Trent: Baptism of Desire


There has been some discussion with people on these forums about whether water baptism (formal membership) in the Church is absolutley necessary for salvation. In this thread I would like to briefly discuss the Council of Trent’s decree on justification in this matter. It has been my asserion that the Council of Trent taught that one can be in the state of grace by baptism or it’s desire.(some have noted that the translation would be better suited as a vow to have the baptism—ok–the point is it is not actual water baptism but the vow or intention to be baptized)
Trent clearly teaches that one can be in the state of grace by baptism or its desire. Some have said that this means the person is justified, but not saved. Well one isnt saved until he gets to heaven, but if one is in the state of grace, and dies he goes to heaven. That is what justification is. It is erroeneous to say that one can “be in the state of grace” and die in that state, and not go to heaven. That is what one would have to argure in order to hold the position that formal membership (water baptism) is absolutley always necessary for salvation.
Here is Trent:
"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…"
Trent clearly explains what the "state of grace is, being adopted as a son of God. How can someone die, as a “son of God” and not go to heaven?
It is very obvious that when Trent teaches that, “if anyone says that baptism is not necessary for salvation… let him be ananthema” that it meant it in a normative way. We know this from the context of the Council’s teaching. If one is going to argue that water baptism is absolutley necessary, one will have to argue that one can die as a “son of God” and not go to heaven.


Hey Deus I told you this thread was for you. No comment?


Until the other thread I had never heard of this bizarre belief, that one can be justified, in a state of grace at death but not be saved (where exactly do they go then?).

And let’s not forget the additional belief espoused, that non-Christians who receive this justification by desire, but who are cut off from Christians who might baptize them, will somehow be enlightened by God to baptize each other.


Sorry. I agree with most things that you said. But just because you are in a state of grace does not mean you are actually in the Church. Therefore, one who is outside of the church but is justified is like the just of the Old Covenant. To my knowledge, The Council of Trent when it talks about “the justified” is only talking about the unbaptized just before the declaration on the necessity of water baptism. After the declaration on the necessity of water baptism, anytime the Council Trent talked about the “just” it was referring to those in the Church who are in sanctifying grace. Father Feeney did say his interpretation of Trent was not infallible, but for the ultimate acceptance or rejection of the Holy See. As of this time, the Holy See has said this interpretation is permitted. However, how the liberals read the Council of Trent was in a way that did not support defined doctrine and dogma, but rather weakened it. Father Feeney’s interpretation always supported defined doctrine and dogma, it never undermined it or weakened it. I hope that the Church will issue a Solemn Definition in support of Father Feeney’s teachings. However, that is up to the Holy Ghost, not me. But we can pray.


Baptism of Desire surely can justify someone. But the Character of Baptism (Baptism of Water) is what makes us members of the Church. Baptism of Desire is not a sacrament.

…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!

…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.


The problem for you deus is that Trent defines the person as being adopted as a son of God. There is no way someone can be a son of God and not go to heaven. This is precisley what baptism does. It makes us adopted sons of God, thus clearing our way, by Christ’s blood and grace, to enter heaven. You are going to have to argue that God rejects one of his sons and does not allow them into heaven.


Where does it say that an adopted son of God goes to heaven? No where, so you are reading into things and making speculations. The document that I quoted quotes the very canon you cite. Venerable theologians, which neither I nor you are, say:

…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.

This next statement has an imprimatur:

* 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)


An imprimatur is not a guarantee of theological correctness, and you should not imply otherwise.


I think it’s also worth noting that it has been stated that even a pagan or heretic can (with conditions) perform a valid sacramental baptism. So one can enter heaven based on the actions of a pagan or a heretic, but not based on a desire to be with God. This seems to be legalism at its worst.



It depends on what you mean by it. I would be willing to defend a form of this. I would say that unless someone has an explicit faith in Christ and has been incorporated into the Church through baptism (obviously you have a somewhat stricter definition of what membership in the Church means) they have not been “saved,” because I would define salvation as a mystical and organic union with Christ, whether in this life or in the life to come. From my perspective, people who have an implicit faith and are following the light they have been given are on the path to salvation, but have not yet been saved. If they do not reach explicit faith in Christ and baptism in this life, I would expect that they would do so at the point of death.

This is, of course, speculative. If it conflicts with what Vatican II teaches, I am not particularly committed to defending it. But I think that the straightforwardly “inclusivist” way Vatican II is generally interpreted (a la Rahner’s “anonymous Christians” theory, which seems to spiritualize away what it means to be a Christian) has led to some misunderstanding and has scandalized many conservative Christians.



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