Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Infant salvation and the Catholic tradition

In  the previous post here at AF, the issue of infant salvation was explored, with an emphasis the relevant passages contained in the Scriptures.

This post will focus on the Catholic tradition; which, as we shall shortly come to discern, has advanced more than one view in the attempt to address the issue at hand. Unlike a number of other important doctrinal topics, the destiny of most who die in infancy remains somewhat 'open', and this due to the fact that an official, irreformable, doctrinal definition has yet to be promulgated by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church (neither conciliar, nor papal).

In the year 2007, an important document was created and published by the International Theological Commission (Eighth Term), under the title:

From the opening paragraph on the site, we read:

The International Theological Commission has studied the question of the fate of un-baptised infants, bearing in mind the principle of the “hierarchy of truths” and the other theological principles of the universal salvific will of God, the unicity and insuperability of the mediation of Christ, the sacramentality of the Church in the order of salvation, and the reality of Original Sin. In the contemporary context of cultural relativism and religious pluralism the number of non-baptized infants has grown considerably, and therefore the reflection on the possibility of salvation for these infants has become urgent. The Church is conscious that this salvation is attainable only in Christ through the Spirit. But the Church, as mother and teacher, cannot fail to reflect upon the fate of all men, created in the image of God, and in a more particular way on the fate of the weakest members of the human family and those who are not yet able to use their reason and freedom.

And from the second paragraph:

It is clear that 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. This theory, elaborated by theologians beginning in the Middle Ages, never entered into the dogmatic definitions of the Magisterium, even if that same Magisterium did at times mention the theory in its ordinary teaching up until the Second Vatican Council. (Bold emphasis mine.)

The site goes on to state that the teaching of limbo, "remains therefore a possible theological hypothesis", but then points out that it is not mentioned in Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992), which instead, "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 third paragraph is important, and quoted in its entirety below:

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. However, none of the considerations proposed in this text 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 save these infants 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.

After an "Introduction", the document then goes on to explore the "Biblical Foundations", followed by a look into the "Greek Fathers", and then the "Latin Fathers". The next section sheds light on the "Medieval Scholastics", and then the "Modern/Post-Tridentine Era" and the period between "Vatican I to Vatican II".

Sections 32 and 33 touch on the issue of the development of doctrine, and points out that as related doctrines become clear (and more precisely defined), this clarity sheds important light on the doctrine of infant salvation.

From section 41, we read:

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.

My 'introduction' to this important document shall come to a close, with an admonition to AF readers—Catholic and non-Catholic—that they take the time to read the entire treatment for themselves. I am convinced that all who do so will gain some important insights into the issue of infant salvation.

Grace and peace,


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