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Roman Catholic Theology and Biblical Studies

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Implicit Repentance

Baptism Provides Sanctifying Grace

Through the sin of Adam and Eve, the human race lost sanctifying grace. Baptism remedies this loss by providing sanctifying grace. However, another effect of original sin, the tendency toward personal sin, remains. Every valid Baptism provides the gift of sanctifying grace. The purpose of Baptism is to remedy the loss of sanctifying grace, a loss caused by original sin. Any Baptism that does not provide sanctifying grace is not a Baptism at all.

Baptism Forgives All Sin

What if an adult seeking Baptism has committed an actual mortal sin prior to Baptism? He cannot go to confession before he has been baptized. However, in the reception of the Sacrament of Baptism, he is forgiven from all past sins from which he is repentant. Notice, though, that there is no requirement that he confess or even call to mind his sins at the time of Baptism. He is forgiven by the grace of the Sacrament and by the choice of his own free to repent. His free will is necessary for his forgiveness from personal sin, just as it is necessary in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

But what if an adult seeking Baptism has committed an actual mortal sin and is not repentant?

Some misguided theologians have claimed that, in this case, Baptism does not forgive his sin, and that he receives the Sacrament validly, yet without receiving sanctifying grace. They claim that he has the character or mark of Baptism on his soul, but without any fruitfulness (i.e. to no avail) until he confesses his past actual mortal sins. Baptism is the one and only remedy for the effect of original sin whereby we lack sanctifying grace. Yet this claim takes that gift and moves it to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as if that Sacrament could in any circumstance remedy the stain of original sin. This entire concept of a fruitless or ineffective Baptism is heretical. For the Church has always taught, as a truth essential to salvation, that Baptism forgives all sins.

True doctrine on this point is that an adult Baptism is only valid if the adult, of his own free will, accepts the Sacrament of Baptism. His acceptance constitutes an implicit repentance from all past sins, mortal and venial, objective and actual. Thus Baptism forgives all sins, just as the Church has always taught, and actual mortal sin is only forgiven through repentance, just as the Church has always taught. Even though an individual might be unrepentant up to the very moment of his adult Baptism, and even though such a refusal by him to repent is unwise and imprudent and sinful, if and when he accepts the Sacrament of Baptism he has then acted with his free will in a manner that constitutes a real and full implicit repentance and all his past sins are forgiven him at the very moment of his Baptism, by the power of that Sacrament.

If an adult receives the Sacrament of Baptism, but without consenting to the Sacrament of his own free will, then the Sacrament is not valid and his sins are not forgiven. Neither is the stain of original sin removed or affected at all, because he is an adult who has not consented to the Sacrament. If he is unrepentant from actual mortal sin, and he also refuses to consent to the Sacrament of Baptism, then he has rejected even implicit repentance and the guilt of that actual mortal sin remains. Forgiveness from sin requires repentance from sin, at least implicitly.

Confession and Implicit Repentance

The Sacrament of Baptism has a greater power than the Sacrament of Reconciliation to forgive sins. For Baptism can forgive original sin as well as personal sin. But even the Sacrament of Reconciliation can forgive sins through implicit repentance. For it often happens that a penitent goes to Confession without calling to mind every actual mortal sin. But if he is generally repentant from sin, and if he confesses the mortal sins that he remembers, even when such a Confession is deeply flawed, he is forgiven from all his sins, mortal and venial, objective and actual. But if instead, he is obstinately and deliberately unrepentant from actual mortal sin, then he is not forgiven by the Sacrament of Confession, for there is no repentance, explicit or implicit.

Extreme Unction and Implicit Repentance

Implicit repentance is also found in the Sacrament of Extreme Unction (the Anointing of the Sick). If a baptized Catholic Christian is unconscious and near death, and he has an unrepented actual mortal sin on his conscience, the priest can give him the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, and it is possible, depending upon the state of his soul and the final acts of his free will, that he may be forgiven from that mortal sin by means of implicit repentance and the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, even if he never awakens before he dies.

Mystical Baptism and Implicit Repentance

A valid Sacrament of Baptism can be received through non-formal means, namely through a mystical Baptism. Since Baptism forgives all sins, a mystical Baptism must also forgive all sins. And, in this case also, a person might not be explicitly repentant from each prior actual mortal sin. Even so, the full cooperation with God's grace found within mystical Baptism contains an implicit repentance on the part of each person receiving a mystical Baptism. Therefore, even a non-formal Baptism forgives all sins, even past actual mortal sins from which the person receiving a mystical Baptism is not explicitly repentant. On the other hand, it is not possible to receive a mystical Baptism without at least implicit repentance from past actual mortal sins.


Every valid Baptism forgives all sins, mortal and venial, objective and actual, even those from which the candidate for Baptism has not explicitly repented. The acceptance of the Sacrament of Baptism by an adult, of his own free will, constitutes, in and of itself, an implicit repentance sufficient to permit the Sacrament of Baptism to forgive all sins. Without this acceptance of the Sacrament of Baptism by the free will, the Sacrament of Baptism itself would not be valid and the individual's sins would not be forgiven.

by Ronald L. Conte Jr.
November 5, 2006

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