Not all of the information surrounding the deaths of martyrs is accurate. For instance, According to St. Ambrose, Prudentius and Father Butler, Saint Agnes was beheaded. Others had said she [St. Agnes] was burned to death. Our point is that not all of the information given in the martyrdom narrative is necessarily accurate, consistent, or complete.
Pope St. Gelasius, Decretal, 495:
“Likewise the deeds of the holy martyrs… [which] with remarkable caution are not read in the holy Roman Church… because the names of those who wrote them are entirely unknown… lest an occasion of mockery might arise.”[Denzinger 165]
Pope St. Gelasius is saying here that the acts and deeds recorded of the martyrs are uncertain. Their authors are unknown, the accounts may contain error and they were not even read out in the holy Roman Church to avoid possible scandal or mockery which might arise from any false statements contained therein. In fact, in his work The Age of Martyrs, the renowned Church historian Abbot Giuseppe Ricciotti says:
“For guides we have appropriate documents. These, however, as we have already seen, are often uncertain and would lead us completely astray. Especially unreliable are the Acts or Passions of martyrs.”[clxxv]
The infallible teaching of the Catholic Church, on the other hand, is absolutely reliable, and it has never taught that souls can be saved without the Sacrament of Baptism by “baptism of blood.” Thus, in short, there is no proof that any saint martyred for the Catholic Faith never received the Sacrament of Baptism.
We will now examine the historical evidence put forth by those who claim that ‘baptism of blood’ is a substitute for, even superior to, the sacrament of baptism. This evidence is found in the many writings that have been handed down to us over the centuries as recorded in various martyrologies, acts of the martyrs, lives of the saints and similar sources. The most concise information on martyrs is found in martyrologies.
The present Roman Martyrology is a catalogue of saints honored by the Church, not only those martyred for the Faith. It first appeared in 1584, and was derived from ancient martyrologies that existed in the fourth century, plus official and non-official records taken from acts of the martyrs that date back to the second century. It has been revised several times since its first compilation. When Saint Robert Bellarmine was assigned to revise the ancient accounts, he himself had to be restrained from overly skeptical editorial deletions.
First, it was not the intent of those who first reported the circumstances of the deaths of the martyrs to provide information from which ‘baptismal registers’ could later be compiled. If the chronicler makes no mention of the martyr’s Baptism, it does not necessarily mean that he was never baptized. A case in point is Saint Patrick. He was not a martyr, but his Baptism was never recorded. Yet, we know positively that he received the sacrament since he was a bishop.
Second, even if a chronicler states positively that a martyr had not been baptized, it should be understood to mean that he was ‘not recorded’ as having been baptized. In those times especially, no person could hope to know with certainty that another had not been baptized.
Third, if a chronicler says that a martyr was ‘baptized in his own blood’, this does not automatically preclude (rule out) prior reception of the sacrament by water. The most correct use of "Baptism of Blood," and often used, was a euphemism for martyrdom of already baptized faithful:
St. John Damascene:
"These things were well understood by our holy and inspired fathers;
and mindful of the Apostle's word that we must through much tribulation enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, they strove, after holy baptism, to keep their garment of immortality spotless and undefiled. Whence some of them also thought fit to receive yet another baptism; I mean that which is by blood and martyrdom.” [BARLAAM AND IOASAPH, xn. 99-101]
Fourth, ‘baptism of blood’ should be understood as the greatest act of love of God that a man can make. God rewards it with direct entrance into heaven for those who are already baptized and in the Church: no purgatory --- it is a perfect confession. If it were capable of substituting for any sacrament, it would be the sacrament of Penance, because Penance does not oblige with a necessity of means, but precept only. (Taking the 3 vows was often also refereed to as a "second baptism," in substitution for "baptism of blood", i.e. martyrdom.)
In his book Church History, Father John Laux, M. A., writes:
Fifth, when a martyr is referred to as a ‘catechumen,’ it does not always mean he was not yet baptized. A catechumen was a person learning the Faith, as a student in a class called a catechumenate, under a teacher called a catechist. That students often continued in their class even after they were baptized is confirmed conclusively by these words of Saint Ambrose to his catechumens:
The Catholic Encyclopedia, “Faithful”:
“St. Augustine (says): ‘Ask a man: are you a Christian? If he be a pagan or Jew, he will reply: I am not a Christian. But if he say: I am a Christian, ask him again: are you a catechumen, or one of the faithful?’”[The Catholic Encyclopedia, “Faithful,” ]
Whereas the unbaptized were never considered part of the faithful until they were baptized. They were always required to leave before the Mass of the Faithful. Listen at mass to the canon when we pause for praying for the dead. The priest says "Let us now pray for those marked with the sign of Faith". The 'mark' is the sacramental "seal" given ONLY by the Sacrament of Baptism, making them members of the Faithful. Plus, it is also true in the early Church, some recently baptized persons, who were still undergoing instruction, were occasionally referred to as “catechumens”:
In Tradition, the Church did not reveal certain things except to the initiated (the baptized). So, after a person was baptized he or she frequently continued catechetical instruction, and was therefore sometimes referred to as a “catechumen.” The fact that there is a distinction between unbaptized catechumens and baptized catechumens is implicit in the following quotation from the Council of Braga in 572:
If those described as “catechumens” were always unbaptized, then there would be no need for the council to say that no chanting or sacrifice is to be employed for catechumens “who have died without baptism.” Therefore, the fact that the Roman Martyrology describes a few saints as “catechumens,” such as St. Emerentiana, does not prove that they were unbaptized, even though the term “catechumen” usually means unbaptized. Besides, the Roman Martyrology is not infallible and may contains historical errors.
Donald Attwater, A Catholic Dictionary: “An historical statement in the ‘Martyrology’ as such has no authority… A number of entries in the Roman Martyrology are found to be unsatisfactory when so tested.”[Donald Attwater, A Catholic Dictionary, Tan Books, 1997, p. 310]
Concerning the Roman Breviary, Dom Prosper Guéranger, one of the most celebrated liturgists in Church history, seems to correct certain errors in the Roman Breviary:
Dom Prosper Guéranger, The Liturgical Year, Vol. 8 (Sts. Tiburtius, etc.):
“The solemnity of November 22, formerly preceded by a vigil, is marked in the Roman breviary as the day of her [St. Cecilia’s] martyrdom; it is, in reality, the anniversary of her magnificent basilica in Rome.”[Dom Prosper Guéranger, The Liturgical Year, Loreto Publications, 2000, Vol. 8, p. 315]
Further, if one applies the teaching of the Breviary on theological matters as infallible, then we must reject baptism of desire on the word of St. Gregory Nazianz.
Sixth, in those days, a formal Baptism was a very impressive ceremony conducted by the bishop. However, the Church has always taught that, in case of necessity, any person of either sex who has reached the use of reason, Catholic or non-Catholic, may baptize by using the correct words and intending to do what the Church intends to be done by the sacrament. Therefore, in the early Church, baptized Christians and unbaptized catechumens were instructed to administer the sacrament to each other, if and as needed, whenever persecutions broke out.
Seventh, salvation was made possible for us when, on the Cross on Calvary, Our Lord Jesus Christ sacrificed His Sacred Body and Blood in atonement for our sins. Hence, a man is saved, not by sacrificing his own human blood, but by the sacrifice of the Most Precious Divine Blood of Our Holy Savior; being joined to Jesus by being a member of His Mystical Body, which is only achived by the Sacrament of Baptism, and the sacramental seal.
Let us put it another way: In our opinion, the absolutely certain remission of original sin and incorporation into Christ and His Church are accomplished only by the water baptism to which, alone, Christ has given that power. A man’s blood has no such power. Martyrdom is the greatest act of love of God a man can make, but it cannot substitute for the sacrament of baptism.
There is no need to examine in detail all of the fewer than 20 individual cases of saints’ martyrdoms (out of thousands) which some have said occurred without baptism. For instance, in the case of St. Emerentiana – who was martyred while praying publicly at the tomb of St. Agnes during the persecution of Diocletian – one could point out that the account of her martyrdom provides a situation that, in itself, suggests she was already baptized; for she wouldn’t have endangered herself in that fashion during the persecution had she not been baptized. Or even if she wasn’t baptized before she was attacked (which is highly unlikely), she certainly could have been baptized after the attack by her mother who accompanied her (according to accounts) to the tomb to pray.
There are so many stories which give a drastically different impression and hold a different meaning if just one small detail is omitted. Take, for instance, the case of St. Venantius. At 15 years of age, St. Venantius was taken before the governor during the persecution of the Emperor Decius:
“One of the officials, Anastasius by name, having noticed the courage wherewith he [St. Venantius] suffered his torments, and having also seen an angel in a white robe walking above the smoke, and again liberating Venantius, believed in Christ, and together with his family was baptized by the priest Porphyrius, with whom he afterwards merited to receive the palm of martyrdom.”[Dom Prosper Guéranger, The Liturgical Year, Vol. 8, p. 521]
This interesting story shows us, once again, how God gets baptism to all His elect, but notice how easily it could have been misunderstood if one simple detail had been omitted. If the single point about how Anastasius and his family were baptized by Porphyrius had been omitted, the reader would almost certainly get the impression that Anastasius was a martyr for Christ who never received baptism – receiving instead “baptism of blood.”
The fact is that there is no need to go through all of these few cases and show that: 1) there is no proof that the saint (whom they claim was unbaptized) wasn’t baptized; and 2) there are many explanations for how the saint could have been and was baptized. All that is necessary to disprove the claim that there are unbaptized saints is to show that the Church has infallibly taught that since Pentecost no one can get to heaven without being born again of water and the Holy Ghost in the Sacrament of Baptism.
However, one alleged case of “baptism of blood” is particularly interesting to prove the point that some things are perception not fact..
ST. ALBAN AND HIS CONVERTED GUARD
St. Alban was the protomartyr of England (303 A.D.) The account of his martyrdom is particularly interesting and instructive on this topic. On the way to his martyrdom, one of the guards who led him to execution was converted to Christ. The Roman Martyrology (a fallible document), as well as Butler’s Lives of the Saints, says that the guard was “baptized in his own blood.” St. Bede the Venerable, a Church historian, who also has an account of the story (and who was one of the approximately 8 fathers who are quoted in favor of baptism of blood), says that the guard’s martyrdom occurred without “the purification of Baptism.” But watch this: in recounting the story of the martyrdoms of St. Alban and his guard, St. Bede and Butler’s Lives of the Saints reveal a very important point.
St. Bede: “As he reached the summit, holy Alban asked God to give him (Alban) water, and at once a perennial spring bubbled up at his feet…” Butler: “The sudden conversion of the headsmen occasioned a delay in the execution. In the meantime the holy confessor (Alban), with the crowd, went up the hill… There Alban falling on his knees, at his prayer a fountain sprung up, with water whereof he refreshed his thirst… Together with St. Alban, the soldier, who had refused to imbrue (stain) his hands in his blood, and had declared himself a Christian, was also beheaded, being baptized in his own blood.”
The reader may be confused at this point, and rightly so, so let me explain. We have two (fallible) accounts of the martyrdom of St. Alban and his guard, from St. Bede and Butler’s Lives of the Saints. They both record that just before the martyrdom of St. Alban and his guard, St. Alban prayed for “water” which he miraculously received. St. Bede then goes on to say that the guard died unbaptized. Butler’s says that the water was merely to “refresh” Alban’s thirst. With all due respect to St. Bede and the good things in Butler’s, how obvious does it have to be? A saint, who had a few minutes to live and who had a convert wanting to enter the Church of Christ, would not call for miraculous water in order to “refresh his thirst”. My goodness, he obviously called for the miraculous water to baptize the converted guard, and God provided it for the sincere convert, since “unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.” This is a prime example of how the errors of baptism of blood and desire have been perpetuated – by passing down the fallible conclusions of fallible men. And this example of St. Alban and his guard, which actually shows the absolute necessity of the Sacrament of Baptism, is frequently and falsely used against the necessity of the Sacrament of Baptism.