Monday, October 7, 2013

ST. Robert Bellarmine and "Baptism" of Desire

So far in our studies the saints that supported Baptism of Desire contradict themselves on the issue. St. Robert Bellarmine is no exception.

When saints attempt to explain speculative things, that are not clearly taught by the Church, they are bound to make mistakes. So Catholics must not follow St. Robert in his difficult attempt to explain "baptism" of desire. He was clearly confused by it:

St. Robert Bellarmine, De Ecclesia Militante:
“Concerning catechumens there is a GREATER DIFFICULTY, because they are faithful [have the faith] and can be saved if they die in this state, and yet outside the Church no one is saved… THE CATECHUMENS ARE IN THE CHURCH, THOUGH NOT IN ACTUAL FACT, yet at least in resolution, therefore they can be saved…”
[De Ecclesia Militante, Book III, Ch. 3, opera omnia, Naples 1872, p. 75; ]

Why is he confused? Because Bellarmine, defined the Church as precise as he could and BoD was not a possibility. His definition is considered a classic:

St. Robert Bellarmine (16th century): De Ecclesia Militante:

"The Church is one, not twofold, and this one true [Catholic] Church is the assembly of men UNITED IN THE PROFESSION OF THE SAME CHRISTIAN FAITH AND IN THE COMMUNION OF THE SAME SACRAMENTS, under the rule of legitimate pastors, and in particular, that of the one Vicar of Christ on earth, the Roman Pontiff. First part excludes all infidels, those who were never in the Church such as Jews, Turks, and pagans, or those who once were in it and later fell away, like the heretics and apostates. THE SECOND PART EXCLUDES THE CATECHUMENS and excommunicated, SINCE THE FORMER ARE NOT ADMITTED TO THE SACRAMENTS and the latter are excluded from them…"[De Ecclesia Militante, Book III, Ch. 2, opera omnia, Naples 1872, p. 75]

St. Bellarmine’s “difficulty” in attempting to explain the fallible position that catechumens can be saved, when catechumens are excluded from the Church by his own definition, is simply because the idea that an unbaptized person can be part of the Church is found nowhere in any council or statement from the Papal Magisterium.  But this was not the only issue on which St. Robert did not remain entirely consistent; he failed to remain consistent in his struggle with the true teaching on Limbo, as The Catholic Encyclopedia points out:

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 9, 1910, “Limbo,” p. 258:

“It is clear that Bellarmine found the situation [on Limbo] embarrassing, being unwilling, as he was, to admit that St. Thomas and the Schoolmen generally were in conflict with what St. Augustine and other Fathers considered to be de fide [on Limbo], and what the Council of Florence seemed to have taught definitively.”[The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 9, “Limbo,” 1910, p. 258]

     Here we see that the fathers, doctors and saints, including Robert Bellarmine, actually contradicted themselves on Limbo, even what some of them held to be de fide.  This again shows us why Catholics don’t form definite doctrinal conclusions from the teaching of saints, including St. Robert Bellarmine.  Catholics form definite doctrinal conclusions from Catholic dogma, and the teaching of saints only when it is in line with dogma.  And St. Robert Bellarmine’s definition of the Church above, which excludes all unbaptized persons from the Catholic Church, is consistent with dogma,  BUT his statements on baptism of desire are not. 

The Catholic Church has exclusively held and taught that only those who have received the Sacrament of Baptism are part of the Church and no dogmatic decree has ever taught anything else.

Notice the difficulty St. Bellarmine encounters in trying to explain baptism of desire; he immediately has to compromise and contradict the traditional definition of the Church. And this is why St. Robert is constrained to admit that catechumens are NOT actually inside the Church, but he argues that they can be saved by being in it " in resolution", but not "in fact." But contrary to Bellarmine and others fallible assertions that catechumens can be saved by being in the Church “not in actual fact, yet at least in resolution,” the Church has defined that one must be in actual fact part of the Church.

It is defined that one must be “in the bosom and unity” (Eugene IV);

Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence, “Cantate Domino,” 1441, de fide:  “The Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes, and proclaims… THAT THE UNITY OF THIS ECCLESIASTICAL BODY (ECCLESIASTICI CORPORIS) IS SO STRONG THAT ONLY FOR THOSE WHO ABIDE IN IT ARE THE SACRAMENTS OF THE CHURCH OF BENEFIT FOR SALVATION, and do fasts, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of a Christian soldier produce eternal rewards.  No one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has persevered WITHIN THE BOSOM AND UNITY OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.”[Denzinger 714]

that one must be incorporated into the “ecclesiastical body” ( also in above --Eugene IV);

that one must be “entirely subject to the Roman Pontiff” (Boniface VIII);

Pope Boniface VIII, Unam Sanctam, Nov. 18, 1302, de fide:
“Furthermore, we declare, say, define, and proclaim to every human creature that they by absolute necessity for salvation are entirely subject to the Roman Pontiff.”[Denzinger 468-469]

that one must be in the union of “sacraments” and “the faithful” (Eugene VI; Boniface VIII; Innocent III).

Pope Innocent III, Fourth Lateran Council, Constitution 1, 1215, de fide: “There is indeed one universal Church of the faithful, outside of which nobody at all is saved, in which Jesus Christ is both priest and sacrifice.”[ Denzinger 430.]

And these things only come with water baptism, as attested to by St. Robert’s own definition of the Church. But in trying to explain the unexplainable (how baptism of desire is compatible with Catholic dogma), and in trying to defend the indefensible (how unbaptized catechumens can be in a Church which is defined by a union of sacraments), St. Bellarmine contradicted principles and made a mistake.

It is easy for us to understand that his definition of Baptism of  Desire -- the Theoretical Catechumen ONLY--wasn't of pressing importance and seemed rare enough that it wasn't a priority, considering all the heresies he was dealing with.

In attempting to justify his erroneous belief in Baptism of Desire, St. Bellarmine says that catechumens are “ the Faithful.” This is contrary to the fathers and the teaching of Traditional Catholic Liturgy since apostolic times, which excluded catechumens from “the faithful”

It is also contrary to the admissions of baptism of desire advocates such as Ludwig Ott:

Dr. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Membership in the Church, p. 309: “3. Catechumens are not to be counted among the members of the Church… The Church claims no jurisdiction over them (D 895). The Fathers draw a sharp line of separation between Catechumens and ‘the faithful.’”

St. Robert erred on the subject of Baptism of Desire, (just as he did on Limbo) but what is most important to remember, is while the principle of Papal infallibility was always believed in the Church and expressed from the earliest times, there is no doubt that after the definition of Papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council in 1870 there is much more clarity about which documents are infallible and which are not.

St. Bellarmine and others who lived before 1870 did not necessarily have this degree of clarity, which caused many of them to lessen the distinction, in certain cases, between the infallible decrees of popes and the fallible teaching of theologians. It also caused them to not look quite as literally at what the dogma actually declares, but rather at what they thought the dogma might mean in light of the opinion of popular theologians. Catholics who live today can say that they understand more about Papal Infallibility than the theologians and doctors in the middle ages all the way down to 1870, and that they possess an advantage in evaluating this issue not only because they live after the definition of Papal Infallibility, but also because they can search the entire history of papal pronouncements of the Church on this issue easily, by the aid of computers and the internet, and see the harmony among them on the absolute necessity of water baptism.