“Ask a Priest: Is Baptism Required for Salvation or Not?”

Q: The Catechism in No. 1257 says, “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.” What does this mean? Does someone need to be baptized or not? – B.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Basically it means that baptism is the ordinary means that God uses to bring people into the Church, to take away their original sin, and to make them his adoptive children – in short, to open the path of salvation to them.

People who understand the necessity of baptism are required to undergo baptism.

For people who might not hear the Gospel or have a chance at baptism, though they believe in Jesus and seek to become Christian, God steps in and fills in the gap, so to speak. This is what is known as baptism of desire.

The Catechism in No. 1260 says, “‘Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery.’ Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.”

While baptism is an ordinary means for salvation (the person also has to do other things as he goes through life, but that’s another issue), God can bring about salvation for a person by other means.

In other words, God established the ordinary means, but he still reserves the right, so to speak, to use extraordinary means in accordance with his wisdom and goodness. Note that in Matthew 8:11 Jesus mentions Abraham, Isaac and Jacob being in the kingdom of heaven. Obviously they didn’t receive water baptism as Christians do. But they made it to heaven.

An analogy might help: Imagine you lose your wallet in the middle of a bad storm, and you need to get home. A bus driver, who normally requires passengers to pay the full fare, might take pity on you and let you ride for the 25 cents you have in your pocket. The rules about bus fares remain, but you were granted an exception.

It’s a bit like with baptism. God can let people on the bus who otherwise can’t pay the full fare. But if they can pay, they need to pay. I hope some of this helps.

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