferred: “On this class of persons…the Church does not confer this Sacrament hastily: She will have it deferred for a certain time; nor is the delay attended with the same danger as in the case of infants, which we have already mentioned: and should any unforeseen accident deprive adults of Baptism, their intention of receiving it and their repentance for past sins will avail them to grace and righteousness.” 69

From the Baltimore Catechism:

“Q. 631: Is Baptism necessary to salvation?

A. Baptism is absolutely necessary to salvation, for our Lord has expressly said: “Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.”

Q. 644: How many kinds of Baptism are there?

A. There are three kinds of Baptism: Baptism of water, of desire and of blood.

Q. 653: Is Baptism of desire or blood sufficient to produce the effects of Baptism of water?

A. Baptism of desire or blood is sufficient to produce the effects of Baptism of water, if it is impossible to receive the Baptism of water.

Q. 654: How do we know that the Baptism of desire or blood will save us when it is impossible to receive the baptism of water?

A. We know that baptism of desire or blood will save us when it is impossible to receive the baptism of water, from Holy Scripture, which teaches that love of God and perfect contrition can secure the remission of sins; and also that Our Lord promises salvation to those who lay down their life for His sake, or for His teaching,” (Rev. Thomas Kinkead, 1921).

Consider for one moment the effects of believing that all the catechisms listed above, including the Catechism of the Council of Trent, have erred in their teaching on baptism of blood and desire. Follow this obvious implication of Feeneyite teaching through to its logical conclusion. And in doing so, consider this. Pope St. Pius X identified ignorance in divine things on the part of Catholics as the number one cause of all the troubles in the Church and in the world. Quoting his predecessor Pope Benedict XIV, Pope Pius X said:

“We declare that the greater part of those who are damned have brought the calamity on themselves by ignorance of the mysteries of the faith, which they should have known and believed, in order to be united with the elect.” To cure this ignorance, St. Pius X infallibly ordered that adults be instructed weekly in the catechism. “Since it is a fact that in these days adults need instruction no less than the young, all pastors and those having the care of souls shall explain the Catechism to the people in a plain and simple style adapted to the intelligence of their hearers. This shall be carried out on all holy days of obligation, at such time as is most convenient for the people, but not during the same hour when the children are instructed, and this instruction must be in addition to the usual homily on the Gospel which is delivered at the parochial Mass on Sundays and holy days. The catechetical instruction shall be based on the Catechism of the Council of Trent; and the matter is to be divided in such a way that in the space of four or five years, treatment will be given to the Apostles’ Creed, the Sacraments, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Precepts of the Church. We decree and command this by virtue of Our Apostolic Authority,” (“Acerbo Nimis,” 1905).

After reviewing all these teachings it becomes clear that without rejecting what the Church teaches going clear back to the reign of Pope Pius IX, and even further, one must accept the Church’s teaching on possession of implicit desire only as sufficient — in certain cases known only to God — for salvation. If one limits such salvation to those possessing explicit desire only, they deny an infallible definition of the Church. Let us further draw out the consequences of pretending that all these catechisms, the works of the Fathers and Doctors, and the teaching of the continual magisterium could be in error. To begin with, those who on the one hand champion “outside the Church there is no salvation” to the exclusion of baptism of blood and desire; and on the other side ignore the condemnation and excommunication of Rev. Feeney by Pope Pius XII cannot presume to quote anything from Pius XII supporting their position and cannot pretend to accept him as pope. Either all he teaches on this and all other doctrinal subjects is the teaching of a true Pope and echoes the continual teaching of the magisterium or it does not. Feenyites and their modern day supporters say that he erred concerning the teaching on baptism of desire and blood, to the injury of “outside the Church there is no salvation.”

This is a teaching pertaining to faith and morals. The Popes are infallible in such teachings, and clearly “outside the Church…” has been infallibly defined by Pope Boniface VIII, among others. Ergo, Pope Pius XII must be held as a heretic in the eyes of those who say that he has so taught. And who in their right mind would cite the works of a heretic?! Nor can they pretend to quote St. Thomas of Aquinas in their defense for any reason. They accuse this much-acclaimed Doctor of falsehood and erroneous teaching on baptism of desire, yet point to his teachings on “outside the Church there is no salvation” as truth worthy of exposition. All this without any pretense whatsoever of abiding by the Scholastic method as the only philosophical method prescribed by the Church for demonstrating the truths of faith. And this brings us to the overriding fatal error at fault for deluding so many concerning the Church’s true teaching on baptism of blood and desire. As Pope Pius XII, Rev. Fenton and others have determined, it is a rejection of scholastic theology that has allowed so many modern errors to take root and thrive in the soil of liberalism, modernism and false eirenicism.


“But if an error attacks the whole Church, then antiquitas, quod semper is to be appealed to, that is, a consensus existing before the novelty arose. Still, in the previous period one or two teachers, even men of great fame, may have erred. Then we betake ourselves to quod ab omnibus, consensio, to the many against the few (if possible to a general council; if not, to an examination of writings). Those few are a trial of faith “ut tentet vos Dominus Deus vester” (Deut., xiii, 1 sqq.). So Tertullian was a magna tentatio; so was Origen — indeed the greatest temptation of all. We must know that whenever what is new or unheard before is introduced by one man beyond or against all the saints, it pertains not to religion but to temptation (xx, 49).” Perhaps men of great fame may have erred, but these could never include the Roman Pontiffs. The Romans Pontiffs can and have overridden the opinions of even great doctors (such as Pope Pius XII did in the case of St. Robert Bellarmine). As St. Thomas proves, even Baptism by way of implicit desire was never a novelty in the Church.

We have shown here what the Church’s constant teaching has always been on this matter, from all the required sources. But it must be noted here that the nature of implicit desire was not defined until Pope Pius XII wrote “Mystici Coprporis.” Until that time it was a matter in dispute among the theologians. In the 450 years intervening between Pope Pius V’s reign and the Great Apostasy, which began with the Protestant Reformation, the ground underneath implicit desire became increasingly muddied by invincible ignorance; so much so that the Popes were forced to deal with this shift by defining implicit desire in relation to invincible ignorance. In the early days of the Church, this situation did not existence. Still we find that St. Thomas did not exclude those possessing implicit desire from possibly being saved, BEFORE the advent of the Apostasy. Catholics are not expected to puzzle out WHO is being saved, only that we are no to judge and that God alone can decide in such matters. Why then all the furor over implicit deisire? Because so many Catholics do not respect or accept all that is taught by the continual magisterium, even though they profess to believe that Pope Pius XII was the last true Pontiff. Either they must accept his definition irrevocably, or they must prove how and why he was not a valid pope. And yet they have nothing on which to base this claim. They can allege that Pius XII was weak, made bad decisions which were later used to justify the falsification of dogma by the V2 antipopes, and failed to effectively fight evil in the Church. But this does not constitute heresy.

Such heresy must be either opposed to a constant teaching of the Church or be an out and out novelty, as St. Vincent of Lerins points out. But implicit desire, as described above was not a novelty; it’s application simply had not been adequately defined. This was the case with many other things in the Church, including the exercise of ordinary jurisdiction by the bishops, the nature and extent of infallibility and the infallible nature of ecclesiastical discipline. Such definitions of terms, not previously defined, is a common and recurrent practice in the Church. But let the extremists among those who follow in Feeney’s footsteps and brazenly still promote his teachings be honest about their continued attempts to “depope” all those from Pope Pius IX through the present. If they can undo the Vatican Council teaching that the pope is infallible, derail ecclesiastical discipline and nullify Pope Pius XII’s infallible teaching on the jurisdiction of bishops as well as that concerning implicit desire, they tell themselves that they will have pulled off a great coup. They then will be able to vindicate their hero, the heretic Leonard Feeney. They also will be able to do and believe as they please without the inconvenient restraint of obedience. And once this is accomplished, they will not hesitate to attack the infallibility of all popes and the perpetuity and indefectibility of the Church Herself. Fortunately for us, we have Christ’s promise that the Church, precisely as He constituted it will last ”unto the consummation.”

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