Throughout the history of the Christian Faith, there have been three recognized forms of Baptism—water, blood, and desire. Over the centuries, however, the validity and nature of the latter two forms have been a point of controversy among the faithful. In fact, many have argued that there is no way to attain salvation except through Baptism by water.
Thomas More College’s Edmund Campion Debate Society determined to explore the question. Six students—three representing each side of the debate—convened last Friday evening to engage in a lively back and forth on the nature of Baptism.
The Campion Debates—held regularly throughout the year—are popular among the students. Friday’s debate was no exception. Students filed into the Humanities Room and waited in anticipation for their peers to take the stage. It didn’t take long for the battle lines to be drawn.
Thomas More College senior Keith Parkinson was the first to speak. “An omnipotent God desires all men to be saved,” Keith said. “Baptism by water, however, is not made available to all men, and therefore, salvation must be possible outside of Baptism by water.”
Heads nodded across the room.
But Paul Guenzel raised doubts by responding with Scripture. “‘Jesus answered: Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God,’ (John 3:5) scripture explicitly states that water must be used,” said Paul.
Keith wasn’t convinced, “What of the catechumen who risks his very life to learn about the Faith and then is martyred before being baptized? What of the virtuous pagan who acts in perfect accord with his conscience?”
“What of all the men who lived and died before Christ came and instituted the sacrament of Baptism,” Keith added. “Are all these damned for eternity because, through no fault of their own, none were baptized with water?”
Freshman Michael Duffy stood his ground and reminded his older classmates that, “God’s ways are not our ways. The Scripture passage is clear. The alternatives, Baptism by blood and by desire, have never been confirmed as valid through any infallible statement of a pope.”
For a full hour, students respectfully debated the topic, tirelessly reasoning through the seemingly contradictory statements found in both Scripture and the writings of Doctors of the Church, the Popes, and the Catechism.
As the debate neared its end, neither side had decisively convinced the audience of the truth about the matter.
Senior Thomas Shutzman tipped the balance with his closing remarks. Shutzman—who transferred to Thomas More College last year from seminary—had wisely consulted the Father of Theology, Saint Thomas Aquinas, to gain a lucid and logical explanation to this problem.
Shutzman argued, as Aquinas did, that the “cause” of a thing is greater than its “effect.” The cause of Baptism by water is the Passion of Christ and the Holy Spirit. These things, Christ’s Passion and the Holy Spirit, are greater than Baptism by water and therefore through them, in exceptional circumstances, a man’s sins may be washed away without his actually being baptized with water.
The Baptism of blood is undergone by unbaptized martyrs, and Baptism of desire covers a man who “receives the effect of baptism by the power of the Holy Ghost… without baptism of water… forasmuch as his heart is moved to believe in and love God and to repent of his sins.”
This explains, argued Shutzman, why Christ tells the thief, “Today, thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.”
But how does Aquinas respond to John 3:5?
“The sacraments of the New Law,” said Aquinas, effect a certain sanctification that occurs not in the outward sign of the sacrament, in this case water, but in man himself. Whether baptized by blood, desire, or water the effect of interior sanctification is the same, and so, there is only one Baptism which is available to all men.
The debate then formally concluded, and a vote was taken among the audience to determine which side won. The audience voted almost unanimously in considering the validity of all three forms of Baptism.
“I enjoyed participating,” said Shutzman. “Debates force you to firmly establish your principles and to be adept in articulating their defense from various angles and unanticipated arguments. You’ve got to be on your toes, but you can still have fun and a wholesome exchange.”
“I love that there is a debate society at the College,” said Dr. William Fahey, President of Thomas More College. “Students spend hour upon hour at their studies and in their classes, and yet, they devote a portion of their time to formal debates. The pursuit of the truth is not a chore for them; it’s something they approach with diligence and enthusiasm.”