Was St. Emerentiana Baptized? Unbaptized Martyrs?
November 19, 2021
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Bro. Peter Dimond

People who believe, contrary to Catholic teaching, that baptism is not necessary for salvation often bring up the case of St. Emerentiana, an early Church martyr and virgin.  They think she is an example of an unbaptized person the Church says is in Heaven.  This video will show why their argument is false.  The Church actually teaches that all the martyrs, such as St. Emerentiana, received the Sacrament of Baptism. 

Those who think that St. Emerentiana was saved without baptism often cite the reading for her feast on Jan. 23 in the Roman Breviary (which comes from the Roman Martyrology).  It says that St. Emerentiana, while still a catechumen, rebuked idol-worshippers and was stoned by them, thus being “baptized in her own blood”.

“Emerentiana, a Roman virgin and the foster-sister of the blessed Agnes, while she was still a Catechumen, burning with faith and charity, rebuked the idol-worshippers who were full of fury against the Christians, whereupon a mob assembled and stoned her. Praying in her torment at the grave of Saint Agnes, and having been baptized in her own blood, so generously shed for Christ, she gave up her soul unto God” (Matins, Jan. 23rd).

We will make a number of points in response to this argument.  First, the historical accounts in the Roman Breviary (which are called legends, meaning things to be read) are not infallible.  This is widely admitted.  I will first quote Fr. Frederick William Faber, a pre-Vatican priest and author, who states:

Fr. Frederick William Faber, An Essay on Beatification, Canonization and the Processes of the Congregation of Rites, 1848, pp. 124-125: “‘Many of the names of saints have been struck out of the Roman Breviary.’  The contents of the Roman Breviary are not proposed to the Church as defined, or as obliging the faithful; for the historical facts which it contains, though they merit more than ordinary credence, may be subjected to a fresh examinationThe Holy See has itself made changes and corrections in the Breviary from time to time.”

Fr. Frederick William Faber, An Essay on Beatification, Canonization and the Processes of the Congregation of Rites, 1848, p. 97: “It is true that the Church does not guarantee the Breviary from the possibility of historical error…”

Pre-Vatican II theologian Tanquerey also stated:

“Historical mistakes can creep in, and, as a matter of fact, they have slipped into the legends in the Breviary, as the best critics admit.” (Adolphe Tanquerey, A Manual of Dogmatic Theology, translated by Msgr. John J. Byrnes, Desclee, New York, 1959)

Martyrologies and the Breviary have both been reformed and corrected.  In 1629 Pope Urban VIII instituted a special congregation for the Reform of the Breviary:

“Urban VIII, in 1629, ordered the resumption of the reform of the Breviary.  He instituted a special congregation for the purpose…” (Ludwig Von Pastor, History of the Popes, Vol. 29, p. 12.)

Concerning that reform, Papal Historian Ludwig Von Pastor notes:

“The alterations [of the Breviary under Urban VIII] were confined to fifteen saints’ legends which were cast into a better form, one also more in accordance with historical accuracy.” (Von Pastor, Vol. 29, p. 15.)

Pope Benedict XIV also said this in his 1756 encyclical Ex Quo Primum:

Pope Benedict XIV, Ex Quo Primum (#1), March 1, 1756: “Accordingly the Roman Pontiffs have often had to see to it that Missals, Rituals, Breviaries, and Martyrologies were newly issued in improved editions after appropriate corrections.”

Thus, just because a reading in the Breviary claims that St. Emerentiana was a catechumen does not prove that she was a catechumen.  That reading is not infallible or de fide.  However, and this is very important, the reading for her feast does not even say she was unbaptized.  That’s because the term ‘catechumen’, although it usually refers to an unbaptized person, can refer to a baptized person, as we will see.  Moreover, the terms ‘baptism of blood’ or ‘baptized in blood’ can simply refer to the Catholic martyrdom of an already-baptized person.  We give various examples of this in our material.  Examples include: The Acts of the Martyrdom of Sts. Perpetua and Felicitas, which describe the martyrdom of already-baptized people as a second baptism.  

The Acts of the Martyrdom of Sts. Perpetua and Felicitas, c. A.D. 202 [Concerning Saturus]: “... with one bite of [the leopard] he was bathed with such a quantity of blood that the people shouted out to him as he was returning the testimony of his second baptism, ‘saved and washed’, ‘saved and washed.’”

The Acts of the Martyrdom of Sts. Perpetua and Felicitas, c. A.D. 202: “… Felicitas, rejoicing that she had safely given birth, so that she might fight with the wild beasts... to wash after childbirth with a second baptism.”

St. John Chrysostom also calls the martyrdom of a baptized priest St. Lucian a baptism. 

In regard to the term ‘catechumen’: Canon 12 of the Council of Nicea prescribed penance for certain soldiers (including baptized soldiers), and this included having to spend time among the 'hearers'. 

Council of Nicea, 325, Canon 12: “Those who were called by grace, and displayed the first zeal, having cast aside their military girdles, but afterwards returned, like dogs, to their own vomit, (so that some spent money and by means of gifts regained their military stations); let these, after they have passed the space of three years as hearers, be for ten years prostrators.”

Those 'hearers' were sometimes identified in Latin as 'catechumens'.  An example of this is found in the translation of canon 12 of Nicea in St. Robert Bellarmine's work on Councils (Book II, Chap. 8).

Canon 12 of Nicea, as quoted by Bellarmine:

“Qui vere per Dei gratiam vocati primo quidem ostenderunt fidem suam, deposito militiae cingulo, post haec autem ad proprium vomitum reversi sunt, ut et pecunias darent, et ambirent redire ad rursum ad militiam; isti decem annis sint inter poenitentes, postquam triennio fuerint inter audientes, id est, catechumenos.”

“Those who were truly called by God’s grace did indeed display their faith at first by laying aside their military belt, but afterwards they returned to their own vomit, so much so that they even gave money and went out of their way to return to the military again; these are to spend ten years among the penitents after they have been among the hearers, that is, the catechumens, for a period of three.” (Quoted by St. Robert Bellarmine, De Conciliis, Book 2, Chap. 8)

The final part of the canon, as it appears in Bellarmine’s work, says: “these are to spend ten years among the penitents after they have been among the hearers, that is, the catechumens, for a period of three.”

So, baptized soldiers undergoing penance had to spend time among the hearers or catechumens.  This is just one example of how the term catechumen didn’t always refer to an unbaptized person.  Hearers or catechumens were people receiving aural instruction.  Such additional instruction could be prescribed for certain penitents or for people not very well educated at the time of their baptism.  Moreover, since the incorrect view that a heretic could not perform a valid baptism was widespread in the ancient Church at times and held by various Church fathers, it’s reasonable to conclude that many people who had in fact been validly baptized in water by heretics were, upon conversion in some areas, wrongly classified as unbaptized catechumens. 

The general points we are covering about St. Emerentiana also apply to the handful of other times in the Roman Breviary where a saint is identified as a catechumen or having been baptized in blood.

To conclude these preliminary points: not only is the historical reading in the Roman Breviary for St. Emerentiana not infallible, there is nothing in it that says she was unbaptized. 

Now, what’s additionally important is that a number of the older martyrologies don’t say anything about St. Emerentiana having been a catechumen or having been baptized in blood.  For example, in the martyrology of Venerable Bede (who died in 735), there is an entry for St. Emerentiana.  It says the following:

The Martyrology Of Venerable Bede On St. Emerentiana, The Complete Works Of The Venerable Bede In Latin, circa 8th century

“X. KAL.  Romae natalis S. Emerentianae virginis Christi et martyris, quae erat collectanea St. Agnetis, et dum oraret ad sepulchrum St. Agnetis, ac simul orantes a gentilium laesione defenderet, lapidata est ab eis.”

At Rome, birthday of St. Emerentiana, virgin of Christ and martyr, who was the foster-sister of St. Agnes, and who, while praying at the tomb of St. Agnes and at the same time defending those praying there from the attacks of pagans, was stoned by them.”

As we can see, she is not said here to have been a catechumen or baptized in blood.  St. Emerentiana was the foster-sister of St. Agnes.  Agnes had been martyred a few days before St Emerentiana’s death.  Since it was the teaching of the Church to baptize unbaptized catechumens in a necessity or during a persecution, it makes sense that St. Emerentiana would have been baptized before exposing herself to danger at the tomb of St. Agnes.

In De Locis Sanctis (On the Holy Places of the martyrs which are outside the city of Rome) dated to the 7th century, it simply lists the martyr Emerentiana as the sister of St. Agnes.  There is no claim that she was a catechumen. (http://csla.history.ox.ac.uk/record.php?recid=E06997)

In a 7th century document called Notitia ecclesiarum urbis Romae (Catalogue of the Churches of the City of Rome), it calls Emerentiana a martyr.  There is no claim that she was a catechumen. (http://csla.history.ox.ac.uk/record.php?recid=E00676)

In a manuscript of the Martyrologium Hieronymianum (Martyrology of Jerome), which is considered to be perhaps the oldest surviving Latin martyrology, there is a probable reference to Emerentiana simply as a martyr.  It does not say she was a catechumen. (http://csla.history.ox.ac.uk/record.php?recid=E04620) 

Thus far we’ve shown, among other things, that: 1) the historical readings in the Breviary are not infallible or de fide, and some of them have been corrected; 2) there is nothing even in the current Breviary reading that says St. Emerentiana was unbaptized; and 3) a number of presumably older references to Emerentiana say nothing about her having been a catechumen. 

Now we come to the most important point, which is that we know St. Emerentiana received the Sacrament of Baptism because, among other things, it was dogmatically defined by Pope Benedict XII that all martyrs, confessors, virgins and other faithful in Heaven from the New Testament period received the sacred baptism of Christ, which is the term for the Sacrament of Baptism.  The pope defined that they received the same baptism as children, which is of course water baptism.  He mentions no exceptions because none exist.

You will find that information here (as well as in the video linked on this page): https://vaticancatholic.com/pope-benedict-xii-baptism-heaven/

The same truth that no one, including unbaptized catechumens in necessity, persecution, danger, etc., can be saved without water baptism, is found in the teaching Pope St. Leo the Great: https://vaticancatholic.com/pope-leo-the-great-sacrament-of-baptism-salvation/

These facts show that the Church teaches that all the martyrs in Heaven from the New Testament period have received the Sacrament of Baptism and that receiving water baptism is the singular safeguard of salvation for everyone, including unbaptized catechumens in persecution.  These facts refute ‘baptism of desire’ and ‘baptism of blood’.

We could cover much more dogmatic evidence to prove the point, as we do in our material, but it suffices to say that it’s a dogma that unless man is born again of water and the Holy Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.  This was taught by the Councils of Florence and Trent.  Thus, no one can enter the Kingdom of Heaven without the Sacrament of Baptism.  We will not cover all of the other evidence on this, but we will simply quote these statements from the Council of Trent.

Council of Trent, Sess. 5 on Original Sin: “Unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Spirit he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.”

Pope Paul III, Council of Trent, Canon 2 on the Sacrament of Baptism: “If anyone shall say that real and natural water is not necessary for baptism, and on that account should distort those words of Our Lord Jesus Christ: ‘Unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Spirit’ [John 3:5] into some metaphor: let him be anathema.”

Council of Trent, Can. 5 on the Sacrament of Baptism: “If anyone shall say that baptism is optional, that is, not necessary for salvation, let him be anathema.”

Finally, there is an important reading in the Roman Breviary for the 4th day within the Octave of the Sacred Heart.  Providentially, this was added to the Roman Breviary by Pope Pius XI in 1929.  It powerfully affirms the true position on baptism.  It states:

The Roman Breviary, Day IV Within The Octave Of The Sacred Heart, Lectio 8

“In lavácro útique aquæ regeneratiónis, quod Christi morte sacrátur, ab origináli contagióne mundátur. In Redemptóris vero sánguine nedum ab omni culpa purgátur, verum étiam regni cæléstis illi aperítur introítus. Ambo hæc in unum efféctum convéniunt nec unum sine áltero valet ad salútem prodésse: non enim absque baptísmi sacraménto et peccatórum remissióne, potest quis futúræ beatitúdinis hereditátem percípere. Hoc ubíque in orbe terrárum sancta mater confitétur Ecclésia, et multiplícibus Scripturárum divinárum testimóniis roborátur.”

“In the washing of the water of regeneration, which is consecrated by Christ’s death, the Church is undoubtedly cleansed from the original contagion.  But in the Blood of the Redeemer not only is she purified of every fault, but entrance to the heavenly kingdom is also opened to her.  Both of these [the water and the Blood] unite in one effect, and neither one without the other can profit unto salvation: for without the sacrament of baptism and the remission of sins, no one can take to himself the inheritance of future beatitude.  This everywhere throughout the world does Holy Mother Church confess, and it is confirmed by manifold testimonies of the Divine Scriptures.”

So here, in the Roman Breviary for the 4th day within the Octave of the Sacred Heart, we see an explicit affirmation of the Church’s true teaching that no one can get to Heaven without the Sacrament of Baptism and that this is what Holy Mother Church confesses everywhere throughout the world.  This is what we find in all dogmatic and infallible pronouncements on this matter.

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