Roman Catholic Teaching on Implicit Baptism of Desire

Christians of every denomination are Christians because they are validly baptized. They have received the formal Sacrament of Baptism with water. But the Church teaches that there are two other types of baptism: a baptism of desire, and a baptism of blood.

CCC 1258 “The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament.”

An explicit baptism of desire is found in persons who desire the formal Sacrament in their minds and hearts, but die before being able to actually receive it.

There are a few different ways that a person might receive an implicit baptism of desire.

1. Persons who love God, might not know about the Sacrament of baptism, such as the Israelites who lived before Christ. Their desire for baptism is partially implicit, since they do know and desire God in love. They explicitly love God, and implicitly desire baptism.

[1 Corinthians 10]
{10:1} For I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and they all went across the sea.
{10:2} And in Moses, they all were baptized, in the cloud and in the sea.
{10:3} And they all ate of the same spiritual food.
{10:4} And they all drank of the same spiritual drink. And so, they all were drinking of the spiritual rock seeking to obtain them; and that rock was Christ.

2. Persons who know about the Sacrament of Baptism, but who — with a sincere but mistaken conscience — do not believe that Christianity and baptism are the path to salvation. If they love God, they explicitly desire the path to God and to salvation, which implicitly includes baptism. Again, this type of baptism of desire is only partially implicit. They explicitly love God, and implicitly desire baptism.

3. Persons who do not believe in Christianity or God — due to a sincere but mistaken conscience — but who love their neighbor selflessly. Their true love of others implicitly includes the love of God, and all who truly love God desire the path to salvation, which includes baptism. This type of baptism of desire is fully implicit, since the person implicitly loves God by loving their neighbor and implicitly desires baptism.

Saint Thomas taught the implicit baptism of desire in Summa Theologica III, Q. 68, A. 4.

Reply to Objection 2. As stated above (1, ad 2; 68, 2) man receives the forgiveness of sins before Baptism in so far as he has Baptism of desire, explicitly or implicitly; and yet when he actually receives Baptism, he receives a fuller remission, as to the remission of the entire punishment. So also before Baptism Cornelius and others like him receive grace and virtues through their faith in Christ and their desire for Baptism, implicit or explicit: but afterwards when baptized, they receive a yet greater fullness of grace and virtues. Hence in Psalm 22:2, “He hath brought me up on the water of refreshment,” a gloss says: “He has brought us up by an increase of virtue and good deeds in Baptism.”

Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Moral Theology, Book 6, Section II (About Baptism and Confirmation), Chapter 1 (On Baptism), page 310, no. 96:

“Baptism of desire is perfect conversion to God by contrition or love of God above all things accompanied by an explicit or implicit desire for true baptism of water, the place of which it takes as to the remission of guilt, but not as to the impression of the [baptismal] character or as to the removal of all debt of punishment.”

Therefore, a baptism of desire can also be obtained by implicit perfect contrition for past sins. The baptism of desire does not imprint the baptismal character on the soul, nor does it forgive all temporal punishment due for sin. So the formal Sacrament is better.

Pope Pius IX in the encyclical Quanto Conficiamur Moerore:

“There are, of course, those who are struggling with invincible ignorance about our most holy religion. Sincerely observing the natural law and its precepts inscribed by God on all hearts and ready to obey God, they live honest lives and are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace. Because God knows, searches and clearly understands the minds, hearts, thoughts, and nature of all, his supreme kindness and clemency do not permit anyone at all who is not guilty of deliberate sin to suffer eternal punishments.”

A person can only be sent to eternal punishment in Hell by deliberate sin, and, as Pope Benedict XII taught in On the Beatific Vision of God (1336), that sin must be “actual mortal sin”. So non-Christians do not go to Hell for refusing, out of invincible ignorance, a formal Baptism into the Christian Faith.

Pope Pius IX Singulari Quadam:

“For, it must be held by faith that outside the Apostolic Roman Church, no one can be saved; that this is the only ark of salvation; that he who shall not have entered therein will perish in the flood; but, on the other hand, it is necessary to hold for certain that they who labor in ignorance of the true religion, if this ignorance is invincible, are not stained by any guilt in this matter in the eyes of God.”

Persons who receive an implicit baptism of desire are non-formal members of the Church; they can be saved by the same Ark of Salvation as all Christians can be saved.

The Catechism of Pope Saint Pius X:

The Creed, Ninth Article, The Church in Particular: 29
“Q. But if a man through no fault of his own is outside the Church, can he be saved? A. If he is outside the Church through no fault of his, that is, if he is in good faith, and if he has received Baptism, or at least has the implicit desire of Baptism; and if, moreover, he sincerely seeks the truth and does God’s will as best he can such a man is indeed separated from the body of the Church, but is united to the soul of the Church and consequently is on the way of salvation”

Baptism, Necessity of Baptism and Obligations of the Baptized: 17
“Q. Can the absence of Baptism be supplied in any other way? A. The absence of Baptism can be supplied by martyrdom, which is called Baptism of Blood, or by an act of perfect love of God, or of contrition, along with the desire, at least implicit, of Baptism, and this is called Baptism of Desire.”

Letter of the Holy Office to Archbishop Cushing of Boston, approved by Pope Pius XII, August 8, 1949: “The Supreme Pontiff, His Holiness, Pope Pius XII, has given full approval to this decision”.

Therefore, that one may obtain eternal salvation, it is not always required that he be incorporated into the Church actually as a member, but it is necessary that at least he be united to her by desire and longing. However, this desire need not always be explicit, as it is in catechumens; but when a person is involved in invincible ignorance God accepts also an implicit desire, so called because it is included in that good disposition of soul whereby a person wishes his will to be conformed to the will of God. These things are clearly taught in that dogmatic letter which was issued by the Sovereign Pontiff, Pope Pius XII, on June 29, 1943, “On the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ” (AAS, Vol. 35, an. 1943, p. 193 ff.). For in this letter the Sovereign Pontiff clearly distinguishes between those who are actually incorporated into the Church as members, and those who are united to the Church only by desire.

Pope Saint John Paul II, All Salvation Comes Through Christ, General Audience, May 31, 1995:

Since Christ brings about salvation through his Mystical Body, which is the Church, the way of salvation is connected essentially with the Church. The axiom extra ecclesiam nulla salus” — “outside the Church there is no salvation” — stated by St. Cyprian (Epist. 73, 21; PL 1123 AB), belongs to the Christian tradition. It was included in the Fourth Lateran Council (DS 802), in the Bull Unam Sanctam of Boniface VIII (DS 870) and the Council of Florence (Decretum pro Jacobitis, DS 1351). The axiom means that for those who are not ignorant of the fact that the Church has been established as necessary by God through Jesus Christ, there is an obligation to enter the Church and remain in her in order to attain salvation (cf. LG 14). For those, however, who have not received the Gospel proclamation, as I wrote in the Encyclical Redemptoris Missio, salvation is accessible in mysterious ways, inasmuch as divine grace is granted to them by virtue of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice, without external membership in the Church, but nonetheless always in relation to her (cf. RM 10). It is a mysterious relationship. It is mysterious for those who receive the grace, because they do not know the Church and sometimes even outwardly reject her. It is also mysterious in itself, because it is linked to the saving mystery of grace, which includes an essential reference to the Church the Savior founded.

The dogma “outside the Church, there is no salvation” cannot be used to deny an implicit baptism of desire. Some persons attain membership in the Church, implicitly (“without external membership”), even though they “outwardly reject her”. Their baptism must be implicit, since they reject the Church (out of invincible ignorance).

Pope Pius XII, Address to Midwives: “An act of love is sufficient for the adult to obtain sanctifying grace and to supply the lack of baptism.”

This love need not be an explicit love of God; it can be a selfless love of neighbor. For all love of neighbor is implicitly a love of God and a desire to be united with God, which only occurs by baptism.

[1 John]
{4:20} If anyone says that he loves God, but hates his brother, then he is a liar. For he who does not love his brother, whom he does see, in what way can he love God, whom he does not see?
{4:21} And this is the commandment that we have from God, that he who loves God must also love his brother.

For more on this topic, see my book:
Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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19 Responses to Roman Catholic Teaching on Implicit Baptism of Desire

  1. federalexpression says:

    One must remember that the Catechism, while it contains infallible teaching is not in its entirety infallible. CCC 1258 is inconsistent with known infallible documents. One example :

    POPE EUGENE IV: “Cantate Domino” (1441)
    It firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart “into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.

    The idea of bapism of desire and baptism of blood were traditionally entertained by theologians and applicable to catacumens, not those without the faith. There are no infallible teachings that I can find that support the idea that they are official teachings. On the contrary, theses concepts seem to contradict the notion of “One Baptism” for all believers.

    • Ron Conte says:

      It is your fallible opinion that CCC 1258 is inconsistent with infallible magisterial teachings. But CCC 1258 is in fact a teaching of the Magisterium. Moreover, the phrasing “The Church has always held the firm conviction” indicates a teaching under the infallible “ordinary and universal magisterium”. But even the non-infallible teaching of the Magisterium requires assent from the faithful. This is the mistake that so many on the far right make: to exalt their own fallible understanding above the teaching of the Church.

      The quoted text above from Pope Eugene IV is from the Council of Florence. Pope Saint John Paul II explains this type of teaching, found in many documents, that outside the Church there is no salvation. He teaches that a person can “outwardly reject” the Church, and yet still be a member implicitly. And I’ve established in my post by many citations that the Magisterium does teach an implicit baptism of desire. The “one baptism” is found in three modes: by water, by desire, by blood. This is not merely an idea entertained by theologians, and it has in fact been taught and applied by the Church beyond catechumens. They are not outside the Church who are united to Her by a baptism of implicit desire.

      The reference to pagans, Jews, heretics, and schismatics is oddly and ironically often cited by heretics and schismatics, such as yourself, with unequivocal condemnation. But as the quotes I present in my post show, anyone who is separated from the Church in any of those categories (and others) can still be saved by invincible ignorance — if they do not realize they should convert — and an implicit baptism of desire. Only persons who die unrepentant from actual mortal sin are condemned to Hell. Refusal to convert is an objective mortal sin, but it might not be an actual mortal sin due to invincible ignorance.

    • federalexpression says:

      Did JPII teach the implicit membership concept infallibly? I said I see no infallible teaching of these 3 modes of baptism. I am not schismatic. If I am shown infallible teaching I accept it. I have not seen it yet. Since it appears to be contrary to what is known to be infallible I have to reject it unless shown otherwise. How does one reject the church and at the same time be a member of it?

    • Ron Conte says:

      The per se rejection of the non-infallible teaching authority of the Church is a schismatic error. The deprecation or rejection of all non-infallible teachings as a set — treating these as no better than one’s own opinion — is an heretical error. The Council of Trent infallibly taught on the baptism of desire. And the Magisterium has condemned the heresy of Feeneyism — for taking the same position as you take, rejecting baptisms of desire and of blood. Since heresy is a rejection of an infallible teaching, the Church’s teaching on the baptism of desire and blood must be infallible (under the ordinary and universal magisterium).

    • federalexpression says:

      With all due respect. The council of Trent did not teach on Baptism of desire. It taught on adult baptism and within that context said that a desire for baptism was necessary.

      I never said non-infallible teaching was no better than my own opinion. I said non-infallible teaching is no better than infallible teaching. I would be interested in reading the condemnation on Feeneyism (whatever that is). Heresy is a willful rejection of infallible doctrine once corrected, it has nothing to do with being wrong in good faith.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Numerous falsehoods in your comments. Council of Trent: “the laver [washing] of regeneration, or the desire thereof” [6th Session, ch. 4] and “the sacraments… or… the desire thereof” [7th Session, Canon 4]. Baptism OR its desire is the plain teaching of Trent and the constant interpretation of the Church.

      Why do you reject the non-infallible teachings I cited in my post above, based on your own opinion? Formal heresy excommunicates automatically. It does not require any type of correction from Church authority. Material heresy is any idea contrary to an infallible teaching of the Magisterium. If you are wrong, in good conscience, and yet contradict an infallible teaching, it is still material heresy. But I don’t see how you can be in good conscience since you openly reject non-infallible magisterial teaching and radically reinterpret infallible teaching.

      Church decision on Fr. Feeney:
      He rejected the implicit baptism of desire, and he claimed that no one could be saved by explicit desire for baptism alone (he saw explicit desire for baptism as part of the path to baptism with water). He also rejected the baptism of blood. He believed that no one outside of formal membership in the Church could be saved.

    • federalexpression says:

      Look at the statement again. eg. He doesn’t like hamburgers or hot dogs. Does that mean he likes one or the other but not both? I thought the Trent statement was saying you need baptism and the desire for it, BOTH

    • Ron Conte says:

      You though that Trent was saying…. And the Magisterium says otherwise. Vatican II, the Catechism, and Pope Saint John Paul II say otherwise. You have utterly rejected both non-infallible teachings and the interpretation of past infallible teachings presented by the Magisterium, and you have substituted your own foolish interpretation. No further comments will be accepted from you on this topic.

  2. JJ says:

    If an infant or young child is not in danger of death, can a close relative privately, secretly, baptize him/her, using water and “desire”? For example, the case of a grandparent who knows that the parents are lapsed or that they are pursuing yoga or some other practice… a situation where it is next to impossible to involve a representative of the Church…

    • Ron Conte says:

      Any human person, even a non-Christian, may baptize. All that is needed is water flowing over the skin and the words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” [Council of Florence, SESSION 8 22 November 1439]. This is not a baptism of desire, but of water. In danger of death, a relative could privately baptize a young child. An older child would need to consent to the baptism. This type of “emergency baptism” is only licit in danger of death, but it is always valid (when it meets the usual conditions for validity).

  3. JJ says:

    Why is the danger of death significant if any human person may baptize a child under the age of reason? The only emergency would be if there was no water available.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Any human person may baptize anyone. But the Church rightly insists on order, rather than chaos. Persons beyond the age of reason are to be instructed in the Faith before being baptized. The ordinary minister of Baptism is any ordained person (deacon, priest, bishop). Only in an extraordinary circumstance can a lay person baptize. And baptizing children without the consent of their parents would only be licit in an emergency. Parents have the primary responsibility for the care of their children.

  4. Dot says:

    Anyone with an interest in the child may baptize him at any time, then? Assuming they intend to pass on some type of Christian instruction? Emergency or not?

    • Ron Conte says:

      See my reply to JJ. A lay person may only baptize in an extraordinary circumstance. If there is a dispute between the parents, my opinion is that only one parent’s consent is needed (but that might lead to a lawsuit).

  5. Dot says:

    For clarification… A relative concerned with the parents’ sore lack of spiritual life may baptize him at any time, according to your first statement. Usual conditions would be with the intent to evangelize him or her? Lacking baptism is a spiritual emergency of sorts. JJ does not seem at all concerned with a life or death emergency. Sorry, but I have also thought about these circumstances.

  6. Dot says:

    Lacking baptism is a spiritual emergency of sorts. JJ does not seem at all concerned with a life or death emergency. One parent may desire baptism for the child while the other doesn’t. That parent may secretly baptize the young child even when there is no danger of death?

  7. Rico says:

    Not all Christian denominations should be called Christian. Mormons claim to be Christian but Mormonism is essentially radical Anabaptism. If Protestantism is a heresy, then Mormonism is a heresy within the Protestant heresy. Few Mormons today realize that their ideology was sired by Thomas Muntzer, the heretical Catholic priest whose extreme radicalism could not be stomached by the radical Catholic monk Martin Luther himself.

    Muntzer conceived the radical ideas of having “living prophets” to interpret scripture (as opposed to the Magisterium) and polygamy (as opposed to monogamy). Both these are the main doctrines of Mormonism. Mormon scripture also identifies the Catholic Church as the “great and abominable church” that corrupted the Bible. And while the bulk of recent Mormon converts come from Catholic countries, the Mormon church reject these converts’ previous Catholic baptisms. Instead, they are rebaptized as Mormons. Hence, Mormons are essentially Anabaptists.

    But Mormonism exceeds Anabaptist radicalism by rejecting the Trinity God of Christianity. It teaches a pantheon of material gods who once lived in earthlike planets as mortal men and later advanced to god status. In Mormonism, the Father of Jesus was once a man who became God. That Jesus was God before he became man refutes all this Mormon nonsense.

    In 2001, as a response to an inquiry on Mormon baptisms, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith declared Mormon baptisms invalid.

    Why Mormon Baptism Is Invalid (

  8. Rico says:

    Hinduism and Buddhism can rightly be called pagan religions. But Mormons see themselves as the true Christians, and every other Christian denomination as false. Ironically, they reject the most fundamental belief that any Christian professes, ie, the Trinity God defined by the Nicene and Athanasian creeds. Mormon temple worship borrows elements and concepts from 18th century freemasonry, especially the use of signs, tokens, and handshakes, as means to attain Mormon salvation. That a faithful Mormon must learn these special knowledge (gnosis) in their secret temples in order to reach their highest heaven makes Mormonism a gnostic religion. It should be classified as a gnostic, pseudo-Christian religion. They and the Jehovah’s Witnesses share common characteristics as pseudo-Christians.

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