December 3rd, The Feast of St. Francis Xavier
St. Francis Xavier, the great apostle of the Indies, is said to have baptized over one hundred thousand persons. By the clarity of his doctrine, the force of his many miracles, and the witness of his love, Francis Xavier won countless souls to Christ. And yet, we live in an age in which the missionary zeal of Francis Xavier is undermined by the presumptuous and suspect speculation of many theologians – unfortunately, it is certain members of his own Order, the Society of Jesus, who have most confused the Church’s tradition.
If baptism is not necessary for salvation, if people can be saved without faith in Christ and the Sacrament of Faith, if the predication of the Gospel does not really make a difference for the salvation of pagans, then St. Francis Xavier’s life was ill-spent. If, on the other hand, the missionary work of Francis Xavier really did (and does) matter, then it is clear that baptism is necessary for salvation.
Baptism is simply and absolutely necessary for salvation
When St. Thomas Aquinas asks whether all the sacraments are necessary for salvation, he specifies that a sacrament can be necessary in two ways – first, insofar as eternal life cannot be obtained without it; second, insofar as heaven cannot be so fittingly attained without the particular sacrament. Among all the sacraments, only three are necessary in the sense that without them salvation is impossible. First, there is baptism, which is “simply and absolutely” necessary to all people. Second, there is confession, which is necessary to any who have committed a mortal sin after baptism. And finally, holy order is necessary not to each individual but to the Church as a whole. However, “contempt of any of the sacraments is a hindrance to salvation.” (ST III, q.65, a.4)
We must be very clear on this point: No one who has died without having been baptized has any hope whatsoever of salvation. Without baptism, one cannot be saved. All those who are saved were baptized while on earth. However, we must understand that there are three ways in which one may be baptized. First, there is the “baptism of water”, which is sacramental baptism. Second, there is the “baptism of desire”, which is clearly at work when one who has desired to be baptized dies before receiving the sacrament – it is also possible that pagans of good will (who through no fault of their own have only an implicit desire for Christ without even knowing his name) may be saved by this “baptism of desire”. Finally, there is the “baptism of blood”, as when a non-baptized person who desires baptism is martyred for their faith in Christ – this is the most perfect form of baptism, even more perfect than the sacramental baptism of water. (cf. III, q. 66, a.11-12)
Is this a “hard teaching”?
The Church has always taught the simple and absolute necessity of baptism, because she received this teaching explicitly from Christ himself. He said, “Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of heaven.” (John 3:5) If Christ died for all, then all people need Christ for salvation – and we are incorporated into Christ through baptism.
However, some would imitate the crowds who rejected Christ at his Bread of Life discourse – they would say: “This saying is hard, and who can hear it?” (John 6:61) But there is nothing hard or difficult about Christ’s teaching! Without Christ salvation would be utterly and entirely impossible, without baptism none could have any hope of salvation – but the Church rejoices that Christ has opened to her the fount of salvation, the fount of baptism, by which sin is washed away and grace is restored. What is difficult about this?
It is as though a man were to fall into a hole and another, coming upon him, would say, “My friend, you are stuck in a hole; here, take this ladder and climb out!” What if the fallen man replied, “This saying is hard! Why do you force me to use the ladder? You are too restrictive and harsh!” What should we say? The fallen man would be the greatest of fools.
So too, if any should think that the Church’s teaching of the necessity of baptism for salvation (baptism of water, or desire, or blood) is difficult or hard or harsh, they show themselves to be great fools and enemies of Christ. Baptism is the great means of regeneration, who are we to spurn it and search for our own path to eternal life? Why, we would imitate our first parents, spurning the grace of God and reaching instead for the apple.
The Church’s mission
“The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are ‘reborn of water and the Spirit.’” (CCC 1257)
If baptism is necessary for salvation, and if none can be saved without at least desiring to be united to Christ and incorporated into his body, then the mission and life of St. Francis Xavier comes into focus. The work of this holy priest really made a difference in the world. He truly did save souls and win people over to God. The preaching and ministry of St. Francis Xavier was a true cause which effected the salvation of hundreds of thousands of persons in the East.
“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved. How then shall they call on him, in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe him, of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear, without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they be sent, as it is written: How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, of them that bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:13-15)
How beautiful, indeed, the feet of St. Francis Xavier. How beautiful the hand that baptized so many thousands in the East!