OBJECTION- I know that the Council of Trent defines in Canon 5 on the Sacrament of Baptism that the Sacrament of Baptism is necessary for salvation. But the Council of Trent says that the necessity of the Sacrament of Penance is the same as that of Baptism, and that people can be justified without the Sacrament of Penance.
Pope Paul III, The Council of Trent, canons on the Sacrament of Baptism, canon 5, ex cathedra: “If anyone says that baptism [the Sacrament] is optional, that is, not necessary for salvation (cf. Jn. 3:5): let him be anathema.”
Pope Julius III, Council of Trent, Sess. 14, Chap. 2, On Penance: “This sacrament of Penance, moreover, is necessary for the salvation of those who have fallen after baptism, as baptism itself is necessary for those not yet regenerated.”
ANSWER- This argument is false because it fails to consider the context. Just two chapters after the aforementioned statement on the Sacrament of Penance, the Council of Trent explicitly states that one can be justified without the Sacrament of Penance by perfect contrition plus the desire for it.
Pope Julius III, Council of Trent, Sess. 14, Chap. 4, On Penance: “The Council teaches, furthermore, that though it sometimes happens that this contrition is perfect because of charity and reconciles man to God, before this sacrament is actually received, this reconciliation must not be ascribed to the contrition itself without the desire of the sacrament which is included in it.”
The Council of Trent clearly teaches three times that the grace of the Sacrament of Penance can be attained by the desire for the Sacrament of Penance (twice in Sess. 6, Chap. 14; and once in Sess. 14, Chap. 4), while it nowhere teaches the false doctrine of baptism of desire.
Pope Paul III, Council of Trent, Sess. 6, Chap. 14 on Justification: “Hence it must be taught that the repentance of a Christian after his fall is very different from that at his baptism, and that it includes not only a cessation from sins… but also the sacramental confession of the same, at least in desire and to be made in its season, and sacerdotal absolution, as well as satisfaction by fasting, almsgiving, prayers, and other devout exercises of the spiritual life, not indeed for the eternal punishment, which is remitted together with the guilt either by the sacrament or the desire of the sacrament, but for the temporal punishment…”
Chapters and canons of councils must be taken in the context of the decree as such. An important example in this regard is found in Sess. 5 of Trent’s Decree on Original Sin. The first few canons make statements about how all men inherit original sin. Yet, the sixth canon declares that Mary is not included in the decree.
Council of Trent, Sess. 5, #6: “This holy Synod declares nevertheless that it is not its intention to include in this decree, where original sin is treated of, the blessed and immaculate Virgin Mary…”
Therefore, later canons or chapters can qualify or make exceptions for statements within the same decree. Trent makes an exception for the necessity of the Sacrament of Penance in the context of its decree. It does not do so for the necessity of the Sacrament of Baptism, even though it had many opportunities to do so. Therefore, in context Trent does not teach that the necessity of the Sacrament of Penance is the same as the necessity of the Sacrament of Baptism.
Trent teaches that the Sacrament of Baptism is necessary for salvation without qualification.
Pope Paul III, The Council of Trent, Can. 5 on the Sacrament of Baptism, ex cathedra: “If anyone says that baptism [the Sacrament] is optional, that is, not necessary for salvation (cf. Jn. 3:5): let him be anathema.”
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