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Roman Catholic Theology and Biblical Studies

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The Baptisms of Jesus and Mary

{3:11} Indeed, I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who will come after me is more powerful than me. I am not worthy to carry his shoes. He will baptize you with the fire of the Holy Spirit.
{3:12} His winnowing fan is in his hand. And he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor. And he will gather his wheat into the barn. But the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
{3:13} Then Jesus came from Galilee, to John at the Jordan, in order to be baptized by him.
{3:14} But John refused him, saying, "I ought to be baptized by you, and yet you come to me?"
{3:15} And responding, Jesus said to him: "Permit this for now. For in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all justice." Then he allowed him.
{3:16} And Jesus, having been baptized, ascended from the water immediately, and behold, the heavens were opened to him. And he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him.
{3:17} And behold, there was a voice from heaven, saying: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

The baptism of John was not generally the Sacrament of Baptism, but rather a preparation for it. Though John generally baptized for repentance, we know that Jesus had no need of repentance, so the baptism of Jesus by John could not have been the usual type of baptism given by John. Sacred Scripture says that Jesus "having been baptized" came up out of the water. The Holy Spirit was then sent upon Him by the Father, thereby confirming that the baptism of Jesus by John was the full Sacrament of Baptism. The Holy Spirit would not be given to persons who received anything other than a Sacrament. So the baptism of Jesus by John was the full Sacrament of Baptism.

The baptism of Jesus was not necessary, as it is for we sinners, in order to remedy the detriments of original sin (especially the lack of sanctifying grace), for Jesus had no original sin and no personal sin whatsoever. The human nature of Jesus, being united to His Divine Nature from the very first moment of His conception, which was also in the same moment His Incarnation, was sinless and possessed every possible grace at all times. But still Jesus insisted that John baptize Him. First, as an example to all of His followers, so that they would do as He did and accept baptism. Second, because God has chosen Baptism as the means of salvation, such that no human being enters heaven without first having been baptized. Third, so that the human soul of Jesus would have the mark of Baptism, that permanent character on the soul that is found in the baptized followers of Jesus. Thus it was fitting, though not strictly speaking necessary, for Jesus also to be baptized.

The baptism of Jesus was a formal baptism, that is, baptism in a particular ceremony with water and words. The Baptism of Jesus was Trinitarian in that the Father spoke, and He sent the Spirit upon the Son. And so valid baptisms are required by the Church to also be Trinitarian; no one can be validly baptized apart from a true belief in the Trinity.

Now baptism is absolutely required for all human persons to enter eternal life in heaven. But this does not mean that those persons who lack a formal baptism cannot be saved. The other type of baptism is a non-formal baptism, that is, a baptism which has the same effects as formal baptism, but lacking the ceremony with words and water. One example of non-formal baptism is the baptism of blood, given to those who die as martyrs for the Faith prior to a formal baptism. Another example of non-formal baptism is the baptism of desire, when an adult (or a child who is old enough to understand) desires baptism implicitly, but desiring goodness, truth, justice, mercy, true love, and all the good that God has placed in creation and in humanity. Yet another example of non-formal baptism is the baptism given to children who are not old enough to understand, even to infants and prenatals in the womb.

The most illustrious example of this baptism in the womb is found in the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. Now her Immaculate Conception is certainly much more than a baptism. But just as certainly, the Immaculate Conception includes all that is given in the Sacrament of Baptism, including the character on the souls of the Baptized. For that mark on the soul says that they belong to Christ, and no human person belongs to Christ more fully than His Blessed Mother. So the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary is an example of a non-formal Baptism given in the womb, in the very first moment of her life, certainly prior to the age of reason.

As a result, we can be certain, based on conclusions drawn from the infallible teachings of the Church on the Immaculate Conception and on the Sacrament of Baptism, that prenatals who die in the womb, and all infants and young children who die before they are old enough to understand fully wrong from right, receive a non-formal Baptism prior to, or at least in the last moment of, life, which is sufficient to bring them into eternal salvation. The type of baptism that they receive is in many ways the same as that received by the Virgin Mary herself, who became the Mother of God.

There are only two types of baptism, formal and non-formal. The baptism of Jesus was a formal baptism. And the baptism of Mary was a non-formal baptism. So in the lives of Jesus and Mary we find the preeminent examples of each type of baptism. Every formal baptism is like the baptism of Jesus. Every non-formal baptism is not only like the baptism of Jesus, but also particularly like the non-formal baptism of Mary.

If anyone claims that prenatals who die in the womb, or infants who die without baptism, are certainly sent to Hell, or to the limbo of Hell, by the Justice of God, as if the Justice of God were without Mercy, or as if the Mercy of God were separate from His Justice, may he be condemned to Hell by the Just Mercy of God for teaching abject heresy.

by Ronald L. Conte Jr.
December 7, 2008

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