In 1984 Pope Benedict XVI expressed his doubts about the existence of Limbo when, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he stated: “Limbo has never been a defined truth of faith. Personally, speaking as a theologian and not as head of the Congregation, I would drop something that has always been only a theological hypothesis.”
Furthermore, it had been widely speculated that Pope John Paul II wanted to abandon the concept of Limbo, and in fact he called for and directed an International Theological Commission to write a position statement called "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die without Being Baptized." John Paul II died before the Commission could complete its work, but its statement was approved for publication by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 and follows this reflection.
And there are those who argue that the most we can say about unbaptized children is what the Catechism teaches, namely, that we can only "hope" for the salvation of unbaptized children, but they are mistaken. In fact, Pope John Paul II issued an infallible encyclical entitled 'Evangelium Vitae' which goes beyond the word "hope" when speaking about aborted babies. The first version of 'Evangelium Vitae' states that aborted children "are alive in the Lord", and the final, official version tells us that we can have "sure hope" that they are with the Lord. Both versions of 'Evangelium Vitae' remain on the Vatican website.
To state the obvious, this article is not the official teaching of the Catholic Church. It is an argument in favor of the beatific vision for aborted children. And it goes without saying that the author of this article submits to the definitive teaching of the Catholic Church regardless of what it may determine in this matter.
About this article, Monsignor Hilary Franco, an official of the Congregation of the Clergy for 24 years at the Vatican said the following: "My Dear Roger, I have read with great attention your article and I wholeheartedly concur with your defense of the beatific vision of the unborn …" Monsignor Hilary Franco
Man brings death into the world.
If abortion is the killing of one's child, and it is, we know that the great tragedy of abortion began in Eden wherein our first parents chose physical and spiritual death for all of their children. In their desire to be God they tried to be Masters and Lords over life and death. Every abortion that takes place since then is the echo of what took place in Eden in the hallways of time and place.
Yet, in spite of this, God gives life where man brought about death..
We know that the Catholic Church teaches that aborted children are, at a minimum, happy and that they are with God even if they are not in the beatific vision (seeing God face to face). But just as there are fundamentals regarding original sin and redemption in Jesus Christ alone, there are fundamentals about the incarnation and redemption that open paths for the restoration of families in the beatific vision of God which includes unbaptized infants who have been aborted.
One of the reasons that we have not focused on the fundamental happiness of children who have been aborted, and their powerful role as advocates, is because it has been asserted that Scripture does not explicitly tell us what happens to unbaptized infants. We shall see if that assertion is correct. Nevertheless, this assertion has resulted in much theological speculation and tension over the centuries about whether or not unbaptized children who are alive in the Lord actually get to see God face to face.
In fact, those things that gave rise to conflicting positions and tensions disappear when we look closer at Scripture and the teaching of the Catholic Church. So then, let us be clear at the outset, the Church has never taught that 'Limbo' is to be held as a dogma of faith. And this means that we must understand there are distinctions between what the Church teaches as Dogma as compared to Common Doctrine (Which is not the definitive teaching of the Church), and Theological Opinion.
Before we look closer at Scripture to see if unbaptized children obtain the beatific vision we need to keep several things in mind that serve the purpose of this reflection ...
1) In Jesus Christ there exists a consubstantial union (to be made one with) between those of faith and those who are aborted. As a result of this union the door to the beatific vision opens for children who are aborted by means of the faithful who desire their baptism before they are aborted.
2) If we who are not yet in the beatific vision can pray for each other, then aborted children who are alive in the Lord can pray for their parents, for their families, and for all those who have participated in abortion that they may be contrite for what they have done and return to God.
3) Parents who have aborted their children must know that their children want to enter into a prayerful relationship with them to help them in their journey home to God so that they may be reunited with them.
4) Although we must never cease to pray for the end of abortion, we must not fail to recognize that there is something more that we need to do. This reflection is a call for us to recognize children who have been aborted as our advocates in the Pro-Life cause. They are a vast and powerful group of people numbering in the billions, and they are waiting to be recognized as such and to be called upon to assist us in this battle over life and death of which they have been victims.
The Fundamental happiness of children who have been aborted.
From the English version of Pope John Paul II's encyclical 'Evangelium Vitae' (1995), section 99, which remains on the Vatican Website we read the following:
"I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. . . . The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord."
And from 'Acta Apostolicae Sedis' which is the 'newspaper' used to officially publish all decrees of the Vatican, and which is also posted on the Vatican Website, we read:
"I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. . . . The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father and his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child."
There are those who would argue that the official version of 'Evangelium Vitae' found in 'Acta Apostolicae Sedis' changed the original words of the Holy Father to something of less certainty about the state of aborted children, but they are mistaken. There is no difference in theology between the first writing of Pope John Paul II and the official version found in 'Acta Apostolicae Sedis'. The official version does not limit or reduce our "HOPE" that aborted babies have access to the beatific vision to a mere "possibility". In fact, the Holy Father used the words "SURE HOPE" - "To the same Father and his mercy you can with SURE HOPE entrust your child".
So then, we must consider the word "SURE" for what it is. It does not mean "not sure", nor does it mean "uncertain" which are antonyms for the word "sure". Nor does the word "sure" mean "maybe", or, "that it is possible" which are expressions that have no certainty. In fact, the word "sure" is an adjective which means to be "firmly established, safe from harm, reliable, steadfast, and trustworthy". And the synonym for the word "sure" is "certain". To be "sure/certain" is applicable to basing a conclusion or a conviction on definite grounds or indubitable evidence such as "the police are certain about the cause of a fire" or "the pope is certain about the state of aborted children".
No one can dismiss the Holy Father's use of the words "sure hope" as though they are irrelevant. Nor can they be downgraded to mean "mere hope".
Now we must consider the word "HOPE". The word "hope" means to cherish a desire with anticipation - i.e., to hope for a promotion. Therefore, one cannot argue that "hope" means to hope against hope: to hope without any basis for expecting fulfillment.
The Holy Father's use of the combined words "sure hope" means that in the Mercy of God we can expect that the children who are slaughtered in the womb will enter into the beatific vision. And we can expect that they will obtain the beatific vision with "sure" and "certain" confidence, and that we will not be disappointed for having done so.
So then, the official version of the Vatican uses the words "sure hope" which is identical to saying "certain hope", and this is identical in theology regarding children who are aborted to that which is stated in the original version of 'Evangelium Vitae' where we read "they are now living in the Lord". And the fact remains that the Vatican Website itself retains both versions of 'Evangelium Vitae' which shows that there is no distinction in theology between the two.
Furthermore, if the Church had ever definitively taught that unbaptized children were in hell it would never have issued its positional statement entitled "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die without Being Baptized". Why? Because there could be no hope that unbaptized children could be saved and Pope Benedict XVI would not have approved it. In fact, the encyclical 'Evangelium Vitae' promulgated by Pope John Paul II which teaches that we can have "sure/certain hope" that aborted children are in the beatific vision meets the conditions of infallibility which are explicitly stated in the encyclical itself. Let us look closer to see when infallibility is present in Papal teachings.
There are those who think that the actual words "ex cathedra", or, "we hereby declare and define", must be used and included by the Holy Father in his definitive teachings when he teaches as Pope, or when the Bishops teach in communion with him. That is not true. In reality, "Ex Cathedra" is merely "a set of conditions" used by the Pope to teach infallibly which is made clear by the use of the words "that is" in Vatican I. We read of Papal infallibility:
"…When he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when in the discharge of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, and by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority..."
And the Council goes on to tell us the specific conditions and criteria that the Pope must meet to speak infallibly. There are three conditions which must be declared by the Pope, in any order, when he teaches infallibly (Ex Cathedra). They are:
1) When he appeals to his office in any manner.
2) When he is teaching on faith and/or morals.
3) When he makes known what he is teaching is binding on all the faithful.
These three conditions are present in 'Evangelium Vitae'.
1) The Holy Father appealed to his office as head of the Church
2) The encyclical teaches on a matter of Faith and Morals
3) It is binding on the entire Church
So then, no matter how one wishes to argue the point, anyone who concludes that unbaptized aborted children suffer in hell, or that they can never have access to the beatific vision, is at odds with the Church. 'Evangelium Vitae' is now the definitive teaching of the Church on this matter.
In light of this, it cannot be argued that children who have died in abortion can be alive in the Lord but not in the beatific vision. We know that they are not in hell, nor are they in purgatory. And there is no precedent in Sacred Scripture, Tradition, or the definitive teaching of the Church to make the case that one who has died in the Lord can be alive in the Lord in the next life but not in the beatific vision. To have died and to be alive in the Lord is to be in the beatific vision.
Additionally, in the Catholic Catechism #1261 we read: "As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them."
Unless this teaching in the Catechism means that a funeral Mass said for unbaptized children removes original sin and ushers them into purgatory there is no reason to offer the Mass for them. Why? Because they are not guilty of personal sin which demands expiation in purgatory, therefore, they cannot be in purgatory. And if they are in purgatory it can only mean that original sin was removed by the Mass and that they are guaranteed the beatific vision because everyone in purgatory will eventually enter into the beatific vision. Nor can it mean that a plenary indulgence is applied to an unbaptized child unless it is acknowledged that the Mass, once again, removes original sin. Furthermore, the Church does not offer the Mass for unbaptized children if they are in hell because the Church does not offer the Mass to relieve the damned of their suffering. Why then a funeral Mass for unbaptized children? It would increase their joy, and given that there is only heaven and hell in the end, one must conclude that they are in the beatific vision with an increase of joy when Mass is said for them.
In light of these clarifications and others that will be made, the purpose of this reflection will be to explain and connect the scriptural and theological dots to demonstrate why unbaptized children who die in abortion, or as still-born children, are alive in the Lord, and that they are in fact in the beatific vision of God without compromising any dogma of the Catholic Church.
We have evidence for this in Old Testament Scripture even though the New Testament does not specifically address the state of unbaptized children.
You may ask, "How do we see evidence for this in the Old Testament"?
The answer is found in light of what God required in the Old Testament and what the Catholic Church definitively teaches (not speculation) regarding Circumcision.
Those of faith stand in for a child that the child may be saved.
In salvation history God enjoined upon Abraham the necessity of a sign that actually brought about entrance into a covenant with God. The sign that God gave to Abraham was Circumcision. Not only was it a sign of entrance into this Covenant with God, Circumcision was itself a cause that produced the effects of grace which removed original sin, the obstacle to the beatific vision. This makes Circumcision a Sacramental Sign in the Old Testament because the sign itself was rooted in the hope and merits of what the Messiah would accomplish when He would come into this world. But there is something more fundamental than Circumcision that produced the 'effects of grace' and opened the door to the beatific vision. What was more fundamental than Circumcision? It was the faith and hope that the people of the Old Testament had in the expected Messiah, beginning with Adam which was long before the time that Circumcision or Baptism had been established and required.
Without this faith and hope, Circumcision would be meaningless. And to drive this point home all we have to do is understand that salvation and the beatific vision was not open to males only, it was open to female children as well, and they were not circumcised. To reject this fact would be to condemn everyone in the Old Testament. This means the hope and faith in the expected Messiah that is found in the people of the Old Testament is met by the effects of grace that flowed back to them from the Sacrament of Baptism itself (once established in time by Jesus Christ) which would eventually replace Circumcision as the means of entrance into the covenant with God. You may ask "How does this happen?" The answer is as follows. Just as the reality of redemption is not limited to the place of one square foot of earth upon which stood Jesus Christ on the cross, the effects of Calvary are not limited to a specific time or place. In fact, the reality of Calvary is present to all place, and to all of time, all the way back to Adam once it takes place as an event in time. And in the same way, once Baptism is established in time the effects of grace that flow from it are present in real time, to all of time and place, and meet the hope and faith of every person who had faith in the expected Messiah all the way back to Adam, before the time of Circumcision or Baptism. This is in fact how original sin, the obstacle to the beatific vision, was removed in the Old Testament. And when you combine this reality to the fact that Jesus Christ is a Divine Person, not a human person, we see the door to the beatific vision open for those who will be aborted. It is in the consubstantial union that we all have in the human nature of Jesus Christ, the divine person, that the faithful are able to obtain for those who will be aborted the remittance of original sin through their faith and hope in Jesus Christ in behalf of that child. This is no different than when a parent, or anyone else, stood in for a child who would be circumcised. It was the faith, hope, and desire for salvation in the expected Messiah of and by the one who stood in for the child that justified the child. This is the theological basis for the spiritual adoption and Baptism of desire by the faithful in behalf of the unborn. So then, let us take a closer look at the consubstantial union (to be made one with) that we all have and share in Jesus Christ to understand this more fully.
As God and man (the hypostatic union), the human nature of Jesus Christ is one with His omnipresent, omniscient, divine person. And even though His human nature as a man was locally present to a specific time and place 2,000 years ago, it can be, and literally is, locally present at any time to all of time and place. Even now, in glory, the Divine Person of Jesus Christ, in His human nature and in His divine nature, is present to all of time at once. This is the same reality that we find in the Catholic Mass. Jesus Christ is not dying again and again, rather, the Mass itself is the event of Calvary that is present to all of time and place as one event so that we too can be at Calvary.
In fact, in the consubstantial union that exists between the human of nature of Jesus Christ and that of His divine person there exists also a consubstantial union with the human nature of Jesus Christ and that of the human nature of every person ever conceived. So then, His human nature is one with His divine person, and His human nature is also one with the human nature of every person ever conceived. His human nature which is one with His divine person becomes the bridge, or the means, by which we come to share in His divinity, but His human nature is not a bridge to share in His divine person. The distinction of persons between Jesus Christ and us remains in this consubstantial union. We do not become divine persons which is why we do not become numerical additions to the Most Holy Trinity. Furthermore, the distinction of persons which remains between us and Jesus Christ is the reason that original sin in which we are conceived, and the sins of the faithful, do not touch or become one with the divine person of Jesus Christ.
Make no mistake about it. Our human nature in its totality defines us as a human person, but this is not the case with Jesus Christ. His fully human nature which is as real and substantial as ours does not define Him as a Person, nor does it make Him a human person. He did not become a human person. He is a Divine Person from all eternity before He assumed human nature, and He never ceased being a Divine Person in the Incarnation.
So then, when Jesus Christ (the Divine Person) became man, His infinite, omnipresent divine person was not squeezed down to fit the size of the finite human nature which He created and assumed. Rather, He took the human nature which He created and made it one with His Divine Person in which there is no change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Nevertheless, the consubstantial union between the human nature of Jesus Christ and the human nature of every person ever conceived, including the unborn, is a reality. This is why Jesus can say:
"And the king answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40).
And we see this consubstantial union that we have with each other in the body of Jesus Christ in 1st Corinthians 12:21-23:
"And the eye cannot say to the hand: I do not need your help, nor can the head say to the feet: I have no need of you. And much more those that seem to be the more feeble members of the body, are more necessary. And those parts of the body which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor."
A culture of death loses its ability to see a child as a member of the Mystical Body of Christ. It considers a child "less honorable" because it is "feeble" and dependent, and this portends woes for us as a people. We have become blind to the fact that these children who will be slaughtered in the womb have a consubstantial union with us in Jesus Christ. And it is in this consubstantial union that we, the faithful, can bestow upon these helpless children "abundant honor" through our desire that they be baptized. This desire will cause the effects of grace that flow from the Sacrament of Baptism by water (for which there is no substitute) to flow to the child in the womb and remove original sin which is the obstacle to the beatific vision.. Scripture itself speaks of "Baptisms" in the plural.
Hebrews 6:2 tells us:
"Of the doctrine of baptisms, and imposition of hands, and of the resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment."
So then, we have seen that the effects of Grace found in the power of Baptism by water (the Sacrament for which there is no substitute) flow to a child in the womb by means of someone who stands in for a child who will be deprived of the opportunity to be circumcised or baptized by water due to abortion, or stillbirth. We can now look to Scripture for more explicit evidence to show what happens to unbaptized infants not only in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament as well.
From the time of Adam to the time of Abraham, and from Abraham to the time when Christ would institute Baptism by water, the hope found in those of the Old Testament was not hope in something that was possible regarding the beatific vision, but rather in a sure and certain hope of the beatific vision even if they did not possess the fullness of Revelation that we have in the New Testament. This is in fact why Jesus Christ went to the Limbo of the Just (the Bosom of Abraham). He went to bring those waiting for Him into the beatific vision because original sin in them had been removed even though they never had the opportunity to be baptized. Their hope in Him had removed the sin of Adam, and this applied even to children who did not yet have the use of their faculties of free will and intellect.
It has been stated that Circumcision in fact prepared the way for Baptism and the effects of Baptism for those who could not avail themselves of the ordinary means of Baptism by water. To illustrate this point we begin by citing the great St. Thomas Aquinas on this matter:
"We must say, therefore, that grace was bestowed in Circumcision as to all the effects of grace ... Circumcision bestowed grace, inasmuch as it was a sign of faith in Christ's future Passion: so that the man who was circumcised, professed to embrace that faith; whether, being an adult, he made profession for himself, or, being a child, someone else made profession for him. Hence, too, the Apostle says (Rom. 4:11), that Abraham "received the sign of Circumcision, a seal of the justice of the faith".
It is important to note that St. Thomas Aquinas, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church teach that someone else could make the profession of faith for the uncircumcised in the Old Testament or the unbaptized in the New Testament which justified the person for whom it was done. The effect of Baptismal Grace is the removal of original sin that we inherit from Adam, even in the case of a child that did not yet have the use of its intellect and free will to choose Circumcision for itself.
We have evidence of this in the Old Testament.
In Genesis 17:12-14 we read,
12: "An infant of eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations: he that is born in the house, as well as the bought servant shall be circumcised, and whosoever is not of your stock:"
13: "And my covenant shall be in your flesh for a perpetual covenant."
14: "The male, whose flesh of his foreskin shall not be circumcised, that soul shall be destroyed out of his people: because he hath broken my covenant."
Clearly, this eight day old male child did not have the use of its free will or its intellect to choose circumcision for itself. Yet, God held the "male child" guilty of breaking His covenant if the child was not circumcised within eight days. And it is important to note that God did not hold the parents of the child, or anyone else who stood in for the child, as guilty of breaking His covenant if circumcision of the child was not done within the allotted time. This presents a dilemma for the child because the child was not aware that it needed circumcision to obtain justification by means of the effects of grace. While some might consider God's demand of that child to be an unjust demand, it is not unjust at all when we properly understand this situation. Rather than being unjust, God's demand highlights the fact that God called someone other than the child who had faith in the expected Messiah to stand in place on behalf of the child, and it was their faith that justified the child for whom they stood in. This is scriptural evidence in the Old Testament that supports the position that those who are aborted do in fact have access to the beatific vision by means of those who stand in for them in the New Testament.
Furthermore, the Church definitively teaches that circumcision removed original sin in the Old Testament.
From Pope Innocent III declared as doctrine without the need of any council that circumcision removes original sin. in Denziger 410 and 411 we read:
410 - "Although original sin was remitted by the mystery of circumcision, and the danger of damnation was avoided, nevertheless there was no arriving at the kingdom of heaven, which up to the death of Christ was barred to all."
This also makes clear the circumcized not only had original sin which is the obstacle to the beatific vision, the circumcized also arrived at the kingdom of heaven which IS the beatific vision.
411 - "There are indeed three circumcisions. One is external only in the flesh, which is a sacrament. There are two others which are things and the virtue of a sacrament: the one which takes place in the present when the soul is circumcised by the laying aside of iniquity, the other which will take place in the future when through the laying aside of iniquity, the other which will take place in the future when through the laying aside of the corruption."
This is declartory teaching by a Pope.
Scholastics agreed with what Innocent III taught as well. St Augustine and St Gregory the Great also teach this. Those Fathers who may have held contrary view must become subject to the declarative teaching of Innocent III. From Moses to Christ, the various rituals and acts of the Old Covenant in addition to circumcision acted for remission (Passover, sacrifices, etc.). We see the same from St. Auggustine:
"The sacraments of the old law caused grace, only by means of faith in the Redeemer, of which they were signs." (St. Augustine, de Nupt. ii. chap. ult.[last chap.])
We also read:
"In this sense, the holy fathers assert, that circumcision remitted original sin to those who could receive it; though some think, it was only a bare sign or distinctive mark of the Jews. It is far beneath our baptism, which is more easy, general and efficacious; as the Christian sacraments are not like those of Moses, weak and needy elements. (Galatians iv. 9; St. Augustine ep. 158, ad Jan.; Psalm 73, &c.) (Worthington)
Let's look now at the "Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma" by Ludwig Ott.
1. The highest degree of certainty appertains to the immediately revealed truths. The belief due to them is based on the authority of God Revealing (fides divina), and if the Church, through its teaching, vouches for the fact it a truth is contained in Revelation, one's certainty is then also based on the authority of the Infallible Teaching Authority of the Church (fides catholica). If Truths are defined by a solemn judgment of faith (definition) of the Pope or of a General Council, they are "de fide definita."
2. Catholic truths or Church doctrines, on which the infallible Teaching Authority of the Church has finally decided, are to be accepted with a faith which is based on the sole authority of the Church (fides ecclesiastica). These truths are as infallibly certain as dogmas proper.
3. A Teaching proximate to Faith (sententia fidei proxima) is a doctrine, which is regarded by theologians generally as a truth of Revelation, but which has not yet been finally promulgated as such by the Church.
4. A Teaching pertaining to the Faith, i.e., theologically certain (sententia ad fidem pertinens, i.e., theologice certa) is a doctrine, on which the Teaching Authority of the Church has not yet finally pronounced, but whose truth is guaranteed by its intrinsic connection with the doctrine of revelation (theological conclusions).
5. Common Teaching (sententia communis) is doctrine, which in itself belongs to the field of free opinions, but which is accepted by theologians generally.
6. Theological opinions of lesser grades of certainty are called probable, more probable, well-founded (sententia probabilis, probabilior, bene fundata). Those which are regarded as being in agreement with the consciousness of Faith of the Church are called pious opinions (sententia pia). The least degree of certainty is possessed by the tolerated opinion (opinio tolerata), which is only weakly founded, but which is tolerated by the Church.
With regard to the doctrinal teaching of the Church it must be well noted that not all the assertions of the Teaching Authority of the Church on questions of Faith and morals are infallible and consequently irrevocable. Only those are infallible which emanate from General Councils representing the whole episcopate and the Papal Decisions Ex Cathedra (cf D 1839). The ordinary and usual form of the Papal teaching activity is not infallible. Further, the decisions of the Roman Congregations (Holy Office, Bible Commission) are not infallible.
Nevertheless normally they are to be accepted with an inner assent which is based on the high supernatural authority of the Holy See (assensus internus supernaturalis, assensus religiosus). The so-called "silentium obsequiosum," that is "reverent silence," does not generally suffice. By way of exception, the obligation of inner agreement may cease if a competent expert, after a renewed scientific investigation of all grounds, arrives at the positive conviction that the decision rests on an error.
Regarding what Ott had to say about this dogma of circumcision we read:
"The Old Testament Sacraments wrought, ex opere operato, not grace, but merely an external lawful purity. (Sent. certa.)
"As an objective confession of faith in the coming Redeemer, [circumcision] was for God the occasion of regularly bestowing the grace of sanctification." And he also says, "By awakening the consciousness of sinfulness and faith in the coming Redeemer, with the co-operation of actual grace in the recipient, they created a disposition favourable for the reception of sanctifying grace which God then conferred and thus these Sacraments brought about inner sanctification ex opere operantis."
As for females, I believe their sanctification came through the rites of worship and faith available straight from being cast out of the Garden. Circumcision and the other rites were more definite means of preparing the people for the coming Redeemer. The rites themselves were not effective, but did serve as motives for faith and grace (ex opere operantis).
Hugo of St. Victor and Bonaventure, Ambrose, Gregory, Bede, Aquinas, and Lombard taught the same.
Now let's go to a Council of the Church that teaches on this matter which shows circumcision was adequate to remove sin for the Old Testament but not for the New Testament.
Q. 1. What does the Catholic Church teach regarding circumcision? Should it be practiced?
A. 1. From the document, "Cantate Domino" (A.D. 1442), signed by Pope Eugene IV, from the 11th session of the Council of Florence (A.D. 1439, a continuation of the Council of Basle, A.D. 1431, and the Council of Ferrara, A.D. 1438), we learn the following:
[The Catholic Church] "firmly believes, professes and teaches that the legal prescriptions of the Old Testament or the Mosaic law, which are divided into ceremonies, holy sacrifices and sacraments, because they were instituted to signify something in the future, although they were adequate for the divine cult of that age, once our Lord Jesus Christ who was signified by them had come, came to an end and the sacraments of the new Testament had their beginning. Whoever, after the Passion, places his hope in the legal prescriptions and submits himself to them as necessary for salvation and as if faith in Christ without them could not save, sins mortally. It does not deny that from Christ's passion until the promulgation of the Gospel they could have been retained, provided they were in no way believed to be necessary for salvation. But it asserts that after the promulgation of the gospel they cannot be observed without loss of eternal salvation. Therefore it denounces all who after that time observe circumcision, the [Jewish] sabbath and other legal prescriptions as strangers to the faith of Christ and unable to share in eternal salvation, unless they recoil at some time from these errors. Therefore it strictly orders all who glory in the name of Christian, not to practice circumcision either before or after baptism, since whether or not they place their hope in it, it cannot possibly be observed without loss of eternal salvation."
Some Catholics to support their distortion of the aforementioned proclamation, state that the Catholic Church has condemned circumcision. In truth, the aforementioned proclamation of the Catholic Church was written in condemnation of those who continued to practice the Mosaic Law AFTER promulgation of the Gospel. Note the following parts of the Proclamation:
1. Identifies what is condemned: "the legal prescriptions of the Old Testament or the Mosaic law, which are divided into ceremonies, holy sacrifices and sacraments, because they were instituted to signify something in the future.."
2. Identifies when it came to an end: "came to an end and the sacraments of the new Testament had their beginning..."
3. Identifies the Jewish tradition: "Therefore it denounces all who after that time observe circumcision, the [Jewish] sabbath and other legal prescriptions as strangers to the faith of Christ..." (Not just circumcision alone, but other practices alongside of it.)
4. Condemns the association of the Jewish tradition with the Christian faith: "Therefore it strictly orders all who glory in the name of Christian, not to practice circumcision either before or after baptism, since whether or not they place their hope in it, it cannot possibly be observed without loss of eternal salvation."
In summary, no one is saved by the practice of circumcision. No Christian is saved by practicing the Mosaic Law. This truth is supported by passages that are found in the Holy Bible where it says, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love." [Gal. 5:6] "Was anyone at the time of h is call already circumcised? let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything." [1 Cor. 7:18-9]
Chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles tells us that when certain individuals came down from Judea, they were teaching the brothers, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.' [Acts 15:1] On that subject, the Church proclaimed: "Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles [regarding the necessity of circumcision] who are turning to God..." [Acts 15:19]
Let's look closer at the relationship between original sin and female children in the Old Testament? Are we to say that female children did not inherit original sin, or that original sin could not be removed from them because they were not circumcised? Of course they inherit original sin, and of course original sin could be removed from female children because they need redemption as much as male children. How then, was original sin removed from female children in the Old Testament? The answer is found in the relationship that existed between Adam and Eve, before the time of Abraham, before the time of Circumcision.
Consider first that Eve had no mother. This means it is impossible to argue that original sin was transmitted to Eve by the seed of Adam in the womb of Eve's mother because Eve had no mother. If original sin is only Adam's sin, and if its consequences are transmitted only through the seed of the man, it would be impossible for Eve to be guilty of original sin. In fact, it would be impossible for Eve to die, or to become ill, or to have pain in child-bearing because she was not conceived by Adam's seed. So then, if we fail to acknowledge that Eve was guilty of original sin by her choice to sin (without the seed of man being involved) we could only argue that Eve was exempted from original sin. But, in fact, Eve was not exempted from original sin and its effects because her sin is part of original sin even though we refer to original sin as the sin of Adam. Original sin is the sin of both Adam and Eve, and this means the sin which is passed through the seed of the man carries with it the stain of original sin and its respective consequences for male and female.
Therefore, just as the transmission of original sin was in play for both male and female children before the time of Circumcision, the removal of original sin was in play for both male and female children during the time of Circumcision, and even before the time of Circumcision, through the faith of the parent(s) on behalf of both male and female children.
And just as Baptism would do away with the distinction between male and female in the New Testament, the faith of the parents on behalf of their children would remove the sin of Adam from both male and female children in the Old Testament before and during the time of Circumcision.
Why Circumcision for the male only? Circumcision in the male child pointed to the covenant in Christ who would assume the human nature of a male in the Incarnation. And in the Incarnation, in like manner to Eve who had no earthly mother, there would be a child conceived in a woman that had no earthly father. And redemption brought about by this child who would not be conceived by the seed of a man would not be limited to male children who were circumcised, in fact, both male and female would be redeemed.
We see the Incarnation in Genesis 3:15 which tells us:
"I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel."
Here we see the "seed" of the woman. There is no seed of a man involved in the Incarnation. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ is conceived. He did not yet have flesh, Mary did, and it was her flesh that He would take to be the Son of Man. And this means that if Mary had not been preservatively redeemed, the time that lapsed between the time of the Incarnation itself to the time that He cleansed His own human nature from original sin, no matter how small the increment of time, original sin would have been introduced into the very Divine person of Jesus Christ for that period of time that lapsed while the cleansing took place. This would have been the case by virtue of the consubstantial union between that of the human nature of Jesus Christ with that of His Divine Person in which there is no passage of time from the first instant of the Incarnation. And this means that without preservative redemption in the case of Mary, original sin would have been introduced into the very Heart of the Trinity. And in this we see the necessity of preservative redemption for Mary in whom He would be conceived. Her flesh would not be touched so that His flesh would not need to be cleansed.
Therefore, the preservative redemption found in the Immaculate Conception of Mary is necessary for the consubstantial union that we all have in Jesus Christ so that original sin in which the rest of us are conceived can be removed. It is in the Immaculate Conception of Mary who was preservatively redeemed from original sin that we who are conceived in sin can stand in on behalf of a child conceived in original sin and preserve that child from dying with original sin on its soul before it is put to death in the womb.
We have seen how children in the womb, and for a certain period of time after birth, cannot yet exercise their faculties of intellect and will, and how this relates to the removal of original sin by one who stands in for the child. Clearly, in light of this, there is no difference between a child of the Old Testament and any child in the New Testament. In both cases these children do not yet have the ability to exercise their free will or use their intellect to choose circumcision or Baptism for themselves. And in both the Old and New Testament someone stands in for the faith of the child whereby the child enters into the Covenant of Justification and the sin of Adam, the obstacle to the beatific vision, is removed, one through Circumcision, the other through Baptism.
So then, entrance into the Covenant is required for both the Old and New Testament, the only thing that has changed is the manner by which we enter into the Covenant. Circumcision is no longer required because Baptism now takes its place.
In fact, from the time of Adam until the time that God required circumcision there was no required manner of entrance into the covenant except that of hope in the Messiah who would redeem mankind. A knife did not have to touch the flesh of a child because circumcision was not yet required, and that applied to both male and female children. Nor was there any time frame limiting a child as to when it could receive the benefit of the effects of grace from the faith and desire of the parents in its behalf. The hope and desire in the Messiah expressed by the parents on behalf of their child was already in place during pregnancy which brings the effects of grace into the womb to cleanse the child of original sin if that child were to die before it was born.
Do the Fathers of the Church support this? Yes. In one of the most important statements on the subject, St. Augustine (City of God, XIII.7) has the following to say of the catechumens who were killed by the pagan Romans before receiving Baptism:
"For whatever unbaptized persons die confessing Christ, this confession is of the same efficacy for the remission of sins as if they were washed in the sacred font of Baptism. For He Who said, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God," made also an exception in their favor, in that other sentence where He no less absolutely said, "Whosever shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven"; and in another place, "Whosoever will lose his life for my sake, shall find it."
And there is also St. Ambrose. When the Emperor Valentinian II, a catechumen. died before he would receive Baptism by water, during his funeral oration St. Ambrose said of him: "Did he not obtain the grace which he desired? Did he not obtain what he asked for? Certainly he obtained it because he asked for it."
With Saints Augustine and Ambrose we can say in behalf of those who will die in abortion: "Did they not receive that which we desired for them?".
Furthermore, the Church teaches that anyone can baptize in the New Testament, not only the parents, which means that anyone can stand in on behalf of a child and express the faith and desire for the Baptism of a child through the consubstantial union that we have with them in Jesus Christ, even for a child in the womb. And that is because the consubstantial union that we have with the unborn who are conceived in original sin begins at conception. In light of these facts we must now consider the Church itself which is the Sacrament of Salvation containing all of the Sacraments, including Baptism, and its members.
By virtue of being members of this Church we can stand in the place of a parent and desire that the effects of grace which come from the Sacrament of Baptism be applied to a child in the womb because the child in the womb is a person. This will remove original sin which is the obstacle to the beatific vision. In principle, this is no different than a person in the Old Testament who was not the biological parent of the child they brought for Circumcision. They were able to stand in for them at Circumcision, and in the consubstantial union that we have with the unborn in Jesus Christ, even though we are not the biological parent holding them in our hands, we can stand in for them. When the faithful petition God to apply the effects of grace which flow from Baptism to those who will be slaughtered in the womb, they are standing in for that child in the place of a parent who has turned away from their own child.
The aforesaid removes the distinction and the tension that existed over the centuries between Limbus Infantium (children's limbo) and Limbus Patrum (Limbo of the Fathers, the Bosom of Abraham) because the false distinction between the two regarding access to the beatific vision was predicated on the necessity of the child having to be circumcised or baptized in water, or that the child lacked the ability to choose or desire Circumcision or Baptism for itself. Children who died before they could be circumcised were waiting in the Limbo of the Just as eagerly for the beatific vision as those who were circumcised. And Christ brought them all into the beatific vision without exception. And this reality flows into the New Testament so that no one is detained in Limbo because the Gates of Heaven are now open providing access to the beatific vision.
This also offers hope to men who are in great distress over a decision to abort the child because very often they have no say over whether or not their child will live or die. They can stand in for their own child who is still in the womb and desire Baptism for their child.
Let us now consider this reflection in the light of the Council of Trent and St. Thomas Aquinas when speaking of the necessity of the Sacraments.
The Council of Trent teaches that Baptism is “necessary for salvation”, but there are those who would have us believe that is the only thing the Council said about Baptism.
We see the objection by those who say that the desire for Baptism is insufficient which St. Thomas addresses in the Summa Theologica. Their objection is as follows:
"The sacrament of Baptism is necessary for salvation. Now that is necessary “without which something cannot be” (Aristotle’s Metaphysics V). Therefore it seems that none can obtain salvation without Baptism."
St. Thomas Aquinas replies to their objection and states:
"The Sacrament of Baptism is said to be necessary for salvation in so far as there can be no salvation for man unless he at least have it in desire which, with God, counts for the deed." (Summa Theologica 3, 68, 2)
In light of this, when anyone stands in on behalf of a child and desires Baptism for that child, it counts for the deed of Baptism itself. In such a case, the sacrament that is “necessary for salvation” may be received unto salvation “actually or in desire”.
We see the same regarding the Sacrament of Penance when someone does not have the opportunity to confess. The effects of the Sacrament are received through the desire to confess.
From the Council of Trent we read:
“Whence it is to be taught, that the penitence of a Christian, after his fall, is very different from that at (his) baptism; and that therein are included not only a cessation from sins, and a detestation thereof, or, a contrite and humble heart, but also the sacramental confession of the said sins, at least in desire, [saltem in voto], and to be made in its season, and sacerdotal absolution and likewise satisfaction by fasts, alms, prayers, and the other pious exercises of a spiritual life; not indeed for the eternal punishment,- which is, together with the guilt, remitted, either by the sacrament, or by the desire of the sacrament, but for the temporal punishment, which, as the sacred writings teach, is not always wholly remitted, as is done in baptism.” (Denz 807)
And to confirm that one's desire to confess is attached to the Sacrament itself given the opportunity to confess, the Council of Trent teaches:
“The Synod teaches moreover, that, although it sometimes happen that this contrition is perfect through charity, and reconciles man with God before this Sacrament be actually received, the said reconciliation, nevertheless, is not to be ascribed to that contrition, independently of the desire of the Sacrament which is included therein.” (Denz. 898)
So then, in the desire to receive the Sacraments a person receives the "effects of grace" rather than grace itself, and this desire produces the same results as we have seen from the Council of Trent. But the Sacraments themselves are foundational for the "effects of grace" which flow from the Sacraments for those who have not yet received them.
From St. Thomas Aquinas we read:
“Moreover, the sacraments of grace are ordained in order that man may receive the infusion of grace, and before he receives them, either actually or in his desire, he does not receive grace. This is evident in the case of Baptism, and applies to penance likewise.” (Summa Theologica, Supplement 6, 1)
We see the same when it comes to the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. From the Council of Trent we read:
“Now as to the use of this holy Sacrament, the Fathers have rightly and wisely distinguished three ways of receiving it. For they have taught that some receive it sacramentally only, to wit sinners; others spiritually only, those to wit who eating in desire [voto] that heavenly bread which is set before them, are, by a lively faith which worketh by charity, made sensible of the fruit and usefulness thereof; whereas the third (class) receive it both sacramentally and spiritually, and these are they who so prove and prepare themselves beforehand, as to approach to this divine table clothed with the wedding garment.” (Denz. 881)
From St. Thomas Aquinas we read the same:
"In another way one may eat Christ spiritually, as He is under the sacramental species, inasmuch as a man believes in Christ, while desiring to receive this sacrament; and this is not merely to eat Christ spiritually, but likewise to eat this sacrament.” (Summa Theologica 3, 80, 2)
So then, from the Council of Trent we see the same regarding the desire for Baptism:
“And this translation [to the state of justification], since the promulgation of the Gospel, cannot be effected, without the laver of regeneration, at least in the desire thereof [aut eius voto], as it is written; “unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.”” (Denz. 796)
The same applies when someone stands in on behalf of a child who will be aborted.
Furthermore, when we think of 'Baptism' we think of the New Testament only. But we have evidence that the Apostles not only understood that 'Baptism' applied to the Old Testament in light of the consubstantial union that they had in Christ (and therefore with us), but the word 'Baptism' was actually used for the Old Testament.
In the 1st Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians Paul speaks about "Baptism in Moses", long before the entrance into the convenant by Baptism of Water. In verses 1 - 5 we read:
1: "For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea"
2: "And all in Moses were BAPTIZED, in the cloud, and in the sea".
3: "And did all eat the same spiritual food".
4: "And all drank the same spiritual drink; (and they drank of the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.)"
5: "But with most of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the desert."
These people of the Old Testament received the effects of grace by figuratively receiving Baptism when they passed under the cloud and went forth into the waters of the Red Sea. After passing through the waters they had been saved from the Egyptians. They also partook of eating the manna which was a prophetic precursor for the body and blood of Christ which He gives to us in the Last Supper. They also drank the miraculous water which came forth from the rock, and this is to be seen as a spiritual rock because it was a figure of Christ.
God does not limit the entrance into His covenant according to the ordinary means of circumcision and Baptism by water. The Old and the New Testament come together in Jesus Christ.
There is yet another consideration. The co-mingling of blood in the consubstantial union with Christ.
In the case of abortion there is yet another consideration. We often hear the term 'Baptism of Blood', but it is necessary to state more clearly what this means. The assertion that a baby is baptized in its own blood during an abortion would be an impossibility if we think of this in terms of a 'formula' such as that used in the sacrament of Baptism by water. Jesus Christ never gave such a formula that uses blood instead of water for Baptism. So, whence the term 'Baptism of blood'? When we speak of 'Baptism of blood' we speak of the blood which the child will shed during an abortion because the child's blood will mingle with the Blood of Christ through the consubstantial union that they have with Him when He shed His blood on the cross. Every instant of His life is consubstantially united to every instant of every person's life who has ever been conceived, and this means that the blood of aborted children is mingled with the blood that Christ shed on Calvary. So then, when we speak of 'Baptism in blood' we go more to 'martyrdom' rather than a visual of someone being baptized in blood. We must now consider how martyrdom applies to a child who is aborted.
When we consider the martyrdom of an unbaptized person who died for the faith we generally acknowledge that in such cases the person had the full use of their intellect and free will to make offer their sacrifice as a witness to faith in Christ. In such a case, a person who is martyred for the faith would receive the effects of grace that flow from Baptism of water, even though they have not come into contact with the 'waters of Baptism' (not the blood of Baptism). How then would martyrdom apply to an aborted baby who did not come into contact with the waters of Baptism, nor have the use of its intellect and free will to make such an offering?
The Church refers to the Holy Innocents of the Old Testament as martyrs, but they did not have the use of their intellect or will, nor did they know to offer themselves as martyrs. Why then, would they be counted among the martrys? One may argue that the children of abortion did not die in the place of Christ, but one can also argue that the Holy Innocents were not able use their reason or free will, nor did they know why they were dying in order to meet the conditions of being considered a martyr who knowingly and willingly gave their lives for Christ. Consider the following.
A person can be sought out by an unjust aggressor. In the process, the unjust agrgressor murders innocent perople who had nothing to do with the person who was being sought out, much like King Herod did when he sought out the Christ child. These innocent children died not knowing the 'why' of their death, or who they died for, so they would not be counted as someone who willingly died in place of the Christ. Some have suggested that in the case of the Holy Innocents, God, by a particular grace, raised their intellect in the moment of their death so they could offer their lives for Christ, but that we cannot know for certain. We don't have to consider that possibility in order to establish a basis for their martyrdom and that of children who are aborted.
We must now compare the consequence of sin to the opposition to grace. A child is innocent of personal sin which means there is no repentance necessary for a child that is aborted. It is here that we must consider two facts.
Fact one: The natural will of a child conceived in sin will not tend towards supernatural life and the beatific vision of God without grace, and a child conceived in original sin and has not been baptized is without grace.
Fact two: A child did not commit personal sin, why then should the child be deprived of the beatific vision when it is innocent of going against God? Even though no one has a 'right to the beatific vision of God', and even though the natural will of a child does not tend towards supernatural life because of original sin, we know that God wills all to be saved and that all who do not oppose his will and are repentant will obtain the beatific vision. But that implies a "knowing of his will" which is impossible in the case of a child in the womb who does not have the use of its free will or intellect.
So then, we have to acknowledge that the resolution to the tension that exists between these two facts is found in the merits which Christ obtained for us when He shed His blood on the cross which not only mingles with the blood of the child who dies in the womb, but the merits found in the shedding of His blood are applied to the child in the womb by means of those who stand in for the child and offer their death to the Lord as did the parents of the Holy Innocents.
Keep in mind that a child in the womb is innocent of personal sin, rejected and outcast in a culture of death. In this way the child is like Christ who died innocent and rejected among men as an outcast in the culture of death on a cross. The womb now becomes a mystical Golgatha where innocense mingles in the consubstantial union that these children have with Jesus Christ. We must now consider what it was that brought about this culture of death in order to see more clearly the martyrdom of children in the womb.
Abortion is not just about man killing man that constitutes the murder that it is. Satan was a murderer from the beginning. This began as a battle against the 'Seed of the Woman', Mary, and the seed of Satan which began in Genesis. Satan, and those evil spirits who followed him wish to kill those made in the image of God. In his attempt to kill those made in the Image of God, Satan is in violation of God's commandment that thou shalt not kill. Those who give themselves over to abortion have done the bidding of Satan in a war against the seed of the Woman, Mary, and against God by murdering those made in His Image.
Children who are aborted have been attacked by Satan because they are made in the image of God just as much as Satan used Herod to attack Christ in the Holy Innocents which he felt threatened his kingdom. Christ had consubstantial union with the Holy Innocents in their death and so too with aborted children. And a person who is killed directly by a demon or through his agents because they are made in the Image of God and the object of redemption is a martyr in the consubstantial union that they share with Christ in His death. To despise a person because of their faith in Christ, or to kill someone just because they are made in the Image of God, cannot be separated from the attack of Satan and his minions which began in Eden when he convinced our first parents to abort all of humanity. Satan targeted every single one of us when he waged war against the Seed of The Woman. We who were aborted by our first parents but redeeemed by Christ are like those who continue to be aborted. They are the targets, as were we, in a culture of spiritual and physical death which began in Eden. So then, we can say that a child who dies in abortion dies a martyr at the hands of a culture of death, and their death stands as a judgment on the conscience of those who murder them. Their death stands as a witness to those who violate the commandment of God that says we are not to kill. Nevertheless, for those who repent of such a crime, the Mercy of God is there for them just as much as it is for anyone else. We are all 'prodigal children'.
In virtue of the personal innocence of Jesus Christ which He shares with the personal innocence of those in the womb who will be aborted, we who share a consubstantial union with them in the mystical body of Christ, by desiring that these innocent children receive the effects of grace which come from Baptism, we conquer Satan's attempt to frustrate the will of God which is to deprive each soul of the beatific vision.
In the case of the Holy Innocents, their parents would have raised them up in life to seek the expected Messiah, but their temporal desire, not faith, was thwarted by Herod's sword. Their desire for their children is what saved them and stood in for them as they offered up the deaths of their children as martyrs even though they did not know in advance why their child would die. The children of abortion die with Christ through the faith of those who stand in for them, like the parents of the Holy Innocents, and we, the faithful, offer them up to the Lord as martyrs, just like the parents of the Holy Innocents. If the Lord accepts the faith and desire of those who stand in for a child regarding the effects of grace in the matter of Circumcision and Baptism, and He does, why would He not accept the offering of those who intercede for the unborn to offer up their slaughter as martyrs, as ones who died at the instigation of Satan who sought to kill them because they are made in the Image of God?
The Church, as the Sacrament of Salvation itself, is united to children who die in abortion as a parent who stands in for them and offers their slaughter in advance of their death to be a martyr for the Lord Himself. It is this adoption by the Church, this offering of the child to the Lord in this terrible time of need, that the Church holds them close to her heart as the most innocent and helpless of martyrs like we see in Jeremiah (31: 15):
“A cry was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation: Rachel bewailing her children; no comfort for her, since they are no more.”
The Lord Himself said that He will not leave us orphans. Why should we not expect Him to gather these innocents in such a way as to give them glories in the beatific vision that are beyond what eye has seen or ear has heard!
The world is sprinkled with the blood of little crosses which is soaking this earth and which calls out to heaven for vengeance. Nevertheless, where man turns the womb into a tomb, the Church turns the tomb into a place of resurrection.
We must now, in our day, turn the expression "they are no more" into a cry from the roof tops in behalf of these children that says "I am not lost, I am still here, I am in the Beatific Vision". They are still with us in the Lord, and the parents who aborted their child can call out in the same words of their child and say "I am not lost, I am sorry for what I have done", and they will then find themselves joined in purpose with their child.
God wills that all men be saved in spite of the fact that the evil one seeks the destruction of children made in the image of God, but the Church sees those who take the lives of children in the womb in the same way it sees those who took the lives of the Holy Innocents. It is barbarism which acts out of selfishness and fear and overt pressures in a culture of death.
The mercy of God is available to all people without exception so there is absolutely no need to fear God or for parents to fear approaching the children they aborted to pray with them. These children long for a prayerful union with their parents and family.
One can never do evil in the moral order that good comes out of it.
To the wretched of heart and mind who would think that they do their baby a favor by having an abortion so that the child may go to the beatific vision, they do an unspeakable evil that calls to heaven for God's wrath upon them. To the wretched who are presumptuous enough to think that they can go ahead and abort their child and that God will forgive them later, their false and presumptuous contrition does not meet the standard of true contrition. Their evil deed will never undue what is murder. The Lord could require the very life of such a presumptuous mother during the abortion procedure in which she kills her own child.
Furthermore, in Revelations 6: 9-11, we see the martyred saints in heaven cry out in a loud voice to God to avenge their blood on the presumptuous and impenitent who dwell upon the earth. The aborted children who are now in heaven will call upon God to avenge their blood on the wicked who do not repent of the holocaust of abortion. The death of these children is the greatest of all holocausts and it is a cry that is screaming to heaven for God's vengeance. When the world must face the Justice of God for this great evil no army will be able to stand against these children who will march against this world with the vengeance of God as their armour and strength.
And there are the Pharisees who think that women would be encouraged to have an abortion if they know that their child will enter into the beatific vision. To follow their line of reasoning they may as well argue that the Church should do away with the Sacrament of Confession because knowing that we can turn to the Sacrament of Confession when we sin, the Sacrament itself entices us to commit mortal sin, therefore let us sin to the full.
For those who will not avail themselves of God's mercy and who continue to push the child they aborted out of their life, they must not forget that Christ said:
“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)
Who is more innocent and deserving of these words in the Kingdom of God than an unborn child in the womb!
And for those who would never consider having an abortion we can thank God, but they must not be tempted to consider this reflection as an excuse to put off baptizing their child after birth. The obligation of the parent is to work within the framework of the ordinary manner of Baptism by water as required by Jesus Christ Himself, and as He teaches through His church. Adults cannot put off baptizing their child thinking that God will remit original sin at a later time. In fact, parents who put off Baptism of their child after birth without a valid reason risk much because they fail in their obligation to live out the precepts of the Church and could endanger their own souls. This is one of the reasons why the Church has always recommended that the parents have their child baptized as soon as possible after birth.
In conclusion, we recognize and honor groups of people such as those who died in the holocaust. We speak of Angels in categorical terms according to groups or as choirs of Angels, we acknowledge a category of people who are saved but are yet in purgatory, and we must yet acknowledge another category of people without hesitation. When we think of the victims of abortion as a category of innocent people, how much more will mercy flow from their intercession as a group of people if we recognize them as advocates in our lives. In all of this we see yet again the mercy of God giving life where man brought about death. It is better that this world meets the Mercy of God before it meets His Justice.
In the hope that parents who have aborted their children will embrace the Mercy of God and enter into a prayerful and loving relationship with their child who is with God acting as advocates in their behalf, we implore their intercession towards this end. And we implore the advocacy and intercession of these countless children who have been aborted for the sake of their family members and all those who have participated in abortion in any manner, that they too unite with these children in prayer that they may find peace in the Mercy of God and become workers for the cause of life. May God grant this through their intercession. Beseeching the intercession of these holy souls for the salvation of all souls, surely their voices will be heard by those who honor these innocent ones who dwell in the beatific vision of God.
In the Lord in the company of those with Him in Heaven,
Copyright © 2009 Roger LeBlanc All Rights Reserved Permission to use the above reflection "Aborted Children and the Beatific Vision" in any manner in whole or in part must be granted in writing by Roger LeBlanc. If you would like to email Mr. LeBlanc click HERE.
Supporting Scriptural Evidence for the consubstantial union that Jesus Christ has with every person through the incarnation. This union opens the door for subsidiary intercession among the communion of the faithful at any time in history. This intercession is applicable in behalf of those who will be aborted and for stillborn children. This is by no means an exhaustive examination and explanation of supportive Scripture:
* Genesis 20:17 - God hears Abraham's intercession and heals Abimelech along with his wife and slaves.
* Genesis 27:2 - If we bless each other our blessing will return to us.
* Exodus 32:11-14, 30-34; 34:9 - God will hear our intercessions for each other.
* Numbers 24:9 - We are to bless each other which blessing returns to us.
* Numbers 14:17-20; 21:7-9 - We see many times where God responds to the intercession of Moses.
* 1st Samuel. 12:23 - Samuel tells us that he would be sinning against God if he didn't continue to intercede for the people of Israel.
* 2nd Chronicles 30:27 - We see that the prayers of the Priests and Levites came before God's holy dwelling place in heaven and were answered.
* Tobit 12:12,15 - We see that the angels place Tobit and Sarah's prayers before the Holy One. In this we see that angels are co-intercessors as well.
* 2nd Machabees 15:12-16 – We see the High Priest Onias with the prophet Jeremiah, deceased for centuries, and yet interact with the living to pray for the holy people on earth.
* Job 42:7-9 - We see that Job interceded and prayed for three of his friends who were in sin and God listened to Job as a result of his prayers.
* Psalms 35:1; 59:1-17; 139:19, in ; 15:15; 18:19; - We can pray for each other. * Psalm 141:2 - David himself asked God that his prayer be heard by him and that it be counted as incense that rose up to God.
* Proverbs 15:8, 29 - We see the prayers of the just effect on others. This is why we seek the prayers of both the saints in heaven and those on earth who petition the Lord for others.
* Isaiah 6:6-7 - an angel touches Isaiah's lips and declares that his sin is forgiven. The angel is a subordinate mediator of God who effects the forgiveness of sins on God’s behalf.
* Jeremiah 7:16 - We see that if the people had not been so hard of heart God would have acknowledged their ability to intercede.
* Jeremiah 11:20 - The saints in heaven pray for those on earth.
* Jeremiah 15:1 – We see that God acknowledges the intercessory prayer and power of Moses and Samuel.
* Jeremiah 37:3 - We see that King Zedekiah sends out messengers to ask Jeremiah to intercede for the people by praying for them.
* Jeremiah 42:1-6 - The people of Israel beseech Jeremiah to intercede for them by praying to the Lord for them.
* Baruch 3:4 - We see that Baruch asks the Lord to hear the prayers of the dead of Israel. They too can intercede on behalf of the people of God.
* Daniel 9:20-23 - We see that Daniel intercedes on behalf of the people of Israel and that he confesses his own sin and the sins of the people to God.
* Zechariah 1:12-13 - The Lord listens to the intercession of Creatures.
* Matthew 5:44-45 - We are to pray for each other as commanded by Christ. This is co-intercession for others that Christ requires of us. And since He requires this prayer it cannot be considered an attack on His role as the sole mediator and intercessor between God the Father and man.
* Matthew 17:3; Mark 9:4 and Luke 9:30 - Those who have died are not cut off from the faithful.
* Matthew 22:32; Mark 12:27 and Luke 20:38 - God is the God of the living not the dead. Those alive in heaven and on earth are one family.
* Matthew 17:1-3; Mark 9:4 and Luke 9:30-31 – This is evidence we are not cut off from the deceased. Their desire as the Church Triumphant is not cut off from the Church Militant or the Church Suffering.
* Matthew 26:53 – The Lord could have called upon Legions of Angels in His defense. In Matthew 22:30 Jesus said that we will be “like angels in heaven.” This means those in heaven, saints and angels, assist those of us on earth.
* Matthew 27:47,49 and Mark 15:35-36 – Those of the Old Testament were aware that they could call upon others for intercession. The Rabbis thought they heard Jesus call upon Elijah for his intercession, and waited to see if Elijah would come to save Jesus on the cross.
* Matthew 27:52-53 - When Christ rose from the dead there were those who had died that resurrected after Him and appeared to the faithful. They even went into the city, and we can presume that in like manner with Christ they interacted with the faithful.
* Mark 16:20 - We see again the Lord "worked with them" ("sunergountos").
* Mark 11:24 - The Lord Himself says that we are to be intercessors for each other when He tells us that whatever we ask in prayer, we will receive it. The faithful can stand in for the unborn who will be aborted and offer to stand for them in place of their parents who turn from their children.
* John 15:1-6 - Jesus is the vine and we are the branches which remain united to those in heaven.
* Romans 8:28 - Again, God "works for good with". The Greek is "sunergei eis agathon" which is for those who love Him. We are subordinate mediators who go to Christ in behalf of others. He joins our prayers and petitions to Himself through His own transcendent power.
* Romans 8:35-39 - The union we have with each other is not cut off in death.
* Romans 12:5 - We are members of the one body of Christ through the Holy Eucharist.
* Romans 15:30 - The Apostle Paul petitions the family of God to pray for him.
* 1st Corinthians 3:9 - We are called by God to be fellow workers in the body of Christ. The phrase used to describe "fellow workers" is "sunergoi," which means synergists. This means we are those who cooperate with God in the salvation of others. Surely God does not "need" fellow workers, but He wants us to share in this work which is an act of charity.
* 1st Corinthians 12:12,27 - We are members of the one body of Christ through the Holy Eucharist.
* 1 Corinthians 12:26 - When one member suffers, all suffer, and that includes the unborn in the womb who are slaughtered in abortion. Just as when "one" is honored, all rejoice, any "one" from among the "all" can stand in for a child who will be aborted. Just as "all" suffer when "one" suffers, "one" can offer for another member who cannot offer for themselves.
* 2nd Corinthians 1:11 - The more the family of God prays as a family the more effective will the prayer be.
* 2nd Corinthians 6:1 - Again, we see "working together", which in Greek is "sunergountes", with him.
* Galatians 6:2,10 - St. Paul tells us that we are to bear one another's burdens and to do good to others without exception.
* Ephesians 1:22-23 - We are one body in Christ.
* Ephesians 3:14-15 - Those in heaven and on earth are united as children of the Father through Jesus Christ.
* Ephesians 5:23-30 - We are one body in Christ.
* Ephesians 6:18 - St. Paul commands the faithful to pray for each other as one in the Family of God.
* Ephesians 6:19 - St. Paul asks the Ephesians to pray for him. This is evidence we are to be co-mediators with Christ in our prayers for others.
* Philippians 1:19 - St. Paul readily acknowledges the fruit and power of the intercession of the Philippians. He is delivered by their prayers and the Holy Spirit.
* Colossians 1:3 - St. Paul tells us that he and the elders are praying for the Colossians. This would be impossible if St. Paul did not consider himself to be a co-mediator in the body of Christ.
* Colossians 1:9 - St. Paul tells us that both he and the elders have not ceased to pray for the Colossians, and that through this intercession that they gain wisdom. * Colossians 1:18 - Christ is the head of the body.
* Colossians 1:24 - We make up for what is lacking in the passion of Christ as subsidiary intercessors.
* Colossians 3:15 - We are members of the one body of Christ through the Holy Eucharist.
* Colossians 4:4 - St. Paul tells the Colossians to pray for the elders of the Church in their work that God may open doors for the Word of God to be heard. If God did not expect us to be subordinate mediators with Christ St. Paul would not have called us to this. He would have left all of this up to God and never said a word about co-mediation.
* 1st Thessalonians 5:11 - St. Paul tells us to encourage one another and build one another up in the body of Christ.
* 2nd Thessalonians 1:11 - St. Paul tells the family of God that he prays for them once again.
* 2nd Thessalonians 3:1 - St. Paul asks the Thessalonians to pray for the deliverance of Him, Silvanus and Timothy.
* 1st Timothy 2:1-3 - "I desire therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men..." - Children in the womb are persons who are counted among all men and we can stand in for as them as intercessors that they receive the effects of grace by means of the desire of the one who stands in for them.
* 1st Timothy 2:3 - Our intercession for each other in Christ is good and pleasing to God.
* 1st Timothy 2:5 - In the one mediator between God and man, in Christ we become co-mediators with Him to the Father in His mediation.
* 1st Timothy 2:5-6 - As intercessors for each other in Christ, He is glorified.
* 2nd Timothy 1:3 – St. Paul tells the faithful “I remember you constantly in my prayers.” This is co-mediation and co-intercession.
* Hebrews 1:14 – the author writes, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?”
* James 5:16 - We see the prayers of the saints, sometimes referred to as the righteous, which includes those who are in heaven, produce results and have powerful effects on others. This is why we seek the prayers of both the saints in heaven and those on earth who petition the Lord for others.
* 1st Peter 2:9 and Revelations 20:6 - We are members of the Royal Family of priests by virtue of Baptism. And as members of the Royal Priesthood we can intercede in behalf of each other.
* 1st Peter 2:5 - The Royal Priesthood consists of its members which are to offer spiritual sacrifices to God. In this we participate in Christ's work of redemption.
* 2nd Peter 1:4 - The Most Holy Trinity is the eternal family. As adopted children of God we are partakers of His divine nature as a united family through the consubstantial union that we have with each other in Jesus Christ.
* 1st John 5:14-15 - St. John tells us that God will grant us anything we ask of God according to His will.
* 1st John 5:16-17 - St. John tells us that our prayers for others will bring life to others and to help them in resisting sin.
* 3rd John 2 - St. John intercedes by praying for the health of Gaius. The life of the soul is more than that of the body. How much more beneficial that the original sin of Adam be removed in those who will die in abortion.
* Revelations 1:6, 5:10 - In Christ we are a Kingdom of Priests interceding through Christ on behalf of God's people which include the unborn in the womb for whom we stand in for in their behalf that the effects of grace be applied to them.
* Revelations 6:9-11 – We see the martyred saints in heaven cry out in a loud voice to God to avenge their blood “on those who dwell upon the earth” who are impenitent in their wickedness. For those who do not repent of the holocaust of abortion of which they are part these children will call upon God to avenge their wickedness. These imprecatory prayers are a petition for God’s judgment upon the wicked.
* Revelations 8:3-4 – In heaven we see the angel mingle incense with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne of God. The smoke of incense rises with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God. These prayers “rise up” before God and effect what takes place on earth. The children of God who are in heaven and on earth are heard by God.
Copyright © 2009 Roger LeBlanc All Rights Reserved
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What follows is taken from "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized" report by the International Theological Commission - January 19, 2007. It was approved in forma specifica by the members of the commission and was subsequently submitted to its president, Cardinal William Levada, who upon receiving the approval of the Holy Father in an audience granted on Jan. 19, 2007, approved the text for publication.
This commentary was issued coincident with the promulgation of "Ad tuendam fidem" by Pope John Paul II, modifying the Oriental and Latin codes of canon law approved by the Catholic Church.
It will cover the entire history that deals with the question of "Limbo" and it will explain the reasons for apparent tensions, misunderstandings, and failures to understand this topic over the centuries.
The salvation of non-batpized children is the work of Christ.
The Church is mindful of the weakest members of the human family who are not yet able to use their reason and freedom to choose God on their own before their life bodily life was taken from them. But we must be mindful that all men and women will be resurrected at the end of the world and will be reunited to their body. This is true for those who have been aborted as well.
They do not deserve punishment.
The children of abortion are not subjected to any punishment because they are not guilty of any personal sin. Though for many centuries the Church never pronounced anything dogmatically regarding "limbo" the Church did address this issue in its official teaching in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992). It teaches that infants who die without baptism are entrusted by the Church to the mercy of God, as is shown in the specific funeral rite for such children. The principle that God desires the salvation of all people gives rise to the hope that there is a path to salvation for infants who die without baptism (cf. CCC, 1261), and therefore also to the theological desire to find a coherent and logical connection between the diverse affirmations of the Catholic faith: the universal salvific will of God; the unicity of the mediation of Christ; the necessity of baptism for salvation; the universal action of grace in relation to the sacraments; the link between original sin and the deprivation of the beatific vision; the creation of man “in Christ”.
The Church has provided clarification on the many issues regarding salvation and those who have not been baptized.
As stated, the Catholic Church teaches that non-baptized children do not go to hell, and since, in the end, there is only heaven and hell we must conclude that these children are in heaven which technically means they are saved and are happy in heaven. The conclusion of this study is that there are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may see God face to face in eternal happiness, even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in Revelation. However, none of the considerations proposed in what follows to motivate a new approach to the question may be used to negate the necessity of baptism, nor to delay the conferral of the sacrament. Rather, there are reasons to hope that God will birng these infants into the face to face beatific vision precisely because it was not possible to do for them that what would have been most desirable— to baptize them in the faith of the Church and incorporate them visibly into the Body of Christ.
The treatment of this theme must be placed within the historical development of the faith. According to "Dei Verbum 8", the factors that contribute to this development are the reflection and the study of the faithful, the experience of spiritual things, and the teaching of the Magisterium. When the question of infants who die without baptism was first taken up in the history of Christian thought, it is possible that the doctrinal nature of the question or its implications were not fully understood. Only when seen in light of the historical development of theology over the course of time until Vatican II does this specific question find its proper context within Catholic doctrine. Only in this way - and observing the principle of the hierarchy of truths mentioned in the Decree of the Second Vatican Council "Unitatis redintegratio (#11)" – the topic can be reconsidered explicitly under the global horizon of the faith of the Church. This Document, from the point of view of speculative theology as well as from the practical and pastoral perspective, constitutes for a useful and timely mean for deepening our understanding this problem, which is not only a matter of doctrine, but also of pastoral priority in the modern era.
St. Peter tells us to be always ready to give an account of the hope that is in them (cf. 1 Pet 3:15-16).
Since we know the Church teaches that unbaptized infants do not suffer damnation this document deals with the hope that Christians can have for the salvation in the beatific vision of unbaptised infants who die. It indicates how such a hope has developed in recent decades and what its grounds are, so as to enable an account of that hope to be given. Though at first sight this topic may seem to be peripheral to theological concerns, questions of great depth and complexity are involved in its proper explication, and such an explication is called for today by pressing pastoral needs.
Culural Relativism and Religious Pluralism has brought about a need to explain the Church's position in more depth.
In these times, the number of infants who die unbaptised is growing greatly. This is partly because of parents, influenced by cultural relativism and religious pluralism, who are non-practising, but it is also partly a consequence of in vitro fertilisation and abortion. Given these developments, the question of the destiny of such infants is raised with new urgency. In such a situation, the ways by which salvation may be achieved appear ever more complex and problematic. The Church, faithful guardian of the way of salvation, knows that salvation can be achieved only in Christ, by the Holy Spirit. Yet, as mother and teacher, she cannot fail to reflect on the destiny of all human beings, created in the image of God, and especially of the weakest. Being endowed with reason, conscience and freedom, adults are responsible for their own destiny in so far as they accept or reject God’s grace. Infants, however, who do not yet have the use of reason, conscience and freedom, cannot decide for themselves. Parents experience great grief and feelings of guilt when they do not have the moral assurance of the salvation of their children, and people find it increasingly difficult to accept that God is just and merciful if he excludes infants, who have no personal sins, from eternal happiness, whether they are Christian or non-Christian. From a theological point of view, the development of a theology of hope and an ecclesiology of communion, together with a recognition of the greatness of divine mercy, challenge an unduly restrictive view of salvation. In fact, the universal salvific will of God and the correspondingly universal mediation of Christ mean that all theological notions that ultimately call into question the very omnipotence of God, and his mercy in particular, are inadequate.
The idea of Limbo.
The idea of Limbo, which the Church has used for many centuries to designate the destiny of infants who die without Baptism, has no clear foundation in revelation, even though it has long been used in traditional theological teaching. Moreover, the notion that infants who die without Baptism are deprived of the beatific vision, which has for so long been regarded as the common doctrine of the Church, gives rise to numerous pastoral problems, so much so that many pastors of souls have asked for a deeper reflection on the ways of salvation. The necessary reconsideration of the theological issues cannot ignore the tragic consequences of original sin. Original sin implies a state of separation from Christ, and that excludes the possibility of the vision of God for those who die in that state.
Reflection on the destiny of children who die without Baptism.
Reflecting on the question of the destiny of infants who die without Baptism, the ecclesial community must keep in mind the fact that God is more properly the subject than the object of theology. The first task of theology is therefore to listen to the Word of God. Theology listens to the Word of God expressed in the Scriptures in order to communicate it lovingly to all people. However, with regard to the salvation of those who die without Baptism, the Word of God says little or nothing. It is therefore necessary to interpret the reticence of Scripture on this issue in the light of texts concerning the universal plan of salvation and the ways of salvation. In short, the problem both for theology and for pastoral care is how to safeguard and reconcile two sets of biblical affirmations: those concerning God’s universal salvific will (cf. 1 Tim 2:4) and those regarding the necessity of Baptism as the way of being freed from sin and conformed to Christ (cf. Mk 16:16; Mt 28:18-19).
The Law of Prayer and the Law of Belief (lex orandi lex credendi).
Secondly, taking account of the principle lex orandi lex credendi, the Christian community notes that there is no mention of Limbo in the liturgy. In fact, the liturgy contains a feast of the Holy Innocents, who are venerated as martyrs, even though they were not baptised, because they were killed “on account of Christ”. There has even been an important liturgical development through the introduction of funerals for infants who died without Baptism. We do not pray for those who are damned. The Roman Missal of 1970 introduced a Funeral Mass for unbaptised infants whose parents intended to present them for Baptism. The Church entrusts to God’s mercy those infants who die unbaptised. In its 1980 Instruction on Children’s Baptism, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirmed that: “with regard to children who die without having received Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as indeed she does in the funeral rite established for them”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) adds that: “the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved [1Tim 2:4], and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them’ (Mk 10:14), allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism”.
The Church Encourages hope for salvation and the Beatific Vision for infants who die without baptism.
Thirdly, the Church cannot fail to encourage the hope of salvation for infants who die without Baptism by the very fact that she “prays that no one should be lost”, and prays in hope for “all to be saved”. On the basis of an anthropology of solidarity, strengthened by an ecclesial understanding of corporate personality, the Church knows the help that can be given by the faith of believers. The Gospel of Mark actually describes an occasion when the faith of some was effective for the salvation of another (cf. Mk 2:5). So, while knowing that the normal way to achieve salvation in Christ is by Baptism in re, the Church hopes that there may be other ways to achieve the same end. Because, by his Incarnation, the Son of God “in a certain way united himself” with every human being, and because Christ died for all and all are in fact “called to one and the same destiny, which is divine”, the Church believes that “the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery” (GS 22).
Finally, when reflecting theologically on the salvation of infants who die without Baptism, the Church respects the hierarchy of truths and therefore begins by clearly reaffirming the primacy of Christ and his grace, which has priority over Adam and sin. Jesus Christ, in his existence for us and in the redemptive power of his sacrifice, died and rose again for all. By his whole life and teaching, he revealed the fatherhood of God and his universal love. While the necessity of Baptism is de fide, the tradition and the documents of the magisterium which have reaffirmed this necessity need to be interpreted. While it is true that the universal salvific will of God is not opposed to the necessity of Baptism, it is also true that infants, for their part, do not place any personal obstacle in the way of redemptive grace. On the other hand, Baptism is administered to infants, who are free from personal sins, not only in order to free them from original sin, but also to insert them into the communion of salvation which is the Church, by means of communion in the death and resurrection of Christ (cf. Rom 6:1-7). Grace is totally free, because it is always a pure gift of God. Damnation, however, is deserved, because it is the consequence of free human choice. The infant who dies with Baptism is saved by the grace of Christ and through the intercession of the Church, even without his or her cooperation. It can be asked whether the infant who dies without Baptism, but for whom the Church in its prayer expresses the desire for salvation, can be deprived of the vision of God even without his or her cooperation.
1. Historia Quaestionis (History and Hermeneutics of Catholic Teaching).
1.1 Biblical Foundations.
A sound theological enquiry should start with a study of the biblical foundations of any ecclesial doctrine or practice. Hence, as regards the issue under discussion, the question should be asked whether the Holy Scriptures deal in one way or another with the question of the destiny of unbaptised children. Even a quick look through the New Testament, however, makes it clear that the early Christian communities were not yet confronted with the question whether infants or children who had died without Baptism would receive God’s salvation. When the New Testament mentions the practice of Baptism, it generally points to the Baptism of adults. But the New Testament evidence does not preclude the possibility of infants being baptised. In households (oikos) where Baptism is mentioned in the Book of Acts 16:15 and 33 (cf. 18:8) and 1 Cor 1:16, children may have been baptised along with adults. The absence of positive evidence may be explained by the fact that the New Testament writings are concerned mainly with the initial spread of Christianity in the world.
No specific teaching on the matter in the New Testament.
The lack of any positive teaching within the New Testament with respect to the destiny of unbaptised children does not mean that the theological discussion of this question is not informed by a number of fundamental biblical doctrines. These include:
(i) God wills to save all people (cf. Gen 3:15; 22:18; 1 Tim 2:3-6), through Jesus Christ’s victory over sin and death (cf. Eph 1:20-22; Phil 2:7-11; Rom 14:9; 1 Cor 15:20-28);
(ii) the universal sinfulness of human beings (cf. Gen 6:5-6; 8:21; 1 Kings 8:46; Ps 130:3), and their being born in sin (cf. Ps 51:7; Sir 25:24) since Adam, and therefore their being destined to death (cf. Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:22);
(iii) the necessity, for salvation, of the faith of the believer (cf. Rom 1:16), on the one hand, and of Baptism (cf. Mk 16:16; Mt 28:19; Acts 2:40-41; 16:30-33) and the Eucharist (cf. Jn 6:53) administered by the Church, on the other hand;
(iv) Christian hope goes utterly beyond human hope (cf. Rom 4:18-21); Christian hope is that the living God, the Saviour of all humanity (cf. 1 Tim 4:10) will share his glory with all people and that all will live with Christ (cf. 1 Thess 5:9-11; Rom 8:2-5.23-25), and Christians must be ready to give an account of the hope they have (cf. 1 Pet 3:15);
(v) the Church must make “supplications, prayers and intercessions … for all” (1 Tim 2:1-8), based on faith that for God’s creative power “nothing is impossible” (Job 42:2; Mk 10:27; 12:24.27; Lk 1:37), and on the hope that the whole creation will finally share in the glory of God (cf. Rom 8:22-27).
Is there a tension between two biblical doctrines?
There seems to be a tension between two of the biblical doctrines just mentioned: the universal salvific will of God on the one side, and the necessity of sacramental Baptism on the other. The latter seems to limit the extension of God’s universal salvific will. Hence a hermeneutical reflection is needed about how the witnesses of tradition (Church Fathers, the magisterium, theologians) read and used biblical texts and doctrines with respect to the problem being dealt with. More specifically, one has to clarify what kind of ‘necessity’ is claimed with respect to the sacrament of Baptism in order to avoid a mistaken understanding. The necessity of sacramental Baptism is a necessity of the second order compared to the absolute necessity of God’s saving act through Jesus Christ for the final salvation of every human being. Sacramental Baptism is necessary because it is the ordinary means through which a person shares the beneficial effects of Jesus’ death and resurrection. In what follows, we will be attentive to the way scriptural witnesses have been used in the tradition. Moreover, in dealing with theological principles (Chapter 2) and with our reasons for hope (Chapter 3), we will discuss in greater detail the biblical doctrines and texts involved.
1.2. The Greek Fathers.
Very few Greek Fathers dealt with the destiny of infants who die without Baptism because there was no controversy about this issue in the East. Furthermore, they had a different view of the present condition of humanity. For the Greek Fathers, as the consequence of Adam's sin, human beings inherited corruption, possibility, and mortality, from which they could be restored by a process of deification made possible through the redemptive work of Christ. The idea of an inheritance of sin or guilt - common in Western tradition - was foreign to this perspective, since in their view sin could only be a free, personal act. Hence, not many Greek Fathers explicitly deal with the problem of the salvation of unbaptised children. They do, however, discuss the status or situation - but not the place - of these infants after their death. In this regard, the main problem they face is the tension between God’s universal salvific will and the teaching of the Gospel about the necessity of Baptism. Pseudo-Athanasios says clearly that an unbaptised person cannot enter the Kingdom of God. He also asserts that unbaptised children will not enter the Kingdom, but neither will they be lost, for they have not sinned. Anastasius of Sinai expresses this even more clearly: for him, unbaptised children do not go to Gehenna. But he is not able to say more; he does not express an opinion about where they do go, but leaves their destiny to God’s judgment.
Gregory of Nyssa.
Alone among the Greek Fathers, Gregory of Nyssa wrote a work specifically on the destiny of infants who die, De infantibus praemature abreptis libellum. The anguish of the Church appears in the questions he puts to himself: the destiny of these infants is a mystery, “something much greater than the human mind can grasp”. He expresses his opinion in relation to virtue and its reward; in his view, there is no reason for God to grant what is hoped for as a reward. Virtue is not worth anything if those who depart this life prematurely without having practised virtue are immediately welcomed into blessedness. Continuing along this line, Gregory asks: “What will happen to the one who finishes his life at a tender age, who has done nothing, bad or good? Is he worthy of a reward?” He answers: “The hoped-for blessedness belongs to human beings by nature, and it is called a reward only in a certain sense”. Enjoyment of true life (zoe and not bios) corresponds to human nature, and is possessed in the degree that virtue is practised. Since the innocent infant does not need purification from personal sins, he shares in this life corresponding to his nature in a sort of regular progress, according to his capacity. Gregory of Nyssa distinguishes between the destiny of infants and that of adults who lived a virtuous life. “The premature death of newborn infants does not provide a basis for the presupposition that they will suffer torments or that they will be in the same state as those who have been purified in this life by all the virtues”. Finally, he offers this perspective for the reflection of the Church: “Apostolic contemplation fortifies our inquiry, for the One who has done everything well, with wisdom (Psalm 104: 24), is able to bring good out of evil”.
Gregory of Nazianzus.
Gregory of Nazianzus does not write about the place and status after death of infants who die without sacramental Baptism, but he enlarges the subject with another consideration. He writes, namely, that these children receive neither praise nor punishment from the Just Judge, because they have suffered injury rather than provoked it. “The one who does not deserve punishment is not thereby worthy of praise, and the one who does not deserve praise is not thereby deserving of punishment”. The profound teaching of the Greek Fathers can be summarized in the opinion of Anastasius of Sinai: “It would not be fitting to probe God’s judgments with one's hands”.
On the one hand, these Greek Fathers teach that children who die without Baptism do not suffer eternal damnation, though they do not attain the same state as those who have been baptised. On the other hand, they do not explain what their state is like or where they go. In this matter, the Greek Fathers display their characteristic apophatic sensitivity.
1.3. The Latin Fathers and the Pelagian Heresy.
The fate of unbaptised infants first became the subject of sustained theological reflection in the West during the anti-Pelagian controversies of the early 5th century. St. Augustine addressed the question because Pelagius was teaching that infants could be saved without Baptism. Pelagius questioned whether St. Paul's letter to the Romans really taught that all human beings sinned “in Adam” (Rom 5:12) and that concupiscence, suffering, and death were a consequence of the Fall. Since he denied that Adam's sin was transmitted to his descendants, he regarded newborn infants as innocent. Pelagius promised infants who died unbaptised entry into “eternal life” (not, however, into the “Kingdom of God” [Jn 3:5]), reasoning that God would not condemn to hell those who were not personally guilty of sin.
Augustine's counter against Pelagius led to an unjust conclusion and a misunderstanding about the state of unbaptized infants.
In countering Pelagius, Augustine was led to state that infants who die without Baptism are consigned to hell. He appealed to the Lord's precept, John 3:5, and to the Church's liturgical practice. Why are little children brought to the baptismal font, especially infants in danger of death, if not to assure them entrance into the Kingdom of God? Why are they subjected to exorcisms and exsufflations if they do not have to be delivered from the devil? Why are they born again if they do not need to be made new? Liturgical practice confirms the Church's belief that all inherit Adam's sin and must be transferred from the power of darkness into the kingdom of light (Col 1:13). There is only one Baptism, the same for infants and adults, and it is for the forgiveness of sins. If little children are baptized, then, it is because they are sinners. Although they clearly are not guilty of personal sin, according to Romans 5:12 (in the Latin translation available to Augustine), they have sinned “in Adam”. “Why did Christ die for them if they are not guilty?” All need Christ as their Saviour.
The Latin Fathers were too severe in their conclusion.
In Augustine's judgement, Pelagius undermined belief in Jesus Christ, the one Mediator (1 Tim 2:5), and in the need for the saving grace he won for us on the Cross. Christ came to save sinners. He is the “Great Physician” who offers even infants the medicine of Baptism to save them from the inherited sin of Adam. The sole remedy for the sin of Adam, passed on to everyone through human generation, is Baptism. Those who are not baptized cannot enter the Kingdom of God. At the judgement, those who do not enter the Kingdom (Mt 25:34) will be condemned to hell (Mt 25:41). There is no “middle ground” between heaven and hell. “There is no middle place left, where you can put babies”. Anyone “who is not with Christ must be with the devil”.
God is just. If he condemns unbaptised children to hell, it is because they are sinners. Although these infants are punished in hell, they will suffer only the “mildest condemnation” (“mitissima poena”), “the lightest punishment of all”, for there are diverse punishments in proportion to the guilt of the sinner. These infants were unable to help themselves, but there is no injustice in their condemnation because all belong to “the same mass”, the mass destined for perdition. God does no injustice to those who are not elected, for all deserve hell. Why is it that some are vessels of wrath and others vessels of mercy? Augustine admits that he “cannot find a satisfactory and worthy explanation”. He can only exclaim with St. Paul: “How inscrutable [God's] judgments, and untraceable his ways!” Rather than condemn divine authority, he gives a restrictive interpretation of God's universal salvific will. The Church believes that if anyone is redeemed, it is only by God's unmerited mercy; but if anyone is condemned, it is by his well-merited judgment. We shall discover the justice of God's will in the next world.
The Council of Carthage.
The Council of Carthage of 418 rejected the teaching of Pelagius. It condemned the opinion that infants “do not contract from Adam any trace of original sin, which must be expiated by the bath of regeneration that leads to eternal life”. Positively, this council taught that “even children who of themselves cannot have yet committed any sin are truly baptised for the remission of sins, so that by regeneration they may be cleansed from what they contracted through generation”. It was also added that there is no “intermediate or other happy dwelling place for children who have left this life without Baptism, without which they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, that is, eternal life”. This council did not, however, explicitly endorse all aspects of Augustine's stern view about the destiny of infants who die without Baptism.
St. Augustine's Victory led to further excessive severity.
So great was Augustine's authority in the West, however, that the Latin Fathers (e.g., Jerome, Fulgentius, Avitus of Vienne, and Gregory the Great) did adopt his opinion. Gregory the Great asserts that God condemns even those with only original sin on their souls; even infants who have never sinned by their own will must go to “everlasting torments”. He cites Job 14:4-5 (LXX), John 3:5, and Ephesians 2:3 on our condition at birth as “children of wrath”.
1.4. The Medieval Scholastics.
Augustine was the point of reference for Latin theologians throughout the Middle Ages on this matter. Anselm of Canterbury is a good example: he believes that little children who die without Baptism are damned on account of original sin and in keeping with God's justice. The common doctrine was summarized by Hugh of St. Victor: infants who die unbaptised cannot be saved because (1) they have not received the sacrament, and (2) they cannot make a personal act of faith that would supply for the sacrament. This doctrine implies that one needs to be justified during one's earthly life in order to enter eternal life after death. Death puts an end to the possibility of choosing to accept or reject grace, that is, to adhere to God or turn away from him; after death, a person's fundamental dispositions before God receive no further modification.
Later Medieval authors challenged Augustines severity concerning judgment and unbaptized children.
But most of the later medieval authors, from Peter Abelard on, underline the goodness of God and interpret Augustine's “mildest punishment” as the privation of the beatific vision (carentia visionis Dei), without hope of obtaining it, but with no additional penalties. This teaching, which modified the strict opinion of St. Augustine, was disseminated by Peter Lombard: little children suffer no penalty except the privation of the vision of God. This position led the theological reflection of the thirteenth century to assign unbaptised infants a destiny essentially different from that of the saints in heaven, but also partly different from that of the reprobate, with whom they are nonetheless associated. This did not prevent the medieval theologians from holding the existence of two (and not three) possible outcomes for human existence: the happiness of heaven for the saints, and the privation of this celestial happiness for the damned and for infants who died unbaptised. In the developments of medieval doctrine, the loss of the Beatific Vision (poena damni) was understood to be the proper punishment for original sin, whereas the “torments of perpetual hell” constituted the punishment for mortal sins actually committed. In the Middle Ages, the ecclesiastical magisterium affirmed more than once that those “who die in mortal sin” and those who die “with original sin only” receive “different punishments”.
Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus reject Augustines view concerning unbaptized children.
Because children below the age of reason did not commit actual sin, theologians came to the common view that these unbaptised children feel no pain at all, or even that they enjoy a full natural happiness through their union with God in all natural goods (Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus). The contribution of this last theological thesis consists especially in its recognition of an authentic joy among children who die without sacramental Baptism: they possess a true form of union with God proportionate to their condition. The thesis relies on a certain way of conceptualising the relationship between the natural and the supernatural orders, and, in particular, the orientation to the supernatural; it must not be confused, however, with the later development of the idea of “pure nature”. Thomas Aquinas, for instance, insisted that faith alone allows us to know that the supernatural end of human life consists in the glory of the saints, that is, in participation in the life of the Triune God through the beatific vision. Since this supernatural end transcends natural human knowledge, and since unbaptised children lack the sacrament that would have given them the seed of such supernatural knowledge, Aquinas concluded that infants who die without Baptism do not know what they are deprived of, and hence do not suffer from the privation of the beatific vision. Even when they adopted such a view, theologians considered the privation of the beatific vision as an affliction (“punishment”) within the divine economy. The theological doctrine of a “natural beatitude” (and the absence of any suffering) can be understood as an attempt to account for God’s justice and mercy regarding children who did not commit any actual fault, thus giving more weight to God’s mercy than in Augustine’s view. The theologians who held this thesis of a natural happiness for children who died without Baptism manifest a very lively sense of the gratuity of salvation and of the mystery of God's will that human thought cannot fully grasp.
The theologians who taught, in one form or another, that unbaptised children are deprived of the vision of God generally held at the same time a double affirmation: (a) God wills that everyone be saved, and (b) God, who wills that all be saved, wills equally the dispensations and the means that he himself has established for this salvation and that he has made known to us by his revelation. The second affirmation, of itself, does not exclude other dispositions of the divine economy (as is clear, for example, in the witness of the Holy Innocents). As for the expression “Limbo of Infants”, it was forged at the turn of the 12th-13th century to name the “resting place” of such infants (the "border" of the inferior region). Theologians could discuss this question, however, without using the word “Limbo”. Their doctrines should not be confused with the use of the word “Limbo”.
The main affirmation of these doctrines is that those who were not capable of a free act by which they could consent to grace, and who died without having been regenerated by the sacrament of Baptism, are deprived of the vision of God because of original sin which they inherit through human generation.
1.5. The Modern/Post-Tridentine Era.
A revival of Augustines severity by the Jansenists.
Augustine's thought enjoyed a revival in the 16th century, and with it his theory regarding the fate of unbaptised infants, as Robert Bellarmine, for example, bears witness. One consequence of this revival of Augustinianism was Jansenism. Together with Catholic theologians of the Augustinian school, the Jansenists vigorously opposed the theory of Limbo. During this period the popes (Paul III, Benedict XIV, Clement XIII) defended the right of Catholics to teach Augustine's stern view that infants dying with original sin alone are damned and punished with the perpetual torment of the fire of hell, though with the “mildest pain” (Augustine) compared with what was suffered by adults who were punished for their mortal sins. On the other hand, when the Jansenist Synod of Pistoia (1786) denounced the medieval theory of “Limbo”, Pius VI defended the right of the Catholic Schools to teach that those who died with the guilt of original sin alone are punished with the lack of the Beatific Vision (“punishment of loss”), but not sensible pains (the punishment of "fire"). In the bull “Auctorem Fidei” (1794), the Pope condemned as “false, rash, injurious to the Catholic schools” the Jansenist teaching “which rejects as a Pelagian fable [fabula pelagiana] that place in the lower regions (which the faithful call the ‘Limbo of Children’) in which the souls of those departing with the sole guilt of original sin are punished with the punishment of the condemned, without the punishment of fire, just as if whoever removes the punishment of fire thereby introduces that middle place and state free of guilt and of punishment between the Kingdom of God and eternal damnation of which the Pelagians idly talk”. Papal interventions during this period, then, protected the freedom of the Catholic schools to wrestle with this question. They did not endorse the theory of Limbo as a doctrine of faith. Limbo, however, was the common Catholic teaching until the mid-20th century.
1.6. From the Time of Vatican I to Vatican II.
Prior to the First Vatican Council, and again prior to the Second Vatican Council, there was a strong interest in some quarters in defining Catholic doctrine on this matter. This interest was evident in the revised schema of the dogmatic constitution, De doctrina catholica, prepared for the First Vatican Council (but not voted upon by the Council), which presented the destiny of children who died without Baptism as between that of the damned, on the one hand, and that of the souls in purgatory and the blessed, on the other: “Etiam qui cum solo originali peccato mortem obeunt, beata Dei visione in perpetuum carebunt”. In the 20th century, however, theologians sought the right to imagine new solutions, including the possibility that Christ's full salvation reaches these infants.
In the preparatory phase of Vatican II, there was a desire on the part of some that the Council affirm the common doctrine that unbaptised infants cannot attain the Beatific Vision, and thereby close the question. The Central Preparatory Commission, which was aware of many arguments against the traditional doctrine and of the need to propose a solution in better accordance with the developing sensus fidelium, opposed this move. Because it was thought that theological reflection on the issue was not mature enough, the question was not included in the Council's agenda; it did not enter into the Council's deliberations and was left open for further investigation. The question raised a number of problems whose outcome was debated among theologians, in particular: the status of the Church's traditional teaching concerning children who die without Baptism; the absence of an explicit indication in Holy Scripture on the subject; the connection between the natural order and the supernatural vocation of human beings; original sin and the universal saving will of God; and the “substitutions” for sacramental Baptism that can be invoked for young children.
Baptism and substituions for Baptism of water.
The Catholic Church's belief that Baptism is necessary for salvation was powerfully expressed in the Decree for the Jacobites at the Council of Florence in 1442: “There is no other way to come to the aid [of little children] than the sacrament of Baptism by which they are snatched from the power of the devil and adopted as children of God”. This teaching implies a very vivid perception of the divine favour displayed in the sacramental economy instituted by Christ; the Church does not know of any other means which would certainly give little children access to eternal life. However, the Church has also traditionally recognized some substitutions for Baptism of water (which is the sacramental incorporation into the mystery of Christ dead and risen), namely, Baptism of blood (incorporation into Christ by witness of martyrdom for Christ) and Baptism of desire (incorporation into Christ by the desire or longing for sacramental Baptism). During the 20th century, some theologians, developing certain more ancient theological theses, proposed to recognize for little children either some kind of Baptism of blood (by taking into consideration the suffering and death of these infants), or some kind of Baptism of desire (by invoking an “unconscious desire” for Baptism in these infants oriented toward justification, or the desire of the Church). The proposals invoking some kind of Baptism of desire or Baptism of blood, however, involved certain difficulties. On the one hand, the adult's act of desire for Baptism can hardly be attributed to children. The little child is scarcely capable of supplying the fully free and responsible personal act which would constitute a substitution for sacramental Baptism; such a fully free and responsible act is rooted in a judgement of reason and cannot be properly achieved before the human person has reached a sufficient or appropriate use of reason (aetas discretionis: “age of discretion”). On the other hand, it is difficult to understand how the Church could properly “supply” for unbaptised infants. The case of sacramental Baptism, instead, is quite different because sacramental Baptism, administered to infants, obtains grace in virtue of that which is specifically proper to the sacrament as such, that is, the certain gift of regeneration by the power of Christ himself. That is why Pope Pius XII, recalling the importance of sacramental Baptism, explained in the “Allocution to Italian Midwives” in 1951: “The state of grace is absolutely necessary for salvation: without it supernatural happiness, the beatific vision of God, cannot be attained. In an adult an act of love may suffice to obtain him sanctifying grace and so supply for the lack of Baptism; to the child still unborn, or newly born, this way is not open”. This gave rise among theologians to a renewed reflection on the dispositions of infants with respect to the reception of divine grace, on the possibility of an extra-sacramental configuration to Christ, and on the maternal mediation of the Church.
The gratuity of the supernatural order.
It is equally necessary to note, among the debated questions with a bearing on this matter, that of the gratuity of the supernatural order. Before the Second Vatican Council, in other circumstances and regarding other questions, Pius XII had vigorously brought this to the consciousness of the Church by explaining that one destroys the gratuity of the supernatural order if one asserts that God could not create intelligent beings without ordaining and calling them to the Beatific Vision. The goodness and justice of God do not imply that grace is necessarily or “automatically” given. Among theologians, then, reflection on the destiny of unbaptised infants involved from that time onwards a renewed consideration of the absolute gratuity of grace, and of the ordination of all human beings to Christ and to the redemption that he won for us.
Vatican II set guidelines for theological reflection.
Without responding directly to the question of the destiny of unbaptised infants, the Second Vatican Council marked out many paths to guide theological reflection. The Council recalled many times the universality of God's saving will which extends to all people (1 Tim 2:4). All “share a common destiny, namely God. His providence, evident goodness, and saving designs extend to all humankind” (NA 1, cf. LG 16). In a more particular vein, presenting a conception of human life founded on the dignity of the human being created in the image of God, the constitution Gaudium et Spes recalls that, “[h]uman dignity rests above all on the fact that humanity is called to communion with God,” specifying that “[t]he invitation to converse with God is addressed to men and women as soon as they are born” (GS 19). This same constitution proclaims with vigour that only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of the human being take on light. Furthermore, there is the renowned statement of the Council which asserted: “since Christ died for all, and since all are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery” (GS 22). Although the Council did not expressly apply this teaching to children who die without Baptism, these passages open a way to account for hope in their favour.
1.7 Issues of a Hermeneutical Nature - Foundational and Secondary doctrinal principles.
The study of history shows a development of Catholic teaching concerning the destiny of infants who die without Baptism. This progress engages some foundational doctrinal principles which remain permanent, and some secondary elements of unequal value. In effect, revelation does not communicate directly in an explicit fashion knowledge of God's plan for unbaptised children, but it enlightens the Church regarding the principles of faith which must guide her thought and her practice. A theological reading of the history of Catholic teaching up to Vatican II shows in particular that three main affirmations which belong to the faith of the Church appear at the core of the problem of the fate of unbaptised infants. (i) God wants all human beings to be saved. (ii) This salvation is given only through participation in Christ's paschal mystery, that is, through Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, either sacramental or in some other way. Human beings, including infants, cannot be saved apart from the grace of Christ poured out by the Holy Spirit. (iii) Infants will not enter the Kingdom of God without being freed from original sin by redemptive grace.
The Magisterium utlimately decides - God wills all to be saved.
The history of theology and of magisterial teaching show in particular a development concerning the manner of understanding the universal saving will of God. The theological tradition of the past (antiquity, the Middle Ages, the beginning of modern times), in particular the Augustinian tradition, often presents what by comparison with modern theological developments would seem to be a “restrictive” conception of the universality of God's saving will. In theological research, the perception of the divine will to save as “quantitatively” universal is relatively recent. At the level of the magisterium, this larger perception was progressively affirmed. Without trying to date it exactly, one can observe that it appeared very clearly in the 19th century, especially in the teaching of Pius IX on the possible salvation of those who, without fault on their part, were unaware of the Catholic faith: those who “lead a virtuous and just life, can, with the aid of divine light and grace, attain eternal life; for God, who understands perfectly, scrutinizes and knows the minds, souls, thoughts and habits of all, in his very great goodness and patience, will not permit anyone who is not guilty of a voluntary fault to be punished with eternal torments”. This integration and maturation in Catholic doctrine meanwhile gave rise to a renewed reflection on the possible ways of salvation for unbaptised infants.
What was held to be "common doctrine" in the past was not a Magisterial teaching of the Church.
In the Church's tradition, the affirmation that children who died unbaptised are deprived of the beatific vision has for a long time been “common doctrine”. This common doctrine followed upon a certain way of reconciling the received principles of revelation, but it did not possess the certitude of a statement of faith, or the same certitude as other affirmations whose rejection would entail the denial of a divinely revealed dogma or of a teaching proclaimed by a definitive act of the magisterium. The study of the history of the Church's reflection on this subject shows that it is necessary to make distinctions. In this summary we distinguish first, statements of faith and what pertains to the faith; second, common doctrine; and third, theological opinion.
a) The Pelagian understanding of the access of unbaptised infants to “eternal life” must be considered as contrary to Catholic faith.
b) The affirmation that “the punishment for original sin is the loss of the beatific vision”, formulated by Innocent III, pertains to the faith: original sin is of itself an impediment to the beatific vision. Grace is necessary in order to be purified of original sin and to be raised to communion with God so as to be able to enter into eternal life and enjoy the vision of God. Historically, the common doctrine applied this affirmation to the fate of unbaptised infants and concluded that these infants lack the beatific vision. But Pope Innocent’s teaching, in its content of faith, does not necessarily imply that infants who die without sacramental Baptism are deprived of grace and condemned to the loss of the beatific vision; it allows us to hope that God who wants all to be saved, provides some merciful remedy for their purification from original sin and their access to the beatific vision.
c) In the documents of the magisterium in the Middle Ages, the mention of “different punishments” for those who die in actual mortal sin or with original sin only (“As for the souls of those who die in mortal sin or with original sin only, they go down immediately to hell, to be punished, however, with different punishments") must be interpreted according to the common teaching of the time. Historically, these affirmations have certainly been applied to unbaptised infants, with the conclusion that these infants suffer punishment for original sin. It must be observed however that, in a general way, the focus of these Church pronouncements was not on the lack of salvation for unbaptised infants, but on the immediacy of the particular judgment after death and the assignment of souls to heaven or hell. These magisterial statements do not oblige us to think that these infants necessarily die with original sin, so that there would be no way of salvation for them.
d) The Bull “Auctorem fidei” of Pope Pius VI is not a dogmatic definition of the existence of Limbo: the papal Bull confines itself to rejecting the Jansenist charge that the “Limbo” taught by scholastic theologians is identical with the “eternal life” promised to unbaptised infants by the ancient Pelagians. Pius VI did not condemn the Jansenists because they denied Limbo, but because they held that the defenders of Limbo were guilty of the heresy of Pelagius. By maintaining the freedom of the Catholic Schools to propose different solutions to the problem of the fate of unbaptised infants, the Holy See defended the common teaching as an acceptable and legitimate option, without endorsing it.
e) Pius XII’s “Allocution to Italian Midwives”, which states that apart from Baptism “there is no other means of communicating [supernatural] life to the child who has not yet the use of reason”, expressed the Church's faith regarding the necessity of grace to attain the beatific vision and the necessity of Baptism as the means to receive such grace. The specification that little children (unlike adults) are unable to act on their own behalf, that is, are incapable of an act of reason and freedom that could “supply for Baptism”, did not constitute a pronouncement on the content of current theological theories and did not prohibit the theological search for other ways of salvation. Pius XII rather recalled the limits within which the debate must take place and reasserted firmly the moral obligation to provide Baptism to infants in danger of death.
The assertion that unbaptized children are deprived of the beatific vision is only a theological opinion.
In summary: the affirmation that infants who die without Baptism suffer the privation of the beatific vision has long been the common doctrine of the Church, which must be distinguished from the faith of the Church. As for the theory that the privation of the beatific vision is their sole punishment, to the exclusion of any other pain, this is a theological opinion, despite its long acceptance in the West. The particular theological thesis concerning a “natural happiness” sometimes ascribed to these infants likewise constitutes a theological opinion.
Integration and reconciliation of principles by the Magisterium.
Therefore, besides the theory of Limbo (which remains a possible theological opinion), there can be other ways to integrate and safeguard the principles of the faith grounded in Scripture: the creation of the human being in Christ and his vocation to communion with God; the universal salvific will of God; the transmission and the consequences of original sin; the necessity of grace in order to enter into the Kingdom of God and attain the vision of God; the uniqueness and universality of the saving mediation of Christ Jesus; and the necessity of Baptism for salvation. These other ways are not achieved by modifying the principles of the faith, or by elaborating hypothetical theories; rather, they seek an integration and coherent reconciliation of the principles of the faith under the guidance of the ecclesial magisterium, by giving more weight to God's universal salvific will and to solidarity in Christ (cf. GS 22) in order to account for the hope that infants dying without Baptism could enjoy eternal life in the beatific vision. In keeping with a methodological principle that what is less known must be investigated by way of what is better known, it appears that the point of departure for considering the destiny of these children should be the salvific will of God, the mediation of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit, and a consideration of the condition of children who receive Baptism and are saved through the action of the Church in the name of Christ. The destiny of unbaptised infants remains, however, a limit-case as regards theological inquiry: theologians should keep in mind the apophatic perspective of the Greek Fathers.
2. Inquirere Vias Domini: Seeking to Discern God’s Ways - Theological Principles.
Since the theme under consideration concerns a topic for which no explicit answer is directly forthcoming from Revelation as embodied in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, the Catholic believer must have recourse to certain underlying theological principles which the Church, and specifically the magisterium, the guardian of the deposit of the faith, has articulated with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. As Vatican II affirms: “In Catholic doctrine there exists an order or “hierarchy” of truths since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith” (UR 11). No human being can ultimately save him/herself. Salvation comes only from God the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. This fundamental truth (of the “absolute necessity” of God’s saving act towards human beings) is unfolded in history through the mediation of the Church and its sacramental ministry. The ordo tractandi we will adopt here follows the ordo salutis, with one exception: we have put the anthropological dimension between the trinitarian and the ecclesiological-sacramental dimensions.
2.1. The Universal Salvific Will of God as Realized Through the Unique Mediation of Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.
In the context of the discussion on the destiny of those infants who die without Baptism, the mystery of the universal salvific will of God is a fundamental and central principle. The depth of this mystery is reflected in the paradox of divine love which is manifested as both universal and preferential.
In the Old Testament, God is called the saviour of the nation of Israel (cf. Exod 6:6; Deut 7:8; 13:5; 32:15; 33:29; Is 41:14; 43:14; 44:24; Ps 78; 1 Macc 4:30). But his preferential love for Israel has a universal scope, which extends to individuals (cf. 2 Sam 22:18, 44, 49; Ps 25:5; 27:1), and all human beings: “Thou lovest all things that exist, and hast loathing for none of the things which thou hast made, for thou wouldst not have made anything if thou hast hated it” (Wis 11:24). Through Israel the gentile nations will find salvation (cf. Is 2:1-4; 42:1; 60:1-14). “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Is 49:6).
This preferential and universal love of God is intertwined and realized in a unique and exemplary fashion in Jesus Christ, who is the unique Saviour of all (cf. Acts 4:12), but particularly of whoever becomes low or humble (tapeinôsei) like the “little ones”. Indeed, as one who is gentle or humble in heart (cf. Mt 11:29), Jesus maintains a mysterious affinity and solidarity with them (cf. Mt 18:3-5; 10:40-42; 25:40,45). Jesus asserts that the care of these little ones is entrusted to the angels of God (cf. Mt 18:10). “So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Mt 18:14). This mystery of his will, according to the good pleasure of the Father, is revealed through the Son and dispensed by the gift of the Holy Spirit.
God wills all to be saved in Christ.
The universality of the saving will of God the Father as realized through the unique and universal mediation of his Son, Jesus Christ, is forcefully expressed in the first letter to Timothy: “This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who wills (thelei) all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time” (1 Tim 2:3-6). The emphatic reiteration of “all” (vv. 1, 4, 6), and the justification of this universality on the basis of the uniqueness of God and of his mediator who himself is a man, suggests that nobody is excluded from this salvific will. Insofar as it is the object of prayer (cf. 1 Tim 2:1), this salvific will (thelèma) refers to a will which is sincere on the part of God, but, at times, is resisted by human beings. Therefore we need to pray to Our Father in heaven that his will (thelèma) may be done on earth as it is in heaven (cf. Mt 6:10).
All division is overcome in Christ's mediation.
The mystery of this will, revealed to Paul as “the very least of all the saints” (Eph 3:8f.), has its roots in the Father’s purpose to make his only Son not just “the first-born among many brethren” (Rom 8:29), but also “the first-born of all creation …[and] from the dead” (Col 1:15,18). This revelation allows one to discover in the mediation of the Son universal and cosmic dimensions, which overcome all divisions (cf. GS 13). With respect to the universality of humankind, the mediation of the Son surmounts (i) the various cultural, social and gender divisions: “there is neither Jew nor Greek…neither slave nor free… neither male nor female” (Gal 3:28); and (ii) the divisions caused by sin, internal (cf. Rom 7) as well as interpersonal (cf. Eph 2:14): “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:19). With respect to cosmic divisions, Paul explains that “For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col 1:19-20). Both dimensions are brought together in the letter to the Ephesians (1:7-10): “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses … according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ … to unite all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth”.
We have not yet seen the fulfillment of they mystery of salvation.
Certainly we do not see yet the fulfilment of this mystery of salvation, “for in this hope we were saved” (Rom 8:24). The Holy Spirit indeed testifies that it is not yet realised, and at the same time encourages Christians to pray and to hope for the final resurrection: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies … Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:22f., 26). So the groaning of the Spirit not only helps our prayers but encompasses so to speak the pains of all adults, of all children, of the whole of creation.
Christ assumed the nature of all, including unbatpized children.
The Synod of Quiercy (853) asserts: “Almighty God wishes all men without exception to be saved [1 Tim 2:4], although not all are saved. The fact that some are saved, however, is a gift of the Saviour, while the fact that others perish is the fault of those who perish”. Spelling out the positive implications of this statement as regards the universal solidarity of all in the mystery of Jesus Christ, the synod further asserts that: “As there is no man who was, is or will be, whose nature was not assumed in him [the Lord Jesus Christ], likewise there is no one who was, is or will be, for whom he did not suffer, even though not everyone [factually] is redeemed by his passion”.
Christ will unite all things in Him which includes unbaptized infants who cannot be damned.
This Christocentric conviction has found expression all through Catholic tradition. St. Irenaeus, for instance, quotes the Pauline text asserting that Christ will return “to unite all things in him” (Eph 1:10) and that every knee should bow to him in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. On his part, St. Thomas Aquinas, once again basing himself on the Pauline text, has this to say: “Christ is the perfect mediator of God and men by reason of his having reconciled through his death the human race with God”.
There is salvation in no one but Jesus Christ.
The documents of Vatican II, not only quote the Pauline text in its entirety (cf. LG 60, AG 7), but also refer to it (cf. LG 49), and furthermore repeatedly use the designation Unicus Mediator Christus (LG 8, 14, 62). This core affirmation of Christological faith also finds expression in the post-conciliar papal magisterium: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). This statement...has a universal value, since for all people ... salvation can only come from Jesus Christ”.
The declaration Dominus Iesus succinctly sums up the Catholic conviction and attitude: “It must be firmly believed as a truth of Catholic faith that the universal salvific will of the one and triune God is offered and accomplished once and for all in the mystery of the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Son of God”.
2.2. The Universality of Sin and the Universal Need of Salvation.
The universal salvific will of God through Jesus Christ, in a mysterious relationship with the Church, is directed to all humans, who, according to the faith of the Church, are sinners in need of salvation. Already in the Old Testament, the all-pervading nature of human sin is mentioned in almost every book. The book of Genesis affirms that sin did not find its origin with God but with human beings, because God created everything and saw that it was good (cf. Gen 1:31). From the moment the human race began to increase on the earth, God had to reckon with the sinfulness of humankind: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”. He was even “sorry that he had made man on the earth”, and ordered a flood to destroy every living thing, except Noah who found favour in his eyes (cf. Gen 6:5-7). But even the flood did not change the human inclination to sin: “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21). The Old Testament writers are convinced that sin is deeply rooted and pervasive in humanity (cf. Prov 20:9; Eccles 7:20.29). Hence the frequent petitions for God’s indulgence, as in Psalm 143:2: “Enter not into judgment with thy servant; for no man living is righteous before thee”, or in the prayer of Solomon: “If they sin against thee - for there is no man who does not sin - … if they repent with all their mind and with all their heart … then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place their prayer … and forgive thy people who have sinned against thee” (1 Kgs 8:46ff.). There are some texts which speak of the sinfulness from birth. The psalmist affirms: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps 51:7). And the statement of Eliphaz: “What is man, that he can be clean? Or he that is born of a woman, that he can be righteous?” (Job 15:14; cf. 25:4), is in agreement with Job’s own convictions (cf. Job 14:1.4) and those of other biblical writers (cf. Ps 58:3; Is 48:8). In Wisdom Literature there is even a beginning of reflection on the effects of the sin of the ancestors, Adam and Eve, on the whole of humankind: “But through the devil's envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it” (Wisdom 2:24); “From a woman sin had its beginning, and because of her we all die” (Sir 25:24).
The universality of sin meets the universality of redemption.
For Paul, the universality of the redemption brought by Jesus Christ finds its counterpart in the universality of sin. When Paul in his letter to the Romans asserts “that all, both Jews and Gentiles, are under the power of sin” (Rom 3:9) and that no one can be excluded from this universal verdict, he naturally bases this on Scripture: “As it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one’” (Rom 3:10-12, quoting Eccles 7:20 and Ps 14:1-3 which is identical to Ps 53:1-3). On the one side, all human beings are sinners and need to be delivered through the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the new Adam. Not the works of the Law, but only faith in Jesus Christ can save humanity, Jews and Gentiles alike. On the other side, the sinful condition of humankind is linked to the sin of the first man, Adam. This solidarity with the first man, Adam, is expressed in two Pauline texts: 1 Cor 15:21 and especially Rom 5:12: “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because [Gr. eph’hô: other possible translations ‘on the basis of which’ or ‘with the result that’] all men sinned…” In this anacolouth, the primary causality for the sinful and mortal condition of humankind is ascribed to Adam, no matter how one understands the phrase eph’hô. The universal causality of Adam’s sin is presupposed in Rom 5:15a, 16a, 17a, 18a and clearly expressed in 5:19a: “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners”. However, Paul never explains how Adam’s sin is transmitted. Against Pelagius, who thought that Adam influenced humanity by giving it a bad example, Augustine objected that Adam’s sin was transmitted by propagation or heredity, and so brought the doctrine of “original sin” to its classical expression. Under Augustine’s influence, the Western Church almost unanimously interpreted Rom 5: 12 in the sense of hereditary “sin”.
The Council of Trent.
Following this, the Council of Trent in its Fifth Session (1546), defined: “If anyone asserts that Adam’s sin harmed only him and not his descendants and that the holiness and justice received from God which he lost was lost only for him and not for us also; or that, stained by the sin of disobedience, he transmitted to all humankind only death and the sufferings of the body but not sin as well which is the death of the soul, anathema sit. For, he contradicts the words of the apostle: “Sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so [death] spread to all as all men sinned in him” [Rom 5:12 Vulg.].
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it: “The doctrine of original sin is, so to speak, the ‘reverse side’ of the Good News that Jesus is the saviour of all men, that all need salvation and that salvation is offered to all through Christ. The Church, which has the mind of Christ, knows very well that we cannot tamper with the revelation of original sin without undermining the mystery of Christ”.
2.3. The Need for the Church.
Catholic tradition has constantly affirmed that the Church is necessary for salvation as the historical mediation of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. This conviction found its classical expression in the adage of St. Cyprian: “Salus extra Ecclesiam non est”. The Second Vatican Council has reiterated this faith conviction: “Basing itself on Scripture and tradition, it [the Council] teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism (cf. Mk 16:16; Jn 3:5), and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it, or to remain in it” (LG 14). The Council expounded the mystery of the Church at length: “The Church, in Christ, is in the nature of [a] sacrament - a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of the unity among all men” (LG 1); “Just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and oppression, so the Church is called to follow the same path if she is to communicate the fruits of salvation to men” (LG 8). “Rising from the dead (cf. Rom 6:9) he [Christ] sent his life-giving Spirit upon his disciples and through him set up his Body which is the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation” (LG 48). What is striking in these quotations is the universal extent of the Church’s mediating role in ministering God’s salvation: “the unity among all men”, “salvation of [all] men”, “universal sacrament of salvation”.
The Catholic Church is the only means of salvation by which salvation is open to all men.
In the face of new problems and situations and of an exclusive interpretation of the adage: “salus extra ecclesiam non est”, the magisterium, in recent times, has articulated a more nuanced understanding as to the manner in which a saving relationship with the Church can be realized. The Allocution of Pope Pius IX, Singulari Quadam (1854) clearly states the issues involved: “It must, of course, be held as a matter of faith that outside the apostolic Roman Church no one can be saved, that the Church is the only ark of salvation, and that whoever does not enter it, will perish in the flood. On the other hand, it must likewise be held as certain that those who live in ignorance of the true religion, if such ignorance be invincible, are not subject to any guilt in this matter before the eyes of the Lord”.
The Letter of the Holy Office to the Archbishop of Boston (1949) offers further specifications. “To gain eternal salvation, it is not always required that a person be incorporated in reality (reapse) as a member of the Church, but it is necessary that one belong to it at least in desire and longing (voto et desiderio). It is not always necessary that this desire be explicit as it is with catechumens. When one is invincibly ignorant, God also accepts an implicit desire, so called because it is contained in the good disposition of soul by which a person wants his or her will to be conformed to God’s will”.
The Church is the universal Sacrament of Salvation.
The universal salvific will of God, realized through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, which includes the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation, finds expression in Vatican II: “All men are called to this Catholic unity which prefigures and promotes universal peace. And in different ways to it belong, or are related: all the Catholic faithful, others who believe in Christ and finally all mankind called by God’s grace to salvation” (LG 13). That the unique and universal mediation of Jesus Christ is realized in the context of a relationship with the Church is further reiterated by the post-Conciliar papal magisterium. Speaking of those who have not had the opportunity to come to know or accept Gospel revelation – even in their case, the encyclical Redemptoris Missio has this to say: “Salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace ... which has a mysterious relationship to the Church”.
2.4. The Necessity of Sacramental Baptism.
God the Father intends to configure all human beings to Christ by the Holy Spirit, who transforms and empowers them by his grace. Ordinarily, this configuration to Jesus Christ takes place through sacramental Baptism, whereby one is conformed to Christ, receives the Holy Spirit, is liberated from sin and becomes a member of the Church.
The numerous baptismal statements in the New Testament, in their variety, articulate the different dimensions of the significance of Baptism as understood by the early Christian community. In the first place, Baptism is designated as the forgiveness of sins, as cleansing (cf. Eph 5:26), or as a sprinkling which cleanses the heart from an evil conscience (cf. Heb 10:22; 1 Pet 3:21). “Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38; cf. Acts 22:16). The baptised are thus configured to Jesus Christ: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4).
Furthermore, the activity of the Holy Spirit in connection with Baptism is repeatedly referred to (cf. Tit 3:5). It is the belief of the Church that the Holy Spirit is imparted with Baptism (cf. 1 Cor 6:11; Tit 3:5). The Risen Christ is active through his Spirit, who makes us children of God (cf. Rom 8:14),confident to call God Father (cf. Gal 4:6).
Finally, there are the statements about being “added” to the People of God in the context of Baptism, of being baptised “into one body” (Acts 2:41). Baptism results in the incorporation of the human person into the People of God, the Body of Christ and the spiritual temple. Paul speaks of “being baptised into one body” (1 Cor 12:13). Luke, instead, of “being added” to the Church through Baptism (Acts 2:41). Through Baptism, the believer is not only an individual, but becomes a member of the People of God. He or she becomes a member of the Church which Peter calls “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Pet 2:9).
Baptism was extended to infants.
The tradition of conferring sacramental Baptism is extended to all, even to infants. Among the New Testament testimonies of Christian Baptism in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, there are instances of “household baptisms” (cf. Acts 16:15; 16:33; 18:8), which possibly included children. The ancient praxis of baptizing children, endorsed by the Fathers and the magisterium of the Church, is accepted as an essential part of the faith understanding of the Catholic Church. The Council of Trent will affirm: “In accordance with apostolic tradition, even children who of themselves cannot have yet committed any sin are truly baptized for the remission of sins, so that by regeneration they may be cleansed from what they contracted through generation. For “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, one cannot enter the Kingdom of God [Jn 3:5]”.
Christ established Baptism as the ordinary way to unite us to Himself but He offers other avenues. The Church never taught the absolute necessity of Sacramental Baptism.
The necessity of the sacrament of Baptism is proclaimed and professed as integral to the Christian faith understanding. On the basis of the command as found in Mt 28:19ff. and Mk 16:15, and of the prescription laid down in Jn 3:5,the Christian community has from the earliest time, believed in the necessity of Baptism for salvation. While considering sacramental Baptism necessary inasmuch as it is the ordinary way established by Jesus Christ to configure human beings to himself, the Church has never taught the “absolute necessity” of sacramental Baptism for salvation; there are other avenues whereby the configuration with Christ can be realized. Already in the early Christian community, it was accepted that martyrdom, the “Baptism of blood”, was a substitute for sacramental Baptism. Furthermore, there was the acknowledgement of the Baptism of desire. In this regard, the words of Thomas Aquinas are pertinent: “The sacrament of Baptism may be wanting to someone in two ways. First, both in reality and in desire; as is the case with those who neither are baptised, nor wish to be baptised…Secondly, the sacrament of Baptism may be wanting to anyone in reality but not in desire…Such a man can obtain salvation without being actually baptised on account of his desire for Baptism”. The Council of Trent acknowledges “Baptism of desire” as a way whereby one can be justified without the actual reception of the sacrament of Baptism: “After the promulgation of the Gospel, this transition [from sin to justice] cannot take place without the bath of regeneration or the desire for it for as it is written: ‘Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, one cannot enter the kingdom of God (Jn 3:5)’”.
The other means of union with Christ do not remove the necessity of Sacramental Baptism. The other means depend on the Sacrament itself to have their effect.
The Christian faith affirmation of the necessity of sacramental Baptism for salvation cannot be depleted of its existential significance by being reduced to a merely theoretical affirmation. On the other hand, God’s freedom over the saving means given by him must be equally respected. Consequently, one must avoid any attempt to oppose sacramental Baptism, the Baptism of desire and Baptism of blood as antithetical. They are but expressions of the creative polarities within the realization of God’s universal salvific will on behalf of humanity, which include both a real possibility of salvation, and a salvific dialogue in freedom with the human person. It is precisely this dynamism which impels the Church, as the universal sacrament of salvation, to summon everyone to repentance, to faith and to sacramental Baptism. This dialogue in grace is elicited only when the human person is existentially capable of a response in the concrete – which is not the case with infants. Hence the need for parents and godparents to speak on behalf of infants who are baptized. But what of infants who die without Baptism?
2.5 Hope and Prayer for Universal Salvation.
The Church as a Sacrament desires the unbaptized to be united to the living God.
Christians are people of hope. They have set their hope “on the living God, who is the saviour of all, especially of those who believe” (1 Tim 4:10). They ardently desire that all human beings, unbaptised children included, may share in God’s glory and live with Christ (cf. 1 Thess 5:9-11; Rom 8:2-5; 23-35), in keeping with the recommendation of Theophylactus: “If he [our God] wants all men to be saved, you should also want it, and imitate God”. This Christian hope is a “hope … against hope” (Rom 4:18), going far beyond any form of human hope. It takes its example from Abraham, our father in faith. Abraham put great trust in the promises that God had given him. He trusted (“hoped”) in God against all human evidence or odds (“against hope”). So Christians, even when they do not see how unbaptised children can be saved, nevertheless dare to hope that God will embrace them in his saving mercy. They are also prepared to make a defence to any one who calls them to account for the hope that is in them (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). When they meet mothers and parents in distress because their children died before or after birth, without being baptised, they feel urged to explain to them why their own hope for salvation can also extend to those infants or children.
Christians are people of prayerful intercession.
Christians are people of prayer. They take to heart the admonition of Paul: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all” (1 Tim 2:1). This universal prayer is acceptable to God who “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth” (1 Tim 2:4), and to whose creative power “nothing is impossible” (Job 42:2; Mk 10:27; 12:24-27; Lk 1:37). It is based on the hope that the whole creation will finally share in the glory of God (cf. Rom 8:22-27). Such a prayer is in line with St. John Chrysostom’s admonition: “Imitate God. If he wants all to be saved, then it is reasonable that one should pray for all”.
3. Spes Orans - Reasons for Hope.
3.1. The New Context.
The two preceding chapters, considering the history of Christian reflection on the destiny of unbaptised infants and the theological principles that bear upon this issue, respectively, have presented a chiaroscuro. On the one hand, in many ways, the underpinning Christian theological principles seem to favour the salvation of unbaptised infants in accordance with God's universal salvific will. On the other hand, however, it cannot be denied that there has been a rather longstanding doctrinal tradition (whose theological value is doubtless not definitive), which, in its concern to safeguard and not compromise other truths of the Christian theological edifice, has expressed either a certain reticence in this regard, or even a clear refusal to envisage the salvation of these infants. There is a fundamental continuity in the Church’s reflection upon the mystery of salvation from generation to generation under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Within that mystery, the question of the eternal destiny of infants who die unbaptised is “one of the most difficult to solve in the structure of theology”. It is a “limit-case” where vital tenets of faith, especially the need of Baptism for salvation and the universal salvific will of God, can easily appear to be in tension. With respect for the wisdom and fidelity of those who have investigated this difficult matter before, but also with a keen awareness that the magisterium of the Church has specifically and perhaps providentially opted, at key moments in the history of doctrine, not to define that these infants are deprived of the beatific vision but to keep the question open, we have considered how the Spirit may be guiding the Church at this point in history to reflect anew on this exceptionally delicate issue (cf. DV 8).
The Second Vatican Council calls for a deeper explanation in this matter.
The Second Vatican Council called the Church to read the signs of the times and to interpret them in the light of the Gospel (cf. GS 4, 11), “in order that the revealed truth may be more deeply penetrated, better understood, and more suitably presented” (GS 44). In other words, engagement with the world for which Christ suffered, died and rose again, is always for the Church, which is the body of Christ, an occasion to deepen her understanding of the Lord himself and of his love, and indeed of herself, an occasion to penetrate more deeply the message of salvation entrusted to her. It is possible to identify various signs of our modern times that prompt a renewed awareness of aspects of the Gospel which particularly bear upon the question under consideration. In some ways, they provide a new context for its consideration at the start of the 21st century.
a) The warfare and turmoil of the 20th century, and the yearning of humanity for peace and unity, shown by the founding of, e.g., the United Nations Organization, the European Union, the African Union, have helped the Church to understand more deeply the importance of the theme of communion in the Gospel message and so to develop an ecclesiology of communion (cf. LG 4, 9; UR 2; GS 12, 24).
b) Many people today grapple with the temptation to despair. The crisis of hope in the contemporary world leads the Church to a deeper appreciation of the hope that is central to the Christian Gospel. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call” (Eph 4:4). Christians are particularly called today to be witnesses to hope and ministers of hope in the world (cf. LG 48, 49; GS 1). The Church in its universality and catholicity is the bearer of a hope that extends to all humankind, and Christians have a mission to offer that hope to everyone.
c) The development of global communications, graphically highlighting all the suffering in the world, has been an occasion for the Church to understand God's love, mercy and compassion more profoundly, and to appreciate the primacy of charity. God is merciful, and, faced with the enormity of the world’s pain, we learn to trust and glorify God “who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph 3:20).
d) People everywhere are scandalised by the suffering of children and want to enable children to achieve their potential. In such a setting, the Church naturally recalls and ponders anew various New Testament texts expressing the preferential love of Jesus: “Let the children come to me...for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:14; cf. Lk 18:15-16, ‘infants’); “Whoever receives one such in my name receives me” (Mk 9:37); “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3); “Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:4); “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mt 18:6); “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 18:10). So the Church renews her commitment to show Christ’s own love and care for children (cf. LG 11; GS 48, 50).
e) Increased travel and contact among people of different faiths and the great increase of dialogue between people of different religions have encouraged the Church to develop a greater awareness of the manifold and mysterious ways of God (cf. NA 1, 2), and of her own mission in this context.
A theology of hope found in the development of an ecclesiology of communion.
The development of an ecclesiology of communion, a theology of hope, an appreciation of divine mercy, together with a renewed concern for the welfare of infants and an ever-increasing awareness that the Holy Spirit works in the lives of all “in a way known to God” (GS 22), all of these features of our modern age constitute a new context for the examination of our question. This may be a providential moment for its reconsideration. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, the Church in its engagement with the world of our time has gained deeper insights into God's revelation that can cast new light on our question.
The Church sees the unbaptized in the context of hope.
Hope is the all-embracing context of our reflections and report. The Church of today responds to the signs of our own times with renewed hope for the world at large and, with particular regard to our question, for unbaptised infants who die. We must here and now give an account of that hope (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). In the last fifty years or so, the magisterium of the Church has shown an increasing openness to the possibility of the salvation of unbaptised infants, and the sensus fidelium seems to have been developing in the same direction. Christians constantly experience, most powerfully in the liturgy, Christ's victory over sin and death, God's infinite mercy, and the loving communion of the saints in heaven, all of which increases our hope. There the hope that is in us, that we must proclaim and explain, is regularly renewed, and it is from that experience of hope that various considerations can now be offered.
The Church teaches with certainty only in regards to what has been revealed. But the Church, as a Sacrament, desires infants to receive the effect of Baptism.
79. It must be clearly acknowledged that the Church does not have sure knowledge about the salvation of unbaptised infants who die. She knows and celebrates the glory of the Holy Innocents, but the destiny of the generality of infants who die without Baptism has not been revealed to us, and the Church teaches and judges only with regard to what has been revealed. What we do positively know of God, Christ and the Church gives us grounds to hope for their salvation, as must now be explained.
God is the author of the Sacraments and is not bound or restricted by them to save the unbaptized. 3.2. God's Merciful Philanthropia.
God is rich in mercy, dives in misericordia (Eph 2:4). The Byzantine liturgy frequently praises God's philanthropy; God is the “lover of man”. Moreover, God’s loving purpose, now revealed through the Spirit, is beyond our imagining: “what God has prepared for those who love him” is something “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived” (1 Cor 2:9-10, quoting Is 64:4). Those who grieve over the fate of infants who die unbaptised, especially their parents, are often themselves people who love God, people whom these words should console. In particular, the following observations can be made:
a) God’s grace reaches all people and his providence embraces all. The Second Vatican Council teaches that God does not deny “the assistance necessary for salvation” to those who, without any fault of their own, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, but who, with the help of grace, “strive to lead a good life”. God enlightens all people “that they may at length have life” (cf. LG 16). Again it teaches that grace is “active invisibly” in the hearts of all people of good will (GS 22). These words apply directly to those above the age of reason, who are making responsible decisions, but it is difficult to deny their applicability also to those below the age of reason. The following words, in particular, seem truly universal in their scope. “For since Christ died for all, and since all are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine [cumque vocatio hominis ultima revera una sit, scilicet divina], we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery” (GS 22). This profound sentence of Vatican II takes us into the heart of the loving purpose of the blessed Trinity and stresses that God’s purpose exceeds our understanding.
b) God does not demand the impossible of us. Furthermore, God's power is not restricted to the sacraments: ‘Deus virtutem suam non alligavit sacramentis quin possit sine sacramentis effectum sacramentorum conferre’ (God did not bind His power to the sacraments, so as to be unable to bestow the sacramental effect without conferring the sacrament). God can therefore give the grace of Baptism without the sacrament being conferred, and this fact should particularly be recalled when the conferring of Baptism would be impossible. The need for the sacrament is not absolute. What is absolute is humanity’s need for the Ursakrament which is Christ himself. All salvation comes from him and therefore, in some way, through the Church.
c) At all times and in all circumstances, God provides a remedy of salvation for humanity. This was the teaching of Aquinas, and already before him of Augustine and Leo the Great. It is also found in Cajetan. Pope Innocent III specifically focused on the situation of children: “Far from us the thought that all the small children, of whom such a great multitude dies every day, should perish without the merciful God, who wishes no one to perish, having provided for them also some means of salvation....We say that two kinds of sin must be distinguished, original and actual: original which is contracted without consent and actual which is committed with consent. Thus original sin, which is contracted without consent is remitted without consent by the power of the sacrament [of Baptism]; ...”. Innocent was defending infant Baptism as the means provided by God for the salvation of the many infants who die each day. We may ask, however, on the basis of a more searching application of the same principle, whether God also provides some remedy for those infants who die without Baptism. There is no question of denying Innocent’s teaching that those who die in original sin are deprived of the beatific vision. What we may ask and are asking is whether infants who die without Baptism necessarily die in original sin, without a divine remedy.
God provides a reason for hope in all circumstances.
With confidence that in all circumstances God provides, how might we imagine such a remedy? The following are ways by which unbaptised infants who die may perhaps be united to Christ.
a) Broadly, we may discern in those infants who themselves suffer and die a saving conformity to Christ in his own death, and a companionship with him. Christ himself on the Cross bore the weight of all of humanity's sin and death, and all suffering and death thereafter is an engagement with his own enemy (cf. 1 Cor 15:26), a participation in his own battle, in the midst of which we can find him alongside us (cf. Dan 3:24-25 [91-92]; Rom 8:31-39; 2 Tim 4:17). His Resurrection is the source of humanity’s hope (cf.1 Cor 15:20); in him alone is there life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10); and the Holy Spirit offers to all a participation in his paschal mystery (cf. GS 22).
Unbaptized children are in solidarity with the Holy Innocents who died in the attempt to kill Christ.
b) Some of the infants who suffer and die do so as victims of violence. In their case, we may readily refer to the example of the Holy Innocents and discern an analogy in the case of these infants to the baptism of blood which brings salvation. Albeit unknowingly, the Holy Innocents suffered and died on account of Christ; their murderers were seeking to kill the infant Jesus. Just as those who took the lives of the Holy Innocents were motivated by fear and selfishness, so the lives particularly of unborn babies today are often endangered by the fear or selfishness of others. In that sense, they are in solidarity with the Holy Innocents. Moreover, they are in solidarity with the Christ who said: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). How vital it is for the Church to proclaim the hope and generosity that are intrinsic to the Gospel and essential for the protection of life.
c) It is also possible that God simply acts to give the gift of salvation to unbaptised infants by analogy with the gift of salvation given sacramentally to baptized infants. We may perhaps compare this to God's unmerited gift to Mary at her Immaculate Conception, by which he simply acted to give her in advance the grace of salvation in Christ.
3.3. Solidarity with Christ.
The incarnation of Christ touches every individual, including unbaptized infants.
There is a fundamental unity and solidarity between Christ and the whole human race. By his Incarnation, the Son of God has united himself, in some way (“quodammodo”), with every human being (GS 22). There is, therefore, no one who is untouched by the mystery of the Word made flesh. Humanity, and indeed all creation, has been objectively changed by the very fact of the Incarnation and objectively saved by the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. However, that objective salvation must be subjectively appropriated (cf. Acts 2:37-38; 3:19), ordinarily by the personal exercise of free will in favour of grace in adults, with or without sacramental Baptism, or by infants’ reception of sacramental Baptism. The situation of unbaptised infants is problematic precisely because of their presumed lack of free will. Their situation acutely raises the question of the relationship between the objective salvation won by Christ and original sin, and the question also of the exact import of the Conciliar word, “quodammodo”.
The unbaptized are not exempt from the fact that Christ lived, died, and resurrected for all.
Christ lived, died and rose again for all. Pauline teaching is that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,... and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil 2:10-11); “to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living”; “we shall all stand before the judgement seat of God” (Rom 14:9-11). Likewise Johannine teaching stresses that “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgement to the Son, that all may honour the Son, even as they honour the Father” (Jn 5:22-23); “I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all therein, saying: ‘To him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might for ever and ever!’” (Rev 5:13).
The Scriptures tell us that all of humanity must be seen in relation to Christ.
A major weakness in the "traditional view of limbo" which has never been a dogmatic teaching of the Church. The Church sides with Aquinas, not Augustine in this matter.
The Scriptures relate all humanity without exception to Christ. A major weakness of the traditional view of Limbo is that it is unclear whether the souls there have any relationship to Christ; the Christocentricity of the doctrine seems deficient. In some accounts, the souls in Limbo seem to have a natural happiness that belongs to a different order from the supernatural order in which people choose for or against Christ. This appears to be a feature of Aquinas' account, though Suarez and the later scholastics emphasised that Christ restores human nature (his grace is gratia sanans, healing of human nature) and thereby enables the very natural happiness that Aquinas attributed to the souls in Limbo. The grace of Christ was therefore implicit in Aquinas' account, though not developed. The later scholastics thereby envisaged three possible destinies (at least in practice, though in principle they might have accepted only two destinies: heaven and hell), and understood, against Augustine, that it was by the grace of Christ that the numerous infants in Limbo were there and not in hell!
Where sin abounds,grace superabounds. The Church sides with solidarity in the grace of Christ, not the sin of Adam.
Where sin abounded, grace superabounded! That is the emphatic teaching of Scripture, but the idea of Limbo seems to constrain that superabundance. “[T]he free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many”; “as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men”; “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom 5:15, 18, 20). “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor 15:22). Scripture teaches of our sinful solidarity in Adam, yes, but it does so as the backdrop to teaching our salvific solidarity in Christ. 'The doctrine of original sin is, so to speak, the “reverse side” of the Good News that Jesus is the saviour of all men, that all need salvation and that salvation is offered to all through Christ.' Many traditional accounts of sin and salvation (and of Limbo) have stressed solidarity with Adam more than solidarity with Christ or at least such accounts have had a restrictive conception of the ways by which human beings benefit from solidarity with Christ. This would seem to have been a characteristic of Augustine’s thought in particular: Christ saves a select few from the mass who are damned in Adam. The teaching of St Paul would urge us to redress the balance and to centre humanity on Christ the saviour, to whom all, in some way, are united. “He who is the ‘image of the invisible God’ is himself the perfect man who has restored in the children of Adam that likeness to God which had been disfigured ever since the first sin. Human nature, by the very fact that it was assumed, not absorbed, in him, has been raised in us also to a dignity beyond compare” (GS 22). We wish to stress that humanity’s solidarity with Christ (or, more properly, Christ’s solidarity with all of humanity) must have priority over the solidarity of human beings with Adam, and that the question of the destiny of unbaptised infants who die must be addressed in that light.
God unites the intrinsic goodness of His own creation to Himself. “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible,....all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the Church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent” (Col 1:15-18). God's plan is “to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10). There is a renewed appreciation of the great cosmic mystery of communion in Christ. This, in fact, is the fundamental context for our question.
The ordinary means of salvation and those who have reached the age of reason.
Nevertheless, human beings are blessed with freedom, and a free acceptance of Christ is the ordinary means of salvation; we are not saved without our acceptance and certainly not against our will. All adults either explicitly or implicitly make a decision vis-à-vis Christ who has united himself with them (cf. GS 22). Some modern theologians see the option for or against Christ as implicated in all choices. However, it is precisely the lack of free-will and responsible choice on the part of infants that leads to the query as to how they stand vis-à-vis Christ if they die unbaptised. The fact that infants can enjoy the vision of God is recognised in the practice of baptizing infants. The traditional view is that it is only through sacramental Baptism that infants have solidarity with Christ and hence access to the vision of God. Otherwise, solidarity with Adam has priority. We may ask, however, how that view might be changed if priority were restored to our solidarity with Christ (i.e. Christ’s solidarity with us).
The Church never ruled out salvation and beatific vision for the unbaptized. The Church itself as a Sacrament in her desire may stand in for the parents who failed in their desire to baptize their children.
Baptism for salvation can be received either in re or in voto. It is traditionally understood that the implicit choice for Christ that adults who are not actually baptised can make constitutes a votum for Baptism and is salvific. In the traditional view, such an option is not open to infants who have not attained the use of free-will. The supposed impossibility of Baptism in voto for infants is central to the whole question. Hence, many, many attempts have been made in modern times to explore the possibility of a votum in the case of an unbaptised infant, either a votum exercised on behalf of the infant by its parents or by the Church, or perhaps a votum exercised by the infant in some way. The Church has never ruled out such a solution, and attempts to get Vatican II to do so significantly failed, because of a widespread sense that investigation of this matter was still ongoing and a widespread desire to entrust such infants to the mercy of God.
Every person ever born shares the humanity assumed by Christ.
It is important to recognise a “double gratuity” which calls us into being and simultaneously calls us to eternal life. Though a purely natural order is conceivable, no human life is actually lived in such an order. The actual order is supernatural; channels of grace are open from the very beginning of each human life. All are born with that humanity which was assumed by Christ himself and all live in some kind of relation to him, with different degrees of explicitness (cf. LG 16) and acceptance, at every moment. There are two possible ends for a human being in such an order: either the vision of God or hell (cf. GS 22). Though some medieval theologians maintained the possibility of an intermediate, natural, destiny, gained by the grace of Christ (gratia sanans), namely Limbo, we consider such a solution problematic and wish to indicate that other approaches are possible, based on hope for a redemptive grace given to unbaptised infants who die which opens for them the way to heaven. We believe that, in the development of doctrine, the solution in terms of Limbo can be surpassed in view of a greater theological hope.
3.4. The Church and the Communion of Saints.
Because all people live in some kind of relation to Christ (cf. GS 22), and the Church is the body of Christ, all people live also in some kind of relation to the Church at every moment. The Church has a profound solidarity or communion with the whole of humanity (cf. GS 1). She lives with a dynamic orientation to the fulness of life with God in Christ (cf. LG chap.7), and wills to draw all people into that fulness of life. The Church is, in fact, 'the universal sacrament of salvation' (LG 48, cf. 1, 9). Salvation is social (cf. GS 12), and the Church already lives the graced life of the communion of saints to which all are called, and embraces all people in all circumstances in her prayer, most especially when she celebrates the Eucharist. The Church includes in her prayer non-Christian adults and non-baptised infants who die. Very significantly, the pre-Vatican II lack of liturgical prayers for unbaptised infants who die, has been remedied since the Council. Bound in a common sensus fidei (cf. LG 12), the Church reaches out to all, knowing them to be loved by God. An important reason for the failure of attempts to get Vatican II to teach that unbaptised infants are definitely deprived of the vision of God was the testimony of bishops that that was not the faith of their people; it did not correspond to the sensus fidelium.
Grace in the believer reaches out to those who are not in the visible confines of the Church. St Paul teaches that the unbelieving husband or wife of a Christian believer is “consecrated” through their wife or husband, respectively, and moreover that their children too are “holy” (1 Cor 7:14). This is a remarkable indication that the holiness that resides in the Church reaches out to people outside the visible bounds of the Church by means of the bonds of human communion, in this case the family bonds between husband and wife in marriage and parents and children. St Paul implies that the spouse and the child of a believing Christian have by that very fact at least a connection to membership of the Church and to salvation; their family situation “involves a certain introduction to the Covenant”. His words give no assurance of salvation for the unbaptised spouse (cf. 1 Cor 7:16) or child, but surely, once again, grounds for hope.
The faith and desire of the parents in the Old Testament was sufficient to cause grace in the circumcision of an 8 day old infant. God would hold the child, not the parent guilty of breaking the convenant if not circumcized. This is Scriptural evidence that the faithful, and the Church itself as a Sacrament, can stand in for an unbaptized child to receive the effects of Baptism.
When an infant is baptised, he or she cannot personally make a profession of faith. Rather, at that moment, the parents and the Church as a whole provide a context of faith for the sacramental action. Indeed, St Augustine teaches that it is the Church that presents a child for baptism. The Church professes her faith and intercedes powerfully for the infant, supplying the act of faith that the infant is unable to make; again the bonds of communion, both natural and supernatural, are operative and manifest. If an unbaptised infant is incapable of a votum baptismi, then by the same bonds of communion the Church might be able to intercede for the infant and express a votum baptismi on his or her behalf that is effective before God. Moreover, the Church effectively does express in her liturgy just such a votum by the very charity towards all that is renewed in her in every celebration of the Eucharist.
No one is removed from a relationship in Christ regarding Baptism and the Eucharist.
Jesus taught: “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5); from which we understand the need for sacramental Baptism. Likewise, he said: “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn 6:53); from which we understand the (closely related) need for participation in the Eucharist. However, just as we do not conclude from the latter words that someone who has not received the sacrament of the Eucharist cannot be saved, so we should not deduce from the former words that someone who has not received the sacrament of Baptism cannot be saved. What we should conclude is that no-one is saved without some relation to Baptism and Eucharist, and therefore to the Church which is defined by these sacraments. All salvation has some relation to Baptism, Eucharist and the Church. The principle that there is “no salvation outside the Church” means that there is no salvation which is not from Christ and ecclesial by its very nature. Likewise, the scriptural teaching that “without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Heb 11:6) indicates the intrinsic role of the Church, the communion of faith, in the work of salvation. It is especially in the liturgy of the Church that this role becomes manifest, as the Church prays and intercedes for all, including unbaptised infants who die.
3.5. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi.
The Church has formally instituted a Mass for unbaptized infants.
Before Vatican II, in the Latin Church, there was no Christian funeral rite for unbaptised infants and such infants were buried in unconsecrated ground. Strictly speaking, there was no funeral rite for baptised infants either, but in their case a Mass of the Angels was celebrated and of course they were given a Christian burial. Thanks to the liturgical reform after the Council, the Roman Missal now has a funeral Mass for a child who died before Baptism, and there are also special prayers for such a situation in the Ordo Exsequiarum. Though the tone of the prayers in both instances is noticeably cautious, it is now the case that the Church liturgically expresses hope in the mercy of God, to whose loving care the infant is entrusted. This liturgical prayer both reflects and shapes the sensus fidei of the Latin Church regarding the fate of unbaptised infants who die: lex orandi, lex credendi. Significantly, in the Greek Catholic Church there is only one funeral rite for infants whether baptised or not yet baptised, and the Church prays for all deceased infants that they may be received into the bosom of Abraham where there is no sorrow or anguish but only eternal life.
“As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them’ (Mk 10:14; cf.1Tim 2:4), allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism”.
Within the hope that the Church bears for the whole of humanity and wants to proclaim afresh to the world of today, is there a hope for the salvation of infants who die without Baptism? We have carefully re-considered this complex question, with gratitude and respect for the responses that have been given through the history of the Church, but also with an awareness that it falls to us to give a coherent response for today. Reflecting within the one tradition of faith that unites the Church through the ages, and relying utterly on the guidance of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus promised would lead his followers “into all the truth” (Jn 16:13), we have sought to read the signs of the times and to interpret them in the light of the Gospel. Our conclusion is that the many factors that we have considered above give serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptised infants who die will be saved and enjoy the Beatific Vision. We emphasise that these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge. There is much that simply has not been revealed to us (cf. Jn 16:12). We live by faith and hope in the God of mercy and love who has been revealed to us in Christ, and the Spirit moves us to pray in constant thankfulness and joy (cf. 1 Thess 5:18).
What has been revealed to us is that the ordinary way of salvation is by the sacrament of Baptism. None of the above considerations should be taken as qualifying the necessity of Baptism or justifying delay in administering the sacrament. Rather, as we want to reaffirm in conclusion, they provide strong grounds for hope that God will save infants when we have not been able to do for them what we would have wished to do, namely, to baptize them into the faith and life of the Church.
Since July 17, 2010