St. Augustine is quoted in favor of the concept of baptism of desire, but he admittedly struggled with the issue, sometimes clearly opposing the idea that unbaptized catechumens could achieve salvation, and other times supporting it.
St. Augustine, 400: “That the place of Baptism is sometimes supplied by suffering is supported by a substantial argument which the same Blessed Cyprian draws…Considering this over and over again, I find that not only suffering for the name of Christ can supply for that which is lacking by way of Baptism, but even faith and conversion of heart, if… recourse cannot be had to the celebration of the Mystery of Baptism.”
There are two interesting points about this passage. The first relates to baptism of blood: notice that Augustine says that his belief in baptism of blood is supported by an inference or an argument that St. Cyprian made, not anything rooted in the Tradition of the Apostles or the Roman Pontiffs. As we saw already, many of the inferences of St. Cyprian showed themselves to be quite wrong, to put it nicely, such as his “inference” that it was from “apostolic Tradition” that heretics cannot confer baptism. Thus, St. Augustine is revealing by this statement a very important point: that his belief even in baptism of blood is rooted in fallible human speculation, not in divine revelation or infallible Tradition. He is admitting that he could be wrong and, in fact, he is wrong.
Secondly, when Augustine concludes that he also believes that faith (that is, faith in Catholicism) and a desire for baptism could have the same effect as martyrdom, he says: “Considering this over and over again…” By saying that he considered this over and over again, St. Augustine is admitting that his opinion on baptism of desire is also something that he has come to from his own consideration, not through infallible Tradition or teaching. It is something that he admittedly struggled with and contradicted himself on, as will be shown. All of this serves to prove again that baptism of desire, like baptism of blood, is a tradition of man, born in erroneous and fallible human speculation (albeit from some great men), and not rooted in or derived from any Tradition of the Apostles or of the popes.
Interestingly, in the same set of works on Baptism quoted already, St. Augustine made a different error, which he later corrected in his Book of Corrections. In this set of works he had originally stated his opinion that the Good Thief who died on the Cross next to Our Lord was an example of Baptism of Blood. He later corrected this, by noting that the Good Thief could not be used as an example of Baptism of Blood because we don’t know if the Good Thief was ever baptized. But actually, the Good Thief cannot be used as an example of baptism of blood primarily because the Good Thief died under the Old Law, not the New Law; he died before the Law of Baptism was instituted by Jesus Christ after the Resurrection. For that reason, the Good Thief, like the Holy Innocents, constitutes no argument against the necessity of receiving the Sacrament of Baptism for salvation.
Catechism of the Council of Trent, Baptism made obligatory after Christ’s Resurrection, p. 171: “Holy writers are unanimous in saying that after the Resurrection of our Lord, when He gave His Apostles the command to go and teach all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, the law of Baptism became obligatory on all who were to be saved.”
In fact, when Our Lord said to the Good Thief, “This day you will be with Me in paradise,” Jesus was not referring to heaven, but actually to Hell. As Catholics know, no one entered Heaven until after Our Lord did, after His Resurrection. On the day of the Crucifixion, Christ descended into Hell, as the Apostles’ Creed says. He did not descend to the Hell of the damned, but to the place in Hell called the Limbo of the Fathers, the waiting place of the just of the Old Testament, who could not enter Heaven until after the Savior came.
1 Peter 3:18-19- “Christ also died once for our sins… In which also coming he preached to those spirits that were in prison…”
To further prove the point that the Good Thief did not go to Heaven on the Day of the Crucifixion, there is the fact that on Easter Sunday, when Mary Magdalene met the Risen Lord, He told her, “Do not touch Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father.”
John 20:17- “[On the Day of the Resurrection] Jesus saith to her; Mary. She turning, saith to him; Rabboni, (that is to say, Master). Jesus saith to her; Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father…”
Our Lord hadn’t even yet ascended to Heaven on the Sunday of the Resurrection. It is therefore a fact that Our Lord and the Good Thief were not in Heaven together on Good Friday; they were in the Limbo of the Fathers, the prison described in 1 Peter 3:18-19. Jesus called this place “paradise” because He would be there with the just of the Old Testament. So, as St. Augustine later admitted, he erred in trying to use the Good Thief as an example for his point. This proves again that only the dogmatic teaching of the popes are infallible, as well as the universal and constant Tradition. But St. Augustine himself in many, many places affirms the universal Tradition of the Apostles that no one is saved without the Sacrament of Baptism; and, in fact, he denied the concept that a catechumen could be saved without the Sacrament of Baptism by his desire for it numerous times.
St Augustine, 395: “… God does not forgive sins except to the baptized.”
St. Augustine, 412: “… the Punic Christians call Baptism itself nothing else but salvation… Whence does this derive, except from an ancient and, as I suppose, apostolic tradition, by which the Churches of Christ hold inherently that without Baptism and participation at the table of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the Kingdom of God or to salvation and life eternal? This is the witness of Scripture, too.”
St. Augustine, 391: “When we shall have come into His [God’s] sight, we shall behold the equity of God’s justice. Then no one will say:… ‘Why was this man led by God’s direction to be baptized, while that man, though he lived properly as a catechumen, was killed in a sudden disaster, and was not baptized?’ Look for rewards, and you will find nothing except punishments.”
Here we see St. Augustine completely rejecting the concept of baptism of desire. Nothing could be more clear! He says that God keeps sincere catechumens alive until their baptism, and that those who look for rewards in such unbaptized catechumens will find nothing but punishments! St. Augustine even makes it a special point to affirm that the Almighty doesn’t allow unbaptized catechumens to be killed except for a reason! Those who say that St. Augustine held to baptism of desire are, therefore, simply not being complete with the facts. They must add the qualification that he many times rejected the idea and was on both sides of the issue. Thus, the only father that the baptism of desire advocates can clearly quote in favor of the concept (Augustine) actually denied the concept of baptism of desire many times.
St. Augustine: “However much progress the catechumen should make, he still carries the load of his iniquity: nor is it removed from him unless he comes to Baptism.”
Here we see St. Augustine again affirming the apostolic truth that no one enters Heaven without water baptism and again explicitly denying the concept of baptism of desire, by denying that any catechumen can be freed from sin without baptism. All of this shows that baptism of desire is not the universal Tradition of the Apostles; rather, the exact opposite is the universal Tradition of the Apostles and Fathers – that no catechumen can be saved without water baptism.
 Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3: 1630.
 Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3: 69.
 The Catechism of the Council of Trent, p. 171.
 Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3: 1536.
 Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3: 1717.
 Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3: 1496.
 Quoted by Fr. Jean-Marc Rulleau, Baptism of Desire, p. 33.
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