Mystical Baptism into Christ

The following is an excerpt from my book:
Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone

The Catholic Church infallibly teaches that some form of baptism into Christ is absolutely necessary for salvation. But She also teaches that a baptism of desire or of blood is sufficient to obtain the same state of sanctifying grace that is given in the formal Sacrament of Baptism.

{3:5} Jesus responded: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one has been reborn by water and the Holy Spirit, he is not able to enter into the kingdom of God.
{3:6} What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.
{3:7} You should not be amazed that I said to you: You must be born anew.

Baptism is necessary, but it can be a baptism of the Holy Spirit (by desire or by blood). The formal Sacrament of Baptism is not absolutely necessary for salvation. For if it were, how would those souls be saved who died before Christ?

[1 Corinthians]
{10:1} For I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and they all went across the sea.
{10:2} And in Moses, they all were baptized, in the cloud and in the sea.
{10:3} And they all ate of the same spiritual food.
{10:4} And they all drank of the same spiritual drink. And so, they all were drinking of the spiritual rock seeking to obtain them; and that rock was Christ.

Before Jesus Christ established the formal Sacrament of Baptism, the only possible baptism was non-formal, that is to say, a mystical baptism. The Israelites were saved by a mystical baptism (of desire or of blood). Even non-Jews were saved by a mystical baptism, as Jesus himself indicated:

{11:31} The queen of the South will rise up, at the judgment, with the men of this generation, and she will condemn them. For she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon. And behold, more than Solomon is here.
{11:32} The men of Nineveh will rise up, at the judgment, with this generation, and they will condemn it. For at the preaching of Jonah, they repented. And behold, more than Jonah is here.

The queen of the South was not a Jew. She likely held some, even many, incorrect beliefs about God. She may have believed in pagan gods. Yet Jesus informs us that she will rise up at the general Judgment, condemning the unjust. This implies that she is among the resurrected just souls. Since no one can be saved apart from some form of baptism, she must have received a mystical baptism.

And Jesus says something more about the Ninevites. Even though they were not Jews (or Christians), they repented from grave sin at the preaching of Jonah, and so they were saved. They received some form of mystical baptism, certainly. But if any had previously received a baptism of desire, and then later fell into actual mortal sin, they were nevertheless able to be forgiven and saved by perfect contrition. This perfect contrition may have been explicit, in that they were sorry for their sins out of love for God and neighbor; or it may even have been implicit perfect contrition, in some cases.

The formal Sacrament of Baptism is connected, in Christ, to a mystical form of baptism that saves by bringing the sinner into the Church, as a non-formal member, or, as we might say, mystical member. The formal Sacrament of Confession is connected, in Christ, to a mystical form of forgiveness that flows from a full cooperation with grace out of love for God and neighbor. This love of God, bringing us to perfect contrition, may even be implicit, so that a sinner who disbelieves or doubts the existence of God may still be forgiven for grave sin by sorrow out of love for neighbor. All true selfless love of neighbor is implicitly a love of God. All true selfless love of neighbor is the work of the Holy Spirit, who grants every form of baptism and every form of forgiveness.

But it is also true that all forms of baptism are an outpouring of the salvific graces that Christ merited for us on the Cross. How then does Christ dispense those graces to those who lived and died prior to His salvific death? The answer is quite simple, and yet also a profound mystery. Jesus is God, and God is entirely unbounded by Time. God is present within Time and Place, but He is also beyond all Time and all Place. As the Catechism says: “To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy.”175 Therefore, from His Cross at a particular place and time, Jesus is able to dispense grace to created persons in all places and at all times. For Christ is God, and God is Eternal.

Therefore, it is inaccurate to say that persons who lived in past times were saved by the “foreseen” merits of Christ. God did not give them the graces needed for salvation because He looked into the future and foresaw the sacrifice of Christ. Rather, God knows all things in one timeless Act. He does not remember the past and foresee the future. The past and present and future are all known by God with the same perfect infinite power: to understand all things in one timeless act.

From the Cross, Jesus can and does dispense grace to all times and all places because Jesus has both a human nature (which suffered and died at a particular time, in a particular place) and the Divine Nature (which is able to know and act without any restriction as to time or place).

But since Baptism as a formal Sacrament did not exist before Christ, all those persons saved beforehand were saved by a mystical baptism (either of desire or of blood).

Pope John Paul II taught that mystical incorporation into the Church, by a non-formal baptism can even extend to persons today who know about Christ and Christianity and yet “outwardly reject” the Church. How can this be? God is infinitely merciful, and He desires all persons to be saved. Therefore, God has made the offer and the possibility of salvation concretely attainable by all human persons.

Pope John Paul II taught this doctrine in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, and also — more clearly on the point of mystical membership in the Church — in his general audience on salvation through Christ.


Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone
is now available in print (paperback, 510 pp.) and in Kindle format.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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