The Hope of Salvation for Infants who Die Without Being Baptized by International Theological Commission

(Rome: Vatican, 2007), 64

  • "the traditional teaching on this topic has concentrated on the theory of limbo, understood as a state which includes the souls of infants who die subject to original sin and without baptism, and who, therefore, neither merit the beatific vision, nor yet are subjected to any punishment, because they are not guilty of any personal sin"
  • "The Catechism teaches that infants who die without baptism are entrusted by the Church to the mercy of God"
    • “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”. (100, cf. CCC 1261)
  • "The conclusion of this study is that there are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness, even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in Revelation."
  • Methodology: recognize the historical development of faith (cf. 2022-12-03-Dei Verbum 8) and place within the hierarchy of truths (cf. Unitatis Redintegratio, 11)
  • "St Peter encourages Christians to be always ready to give an account of the hope that is in them (cf. 1 Pt-03-16). This document deals with the hope that Christians can have for the salvation of unbaptised infants who die." (1)
  • "salvation can be achieved only in Christ, by the Holy Spirit" (2)
  • "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"...but we "cannot ignore the tragic consequences of original sin" (3)
  • "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." (5)

1. History and Hermeneutics of Catholic Teaching

1.1 Biblical Foundations

  • "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." (10)
  • "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." (10)

1.2. The Greek Fathers

  • Gregory of Nyssa: the destiny of these infants is a mystery (12)
  • St. Gregory Nazianzen: "that these children receive neither praise nor punishment from the Just Judge, because they have suffered injury rather than provoked it." (13)

1.3. The Latin Fathers

  • Augustine (countering Pelagius):
    • Infants who die without Baptism are consigned to hell (16)
    • There is no “middle ground” between heaven and hell. “There is no middle place left, where you can put babies” (17)
    • But they suffer only "the lightest punishment of all" (18)
  • Council of Carthage of 418: 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” (19)
  • 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” (20)

1.4. The Medieval Scholastics

  • Early Medieval follow Augustine as above (21)
  • Later Medieval, Peter Abelard on, interpret Augustine as loss of beatific vision but no further penalties (22)
  • Aquinas: "they possess a true form of union with God proportionate to their condition" and "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" (gives more weight to God's mercy than Augustine's view) (23)

1.5. The Modern/Post-Tridentine Era

  • Return to an Augustinian view (and also Jansenism): Limbo was not doctrine, but the common teaching until the mid-20th century (26)

1.6. From the Time of Vatican I to Vatican II

  • The question was raised before Vatican I and Vatican II, but not addressed directly by these councils because it was not mature enough (27-28)
  • Theologians speculated: perhaps a way toward Baptism of Blood or Baptism of Desire for infants? Or an extra-sacramental configuration to Christ? (29)
  • "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." (30)

1.7 Issues of a Hermeneutical Nature

  • "(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." (32)
  • note the "universal saving will of God" (33)
  • Infants without baptism being deprived of the beatific vision was "common doctrine", but not a certain statement of faith (34, 40)
  • A lot of this is "theological opinion" or speculation, but we need to "keep in mind the apophatic perspective of the Greek Fathers." (40, 41)
  • "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" (41)

2. Inquirere Vias Domini: Seeking to Discern God’s Ways - Theological Principles

2.1. The Universal Salvific Will of God as Realized Through the Unique Mediation of Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit

  • "The universal salvific will of God is a fundamental and central principle" (43)
  • "Jesus asserts that the care of these little ones is entrusted to the angels of God" (45 cf. Mt-18: "See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.")
  • "The Synod of Quiercy (853) asserts: “Almighty God wishes all men without exception to be saved" (49, cf. 1 Tm-02)
  • "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" (52)

2.2. The Universality of Sin and the Universal Need of Salvation

  • "Already in the Old Testament, the all-pervading nature of human sin is mentioned in almost every book." (53)
  • "For Paul, the universality of the redemption brought by Jesus Christ finds its counterpart in the universality of sin." (54)

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." (57)
  • But this is a mystery: "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”." (60)

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." (61)
  • "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." i.e baptism of blood and desire (66)

2.5 Hope and Prayer for Universal Salvation

  • "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." (68)

3. Spes Orans: Reasons for Hope

3.1. The New Context

  • Hope is the all-embracing context of our reflections and report. (78)

3.2. God's Merciful Philanthropia

  • “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” (81, cf GS 22).
  • God's power is not restricted to the sacraments (82)
  • The following are ways by which unbaptised infants who die may perhaps be united to Christ. (84)
    • infants who suffer and die are conformed to Christ in his own death (85)
    • infants who suffer from violence receive the baptism of blood like the Holy Innocents (86)
    • "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." (87)

3.3. Solidarity with Christ

  • "Where sin abounded, grace superabounded! That is the emphatic teaching of Scripture" (91)

3.4. The Church and the Communion of Saints

  • 97 talks about the connection of people to Christ through parents or spouses: demonstrates the importance of me being united to Christ through the Church for the sake of my family

3.5. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi

  • "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" (100)
    • Entrance antiphon: "[God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away." (Rv-21, The Roman Missal, 1379)
  • "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." (100)

3.6. Hope

  • "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." (102)

Topic: Baptism


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Created: 2022-11-07-Mon
Updated: 2023-09-12-Tue