"If any one saith, that baptism is free, that is, not necessary unto salvation; let him be anathema."
There are few arguments that could become more bitter than the arguments either for or against baptism of desire.
However, it seems to me that many of the arguments both for and against have been exaggerated and made with a surprising lack of caution.
In many cases, those who have argued for baptism of desire seem ignorant of the fact that it was a virtually untouched topic in the first thousand years of the Church's life.
And those who argue against it often seem to ignore the fact that Catholics are not bound only to ex cathedra statements, but also to the unanimous consensus of theologians that a teaching is to be believed as certain.
So, what to do? What can a 35 year old white American male, lower middle class add to these interminable discussions?
Well, if I could add one single thing, it would be this- That although I love and respect Fr. Feeney and detest liberal Catholics, I would say he was wrong to consider Baptism of Desire, as understood by the Theologians and strictly, as a loophole.
Please allow me to explain.
When we consider Baptism of Desire, what is the traditional understanding of it, unanimously espoused by the theologians? That a catechumen, who explicitly intends to receive baptism with a firm and steady resolve, should he meet an untimely death, would be saved- all other conditions presumed as present (faith, hope and charity being present, a life of following the commandments, etc.).
But consider, this resolve in itself is an admission by the catechumen that he has no other means of salvation. This is no seeking of an option other than baptism. This is the admission of every dogma, every father, every decree declaring that without baptism, we cannot be saved. For the catechumen, to grasp to the exception is to be damned. To hang onto the hope of salvation apart from the sacrament is already wicked presumption. To consciously defer day to day the possibility of rebirth and gamble with uncertainty is to despise the gracious hand of God offering us a way out of Hell.
There is absolutely nothing optional about baptism. And the one who is saved by baptism of desire is proof of that. For it is only in the acknowledgment of his utter dependence upon God and the necessary means of salvation he established that the possibility of any exception at all is opened to him.
Which is precisely why it can never be actively taught. It can never be used as a tool of evangelization. It can never be a motive to come to Christ.
It can only be known post-facto, that God would have had mercy on the one who set out from the City of Man and died on the porch of the City of God. Acknowledging his want, confessing his sinfulness, following the path of Christ and yet perishing while rapping on the gate- Will we not confess that such a one sought and found the visible body of the Church of Christ? Will he not be brought into the gates and buried within the city?
And if not, why not?
Here, I see no loophole. I see only the affirmation of the truth- that all men are obligated to receive sacramental water baptism to be saved. And the only exception is granted to those who die in search of those waters.
BUT do such people exist? Are there people who die frustrated by their repeated attempts to be baptized, in good faith, who never make it in? Would he who began a good work fail to bring it to completion?
I cannot say that much. But I suspect not.