Saturday, March 28, 2009

EENS: A Poll of the Fathers

A Poll of the Fathers

Page 35: Referring to our objections to "baptism of desire," Father Laisney says: "Instead of all these efforts to minimize or revise this teaching of the Fathers, Doctors and Popes, one should rather humbly hold fast to the doctrine of the Fathers, Doctors and Popes!"

We come now to the opinions on "baptism of desire" expressed by these Fathers, Doctors and some popes over the centuries. What does this historical evidence teach us?

Saint Vincent of Lerins, who died about the year 450, gave to the Church guiding principles which she has ever used in evaluating what is, and what is not, valid teaching in the Tradition of the Fathers. Here are excerpts from Saint Vincent:

"Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense "Catholic," which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent."--The Commentary of St. Vincent of Lerins For the Antiquity and Universality of the Catholic Faith Against the Profane Novelties of All Heresies-Chapter 2-434 AD

Hold fast to that Faith which has been believed everywhere, always and by everyone. With this principle as our guide, we strongly contest the constantly repeated claim that "baptism of desire" is a "doctrine of the Fathers."

Nowhere in Holy Scripture is it found as a teaching of Christ. Neither did the Twelve Apostles nor Saint Paul teach it. In the Acts of the Apostles, three miraculous interventions involving Baptism are related — Cornelius the Centurion, the Eunuch of Candace, and Saul of Tarsus — and in each case, not only is the action of Divine Providence abundantly evident, but the individuals concerned are obliged to be baptized with water even though their intention to do the will of God had already put them into the state of sanctifying grace, the state called justification.

The Apostolic Age ended in the year A.D. 100 with the death of Saint John the Evangelist, the last of the Apostles. The Roman Persecutions had already begun under Nero in the year A.D. 64. The tenth, and last, under Diocletian and his successors, ended with the Edict of Milan in A.D. 313. During those two and one-half centuries there were some eleven million martyrs, of whom a very small handful — fifteen to twenty — are cited as examples of "baptism of blood." We shall discuss them later.

When the constant threat of martyrdom was finally eliminated from Christian life, the possibility of salvation for catechumens, who died from causes other than martyrdom prior to being baptized, became a matter of concern for the saintly theologians of that time who are now called "Fathers of the Church." Generally speaking, the time period of these Fathers lasted from A.D. 100 to about A.D. 750, the years of the "youth" of the Church.

Saint Ambrose and Valentinian

An often used example of a candidate for supposed "baptism of desire" was the young Roman Emperor, Valentinian II, a catechumen who, at the age of twenty, was assassinated in the year 392. He had planned to be baptized in Milan by his dear friend, Saint Ambrose. The memorial oration delivered by the Saint is constantly cited as a "proof" that the early Church believed in "baptism of desire." The quote from the oration usually begins with these words :

But I hear you grieve because he did not receive the Sacrament of Baptism . . .

Let us stop Saint Ambrose at this point and reflect on what he just said. All of the faithful assembled for the memorial service are grieved. Why are they grieved? Saint Ambrose says they are grieved because there is no evidence that the Emperor, a known catechumen, had been baptized before his death. But if "baptism of desire" was something contained in the "Deposit of Faith" and part of the Apostolic doctrine, why would they be grieved? Did not Valentinian earnestly desire Baptism?

These faithful were grieved because they had been taught, and therefore believed, that "unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." Their teacher was their Bishop, Saint Ambrose. In his written commentary on Baptism, Ambrose stated without equivocation:

One is the Baptism which the Church administers: the Baptism of water and the Holy Ghost, with which catechumens need to be baptized . . . Nor does the mystery of regeneration exist at all without water, for "Unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom." Now, even the catechumen believes in the cross of the Lord Jesus, with which he also signs himself; but, unless he be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, he cannot receive remission of his sins nor the gift of spiritual grace. (De Mysteriis, From the Divine Office)

However, the fact remains that Saint Ambrose seems to contradict the above words when, in the funeral oration, he asks, "Did he not obtain the grace which he desired? Did he not obtain what he asked for?"And then concludes, "Certainly, because he asked for it, he obtained it."

Is this final statement by Saint Ambrose conclusive proof that he believed also in "baptism of desire," thus contradicting what he stated in De Mysteriis?

No, we do not think it is conclusive proof. And we are not alone in that opinion. Father Jacques Paul Migne (died l875), one of the great authorities on patrology in the last century, maintains that Saint Ambrose was not proposing a new doctrine on Baptism. Father Migne writes:

"From among the Catholic Fathers perhaps no one insists more than Ambrose on the absolute necessity of receiving Baptism, in various places, but especially in Book II De Abraham; Sermon 2 In Psal; and the book De Mysteriis."

And that Saint Ambrose meant the sacrament of Baptism with water is made abundantly clear in all of his writings, as the above quote from De Mysteriis demonstrates. However, just exactly what he meant by his words at the funeral, we may never know, but we are, certainly, legitimately permitted to assume that it was not his intention to contradict, in an emotionally charged eulogy, what he had written with much thought and precision in De Mysteriis and elsewhere.

Father Laisney says that we have no right to make such assumptions. We disagree. Not only do we have the right, we have the duty to use our God-given faculty of reason — the power of comprehending and inferring — which is vital if we are to arrive at the truth of these controverted matters. Despite his protests, we will continue to look at all the evidence available in these reputed examples of baptism by desire or blood, our only purpose being to learn the whole truth.

So we say this: Neither Saint Ambrose, nor anyone else other than Almighty God, could ever say with absolute certainty that Valentinian had never been baptized. The year was 392, 79 years after the Edict of Milan. By this time, Christians in the Empire must have been a great majority, for just two years later Theodosius I, emperor in the East, declared Christianity to be the Faith of the Empire, and 30 years later the emperor Theodosius II declared that there were hardly any pagans left in his dominions. When Valentinian marched to Vienne for a showdown with a disloyal aide, Arbogast, a pagan Frank who had usurped imperial authority in Gaul, he was assassinated, apparently in Vienne.

Certainly it is safe to assume that he, the Emperor, embarked on this mission to Vienne, some 200 miles distance from Milan, not alone, but in the company of an armed guard of considerable size, perhaps even an army. And in that guard or army would have been many Christians, most of whom would have known of Valentinian’s resolve to be baptized, for it was no secret, and any one of whom could have baptized him before he died.

But if this had not happened, if Valentinian, in fact, had not been baptized by a soldier, Bishop Ambrose — with a faith in God that can move mountains — could still have found it appropriate to console the assembled mourners with these reassuring words: "Did he not obtain what he asked for? Certainly, because he asked for it, he obtained it." These words would not have been a "false" assurance to worried catechumens, as our critic contends, but, rather, a confirmation by the Holy Bishop of his total faith in the promise of Christ: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you."

Here is how we would explain this incident: Valentinian was asking, seeking and knocking for the sacrament of Baptism. He was prevented by a sudden, unexpected death from receiving it solemnly at the hands of his Bishop. But no death is ever "sudden" or "unexpected" to God. If Valentinian was a worthy catechumen, as Ambrose believed he was, God got the saving waters to him somewhere and sometime before he died. Thus, with total confidence in Divine Providence, Ambrose could say: "Certainly, . . . he obtained it," for this is exactly what Father Leonard Feeney would have said had Valentinian been his catechumen.

A Poll of the Fathers

Saint Ambrose died in A.D.397, the very end of the fourth century. Before and after his time, there lived hundreds of holy men and saints who are called "Fathers of the Church." Tixeront, in his classic Handbook of Patrology, lists over five hundred whose names and writings have come down to us.

Michael Malone, author of the splendid reference book, The Apostolic Digest, has spent many years researching the works of these Fathers that have been translated into English, especially their writings pertaining, or relating, to the dogma, Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus. In what he calls a "Poll of the Fathers," he tabulates the different opinions on baptism by water, blood and desire as recorded by eleven of these holy men. Listed chronologically by year of death, the eleven are:

1.) Tertullian. . . . . . . . ..... year 220 A.D.
2.) St. Cyprian. . . . . . . . . . ....... .258
3.) St. Basil the Great. . . . . ..... .379
4.) St. Cyril of Jerusalem. ..... . .386
5.) St. Gregory Nazianzen. .... .389
6.) St. Ambrose. . . . . . . . . ....... .397
7.) St. John Chrysostom . .. . . . 407
8.) St. Augustine . . .. . . . . . ... . 430
9.) St. Prosper of Aquitaine. .. . 463
10.) St. Fulgentius . . . . . . . . . . 533
11.) St. Bede . . . . . . . . . .. . . ... . 735

As we discuss the opinions expressed by these Fathers, the reader should keep in mind that they were referring only to catechumens, persons undergoing instruction preparatory to the reception of Baptism and admission into the Church. That anyone else could qualify for salvation without first receiving the sacrament of Baptism, was never considered as even a possibility.

*All eleven of these Fathers, of course, said that Baptism of water was the first requirement for Salvation.

*All eleven maintained that a martyr went directly to heaven regardless, apparently, of whether or not he had been baptized with water.

*Tertullian, St. Cyprian, St. Ambrose and St. Augustine also held that "desire" replaced the need for Baptism of water.

*All of these Fathers seemed to contradict themselves in other places, or were explicitly contradicted by other writers who claimed they meant otherwise. St. Augustine, for instance, constantly expressed fear for the fate of catechumens who died before Baptism. He felt certain that they were lost.

As discussed above, St. Ambrose’ support, if any, for baptism of desire is based solely on his eulogy of Valentinian and is specifically contested by Father Migne.

*In support of the "Baptism of water only" category must go the remainder of the thirty-six listed by Mr. Malone in The Apostolic Digest, as well as the mass of the Fathers catalogued by Tixeront. This consensus is tantamount to Divine Revelation.

Although some made "general" statements as to the necessity of the sacrament of Baptism, very many were absolute in pressing for its essential need for salvation, some even to the specific denial of any other means. Here, for instance, is St. Gregory Nazianzen, the great Eastern Doctor of the Church in his sermon, Oration on the Holy Lights :

"Of those who fail to be baptized, some are utterly animal or bestial, according to whether they are foolish or wicked. . . . Others know and honor the gift of Baptism; but they delay, some out of carelessness, some because of insatiable passion. Still others are not able to receive Baptism, perhaps because of infancy, or some perfectly involuntary circumstance which prevents their receiving the gift, even if they desire it . . .

I think the first group will have to suffer punishment, not only for their other sins, but also for their contempt of Baptism.

The second group will also be punished, but less, because it was not through wickedness so much as through foolishness that they brought about their own failure.

The third group will neither be glorified nor punished by the Just Judge; for, although they are un-Sealed, they are not wicked. They are not so much wrong-doers as ones who have suffered a loss . . .

If you were able to judge a man who intends to commit murder solely by his intention and without any act of murder, then you could likewise reckon as baptized one who desired Baptism without having received Baptism. But, since you cannot do the former, how can you do the latter? . . .

If you prefer, we will put it this way: if, in your opinion, desire has equal power with actual Baptism, then make the same judgment in regard to Glory. You would then be satisfied to desire Glory, as though that longing itself were Glory. Do you suffer any damage by not attaining the actual Glory, as long as you have a desire for it? I cannot see it! "(our emphasis)

The strength of St. Gregory Nazianzen testimony is strengthened by the Roman Breviary, which on his feast day,May 9, says : “He wrote much, both in prose and verse, with wonderful godliness and eloquence. According to the judgment of learned and holy men, there is nothing in his writings which anywhere strays from the line of true godliness and Catholic truth, and not a single word which any one can justly call in doubt.”

Now consider this, dear reader: If baptism by desire were truly an Apostolic doctrine, would this great fourth century Doctor of the Church have contested it so vehemently? No way!

In his book, The Ultimate Church and the Promise of Salvation, Abbott Jerome Theisen, O.S.B., a priest who is by no means a traditionalist, states that neither Saint John Chrysostom nor any of the Cappadocian Fathers thought that salvation was possible for catechumens who died before being baptized.

In the third volume of his series entitled Faith of Our Fathers, Father William A. Jurgens writes:

"If there were not a constant tradition in the Fathers that the Gospel message of ‘Unless a man be born again . . . etc.’ is to be taken absolutely, it would be easy to say that Our Savior simply did not see fit to mention the obvious exceptions of invincible ignorance and physical impossibility. But the tradition in fact is there, and it is likely enough to be so constant as to constitute revelation."- (Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3, pp. 14-15 footnote 31.)

Father Jurgens supports the "baptism of desire" theory, as his words "the obvious exceptions" imply, but possibly against his better judgment. For we know that Our Savior, indeed, did not see fit to mention "the obvious exceptions." Yet, if exceptions to the universal necessity of the sacrament of Baptism were allowable, Christ would certainly have made them explicitly clear, just as He did concerning the sacrament of Matrimony: . . . whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery. (Matthew 19:9)

What are we to learn from these facts presented thus far? It should be clear to us that, during the early centuries of the youth of the Church, there was no unanimity among the Fathers in their opinions on so-called "baptism by desire." Some were for it; more appear to have been against it; and most taught and practiced simply in conformity with Our Lord’s prescription — Baptism by water and the Holy Ghost. The idea that desire could replace water for the Sacrament was not believed everywhere, always, and by everyone. To claim, therefore, that "baptism of desire" was a constant tradition of the Fathers is a serious misrepresentation of Church history and Tradition, and to censure those who object to this misrepresentation is an equally serious injustice.

The Decision of Trent

But to conclude this discussion of what is and what is not the true "Tradition of the Fathers," we have only to refer back, once again, to the infallible pronouncements of the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century. Everything that had ever been said or written, prior to the Council, about the necessity of Baptism for salvation must be accepted or rejected solely on the basis of its conformity or lack of conformity with the solemn and irreformable decrees promulgated by that Council, regardless of the authority or saintliness of any previous speaker or writer.

In an earlier reply, we discussed the pertinent Canons of Trent, and quoted them verbatim. Let us now look at them once again. We have slightly rearranged the wording of the first, Canon IV, to emphasize, but not change, its obvious meaning.

Canon IV [On the Sacraments in General]: If anyone saith that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary unto salvation, but superfluous; let him be anathema.

If anyone saith that without the sacraments of the New Law, or without a vow to receive them, men obtain of God through faith alone the grace of justification; though all (the sacraments) are not indeed necessary for every individual; let him be anathema. (Our emphasis)

Canon II [On Baptism]: If anyone saith that true and natural water is not of necessity for baptism, and, on that account, wrests to some sort of metaphor those words of our Lord Jesus Christ: "Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost;" let him be anathema.

Canon V [On Baptism]: If anyone saith that baptism is optional, that is, not necessary unto salvation; let him be anathema.

In the face of these solemn and infallible decrees of the Council of Trent, it simply is not accurate for Catholics to cite its authority in support of any of the following errors:

a) Water is not absolutely necessary for Baptism, but may be replaced by a desire for the sacrament.

b) The desire for the sacrament provides not only the grace of justification, but it is also sufficient for salvation.

c) The sacrament of Baptism is not necessary for salvation.

d) At the Council of Trent, the dogma of salvation by means of "baptism by desire" was solemnly defined; thus, actual membership in the Church is not required for salvation.

To give the reader a better understanding of the methods being used today to "canonize" this theory of baptism by desire and, thereby, ultimately to reduce Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus "to a meaningless formula"(cf. HUMANI GENERIS-PIUS XII-#27)
we cite two current and "respected" sources wherein the last-named error (d) is boldly proclaimed:

The first is The Catholic Catechism, by John A. Hardon, S.J. (1975). On page 235 we read this incredible sentence:

At the Council of Trent, which is commonly looked upon as a symbol of Catholic unwillingness to compromise, the now familiar dogma of baptism by desire was solemnly defined; and it was this Tridentine teaching that supported all subsequent recognition that actual membership in the Church is not required to reach one’s eternal destiny.

Many today misrepresentation of what the Fathers of Trent actually wrote. Yes, baptism in voto was solemnly defined — for justification only, not salvation.* (*editor-see our other article "Mistranslation of Trent") But we notice that the "Prefatory Note" to this catechism was written by John Cardinal Wright who, as Auxiliary Bishop to Archbishop Cushing in 1949, was the "man behind the throne" in the silencing of Father Feeney.

The second source is "Catholic Replies," a regular feature in The Wanderer. In this column for the March 19, l992 issue, the editor responded as follows to a question concerning the validity of baptism of desire for salvation: "Baptism of desire was taught by the Council of Trent in the 16th century . . ."

The most charitable comment we can make about the authors of these incredible statements is that they simply misunderstand the decrees of Trent. But, since they represent themselves as authorities on Church teachings, they have a solemn responsibility before God not to misunderstand. In their present state, they are merely unwitting spokesmen for the "Department of Disinformation" of the modernist conspiracy against the Church.

Trent stated clearly enough the distinction between justification and salvation. This distinction is a serious obstacle to the plans of the conspiracy to destroy the uniqueness of the Church by making it appear that salvation is available to all men through the simple medium of "desire." So, the technique the conspirators use is not to contradict Trent openly, for that would be too obvious and too dangerous to their cause, but to try to turn Trent to their advantage by repeating, over and over again — in books, pamphlets, newspapers, sermons, etc. — a big lie about what the Council really said; a lie that people eventually will come to believe.

Those of us who wish to defend the pristine purity of the Faith cannot compete in volume with the publication output of the modernists. All we can do is print the truth, and then rely on our readers to use their voices and pens in its defense at every opportunity, for truth will ultimately prevail!

We ask our readers to examine, once more, the Canons of the Council of Trent given above, and then to decide whether or not their answers to the following questions agree with ours:

1. Did Trent define that the sacrament of Baptism requires water?

We answer: absolutely!

2. Did Trent define that the sacrament of Baptism is necessary for salvation?

We answer: absolutely!

3. Did Trent define that desire for Baptism was equivalent to the sacrament and sufficient for salvation?

We answer: absolutely not!

There is no doubt that some of the early Fathers and Doctors of the Church postulated the theory of baptism by desire. There also is no doubt that the great Saint Thomas Aquinas gave his very influential support to the opinion in his Summa Theologica. Is that sufficient to believe it is valid Church teaching? Hear Pope Pius XII answer that question:

"The Church has never accepted even the most holy and most eminent Doctor, and does not now accept even a single one of them, as the principal source of truth. Certainly, the Church considers Thomas and Augustine great Doctors, and accords them the highest praise, but the Church recognizes infallibility only in the inspired authors of the Sacred Scriptures. By divine mandate the interpreter and guardian of the Scriptures, and the depository of Sacred Tradition living within her, the Church alone is the entrance to salvation: She alone, by herself, and under the protection and guidance of the Holy Spirit, is the source of truth."("Allocution to the Gregorian," October 17, 1953)

Because the Council of Trent disregarded the opinion of Saint Thomas and some early Church Fathers that the desire for the sacrament of Baptism was just as effective as receiving the sacrament itself, we disregard it.

Like Saint Gregory Nazianzen, we disagree with the opinion of Saint Thomas that, in principle, desire replaces the act itself. If Saint Thomas is correct, then all the other sacraments — Holy Eucharist, Holy Orders and Matrimony included — may be had by desire. Imagine the chaos that would then result in the Church and in society in general! Already we are witnessing chaotic consequences brought on by a falsely represented "Church teaching" on just baptism by desire.

In our opinion, "baptism of desire" — as it is taught and understood today — is a dangerous, confusing theory which has been introduced into Sacramental Theology. We pray that, some day soon, Holy Mother Church will see fit to address this issue, define against it, anathematize its abuses, and thus end all confusion and debate.