It may be helpful for everyone to read this excellent article quoting various theologians on the effects of the Sacramental Character of Baptism. http://catholicvox.blogspot.com/2012/04/sacramental-seal-of-baptismthe.html
I am not interested in systematizing opinions at opposite ends of a spectrum. That's called stupidity.
I am interested in faithfully integrating into my own personal beliefs a truly synthetic understanding of all these issues, one that accounts for the contradictions and explains the apparent inconsistencies.
In that vein, it seems to me personally that the very best solution is the one that involves no denial of what has been constantly taught either by a unanimous consensus of fathers (That baptism in SOME way can be supplied) or theologians (That baptism, being an instrumental cause, is not a formal cause of our salvation, but sanctifying grace is, and can therefore be infused independently of the sacrament).
That also includes the need on the part of everyone for an actual and explicit faith in Christ and the Trinity to be saved, at least since the promulgation of the gospel, that invincible ignorance is itself a punishment for sin, that the invincibly ignorant who die as such are damned, etc. That Sacramental Water Baptism is obliging on every man without exception. That this is necessary for membership within the Church and submission to the Roman Pontiff.
SO, it would seem the best thing to say is that:
All who are to be saved will be baptized.
Not all who are baptized are saved.
All who abide by God's actual grace will receive greater gifts of faith, hope and charity, they will experience a virtual membership in the church for as long as they persevere in this justification. Think of this in the same sense as being in the brown scapular confraternity. Without being a Carmelite, you receive the graces of the Carmelite order.
Not all who receive these gifts persevere. In fact, most will not, for most are not saved.
But those who do persevere, the few, will infallibly be led to the Visible Society of the Church, Outside of which there is no salvation.
And these will be baptized. The testimonies from the histories of the saints bear explicit witness to the fact that this does happen.
There are two things I wish to simultaneously affirm to steer clear of error:
1. God can supply baptism for all his elect. But he can also dispense with a created instrument, which baptism is, and infuse grace without it. We HAVE to admit that God can do this.
2. But God has also clearly obligated all to water baptism and declared that there is no salvation outside the visible Church.
Rather than oppose these two things, I seek to reconcile the nuances without falling into the condemnations of Baius or the Jansenists.
Remember, THIS proposition is CONDEMNED:
1043 43. In persons who are penitent before the sacrament of absolution, and in catechumens before baptism, there is true justification, yet separated from the remission of sin.
Therefore, just as in penitents before absolution, through contrition they can obtain remission of sins, so too with catechumens.
But Guess what is also condemned?
1173 23. Faith widely so called according to the testimony of creature or by a similar reason suffices for justification.
THe intellects notion of God derived from the observation of creation is NOT SUFFICIENT FOR FAITH! Do you get that? TO look at the stars and say, "There must be a God" is not Supernatural faith. It is human faith, deriving conclusions from human ingenuity and is NOT SALVIFIC.
BUT, this is not a statement of destiny. Who knows the hidden judgments of Christ? And who knows how difficult it is to persevere without the sacraments! Perhaps the catechumen who has had charity infused and his sins remitted falls into secret mortal sin, and God decides to take him simply to manifest his justice and the hiddenness of his decisions?
And again, who knows but that the hypothetical man among wolves may catch a glimpse of the light and stumble out of the forest into a missionary camp because he followed nature's law to the best of his ability? And he would be baptized!
Ultimately I see no contradiction. The only contradiction comes from either end of the spectrum: "God not only can but DOES save people who are justified by baptism of desire and die untimely deaths!" I would say, show me these people.
And from the other end I would hear: "There is no justification at all without the reception of water baptism, ever." I would say this runs contrary to the fathers and the saints and the scholastics. And I don't feel daring enough to end up in mortal sin by potentially exposing myself to proximate heresy via denial of that.
Therefore, I would say personally, that all though God CAN save anyone he wants to through BoD, at the end of the day, because he is God and does not Change and has manifested certain of his decisions and the reasons why he made them (Like leading honest natives to baptism in miraculous fashion!), that he will not change his methodology, and therefore all who WILL be saved ARE Saved in actuality by water baptism. This becomes clearer to me when you really read about what the sacramental Character IS.
The nature and significance of the Character seem to us to come to this: that it is the signature which makes known that the members of the God-Man’s Mystical Body belong to their divine-human Head by assimilating them to Him, and testifies to their organic union with Him.
The Character of the members must be a reflection and replica of the theandric Character of this Head. For, to become other Christs, the members must share in the Character by which the Head becomes Christ.
But the signature whereby Christ’s humanity receives its divine dignity and consecration is nothing else than its Hypostatic Union with the Logos.
Consequently, the Character of the members of Christ’s Mystical Body must consist in a Seal which establishes and exhibits their relationship to the Logos: their Character must be analogous to the Hypostatic Union and grounded upon it. . . .
Thus, from every point of view the idea. . . is substantiated that the Character by which Christians are anointed and become Christians is analogous to the Hypostatic Union of the humanity with the Logos, which is what makes Christ what He is. (Fr. Matthias Joseph Scheeben, The Mysteries of Christianity, Pages 582-587)
And in his Catechetical Lectures III, page 33, Saint Cyril of Jerusalem assures us:
If a person does not receive the Seal by Baptism, he will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. This seems very bold language, but I only say that it is the Lord’s, not mine!
Furthermore there is a nice little syllogistic difficulty:
1. God does not command impossibilities for the just.
2. But people who have BoD are justified.
3. Therefore it is not impossible for them to be baptized.
1. It is not impossible for People justified by BoD to be baptized.
2. But some who appear in such a state die unbaptized.
3. It must then be concluded that they died unjust, for they failed to accomplish what they were obliged to do.