Baptism of Desire


A friend of mine was having a hard time believing that Baptism of Desire is true for a few reasons, and I was left unable to fully counter them. I’d appreciate someone addressing these reasons for doubting it so that I may convince him that it’s true.

1. John 3:5 states “Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.” Baptism of Desire suggests that one can achieve salvation without these things.

2. The Catholic Church infallibly teaches that it is necessary to be subject to the Roman Pontiff to achieve salvation “…We declare, say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff” (Pope Boniface VIII, the Bull Unam Sanctam, 1302.).

The Church also states that it does not exercise any jurisdiction over those who have not been baptised, according to the Council of Trent Session 14 Chapter 2: “seeing that the Church exercises judgment on no one who has not entered therein through the gate of baptism.”

So one cannot be said to be subject to the Roman Pontiff if they have not been baptised, and therefore cannot achieve salvation according to Unam Sanctam.

3. At the 4th Lateran Council(1215), Pope Innocent III said “There is indeed one universal Church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all is saved.” To be part of the Church, one must be baptised. Pope Paul III infallibly stated this much in the Council of Trent, and even said that anyone who denies it is anathema. “If anyone says that baptism is optional, that is, not necessary for salvation: let him be anathema.”(Canons on Baptism, canon 5).

Now some might say that Pope Paul III was referring to a more metaphorical baptism, one that would include Baptism of Desire, rather than just the sacrament. However, canon 2 refutes this pretty solidly. In it, he states: “If anyone shall say that real and natural water is not necessary for baptism, and on that account those words of Our Lord Jesus Christ: ‘Unless a man be born again of the water and the Holy Spirit’[John 3:5] are distorted into some sort of metaphor: let him be anathema.”(Emphasis added).


From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
"Outside the Church there is no salvation"

846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers?335 Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.336

847 This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:

[INDENT]Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.337

848 "Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men."338 (source)[/INDENT]

I would offer that the above teaching from the *Catechism *is the proper interpretation of those older church documents. If you have come up with a different interpretation then you are probably taking what those older church documents say out of context.


But what past Church teaching or part of Scripture is that based on? It seems that the Church up until recent years was very much against Baptism of Desire, and I can’t find any examples of it being Church doctrine in the past.


When I was baptist, John 3.5 actually convinced me of Baptismal regeneration and thus made me want to convert to Catholicism.

There are a lot of “Sola Fide” verses in the bible but there is also verses like John 3:5 that suggests other things are needed for Salvation.

Acts 16:31
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.

John 3:16
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

there are a lot more.

I found that the only way for john 3:5 and verses like Acts 16:31 to mesh together and work is Baptism by Desire.


Huh. My interpretations of those seeming contradictions was that none of them say “x is the only thing you need”. Different verses may say you need different things for salvation, but none of them say that faith or baptism or whatever is all you need. Some may imply it, but none explicitly state it.

So the understanding I took out of it was that you need all those things to achieve salvation. Works, faith, and baptism(whether by fact or desire). My friend agrees up to the fact or desire point, where he says that a literal baptism is required.


The teaching on baptism of desire is not new. St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) talks baptism of desire, also known as baptism of repentance or baptism of the Spirit, in his Summa Theologiae, Part 3, Question 66, Article 11 (The various kinds of Baptism) and Article 12 (The comparison between various Baptisms) and Question 68, Article 2 (Can a man be saved without Baptism?).


How many times in Scripture does Christ laud the faith the gentiles?
It is the Canaanite woman who touches the garment of Jesus who is healed of her hemorrhage. It is the centurion whose servant is cured and whose words we say before Communion. There is scriptural foundation for salvation, based on faith, rather than belonging to the people of God. In the O.T. this would be the Israelites, and in the N.T., this would be the Church.
I learned about the Baptism of Desire as a First Grader, before Vatican II. It is not a new teaching of the Church. A person living in darkest African who had not heard the gospel, but sought God whole heartedly would not be deprived salvation.


One can’t lift up Acts 16:31 and ignore John 3:5.

and one can’t lift up John 3:5 and ignore Acts 16:31.

to believe in Christ implies that one would follow his teachings (2 John 1:9)

before baptism if one has faith and desires baptism he would be saved according to Acts 16:31 without contradicting John 3:5

after baptism being saved by faith still works for people in Mortal sin, Because if they have Perfect contrition there sins have been forgiven prior to going to Confession. ( but they would still need to go to confession)

this is my understanding of things anyways


In addition to St. Thomas Aquinas’ teaching that Todd977 shared, there’s this letter from the Holy Office to Fr. Feeney - who was excommunicated for teaching that only those physically baptized into the Church were saved - that was approved by Pius XII:

Then there’s also Vatican I. This is more about salvation of those who are invincibly ignorance in general, but it’s related to baptism of desire.

[quote=‘First Vatican Council’ date
]Furthermore, it is a dogma of faith that no one can be saved outside the Church. Nevertheless, those who are invincibly ignorant of Christ and the Church are not to be judged worthy of eternal punishment because of this ignorance. For they are innocent in the eyes of the Lord of any fault in this matter. God wishes all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth; and if one does what he can, God does not withhold the grace for him to obtain eternal life. But no one obtains eternal life if he dies separated from the unity of faith or from communion with the Church through his own fault.

And Trent (like the letter I quoted said) also taught that desire was enough to receive the grace of a Sacrament.

So no. It’s really not a new idea.


The Scripture that it’s based on is the account of the Good Thief, who was promised by Jesus that he would be in heaven with him, even though he never got the chance to be baptized.


Hi, Random!
…I think it’s like the chicken and the egg thing… it confuses a whole mess of people… but when you dig down deep: the chicken, of course!

…“In the Beginning… God Said… All living Creatures…” God did not Call into existence seeds and eggs but full-grown organism.

…if we dig deep into Doctrine we will find that Baptism of Desire occurred right at Christ’s Death when the “good” thief reprimanded the other criminal, Confessed Christ to Be Just, and asked Him for Salvation–Jesus did not stuttered but exclaimed: “Today, you will be with Me, in Paradise!”

…then there’s that practice of Baptizing one’s self for a dead loved one, is that not a Baptism of Desire? Interestingly enough, not a single condemnation was made of those who would Baptize themselves for their dead loved ones–I mean, such an important practice should have been corrected had it been some sort of error, circumvention or outright blatant apostasy or heresy, don’t you think?

Maran atha!



Hi, again!
…it seems that your view of history is kind of short… check this out:

The Catholic 1582 Rheims New Testament, the first published tome of the Douay-Rheims Bible, specifically notes in its annotations to John 3:5 both the necessity of Baptism and the availability of Baptism of Desire and Baptism of Blood. The Catholic Church had been expelled from England at the time of the production of the Bible and many annotations were designed to assist lay Catholics to keep to their faith in the absence of clergy. (

…while I’m no scholar/historian, it seems to me that every practice that the Church put’s into text (as in the Canon of the Bible) has been routinely practiced by the Church for many years, perhaps even centuries prior to the designation of terminologies and placement in writings (Doctrine).

Maran atha!



Treated in depth here:

The Necessity of Being Catholic
by James Akin


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