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,



TOm said...

As I mentioned on the phone I really do not know what to do with this new belief that “there is hope for those who die without baptism.” As best I can tell it has been infallibly denied at two councils. Here is an answer offered in 2008 on EWTN:

EWTN Catholic Q&A
Limbo in Church Doctrine
Question from John Harden on 01-01-2008:
I have read a number of discussions concerning limbo, which have me somewhat confused. It is said that 'limbo is not mentioned in Church doctrine'. However; a breif perusal of Denziger's "The Sources of Catholic Dogma" has yeilded the following texts concerning this issue:
Pope Innocent III , 1198-1216
"We say that a distinction must be made, that sin is twofold: namely, original and actual: original, which is contracted without consent; and actual which is committed with consent. Original, therefore, which is committed without consent, is remitted without consent through the power of the sacrament; but actual, which is contracted with consent, is not mitigated in the slightest without consent. . . . The punishment of original sin is deprivation of the vision of God, but the punishment of actual sin is the torments of everlasting hell" (DZ 410)
Ecumenical XIV, Under Pope Gregory X
"The souls of those who die in mortal sin or with original sin only, however, immediately descend to hell, yet to be punished with different punishments" (DZ 464).
Pope John XXII in his letter "Nequaquam sine dolore" to the Armenians, 1321
"It (The Roman Church) teaches. . . . . that the souls . . . . . of those who die in mortal sin, or with only original sin descend immediately into hell; however, to be punished with different penalties and in different places" (DZ 493a).
Ecumenical XVII, Under Pope Eugenius IV
"Moreover, the souls of those who depart in actual mortal sin or in original sin only, descend immediately into hell but to undergo punishments of different kinds" (DZ 693).
Pope Pius VI condemns the rejection of limbo by the Synod of Pistoia in the Constitution "Auctorem Fidei", 1794 saying
"The doctrine which rejects as a Pelagian fable, that place of the lower regions (which the faithful generally designate by the name of 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, exclusive of the punishment of fire, just as if, by this very fact, that these who remove the punishment of fire introduced that middle place and state free of guilt and of punishment between the kingdom of God and eternal damnation, such as that about which the Pelagians idly talk,--false, rash, injurious to Catholic schools" (DZ 1526).
My question is, if limbo is not a doctrine, then what weight do these pontifical and conciliar statements carry? Is the International Theological Commission's assesment of limbo superior in doctrinal authority to the words of two different Ecumenical Councils, and three Pontiffs?
Answer by Fr. Robert J. Levis on 01-01-2008:
Dear John, Ecumenical Councils and the teacing of Supreme Pontiffs are superior to the teaching of any theological commissions. Fr. Bob Levis

Here is the EWTN page, but I mostly quote it for the statements by the councils:

TOm said...

If this is not a settle question, I do not really see how there is anything that is infallible.
If this is not a settle question, I do not see how anyone can maintain there is “all truth” contained within Catholicism and it must just be developed and clarified.
I do disagree with Father Bob Lewis on a very minor point. The term “limbo” and the description of “limbo” is theological speculation. It is possible that those who die without actual sin and in original sin only are in some part of hell not called limbo and not like limbo at all (but different than the hell of unrepentant sinners). If the “hope for the salvation of infants” is that there is a different name than “limbo” and privations and suffering different than what is described as “limbo,” then that is still possible. I do not see how any part of hell is a place we can hope our unbaptized infants go however.
Obnoxiously, TOm

David Waltz said...

Hi Tom,

Thanks much for the link, and taking the time to comment. I have a couple of points that immediately come to mind: first, the issue of infallibility—especially Papal infallibility—has yet to be fully defined/developed. Second, I cannot help but wonder if the statements concerning the necessity of baptism in the above quotes have reference to sacramental baptism only. If this assessment has merit, then there may be room for development concerning the types of non-sacramental baptisms that are valid (i.e. there may be another besides the 'baptism of blood' and 'baptism of desire').

Grace and peace,


Rory said...

Hey Tom,

Good to see your words if I cannot see you.

I do not see a conflict between what the Church has always taught with the hope for heaven of every deceased child. This document speculating that original sin is removed without water baptism in these cases. They do not believe that original sin follows the infant to Heaven. However, I see a different problem.

The document itself opens with complaints from pastors who do not know how to console parents whose children have been taken from them by early death without being baptized. Sadly, I am not surprised.

Inconsolable parents and their troubled pastors could benefit from considering the Church's teaching on the sense pains of Hell, from which all dead children are forever protected. They could reflect on the nature of the Limbo of the Children which implies immortality in a society free from the consequences of sin in an environment that is according to St. Thomas Aquinas, compatible with a state of natural bliss. They could reflect on the tender mercies of God, all wise and all knowing, who gives and takes away for reasons that will be clear later on.

Many religions don't teach a heaven that is any different from the Catholic Limbo of the Children and I have a hunch that these "inconsolable parents" aren't hoping for much better for themselves!
I think the inconsolable parent is quite possibly unaware that the Limbo of the Children actually resembles the heaven for which he hopes.

Parents who are yearning for the Beatific Vision for themselves and their children will appreciate that God will be praised in all His works. If they bring a soul in to the world that brings glory to God in the Limbo of the Children, how can they be "inconsolable"? When God has offered them Himself who is infinite, they are satisfied with whatever finite goods He adds. There is no substituting for this knowledge.

The parent who is a disciple of Christ will accept God's will, and will trust Him who loves their children more than they who are only their temporary custodians. Their children belong to God first, and it is only by His generous privilege, that they enter in to His paternal care as loving Moms and Dads with the obligation to teach them and nurture them as God would have them.

I am not suggesting this is something that can be taught once at a funeral. God's children need time and deliberate reflection to make themselves subject to God's care. But that is our calling! That is part of why we go to Mass on Sunday. We give time to gain eternity. But what are these pastors teaching if their flocks can't deal with the inevitability of death and the eternity that follows?

Maybe the bishop or priest himself had an inferior seminary formation. I don't know, but to complain that Limbo is unsatisfactory to the parents of dead children reveals something about the spiritual poverty of the flock. A rounded balance of Sunday sermons and lessons based on the teachings given in the liturgy of the day cannot fail to help the disciple of Christ to grow in virtue and to prepare them for their own deaths and their loved ones deaths.

These lessons can be given gently and encouragingly with the promise of God's paternal care and love for His children. The sweet consolations of the Catholic faith, correctly taught, begin at the cradle, extend to a death bed, and are carried beyond the graveside and in to eternity.

Rory said...

Just to be clearer, the Church has always and would still continue to teach that no one can enjoy the Beatific Vision if they retain original sin. The new document in favor of affirming that all dead babies receive the Beatific Vision assumes that original sin would be removed.

Another reason put forward in the document has to do with the principle that the law of prayer is the law of faith. If a practice is in the liturgy we assume the doctrine which would follow from it. So far so good. For instance, we draw doctrinal light from the fact that the Easter liturgy refers to the "felix culpa", happy fault of Adam's fall.

The argument this document makes comes from the fact that there is a funeral liturgy for unbaptized babies in the Roman Rite. I don't remember if it was a Mass or not. I had not ever understood this principle as being applicable to something that is a liturgical novelty. Of course, before 1970, and the New Roman Rite, Catholics had never experienced liturgical novelties. How about the fact that for 1,937 years, the Church never had a liturgy for unbaptized babies? Perhaps that is instructive?

Many Roman Rite Catholics including myself refuse to assist at the New Rite, because of other novel inventions. For us, the presence of something like this would seem like the fruit of the modernism that gave us this sterile liturgy that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger described as a "banal, on the spot product". Unlike any other liturgical rite, the new Roman Rite was made up by a team of people, with a view to satisfying Protestants and even consulting Protestants. This is what Ratzinger meant when he referred to the New Mass as an "on the spot product".

The liturgy has always been subject to changes, but these were organic, and developed and grew over long periods of time, and after centuries, the 1962 Mass is still very recognizable as that which our Fathers knew in medieval times. The main feature of the 1962 Missal, which is different is that it included St. Joseph, the foster father of our Lord in the Canon.

I have read books from the 19th Century that have talked about the growth of the cultus of St. Joseph in the Church. His role in salvation history was later in being appreciated by the Church. But eventually it began to be understood that his name ought to be included with the Blessed Virgin, John the Baptist, and the Apostles, and there began to be a tide of sentiment in favor of his inclusion in the Canon coming from clergy and faithful all over the world. It took centuries, but in 1962, St. Joseph was added.

The New Mass didn't develop like that, at least according to the saying of the future Pope Benedict XVI, when he refers to it candidly as an "on the spot product". That is why the argument from the liturgical principle in favor of all unbaptized babies having the Beatific Vision doesn't help very much.

Today is St. Joseph's feast! It is usually on the 19th but had to moved to Monday because this year it was on the third Sunday of Lent, which is a Mass of the first class feast of our Lord. Thanks for considering my unique concerns with this document. I am saying things that really can't be said by many Roman Rite priests and bishops, even if they believe it.