The Magisterium has repeatedly taught that baptism is the only way to salvation. In fact, in his 447 letter, there is an extremely important passage in which 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, of course, 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 Pope St. Leo the Great teaches the opposite!
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.”
LATIN: “In necessitatis casu omni tempore baptizandum. Unde quia manifestissime patet baptizandis in ecclesia electis haec duo tempora, de quibus locuti sumus, esse legitima, dilectionem vestram monemus ut nullos alios dies huic observantiae misceatis. Quia [Ed. Cap. VI] etsi sunt alia quoque festa, quibus multa in honorem Dei reverentia debeatur, principalis tamen et maximi sacramenti custodienda nobis est, mystica et rationalis exceptio; non interdicta licentia, qua in baptismo tribuendo quolibet tempore periclitantibus subvenitur. Ita enim ad has duas festivitates connexas sibimet atque cognatas, incolumium et in pacis securitate degentium libera vota differimus, ut in mortis periculo, in obsidionis discrimine, in persecutionis angustiis, in timore naufragii, nullo tempore, hoc verae salutis singulare praesidium cuiquam denegemus.”
Pope St. Leo the Great 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 directly 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.
Further, if martyrdom were a way to be justified in the absence of baptism, as some people wrongly claim, then why would the Church even have hastily baptized unbaptized catechumens who were in the danger of persecution? Why not just let them continue their preparation and receive ‘baptism of blood’, should it come to that? The Church’s teaching that such unbaptized catechumens should be hastily baptized during a persecution, before they would be baptized in a normal situation, proves that ‘baptism of blood’ was not a certain way of justification, as water baptism was known to be. It was not part of the rule of faith. Receiving water baptism is the only way to be saved. That’s the teaching of the Catholic Church and the true rule of faith. It’s what we find in all magisterial pronouncements on the issue. Also see, for example, our video and article on Pope St. Siricius’ important decree on baptism.
In fact, in his Letter Pope Leo uses authoritative language and mentions his position as occupant of the See of Peter. He states:
Pope St. Leo the Great, Letter 16, Oct. 21, 447, #1: “By God’s precepts and the Apostle’s admonitions we are incited to keep a careful watch over the state of all the churches: and, if anywhere ought is found that needs rebuke, to recall men with speedy care either from the stupidity of ignorance or from forwardness and presumption. For inasmuch as we are warned by the Lord’s own command whereby the blessed Apostle Peter had the thrice repeated mystical injunction pressed upon him, that he who loves Christ should feed Christ’s sheep, we are compelled by reverence for that see which, by the abundance of the Divine Grace, we hold, to shun the danger of sloth as much as possible: lest the confession of the chief Apostle whereby he testified that he loved God be not found in us: because if he (through us) carelessly feed the flock so often commended to him he is proved not to love the chief Shepherd.”
In the same Letter, the Pope (quoting John 1:13) identifies those born of the Holy Ghost in the Sacrament of Baptism as those born “not of blood, nor of the desire of the flesh, nor of the desire of man”.
Pope St. Leo the Great, Letter 16, Oct. 21, 447, #7 : “… the power by which they are reborn of the Holy Ghost, 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’ (John 1:13).”
The truth is that if someone is of good will and sincerely wants baptism and is willing to die for Christ, God will make sure that person receives water baptism and is brought into the true Church. But no one can be saved without it, for unless a man is born again of water and the Spirit in the Sacrament of Baptism he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.
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.”
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)