“JESUS ANSWERED: AMEN, AMEN, I SAY TO THEE, UNLESS A MAN BE BORN AGAIN OF WATER AND THE HOLY GHOST, HE CANNOT ENTER INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD.” (JOHN 3:5)
The Catholic Church is the guardian and interpreter of the Sacred Scriptures. She alone has been given the power and authority to infallibly determine the true sense of the sacred texts.
Pope Pius IX, First Vatican Council, Sess. 3, Chap. 2 on Revelation, 1870: “… We, renewing the same decree, declare this to be its intention: that, in matters of faith and morals pertaining to the instruction of Christian Doctrine, that must be considered as the true sense of Sacred Scripture which Holy Mother Church has held and holds, whose office it is to judge concerning the true understanding and interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures; and, for that reason, no one is permitted to interpret Sacred Scripture itself contrary to this sense, or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.”
But not every scripture is understood by the Catholic Church in the literal sense. For example, in Matthew 5:29, Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us that if our eye scandalizes us we should pluck it out, for it is better that it should perish than our whole body in Hell.
Matt. 5:29- “And if thy right eye scandalize thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee. For it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than thy whole body be cast into hell.”
But Our Lord’s words here are not to be understood literally. His words are spoken figuratively to describe an occasion of sin or something in life that may scandalize us and be a hindrance to our salvation. We must pluck it out and cut it off, says Our Lord, because it is better to be without it than to perish altogether in the fires of Hell.
On the other hand, other verses of scripture are understood by the Church in the literal sense. For example:
Matt. 26:26-28 “And whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke: and gave to his disciples, and said: Take ye, and eat. This is my body. And taking the chalice, he gave thanks, and gave to them, saying: Drink ye all of this. For this is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins.”
When Our Lord Jesus Christ says in Matthew 26:26: “This is My Body,” and in Matthew 26:28: “This is My Blood,” His words are understood by the Catholic Church exactly as they are written, for we know that Our Lord Jesus Christ was indeed referring to His actual Body and Blood, not a symbol or a figure.
So the question is: How does the Catholic Church understand the words of Jesus Christ in John 3:5- Amen, amen, I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God? Does the Catholic Church understand these words as they are written or in some other way? Does the Catholic Church understand these words to mean that every man must be born again of water and the Holy Ghost to be saved, as Our Lord says? The answer is clear: every single dogmatic definition that the Catholic Church has issued dealing with Our Lord’s words in John 3:5 understands them literally, exactly as they are written.
Pope Eugene IV, The Council of Florence, “Exultate Deo,” Nov. 22, 1439, ex cathedra: “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.”
This means that Our Lord Jesus Christ’s declaration that no man can be saved without being born again of water and the Holy Ghost is a literal dogma of the Catholic Faith.
Pope Paul III, The Council of Trent, Can. 2 on the Sacrament of Baptism, Sess. 7, 1547, ex cathedra: “If anyone shall say that real and natural water is not necessary for baptism, and on that account those words of Our Lord Jesus Christ: ‘Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit’ [John 3:5], are distorted into some sort of metaphor: let him be anathema.”
Pope Paul III, The Council of Trent, Can. 5 on the Sacrament of Baptism, Sess. 7, 1547, 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 Paul III, The Council of Trent, On Original Sin, Session V, ex cathedra: “By one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death... so that in them there may be washed away by regeneration, what they have contracted by generation, ‘For unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God [John 3:5].”
Pope St. Zosimus, The Council of Carthage, on Original Sin and Grace: “For when the Lord says: ‘Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he shall not enter into the kingdom of God’ [John 3:5], what Catholic will doubt that he will be a partner of the devil who has not deserved to be a coheir of Christ. For he who lacks the right part will without doubt run into the left.”
Pope Gregory IX, Cum, sicut ex, July 8, 1241, to Sigurd of Nidaros: “Since as we have learned from your report, it sometimes happens because of scarcity of water, that infants of your lands are baptized in beer, we reply to you in the tenor of those present that, since according to evangelical doctrine it is necessary ‘to be reborn from water and the Holy Spirit’ (Jn. 3:5) they are not to be considered rightly baptized who are baptized in beer.”
 Denzinger 1788.
 Denzinger 696; Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, Vol. 1, p. 542.
 Denzinger 858.
 Denzinger 861; Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, Vol. 2, p. 685.
 Denzinger 791; Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, Vol. 2, pp. 666-667.
 Denzinger 102, authentic addition to Can. 2.
 Denzinger 447.
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