Archive for the ‘St. Peter Canisius’ Category

Feeneyites have recently argued that St. Peter Canisius, Doctor of the Church, understood the Council of Trent as not teaching Baptism of Desire.

Saint Peter Canisius (May 8, 1521 – December 21, 1597) was a Jesuit who fought against the Protestants in Germany, Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, and Switzerland. He was a major player in Germany’s restoration to Catholicism after Luther. He was at the Council of Trent and was sent by Pope Pius IV to bring the council’s documents to Germany. St. Peter Canisius was beatified by Pope Pius IX in 1864 and canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church on May 21, 1925 by Pope Pius XI. His amazing story can be read at CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: St. Peter Canisius (newadvent.org)

In 1555, St. Peter Canisius wrote his “Summa doctrinæ christianæ . . . in usum Christianæ pueritiæ” for his advance students. The work consisted of two hundred and eleven questions in five chapters. The following is a 1622 English translation of his teaching on Baptism:

“What is Baptism, and is it necessary to all? This is the first and most necessary sacrament of the New Law, consisting in the outward washing of the body and the due pronunciation of the words in according unto the institution of with Christ.

A necessary sacrament, I say, not only for those(a) that are years of discretion, but(b) infants also and withall effectual for them to life everlasting. All are born the sons of(c) wrath; therefore even infants also have need to be purged from sin, neither can they be cleansed and regenerated into the children of God without this(d) sacrament. For generally hath the Lawmaker proclaimed, that(e), “unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” And in an other place: It is(f) not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one perish of the little ones.” But infants(g) also not baptized should perish, as of old in the Synagogue of the Jews, children(h) uncircumcised. [1]

Feeneyites take this teaching with his reference to the Council of Trent’s teaching from Session 6, ch. 4 [2] and his references to Augustine and Ambrose on the necessity of baptism. Combining these teachings, Feeneyites argue that Canisius’s interpretation of Session 6, ch. 4 doesn’t mean Baptism of Desire, nor does Augustine and Ambrose’s.

For instance, a reference by Augustine: “No matter how much a catechumen advances, he still carries the load of his iniquity: it is not forgiven him until he has come to baptism.” (St. Augustine, Tractate 13 on the Gospel of John)

Feeneyites think this proves that Augustine and Canisius believed that Catechumens can’t possibly obtain Baptism of Desire if they die without baptism.

St. Augustine’s statement is true or else the catechumen would never need to be baptized. This has nothing to do with Baptism of Desire, which is something that happens if the catechumen dies and couldn’t be baptized because of some unforeseen circumstances. St. Augustine wrote his Tractate around the same time as he wrote his most famous work, the City of God where he taught: 

“Those also who die for the confession of Christ without having received the laver of regeneration are released thereby from their sins just as much as if they had been cleansed by the sacred spring of baptism. For He who said, ‘Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,’ (John 3:5) by another statement made exceptions to this when He said no less comprehensively: ‘Everyone… that shall confess me before men, I will confess before my Father who is in Heaven.’ (Matthew 10:32).”

Obviously, St. Augustine didn’t believe that all catechumens go to hell if they don’t get baptized as he tells us about Baptism of Blood. If Canisius knew about Tractate 13, he most certainly would know about the City of God. Feeneyites are grasping for straws, but they grasp more straws with Ambrose when Canisius references him teaching:

“The catechumen believes in the cross of the Lord Jesus, by which also he is signed: but unless he is baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, he cannot receive the remission of sins nor gain the gift of spiritual grace.” (St. Ambrose, De mysteriis)

This teaching from Ambrose is true as long as the catechumen lives. What happens if he should die without getting Baptism because of some accident? Baptism is absolutely necessary ordinarily. The issue is about extraordinary circumstances. It should be noted that St. Ambrose converted St. Augustine and was his teacher.

Ambrose and Augustine don’t support the Feeneyite’s ridiculous interpretation of Trent.

Lastly, Feeneyites make another false and futile argument.

Caninius taught, “For generally hath the Lawmaker proclaimed, that(e), “unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”

The Feeneyites argue that “generally” or ‘generatim’ is a reference to two classes of people: adults and infants. It doesn’t mean a general rule, which is a precept. It means an absolute universal law.

The problem with this Feeneyite argument is two-fold. First, Canisius could have used the word “absolutissime” or “absolute” instead of generatim and then explain what Session 6, chapter 4 meant, since he references it twice in his catechism. He doesn’t do so. Instead, we are left with a word that proves nothing. Even if Canisius meant universal law, it wouldn’t necessarily mean what the Feeneyites want. However, the word generatim, which is translated in all the English translations as “generally or general” appears to mean that baptism is the general rule and not an absolute rule. It works against Feeneyism.

In 1606, the Jesuits published Canisius’ work with testimonies of Divine Scripture and the solid evidence of the holy Fathers. [3] On page 218 concerning Session 6, chapter 4, the marginal note says “justification does not occur without baptism or its desire” — that is, either the sacrament itself, or the desire for it. The same passage from Trent is quoted again later in St. Peter Canisius’s catechism. [4]

The obvious reading from Trent means Baptism of Desire. Therefore, an explanation should follow why Baptism of Desire is a false belief especially in light of the fact that St. Robert Bellarmine implies that it was universally believed in the Church during his time precisely because of Trent’s teaching and that of Ambrose, Augustine, and even Pope Innocent III. [5]

The second problem with the Feeneyite argument is that Protestants like to use the original language game to see if they can get a translation with an interpretation that fits their theology. If we want to know what Scripture really means, we turn to the Church and read it with an analogy of Faith.

If we want to know what St. Peter Canisius really believed, then we look to all of his contemporaries on this point. They would not be diametrically opposed on such a crucial point of doctrinal teaching from a council. It would be ludicrous to think otherwise.

I demonstrate in footnote 5 how St. Robert Bellarmine understood Ambrose, Augustine, and Session 6, ch. 4 of Trent as teaching Baptism of Desire. St. Peter Canisius would not hold the exact opposite view. That would imply that Bellarmine or Canisius is teaching heresy based on the same sources.

We also have the Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent published 9 years after Canisius’ catechism. St. Charles Borreomeo superintended the redaction of the original Italian text, which, thanks to his exertions, was finished in 1564. It was then published in Latin and Italian as “Catechismus ex decreto Concilii Tridentini ad parochos Pii V jussu editus, Romae, 1566” (in-folio). Translations into the vernacular of every nation were ordered by the Council (Sess. XXIV, “De Ref.“, c. vii).

The Roman Catechism taught that adults “are not baptized at once…The delay is not attended the same danger as in the case of infants, which we have already mentioned; should any foreseen accident make it impossible for adults to be washed in the salutary waters, their intention and determination to receive Baptism and their repentance for past sins, will avail them to grace and righteousness.” (p 179) [6]

In 1582, 27 years after Canisius’ catechism was written, the English College of Rheims published the Rheims New Testament. It was the official English translation approved by Rome. In the commentary of John 3:5, the Rheims Bible reads, “…this sacrament [Baptism] consisteth of an external element of water, and internal virtue of the Holy Spirit…Though in this case, God which hath not bound his grace, in respect of his own freedom, to any Sacrament, may and doth accept them as baptized, which either are martyred before they could be baptized, or else depart this life with vow and desire to have the Sacrament, but by some remediless necessity could not obtain it.” [7]

Francisco Suarez, S.J. (1548-1617) cites St. Robert Bellarmine S.J. on Baptism of Desire in his 1602 work Opus de triplici virtute theologic, a Tractus de fide, Disp.XII, sect.4, n.22 : [As to] what is further added, that outside the Church there is no salvation, some say, as Cano, that this proposition is to be understood of the Church in general, as it always was, and not only of the Church, as it was specially instituted by Christ. But this response is unsatisfactory, both because the Church is always one, and also because the Councils really speak of this Church of Christ, and one must hold as true in some sense concerning it, that outside of it nobody is saved. Thus it is better to reply according to the distinction given between necessity in fact, or in desire [in re, vel in voto]; for thus nobody can be saved, unless he should enter this Church of Christ either in fact, or at least in will and desire. Bellarmine responds thus to a similar question. And it is manifest, that nobody is actually inside this Church, unless he is baptized, and yet one can be saved because the will to be baptized is sufficient, and likewise the will to enter the Church; thus we say the same of any faithful person who is truly penitent and is not baptized, whether he shall have come to explicit faith in Christ, or only to implicit faith : for by that faith he can have at least an implicit desire, which is sufficient with regard to baptism, as St. Thomas teaches in the aforesaid places. [8]

Fr. Cornelius à Lapide, S.J. (1567- 1637) a Flemish Jesuit and renowned exegete wrote in his great biblical commentary on John 3:5 around 1615:

Lastly, born of water ought here to be understood either in actual fact, or by desire. For he who repents of his sins, and desires to be baptized, but either from want of water, or lack of a minister, is not able to receive it, is born again through (ex) the desire and wish for baptism. So the Council of Trent fully explains this passage (Sess. 7, Can. 4). [9]


Every Church authority, which includes official biblical interpretations, understood Session 6, chapter 4 and Session 7, Canon 4 as teaching Baptism of Desire. The Feeneyites are absolutely delusional to think that St. Peter Canisius was the only one to think exactly the opposite to every other authority who taught and wrote on the subject.

Their argument would necessarily be a condemnation of heresy for either St. Peter Canisius or every other authority, not to mention, an argument for complete stupidity for one of the two sides, all of which is a total absurdity.



[1] A Sum of Christian Doctrine : St. Peter Canisius : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

[2] In these words a description of the justification of a sinner is given as being a translation from that state in which man is born a child of the first Adam to the state of grace and of the ‘adoption of the sons’ (Rom. 8:15) of God through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, our Savior and this translation after the promulgation of the Gospel cannot be effected except through [or without] the laver of regeneration or a desire for it, (sine lavacro regenerationis out eius voto) as it is written: “Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter in the kingdom of God (John 3:5).”

[3] https://archive.org/details/bub_gb_dGsGlgHmLgUC/page/218/mode/2up?

On page 218, top of 2nd column under TESTIMONIA: 1. B is the passage from Trent session 6, chapter 4. The marginal note says “Iustificatio non fit sine baptismo aut eius voto”

[4] https://archive.org/details/bub_gb_dGsGlgHmLgUC/page/n951/mode/2up

[5] St. Robert Bellarmine on Baptism of Desire and the Council of Trent | Speray’s Catholicism in a Nutshell (wordpress.com)

St. Robert Bellarmine in De Controversiis: De Sacramento Baptismi. Lib. I, cap. 6., 1596 A.D. :

But without doubt it is to be believed, that true conversion supplies for Baptism of water, when not through contempt but through necessity someone dies without Baptism of water. For this is expressly held by Ezech. 18: If the impious shall do penance for his sins, I will no more remember his iniquity. Ambrose openly teaches the same in his oration on the death of Valentinian the younger: “He whom I was to regenerate, I lost; but that grace, for which he hoped, he did not lose.” Likewise Augustine book 4 on Baptism, chap. 22. and Bernard epist. 77. and after them Innocent III. chap. Apostolicam, of an unbaptized priest. Thus also the Council of Trent, sess. 6. chap. 4. says that Baptism is necessary in reality or in desire.

[6] http://www.catholicapologetics.info/thechurch/catechism/Holy7Sacraments-Baptism.shtml

[7] 1582 Douai Rheims Douay Rheims First Edition 3 Of 3 1582 New Testament : Douay (Douai) Rheims College – scanned by www.fatimamovement.com : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

[8] Suarez, Francisco, S.J. Opus De Triplici Virtu, Te Theologica, Fide, Spe, Et Charitate. Cum superiorum permissu & Privilegio Caesareo. Sumptibus Hermanni Mylij Birckmanni, Excudebat Balthasar Lippius, 1922.

 #229 – R. P. Francisci Suarez, Granatensis, e Societate Iesu doctoris … – Full View | HathiTrust Digital Library

[9] CHAPTER III (catholicapologetics.info)

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