You may have heard it posited before. Perhaps a deceased, unborn child can be credited with the grace of baptism of desire, because the child’s parents desired to baptize their child upon birth.
This idea is often offered as a comfort to those of us parents who have lost children to miscarriage, especially.
It is a pious thought to desire baptism for every soul. Surely we want every child to go to Heaven. But does it hold up theologically?
CARDINAL CAJETAN AND POPE PIUS V
Cardinal Cajetan (1469-1534) wrote the following, in a commentary on St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae: “that children still within the womb of their mother are able to be saved… through the sacrament of baptism that is received, not in reality, but in the desire of the parents” (emphasis added).
A lot of well-meaning folks gravitate to that quote, and for good reason. It would appear parents who desire the grace of baptism of desire for their child supply it to their child.
Unfortunately, that statement by Cardinal Cajetan was condemned by Pope Pius V. In fact, Pope Pius V had the passage removed from Cardinal Cajetan’s works.
On what basis did Pope Pius V do this? Well, he had good reason, as he cited St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa, which states that the desire for baptism cannot be supplied vicariously.
The Universal Doctor writes, “By Baptism a man is ordained to the Eucharist, and therefore from the fact of children being baptized, they are destined by the Church to the Eucharist; and just as they believe through the Church’s faith, so they desire the Eucharist through the Church’s intention, and, as a result, receive its reality. But they are not disposed for Baptism by any previous sacrament, and consequently before receiving Baptism, in no way have they Baptism in desire; but adults alone have: consequently, they cannot have the reality of the sacrament without receiving the sacrament itself” (ST III Q. 73 a. 3, emphasis added).
Unfortunately, Cardinal Cajetan was wrong to say children could be credited with the grace of baptism of desire by their parents. This is a condemned teaching.
The Church would be better off if this false hope was not spread any further.
Feel free to leave a comment below.
Be charitable, please.