Pope St. Leo the Great, Letter 167, 5th Century: “Question 16. Concerning those who have been left as infants by Christian parents, if no proof of their baptism can be found whether they ought to be baptized? If no proof exists among their kinsfolk and relations, nor among the clergy or neighbors whereby those, about whom the question is raised, may be proved to have been baptized, steps must be taken for their regeneration: lest they evidently perish…”
According to the teaching of Pope Leo the Great, they will perish without baptism. By the way, if someone has a doubt about how a baptism was performed, a conditional baptism should be done (if the person agrees on all the issues). This file covers: How To Perform A Baptism & A Conditional Baptism.
Pope St. Leo the Great, Letter 15, 5th Century: “And because through the transgression of the first man the whole stock of the human race was tainted, no one can be set free from the state of the old Adam save through Christ’s sacrament of baptism, in which there are no distinctions between the reborn…”
No one can be freed from the state of original sin without the Sacrament of Baptism.
Pope St. Leo the Great, Letter 16, Oct. 21, 447, #6: “In a case of necessity any time is allowable for baptism. Wherefore, as it is quite clear that these two seasons [Easter and Pentecost] of which we have been speaking are the rightful ones for baptizing the elect in Church, we admonish you, beloved, not to associate other days with this observance. Because, although there are other feasts also to which much reverence is due in God’s honor, nevertheless a rational and mystical exception must be observed by us for this principal and greatest sacrament: not, however, prohibiting the license to succor those who are in danger by administering Baptism to them at any time. For while we put off the vows of those who are not pressed by ill health and live in peaceful security to those two closely connected and cognate feasts, let us not at any time refuse this which is the only safeguard of true salvation to anyone in peril of death, in the crisis of a siege, in the distress of persecution, in the terror of shipwreck.”
This is a very important passage. Pope St. Leo the Great discusses how license is given to baptize unbaptized catechumens who are in any danger, and he states specifically that baptism is “the only safeguard of true salvation to anyone in peril of death, in the crisis of a siege, in the distress of persecution, in the terror of shipwreck.” This directly contradicts the idea of ‘baptism of blood’, as well as ‘baptism of desire’. Notice the pope’s reference to the distress of persecution (in persecutionis angustiis). The distress of persecution refers to a situation in which people might be killed for the faith of Jesus Christ. An unbaptized catechumen in “the distress of persecution” (in persecutionis angustiis) is the precise scenario in which proponents of ‘baptism of blood’ claim that a person could be saved without water baptism. But Leo the Great teaches the opposite.
He teaches that for unbaptized catechumens in that situation, in the distress of persecution or any other danger, water baptism is the only safeguard of true salvation (verae salutis singulare praesidium). That would not be the case if there were other forms of baptism or other ways to be saved. This quote contradicts the idea of ‘baptism of blood’ and ‘baptism of desire’ for unbaptized catechumens. This passage from Leo the Great also refutes those who falsely claim that the fathers of the Church were unanimous in teaching that ‘baptism of blood’ can replace water baptism. No, they weren’t. Since he was a pope and a father of the Church, Leo’s passage, which directly contradicts the ideas of ‘baptism of blood’ and ‘baptism of desire’, trumps any quote from a father or fathers of the Church who said something different. For a further analysis of this significant text, see this article: Pope St. Leo The Great Directly Contradicts ‘Baptism Of Blood’ And ‘Baptism Of Desire’.
Pope St. Leo the Great, Letter 166, Oct. 24, 458, #1: “For at the instance of certain brethren we have discovered that some of the prisoners of war, on their free return to their own homes, such to wit as went into captivity at an age when they could have no sure knowledge of anything, crave the healing waters of baptism, but in the ignorance of infancy cannot remember whether they have received the mystery and rites of baptism, and that therefore in this uncertainty of defective recollection their souls are brought into jeopardy, so long as under a show of caution they are denied a grace, which is withheld, because it is thought to have been bestowed…. Consequently the same things, which have come into our mind by the Divine inspiration, have received the assent and confirmation of a large number of the brethren. And so we are bound before all things to take heed lest, while we hold fast to a certain show of caution, we incur a loss of souls who are to be regenerated. For who is so given over to suspicions as to decide that to be true which without any evidence he suspects by mere guesswork?… And so, whenever such a case occurs, first sift it by careful investigation, and spend a considerable time, unless his last end is near, in inquiring whether there be absolutely no one who by his testimony can assist the other’s ignorance. And when it is established that the man who requires the sacrament of baptism is prevented by a mere baseless suspicion, let him come boldly to obtain the grace, of which he is conscious of no trace in himself. Nor need we fear thus to open the door of salvation which has not been shown to have been entered before.”
In this document he teaches that people who were to be regenerated (unbaptized catechumens) will lose their souls if they don’t receive water baptism. There is no ‘baptism of desire.’ Receiving the Sacrament of Baptism is the only way to be saved. That’s the teaching of the Apostolic See.
Pope St. Leo the Great, dogmatic letter to Flavian, Council of Chalcedon, 451: “Let him heed what the blessed apostle Peter preaches, that sanctification by the Spirit is effected by the sprinkling of Christ’s blood (1 Pet. 1:2); and let him not skip over the same apostle’s words, knowing that you have been redeemed from the empty way of life you inherited from your fathers, not with corruptible gold and silver but by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, as of a lamb without stain or spot (1 Pet. 1:18). Nor should he withstand the testimony of blessed John the apostle: and the blood of Jesus, the Son of God, purifies us from every sin (1 Jn. 1:7); and again, This is the victory which conquers the world, our faith. Who is there who conquers the world save one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? It is He, Jesus Christ, who has come through water and blood, not in water only, but in water and blood. And because the Spirit is truth, it is the Spirit who testifies. For there are three who give testimony – Spirit and water and blood. And the three are one. (1 Jn. 5:4-8) 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 St. Leo infallibly teaches that in first sanctification from sin, the Spirit of Sanctification and the Blood of Redemption cannot be separated from the water of baptism! Thus, there can be no justification by the Spirit and the Blood without the Sacrament of Baptism. This excludes the idea of ‘baptism of desire’ and ‘baptism of blood’, according to which sanctification by the Spirit and the Blood without water baptism is possible.
John 1:12-13- “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the desire of the flesh nor of the desire of man, but of God.”
Pope St. Leo the Great, Sermo 12 de Passione, c. A.D. 460: “Through the birth of baptism an innumerable multitude of children of God are born, of whom it is said: who were born not of blood, nor of the desire of the flesh, nor of the desire of man, but of God.” (PL 54, 355-357)
Commenting on John 1:13, Pope Leo the Great teaches that those who are born of God (which one must be to be justified and saved) are those baptized, and that they are specifically born “not of blood, nor of the desire of the flesh, nor of the desire of man, but of God.” It’s interesting that the word translated here as blood is, in the Greek of John’s Gospel and in the Latin of Leo the Great’s statement, actually in the plural. St. John uses the Greek word αἱμάτων, which literally means ‘of bloods’. St. John is saying that the true children of God were born ‘not of bloods.’
When the Greek word for blood (αἷμα) is used in a plural form, as it is here in John 1:13, it overwhelmingly refers to the shedding of blood in one form or another. For instance, in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), out of the 53 uses where the Greek word αἷμα is used in the plural, it clearly refers to the shedding of blood in at least 50 of those references. Thus, if understood according to its typical usage in the Septuagint, by declaring that the true children of God are those born ‘not of bloods’, St. John is teaching that the children of God are those born not of the shedding of blood, nor of the desire of the flesh, nor of the desire of man, but of God.
Pope St. Leo the Great, Letter 120, 5th Century: “… so great salvation is of no avail to unbelievers, as the Very Truth said to His disciples: ‘he that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be condemned’ [Mark 16:16].”
In the future we might add more quotes from Leo the Great on this point. There are also people who lie about Leo the Great on baptism, and that is covered in one of the articles linked to below.
The Best Argument Against “Baptism of Desire” (video and article)
The Latin Text of the Oldest Surviving Papal Decree Rejects “Baptism of Desire” (video and article)
Cornelius, The Gift Of Languages & The Necessity Of Baptism (video and article)