Bro. Peter Dimond
SESS. 6, CHAP. 4 OF THE COUNCIL OF TRENT
OBJECTION– In Session 6, Chapter 4 of its Decree on Justification, the Council of Trent teaches that justification can take place through the water of baptism or the desire for it.
ANSWER– No, it doesn’t. It actually teaches that justification cannot take place without water baptism or the desire for it, as it is written: unless a man is born again of water and the Spirit he cannot be saved. That’s quite different.
Pope Paul III, Council of Trent, Sess. 6, Chap. 4: “In these words there is suggested a description of the justification of the impious, how there is a transition from that state in which a person is born as a child of the first Adam to the state of grace and of adoption as sons of God through the second Adam, Jesus Christ our savior; indeed, this transition, once the gospel has been promulgated, CANNOT TAKE PLACE WITHOUT the laver of regeneration or a desire for it, AS IT IS WRITTEN: Unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5).”
[Preliminary Note: If Sess. 6, Chap. 4 of Trent were teaching what the baptism of desire advocates claim (which it isn’t), then it would mean that every man must receive baptism or at least have the actual desire/vow for baptism to be saved. It would mean that it would be heresy to say that any unbaptized person could be saved if he doesn’t have at least the desire/vow for water baptism. But 99% of the people who quote this passage in favor of baptism of desire don’t even believe that one must desire baptism to be saved. They believe that Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, etc. can be saved who don’t desire water baptism. Thus, 99% of those who quote this passage reject even what they claim it is teaching. Frankly, this fact just shows the dishonesty and the bad will of most baptism of desire advocates in attempting to quote this passage as if they were devoted to its teaching when, in fact, they don’t believe in it at all and are in heresy for teaching that non-Catholics can be saved who don’t even desire water baptism.]
We will now consider the facts which prove that this passage of the Council of Trent does not teach that justification can take place by the water of baptism or the desire for it.
We will cover five primary points: 1) English examples that prove our point about this passage; 2) Latin examples that prove our point about this passage; 3) the common mistranslation of this passage, which has misled so many on this matter; 4) the passage’s declaration that John 3:5 is to be understood “as it is written”; and 5) a stunning dogmatic precedent that the Latin word aut has been used with sine in an inclusive sense.
First, the passage has been grossly mistranslated in the popular English version of Denzinger, the Sources of Catholic Dogma. This false and misleading translation has been dishonestly repeated by many supporters of “baptism of desire”, despite their awareness (in many cases) that the translation is inaccurate.
The false translation changes the meaning of the Latin word sine from “without” (its actual meaning) to “except through.” Trent’s passage actually says that justification cannot happen without water baptism or a desire for it, as it is written [John 3:5] – not that justification cannot happen “except through” water baptism or a desire for it. The false translation completely alters the theological meaning of Trent’s assertion; for to state that something cannot happen without x or y is not to state that it can happen by either x or y.
ENGLISH EXAMPLES TO PROVE THE POINT
Let’s consider examples in both English and Latin to prove the point. Here are three examples in English:
This paper cannot be written without pad or pencil.
Does that mean that the paper can be written with the pad alone or with the pencil alone? Obviously not. It means that you need both.
This sacrament cannot take place without matter or form.
Does that mean that the sacrament can take place with matter, even though there is no form? Obviously not. It means that you need both.
This wedding cannot take place without a bride or a groom.
Does that mean that a groom without a bride is sufficient for the wedding? Obviously not. It means that you need both. In the same way, the sentence structure in Sess. 6 Chap. 4 does not mean that desire without the laver of regeneration is sufficient for justification. You need both.
It’s also important to remember that when “baptism of desire” advocates attempt to respond to these examples, they are unable to do so. Instead, they are forced to use examples that are not faithful to the sentence structure given in this passage. They will often slightly alter the wording of the passage in the example they are providing by turning the sentence into a positive either/or statement. They often don’t respond with examples that declare: “cannot take place without”. That’s because Trent’s sentence structure does not support or prove their point.
Further, even if one held that the syntax of the first half of Sess. 6, Chap. 4 is somewhat ambiguous, and might be interpreted as requiring one or both elements, Trent’s position that no one can be saved without water baptism is affirmed in the very same sentence in the words that immediately follow.
THE VERY PASSAGE – INDEED, THE VERY SAME SENTENCE – DECLARES THAT JOHN 3:5 IS TO BE UNDERSTOOD “AS IT IS WRITTEN,” WHICH IS INCOMPATIBLE WITH “BAPTISM OF DESIRE”
Before we look at examples in Latin which also prove our point, the reader should also notice that, in this very passage, the Council of Trent teaches that John 3:5 is to be taken as it is written (Latin: sicut scriptum est). This excludes any possibility of salvation without being born again of water in the Sacrament of Baptism; for baptism of desire cannot be true if John 3:5 is to be taken as it is written. John 3:5 declares that every man must be born again of water and the Spirit to be saved, which is what the theory of baptism of desire denies. The theory of baptism of desire and an interpretation of John 3:5 “as it is written” are mutually exclusive. Every baptism of desire proponent will admit this. That is why all of them must opt for a non-literal interpretation of John 3:5.
Fr. Francois Laisney (Believer in Baptism of Desire), Is Feeneyism Catholic, p. 33: “Fr. Feeney’s greatest argument was that Our Lord’s words, ‘Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God’ (John 3:5) mean the absolute necessity of baptism of water with no exception whatsoever… The great question is, then, how did the Church explain these words of Our Lord?”
Fr. Laisney, a fierce baptism of desire advocate, is admitting here that John 3:5 cannot be understood as it is written if baptism of desire is true. He therefore holds that the true understanding of John 3:5 is that it does not apply literally to all men; that is, John 3:5 is not to be taken as it is written. But how does the Catholic Church understand these words? What does the passage in Trent that we just discussed say: It says infallibly, “AS IT IS WRITTEN, UNLESS A MAN IS BORN AGAIN OF WATER AND THE HOLY GHOST, HE CANNOT ENTER INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD.” This indicates that the passage is not teaching that people can be justified or saved without the rebirth of water and the Spirit. The literal understanding of John 3:5 (as it is written) is what we find in every dogmatic pronouncement on the topic.
Indeed, if Trent were teaching “baptism of desire,” one would find a full explanation of the idea in the Decree on Justification and/or in the canons on Baptism. However, there is nothing about “baptism of desire” anywhere because Trent was not teaching it. There is also no mention of “baptism of blood” anywhere in Trent’s decree because Trent was not teaching the “three baptisms”.
“BOD” ADVOCATES COMMIT A SOPHISM/FALLACY OF FALSE CAUSE
“Sophism of false cause is the deception arising from assuming something as the cause of an effect which in reality is not its cause. What is assumed as a cause may be: a) something prior in time (after this, therefore on account of this); b) something contemporaneous (with this, therefore on account of this); c) an occasion; d) a condition; e) an empty name: v.g. there is no thought without the brain; therefore the brain is the cause of the thought.” (Henri Grenier, Thomistic Philosophy, Vol. 1, 1948, p. 248).
As this quote from a Thomistic philosophy manual shows, the sophism of false cause is the error of assuming something to be the cause of an effect when it is merely a condition. To say that there is no thought without the brain does not mean that the brain is the cause of the thought. Likewise, to say that justification cannot take place without the laver of regeneration or without the desire for it [as it is written, John 3:5] does not prove that justification can take place by the desire for baptism without the laver of regeneration or that desire is a cause of justification. Desire is, rather, a condition necessary for adult justification. It is not a cause of first justification. Trent’s teaching that desire is a condition (not a cause) of first justification in adults served to refute the Protestant heresy which denied free will and held that grace is irresistible.
THOSE ABOVE REASON MUST DESIRE WATER BAPTISM IN ORDER TO BE JUSTIFIED
The reason the word “desire” is mentioned in the context of Sess. 6, Chap. 4 is that this chapter of Trent’s decree deals with adult justification: iustificationis impii (the justification of the impious). “Impious” is a strong description that concerns those above the age of reason who are guilty of actual and mortal sin. In chapter 4 and the following chapters of the Decree on Justification, Trent is concerned with justification for those above the age of reason, as the context clearly shows. It was in Session 5 on Original Sin that Trent dealt with infants’ transition to justification. As is the case with adults, the only way for infants to be justified is through the Sacrament of Baptism. However, since adults and those above reason must also desire the sacrament in order to be justified by it, chapter 4 of Trent specified that justification cannot happen without a desire.
Catechism of the Council of Trent, On Baptism – Dispositions for Baptism, p. 180: “INTENTION … In the first place they must desire and intend to receive it…
PREREQUISITE VS. CAUSE
It’s also very important to note that chapter 4, which mentions the word “desire/vow” in the context of the prerequisites for justification (not as something that brings about justification), is a ”description” (descriptio) of the Justification of the Impious: “Insinuatur descriptio iustificationis impii…”
In a description of what will be present in adult justification, the desire for baptism will necessarily be mentioned. However, chapter 7 of the Decree on Justification deals with the “causes” (causae) of justification: “Cap. 7. Quid sit iustificatio impii, et quae eius causae.”
In defining the causes of justification, only the Sacrament of Baptism is mentioned. It alone is the instrumental cause. That’s because receiving the Sacrament of Baptism is the only way to be justified.
Pope Paul III, Council of Trent, Sess. 6, Chap. 7, the Causes of Justification: “The causes of this Justification are: the final cause is the glory of God and of Christ… the efficient cause is truly a merciful God… the meritorious cause is His most beloved and only-begotten Son… the instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without faith no one is ever justified… This faith, in accordance with apostolic tradition, catechumens beg of the Church before the sacrament of baptism, when they ask for faith which bestows life eternal…”[cclxxxix]
In listing all the causes of justification, why didn’t the Council mention the possibility of “baptism of desire”? It had ample opportunity to do so, just as it clearly taught no fewer than three times that the reconciliation provided by the Sacrament of Penance can be obtained by perfect contrition and the desire for that sacrament (Sess. 14, Chap. 4; and twice in Sess. 6, Chap. 14). Desire, martyrdom, contrition are nowhere to be found in Trent’s decree on the causes of first justification because they cannot grant first justification. Only water baptism grants first justification. “Baptism of desire” is not mentioned because it’s not a true doctrine. In fact, a careful consideration of Sess. 14, Chap. 4 of Trent on the Sacrament of Penance supports this point.
In Sess. 14, Chap. 4 Trent declares that a baptized person who has fallen into grave sin can be reconciled to God (and thus restored to justification) through perfect contrition and a desire for the Sacrament of Penance.
Council of Trent, Sess. 14, Chap. 4 on the Sacrament of Penance, Latin: “Docet praeterea, etsi contritionem hanc aliquando caritate perfectam esse contingat hominemque Deo reconciliare priusquam hoc sacramentum actu suscipiatur, ipsam nihilominus reconciliationem ipsi contritioni sine sacramenti voto, quod in illa includitur, non esse adscribendam.”
Council of Trent, Sess. 14, Chap. 4, On the Sacrament of Penance: “The Council teaches, furthermore, that although this contrition sometimes happens to be perfect through charity and to reconcile man to God before this sacrament is actually received, nonetheless this reconciliation ought not to be ascribed to the contrition itself without the desire of the sacrament which is included in it.”
Trent teaches that perfect contrition (in a baptized person who has fallen) is able “to reconcile” (reconciliare) man to God before the Sacrament of Penance is received; but that the “reconciliationem” (the reconciliation) to God “non esse adscribendam” (ought not to be ascribed) to the perfect contrition alone without the desire for the Sacrament of Penance. In the Latin, “adscribendam” (to be ascribed) is a feminine accusative singular gerundive agreeing with “reconcilationem” (reconciliation). Therefore, in Trent’s teaching the “reconciliation” (which brings justification to a fallen baptized person prior to the Sacrament of Penance) is directly ascribed, imputed or attributed to perfect contrition and the desire for the Sacrament of Penance. Consider that carefully; for it proves that (according to Trent) perfect contrition with the desire for the Sacrament of Penance is a CAUSE of reconciliation to God (and restoration to justification) in a baptized person who has fallen into grave sin. Reconciliation is ascribed to them. They are the things which, along with God’s grace, effectuate it or bring it about.
Hence, if ‘baptism of desire’ were true – i.e., if ‘desire’ for the Sacrament of Baptism and/or contrition could bring about justification in an unbaptized person, as perfect contrition and the desire for the Sacrament of Penance can bring justification to a fallen baptized person without the Sacrament of Penance – Trent would have included the concept of “desire” under the “causes” of first justification. However, as stated above, Trent has a chapter on the “causes” of justification and doesn’t mention anything of the sort. There is nothing taught about “desire,” contrition or martyrdom being a cause of justification in the unbaptized simply because “baptism of desire” is a false doctrine. If it were a true doctrine, it would have been stated; but it’s not the teaching of the Catholic Church. Rather, Trent teaches that the Sacrament of Baptism alone is the instrumental cause of justification because justification only comes to the baptized, as every dogmatic definition dealing with the Sacrament of Baptism’s necessity and John 3:5 proves.
I also discussed the Latin of Sess. 6 Chap. 4 with someone I know. His name is Timothy Johnson. He’s an expert in Latin and other languages. He studied classical languages at Cambridge University in England. He agrees that the passage does not teach that one can be justified by the desire for water baptism. He emphasizes that it uses the preposition sine, meaning “without”, and he considers the common mistranslation of “without” to “except through” to be outrageous. By the way, the CMRI is one group (among many) that obstinately employs the false “except through” translation.
Here’s what Timothy Johnson said about this passage:
Timothy Johnson: “… the preposition ‘without’ (sine) governs both lavacro and voto. As for the translation in Denzinger which reads ‘except through’ instead of ‘without’, that is grammatically indefensible and theologically malicious. It dissolves the very idea of a set of prerequisites and replaces it with a series of alternatives. Truly diabolical!”
As he explains, sine (the preposition which means “without”) governs “lavacro” (laver) which is in the ablative case, and “voto” (desire), which is also in the ablative case. “Without” applies to both words. It could thus be translated: it [justification] cannot take place without water baptism or without the desire for it, as it is written….
The passage does not say that justification “can” happen “by” this or that. It states that it “cannot” happen “without” this or that, “as it is written” (sicut scriptum est).
“Cap. 4. Insinuatur descriptio iustificationis impii, et modus eius in statu gratiae – Quibus verbis iustificationis impii descriptio insinuatur, ut sit translatio ab eo statu, in quo homo nascitur filius primi Adae, in statum gratiae et adoptionis filiorum [Rom. 8:15] Dei, per secundum Adam Iesum Christum Salvatorem nostrum; quae translatio post Evangelium promulgatum sine lavacro regenerationis aut eius voto fieri non potest, sicut scriptum est: ‘Nisi quis renatus fuerit ex aqua et Spiritu Sancto, non potest introire in regnum Dei’ (John 3:5).”
Pope Paul III, Council of Trent, Sess. 6, Chap. 4: “In these words there is suggested a description of the justification of the impious, how there is a transition from that state in which a person is born as a child of the first Adam to the state of grace and of adoption as sons of God through the second Adam, Jesus Christ our savior; indeed, this transition, after the gospel having had been promulgated, CANNOT TAKE PLACE WITHOUT (sine) the laver of regeneration or a desire for it, AS IT IS WRITTEN (sicut scriptum est): Unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5).”
And if you’re looking for a confirmation right in this passage that there is no departure from the absolute necessity of water baptism, it comes in the very words which follow the words we are discussing. It comes with the words, as it is written: sicut scriptum est.
Sicut scriptum est is perfect indicative passive. Literally, it means: “as it is, having been written.” It can be translated, “as it was written”; “as it has been written”; or “as it is written.” It’s a declaration, within that very sentence, that there is perfect harmony with the understanding of John 3:5 “as it is written” that we find throughout the Council of Trent and in the Council of Florence. We will look at those examples in a bit.
In fact, in pondering this passage, it struck me that if the misunderstanding, mistranslation and misuse of this passage has been the source of so much heresy and evil (as it has), then it would make sense that God in His providence and in His goodness would leave a clear indication in the very passage that to advance anything that contradicts John 3:5 “as it is written” is false; and God did leave this indication (with the words “as it is written”) in the very words that follow the words that have been so misunderstood, perverted and misused. In fact, God left a similar indication of how the word aut (or) can be used in an inclusive way in another dogmatic statement of extreme relevance.
LATIN EXAMPLES TO PROVE THE POINT
Now let’s consider examples in Latin to prove the point. In an attempt to defend their false view of this passage, “baptism of desire” advocates frequently assert that the Latin word aut (which means “or”) cannot be used in an inclusive way, as we are contending that it is. Rather, they say that it is strictly exclusive: i.e., either/or, one or the other, but not both. They are completely wrong. What they state in that regard is 100% untrue. Below are examples from Latin passages which absolutely disprove their false assertion.
EXAMPLES FROM THE LATIN VULGATE TO PROVE THE POINT
Here are some examples in the Latin Vulgate which prove that “aut” can be used in an inclusive sense. In all these examples the “or” in Latin is the word “aut,” the same word we find in Sess. 6 Chap. 4.
Romans 1:21- “… quia cum cognovissent Deum non sicut Deum glorificaverunt aut gratias egerunt; sed evanuerunt in cogitationibus suis et obscuratum est insipiens cor eorum.”
Romans 1:21- “Because that, when they knew God, they have not glorified him as God or given thanks; but became vain in their thoughts, and their foolish heart was darkened.”
So, does this mean that the evil people did not glorify God, but they did give Him thanks? No, obviously not. Or conversely: does it mean that they glorified God, but did not give Him thanks? No, of course not. Obviously the meaning is that these wicked people both did not glorify God and did not give Him thanks. Aut is clearly used in the inclusive sense in this passage of the Vulgate.
Another example is Titus 1:6:
Titus 1:6- “… si quis sine crimine est, unius uxoris vir filios habens fideles non in accusatione luxuriae aut non subditos.”
Titus 1:6- “If any [priest] be without crime, the husband of one wife, having faithful children, not accused of riot, or unruly.”
Does this mean that the priest’s children must be free either of riotousness or unruliness? No, of course not. Obviously the meaning is that the priest’s children (if he had children during the apostolic period) must have been free from both the accusation of riot and unruliness – not one or the other. Thus, aut is clearly used in the inclusive sense. Another example is John 3:8:
John 3:8- “Spiritus ubi vult spirat, et vocem ejus audis, sed nescis unde veniat, aut quo vadat: sic est omnis qui natus est ex spiritu.”
John 3:8- “The Spirit breatheth where he will; and thou hearest his voice, but thou knowest not whence he cometh, or whither he goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”
Does this mean that Nicodemus does not know where the Spirit comes from, but he does know where He goes? No, of course not. Clearly the meaning is that Nicodemus does not know where the Spirit comes from and also does not know where He goes. Thus, aut is used in the inclusive sense. In fact, in the part of John 3:8 where the Vulgate uses aut, numerous English translations have “and” and some have “or.” Even though aut means or, it can be inclusive or functionally equivalent to “and,” as we see here. In these instances, aut must apply to both, or be understood inclusively, to be faithful to the intended meaning. It is therefore a fact that aut can be used in an inclusive sense. Now we will look at a dogmatic example of this point.
A STUNNING DOGMATIC PRECEDENT OF “AUT” USED WITH “SINE” IN AN INCLUSIVE WAY
The document to which we must now turn is Pope St. Leo the Great’s famous dogmatic letter to Flavian, originally written in 449, confirmed by the Council of Chalcedon in 451. This is the document about which the Fathers of the Council of Chalcedon cried out, “Peter has spoken through the mouth of Leo,” because Leo’s letter so accurately defined the truth about the two natures of our Lord Jesus Christ, a human nature and a divine nature, in one divine Person. This document is extremely important to this topic, not only with respect to the theological aspects of this issue, but also to the grammatical ones. The numerous providential aspects of this decree are amazing.
It is heresy to reject the teaching of Leo the Great’s letter to Flavian. Now, Leo the Great’s decree contradicts the precise theory of “baptism of desire.” “Baptism of desire” is typically explained as supplying the grace of sanctification or justification without the water of baptism. Well, in his dogmatic decree, Pope St. Leo the Great says:
“IN OTHER WORDS, THE SPIRIT OF SANCTIFICATION AND THE BLOOD OF REDEMPTION AND THE WATER OF BAPTISM. THESE THREE ARE ONE AND REMAIN INDIVISIBLE. NONE OF THEM IS SEPARABLE FROM ITS LINK WITH THE OTHERS.”
Pope Leo the Great infallibly declares that sanctification is inseparable from the water of baptism. That directly contradicts the concept of “baptism of desire” and “baptism of blood.” Both theories maintain that sanctification comes to a person separately from water baptism.
Leo’s dogmatic letter also declares that the Blood of Redemption is inseparable from water baptism. That’s extremely significant as well because the Council of Trent defined that one is justified only by the Blood of Redemption, “the merit of the one mediator.” This merit “is applied to adults and to infants through the Sacrament of Baptism.” We can thus detect the harmony between Pope Leo the Great’s teaching on the Blood of Redemption and its inseparable connection to water baptism, and Trent’s teaching on the same point. Trent declares that the Blood of Redemption is applied through the Sacrament of Baptism, just as Leo the Great defined. Leo’s decree specified that the Blood is “inseparable” from the water of baptism.
If BOD were true, which it’s not, you would find a clear explanation in the Council of Trent of how the merit of Christ is applied to people without the Sacrament of Baptism. You would find a clear definition of it in one of the canons on the Sacrament of Baptism. You would find a clear statement that you can be justified before the Sacrament of Baptism and why this is so, but you don’t have anything like that in any Council anywhere. That’s because BOD is false. What you have, on the contrary, is statement after statement that John 3:5 is literal, that no man is saved without the Sacrament of Baptism, that the merit of Christ is applied through the sacrament, that the sacrament is the instrumental cause of justification, etc. So, there’s no way to reconcile BOD or BOB with this dogmatic proclamation. They are false theories. In fact, God left a striking piece of evidence to refute modern-day arguments for “baptism of desire” in Leo the Great’s decree.
GOD LEFT A STUNNING USE OF “AUT” WITH “SINE” IN LEO THE GREAT’S DECREE TO REFUTE MODERN “BAPTISM OF DESIRE” SUPPORTERS
As I was pondering Sess. 6, Chap. 4 of Trent, I thought to myself: just as God left a clear indication in Session 6 Chapter 4 that there is absolutely no deviation from the absolute necessity of water baptism, with the words “as it is written” – and He left that indication in the very passage that has been so misused – it’s possible that God would leave a similar indication in a document such as Pope Leo the Great’s decree of how the Latin word “aut” can be used in an inclusive way. Wouldn’t it be interesting if a document that carries great significance on the water baptism issue would also contain a clue that “aut” can be used in an inclusive way? In other words, God left the indication and the proof there, we just had to look for it.
As I looked through the Latin of Leo the Great’s decree, I found the striking proof and example I was looking for. I came across this passage from the document in which there are multiple uses of aut, as well as a use of aut with sine, just as we have in Session 6 Chapter 4. As we will see, this use of aut with sine is an absolutely inclusive use.
The passage concerns the truths of Christ: that He is both Son of God and the Christ.
Latin – PASSAGE FROM POPE ST. LEO THE GREAT, DOGMATIC LETTER TO FLAVIAN
“… tu es, inquit, Christus filius dei vivi [Mt. 16:16], nec inmerito beatus est pronuntiatus a domino et a principali petra soliditatem et virtutis traxit et nominis qui per revelationem patris eundem et dei filium est confessus et Christum, quia unum horum sine alio receptum non proderat ad salutem et aequalis erat periculi dominum Iesum Christum aut deum tantummodo sine homine aut sine deo solum hominem credidisse.”
“You are, he said, the Christ, the Son of the Living God [Mt. 16:16], and not undeservedly was he pronounced blessed by the Lord and did he derive from the original Rock [i.e. God] the solid character of both [its] virtue and [its] name, [he] who through the revelation of the Father confessed that the same [i.e. Jesus] was both the Son of God and the Christ, because one of these [truths] received [i.e. admitted] without the other was unprofitable to salvation, and it was of equal danger to have believed that the Lord Jesus Christ was either God only without [being] man or man only without [being] God.”
Leo the Great declares:
“… quia unum horum sine alio receptum non proderat ad salutem et aequalis erat periculi dominum Iesum Christum aut deum tantummodo sine homine aut sine deo solum hominem credidisse.”
“… because one of these [truths] received [i.e. admitted] without the other was unprofitable to salvation, and it was of equal danger to have believed that the Lord Jesus Christ was either God only without [being] man or man only without [being] God.”
NOTICE THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS PASSAGE – “it was of equal danger to have believed that the Lord Jesus Christ was either God only without [being] man OR [AUT] man only without [being] God.”
Is “aut” here used in an exclusive way or in an inclusive way? It’s clearly (and in fact, infallibly) used in an inclusive way. For you fall into danger (heresy) unless you reject both errors – two errors being separated by “aut” or “or.” If you only reject the error on one side of the “aut,” you fall into danger/heresy!
This proves, in a dogmatic statement – one with tremendous relevance to the water baptism issue – that “aut” has been used in an inclusive sense, in which it must be understood inclusively to be understood correctly!
In the same way, concerning Sess. 6 Chap. 4, you fail to enter justification unless you have both the laver of regeneration and the desire, the two requirements separated by “aut,” prefaced by “sine” (without). And the reason, as I said earlier, that “desire” is mentioned in Sess. 6, Chap. 4 of Trent is that it’s talking about the justification of the impious (adult justification), and adults must desire the sacrament when receiving it.
I shared my thoughts on the Latin of Leo the Great’s decree with the aforementioned Timothy Johnson. I asked him whether he concurred that the use of “aut” with “sine” is inclusive, and therefore comparable and/or relevant to the use in Sess. 6 Chap. 4 of the Council of Trent. He responded by saying:
Timothy Johnson: “Yes, by using the correlative conjunctions aut … aut …, the author focuses on two of the four theoretical possibilities here: Jesus is (i) God only, (ii) man only, (iii) both, (iv) neither. The first two are heresy, the last unthinkable!”
He thus agrees that the use of “aut” indicates that you must reject both errors, and therefore that you must hold that Jesus is God and man. He continues:
Timothy Johnson: “It’s interesting that aut is used to stress that we must hold that Jesus is both God and man at the same time. This reinforces the view that votum refers to a desire for baptism that is active at the same time as baptism, i.e. an accompanying desire.”
Hence, the clear use of “aut” with “sine” in this passage absolutely proves that “aut” can be used inclusively, and that the language of Sess. 6 Chap. 4 does not indicate that desire without the sacrament of baptism is sufficient for justification. What’s so amazing about this passage is that “aut” is used with “sine” between two heretical concepts which both must be rejected. Theologically, since we’re talking about the truth that Christ is both God and man, there could be no stronger way for God to show that “aut” can be used with “sine” inclusively, or that it can apply to both. For the truth and the affirmation that Christ is both God and man is, along with the Trinity, the foundation of Christianity. It’s as if God deliberately left grammatical or lexical precedents in this document to refute future arguments for BOD and salvation outside the Church from people who wrongly contend that “aut” is always exclusive.
God knew that people would misunderstand and misuse Sess. 6 Chap. 4 to contradict the necessity of His faith and the necessity of baptism. He thus included “sicut scriptum est” in the document to show that it is not deviating from the absolute truth that John 3:5 is as it is written. He also made sure the sentence used sine, so that it’s not talking about how justification “can” happen “by” this or that, but that justification “cannot” take place “without” the elements. He also provided us with a prior dogmatic use of aut with “sine” as an infallible and dogmatic precedent that aut can be used inclusively. And He put this stunning dogmatic precedent, of how “aut” can be understood, in the very document which most specifically denies the theological concept of BOD and BOB. He left it in the very document which dogmatically declares that the water of baptism is inseparable from the Spirit of sanctification, the opposite of the concept of “baptism of desire.” It’s not an accident that this is found in this document: God left it there as a clue to refute people in our day who are advancing objections against the necessity of His baptism.
Just as God so carefully looked over the creation of the Earth, and so carefully fashions each animal and each person, He protects every aspect of His teaching. He leaves all of the materials necessary to refute heresies in the proclamations of His Church.
And what do all of the other passages in Trent say on the necessity of Baptism and John 3:5? Do they teach that a non-literal understanding of John 3:5 (that people can be saved without water baptism), or do they exclude any salvation without water baptism? The answer is undeniable: the Church infallibly teaches that there is no salvation without the rebirth of water and the Spirit in the Sacrament of Baptism, based on a literal understanding of John 3:5.
Pope Paul III, The Council of Trent, canons on the Sacrament of Baptism, canon 5, ex cathedra: “If anyone says that baptism [the sacrament] is optional, that is, not necessary for salvation (cf. Jn. 3:5): let him be anathema.”[cclxxxv]
Pope Paul III, The Council of Trent, On Original Sin, Session V, ex cathedra: “By one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death… so that in them there may be washed away by regeneration, what they have contracted by generation, ‘For unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God [John 3:5].’”[cclxxxvi]
Pope Paul III, The Council of Trent, canons on the Sacrament of Baptism, Session 7, canon 2, ex cathedra: “If anyone shall say that real and natural water is not necessary for baptism, and on that account those words of Our Lord Jesus Christ: ‘Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit’ [John 3:5], are distorted into some sort of metaphor: let him be anathema.”[cclxxxvii]
Pope Eugene IV, The Council of Florence, “Exultate Deo,” Nov. 22, 1439: “Holy baptism, which is the gateway to the spiritual life, holds the first place among all the sacraments; through it we are made members of Christ and of the body of the Church. And since death entered the universe through the first man, ‘unless we are born again of water and the Spirit, we cannot,’ as the Truth says, ‘enter into the kingdom of heaven’ [John 3:5]. The matter of this sacrament is real and natural water.”[lxi]
As we see, all the dogmatic definitions in Trent (and everywhere else) teach a literal understanding of John 3:5 and that no one is saved without the Sacrament of Baptism. The statement “as it is written” in the passage we’ve been discussing (Sess. 6, Chap. 4) is simply more proof that Sess. 6, Chap. 4 carries the exact same meaning.
It is true that some Catholics misunderstood Trent’s passage, and that contributed to ‘baptism of desire’ being taught by fallible theologians and fallible texts. In our video, How Can Baptism of Desire be Contrary to Dogma? we discuss numerous examples of popes and saints erring on dogmatic issues and/or the theological status of a truth, even after a pronouncement by the magisterium was made. We refer people to that video for a full discussion of how that’s possible.
Some might also say: “I see your point and I cannot deny it, but why didn’t the passage use the word ‘and’ instead of ‘or’; it would have been clearer then?” This question is best answered by considering a number of things:
First, it must be remembered that the passage describes what justification CANNOT TAKE PLACE WITHOUT (i.e., what cannot be missing in justification); it does not say that justification does take place by either water or desire.
Second, the council didn’t have to use “and” because “or” can mean “and” (or be used inclusively) in the context of words given in the passage, as shown already.
Third, those who ask this question should consider another, namely: why in the world, if baptism of desire is true and was the teaching of Trent, didn’t the Council say anywhere (when it had so many opportunities to do so) that one can be justified without the sacrament or before the sacrament is received just as it clearly and repeatedly did in regard to the Sacrament of Penance? This amazing omission (obviously because the Holy Ghost didn’t allow the Council to teach baptism of desire in its many statements on the absolute necessity of baptism) simply confirms the points that I’ve made above; for if the passage meant baptism of desire it would have said so.
Fourth, the above question is best answered by a parallel example: In 381 the Council of Constantinople defined that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father. The Council did not say that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son. The omission of the words “and the Son” (filioque in Latin) caused countless millions to erroneously conclude that the Holy Ghost does not proceed from the Son, a heresy that was later condemned by the Church. If the Council of Constantinople had simply included that little statement, that the Holy Ghost also proceeds from the Son, it would have eliminated over a thousand years of controversy with the Eastern Schismatics – a controversy which still continues to this day. If that little phrase (“and the Son”) had been included in Constantinople, it probably would have stopped millions of people from leaving the Catholic Church and embracing Eastern “Orthodoxy.” The Eastern “Orthodox” thought (and still think) that the Catholic Church’s teaching that the Holy Ghost proceeds from Father and the Son is contrary to the Council of Constantinople, which only stated that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father.
So, did the Council of Constantinople err? Of course not. But could Constantinople have been more clear by adding that little phrase which would have eliminated a controversy? Absolutely. So why did God allow this controversy to occur, when He could have prevented it by simply inspiring the council fathers at Constantinople in 381 to include that tiny phrase? The answer is that there must be heresies.
1 Cor. 11:19: “For there must be also heresies: that they also, who are approved, may be manifest among you.”
God allows heresies to arise in order to see who will believe the truth and who will not, to see who will look at the truth sincerely and who will pervert things to suit his own heretical desires. God never allows His councils, such as Constantinople and Trent, to teach any error; but He can allow the truth to be stated in ways that give people the opportunity to twist and pervert the meaning of the words used if they so desire (no pun intended), as the Eastern schismatics did in regard to Constantinople’s omission of the phrase: and the Son.
In fact, it doesn’t even matter if some of the council fathers at Constantinople believed that the Holy Ghost does not proceed from the Son; and there were probably some who didn’t believe that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Son. All that matters is what the Council of Constantinople actually declared, a declaration which says nothing contrary to the fact that the Holy Ghost does proceed from the Son. The intentions of the Council Fathers at Constantinople or any other council have nothing to do with Papal Infallibility. All that matters is what the actual dogma approved by the pope declares or finalizes in the Profession of Faith.
Pope Pius IX, First Vatican Council, Sess. 3, Chap. 2 on Revelation, 1870, ex cathedra: “Hence, also, that understanding of its sacred dogmas must be perpetually retained, which Holy Mother Church has once declared; and there must never be a recession from that meaning under the specious name of a deeper understanding.”[ccxc]
In fact, in this regard it’s very interesting to note that numerous popes point out that in the 28th canon of the Council of Chalcedon, the fathers at Chalcedon drew up a canon that elevated the status of the Bishop of Constantinople. The fathers of the Council of Chalcedon, therefore, intended to elevate the status of the See of Constantinople in drawing up Canon 28. But the canon was rejected by Pope Leo the Great in his confirmation of the acts of Chalcedon, and therefore was considered worthless.
Pope Leo XIII, Satis Cognitum (#15), June 29, 1896: “The 28th Canon of the Council of Chalcedon, by the very fact that it lacks the assent and approval of the Apostolic See, is admitted by all to be worthless.”[ccxci]
This shows that the intention or thoughts of the fathers at a general council mean nothing – they are worthless. All that matters is what the Church actually declares. Therefore, the fact that some of the council fathers at Trent – and even eminent and sainted theologians after Trent – thought the aforementioned passage of Trent taught baptism of desire means nothing; for the fathers at Chalcedon also thought the council was elevating the status of Constantinople, when it didn’t; and some of the fathers at Constantinople probably thought that the council was denying that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Son, when it didn’t. The bottom-line is that only those things that are actually declared by the councils and finally approved matter – nothing else. And the aforementioned passage of Trent does not teach baptism of desire; it does not teach that desire justifies without baptism; and it does not contain error.
The fact is that God made sure that the words “as it is written” were included in that very sentence to ensure that the council was not teaching baptism of desire by its wording in that passage. The passage thus teaches – as it is written – unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Ghost he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. And if what baptism of desire proponents say were correct (and it’s not), we would actually have the Council teaching us in the first part of the sentence that John 3:5 is not to be taken as it is written (desire sometimes suffices), while simultaneously contradicting itself in the second part of the sentence by telling us to take John 3:5 as it is written (sicut scriptum est)! But this is absurd, of course. Those who obstinately insist that this passage teaches baptism of desire are simply wrong and are contradicting the very words given in the passage about John 3:5. The inclusion of “AS IT IS WRITTEN, unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5)” shows the perfect harmony of that passage in Trent with all of the other passages in Trent and other councils which affirm the absolute necessity of water baptism with no exceptions.