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Baptism of Blood
While St Genesius’ mock baptism on stage was not a valid baptism, the intention to baptize not being present, through his martyrdom he is considered to have been “baptized by blood”. Right from the beginning the Church was faced with the position of those catechumens who were put to death for the Christian faith before being baptized and in this sacrifice she recognized that they were baptized by the very sacrifice of their lives for Christ and his Church.

St Genesius is not the only saint who was baptized by blood: the Holy Innocents whose feast we celebrate on December 28th; St Emerentiana, the foster-sister of St Agnes, was martyred before baptism, as were St Rogatien of Nantes (France) and St Victor of Braga (Portugal) among many other catechumens.

                                               Giotto: The Martyrdom of the Holy Innocents

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says of Baptism of blood:

The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament. (CCC § 1258)

Numerous Fathers of the Church and theologians have confirmed the Church’s teachings and have reflected on the nature of this baptism notably St Cyprian, St Gregory Nazianzen, St John Chrysostom, St Thomas Aquinas, St Bonaventure, Peter Lombard Hugh of St Victor and St Alphonsus Ligouri, the Church’s great moral theologian.

A number of years ago a priest, Fr Leonard Feeney, citing the doctrine “outside the Church there is no salvation”, denied the possibility of Baptism by blood and maintained that all who died without baptism are lost, even those Saints and other catechumens who were martyred. The Church rejected his opinion in 1949, pointing out that since the beginning, and drawing on Sacred Scripture, those who died without baptism but with the desire for baptism were baptized by desire and those put to death for the faith were baptized by blood. The Church does indeed believe that outside the Church there is no salvation (cf Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, § 13) but this teaching is not contradicted by Baptism of desire or of blood and must be understood in terms of how the Church sees herself as being founded by Christ as the Sacrament of Salvation in the world, and that God, in his mercy, desires that all people should be saved. It must also be understood that in Catholic teaching those who are not baptized and not members of the Church are not necessarily lost or excluded from heaven: if they do not know or believe in Christ or his teaching through no fault of their own, but live good lives according to their understanding, God in his mercy will not exclude them.

© The Fraternity of St Genesius 2007

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