Baptism of desire

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In Christian theology, baptism of desire (Latin: baptismus flaminis, lit.'baptism of the breath'), also called baptism by desire, is a doctrine according to which a person is able to attain the grace of justification through faith, perfect contrition and the desire for baptism, without the water baptism having been received.

Denominational positions[edit]

Roman Catholicism[edit]

In the Catholic Church, baptism of desire "replace[s] Sacramental Baptism in so far as the communication of grace is concerned, but do[es] not effect incorporation into the Church, as [it] do[es] not bestow the sacramental character by which a person becomes attached formally to the Church".[1]

The Catholic Church teaches in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that "baptism is necessary for salvation". It also states the desire for baptism "brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament". It further states that "[f]or catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament". Lastly, it adds: "Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity".[2]

Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin points to one canon in the Council of Trent which he claims defines baptism of desire as a dogma:[3]

If anyone shall say that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary for salvation, but are superfluous, and that, although all are not necessary for every individual, without them or without the desire of them through faith alone men obtain from God the grace of justification; let him be anathema.[4]


The doctrine of Feeneyism is associated with the position of Leonard Feeney on the doctrine extra Ecclesiam nulla salus ("outside the Church there is no salvation"). Feeneyism's interpretation of the doctrine extra Ecclesiam nulla salus is that only Catholics can go to heaven and that only those baptised with water can go to heaven. Feeneyism opposes the doctrines of baptism of desire and baptism of blood as well as the view that non-Catholics can go to heaven.[5][6][7]


Lutheranism affirms that baptism is ordinarily necessary for salvation. However, citing the teaching of the early Church, Lutherans acknowledge a baptism of desire where a person desire baptism but could not receive it.[8][9][10] Dismas, the repentant thief on the cross, is cited as an example of an individual who trusted in Jesus but did not have the opportunity to get baptized.[9] As such, "though God ordinarily ties himself to the means of the sacrament, if one desires baptism but is unable to receive it prior to death, God counts one's desire as sufficient for the grace given."[9]


  1. ^ Ott, Ludwig (n.d.) [195X]. "Book four — Part 2 – Chapter 5 – §19 - 3.". In Bastible, James (ed.). Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Translated by Lynch, Patrick. Fort Collins, Colorado: Roman Catholic Books. p. 311. ISBN 978-1-929291-85-4.
  2. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd ed.). Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 2019. Paragraphs 1257–60.
  3. ^ "Baptism of Desire". Catholic Answers. Retrieved 25 February 2020.
  4. ^ "Denzinger EN 1583". Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  5. ^ Mick, Lawrence E. (2007). "Baptism - Call to Carry On the Mission". Baptism. Liturgical Press. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-8146-3188-1.
  6. ^ Feldberg, Michael (2012). "American Heretic: The Rise and Fall of Father Leonard Feeney, S.J." American Catholic Studies. 123 (2): 109–115. ISSN 2161-8542. JSTOR 44195416.
  7. ^ Carey, Patrick (2007). "Avery Dulles, St. Benedict's Center, and No Salvation outside the Church, 1940-1953". The Catholic Historical Review. 93 (3): 553–575. ISSN 0008-8080. JSTOR 25164314.
  8. ^ "The Necessity of Holy Baptism". American Association of Lutheran Churches. 17 January 2017. Retrieved 12 April 2022. Though Baptism is necessary, both Scripture and Church History have offered some special exceptions. For this reason, the Church across the ages has delineated between what may be called normative practice and absolute practice. Though it is normative that the Christian be baptized, it is not absolutely necessary. Though it is normative that persons who come to faith will immediately be baptized, there are exceptions. Early Christians recognized martyrdom as a special exception to the rule of water Baptism. Another exception was for one who had the desire to be baptized, but who was prevented. Some theologians made an exception for infants who died prior to the eighth day, upon which they would have been baptized. Furthermore, it was recognized that there was a special relationship between faith and Holy Baptism. When one received faith, the first act of obedience to God's Word was to be baptized. Conversely, if one were baptized as an infant, he or she received Christ and salvation, and therefore had received faith.
  9. ^ a b c Cooper, Jordan (27 August 2015). The Great Divide: A Lutheran Evaluation of Reformed Theology. Wipf and Stock Publishers. ISBN 978-1-4982-2424-6. Though the Lutheran tradition has identified baptism as a relative necessity for salvation, it is not an absolute necessity. Since God works through both word and sacrament, the word is sufficient to regenerate and save. However, neglect of the reception of God's gift is refusal of the gospel itself, and thus is damning. If one refuses to receive baptism, it is evidence of unbelief and a rejection of God's commands. True faith will always result in baptism if possible. That baptism does not carry absolute necessity is demonstrated by the thief on the cross. Without an opportunity to receive baptism, he was promised entrance into paradise based on his faith. This is the only example of such a scenario in the New Testament because all others who become believers have the opportunity to receive baptism. Bernard of Clairvaux distinguishes between a baptism with water and a baptism of desire. Though God ordinarily ties himself to the means of the sacrament, if one desires baptism but is unable to receive it prior to death, God counts one's desire as sufficient for the grace given.
  10. ^ Brownson, James V. (2007). The Promise of Baptism: An Introduction to Baptism in Scripture and the Reformed Tradition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 148. ISBN 978-0-8028-3307-5. In this sense, Reformed theology differs from Roman Catholic theology, as well as from some streams of Lutheran and Anglican theology, which see baptism itself as necessary for salvation. … Most theological systems that postulate the necessity of baptism for salvation also propose a number of exceptions for unusual circumstances, appealing to a "baptism of desire," or more generally to the mercy of God.

Further reading[edit]