7 August: St. Afra, “sinner” and martyr.

Each day I like to read the entry in the Martyrologium Romanum. Today there are several entries which could be the staring points for discussions of holiness and salvation.

Let us consider this one:

3. Augustae Vindelicorum in Raetia, sanctae Afrae, martyris, quae, peccatrix ad Christum conversa et nondum baptizata, ob Christi confessionem igni tradita esse narratur.

This is a very interesting saint. Her story, even so briefly related here, is one of great hope.

I will let you readers come up with a translation before our observations about what this implies.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Four Last Things, Our Catholic Identity, Saints: Stories & Symbols and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. jrpascucci says:

    Augsburg in Raetia (now West Germany?), Saint Afra, martyr, who, a sinner converted to Christ but not yet baptized, it was said she, on account of confessing Christ, was handed over to the fire.

  2. Andrew says:

    I was very surprised a few years ago on my visit to the Augsburg Cathedral to find a cold underground crypt and there the resting place of St. Afra, directly across from St. Ulrich. And I’m thinking: wasn’t she African?

  3. Johnno says:

    If she was martyred then she would’ve received the Baptism of Blood, and of desire, rather than that of water.

  4. Well, it implies Baptism by Blood for one thing. It also implies God’s wonderful mercy in uniting her to the Passion of Christ our God through her own Passion, and God’s wonderful justice in now exalting her to share in His glorious divinity, having suffered together with Him.

  5. Tom in NY says:

    “The memorial of St. Afra, martyr, at Augsburg (modern Bavaria, ancient Raetia). She was a sinner who converted to Christ but was not yet baptized. It is told she was handed over to be burned because of her confession of Christ.”

    In Christo salvi.
    Salutationes omnibus.

  6. Okay… what do we get from this?

  7. mamajen says:

    Well, it would seem to me that we ought not jump to conclusions about who will reach Heaven and who will not. God alone knows a person’s soul, and He alone gets to decide.

    [Although, there are two points that are attested here: a) she stopped sinning and b) she was killed in hatred of the Christian Faith or of some virtue necessary for the living of the Christian Faith. In her case the conversion was not only interior and she gave perfect witness (martyrdom).]

  8. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    “Okay… what do we get from this?”

    (I’ll try, and I hope I don’t get this wrong:) That God the Father of Mercies, although He desires us to come to Him through the waters of baptism, does not withhold His salvation from those who through love unite themselves to Him, even unto the shedding of their blood.

  9. acardnal says:

    The baptism of blood can save one.

  10. Supertradmum says:

    She had both the Baptism of Desire, as she was converted and already confessing (witnessing) Christ without the Baptism of Water, and then the result of this was that she was martyred and then received the Baptism of Blood. There is hope.

    But, we are only saved in Christ. No other way…And, she was one strong lady.

  11. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Aphra Behn, the English playwright, was named for St. Afra.

  12. stilicho says:

    I would hope that this same grace through the baptism of blood would be extended to the unborn innocents martyred through abortion.

  13. mamajen says:

    Thank you for the clarification, Father. I must admit that prior to reading other comments, I was not aware of baptism by blood or baptism by desire–so, thank you to other commenters for the nudge to research a bit!

  14. JacobWall says:

    I cheated and looked up a more detailed version of her story, although sources say many of the details may be later additions. Perhaps because of circumstances she may not have had the chance to be baptized; she was hiding a bishop from authorities, caught and put to death. She met the bishop who converted her while he was already in hiding; would this situation of strict secrecy have made it impossible or at least very dangerous for the bishop she was hiding to perform a baptism?

    For “baptism by desire” I would guess (without any good knowledge to base my guess on) that physical baptism was impossible for some reason, although it was truly desired. Of course, “baptism by blood” is different since in any case she was martyred “in hatred of the Christian Faith or of some virtue necessary for the living of the Christian Faith.” I can’t imagine that she would have been in the presence of the bishop who converted her for any length of time without being baptized, had it been possible without endangering them.

    Or am I just going off track here completely?

  15. Bea says:

    Okay… what do we get from this?

    If this is a test I’ll probably flunk. But here goes:

    We are, in effect, all sinners but she must have been a public sinner.
    Though she was never formally baptized, her love of God, repentance from sin, willingness to die for God and publicly repenting and confessing (giving witness) to God was sufficient for her salvation. The Baptism by Blood for love of God shows that God’s Mercy is fathomless. The Church has decreed it so, by proclaiming her a saint.

    She is an example for our modern times to stand up in courage, even unto death if we are to merit heaven. Even public sinners can have hope if they repent and publicly profess Christ, acknowledge their sinfulness and give their lives to Christ with fearlessness.

    Thats what I got out of it, anyway

  16. Bea says:

    This, however, does not mean that we should presume on God’s Mercy.

  17. Jeanette says:

    As far as what I am getting from this statement from the Roman Martyrology (a “list” which has been updated and revised/corrected since its original publication in 1583) and subsequent comments is that a lot of people have an investment in “baptism of desire” or “baptism of blood.” The short blurb on St. Afra mentions that she was converted before she was baptized, but not that she died unbaptized (in contrast to those baptized at a young age who fall away only to convert again later). There is an account of her life (Acts of Afra, I think) which states she and her entire household were baptized by the Bishop which she was hiding (Narcissus of Girona).

    It is comical to see how everyone is so quick to assume some method outside the one Christ had established (the Sacrament of Baptism) for the salvation of martyrs.

  18. Andrew says:

    St. Bernard in his letter 77 explains the necessity of faith and of baptism, but then he adds that even one who refused to be baptised:

    “If however before dying one has come to his senses, having wanted to be baptized, and having asked for it, but having been prevented by death; while there was true faith, devout hope, sincere charity: may God grant me His favor, because there is no way that I could despair of his salvation just because some water wasn’t available.”

    (Tamen si ante exitum resipuerit, et voluerit, et petierit baptizari, sed mortis praeoccupatus articulo forte obtinere nequiverit; dum non desit fides recta, spes pia, charitas sincera: propitius sit mihi Deus, quia huic ego ob solam aquam, si defuerit, nequaquam omnino possum desperare salutem … S. Bernardi ep. 77)

  19. norancor says:

    Father Z, what is your opinion of vicarious Baptism of desire? I have a personal hope of it for the unborn, and in the offering of expiation to the Father for the grace of conversion of a soul. I have seen the opinion you can have that intention for your child who is unborn, and for any children that may have miscarried or otherwise not come to term. What about for others? What say ye?

  20. oldCatholigirl says:

    I checked with the Catechism (#s 1258 ff )before posting what I already remembered being taught as a child: the Church recognizes Baptism of blood and Baptism of desire. The latter especially applies to unbaptized Catechumens. The former applies to those who are martyred for the sake of the Faith. Alas, I’m afraid that aborted children (unlike the Holy Innocents) are not killed for the sake of Christ. The Catechism does have qualified words of hope for extra-sacramental Baptism (#1257) and unbaptized children (#1261).

  21. mamajen says:


    You have an odd sense of humor, then. As long as we are not being presumptuous, I think it is okay to be optimistic about Jesus’ mercy, especially when the individual has been unable to receive the Sacrament of Baptism by water for whatever reason. Perhaps He will have the last laugh.

  22. dburnette10 says:

    Jeanette- I think that if we understand human nature and the fallen world, there would need to be SOMETHING for those who are physically/mentally unable to be baptized. In my own family, we didn’t know Grampa was a Methodist. He’d had a stroke that removed his ability to talk, except for a few words, and the use of most of his body. This was before grandkids came along. All of our lives, he lived as a Catholic, attending Mass when able, praying as he was able, and defending the faith as he was able. However, no priest could baptize him because he COULD NOT ask the Church for baptism or recite the Nicene creed. The same would apply to those with alzheimers or dementia. I wouldn’t presume to leave out hose who, through no fault of their own, cannot the church for baptism, it seems to akin to passing judgment on their soul. (and I promptly start thinking about Job for some reason…)

  23. Jeanette says:

    mamajen & dburnette10,

    Perhaps you would wish to review several canons from the Holy Oecumenical Council of Trent:

    (5th Session)
    3. If any one asserts, that this sin of Adam, – which in its origin is one, and being transfused into all by propogation, not by imitation, is in each one as his own, – is taken away either by the powers of human nature, or by any other remedy than the merit of the one Mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who hath reconciled us to God in His own Blood, made unto us justice, santification, and redemption; or if he denies that the said merit of Jesus Christ is applied, both to adults and to infants, by the Sacrament of Baptism rightly administered in the form of the Church; let him be anathema: For there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved. Whence that voice; Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him Who taketh away the sins of the world; and that other; As many as have been baptized, have put on Christ.

    4. If any one denies, that infants, newly born from their mothers’ wombs, even though they be sprung from baptized parents, are to be baptized; or says that they are baptized indeed for the remission of sins, but that they derive nothing of original sin from Adam, which has need of being expiated by the laver of regeneration for the obtaining life everlasting, – whence it follows as a consequence, that in them the form of Baptism, for the remission of sins, is understood to be not true, but false, – let him be anathema. For that which the Apostle has said, By one man sin entered into the world, and by sin, death, and so death passed upon all men in whom all have sinned, is not to be understood otherwise than as the Catholic Church spread everywhere hath always understood it. For, by reason of this rule of faith, from a Tradition of the Apostles, even infants, who could not as yet commit any sin of themselves, are for this cause truly baptized for the remission of sins, that in them that may be cleansed away by regeneration, which they have contracted by generation. For, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

    — continued —

  24. Jeanette says:

    (6th Session)
    Canon VI. If any one saith, that it is not in man’s power to make his ways evil, but that the works that are evil God worketh as well as those that are good, not permissively only, but properly, and of Himself, in such wise that the treason of Judas is no less His own proper work than the vocation of Paul; let him be anathema. (dburnette10, if you’re going to act as if it was not in your grandfather’s ability to get things lined up so that he could become baptized in all the years that he “lived as a ‘catholic’ ” then I think you’re implying something quite offensive about God)

    Canon XII. If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.

    Canon XIX. If any one saith, that nothing besides faith is commanded in the Gospel; that other things are indifferent, neither commanded nor prohibited, but free; or, that the Ten Commandments nowise appertain to Christians; let him be anathema.

    Canon XX. If any one saith, that the man who is justified and how perfect soever, is not bound to observe the Commandments of God and of the Church, but only to believe; as if indeed the Gospel were a bare and absolute promise of eternal life, without the condition of observing the Commandments; let him be anathema.

    Canon XXI. If any one saith, that Christ Jesus was given of God to men, as a redeemer in Whom to trust, and not also as a legislator Whom to obey; let him be anathema.

    — continued —

  25. Jeanette says:

    and finally (7th Session)

    Canon II. If any one saith, that true and natural water is not of necessity for baptism, and, on that account, wrests, to some sort of metaphor, those words of our Lord Jesus Christ; Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost; let him be anathema.

    Canon V. If any one saith, that baptism is free, that is, not necessary unto salvation; let him be anathema.

    There’s really no need for my commentary, as these canons stand on their own.

Comments are closed.