Baptism of desire

Baptism of desire

Baptism of desire (Latin Baptismus Flaminis) is a teaching of the Roman Catholic Church explaining that those who desire baptism, but are not baptized with water through the Christian ritual, because of death, nevertheless bring about the fruits of Baptism, if their grace of conversion included an internal act of perfect love and contrition which automatically cleanses the soul of all sin. Hence, the Catechism of the Catholic Church observes, "For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament" (CCC 1259).

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that "baptism is necessary for salvation." ("Catechism of the Catholic Church", ss. 1257) [] . It moreover teaches that baptism confers the forgiveness of sins by virtue of the enactment of the sacrament itself: "(b)y Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin." (ss. 1263). For Catholics, baptism is a unique, unrepeatable act; no one who has been baptized validly can receive the full pardon conferred by the sacrament a second time. (ss. 1272) Given these doctrines, it is a matter of serious concern for the Catholic Church if a believing Christian does not receive a valid baptism.

The doctrine of baptism of desire seeks to address some of the implications of these teachings. It holds that those who come to faith in the Catholic Church as adults and become catechumens before receiving baptism nevertheless are admitted to salvation even though the Church teaches that baptism is necessary for salvation. Non-Christians who seek God with a sincere heart and, moved by grace, try to do His will as they know it through the dictates of conscience can also be saved without water baptism; they are said to desire it implicitly. (cf. Catechism, 1260)

Similarly, those who die as martyrs in a persecution of Christians are also judged by Roman Catholicism to have acquired the benefits of baptism without actually undergoing the ritual; this is the "baptism of blood" ("baptismum sanguinis") (ss. 1258). Because the Catholic Church practises infant baptism, these issues seldom arise except for adult converts to Catholicism who were not baptised as children. The Catholic Church officially professes uncertainty about the fate in the afterlife of infants who die before baptism, observing that "the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God" (ss. 1261) although with the recent Papal rejection of the teaching of Limbo it is most commonly accepted that children who die in infancy or who are aborted are admitted into heaven.

Among Eastern Orthodox Christians, the basic doctrine of baptism of desire is accepted, although it is not so rigorously defined. The issue often does not arise within other Christian denominations, because their underlying theology of baptism is different. For many Protestants, baptism is an ordinance undertaken in obedience to the teaching of Jesus and to follow the example he set. The rite of baptism, however, in their view does not confer forgiveness of sins by its performance, nor is it thought to be necessary to salvation, which comes from faith alone and is not contingent upon any ritual or form of words. They point to passages such as Acts , in which various Gentiles who heard Peter preaching were converted and received the Holy Spirit prior to baptism; if baptism were necessary for salvation, these people would not have believed and received the Holy Spirit, it is argued. Orthodox and Roman Catholics would respond that in verses 47-48, baptism was in fact necessary, even though they had received the Holy Spirit, as Peter said, "'Can any man forbid water, that these would not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?' And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord."

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