The standard type of baptism is by water and the Spirit. In Matthew 28:18–20, Jesus states, “Full authority has been given to me both in heaven and on earth; go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
This scripture passage comes just before our Lord ascends into heaven. It is the formula that is used in the rite of baptism. Water becomes the vehicle to transmit divine grace, because our Lord was baptized in the River Jordan by Saint John the Baptist. The baptism that Saint John used was different than Christian baptism; it was one of penance and reform. Since our Divine Lord was and is sinless, by submitting to this baptism, Jesus instituted a new type of baptism that would prefigure His redeeming death and resurrection. In the waters of the Jordan, the Holy Spirit (in the form of the dove) hovered over Jesus. This event symbolizes that the Church lives in the age of the Holy Spirit. Christ used water and all its properties of cleansing and restoration to transmit eternal life.
The Church also has taught about two other types of baptism, one of blood and the other of desire. These two types of baptism do not have the moral certitude or prominence of baptism by water or by the Spirit. However, they do give a theological conclusion to what happens to those who receive water and the Spirit. Baptism of blood deals with martyrdom. The word martyrdom derives its meaning from the Greek martus which means “witness.” A Christian martyr witnesses to Christ through thoughts, words, and actions; sometimes this comes into conflict with the society, and he is killed as a result.
One important distinction must be made between the original and authentic use of the word “martyr” and the distorted and erroneous application used by terrorists and religious fanatics. Martyrdom is a passive activity, that is, one is martyred for his or her faith. People who intentionally kill themselves and others are not real martyrs. The Christians who were slain by the Roman Empire for nearly three hundred years were martyrs. The Jews killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust (Shoah) were martyrs. Anyone of the Islamic faith who is murdered just because of his or her religion is a martyr.
The Judeo-Christian Scriptures and the Koran forbid suicide and the killing of innocent people, yet some radical extremists have distorted the holy notion of true martyrdom. So-called suicide bombers are actually homicide bombers, and they are guilty of murder. Murderers are not and cannot be martyrs. Martyrs are innocent victims themselves; they do not kill innocent victims.
Baptism of blood refers to a person who is studying for entrance into the Catholic faith but is martyred for Christ before it happens. This type of baptism began during the Roman persecution of the Christians after the fire of Nero. Adults who were studying for conversion, known as catechumens, might not make it to be baptized. They might be arrested and then fed to the lions, or fall to gladiators’ swords. It was their intention to be baptized and because they were arrested for being presumed to be Christians and then subsequently killed, they received baptism of blood.
Scripturally, there is a reference to this kind of baptism. In Matthew 2:16 we read, “Once Herod realized that he had been deceived by the astrologers, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys two years old and under in Bethlehem and its environs, making his calculations on the basis of the date he had learned from the astrologers.” This was an attempt by Herod to kill the newborn Savior, Jesus. The astrologers are commonly known as the three wise men or the three kings from the East. The holy innocents shed their blood for Christ so that He could live. The Catholic Church celebrates the martyrdom of the holy innocents on December
28, right in the middle of the Christmas season.
Finally, the Catechism of the Catholic Church in section 1258 concurs and states, “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.” Not only the holy innocents (those infant boys slaughtered by King Herod in the attempt to kill the Messiah at the time of Jesus’ birth), but everyone who dies in this fashion receives baptism of blood.
The third kind of baptism is that of desire. God offers sufficient grace to everyone to be saved. Since every human person has a free will, divine grace is not forced or coerced but can only be accepted or rejected. When accepted, and when the person cooperates with that sufficient grace, it then becomes efficacious grace, it achieves what it is meant to do (sanctify the person and get him into heaven). By the merits of Jesus Christ on the cross, He died for all people in all generations.
Theologians call this the universal salvific will of Christ. The term “anonymous Christian” can be applied. This is not meant to be used in the pejorative sense. Rather, it recognizes that all religions have bits of truths in them, and if a person follows his or her religion to the best of their ability according to the rules of their religion, then it is believed that he intuitively desired baptism. It would be unfair and unjust for a person who did not have the opportunity of faith to know and accept Jesus Christ to be denied heaven. God gives every person the chance to enter paradise; it is up to that person to cooperate with the graces to achieve this end. The Catechism of the Catholic Church in article 1260 states, “Since Christ died for all…we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility…(of) being saved.”
It is important to note, however, that the more one knows, the more one is held accountable. In other words, if a person comes to the conclusion that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior and does not convert, then he is held responsible for this action. In the Catholic Church reside the four marks of the true Church; there is one Church, and it is holy, apostolic, and catholic, or universal. No other Church can claim this possession entirely. The fullness of revelation is contained in the teaching magisterium of the church. The sacraments, which are the vehicles of grace, are dispensed from the church. This is why the Church sends missionaries out into the world to heed the mandate of Christ to baptize all nations in the Trinity.
In the new evangelism that Pope John Paul II called for at the beginning of the millennium, the church is to be seen as a beacon of truth and the way to salvation. It is not enough to be satisfied with being an anonymous Christian. Rather, it is better to know the one true Lord and Savior.