------------ Dr. Ludwig Ott FUNDAMENTALS OF CATHOLIC DOGMA
4. The Necessity of Baptism
1. Necessity of Baptism for Salvation
Baptism by water (Baptismus fluminis) is, Since the promulgation of the
Gospel, necessary for all men without exception, for salvation. (De fide.)
The Council of Trent declared against the Reformers, whose idea of
justification led them to deny it, the necessity of Baptism for salvation:
Si quis dixerit, baptismum liberum esse, hoc est non necessarium ad
salutem, A.S. D 861 Cf. D 791. As to the moment of the beginning of the
baptismal obligation, the Council of Trent declared that after the
promulgation of the Gospel B (post Evangelium promulgatum) there could be
no justification without Baptism or the desire for the same. D 796. The
necessity of Baptism for salvation is, according to John 3, 5 and Mk. 16,
16, a necessity of means (necessitas medii), and, according to Mt. 28, 19,
also a necessity or precept (necessitas praecepti). The necessity of means
does not derive from the | intrinsic nature of the Sacrament itself, but
from the designation of Baptism as an indispensable means of salvation by
a positive ordinance of God. In J special circumstances the actual use of
the prescribed means can be dispensed with (hypothetical necessity).
Tradition, in view of John 3, 5, strongly stresses the necessity of
Baptism for salvation. Tertullian, invoking these words, observes: " It is
determined by law that nobody can be saved without baptism " (De bapt. 12,
I). Cf. Pastor Hermae, Sim. IX 16.
2. Substitutes for Sacramental Baptism
In case of emergency Baptism by water can be replaced by Baptism of desire
or Baptism by blood. (Sent. fidei prox.)
a) Baptism of desire (Baptismus flaminis sive Spiritus Sancti) Baptism of
desire is the explicit or implicit desire for sacramental baptism (votum
baptismi) associated with perfect contrition (contrition based on
The Council of Trent teaches that justification from original sin is not
possible " without the washing unto regeneration or the desire for the
According to the teaching of Holy Writ, perfect love possesses justifying
power. Luke 7, 47: "Many sins are forgiven her because she hath loved
much." John 14, 21: " He that loveth me shall be loved of my Father: l and
I will love him and will manifest myself to him." Luke 23, 43 • " This ,
day thou shalt be with me in Paradise."
The chief witnesses from Tradition are St. Ambrose and St. Augustine. In
the funeral oration on the Emperor Valentine II, who died without Baptism,
St. Ambrose says: " Should he not acquire the grace for which he longed?
Certainly: As he desired it, he has attained it . . . His pious desire has
absolved him " (De obitu Valent. 51, 53). St. Augustine declared: " I find
that not only suffering for the sake of Christ can replace that which is
lacking in Baptism, but also faith and conversion of the heart (fidem
conversionemque cordis), if perhaps the shortness of the time does not
permit the celebration of the mystery , of Baptism " (De bapt. IV 22, 29).
In the period of early Scholasticism St. ! Bernard of Clairvaux (Ep. 77
c. 2 n. 6-9), Hugo of St. Victor (De sacr. 116, 7) and the Summa
Sententiarum (V 5) defended the possibility of Baptism of desire against
Peter Abelard. Cf. S. th. III 68, 2.
Baptism of desire works ex opere operantis. It bestows Sanctifying Grace,
which remits original sin, all actual sins, and the eternal punishments
for sin. Venial sins and temporal punishments for sin are remitted
according to the intensity of the subjective disposition. The baptismal
character is not imprinted nor is it the gateway to the other sacraments.
b) Baptism of blood (baptismus sanguinis)
Baptism of blood signifies martyrdom of an umbaptised person, that is, the
patient bearing of a violent death or of an assault which of its nature
leads to death, by reason of one's confession of the Christian faith, or
one's practice of Christian virtue.
Jesus Himself attests the justifying power of martyrdom. Mt. to, 32: "
Every one therefore that shall confess me before men, I will also confess
him before my Father who is in Heaven." Mt. 10 39 (16, 25): " He that
findeth his life shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for me
shall find it." John 11 12, 25: " He that hateth his life in this world
keepeth it unto life eternal."
From the beginning the Fathers regarded martyrdom as a substitute for
Baptism. Tertullian calls it "blood Baptism" (lavacrum sanguinis) and
ascribes to it the effect of "taking the place of the baptismal bath if it
was not received, and restoring that which was lost" (De bapt. I6).
According to St. Cyprian, the catechumens who suffer martyrdom receive "
the glorious and most sublime blood-Baptism" (Ep. 73, 22). Cf. Augustine,
De civ. Dei XIII 7.
As, according to the testimony of Tradition and of the Church Liturgy (cf.
Feast of the Innocents), young children can also receive blood-Baptism,
blood-Baptism operates not merely ex opere operantis as does Baptism of
desire, but since it is an objective confession of Faith it operates also
quasi ex opere operato. It confers the grace of justification, and when
proper dispositions are present, also the remission of all venial sins and
temporal punishments. St. Augustine says: " It is an affront to a martyr
to pray for him; we should rather recommend ourselves to his prayers "
(Sermo 159 I.) Baptism by blood does not confer the baptismal character.
Cf. S. th. III 66, 11 and 12.