What did Pope Paul III mean in Canon 2 of the Council of Trent?

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.”

This is a complete denial of Baptism of Desire, despite the fact that Baptism of Desire is a Church Dogma. This is a canon of a Church council too, so I don’t think it was just a mistake or material heresy he had. So I’m having trouble reconciling these words with Baptism of Desire. It appears to be a clear contradiction. Any light that could be shed on this would be appreciated.

No. Baptism of Desire, is a desire for the Sacrament of Baptism, but through no fault of one’s self, they are prevented against their will from receiving Water Baptism. The concept of Baptism of Desire is based on the same principle as Jesus stating that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” It’s legalistic and Law based Salvation to be so strictly focused on the Sacraments.

I don’t think it is a denial of a Baptism of Desire–unbaptized catechumens who were martyred or died before they could be baptized have always been considered to be baptized by the Church by their desire to be baptized. It appears that the Pope is stating that only water, not a substitute for water, can be used in baptizing. IOW, one cannot use anything that is not just water for baptism. He is talking about the material used for Baptism.

Some of the Reformers, whose theology Trent was primarily addressing, maintained that Baptism was merely symbolic of cleansing and renewal, and the sacrament is unnecessary in order for a person to be justified, since they were infatuated with the idea of justification being obtained by ‘faith alone’. The Catholic teaching is that Baptism is a command of God, and is necessary for 1) those who have knowledge of the need for it, and 2) have opportunity to receive it.

Out of context. That same council explicitly affirms baptism by desire: “[justification] 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.” source

Yes. Exactly.

You have to keep in mind that the cannons of Trent were specifically written in response to specific Protestant heresies. That particular one is addressing those who claim water is not necessary for baptism, not those for whom it is not situationally possible.

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