CORNELIUS, THE GIFT OF LANGUAGES & THE NECESSITY OF BAPTISM
Bro. Peter Dimond
Some people believe that a few verses in the Acts of the Apostles indicate that Cornelius (the first Gentile convert) and his companions were regenerated and justified (or, as some might say, ‘initially saved’) prior to receiving the Sacrament of Baptism. This article will show why this is not the case.
Acts 10:44-48 says: “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in languages and extolling God. Then Peter responded, 47 ‘Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit as we have?’ 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to remain for some days.”
Acts 10:44 says that “the Holy Spirit fell” upon Cornelius and those with him. Acts 10:47 says that they have “received the Holy Spirit as we have”. Some conclude that this falling and reception of the Holy Spirit must refer to or include justification, the remission of sins, and being born again. As the following facts will show, it does not.
In this passage the clauses “the Holy Spirit fell” (ἐπέπεσεν τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ Ἅγιον) and “they who have received the Holy Spirit as we have” (οἵτινες τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ Ἅγιον ἔλαβον ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς) refer to the separate gift of the Holy Spirit: the gift of speaking in languages. Acts 10:45-46 explicitly identifies the gift as the gift of languages: “… the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in languages and extolling God.” The Apostles spoke in various languages as recorded in Acts 2:4. The gift of languages is considered to be one of the charisms or graces freely given. In Latin the term is gratiae gratis datae (graces freely given). The singular would be gratia gratis data (a grace freely given). These charisms or gratiae gratis datae are gifts intended for the edification or sanctification of others. As such, they are not inextricably connected to the sanctification of the individual. The gift of languages (classified as one of the graces freely given – i.e. gratiae gratis datae) thus can be present with or without New Testament justification.
The charisms or graces freely given (gratiae gratis datae) are distinguished from a gratia gratum faciens (a grace making one pleasing). Unlike the charisms or graces freely given (gratiae gratis datae), a gratia gratum faciens (a grace making one pleasing) is necessarily connected to or oriented toward the sanctification and holiness of the recipient. Sanctifying grace is an example of a habitual grace making one pleasing – gratia gratum faciens. Fr. Joseph Pohle, a pre-Vatican II theologian who is frequently quoted, has an interesting passage on this topic. Note: we certainly do not endorse all of what Pohle says on other matters. However, his comment on this matter is relevant and a similar explanation can be found in many other books.
Fr. Joseph Pohle, Grace Actual And Habitual, A Dogmatic Treatise, 1914, p. 12: “‘GRATIA GRATIS DATA’ and ‘GRATIA GRATUM FACIENS.’—The supernatural grace of Christ, existing invisibly in the soul either as a transient impulse (actus) or as a permanent state (habitus), tends either to the salvation of the person in whom it inheres or through him to the sanctification of others. In the former case it is called ingratiating (gratia gratum faciens), in the latter, gratuitously given (gratia gratis data). The term gratia gratis data is based on the words of our Lord recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew: ‘Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils: freely have you received, freely give.’(20) a) The gratia gratum faciens is intended for all men without exception; the gratia gratis data only for a few specially chosen persons. To the class of gratuitously bestowed graces belong the charismata of the prophets and the ordinary powers of the priesthood. (21) Each of these two species of internal grace may exist independently of the other because personal holiness is not a necessary prerequisite for the exercise of the charismata or the power of forgiving sins, etc.”
Thus, the gift of languages (as one of the charismata) doesn’t require that the recipient be in the state of grace. St. Robert Bellarmine teaches the same.
St. Robert Bellarmine, De Gratia Et Libero Arbitrio, Book 2, Chap. 13: “By the name of talents those gratiae gratis datae [charisms or graces freely given] are understood, which are common to the elect and the reprobate, such as the grace of healing, the gift of languages, the interpretation of speech...”
The powers of the priesthood, which are connected to a man’s reception of the Holy Spirit at ordination, are another example of a gift and power of the Holy Spirit that can exist independently of New Testament justification and holiness. By contrast, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord) are connected with the state of grace. They are received with sanctifying grace but lost by mortal sin. Concerning one of those gifts, the gift of understanding, St. Thomas says:
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Pt. II-II, Q. 8, A. 5: “On the contrary, Our Lord said (John 6:45): ‘Everyone who has heard of the Father, and has learned, comes to Me.’ Now it is by the intellect, as Gregory observes (Moral. i, 32), that we learn or understand what we hear. Therefore whoever has the gift of understanding, comes to Christ, which is impossible without sanctifying grace. Therefore the gift of understanding cannot be without sanctifying grace.”
But this is not the case with the charismata or gratiae gratis datae (such as the gift of languages). As the Catholic Encyclopedia noted:
The Catholic Encyclopedia, The Gift of Miracles: “The gift of miracles is one of those mentioned by St. Paul in his First Epistle to the Corinthians (12:9-10), among the extraordinary graces of the Holy Ghost. These have to be distinguished from the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost enumerated by the Prophet Isaias (11:2 sq.) and from the fruits of the Spirit given by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians (5:22). The seven gifts and the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost are always infused with sanctifying grace into the souls of the just. They belong to ordinary sanctity and are within the reach of every Christian. The gifts mentioned in the Epistle to the Corinthians [e.g. the gift of languages] are not necessarily connected with sanctity of life.”
It should also be noted that although wisdom and knowledge, as gifts of the Holy Ghost, are connected with sanctifying grace, they can be distinguished from utterances of wisdom or knowledge which are classified as graces freely given. Even though graces freely given are not inextricably connected with sanctity of life, God has on many occasions granted them to saints as a further demonstration of their holiness or as a confirmation of their message.
The fact that a grace freely given, such as the gift of languages, can be present in a person without sanctifying grace/justification is rooted in St. Paul’s teaching on this matter in 1 Corinthians 13. Speaking of the gift of languages, he says:
“If I speak in the languages of men and of angels, but have not charity, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1).
The gift of languages, one of the charismata that is not necessarily connected with sanctity of life, was bestowed abundantly during the apostolic period because the Apostles and earliest Christians were operating in an environment of great linguistic diversity. For instance, when people from various nations came to Jerusalem for the major feast of Pentecost (as recorded in Acts 2), as many as fifteen different languages might have been expressed.
The ability to immediately speak in foreign languages and dialects, which is a powerful external sign that amazes witnesses, was conducive to the rapid spread of the Gospel during the period of the nascent Church. That’s why the gift of languages played a more prominent role in the apostolic period than in later ages of the Church.
God granted the external, miraculous sign of speaking in new languages to Cornelius and his Gentile companions in advance of baptism to leave no doubt that the Gentiles were meant and intended to be incorporated into the Church through baptism. They received an action and gift of the Holy Spirit to show all that they were intended for baptism into the Spirit. The reception of the Holy Spirit experienced by Cornelius and his companions does not refer to New Testament justification or being born again. This will be demonstrated by carefully examining a number of passages and pieces of evidence in the Acts of the Apostles. The conclusion set forth in this article is firmly grounded in the Church’s dogmatic teaching that no one can be forgiven of original sin or justified without incorporation into the Church through water baptism. And when we refer to ‘justification’ in this context, we mean New Testament justification. It includes regeneration and the full remission of sins. This was not available to justified and upright men in the Old Covenant period prior to the coming of Christ.
Hebrews 11:39-40- “And all these [i.e. Old Testament saints and prophets], though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”
They had an inferior form of justification. That’s discussed in our video Mary’s Sinlessness: A Biblical Documentary. The scriptural points that will be covered in this article are consistent with and serve as a confirmation of the Church’s infallible teaching.
Some of the following points are geared to an audience that already accepts the teaching of the New Testament (and the dogmatic teaching of the Church) on baptismal regeneration (i.e. that water baptism remits sins and renews the soul). Baptismal regeneration was unanimously taught by the fathers of the early Christian Church. Scriptural proof for baptismal regeneration can be found in John 3:5, Acts 2:38, Colossians 2:12, Romans 6:4, Galatians 3:27, 1 Peter 3:21, Acts 22:16, etc. Even though some of this examination presupposes that readers already accept the Bible’s teaching on baptismal regeneration, we will cover points that should persuade even those who don’t believe in baptismal regeneration that Cornelius was not forgiven or saved prior to water baptism.
ACTS 8:14-17 PROVES THAT THE RECEPTION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT REFERRED TO IN THIS CONTEXT WAS DISTINCT FROM THE FORGIVENESS RECEIVED AT BAPTISM AND WHEN ONE BECOMES A BELIEVER
In Acts 8:14-17, we read the following about believers in Samaria who had already “received the word of God” (Acts 8:14).
Acts 8:14-17- “Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”
Consider verses 15 and 16 in particular. Peter and John prayed “that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” So, after having received the word, being baptized, and living for some time as members of the believing Church, the Holy Spirit then fell on them when Peter and John laid hands on them. Thus, this reception and falling of the Holy Spirit, given through the laying on of hands to those already baptized, was distinct from, and subsequent to, the grace received when people become believers and are baptized into the Church. It is therefore certain that the reception and falling of the Holy Spirit described in Acts 8:15-17 WAS NOT the grace of baptism or regeneration, but something different. Non-Catholics who don’t believe in baptismal regeneration must also acknowledge that the reception and falling of the Holy Spirit described in Acts 8:15-17 was distinct from the grace of forgiveness a person receives when he or she is incorporated into Christ through faith. (Catholics know that grace is given through the Sacrament of Baptism.)
Now, if the reception and falling of the Holy Spirit described in Acts 8:15-17 does not refer to the grace of regeneration or the initial justification received when one becomes a believer, as the aforementioned passage proves, it follows that the reception and falling of the Holy Spirit likewise does not refer to the grace of baptism or initial justification when it is described in almost the exact same words a short time later in the story of Cornelius.
THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT REFERRED TO IN THIS CONTEXT IS A VISIBLE GIFT: THAT OF SPEAKING IN VARIOUS LANGUAGES OR ONE OF THE CHARISMATA
The reception and falling of the Holy Spirit described in these passages refers to a separate gift of the Holy Spirit: the gift of immediately speaking intelligibly and articulately in foreign languages and dialects or one of the other charismata (such as the gift of healing, etc.). The gift of languages described in Acts, which refers to speaking with immediate success in a new language or dialect, has nothing to do with the demonic spirit and the babbling nonsense that characterizes the heretical Charismatic movement. As mentioned already, God frequently granted the gift of languages during the apostolic period so that the Gospel would spread with extraordinary speed in a climate of great linguistic diversity. The external and audible nature of this falling and reception of the Holy Spirit is why we read the following in Acts 8:18:
Acts 8:18- “Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the Apostles’ hands, he offered them money…”
Notice that Simon “saw” (ἰδὼν) that the Spirit was given. Question: does a person see justification? No. Does he see spiritual rebirth and the remission of sins? No. Does he see sins being washed away and removed from the soul? No. However, he can see and hear when someone spontaneously speaks in a new language or performs one of the signs associated with the graces freely given. The gift of the Holy Spirit witnessed by Simon was the gift of languages or one of the other charismata. During the apostolic period the gift of languages or another charismatic gift was frequently imparted through the laying on of hands in connection with the Sacrament of Confirmation. Acts 8:15-17 is also a reference to the Sacrament of Confirmation, as the Church has taught. At the beginning of the Church, the Sacrament of Confirmation was frequently accompanied by this miraculous and visible gift of languages, or another extraordinary gift, for the reason described above: the propagation of the gospel. Diverse languages signify the universal nature of the Church, which incorporates those of every people and linguistic background. Just as Simon “saw” the effect of this work of the Holy Spirit, in the story of Cornelius the people observed it as well. They were “amazed” when they “heard” Cornelius and his companions (Acts 10:45-46). The witnesses in Acts 10 could be stunned by the falling of the Holy Spirit because it was not the grace of baptism but the visible and external sign of speaking in foreign languages which they “heard”.
Further, there were no chapter divisions when the Bible was written. Acts chapter 8 and Acts chapter 10 are part of a single letter, with no dramatic divisions between them. That lends further support to the conclusion that if the reception and falling of the Holy Spirit in Acts 8 did not refer to the grace of baptism or justification, the same is true in Acts 10 just a matter of paragraphs later.
THE EXACT SAME VERBS ARE USED FOR THE DESCRIPTION OF THE GIFT IN ACTS 8 AND ACTS 10
In fact, there is a direct grammatical connection between the description of the falling and reception of the Holy Spirit in Acts chapter 8 and what we read in Acts chapter 10. The exact same verbs are used for the description of the gift in Acts 8 and Acts 10. The clause “that they might receive the Holy Spirit” (ὅπως λάβωσιν πνεῦμα ἅγιον) in Acts 8:15 is very similar to the clause in Acts 10:47: “they who have received the Holy Spirit” (οἵτινες τὸ Πνεῦμα τὸ Ἅγιον ἔλαβον). The Greek word λάβωσιν in Acts 8:15 (“they might receive”) is from the same verb as ἔλαβον “they received” in Acts 10:47. Both are forms of λαμβάνω (lambánō: I receive; I take).
Likewise, in the clause in Acts 8:16, “for he [the Holy Spirit] had not yet fallen on any of them” (οὔπω γὰρ ἦν ἐπ’ οὐδενὶ αὐτῶν ἐπιπεπτωκός) uses the word ἐπιπεπτωκός (“had fallen”). It is the perfect active participle of the verb ἐπιπίπτω, which is a form of the very verb used in Acts 10:44 to describe how the Holy Spirit fell (ἐπέπεσεν – “fell”) on Cornelius and his companions.
There is thus a direct link between how the falling and reception of the Holy Spirit is described in Acts 8:15-17 and how it is described in the story of Cornelius in Acts 10:44-47. That’s because it’s the same gift in both cases: one of the charismata, such as the gift of languages, not the grace of baptism or regeneration.
THE CONTEXT OF ACTS 10 SHOWS THAT THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT WAS POURED OUT ON “ALL” WITH CORNELIUS: HIS RELATIVES AND CLOSE FRIENDS
Acts 10:44 says: “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.”
Well, we know from the context that this group included his relatives and his close friends.
Acts 10:24- “And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends.”
Acts 10:27 informs us that this included many persons.
Acts 10:27- “And as he [Peter] talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered.”
We’ve shown that the gift mentioned in Acts 8:15-17 was not regeneration or the forgiveness of sins, but one of the charismata such as the gift of languages. The reception of this gift by the entire crowd, composed of many with Cornelius, supports the position that they did not receive regeneration at this time. For is it plausible that the all-wise God, who wanted these Gentiles to receive the Sacrament of Regeneration, would regenerate the entire crowd just a matter of minutes before they received the Sacrament of Baptism, which was established for the specific purpose of remitting sins and regenerating the soul? No. What does make sense, however, is that God would grant the external and visible gift of the Holy Spirit (speaking in foreign languages) as a powerful sign to the whole Church that the Gentiles were meant and ready to be incorporated into Christ through water baptism (the baptism of water and the Spirit). “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people…” (Acts 10:47)
If, as some suppose, Cornelius and companions had all their sins remitted prior to the reception of water baptism, then the grace of the Sacrament would not have remitted their original sin when they were actually baptized. But this contradicts the Church’s canon.
Council of Trent, Sess. 5 on Original Sin, Canon 5: “If anyone denies, that, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is conferred in baptism, the guilt of original sin is remitted… let him be anathema.”
St. Augustine, Lectures on the Gospel of John, Tractate IV, Chap. 1, 19-33: “It sometimes comes to pass that you see a catechumen who practices continence, bids farewell to the world, renounces all his possessions, distributing them to the poor; and although but a catechumen, instructed in the saving doctrine better, perhaps, than many of the faithful… nevertheless, all his sins are upon him, and without coming to saving baptism, wherein all sins are remitted, he cannot… enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
The position that Cornelius and companions were not regenerated and justified prior to receiving the Sacrament of Baptism is corroborated by Acts 11:15.
PETER SAYS THE HOLY SPIRIT FELL ON THEM WHEN HE BEGAN TO SPEAK
The story of the conversion of Cornelius and his companions in Caesarea is first told in Acts chapter 10. In Acts chapter 11, St. Peter returns to Jerusalem and recaps the story for the Christians there. In the Acts 11 account of what happened, we find some very important details. For example, Acts 11:15 says:
Acts 11:15- “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them [Cornelius and his companions] as on us at the beginning.”
The words “as on us at the beginning” refer to Acts chapter 2 when the Apostles spoke in various languages on the Day of Pentecost. The words “As I began to speak” are, in Greek, “ἐν δὲ τῷ ἄρξασθαί με λαλεῖν.” ἄρξασθαί (arxasthai) means “to begin”. The Greek indicates that the Holy Spirit fell when Peter began.
So, when Peter began to preach to Cornelius and the crowd, the Holy Spirit fell on them and they spoke in new languages. Is that consistent with the idea that Cornelius and the entire crowd of Gentiles were justified by faith at that time? No. Peter hadn’t finished or perhaps even gotten substantially through presenting the Gospel. He had just started to speak, the Holy Spirit fell, and they were speaking in various languages. This description, however, is consistent with what we have presented (and the Church’s teaching that no one can be justified without water baptism) that the Holy Spirit fell on them at the very beginning of his speech to show everyone involved that the Gentiles were intended to be incorporated into the Church through water baptism.
PETER TELLS THE GENTILES THAT FORGIVENESS IS THROUGH THE NAME OF JESUS; HE THEN COMMANDS THEM TO BE BAPTIZED IN THE NAME OF THE LORD
When Peter spoke to Cornelius and his companions, he said that forgiveness of sins is through the name of Jesus Christ.
Acts 10:43- “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Notice the reference to ‘through his name’. Forgiveness comes through the name of Jesus. Immediately after Peter finished speaking to Cornelius and his companions, and after they had spoken in languages, he commanded them to be baptized “in the name of the Lord”.
Acts 10:48- “And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.”
It thus follows that the Gentiles only received forgiveness of sins when they were baptized and washed in the name of the Lord, not before, since forgiveness comes through His name. This is consistent with what St. Peter says in Acts 2:38:
Acts 2:38- “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins…’”
Since Peter’s command for people to be baptized in Acts 2:38 was for the remission of sins, it makes sense that his command to Cornelius and the Gentiles to be baptized in Acts 10:48 was for the same reason: the remission of sins.
Indeed, in 1 Corinthians 6:11, a key verse on justification, we once again find the direct link between forgiveness, justification and an act “in the name of the Lord”.
1 Corinthians 6:11- “… But you were washed [ἀπελούσασθε], you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Notice, the act by which the Corinthians were washed, sanctified and justified occurred in the name of the Lord. Well, as we’ve shown, in the Acts of the Apostles we are repeatedly told that people are baptized in the name of the Lord (Acts 2:38, Acts 8:16, Acts 10:48, Acts 19:5). Acts 2:38 says that baptism in the name of the Lord is for the remission of sins. Do you see the connection? It should be clear. In 1 Corinthians 6:11, St. Paul describes the Corinthians as having been washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord precisely because he’s referring to when they were baptized.
In fact, the Greek verb for washed here in 1 Cor. 6:11, ἀπολούω, is only used one other time in the New Testament. That’s in Acts 22:16, which refers to sins being washed away in water baptism.
Ananias told St. Paul at his baptism: “… Rise and be baptized and wash away [ἀπόλουσαι] your sins...” – Acts 22:16
The verse is about St. Paul’s own baptism, and it uses the verb ἀπολούω, which is only used one other time (in 1 Corinthians 6:11). So, the very verb that is used to describe how St. Paul’s sins were washed away at his baptism is used by Paul himself in 1 Cor. 6:11 to describe how the Corinthians were washed and justified in the name of the Lord when they were baptized. Moreover, 1 Cor. 6:11 says that the Corinthians washed in the name of the Lord and by the Spirit of our God, and water baptism is directly connected in Scripture, and by Jesus Himself, with rebirth of the Spirit. It’s sad that anyone would deny the obvious teaching of Jesus Christ, the Apostles and the Bible on baptismal regeneration.
Considering the New Testament’s direct teaching that forgiveness, washing, sanctification and justification come in the name of the Lord, it makes perfect sense that when St. Peter commanded Cornelius and the Gentiles to be baptized in the name of the Lord in Acts 10:48, after they had spoken in languages, it was so that they could be forgiven, washed, sanctified and justified through water baptism in the name of the Lord.
It’s also noteworthy that in Acts 10:47-48, immediately after the description of how Cornelius and his companions received the spirit and spoke in languages, the passage indicates two times that Cornelius and the gentiles had not yet been baptized.
Acts 10:47-48- “‘Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.”
So, Cornelius and the Gentiles had not yet received baptism when they received the gift to speak in languages. But if they had been justified at that time, which they weren’t, then they would have been baptized in spirit. However, the inspired text of Scripture makes it clear that they had not yet been baptized by mentioning twice in this context that they needed to receive baptism. They needed to be baptized with water in the name of the Lord to be born of water and the Spirit.
By the way, Acts 2:38 is a direct proof of baptismal regeneration. It teaches that baptism is unto, it results in, the remission of sins. The mental gymnastics in which some heretics engage in a futile attempt to explain this clear proof for baptismal regeneration away are baseless and ridiculous.
Further, in Acts 15:10-11, speaking about how the Gentiles were converted and should not be required to observe circumcision and the Old Law, St. Peter says:
Acts 15:10-11- “Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? Through the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ we believe them also [that is, the Gentiles] to be saved in the same manner.”
St. Peter’s point is that the Gentiles are saved in the same way that they are. If the Gentiles are saved in the same manner as Judeans who become Christian, it follows that Cornelius and the Gentiles were not justified prior to baptism but received baptism in the name of the Lord for remission of sins just like everyone else.
The fact that Cornelius and companions were not justified before receiving water baptism is further supported by St. Peter’s words at the end of Acts 11:17.
PETER SAYS THAT TO WITHHOLD WATER BAPTISM FROM CORNELIUS AND HIS COMPANIONS IS TO STAND IN GOD’S WAY
After referring to how Cornelius and the Gentiles received the gift to speak in languages, Peter says: “who was I that I might withstand God?” Those were Peter’s words as he recapped Cornelius’ conversion story to the Jerusalem church in Acts chapter 11. The word translated “withstand” here is κωλῦσαί. It means to prevent, hinder, stop, withhold or stand in the way.
Acts 11:17- “If then God gave them the same gift as to us who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; who was I that I might withstand God?”
GREEK: “Εἰ οὖν τὴν ἴσην δωρεὰν ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς ὁ θεὸς ὡς καὶ ἡμῖν, πιστεύσασιν ἐπὶ τὸν κύριον Ἰησοῦν χριστόν, ἐγὼ δὲ τίς ἤμην δυνατὸς κωλῦσαι τὸν θεόν.”
The same word (κωλῦσαί) is used in the first account of Cornelius’ conversion (Acts 10:47) and in the second account (Acts 11:17), with one significant difference. It is this: the Acts 10:47 account informs us that withstanding God in this context means withholding water baptism.
Acts 10:47- “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people…?”
Greek: “Μήτι τὸ ὕδωρ κωλῦσαι δύναταί τις, τοῦ μὴ βαπτισθῆναι τούτους...”
The correspondence is striking in the Greek text, where the same word is used in both cases. Acts 11:17 and Acts 10:47 both use κωλῦσαι. It is translated “withstand” in Acts 11:17 and “withhold” in Acts 10:47. It can also mean to prevent or hinder. The connection and its significance is more obvious if we translate κωλῦσαι as “prevent” in both verses:
Acts 11:17- “who was I that I might prevent (κωλῦσαι) God?” – in reference to incorporating Cornelius
Acts 10:47- “Can anyone prevent (κωλῦσαι) water for baptizing these people..?” – in reference to incorporating Cornelius
Do you see the connection? The Bible is teaching that to prevent water baptism for Cornelius and his companions = to prevent God Himself. It is to hinder, withstand, and get in the way of God’s act and saving work. This of course demonstrates that water baptism is necessary for salvation. It’s a requirement.
It also demonstrates that Cornelius and his companions were not justified prior to receiving water baptism. For if Cornelius and his companions had been justified, regenerated, and initially saved when the Holy Spirit fell upon them, there wouldn’t be anything preventing, standing in the way or hindering God’s saving action in their regard. In that case, God would have already acted in a most powerful way, not just to give Cornelius and his companions a gift that indicated their readiness for incorporation, but to actually graft them in and regenerate them.
The reason that “to prevent” (κωλῦσαι) water baptism (Acts 10:47) for Cornelius and his companions is “to prevent” (κωλῦσαι) God (Acts 11:17) is that Cornelius and his companions needed water baptism to be incorporated into Christ, regenerated and justified.
WATER BAPTISM IS PART OF THE GOSPEL
In addition to the direct scriptural and patristic proof, there are many other subtle proofs in the New Testament that baptism regenerates and is necessary for salvation. In Acts 8:35-36 we read that Philip preached Jesus to the Eunuch of Ethiopia. What does the next verse say? It says that the Eunuch asked about being baptized with water.
Acts 8:35-36- “Then Philip, opening his mouth, and beginning at this scripture, preached unto him Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?’”
In Luke’s account the first thing the Eunuch says, after having Jesus preached to him, concerns water and receiving water baptism. That only makes sense if the necessity to receive water baptism is intimately connected to the Gospel of Jesus. Interestingly, the clause “What prevents me from being baptized?” contains the Greek word κωλύει (prevents). That’s a form of the verb Κωλύω (I prevent) – the same verb from which we get κωλῦσαι (to prevent). So, within just a few chapters of Acts, we find that verb (κωλύω) used in the following ways:
Acts 8:36- “What prevents (κωλύει) me from being baptized?’” – in reference to baptizing the Eunuch
Acts 10:47- “Can anyone prevent (κωλῦσαι) water for baptizing these people..?”
Acts 11:17: “who was I that I might prevent (κωλῦσαι) God?” – in reference to baptizing Cornelius
To prevent water baptism (for one prepared to receive it) is to prevent God, because water baptism is God’s absolutely necessary act of grace through which He regenerates, justifies and initially saves.
ACTS 19 FURTHER CONFIRMS THAT WATER BAPTISM = BAPTISM INTO THE HOLY SPIRIT
This will be recognized only by those who more carefully consider the following passage. In Acts 19:3 we find another very interesting and powerful indication that water baptism equals baptism into the Holy Spirit, just as the Catholic Church teaches. The context refutes non-Catholics and Protestants who deny baptismal regeneration.
Acts 19:1-6- “And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit after you believed?’ And they said, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ 3 And he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They said, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ 4 And Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.’ 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in languages and prophesying.”
Notice that Acts 19:6 is another example of how the gift of the Holy Spirit (here the gift of languages and prophecy) was distinct from the grace of baptism and the grace received when one becomes a believer.
Paul encounters some disciples who had only received the baptism of John. The baptism of John did not have the same power as the baptism instituted by Jesus. The baptism instituted by Jesus, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, is a requirement. These disciples had not received the baptism instituted by Jesus, and they had never heard (ἠκούσαμεν) of the Holy Spirit. Paul replies: “Into what then were you baptized?” Think about what this subtly reveals. Paul asks a question which presupposes that they could certainly know if they had been baptized into the Holy Spirit, and the question is posed in the context of a discussion about two external baptismal rites (i.e. the baptism of John and baptism in the name of Jesus) and what they have “heard”. We have not heard that there is a Holy Spirit, they say; he says: into what then were you baptized?
It is quite obvious from this context that Paul is describing the external baptismal rite instituted by Jesus, during which one hears the name of the Holy Spirit, as baptism into the Holy Spirit. The external rite, therefore, must regenerate and render one born of the Spirit. According to the understanding of St. Paul and the inspired text of Acts, being baptized into the Holy Spirit means receiving the external rite of water baptism during which one hears the name of the Holy Spirit. Anyone who honestly and carefully considers this passage will recognize that the discussion recorded here does not make sense if water baptism is not baptism into the Holy Spirit but just a symbol, as many non-Catholics and Protestants say.
1 Corinthians 12:13- “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Judeans or Greeks...”
Water baptism is a sacrament with regenerating power, through which one is born again of water and the Spirit, as Jesus declared in John 3:5 and the entire ancient Church held.
1 Peter 3:20-21- “… who [the imprisoned spirits] were formerly disobedient when God’s patience waited in the days of Noe while the ark was being constructed, into which a few, that is, eight souls, came safely through water, the antitype of which – that is, baptism – now saves us too…”
THE CHURCH’S DOGMATIC TEACHING AND THE TRUE WITNESS OF THE FATHERS IS THAT NO ONE CAN BE JUSTIFIED WITHOUT WATER BAPTISM
The position that Cornelius was not justified before water baptism, which is powerfully supported by the aforementioned scriptural considerations, is firmly rooted in the Church’s dogmatic teaching and the witness of the fathers on the necessity of water baptism for regeneration and salvation. Even though some writers in Catholic history thought that Cornelius was justified before baptism, a careful examination of Acts and the Church’s teaching refutes that position. That position is not consistent with Scripture’s teaching that the falling of the Holy Spirit described in that context of Acts refers to a charismatic gift such as the gift of languages, not the grace of baptism/the grace received when one becomes a believer; that Cornelius was lacking baptism after having spoken in tongues; that forgiveness is only through Christ’s name (and the text specifically teaches that Cornelius needed to be baptized in that name); that the Holy Spirit fell as soon as Peter began to speak; that to withhold water baptism from Cornelius and his companions was to stand in God’s way; the Church’s dogmatic proclamations, etc. That position also fails to recognize the various ways in which the Holy Spirit operates (such as a gratia gratis data vs. a gratia gratum faciens). Not all gifts and operations of the Holy Spirit require that the recipient is in the state of grace.
Another example of this would be the imperfect contrition of a person in mortal sin. Imperfect contrition, which arises from a “consideration of the baseness of sin or from the fear of Hell and its punishments”, is a good thing. The Council of Trent declared that it is a “gift of God” (donum dei) and “an impulse of the Holy Spirit” (Spiritus Sancti impulsum). Imperfect contrition is thus a gift of the Holy Spirit. However, the recipients of this gift of the Holy Spirit are not in the state of grace until they are forgiven in confession.
Council of Trent, Decree on the Sacrament of Penance, Sess. 14, Chap. 4, 1551: “That imperfect contrition [can. 5] which is called attrition, since it commonly arises either from the consideration of the baseness of sin or from fear of hell and its punishments, if it renounces the desire of sinning with the hope of pardon, the Synod declares, not only does not make a person a hypocrite and a greater sinner but is even a gift of God and an impulse of the Holy Spirit, not indeed as already dwelling in the penitent, but only moving him, [verum etiam donum Dei esse et Spiritus Sancti impulsum, non adhuc quidem inhabitantis, sed tantum moventis] assisted by which the penitent prepares a way for himself unto justice…. without the sacrament of penance it cannot per se lead the sinner to justification, nevertheless it does dispose him to obtain the grace of God in the sacrament of penance.” (Denz. 898)
ONE CANNOT MAKE AN ACT OF LOVE UNTIL ONE IS BORN OF GOD IN WATER BAPTISM
Since we’re discussing contrition and charity here, we should note that it’s common among supporters of ‘baptism of desire’ to argue that ‘baptism of desire’ is a salvific ‘act of love’ or ‘charity’. According to them, an act of love or perfect contrition or perfect charity prior to baptism (i.e. ‘baptism of desire’) results in the reception of the grace of baptism or spiritual rebirth. But this soteriology is exactly backwards and directly contradicts Scripture and magisterial pronouncements on the necessity of water baptism. As we’ve pointed out before, in St. John’s first epistle he says that everyone believing (present tense) has been born of God.
1 John 5:1- “Everyone believing [Πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων – present participle] that Jesus is the Christ has been born [γεγέννηται – perfect tense verb] of God…”
To declare that everyone believing (present tense) has already been born of God St. John uses γεγέννηται, a perfect tense verb signifying an action completed in the past with an abiding result in the present. Πιστεύων, the word for believing, is a present participle. Πᾶς means ‘every’ or ‘all’; and ὁ, the little letter that looks like an ‘o’ with a rough breathing mark on it, is the definite article, meaning ‘the’. So, Πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων means ‘every the one believing’, or simply: ‘everyone believing’, and the word for ‘believing’ here is a present participle. So we have a present participle used for ‘believing’ (πιστεύων), and then a perfect tense verb (γεγέννηται), signifying an action completed in the past with an abiding result in the present, used for ‘has been born’.
According to St. John, no one can be an actual believing member of Christ and His Church in the present until that person has been born of God (i.e. regenerated) in water baptism. An adult must respond and assent to the preaching of the Gospel prior to regeneration, but that person doesn’t become one of the true believers until he or she is born of God in baptism. Thus, you can’t believe with the result that you are reborn (as a supporter of ‘baptism of desire’ would say). It’s just the opposite: you must be reborn in order to truly believe. As the Council of Trent declared:
Council of Trent, Sess. 6, Chap. 7 on Justification: “This faith, conformably to Apostolic tradition, catechumens beg of the Church before the sacrament of baptism, when they ask for the faith that gives eternal life, which without hope and charity faith cannot give.”
As St. John and the Council of Trent teach, a person does not have saving faith until he or she is born of God in the Sacrament of Baptism. That’s why the Church has always taught that only the baptized are ‘the faithful’. Pope Innocent III also solemnly declared that there is absolutely no salvation outside the Church of the faithful.
Pope Innocent III, Fourth Lateran Council, 1215: “There is indeed one universal Church of the faithful outside of which no one at all is saved…”
“Una vero est fidelium universalis ecclesia, extra quam nullus omnino salvatur…”
Obviously Scripture’s teaching that everyone believing has been born of God contradicts ‘baptism of desire’, which posits that one can believe and love with the result that one is reborn. But it gets even worse for the supporters of ‘baptism of desire’. That’s because, in this very context, the Apostle St. John uses the same language to apply the aforementioned principle to ‘loving’ or acts of charity.
1 John 4:7- “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and everyone loving [Πᾶς ὁ ἀγαπῶν – present participle] has been born [γεγέννηται – perfect tense verb] of God and knows God.”
St. John uses the same construction here in 1 John 4:7 that he does in 1 John 5:1. He uses ‘Πᾶς ὁ’, meaning ‘everyone’, in conjunction with a present participle, followed by the perfect tense verb γεγέννηται (meaning ‘has been born’). In 1 John 5:1 he uses that construction to teach that no one can be an actual believing member of Christ and His Church in the present until that person has been born of God. Here in 1 John 4:7 he employs it as well, but uses ‘ἀγαπῶν’, a present participle meaning ‘loving’, instead of ‘πιστεύων’ (the present participle for believing). So the truth that he applies to believing in 1 John 5:1 is applied here in 1 John 4:7 to loving or acts of charity.
Do you see why this devastates ‘baptism of desire’, which posits that loving or an act of love results in being born of God? St. John declares that everyone loving has already been born of God. Thus, a person cannot have true or salvific charity until he or she is born of God. That’s biblical and Catholic soteriology. You must be born of God in water baptism – you must be created anew – to even have the capacity to love in a way that’s salvific. Scripture’s teaching is the opposite of the false idea and the false soteriology of ‘baptism of desire’. ‘Baptism of desire’ contradicts Scripture and the teaching of the Church. The inextricable connection between believing, loving, regeneration, and water baptism is why St. John says the following in the same context:
1 John 5:6-8- “This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three are one.”
As we will see, Pope St. Leo the Great dogmatically interpreted this very verse as referring to the spirit of sanctification, the water of baptism, and the blood of Redemption. He infallibly taught that they are inseparable from their link with each other in sanctification.
Further, the Council of Trent declared that when a man is initially justified, charity or love is poured forth in his heart. He is infused with faith, hope and charity at the time he receives the remission of sins.
Council of Trent, Sess. 6, Chap. 7 on Justification: “… man through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives in that justification, together with the remission of sins, all these infused at the same time, namely, faith, hope and charity.”
The Church’s teaching is that a person is infused with charity or love at the moment he is reborn. ‘Baptism of desire’, however, posits that one makes an act of charity or love with the result that he is reborn. ‘Baptism of desire’ is false.
Also, don’t be deceived by specious arguments on this point which confuse the first justification or spiritual rebirth with a restoration to justification after a person who has been reborn has fallen into grave sin. They are not the same. As Trent declared: “… it must be taught that the repentance of a Christian after his fall is very different from that at his baptism…” (Council of Trent, Sess. 6, Chap. 14). Once a person has been regenerated in water baptism, after having become a sharer in divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), which he forfeited if he committed mortal sin, he is then capable of a salvific act of repentance and perfect contrition. But a person who has not been born of God in water baptism is not capable of such an act, as St. John teaches in 1 John 4:7.
WITH REGARD TO ‘BAPTISM OF BLOOD’
That’s why the only true use of the term ‘baptism of blood’ – the one that is consistent with the teaching of the Church and Scripture – is in reference to the martyrdom of a person who has already been baptized, not as a replacement for being born of God in water baptism, even though some people wrongly held that view. As we’ve seen and will further show, an act of love or martyrdom that is salvific in God’s sight can only be made by someone who has already been born of God and created anew in water baptism. We see this true understanding of the term baptism of blood as a metaphorical ‘second baptism’, not as a replacement for baptism or something that brings about regeneration, in the account of the martyrdom of Sts. Perpetua and Felicitas (which includes the stories of some others), dated around AD 202. A group of unbaptized catechumens were arrested during a persecution. They were baptized shortly thereafter in prison. This is evidence of the ancient practice to confer baptism immediately upon those arrested during persecution. It is also further evidence of the belief that the Sacrament of Baptism was necessary for people in such situations. They then suffered martyrdom, and the account twice describes martyrdom as a second baptism.
[Concerning Saturus]: “… with one bite of his [i.e. the leopard] he was bathed with such a quantity of blood, that the people shouted out to him as he was returning, the testimony of his second baptism, saved and washed, saved and washed.” (The Acts of the Martyrdom of Sts. Perpetua and Felicitas, AD 202)
“… Felicitas, rejoicing that she had safely brought forth, so that she might fight with the wild beasts; from the blood and from the midwife to the gladiator, to wash after childbirth with a second baptism.” (The Acts of the Martyrdom of Sts. Perpetua and Felicitas, AD 202)
The false idea that an act of love prior to water baptism can result in regeneration or the remission of sins (i.e. ‘baptism of desire’) amounts to holding that man’s work, will or desire is a cause of first justification. But that is wrong. Regeneration or initial salvation can’t be brought about by one’s charity, contrition, desire, shedding of blood, etc., as ‘baptism of desire’ and ‘blood’ posit. Scripture explicitly teaches that the rebirth one must have is not of man’s desire or blood (John 1:13)! It comes through the means instituted by God: Baptism.
John 1:12-13- “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the desire of the flesh nor of the desire of man, but of God.”
Pope St. Leo the Great, Sermo 12 de Passione, c. A.D. 460: “Through the birth of baptism an innumerable multitude of children of God are born, of whom it is said: who were born not of blood, nor of the desire of the flesh, nor of the desire of man, but of God.” (PL 54, 355-357)
Notice: Pope Leo the Great, commenting on John 1:13, teaches that those who are born of God (which one must be to be justified and saved) are those baptized, and that they are specifically born “not of blood, nor of the desire of the flesh, nor of the desire of man, but of God.” In fact, it’s remarkable that the word translated here as blood is, in the Greek of John’s Gospel and in the Latin of Leo the Great’s statement, actually in the plural. St. John uses the Greek word αἱμάτων, which literally means ‘of bloods’. St. John is saying that the true children of God were born ‘not of bloods.’
When the Greek word for blood, αἷμα, is used in a plural form, as it is here in John 1:13, it overwhelmingly refers to the shedding of blood in one form or another. For instance, in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, out of the 53 uses where the Greek word αἷμα is used in the plural, it clearly refers to the shedding of blood in at least 50 of those references. Thus, if understood according to its typical usage in the Septuagint, by declaring that the true children of God are those born ‘not of bloods’, St. John is teaching that the children of God are those born not of the shedding of blood, nor of the desire of the flesh, nor of the desire of man, but of God.
Those who are born of God are those regenerated in the Sacrament of Baptism which He instituted.
Titus 3:5- “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”
Interestingly, the word here for washing, as in the washing of regeneration, is λουτροῦ, the genitive form of λουτρόν. In the entire NT that word is only used here in Titus 3:5 and in Ephesians 5:26. Ephesians 5:26 refers to the Church having been cleansed by the washing of water by the word, and it uses λουτρῷ, the dative form of λουτρόν. The connection between regeneration and water is once again undeniable. Ephesians 5:26 uses the word for washing that’s only also used in Titus 3:5 about the washing of regeneration, and connects it with water, precisely because the washing of regeneration mentioned in Titus 3:5 comes through the water of baptism when the baptismal word or formula is pronounced.
1 Peter 1:3-4- “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has regenerated us to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”
This means by which God regenerates man is the Sacrament of water baptism that He instituted. It pours out the grace and merit He won on the Cross. This transformation (regeneration) is His work, not ours. It comes from being born of God in water baptism.
St. John Chrysostom, Homilies On The Epistle To the Corinthians, Homily III, 1 Cor. 1:10: “… the folly of those who were puffed up at having been baptizers: first, by showing that the Gift is not theirs; and, secondly, by thanking God therefore. For Baptism truly is a great thing: but its greatness is not the work of the person baptizing, but of Him who is invoked in the Baptism… Yes, again I say, great indeed is Baptism, and without baptism it is impossible to obtain the kingdom.”
As St. Ambrose taught, there is no mystery of regeneration without water baptism. This reflects what the Church has always taught.
St. Ambrose, De Mysteriis, 390-391 A.D.: “You have read, therefore, that the three witnesses in Baptism are one: water, blood, and the spirit; and if you withdraw any one of these, the Sacrament of Baptism is not valid. For what is water without the cross of Christ? A common element without any sacramental effect. Nor on the other hand is there any mystery of regeneration without water: for ‘unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’ [John 3:5] Even a catechumen believes in the cross of the Lord Jesus, by which also he is signed; but, unless he be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, he cannot receive the remission of sins nor be recipient of the gift of spiritual grace.”
In 418, in his letter to Eastern churches, Pope St. Zosimus repeats the true teaching of the Church that no one can be freed from original sin except through baptism.
Pope St. Zosimus, Epistle Tract(at)oria ad Orientales ecclesias, Aegypti diocesim, Constantinopolim, Thessalonicam, Hierosolymam, sent after March, 418: “... that bond contracted by propagation [the sin of Adam]... in which absolutely none of our children is held not guilty until he is freed through baptism.’” (Denzinger 109a)
The Church teaches that there is no salvation nor remission of sins outside the Church. The unbaptized are definitely outside the Church. Therefore they cannot have their sins remitted unless they are baptized.
Pope Boniface VIII, Unam Sanctam, Nov. 18, 1302: “With Faith urging us we are forced to believe and to hold the one, holy, Catholic Church and that, apostolic, and we firmly believe and simply confess this Church outside of which there is no salvation nor remission of sin… Furthermore, we declare, say, define, and proclaim to every human creature that they by absolute necessity for salvation are entirely subject to the Roman Pontiff.”
Pope St. Leo the Great dogmatically taught that in sanctification the spirit of sanctification and the blood of Redemption are inseparable from the water of baptism.
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)… 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.”
POPE LEO THE GREAT DIRECTLY CONTRADICTS THE IDEA OF ‘BAPTISM OF BLOOD’ AND ‘BAPTISM OF DESIRE’
The Magisterium has repeatedly taught that baptism is the only way to salvation. In fact, in his 447 letter, there is an extremely important passage in which Pope St. Leo the Great discusses how license is given to baptize unbaptized catechumens who are in any danger, and he states specifically that baptism is “the only safeguard of true salvation to anyone in peril of death, in the crisis of a siege, in the distress of persecution, in the terror of shipwreck.” This, of course, directly contradicts the idea of ‘baptism of blood’, as well as ‘baptism of desire’. Notice the pope’s reference to the distress of persecution (in persecutionis angustiis). The distress of persecution refers to a situation in which people might be killed for the faith of Jesus Christ. An unbaptized catechumen in “the distress of persecution” (in persecutionis angustiis) is the precise scenario in which proponents of 'baptism of blood' claim that a person could be saved without water baptism. But Pope St. Leo the Great teaches the opposite!
Pope St. Leo the Great, Letter 16, Oct. 21, 447, #6: “In a case of necessity any time is allowable for baptism. Wherefore, as it is quite clear that these two seasons [Easter and Pentecost] of which we have been speaking are the rightful ones for baptizing the elect in Church, we admonish you, beloved, not to associate other days with this observance. Because, although there are other feasts also to which much reverence is due in God’s honor, nevertheless a rational and mystical exception must be observed by us for this principal and greatest sacrament: not, however, prohibiting the license to succor those who are in danger by administering Baptism to them at any time. For while we put off the vows of those who are not pressed by ill health and live in peaceful security to those two closely connected and cognate feasts, let us not at any time refuse this which is the only safeguard of true salvation to anyone in peril of death, in the crisis of a siege, in the distress of persecution, in the terror of shipwreck.”
LATIN: “In necessitatis casu omni tempore baptizandum. Unde quia manifestissime patet baptizandis in ecclesia electis haec duo tempora, de quibus locuti sumus, esse legitima, dilectionem vestram monemus ut nullos alios dies huic observantiae misceatis. Quia [Ed. Cap. VI] etsi sunt alia quoque festa, quibus multa in honorem Dei reverentia debeatur, principalis tamen et maximi sacramenti custodienda nobis est, mystica et rationalis exceptio; non interdicta licentia, qua in baptismo tribuendo quolibet tempore periclitantibus subvenitur. Ita enim ad has duas festivitates connexas sibimet atque cognatas, incolumium et in pacis securitate degentium libera vota differimus, ut in mortis periculo, in obsidionis discrimine, in persecutionis angustiis, in timore naufragii, nullo tempore, hoc verae salutis singulare praesidium cuiquam denegemus.”
Pope St. Leo the Great teaches that for unbaptized catechumens in that situation, in the distress of persecution or any other danger, water baptism is the only safeguard of true salvation (verae salutis singulare praesidium). That would not be the case if there were other forms of baptism or other ways to be saved. This quote directly contradicts the idea of 'baptism of blood' and 'baptism of desire' for unbaptized catechumens. This passage from Leo the Great also refutes those who falsely claim that the fathers of the Church were unanimous in teaching that 'baptism of blood' can replace water baptism. No, they weren't. Since he was a pope and a father of the Church, Leo's passage, which directly contradicts the ideas of 'baptism of blood' and 'baptism of desire', trumps any quote from a father or fathers of the Church who said something different.
Further, if martyrdom were a way to be justified in the absence of baptism, as some people wrongly claim, then why would the Church even have hastily baptized unbaptized catechumens who were in the danger of persecution? Why not just let them continue their preparation and receive 'baptism of blood', should it come to that? The Church's teaching that such unbaptized catechumens should be hastily baptized during a persecution, before they would be baptized in a normal situation, proves that 'baptism of blood' was not a certain way of justification, as water baptism was known to be. It was not part of the rule of faith. Receiving water baptism is the only way to be saved. That’s the teaching of the Catholic Church and the true rule of faith. It’s what we find in all magisterial pronouncements on the issue. Also see, for example, our video and article on Pope St. Siricius’ important decree on baptism.
In fact, in his Letter Pope Leo uses authoritative language and mentions his position as occupant of the See of Peter. He states:
Pope St. Leo the Great, Letter 16, Oct. 21, 447, #1: "By God's precepts and the Apostle's admonitions we are incited to keep a careful watch over the state of all the churches: and, if anywhere ought is found that needs rebuke, to recall men with speedy care either from the stupidity of ignorance or from forwardness and presumption. For inasmuch as we are warned by the Lord's own command whereby the blessed Apostle Peter had the thrice repeated mystical injunction pressed upon him, that he who loves Christ should feed Christ's sheep, we are compelled by reverence for that see which, by the abundance of the Divine Grace, we hold, to shun the danger of sloth as much as possible: lest the confession of the chief Apostle whereby he testified that he loved God be not found in us: because if he (through us) carelessly feed the flock so often commended to him he is proved not to love the chief Shepherd."
In the same Letter, the Pope (quoting John 1:13) identifies those born of the Holy Ghost in the Sacrament of Baptism as those born "not of blood, nor of the desire of the flesh, nor of the desire of man".
Pope St. Leo the Great, Letter 16, Oct. 21, 447, #7 : "... the power by which they are re-born of the Holy Ghost, of whom it is said, 'who were born, not of blood, nor of the desire of the flesh, nor of the desire of man, but of God' (John 1:13)."
The truth is that if someone is of good will and sincerely wants baptism and is willing to die for Christ, God will make sure that person receives water baptism and is brought into the true Church. But no one can be saved without it, for unless a man is born again of water and the Spirit in the Sacrament of Baptism he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.
POPE BENEDICT XII’S EX CATHEDRA STATEMENT ON BAPTISM
Indeed, there is a tremendously important dogmatic definition that further proves that no one can be saved without the Sacrament of Baptism. In 1336, Pope Benedict XII issued his famous bull Benedictus Deus. This document ended the controversy that was generated during the reign of the previous pope, Pope John XXII (who died in 1334), about whether the souls of those who are saved (after any necessary time in Purgatory) need to wait for the General Judgment to receive the Beatific Vision. In a very precise and specific dogmatic pronouncement about who is in Heaven, Pope Benedict XII solemnly defined that those who are saved, immediately after death and any purgation, if necessary, receive the Beatific Vision. In his dogmatic definition, the pope sets forth, with great precision, the categories of people who are in Heaven or can be in Heaven. His solemn pronouncement declares and emphasizes that those who depart the world in the Christian period who get to Heaven have received baptism. The truth it sets forth contradicts both ‘baptism of blood’ and ‘baptism of desire’, and further illuminates the true rule of faith on this crucial issue.
The bull is unquestionably dogmatic and infallible. It constitutes another powerful vindication of those who hold the true position: that no one is saved without baptism.
Pope Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus, 1336, ex cathedra: “By this Constitution, which will remain valid for perpetuity, We define with apostolic authority that, according to the universal ordering of God, [i.] the souls of all holy men who departed from this world before the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, [ii.] as also those of the holy Apostles, martyrs, confessors, virgins and other faithful who died following their reception of the sacred baptism of Christ, in whom nothing was to be purged when they departed, nor should be when they depart in the future, or if there was at that time, or should be, anything to be purged in the same, then, when they shall have been purged after their death, [iii.] and the souls of children reborn in that same baptism of Christ and of those to be baptized when they shall have been baptized, dying before the use of their free will, immediately after their death and the aforesaid purgation of those who stood in need of a purgation of this kind, even before the resumption of their bodies and the General Judgment, following the Ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into Heaven, have been, are, and will be in Heaven, in the Kingdom of Heaven and in the Celestial Paradise with Christ…”
Now, there are a number of very important points that need to be noticed about this solemn definition. First, if there were ever a chance for the Catholic Church or a pope to teach that there are exceptions to the necessity of baptism and the Catholic faith for salvation, or that there are unbaptized martyrs or that unbaptized catechumens can get to Heaven or that the so-called baptism of desire and blood exist, it would be here, in a dogmatic definition about who receives the Beatific Vision. But instead we find exactly the opposite. We find a solemn definition stating that any kind of person dying in the Christian period (apostle, martyr, confessor, another member of the faithful) who gets to Heaven has received baptism.
The teaching of the Church and the true rule of faith is that no one gets to heaven without baptism. In fact, the pope contradicts the idea of ‘baptism of blood’ by declaring specifically that the martyrs, as well the confessors, virgins, etc. have received (susceptum) baptism: “the holy Apostles, martyrs, confessors, virgins and other faithful who died following their reception of the sacred baptism of Christ.”
So, according to this dogmatic teaching, there’s no such thing as an unbaptized martyr in Heaven, nor is there an unbaptized confessor, virgin, etc. in Heaven. Rather, the martyrs, confessors, virgins and others who get to Heaven are those who have received baptism. And just in case anyone makes a fallacious argument that these words, “the sacred baptism of Christ”, might possibly include some other kind of so-called baptism besides the one baptism of water, that is contradicted by numerous facts.
First, in this very passage and context, the pope refers to children who also get to Heaven who are reborn “in that same baptism of Christ”. So, the sacred baptism of Christ, which the martyrs, confessors, virgins, etc. must receive to get to Heaven is the same baptism of Christ conferred upon infants: water baptism. Further, the term used here in the dogmatic definition, sacred baptism (sacrum baptisma in Latin) is used in magisterial texts to refer to the Sacrament of Baptism. See, the dogmatic bull Cantate Domino (Denzinger 712) in the Council of Florence. It refers to the Sacrament being conferred upon infants and then calls it ‘sacrum baptisma’ (sacred baptism), the very same words used by Pope Benedict XII. That term ‘sacrum baptisma’ was used for centuries by the Church to describe the rite or Sacrament of Baptism. The Sacred Baptism of Christ, which is received by apostles, confessors, children, virgins, etc. is the Sacrament of Baptism. In addition, the definition identifies all these people in heaven from the Christian period as the faithful, and only the water baptized are part of the faithful.
Moreover, at the dogmatic Council of Vienne, Pope Clement V authoritatively set forth the Church’s official teaching on the baptism of Christ or being baptized into Christ.
Pope Clement V, The Council of Vienne, 1311-1312: “In addition to this, one sole baptism, regenerating all who are baptized in Christ, must, just like one God and one sole faith, be faithfully confessed by all; which, celebrated in water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we believe to be the perfect remedy unto salvation for both adults and children alike.”
As we can see, the Church teaches that the one sole baptism which regenerates all baptized in Christ is of water. The word translated as ‘one sole baptism’ is, in Latin, unicum. Another way to translate it would be ‘unique’. The unique baptism, which regenerates all who are baptized in Christ, which must be faithfully confessed by all, is of water. So, you can’t be baptized into Christ or receive the baptism of Christ unless you’ve been baptized in the unique baptism of water.
Thus, Pope Benedict XII’s solemn definition, that the apostles, martyrs, confessors, virgins, etc. who get to Heaven have received the baptism of Christ, the same baptism received by children, contradicts the idea that anyone can be saved without baptism and specifically that there can be any martyr in Heaven without baptism, contradicting ‘baptism of blood’. His solemn definition about baptism contradicts both ‘baptism of blood’ and ‘baptism of desire’.
If baptism of desire and blood were the true doctrine and the Church’s teaching, this would be the perfect opportunity to declare that there can be people who get to Heaven without baptism, but the pope teaches the opposite. The pope covers every category of person, martyr, confessor, virgin, another member of the faithful, and in each case the people who get to Heaven from the Christian period have received baptism. That’s because no one can get to Heaven without baptism.
Indeed, we see this emphasis on the truth that those who get to Heaven from the Christian period have been baptized in the declarations about children in Benedict XII’s solemn statement: “and the souls of children reborn in that same baptism of Christ and of those to be baptized when they shall have been baptized, dying before the use of their free will”. Whether it’s a child, martyr, confessor, etc., no one from the Christian period gets to Heaven without baptism. That’s the true doctrine. That’s the infallible teaching of the Catholic Church. That’s the true rule of faith. This dogmatic definition further powerfully confirms and vindicates the position we have maintained on this crucial matter.
Also note that this dogmatic definition is very precise. It makes numerous qualifications and exceptions, if they exist, such as for those who don’t need to go to Purgatory and for those who do. For instance, the pope says “in whom nothing was to be purged” to describe one group, and he says “when they shall have been purged after their death” to describe those who need Purgation after baptism. He also defines that those who die in mortal sin go to Hell, so the baptized who get to Heaven, after any necessary purgation, did not die in mortal sin. He includes all the scenarios to make sure his definition is totally accurate. Since the statement is infallible, it cannot declare what is false and it will include qualifications where they exist. If a so-called baptism of desire or blood existed, then those exceptions or qualifications would have been included in this infallible definition. But they weren’t. In fact, we find the opposite taught: that the martyrs, virgins, children, or anyone else who gets to Heaven from the Christian period has been baptized.
Consistent with God’s providence to faithfully watch over and protect the infallible teaching of His Church, He made sure that the true position on baptism was set forth in this uniquely important dogmatic definition on who gets to Heaven. And just consider that not only do multitudes of heretics reject this dogmatic teaching of the Church, which is also the teaching of Scripture, that one must be baptized to get to Heaven, but many so-called traditionalists and so-called traditionalist priests hold that it’s mortal sin to profess the Church’s teaching on this matter. They are quite wrong and quite deceived.
Pope Pius XI, Quas Primas (#15), Dec. 11, 1925, addressed to the universal Church, concerning entrance into the Kingdom of God: “Which Kingdom indeed is set forth in the Gospels as one into which men prepare to enter by doing penance but are unable to enter except through faith and baptism, which, although it is an external rite, nevertheless signifies and effects an interior regeneration.”
Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis Christi (# 22), June 29, 1943, addressed to the universal Church: “Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have received the laver of regeneration and profess the true faith…”
Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei (#47), Nov. 20, 1947, addressed to the universal Church, referring to the Sacrament of Baptism: “… the washing of baptism distinguishes and separates all Christians [christianos omnes] from the rest whom this stream of atonement has not washed and who are not members of Christ…”
Pope Eugene IV, The Council of Florence, “Exultate Deo,” Nov. 22, 1439: “Holy baptism, which is the gateway to the spiritual life, holds the first place among all the sacraments; through it we are made members of Christ and of the body of the Church. And since death entered the universe through the first man, ‘unless we are born again of water and the Spirit, we cannot,’ as the Truth says, ‘enter into the kingdom of heaven’ [John 3:5]. The matter of this sacrament is real and natural water.”
Pope Paul III, The Council of Trent, Can. 5 on the Sacrament of Baptism, Sess. 7, 1547: “If anyone should say that baptism is optional, that is, not necessary for salvation: let him be anathema.”
Pope Paul III, The Council of Trent, Can. 2 on the Sacrament of Baptism, Sess. 7, 1547: “If anyone should say that real and natural water is not necessary for baptism, and on that account should distort those words of Our Lord Jesus Christ: ‘Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit’ [John 3:5], into some metaphor: let him be anathema.”
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