OBJECTION- In Session 6, Chapter 4 of its decree on Justification, the Council of Trent teaches that justification can take place by the water of baptism or its desire:
"This translation however cannot, since promulgation of the Gospel, be effected except through the laver of regeneration or its desire, as it is written:Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." ( Jn. 3:5) http://www.ewtn.com/library/COUNCILS/TRENT6.htm#1
ANSWER- [Preliminary Note: If Sess. 6, Chap. 4 of Trent were teaching what the baptism of desire advocates claim (which it isn’t), then it would mean that every man must receive baptism or at least have the actual desire/vow for baptism to be saved.
According to this understanding ( i.e. "at least to have the actual desire/vow for baptism"), it would seem that it would be a serious error to say that any unbaptized person could be saved if he doesn’t have at least the desire/vow for water baptism. But 99% of the people who quote this passage in favor of baptism of desire don’t even believe that one must desire baptism to be saved! They believe that Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, etc. can be saved who don’t even desire water baptism.
Thus, 99% of those who quote this passage reject even what they claim it is teaching. Frankly, this fact just shows the dishonesty and the bad will of many baptism of desire advocates in attempting to quote this passage as if they were devoted to its teaching when, in fact, they don’t believe in it at all and are in error for teaching that non-Catholics can be saved who don’t even desire water baptism.]
That being noted, this passage of the Council of Trent does not teach that:
Justification can take place by the water of baptism OR the desire for it, each by themselves.
It says that justification in the impious CANNOT TAKE PLACE WITHOUT the water of baptism or the desire for it. This is totally different from the idea that justification can take place by the water of baptism or the desire for it each by themselves.
Pope Paul III, Council of Trent, Sess. 6, Chap. 4: “In these words there is suggested a description of the justification of the impious, how there is a transition from that state in which a person is born as a child of the first Adam to the state of grace and of adoption as sons of God through the second Adam, Jesus Christ our savior; indeed, this transition, once the gospel has been promulgated, CANNOT TAKE PLACE WITHOUT the laver of regeneration or a desire for it, AS IT IS WRITTEN: Unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5).”[i]
First off, the reader should note that this crucial passage from Trent has been horribly mistranslated in Denzinger, the Sources of Catholic Dogma. The critical phrase, “this transition, once the gospel has been promulgated, cannot take place without the laver of regeneration or a desire for it”
has been mistranslated to read:
“this transition, once the gospel has been promulgated, cannot take place except through the laver of regeneration or a desire for it…”
This mistranslation of the Latin word “sine” (without) to “except through” alters the meaning of the passage to favor the error of baptism of desire. Because a negative clause before the conjunction "OR" causes the word to have "AND" meaninng ( more on this below). This is important to keep in mind because this mistranslation is still being used all the time by baptism of desire apologists (as seen above in the EWTN link), including in recent publications of the SSPX. That being mentioned, I will proceed to discuss what the Council actually says here.
Looking at a correct translation, which is found in many books, the reader also should notice that, in this passage, the Council of Trent teaches that John 3:5 is to be taken "as it is written" (Latin: sicut scriptum est), i.e. literally, which excludes any possibility of salvation without being born again of water in the Sacrament of Baptism. There is no way that baptism of desire can be true if John 3:5 is to be taken as it is written, i.e. literally, because John 3:5 says that every man must be born again of water and the Spirit to be saved, which is what the theory of baptism of desire denies. The theory of baptism of desire and an interpretation of John 3:5 as it is written ( literally) are mutually exclusive and every baptism of desire proponent should admit this. That is why most of them must – and do – opt for a non-literal interpretation of John 3:5.
Fr. Francois Laisney ( A believer in Baptism of Desire), in his book, "Is Feeneyism Catholic", p. 33: “Fr. Feeney’s greatest argument was that Our Lord’s words, ‘Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God’ (John 3:5) mean the absolute necessity of baptism of water with no exception whatsoever… The great question is, then, how did the Church explain these words of Our Lord?”
Fr. Laisney, a fierce baptism of desire advocate, is admitting here that John 3:5 cannot be understood as it is written( literally) if baptism of desire is true. He therefore holds that the true understanding of John 3:5 is that it does not apply literally to all men; that is, John 3:5 is not to be taken as it is written. But how does the Catholic Church understand these words? What does the passage in Trent that we just discussed say: It says infallibly, “AS IT IS WRITTEN, UNLESS A MAN IS BORN AGAIN OF WATER AND THE HOLY GHOST, HE CANNOT ENTER INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD.”
But what about the claim of the baptism of desire people: that the use of the word “or” (Latin: aut) in the above passage in Trent means that justification can take place by the water of baptism or the desire for it. A careful look at the correct translation of this passage shows this claim to be false. Suppose I said,
“This shower cannot take place without water or the desire to take one.” Does this mean that a shower can take place by the desire to take a shower? No it doesn’t. It means that both (water and desire) are necessary. Again "A sacrament can't take effect without matter or form."
Suppose I said, “There cannot be a Wedding without a Bride or a Groom.” Does this mean that you can have a Wedding with a Groom and not a Bride? Of course not. It means that both are necessary for the Wedding. One could give hundreds of other examples. Likewise, the passage above in Trent says that Justification CANNOT TAKE PLACE WITHOUT water or desire; in other words, both are necessary. It does not say that Justification does take place by either water or desire!
AUT (OR) USED TO MEAN “AND” IN THE CONTEXT OF COUNCILS
In fact, the Latin word aut (“or”) is used in a similar way in other passages in the Council of Trent and other Councils. In the famous Bull Cantate Domino from the Council of Florence, we find the Latin word aut (“or”) used in a context which definitely renders it meaning “and.”
Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence, “Cantate Domino,” 1441, ex cathedra:
“The Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that all those who are outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans but also Jews [aut] or heretics and schismatics, cannot share in eternal life and will go into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless they are joined to the Church before the end of their lives; that the unity of this ecclesiastical body is of such importance that only those who abide in it do the Church’s sacraments contribute to salvation and do fasts, almsgiving and other works of piety and practices of the Christian militia productive of eternal rewards; and that nobody can be saved, no matter how much he has given away in alms and even if he has shed blood in the name of Christ, unless he has persevered in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.”[ii]
Here we see the Council of Florence using the word “or” (aut) to have a meaning that is equivalent to “and.” The Council declares that not only pagans, but also Jews or (aut) heretics and schismatics cannot be saved. Does this mean that either Jews or heretics will be saved? Of course not. It clearly means that none of the Jews and none of the heretics can be saved. Thus, this is an example of a context in which the Latin word aut (or) does have a meaning that is clearly “and.”
Similarly, in the introduction to the decree on Justification, the Council of Trent strictly forbids anyone to “believe, preach or teach” (credere, praedicare aut docere) other than as it is defined and declared in the decree on Justification.
--Pope Paul III, Council of Trent, Sess. 6, Introduction: “… strictly forbidding that anyone henceforth may presume to believe, preach or teach, otherwise than is defined and declared by this present decree.”[iii]
Does “or” (aut) in this passage mean that one is only forbidden to preach contrary to the Council’s decree on Justification, but one is allowed to teach contrary to it? No, obviously “or” (aut) means that both preaching and teaching are forbidden, just like in chapter 4 above “or” means that justification cannot take place without both water and desire. Another example of the use of aut to mean “and” (or “both”) in Trent is found in Sess. 21, Chap. 2, the decree on Communion under both species (Denz. 931).
--Pope Pius IV, Council of Trent, Sess. 21, Chap. 2: “Therefore holy mother Church… has decreed that it be considered as a law, which may not be repudiated or be changed at will without the authority of the Church.”[iv]
Does aut in this declaration mean that the Council’s decree may not be repudiated, but it may be changed? No, obviously it means that both a repudiation and a change are forbidden. This is another example of how the Latin word aut can be used in contexts which render its meaning “and” or “both.” And these examples, when we consider the wording of the passage, refute the claim of baptism of desire supporters: that the meaning of aut in Chapter 4, Session 6 is one which favors baptism of desire.
But why does Trent define that the desire for Baptism, along with Baptism, is necessary for Justification? In the past we did not answer this question as well as we could have, because we thought that Sess. 6, Chap. 4 was not distinguishing between adults and infants. But further study of the passage reveals that in this chapter Trent is defining what is necessary for the iustificationis impii – the justification of the impious (see quote above). The impii (“impious”) does not refer to infants – who are incapable of committing actual sins (Trent, Sess. V, Denz. 791).
The word “impii” in Latin is actually a very strong word, according to a Latin scholar I consulted, and he agreed that it is too strong to describe an infant in original sin only. It is sometimes translated as “wicked” or “sinner.” Therefore, in this chapter, Trent is dealing with those above the age of reason who have the potential of committing actual sins, and for such persons the desire for baptism is necessary for Justification. In fact, the next few chapters of Trent on Justification (Chaps. 5-7) are all about adult Justification, further demonstrating that the Justification of adult sinners is the context, especially when the word impii is considered. That is why the chapter defines that Justification cannot take place without the water of baptism or the desire for it (both are necessary).
A further question would be if the Council Fathers didn't want to express the possibility of baptism of desire then why not just leave out the phrase, "or a desire for it" completely? Well there was a good reason to included it because of the problem of forced baptisms. Especially in Spain under Queen Isabel in the newly conquered Islamic lands of Granada. Many in the Church at this time thought that one could offer a Rabbi or Muslim to choose either death or Baptism and if he chose Baptism many Catholics considered that Baptism valid. This is also were Voodoo came from. because the Portuguese did not do a good job of catechizing African slaves, the slaves felt forced and never completely accepted the Faith. So if one does not desire to receive baptism even if one goes through all the motions it is not valid. This could explain why the phase "or desire for it" was added.
Catechism of the Council of Trent, On Baptism - Dispositions for Baptism, p. 180: “INTENTION - ... In the first place they must desire and intend to receive it…”
AN INTERESTING E-MAIL REGARDING THIS PASSAGE OF TRENT
Interestingly, I happened to e-mail a question about this passage from the Council of Trent and its use of the word “or” (aut) to a Latin Scholar from England, just to get the person’s thoughts. I do not even know this person whom I e-mailed, and I don’t think that she is even a Catholic. She is a Latin Scholar from Oxford Latin and I believe she answered honestly and impartially. Her response is very interesting and very important, especially for those people who are convinced that the Council of Trent taught “baptism of desire.” I wrote to her as follows:
“The passage in Latin is this: ‘quae quidem translatio ... sine lavacro regenerationis aut eius voto fieri non potest...’
“It is translated: ‘This transition... cannot take place without the laver of regeneration or a desire for it.’
”This literally says that the transition cannot happen without the laver of regeneration or a desire for it (meaning you must have both). It does not say that it can take place with either one, don't you agree? Is it not equivalent to my saying: This shower cannot take place without water or the desire to take one (meaning both are necessary); and is it not equivalent to saying: this article cannot be written without pen or pad (meaning both are necessary)? You can use aut in this way in Latin, can you not?
”Any thoughts you have I would be very interested in. Thank you.”
And she responded on Dec. 1, 2003 as follows:
“This is not easy! It is possible to make sense of it in both ways, with aut as 'or' and as 'and'.
“Aut as 'or' is more common, but here the interpretation depends on whether you think that the desire for baptism is enough on its own or whether the phrase signifies that you need the desire as well as the sacrament itself.
I'll leave it to you to decide!
…Ms. White’s statement is very important and very interesting in that it shows that in her professional opinion as a Latin Scholar, the passage using “or” (aut) can definitely be read as “and,” something many baptism of desire advocates absolutely reject as impossible! She further admits that the interpretation depends upon whether one believes that the desire for baptism is enough – I believe a very honest statement in her regard! And she said this without my giving her the rest of the context; namely, where the Council of Trent declares, immediately after using the words “or the desire for it,” that John 3:5 is to be understood as it is written.
Pope Paul III, Council of Trent, Sess. 6, Chap. 4: “[Justification]… cannot take place without the laver of regeneration or a desire for it, AS IT IS WRITTEN: Unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5).”[vi]
The point is, therefore, that, at the very least, all baptism of desire advocates must admit that this passage can be read both ways, and therefore that the understanding depends upon whether one believes that the desire for baptism is enough or not. But if a baptism of desire advocate admits (as he must in honesty) that this passage may not teach baptism of desire, then he is admitting that the understanding of it must be garnered not only from the immediate context (which affirms John 3:5 as it is written and therefore excludes baptism of desire), but also from all of the other statements on Baptism and Justification in Trent. And what do all of the other passages in Trent say on the necessity of Baptism? Do they teach an understanding open to baptism of desire, or do they exclude any salvation without water baptism? The answer is undeniable.
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.”[vii]
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].”[viii]
Pope Paul III, The Council of Trent, canons on the Sacrament of Baptism, Session 7, canon 2, 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.”[ix]
The interpretation of “or” in Sess. 6., Chap. 4 as “and” is not only possible (as Ms. White admits), but it is perfectly compatible with all of these infallible definitions, while the interpretation of “or” as meaning baptism of desire is incompatible with all of these definitions, not to mention (most importantly) the words “as it is written, unless a man is born again of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” which come immediately after “or a desire for it” and in the same sentence.
The interpretation of “or” as meaning baptism of desire is also incompatible with the teaching of the Council of Florence on John 3:5, and there cannot exist disharmony between dogmatic councils.
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.”
The interpretation of “or” as meaning baptism of desire is also incompatible with the Council of Trent’s extensive definition just three chapters later on the causes of Justification. Just three chapters later, the Council lists four causes for Justification in the impious.
Pope Paul III, Council of Trent, Sess. 6, Chap. 7, the Causes of Justification:
“The causes of this Justification are:
1.) the final cause is the glory of God and of Christ…
2.)the efficient cause is truly a merciful God… the meritorious cause is His
most beloved and only-begotten Son…
3.)the instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament
of faith ( i.e. Baptism), without faith no one is ever justified…
4.)This faith, in accordance with apostolic tradition, catechumens beg of the
Church before the sacrament of baptism, when they ask for faith which bestows
In listing all of the causes of Justification, why didn’t the Council mention the possibility of “baptism of desire”? It had ample opportunity to do so, just as it clearly taught no less than 3 times that the graces of the Sacrament of Penance can be attained by the desire for that Sacrament (Sess. 14, Chap. 4; and twice in Sess. 6, Chap. 14). But “baptism of desire” is mentioned nowhere, simply because it is not true. And it is further interesting to consider that the word “desire” shows up not in Chapter 7 on the Causes of Justification, but in Chapter 4 where the Council is talking about what cannot be missing in the Justification of the impious (namely, neither water nor desire can be missing in the justification of the impious).
But some will say: “I see your point and I cannot deny it, but why didn’t the passage use the word ‘and’ instead of ‘or’; it would have been clearer then?” This question is best answered by considering a number of things:
First, it must be remembered that the passage describes what Justification CANNOT TAKE PLACE WITHOUT (i.e., what cannot be missing in Justification); it does not say that Justification does take place by either water or desire.
Second, the Council didn’t have to use “and” because “or” can mean “and” in the context of words given in the passage, as shown already.
Third, those who ask this question should consider another, namely: why in the world, if baptism of desire is true and was the teaching of Trent, didn’t the Council say anywhere (when it had so many opportunities to do so) that one can be justified without the Sacrament or before the Sacrament is received just as it clearly and repeatedly did in regard to the Sacrament of Penance? This amazing omission (obviously because the Holy Ghost didn’t allow the Council to teach baptism of desire in its many statements on the absolute necessity of baptism) simply confirms the points that I’ve made above, because if the passage meant baptism of desire it would have said so.
Fourth, the above question is best answered by a parallel example: In 381 the Council of Constantinople defined that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father. The Council did not say that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son. The omission of the words “and the Son” (filioque in Latin) caused countless millions to erroneously conclude that the Holy Ghost does not proceed from the Son, a heresy that was later condemned by the Church. If the Council of Constantinople had simply included that little statement, that the Holy Ghost also proceeds from the Son, it would have eliminated over a thousand years of controversy with the Eastern Schismatics – a controversy which still continues to this day. That little phrase (“and the Son”), if it had been included in Constantinople, surely would have stopped millions of people from leaving the Catholic Church and embracing Eastern Orthodoxy, because the Eastern Orthodox thought and still think that the Catholic Church’s teaching that the Holy Ghost proceeds from Father and the Son is contrary to the Council of Constantinople, which only said that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father.
So, did the Council of Constantinople err? Of course not. Only God knows why these things are allowed to happen.