January 2020 Print

Questions and Answers

By Fr. Juan Carlos Iscara, SSPX

Why is it only in Luke’s account that we learn of the “good thief”?

Could you please explain the variations between the accounts of Our Lord’s Passion, as written by Matthew, Mark, and Luke—specifically regarding the thieves crucified with Our Lord. Why is it only in Luke’s account that we learn of the “good thief” but in the other two accounts both thieves are said to have reviled Our Lord? Isn’t this a contradiction which undermines the divinely-revealed character of the Gospels?

The Evangelists, each one of them, had a particular intention when writing their Gospels, and consequently they focused on particular aspects of Our Lord’s life and teachings. Their differences are not discrepancies or contradictions, but only highlight their different approaches to the story. Thus, even when relating the same events, sometimes they focus on one detail and omit others, or they reorder the succession of events and sayings, or they refer to different moments of the same event.

That explains away the apparent “contradiction.” Initially, both thieves insulted and mocked Our Lord, as reported by St. Mark and St. Matthew. But then, as reported by St. Luke, one of the thieves, hearing Christ’s words on the Cross and seeing His forgiveness towards those who had crucified Him, acknowledged that Our Lord was indeed the Messiah, repented of his previous insults and asked—and received!—Christ’s forgiveness.

What is the history of the Apostles’ Creed? Was this also approved by a Council?

We know the Nicene Creed was agreed upon and promulgated by the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople. What is the history of the Apostles’ Creed? Was this also approved by a Council?

The Apostles’ Creed is a brief summary of the principal doctrines of our Faith. Rufinus of Aquileia (c. 410) relates a tradition according to which the apostles, before separating to follow their missions among different nations and peoples, agreed to write down a summary of Christian doctrine, to be used as a basis for their teachings and as a rule of faith for the believers, each apostle having composed one of the 12 articles of the Creed. This explanation, taken up by St. Ambrose in the 6th century, prevailed during medieval times, but in the Council of Ferrara (1438) it came as a surprise when Mark Eugenius, the Greek archbishop of Ephesus, declared that the Eastern churches did not know the formula of the Creed used by the Roman church.

In fact, its essential contents date from the apostolic age, but its present form developed gradually in the Latin Church and its history is closely related to the development of the baptismal liturgy and the preparation of the catechumens. From the times of the apostles it was the practice of the Church to require an explicit profession of faith in the fundamental Christian doctrines. The candidates for baptism had to learn it by heart and recite it in the presence of the whole congregation as an integral part of the liturgy.

The Roman rite of baptism, as described in the Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus, contains a Creed of eight Trinitarian and Christological articles: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty. / I believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, / who was born of the Virgin Mary, / and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and was dead and buried, / and rose again the third day, alive from the dead, / and ascended into Heaven, / and sits at the right hand of the Father, / and will come to judge the living and the dead. / I believe in the Holy Spirit, in the holy Church,/ and the resurrection of the body.”

By the end of the 2nd century, Tertullian knew this Roman Creed and attested to its composition long before his times. From the 3rd century onwards, it spread until it prevailed everywhere in the Western Church.

The present text is first to be found in the writings of St. Cesarius of Arles, about the middle of the 6th century. It differs from the previous versions chiefly by reason of a few additions (descended into Hell, the communion of saints, life everlasting). Although this liturgical and catechetical monument, in its present form, was not elaborated or specifically approved by a Council, it is nonetheless the infallible expression of the daily teaching of the Church since the apostolic times.

Is there such a thing as baptism of desire for the unborn?

In quite a few pro-life websites and publications the practice of the “baptism” of the unborn is promoted. Others, equally prompted by pious thoughts, argue that aborted babies may receive the grace of the baptism of desire, a desire supplied by well-meaning strangers. Unfortunately, these proposals do not correspond to Catholic doctrine.

First of all, sacraments are only for living human beings, not for angels or separated souls. Only those who are in statu viae, “in the wayfaring state,” i.e. alive in this world, are capable of receiving grace through the mediation of a sensible sign, the matter and form of the sacrament. In consequence, a dead child, an aborted baby, cannot receive this sacrament.

In the early Church, there were heretics and even misguided Catholics who attempted to “baptize” dead catechumens, by making a profession of Faith on their behalf and then sprinkling the bodies with baptismal water. This practice was condemned by the third Council of Carthage in 397.

Secondly, we must rightly understand what baptism of desire is. St. Augustine stated that the actual reception of baptism may be supplied only in two ways, by martyrdom and by faith and conversion of heart (De Baptismo contra donatistas, IV, 22, 25). This means that an unbaptized person who, without fault on his part, is unable to receive sacramental baptism, may still receive sanctifying grace through an act of perfect charity or of perfect contrition for sin, acts which, in themselves, at least implicitly, include the desire to receive the sacrament, inasmuch as they include the desire to fulfill all the commands of Christ.

Pius XII, in his address to Italian midwives in October 1951, clearly stated that such an act of love is sufficient for the adult to obtain sanctifying grace and to supply the lack of baptism. But to the as yet unborn and to the newborn, this way is not open. In the present economy of salvation, apart from sacramental baptism, there is no other way to communicate that life to the child who has not attained the use of reason. That is exactly what St. Thomas Aquinas taught: before receiving sacramental baptism, infants in no way have Baptism in desire; but adults alone may have (Summa Theologica III, q. 73, a.3). Therefore, no, there is not a thing as baptism of desire for the unborn.