Trent on Baptism and Baptism of Desire


#1

This has been bothering me lately.

Clearly the Council of Trent teaches that the desire for Baptism can be/is sufficient for salvation:

Canon 4. If anyone says that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary for salvation but are superfluous, and that without them or without the desire of them men obtain from God through faith alone the grace of justification,[2] though all are not necessary for each one, let him be anathema.
[Emphasis added] [Taken from the Council of Trent translation found at EWTN’s website, http://www.ewtn.com/library/councils/trent7.htm#3]

But then why this canon later (in a different section of canons):

Canon 5. If anyone says that baptism is optional, that is, not necessary for salvation,[13] let him be anathema.
[also from EWTN, see link above]

It may be said that the above meaning of the word “baptism” should be interpreted to also mean “the grace of Baptism” and “baptism of desire/blood” but very close by to this canon we see canon 2, where the Council is using the word “baptism” to mean baptism by water exclusively:

Canon 2. If anyone says that true and natural water is not necessary for baptism . . . let him be anathema.
[also from EWTN, see link above]

Likewise, the Catechism says:

1258 The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament.
[taken from http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c1a1.htm]

Which seems to imply that the desire for Baptism is not itself Baptism, but only brings about the fruits of Baptism.

So, if Trent, in Canon 5 above, means by “Baptism” only Baptism with water, and not Baptism by desire/blood, which meaning seems to be implied by both Canon 2 and the Catechism,
and if Trent, in Canon 4 above (a canon from a different section), means to say that Baptism (with water) is not necessary for salvation, that it is optional, and that the desire for Baptism is sufficient for salvation,
then it appears that there is a contradiction in the teachings of Trent.

Of course, there cannot be such a contradiction, and with the right interpretation these teachings can be harmonized, but I would be happy if someone could explain the interpretation that reconciles these teachings, while at the same time dealing with what Canon 2 and the Catechism imply about the meaning of Trent’s use of the word “baptism” in Canon 5. (Essentially, I want to see if someone can explain an interpretation of this to me that harmonizes the teachings, without being too much of an interpretative “stretch”; it is the interpretative stretch that I personally use to harmonize these teachings that bothers me.)

Please note: This is not a thread to discuss whether or not the Baptism of Desire is legitimate; the Catechism has already answered this for me.
(Although I use them somewhat interchangeably, I understand that the baptism of desire is not identical to the baptism of blood, but baptism of blood seems to be just a subset of baptism of desire, because its effect appears to come from the desire for Christ/God (and, though ignorant of this at the time, the baptism that will lead to Christ) that is heavily implied in the act of dying for Christ that leads to that person’s baptism of blood.)


De Fide vs Sent. Fidei Prox. And ECNS
#2

I can think of two ways to reconcile Canon 2, and I don’t either of them is too much of a stretch.

The complete text of Canon 2 is:

Canon 2. If anyone says that true and natural water is not necessary for baptism and thus twists into some metaphor the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost,” let him be anathema.

When read in context, the Canon seems to be correcting the protestant error (which you still find in some lowbrow arguments) that the phrase “born again of water and the spirit” means you are first “born of water” (amniotic fluid - ie, ordinary childbirth) and later born “again” of the Spirit, and at no point does water factor into the economy of salvation. (Now THAT’S an “interpretative stretch”). It’s pretty silly to argue that, in order to be “born again,” you must first be born (and that Jesus felt he needed to educate Nicodemus on this point), but protestants were saying that (and some still do). It seems to me that Canon 2, when read in context, intends to counter this silly notion, and does not intend to elaborate on the nature of the Sacrament itself.

Canon 2 could also refer to how a Baptism is performed. Water is necessary to perform a Baptism. Thus, the Canon excludes other substances (such as milk or wine), and it does not intend to elaborate on the nature of the Sacrament itself.

I favor the first interpretation, considering the context of Jesus’ words, but either version is theologically sound, logically plausible, and does not require rhetorical gymnastics to “fit” with the other Canons.

baptism of blood seems to be just a subset of baptism of desire

FWIW, this is correct.


#3

Thanks for the assistance with Canon 2, David! My primary concern, however, is with reconciling Canons 4 and 5 (I’m sorry if I did not make the clearer in my post).

If I can push back a bit, although it may be dealing primarily with that protestant error, Canon 2 still does clarify that, in order to have a Baptism, you must have water, and it makes this clarification just a short distance from where Canon 5 says that Baptism is not optional for salvation.
Here is the relevant reading that seems most obvious to me, a reading which I personally need to adjust in a non-obvious way in order to harmonize the teachings:

Canon 4: Baptism with water** or desire for baptism** are sufficient for salvation.
Canon 5: Baptism (with water, see Canon 2 and the Catechism) is required for salvation, and is not optional; so if you want to have salvation you must have Baptism with water.
Canon 2: When we say Baptism, we mean Baptism with water, and not some
other kind of baptism (like with milk or air or something).
Catechism 1258: Desire for Baptism is not Baptism.

In order for me personally to harmonize Canon 4 and 5, I make the following interpretive change:
Canon 5: Baptism or desire for Baptism is required for salvation, and they (at least one of the two*) are not optional.

*I don’t actually know if Baptism becomes invalid if there is no desire for Baptism when the person is baptized; I imagine it would be invalid. I’m sure the Church has a teaching on that and that is not really the point of this thread.


#4

You are speaking of the normative versus extraordinary means of salvation. Since the canons do not explicitly include of exclude this, by their very language, I see no conflict.


#5

Thanks po18guy; so do you think it would then be a fitting interpretation of Canon 5 to say:
‘If anyone says that Baptism is normally optional, that is, not normally necessary for salvation, let him be anathema.’ [where the word ‘normally’ has been added twice by myself to fit the interpretation your response has suggested to me]?

To me it seems if the words of the Council are taken to mean only their literalistic* meaning, then there will be a contradiction by the words, because it is impossible that an individual’s Baptism can simultaneously be “not optional” for salvation but at the same time optional, and optional it seems to be if desire for Baptism can be sufficient for salvation (rendering Baptism optional for that person who has desired Baptism but was unable to receive it before their death).

Unless the Council is speaking of Baptism itself and not an individual’s Baptism; that is, without the existence of Baptism itself, it would be impossible that an individual could desire it, because we cannot desire what does not exist (when we desire something that only possibly exists, but that does not exist in the real world, like giant purple ants, we are desiring only the concept of the thing and not the thing itself, for there is no thing itself (at least not yet) to be desired if the thing itself does not exist).
This does not seem obvious from the text, however. (Although I rather like this thought; that Baptism’s existence is necessary for Baptism, instead of merely the concept of Baptism, to even be desired).

*As with the senses of Scripture, I intentionally use the word ‘literalistically’ here, rather than ‘literally’, to describe an interpretation based on the words and their bare, dictionary meaning unaided by context or any other information that would help us arrive at the words’ true meaning (their literal, but perhaps not literalistic, meaning).


#6

Well, I think that calling Catholic Answers Live and asking Colin Donovan would get you an authoritative answer! What we are speaking of here is but a tiny fragment of canon law and other sections almost certainly apply, if not control the reading of it.


#7

ewtn.com/library/councils/nicaea1.htm

I would suggest that your understanding a “Canon” of an Ecumenical Council might not be complete. A “Canon” is actually a rule, not a doctrine (although it might be a rule founded upon a doctrine, but it is never intended to express a doctrine). The word “Canon” is from the Greek “kanṓn,” meaning “measuring rod or rule.” If you look up the word Canon on dictionary.com, you will find that every definition refers to a rule, not a doctrine.

Ecumenical Councils may teach both rules and doctrines (doctrines are often called ‘decrees’). In some cases, their doctrines are regarded as infallible. In this regard, they are no different than any Pope, who may teach both rules *and *doctrines, and some of his doctrines might be regarded as infallible (but never his rules). The basic authority is the same - the only difference is how that authority is wielded.

The Council of Nicea (the first, and perhaps the greatest Ecumenical Council), for example, produced just one statement of doctrine (a portion of the Creed that we recite each Sunday) and 20 Canons. The last Canon says that we may not kneel at Sunday Mass. This will come as quite a shock for the millions of Latin Rite Catholics, who are instructed (by the Roman Missal) to kneel at certain points - EVEN on a Sunday!

In fact, all 20 Canons of Nicea would be, today, called “Canon Law” (which are rules, not doctrines, and it is where the term “Canon Law” comes from). Click the link I provided. Do ANY of these 20 Canons resemble doctrine to you? Or do they look more like rules? Clergy moving from city to city (Canon 15) hardly seems a matter of doctrine!

As most people here know, Canon Law is not doctrine. It has changed over time, sometimes drastically. Canon Law, as we understand it today, did not exist until 1917. We are now in the Second Edition of the Code of Canon Law, issued in 1983. The Sixth Canon of the 1983 Code of Canon Law completely abrogates (abolishes) the entire 1917 Code.

No Catholic doctrine has ever abrogated any other Catholic doctrine, but Canons do it all the time.

DISCLAIMER: There are many on this Forum (including many Catholics) who are of the VERY MISTAKEN impression that EVERYTHING an Ecumenical Council teaches is infallibly promulgated. This is actually a heresy known as “conciliarism,” which is still popular in many traditional Anglican communions. It is NOT Catholic doctrine. The Church teaches that a Council (like a Pope) MAY teach infallibly. The Church does NOT teach that a Council DOES teach infallibly in all of its decrees (just as the Church does not teach that any Pope DOES teach infallibly in all of his decrees). The distinction is irrelevant to anyone except interested Catholic theologians - ALL Catholics are bound by ALL Church teaching, regardless of whether it is recognized as infallible or not.


#8

I have not encountered this view in the sixteenth century. I’m pretty sure it’s a peculiarly modern bit of silliness, though I could be wrong.

The more common Protestant approach, historically, is to spiritualize the “water” (the main reason modern fundamentalists don’t do this, I think, is that they recognize that spiritualizing interpretations undercut their entire hermeneutic, so they try to come up with a more “literal” alternative, however absurd). And I think that’s what Trent is arguing against. It’s saying that water baptism is not simply a sign of something that has already happened. It is the sacramental means by which the Holy Spirit really does something.

I see no serious difficulty here.

Edwin


#9

This is very good to know, thank you David! I have seen the distinction between canon law and doctrine before, but I always thought that, where a Council makes an ‘anathema sit’ statement after something, they were intending to speak infallibly. But you say they could just be attempting to make a new statement of canon law.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t help me much in resolving the apparent contradiction: even if Trent meant one or both of those Canons (4 and 5) as merely a matter of canon law, and not of doctrine, Trent would be apparently contradicting itself to promulgate that one ought not to say that desire for baptism cannot be sufficient for salvation, and at the same time promulgate that one ought not to say that baptism by water is optional for salvation.

-If both are canon law, a contradiction in canon law apparently occurs.
-If one is canon law and one is doctrine, then, while there is no contradiction, there is a canon law that prohibits one from speaking the truth about a doctrine.*
(For example, if canon 4 (desire for baptism can be sufficient) is doctrine, and canon 5 (water Baptism is not optional) is merely canon law and not doctrine, then canon 5 anathematizes people who say what is said in canon 4.)
-If both are doctrine, then a contradiction in doctrine apparently occurs.

There is, of course, no REAL contradiction, only one that seems to occur by what is, to me and hopefully me alone, the most obvious and literalistic interpretation of Canons 4 and 5 (of different sections of the EWTN translation of the Council). To resolve these apparent contradictions in Trent, whether they be in doctrine or only canon law, it seems to me that I must use a non-obvious interpretation. I see nothing wrong with non-obvious interpretations, what may be obvious to me may not be obvious to the participants in the Council of Trent, but if it becomes too non-obvious, too ‘stretchy’ of an interpretation (like if someone were to say “by natural water, Trent meant any sort of fluid”), then I become uncomfortable with the interpretation, which is why I am looking to see if anyone can provide me with an interpretation of these two canons (4 and 5, see my OP), that harmonizes them without becoming too ‘stretchy’.

*Based on what errors may have been around Trent at the time, it might actually have been practically useful, for fear of causing people to misunderstand Catholic teaching, to prohibit people from talking about the doctrine that desire for baptism can be sufficient, and have them only talk about how (in this man’s particular case who has the opportunity to receive baptism) Baptism is not optional.


#10

Well, first off, I think I would assert that there’s a difference between ‘necessary’ and ‘sufficient’ for salvation! After all, Canon 4 of Trent talks about justification, not salvation, right? :wink:

Nevertheless, even Canon 5, which speaks of salvation, still talks about necessity, not sufficiency!

In any case, the question you raise has to do with ‘infallibility’, but that’s not what’s in play here. After all, doctrine develops. That being the case, the Church would assert that this development allows previously declared doctrine to retain its infallibility. In fact, since the prior teaching is infallible, it has the property of irreformability – that is, since it was infallibly declared, no future teaching will come along and assert that it is reforming or correcting that doctrine. However, future teaching may add to the understanding of infallible doctrine.

I think that this notion about baptism is an excellent example of these principles. Is baptism “necessary for salvation”? Yes; that’s what Trent taught, in an expression that would imply an intent to state infallible Church teaching. Can this teaching ever be changed? That is, can anyone ever come along and assert that Trent was wrong, and what it stated was incorrect? No, that cannot happen. However, can the teaching of Trent be explained more completely and added upon? Yes… and that’s what we see in Church documents.

In fact, what we see in the Catechism is a development in doctrine. Is baptism “necessary for salvation”? Yes. But the development is the awareness that baptism “is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament” (CCC 1257, emphasis mine). This statement does not undermine the teaching of Trent, nor does it suggest that it is changing the declaration of Trent – baptism is necessary. Yet, the CCC refines the statement, by identifying the audience for whom baptism is necessary.

In this light, then, we see that there is no contradiction in the teaching of the Church; all that we have is a refinement of doctrine that does not assert that prior teaching is erroneous, while nevertheless refining that teaching further.


#11

Alright, thanks Gorgias! Sorry about that Necessary/Sufficient confusion, just ignore wherever I type “sufficient” when I should, according to Church teaching, mean “necessary” and vice versa. So the Church’s refined interpretation of Trent, put forth in the Catechism, would be that in Canon 5, Trent, when it says
“If anyone says that baptism is optional, that is, not necessary for salvation, let him be anathema.”, means
“If anyone says that, for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and have the possibility of asking for this sacrament, baptism is optional, that is, not necessary for salvation, let him be anathema.”.

Still, this requires us to add an interpretive gloss not found in the very wording of Trent (this isn’t bad, it just means that the words of Trent do not, by their dictionary definition and using no other/additional words, mean what Trent intends them to mean; this is to be expected, as dictionaries aren’t perfect).

This interpretive gloss (specifying an audience, about which Trent was silent in its wording) seems a less ‘stretchy’ one than the three put forward earlier in this thread (The first being that the word “Baptism” that Trent speaks of should be interpreted to include Bapt. of Desire, or should be interpreted to mean the grace of Baptism; the second being that “Baptism” being necessary should be interpreted to mean the existence of the sacrament of Baptism itself, and not necessarily any individual receiving Baptism; the third being that Canon 5 is meant to be a matter of Canon Law only, and not a matter of doctrine, so that, without contradicting Canon 4, it restricts individuals from speaking the exact words of Canon 4). Thank you for this additional interpretation, which seems more supportable than the other three.

And I hope you don’t think for a moment that I believed that the Church contradicted Herself; She did not, I was just trying to resolve the apparent (but not real) contradiction with the least interpretive stretch needed.


#12

Actually, it’s the other way around. An ‘anathema’ is a clue that the Church intends to promulgate law, not teach doctrine.

An "anathema’ (what we would usually call an ‘excommunication’ today) is strictly a judicial act, which is (by definition) an act of law. You get excommunicated by an ecclesiastical authority (usually a tribunal), but have the opportunity to present your case with representation by a canon lawyer, and you can appeal an excommunication all the way to the Pope (the Supreme Court of Canon Law). This is ALL governed by Canon Law.

The underlying offense is based on doctrine, but the anathema itself is a judicial act (obviously, nobody can appeal doctrine to any Court - not even the Pope!)


#13

LOL! It’s all good! In this case, it’s important to keep that distinction straight, though!

So the Church’s refined interpretation of Trent… means “If anyone says that, for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and have the possibility of asking for this sacrament, baptism is optional, that is, not necessary for salvation, let him be anathema.”.

Right. One additional matter, though: an ‘anathema’ (that is, an ‘excommunication’) is a matter of Church governance, not doctrine. (That, I think, is where the ‘canon law’ argument is coming from, although I haven’t spent much time reading that post). So, Trent is both taking a doctrinal stance on baptism and also setting a standard of discipline. The CCC doesn’t deal in anathemae, although the Code of Canon Law does provide penalties for heresy. I think it’s important to note that distinction…

(Edited to add: Whoops! I just noticed that David covered this same ground on anathemae a few hours ago!)

Still, this requires us to add an interpretive gloss not found in the very wording of Trent (this isn’t bad, it just means that the words of Trent do not, by their dictionary definition and using no other/additional words, mean what Trent intends them to mean; this is to be expected, as dictionaries aren’t perfect).

I think that I would put it slightly differently: it’s not that it’s an “interpretive gloss,” per se, but rather, a recognition that Trent was speaking to a different audience than the CCC is addressing. In the cultural context of Trent, Protestants (that is, ex-Catholics (!)) knew what the Church taught about baptism: they knew that the Church taught it was necessary, and they had been preached the Gospel by the Church. So, for them (and their children!), baptism was necessary. However, today, we have a different situation – not all Christians are ex-Catholics (or the children of ex-Catholics), so it’s necessary to add the additional criteria that the CCC does.

Let me use a (somewhat absurd) example to illustrate what I’m trying to say: if I were talking to a 21st-century audience about healthy living, I might say that “it’s necessary to breathe fresh air and drink clean water in order to live well.” However, if in the 24th century, we’ve made contact with alien races, this truth – which is still true, given the (human) audience for which it was intended – nevertheless might be expanded to say “it’s necessary, for those who breathe air and drink water, to breathe fresh air and drink clean water in order to live well.” (After all, aliens might need to breathe other gases, if at all, or drink other liquids, if any, for their health.) That wouldn’t make my original statement any less correct… but it would clarify the intent of my statement!

And I hope you don’t think for a moment that I believed that the Church contradicted Herself; She did not, I was just trying to resolve the apparent (but not real) contradiction with the least interpretive stretch needed.

No problems! :thumbsup:


#14

Thanks again, David and Gorgias (and all else who participated), you guys have successfully answered my question! :thumbsup:


#15

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