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At Matt 3: 11 we see John the Baptist speaking of Jesus:

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. "

I wish to know if Baptism by the Holy Spirit and Baptism by Fire are two different things, given that the Holy Spirit himself would later appear in the form of fire at Pentacost (Acts 2:3) . How does the Catholic Church interpret the statement of the Baptist ?

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According to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Those who have held that "water" in the Gospel text is to be taken metaphorically, appeal to the words of the Precursor (Matthew 3), "He shall baptize you in the Holy Ghost and fire". As "fire" must certainly be only a figure of speech here, so must "water" in the other texts. To this objection, it may be replied that the Christian Church, or at least the Apostles themselves, must have understood what was prescribed to be taken literally and what figuratively. The New Testament and church history prove that they never looked on fire as a material for baptism, while they certainly did require water. Outside of the insignificant sects of Seleucians and Hermians, not even heretics took the word "fire" in this text in its literal meaning. We may remark, however, that some of the Fathers, as St. John Damascene (Of the Orthodox Faith IV.9), concede this statement of the Baptist to have a literal fulfillment in the Pentecostal fiery tongues. They do not refer it, however, literally to baptism. That water alone is the necessary matter of this sacrament depends of course on the will of Him Who instituted it, although theologians discover many reasons why it should have been chosen in preference to other liquids. The most obvious of these is that water cleanses and purifies more perfectly than the others, and hence the symbolism is more natural.

The Catholic Church considers the fire to be symbolic, just as it does with the water.


But some other denominations take it more literally (e.g. Should We Want to Be Baptized With Fire?), especially when considered in light of John's complete sentence rather than the truncated prooftext quoted in the question and used for eisegesis in the Catholic Encyclopedia excerpt.

I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

John is contrasting the two possible final fates that we face. This literal baptism of fire will occur at the end of the world, when all that have rejected salvation and God's holy spirit will be reduced to ashes.

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