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November 2005

A question about a finer point of Pope Leo’s declaration on water baptism

November 23, 2005

Thank you for your question, which is a good one.  It involves a subtle, but important point.  Pope Leo the Great’s dogmatic teaching that the Spirit of Sanctification, the Blood of Redemption and the Water of Baptism are inseparable is on the topic of sanctification, not Baptism.  The three are inseparable in sanctification.  Notice that “sanctification by the Spirit” and purification from sin is what he is talking about.

Pope St. Leo the Great, dogmatic letter to Flavian, Council of Chalcedon, 451: “Let him heed what the blessed apostle Peter preaches, that sanctification by the Spirit is effected by the sprinkling of Christ’s blood (1 Pet. 1:2); and let him not skip over the same apostle’s words, knowing that you have been redeemed from the empty way of life you inherited from your fathers, not with corruptible gold and silver but by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, as of a lamb without stain or spot (1 Pet. 1:18).  Nor should he withstand the testimony of blessed John the apostle: and the blood of Jesus, the Son of God, purifies us from every sin (1 Jn. 1:7); and again, This is the victory which conquers the world, our faith.  Who is there who conquers the world save one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?  It is He, Jesus Christ, who has come through water and blood, not in water only, but in water and blood.  And because the Spirit is truth, it is the Spirit who testifies.  For there are three who give testimony – Spirit and water and blood.  And the three are one.  (1 Jn. 5:4-8)  IN OTHER WORDS, THE SPIRIT OF SANCTIFICATION AND THE BLOOD OF REDEMPTION AND THE WATER OF BAPTISM.  THESE THREE ARE ONE AND REMAIN INDIVISIBLE.  NONE OF THEM IS SEPARABLE FROM ITS LINK WITH THE OTHERS.
Therefore, Pope Leo is declaring on the topic of “sanctification,” that is, when a person is actually justified or purified from the state of sin, that all three must be present.  When a person is not sanctified, this doesn’t apply (since sanctification by the Spirit – and a person being testified as just before God – is the topic and the context).  Thus, this doesn’t apply to when a heretic is validly baptized and receives no sanctification
Pope St. Gregory the Great, Quia charitati, June 22, 601: “From the ancient institution of the Fathers we have learned that those who are baptized in the name of the Trinity, although amid heresy, whenever they return to holy Church, may be recalled to the bosom of their mother the Church either with the anointing of chrism, or the imposition of hands, or with a profession of faith alone…because the holy baptism, which they received among the heretics, at that time restores the power of cleansing in them when they have been united to the holy faith and the heart of the universal Church.” (Denz. 249)
In the case of heretics who are validly baptized, they receive a valid baptism, but are not justified.  It is when they return to the true faith (and remove the impediment of their heresy) that they receive the remission of sins, as Pope Gregory the Great teaches.  But at the moment when they return to the true faith and remove the impediment of their heresy and therefore receive the remission of sins, all three are present, as they must be: the spirit which justifies them, the Blood which washes their souls, and the water of baptism which they already received.  They cannot be sanctified/justified without having all three, which is just the opposite of the theory of baptism of desire.  Notice that Gregory the Great says that it is the holy baptism which they received which restores this power of justifying in the heretics when they return to the Church.  It is by virtue of the baptism already received that the Blood of Christ can operate to cleanse and the spirit to justify.  Whenever anyone is sanctified/justified from the state of original sin, they must have all three: the spirit of sanctification, the Blood of Redemption and the water of baptism.  These are the three witnesses which must be present to testify that a person is justified from sin. [mhfmvid id="jLKQAi7e8Bk" title="The Latin Text of the Oldest Surviving Papal Decree Rejects “Baptism of Desire”" quality="mqdefault" url=""]