Can God offer salvation apart from the Sacrament of Baptism?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.” [1257]

The above quote is often misstated and misinterpreted. The misstatement or misquote involves taking away the first part of the assertion (“God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism”), and asserting only the last part (God “is not bound by his sacraments”). Both parts of the quote are true, but each part sheds light on the other.

“The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation.” [CCC 1257]

God cannot change His mind. He is unchanging infinite perfection. Since God decided to bind salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, that cannot change. Salvation is irrevocably tied to the sacrament of Baptism. It is absolutely necessary for salvation. Why then does the CCC also assert that God is not bound by his sacraments?

“This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament.” [CCC 1258]

God has also decided to offer salvation by the baptisms of desire and of blood, which are not in themselves sacraments. Now this might seem like a contradiction: Baptism is necessary for salvation. Salvation is bound to the Sacrament of Baptism. But some persons are baptized and saved apart from the Sacrament.

The solution to this apparent contradiction is the understanding that the power of the baptisms of desire and of blood is solely and entirely from their relationship to the formal Sacrament of Baptism. The baptism of desire is a desire, explicitly or implicitly, for the formal Sacrament.

And the baptism of blood is related to the Sacrament because all the Sacraments flow from the suffering and death of Christ on the Cross. When Christ suffered and died for us, He thereby obtained all graces for all places and times, including the graces of all the Sacraments. And when the side of Christ was pierced, out flowed blood and water, representing the Sacraments. Whoever dies with Christ, will rise with Christ. By baptism, we die with Christ. So a baptism of blood is related to the Baptism of water by its relation to the source of grace and efficacy: the blood Christ shed on the Cross.

{6:3} Do you not know that those of us who have been baptized in Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death?

{6:8} Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live together with Christ.

The three types of baptism are a reflection of the Most Holy Trinity. The baptism with water represents the Father, who does not proceed, and from whom the other Persons of the Trinity proceed. For the formal Sacrament of Baptism is the basis for the power of the other types of baptism. The baptism of blood represents the Son, since the Son shed His blood on the Cross to make the Sacrament of Baptism effective. The Son proceeds from the Father. The baptism of blood obtains its effectiveness from formal Baptism with water, due to the relationship between the blood and water from the side of Christ. The baptism of desire represents the Spirit. The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The baptism of desire has its effectiveness from the formal Sacrament of Baptism, as a desire for it, and also from the baptism of blood, since blood and water flowed from the side of Christ on the Cross.

[1 John]
{5:6} This is the One who came by water and blood: Jesus Christ. Not by water only, but by water and blood. And the Spirit is the One who testifies that the Christ is the Truth.
{5:7} For there are Three who give testimony in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit. And these Three are One.
{5:8} And there are three who give testimony on earth: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood. And these three are one.

The above passage relates the three types of baptism (desire, water, blood) to the Trinity. For the baptism of desire has been called the baptism of the Spirit [e.g. Summa Theologica III Q 66 A 11].

Salvation is bound to the formal Sacrament of Baptism. The Baptisms of desire and of blood are only effective because of their close relationship to the formal Sacrament of Baptism. Thus, some form of Baptism is absolutely necessary to salvation — no exceptions. Even the Blessed Virgin Mary needed some form of baptism to be saved. And since she received her salvation in the first instant of her existence at conception, her Immaculate Conception must have included a baptism of blood.

God is not bound by His Sacraments, in the sense that He has always offered salvation by baptism of desire or of blood, and not only by a baptism of water. But no salvation is found apart from the Sacrament of Baptism because the baptisms of desire and of blood derive their effectiveness from the formal Sacrament. And any of the three forms of baptism can confer the state of grace, which is absolutely necessary at death for salvation.

Similarly, there is no salvation outside the Church. Yet persons who are formally outside the Church can still be saved, by being implicitly inside the Church by the state of grace.

Please consider reading 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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