St. Thomas Aquinas on the Unity of the Church

Jan 25th, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Today, on this eighth and last day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we will look at what St. Thomas Aquinas says about the unity of the Church. Here I’ll offer some very brief remarks on what St. Thomas teaches concerning the unity of the Church. I’ll draw from Aquinas’ commentary on the Apostles’ Creed in his catechism, his Summa Contra Gentiles and his Summa Theologiae.

St. Thomas Aquinas is the figure at the far right.St Peter Martyr Altarpiece
Fra Angelico
Museo di San Marco, Florence

The Aquinas Catechism

In the last year of his life, St. Thomas Aquinas preached a series of sermons during Lent in the city of Naples. According to a contemporary, almost the whole population of the city came daily to hear these sermons. Reginald de Piperno made careful transcripts of these sermons, which were aimed at providing a summary of the faith. In them, St. Thomas preached through the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Sacraments.

In his comments on the line of the Apostles’ Creed “the holy catholic Church,” St. Thomas briefly talks about the four marks of the Church (i.e. one, holy, catholic and apostolic) explicitly taught in the Nicene Creed. One of those four marks is unity. Regarding the unity of the Church, St. Thomas first says the following:

The unity of the Church

Of the first, it must be known that the Church is one. Although various heretics have founded various sects, they do not belong to the Church, since they are but so many divisions whereas the Church is one. Of her it is said: “One is My dove; My perfect one is but one.” (Song of Solomon 6:8)

Various heretics have founded sects, St. Thomas says, but these sects do not belong to the Church. They may very well have been founded by well-intentioned persons; perhaps none of these founders of sects thought they were heretics, or that they were making a schism. But, says St. Thomas, these sects do not belong to the Church. They were founded by mere men. The Church, by contrast, was founded by the incarnate God-man, Jesus Christ. Only by remaining in the Church Christ founded do we truly participate in the supernatural unity Christ imparted to His Church. The sects show that they are not united, by their many divisions. The Church, by contrast, cannot be divided; unity is one of the four essential marks of the Church, because the Church’s unity is Christ’s unity, and Christ cannot be divided. (1 Cor 1:13) Schismatics and dissenters can separate themselves from her in various ways, but they cannot divide her.

St. Thomas goes on to show the three-fold sources of unity in the Church, in the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. He says:

The unity of the Church arises from three sources:

(1) From the unity of faith. All Christians who are of the body of the Church believe the same doctrine. “I beseech you . . . that you all speak the same thing and that there be no schisms among you.” (1 Cor 1:10) And: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism;” (Eph 4:5)

(2) From the unity of hope. All are strengthened in one hope of arriving at eternal life. Hence, the Apostle says: “One body and one Spirit, as you are called in one hope of your calling;” (Eph 4:4)

(3) From the unity of charity. All are joined together in the love of God, and to each other in mutual love: “And the glory which Thou hast given Me, I have given them; that they may be one, as We also are one.” (John 17:22) It is clear that this is a true love when the members are solicitous for one another and sympathetic towards each other: “We may in all things grow up in Him who is the head, Christ. From whom the whole body, being compacted, and fitly joined together, by what every joint supplieth, according to the operation in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in charity.” (Eph 4:15,16) This is because each one ought to make use of the grace God grants him, and be of service to his neighbor.

No one ought to be indifferent to the Church, or allow himself to be cut off and expelled from it; for there is but one Church in which men are saved, just as outside of the ark of Noah no one could be saved.

This is the unity of the Body of Christ. First that we share the same faith, i.e. the same doctrine, and the same sacraments. We also share the same hope, i.e. the hope of eternal life, not merely everlasting existence, but a glorious union with God in which we enjoy the Beatific Vision and thus enter into His eternal life of perfect beatitude. Finally, we are joined together in the supernatural virtue called ‘charity’ (i.e. agape), by which we freely give ourselves in joyful sacrifice to Christ, serving each other for His sake, all working together to build up His Body, the Church. Persons in schisms or sects are not all working to build up the same Body. They work to build up their own schism or sect, even seeking to snatch away members from the true Body. This opposition is evidence that the persons involved are not all members of the same Body.

Summa Contra Gentiles

In Chapter 76 of Book IV of his Summa Contra Gentiles, St. Thomas gives further insight into the nature of the unity of the Church. First he explains why bishops are necessary to administer the Sacrament of Order, also called Holy Orders. He writes:

There must be some power of higher ministry in the Church to administer the Sacrament of Order; and this is the episcopal power, which, though not exceeding the power of the simple priest in the consecration of the Body of Christ, exceeds it in its dealings with the faithful. The presbyter’s power is derived from the episcopal; and whenever any action, rising above what is common and usual, has to be done upon the faithful people, that is reserved to bishops; and it is by episcopal authority that presbyters do what is committed to them; and in their ministry they make use of things consecrated by bishops, as in the Eucharist the chalice, altar-stone and palls.

St. Thomas is saying here that with respect to the power to consecrate the Eucharist, the bishop has no greater power than does the priest. However, the presbyter’s (i.e. priest’s) power to consecrate the Eucharist is derived from the bishop’s power. It is by the bishop’s power, says St. Thomas, that presbyters “do what is committed to them.” They receive their power from the bishops; they also receive their commission from the bishops, and the sacred vessels they use have been consecrated by the bishops.

St. Thomas then gives three reasons why Christ established the Church to have one visible head. He writes:

1. Though populations are different in different dioceses and cities, still, as there is one Church, there must be one Christian people. As then in the spiritual people of one Church there is required one Bishop, who is Head of all that people; so in the whole Christian people it is requisite that there be one Head of the whole Church.

St. Thomas shows here that the requirement of one person as the visible head is a principle at every level of a society. Even though the universal Church is spread out all over the world, yet it is one society by the same principle of visible unity we find at every more particular level. Every parish has a priest, and if there is more than one priest, the other priests are his assistants. They do not all have equal authority, because that would lead to strife, conflict and division. Likewise, every diocese has a bishop who has charge over the priests in his diocese. If there is more than one bishop in a diocese, the others are auxillary bishops there to assist and serve the diocesan bishop, so that there is no cause for faction between them. Then St. Thomas points out that this need for a visible head at these local levels is no less present at the universal level. Just as the local Church requires a visible head, so the universal (i.e. catholic Church) requires a visible head. This visible head of the catholic Church supports and maintains the unity of the universal Church spread out throughout the whole world.

St. Thomas next provides a second reason:

2. One requisite of the unity of the Church is the agreement of all the faithful in faith. When questions of faith arise, the Church would be rent by diversity of judgments, were it not preserved in unity by the judgment of one. But in things necessary Christ is not wanting to His Church, which He has loved, and has shed His blood for it: since even of the Synagogue the Lord says: What is there that I ought further to have done for my vineyard and have not done it.? (Isai. v, 4.) We cannot doubt then that by the ordinance of Christ one man presides over the whole Church.

Here St. Thomas makes the following argument. The unity of the Church requires unity of faith (i.e. doctrine and sacraments). But when disputes about the faith arise, the Church would be torn apart into many schisms if there were not ultimately one person having the authority to adjudicate these disputes. Hence it is necessary for preserving the unity of the faith that there be one person presiding in the Church, having the authority to resolve such disputes. But Christ would not leave His Church without anything that is necessary for her preservation, since He has already shown that He is willing to shed all His blood for His Church. Therefore since such an office is necessary for the Church, and Christ would not fail to provide her with what is necessary, we cannot doubt that it is by Christ’s ordination that one man presides over the whole Church.

Lastly, St. Thomas provides a third reason:

3. None can doubt that the government of the Church is excellently well arranged, arranged as it is by Him through whom kings reign and lawgivers enact just things (Prov. viii, 15). But the best form of government for a multitude is to be governed by one: for the end of government is the peace and unity of its subjects: and one man is a more apt source of unity than many together.

The best form of government for a multitude is to governed by one. That is because the purpose of government is the peace and unity of the citizens governed. One man is better able to provide a unified course of direction than many leaders all with equal authority. This is why each country has one person as its governor at any given time, even if there are other governing bodies assisting and collaborating the individual leader. We all recognize the need for a unified head of government. This principle is no less true in the Church. The same God who ordered and arranged the natural requirements of governing cities and nations, is the same God who established and ordered His Church. St. Thomas is here implicitly making use of the principle that grace builds on nature. Just as the best form of government in the natural order requires a single visible head, so because grace builds on nature, the best form of government in the order of grace (i.e. the Church) likewise requires a single visible head. It would be arbitrary to acknowledge that a unified visible head is necessary at every level of the Church particular, but deny that a unified visible head is necessary at the level of the Church universal.

St. Thomas then anticipates and responds to two rather common Protestant objections, first, that the head of the universal Church is only Christ, and not a man whom Christ has appointed. He writes:

But if any will have it that the one Head and one Shepherd is Christ, as being the one Spouse of the one Church, his view is inadequate to the facts. For though clearly Christ Himself gives effect to the Sacraments of the Church, — He it is who baptizes, He forgives sins, He is the true Priest who has offered Himself on the altar of the cross, and by His power His Body is daily consecrated at our altars, — nevertheless, because He was not to be present in bodily shape with all His faithful, He chose ministers and would dispense His gifts to His faithful people through their hands. And by reason of the same future absence it was needful for Him to issue His commission to some one to take care of this universal Church in His stead. Hence He said to Peter before His Ascension, Feed my sheep (John xxi, 1) and before His Passion, Thou in thy turn confirm thy brethren (Luke xxii, 32); and to him alone He made the promise, To thee I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. xvi, 19).

St. Thomas shows that even though Christ is present in the sacraments of the Church, this sacramental presence is not adequate for the visible governance of the universal Church (as it is not adequate for visible governance of the local parish or diocese). This is why Christ set aside St. Peter, entrusted to him the keys of the Kingdom, and commissioned him to feed Christ’s sheep and strengthen his brethren. Because Christ, after His ascension is invisible in heaven, and because His sacramental presence is inadequate for the role of visible governance of the universal Church, therefore it was necessary that Christ choose one man to stand in His place as visible head of the universal Church, until His return.

St. Thomas then anticipates and responds to a second Protestant objection:

Nor can it be said that although He gave this dignity to Peter, it does not pass from Peter to others. For Christ instituted His Church to last to the end of the world, according to the text: He shall sit upon the throne of David and in his kingdom, to confirm and strengthen it in justice and judgment from henceforth, now, and for ever (Isai. ix, 7). Therefore, in constituting His ministers for the time, He intended their power to pass to posterity for the benefit of His Church to the end of the world, as He Himself says: Lo, I am with you to the end of the world (Matt. xxviii, 20).

The second objection is that the unique authority that Christ gave to St. Peter to be visible head of the universal Church, passed away with the death of St. Peter, and did not pass on to others who succeeded him. St. Thomas refutes that objection by showing that the need for such authority did not cease with the death of St. Peter, because Christ established His Church to endure until the end of the world.  Therefore Christ, knowing that the Church would continue long after the death of St. Peter, intended that the power He entrusted to St. Peter would pass on to his successors, “for the benefit of the Church to the end of the world.”

St. Thomas concludes:

Hereby is cast out the presumptuous error of some, who endeavour to withdraw themselves from obedience and subjection to Peter, not recognizing his successor, the Roman Pontiff, for the pastor of the Universal Church.

To reject obedience and subjection to St. Peter (and his successors) is to reject those persons who, by His authorization stand in His place, to govern His universal Church until He returns. Once a person recognizes that Christ entrusted this authority over the universal Church to St. Peter and his successors, he understands that to listen to St. Peter and his successors is to listen to Christ, and to reject St. Peter and his successors is to reject Christ.1

Summa Theologiae

In St. Thomas’ Summa Theologiae we read the following:

Wherever there are several authorities directed to one purpose, there must needs be one universal authority over the particular authorities, because in all virtues and acts the order is according to the order of their ends (Ethic. i, 1,2). Now the common good is more Godlike than the particular good. Wherefore above the governing power which aims at a particular good there must be a universal governing power in respect of the common good, otherwise there would be no cohesion towards the one object. Hence since the whole Church is one body, it behooves, if this oneness is to be preserved, that there be a governing power in respect of the whole Church, above the episcopal power whereby each particular Church is governed, and this is the power of the Pope. Consequently those who deny this power are called schismatics as causing a division in the unity of the Church. Again, between a simple bishop and the Pope there are other degrees of rank corresponding to the degrees of union, in respect of which one congregation or community includes another; thus the community of a province includes the community of a city, and the community of a kingdom includes the community of one province, and the community of the whole world includes the community of one kingdom.2

The argument here is similar to what we saw in the Summa Contra Gentiles. The first point has to do with acts ordered to a single end. Whenever there are multiple authorities directed to one purpose, there must be a universal authority over these particular authorities, to order their acts toward one single end. Otherwise each authority will not be acting in unison with the other authorities. This is why armies have generals, and why there must be a commander-in-chief. If there is not a single unified leader of the army, then its various units will not be coordinated together to act in concer in one unified purpose and plan. Likewise, if there were not a visible governing authority for the universal Church, then the bishops of the various dioceses would likewise not be ordered in their actions toward one end in the visible Church. They would each be doing their own activity, according to their own plan and vision. But their actions would not be ordered toward one end, and so the universal Church would reduce to a collection of particular Churches. Just as without a commander-in-chief there would not be one army but as many armies as highest-ranking generals, so without a visible authority over the universal Church, there would not be one universal Church, but as many particular Churches as there are bishops.

According to St. Thomas, to deny the “power of the Pope,” is to make oneself a schismatic, by causing a division in the unity of the Church. The Church itself does not lose unity when a schism occurs; her unity is Christ’s unity. Rather, when a schism occurs, the Church loses the participation in her unity by the schismatic who separates himself from the authority of the Pope.

One other place in Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae is notable for its implications regarding the unity of the Church. That is the section on the sin of schism. In Summa Theologiae II-II Q.39 a.1, St. Thomas writes:

As Isidore says (Etym. viii, 3), schism takes its name “from being a scission of minds,” and scission is opposed to unity. Wherefore the sin of schism is one that is directly and essentially opposed to unity. For in the moral, as in the physical order, the species is not constituted by that which is accidental. Now, in the moral order, the essential is that which is intended, and that which results beside the intention, is, as it were, accidental. Hence the sin of schism is, properly speaking, a special sin, for the reason that the schismatic intends to sever himself from that unity which is the effect of charity: because charity unites not only one person to another with the bond of spiritual love, but also the whole Church in unity of spirit.

Accordingly schismatics properly so called are those who, willfully and intentionally separate themselves from the unity of the Church; for this is the chief unity, and the particular unity of several individuals among themselves is subordinate to the unity of the Church, even as the mutual adaptation of each member of a natural body is subordinate to the unity of the whole body. Now the unity of the Church consists in two things; namely, in the mutual connection or communion of the members of the Church, and again in the subordination of all the members of the Church to the one head, according to Colossians 2:18-19: “Puffed up by the sense of his flesh, and not holding the Head, from which the whole body, by joints and bands, being supplied with nourishment and compacted, groweth unto the increase of God.” Now this Head is Christ Himself, Whose viceregent in the Church is the Sovereign Pontiff. Wherefore schismatics are those who refuse to submit to the Sovereign Pontiff, and to hold communion with those members of the Church who acknowledge his supremacy.

We can learn something about the unity of the Church by studying the sin against that unity. Strictly speaking, says St. Thomas, the sin of schism is one in which the person willfully and intentionally separates himself from the unity of the Church.3 The person who does so in ignorance or unintentionally, is less culpable (if culpable). But the person who discovers himself to be in schism, even if born into that schism, is culpable if he does not seek to cease to be in schism. To willfully remove oneself from the unity of the Church, or to willfully remain in schism from the Church, is to sin against charity. As heresy is a sin against faith, so schism is a sin against the charity which “unites the whole Church in unity of spirit.”

What does it mean to be in schism? Some Christians think that so long as they love other Christians, they are therefore not in schism. But St. Thomas explains that the unity of the Church consists in two things: the mutual connection of the members of the Church, and the subordination of all the members to the Church’s visible head, who represents Christ. So there are two ways to be a schismatic, according to St. Thomas. One way is to refuse to hold communion with other members of the Church. The other way is to refuse to submit to the Sovereign Pontiff. Both forms of schism are sins against charity, for they both act against the charity by which the whole Church is held together in love.

Here we see the relation between authority and charity, described earlier this week in Jeremy Tate’s essay. Love and authority are not mutually exclusive. Rather, love for Christ is expressed by humbly subordinating ourselves to those with His authorization, especially the successor of the Apostle to whom Christ entrusted the keys of the Kingdom.

  1. cf. Luke 10:16 []
  2. Summa Theologiae Supp. Q.40 a.6 []
  3. Here we see an implicit distinction between formal schism (intentional, willful schism), and material schism, i.e. schism that is unintentional or done in ignorance. []
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  1. The Catholic Church teaches that the Orthodox who are in schism are true churches and not eccelesiastical communions. Yet St. Thomas says in this article that those who are in schism “do not belong to the Church”. How do we reconcile these two views?

  2. Pio, (re: #1)

    Keep in mind that there has been development of doctrine since the time of St. Thomas, regarding the nature of communion with the Church. The Church now explicitly makes the distinction between full communion, and imperfect communion. With that distinction in mind, the unity St. Thomas is talking about here is what we would now call full communion. Heretics and schismatics (even if we are speaking of material heretics, or material schismatics) do not have full communion with the universal Church; they do not have a full participation in the unity of the Church. In any particular case they could have a valid baptism, or even a valid Eucharist. And for that reason, they could have a partial, though imperfect, communion with the universal Church. To be a particular Church does not require full communion with the universal Church; it requires only a true Eucharist, and therefore apostolic succession. Yet without full communion in the universal Church, a particular Church is incomplete. The particular Church that is in schism from the Catholic Church is deficient in its catholicity (see comment #28 in the “Augustine on Adam’s Body” thread), and deficient therefore as well in its unity (because the love in which it shares is ordered to union with the whole from which it separated), and deficient also in its hierarchical authority, insofar as its particular bishop has separated himself from the Magisterium by which the Holy Spirit guides the universal Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  3. Is there a sense in which one can say there is not only the visible church (those in full communion with the Catholic Church) but the invisible church (those imperfectly in communion such as Protestants and those who respond to God’s grace yet have not heard of Christ)?

  4. Pio, (re: #3)

    There are not two catholic Churches, one visible, and the other invisible. Christ founded only one Church, the Church referred to in Matthew 16 and 18. This Church He founded is essentially visible, but it has an invisible dimension, just as the incarnate Christ was visible, but also had an invisible dimension, in His human spirit and His divinity, which was not visible to the human eye. The invisible dimension of the Church is the Holy Spirit and the grace that comes to us by the Spirit, through the sacraments of the Church; it also includes the souls of all the saints who have gone before us (though in their relics they remain visible to us in a certain respect — see “Heroes of the New Covenant“).

    Persons who are not in full communion with the Church can receive spiritual benefits from the Church, and in this way have an invisible (though imperfect) union with the Church. This is what we refer to as imperfect communion. That is the way in which Protestants (as Protestants) are joined truly, but imperfectly, to the Church. They are not in full communion with the Church, but through baptism (which is a Catholic sacrament) they received grace, the supernatural virtues of faith, hope and charity, and the Holy Spirit. The Church is visible, so a person is not a member of the Church until he is visibly joined to the Church. But that does not prevent him from receiving spiritual benefits from the Church and having some communion with the Church, prior to being visibly joined to the Church. That happens when a Protestant is baptized. But again, there are not two catholic Churches: one visible, and one invisible. There is one Church, with two dimensions or aspects, and as with all sacraments, the way to the invisible dimension is through the visible dimension. I have written more about this in an article titled “Baptism, Schism, Full Communion and Salvation.”

    The Church is essentially both visible and invisible, because the Church is a living Body, and living bodies are essentially visible but also have an invisible aspect (i.e. the soul).

    The Church is essentially both human and divine, visible but endowed with invisible realities, zealous in action and dedicated to contemplation, present in the world, but as a pilgrim, so constituted that in her the human is directed toward and subordinated to the divine, the visible to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, the object of our quest. (CCC 771)

    There is no purely invisible Church; nor is there a purely visible Church (a mere man-made institution). Pope Leo XIII condemns both those positions in Satis Cognitum. And Pope Pius XII does so again in Mystici Corporis Christi. The Church isn’t just the invisible aspect, the ‘ghost in the machine.’ What is visible in the Church contains and communicates that which is invisible in the Church; in this respect, the Church is a sacrament. This one Church of Christ is present in various ways even outside the visible bounds of the Catholic Church. As St. Ignatius of Antioch said long ago: “Where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” But, the fact that the Church can be present in certain respects outside her visible boundaries (in relation to her hierarchy) never justifies causing or remaining in schism from the visible Church, just as the fact that the Spirit can bring faith to a person even in advance of his reception of baptism does not nullify the requirement of receiving the sacrament of baptism. Again, the Church herself is sacramental, in this respect.

    Even though wherever Christ is present, there is the Catholic Church, this does not mean that wherever Christ is present, every human present is in full communion with the Catholic Church. Every organism has both a soul and a body, and thus both an invisible aspect and a visible aspect. The Church, as the Body of Christ, likewise has both an invisible aspect and a visible aspect. The Holy Spirit is the ‘soul’ of the Church, and is thus the invisible aspect of the Church. The Church is also visible, through a visible hierarchy. (See “Christ Founded a Visible Church.”) So a Protestant who has received the sacrament of baptism, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, is joined [though incompletely] to the Catholic Church because he has been given a measure of the very soul of the Catholic Church. But insofar as that person deviates from the faith of the Catholic Church through no fault of his own, to that degree he falls short of full participation in the communion of the Church provided by one of the three bonds of unity: unity of faith. Material heresy doesn’t place one in a separate [invisible] Church; it separates oneself from full communion with the only catholic Church, by separating oneself from her “one faith.” Moreover, so long as this person remains separated from communion with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, he remains in schism from the Catholic Church, because the Church Christ founded is not a merely invisible Church, but a visible Church, from which it is possible to be in schism, or excommunicated, as Christ describes in Matthew 18. Therefore it is not enough to believe in Christ, or to be baptized; every Christian must also seek to be in and remain in full communion with (and thus not in schism from) the visible Church Christ founded.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  5. Bryan,

    Can a person who has specifically rejected water baptism, but still professes to be a Christian and tries to love Christ as he understands him, in any way be considered part of the Church?

    When I came into the Church, I had some tense conversations about baptism with my evangelical Quaker family. The question “is baptism necessary for salvation” came up more than once. I’ve tried to figure out whether they could be considered “invincibly ignorant” or already baptized by desire. Many of them can talk the talk and walk the walk along with the best of evangelicals and are quite sincere about their faith; they love Jesus as they understand him, participate in worship, try to discover his will for their lives, etc. But it is almost a point of pride that they are NOT baptized by water–they would say they’ve already received the baptism of the Spirit by accepting Christ.

    I’ve had a hard time figuring out what orthodox Catholic theology would have to say about such a situation.


  6. Can a person if baptised and believing in Christ be forgiven of his sins if he isn’t a Catholic and so isn’t utilizing the sacrament of confession?


  7. Ben and Alicia,

    This thread is about the unity of the Church, so please keep comments on-topic.

    Ben, only God knows for sure whether a person is invincibly ignorant. We cannot peer into other persons’ hearts. Jesus Himself taught the necessity of baptism. See John 3:5 and Mark 16:16. If (notice the ‘if’) a person truly knows that Christ is from God, and commanded baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and with deliberate consent refuses to be baptized, that person is in a state of mortal sin, and without sanctifying grace. If he dies in that condition, without repentance, he will not be saved. See canon 5 of Session VII of the Council of Trent. See also Jimmy Akin’s helpful article on invincible ignorance. But if through no fault of his own a person does not know the necessity of baptism, and is not baptized, but has living faith in Christ, such a person can be saved, though it is much more difficult to be saved apart from the means of grace Christ has established in His Church, baptism being the gateway sacrament.

    Alicia, a non-Catholic can receive forgiveness of sins committed after baptism without going to the sacrament of confession, but his contrition must be based on love for God above all things, not only on fear of hell, or on the harm his sin has done to his life or his family. In the same way that, in the case of invincible ignorance concerning the obligation to receive baptism a person by implicit desire can receive the grace of baptism without being baptized, so baptized persons in a condition of invincible ignorance concerning the sacrament of confession can receive the grace of this sacrament without being absolved by a priest, if their contrition arises from love for God above all things. I recommend listening to Prof. Feingold’s answers to questions 3 and 4 of the Q&A following his lecture on Actual Grace, which is the second lecture at “Lawrence Feingold on Sanctifying Grace and Actual Grace.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  8. Ave Maria!
    I listened to the audio and just wanted to confirm that the invincible-ignorant Protestant in this situation is making an act of perfect contrition? And the reason it would be “Confession of Desire” is because since we are talking about post-baptismal mortal sin, we cannnot really speak of “Baptism of Desire”.

    And that engenders the question whether baptism of desire is equivalent to a non-baptized person making an act of perfect contrition?

    Ave Maria!

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