Monday, December 27, 2010

The Holy Innocents received the most excellent form of Baptism

 December 28th, Feast of the Holy Innocents
Herod perceiving that he was deluded by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and sending killed all the men children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. (Matthew 2:16)
It is not possible to determine either the day or the year of the slaughtering of the Holy Innocents, though the Armenians believe it to have been fifteen weeks after the birth of Christ. We know that it must have happened no less than forty days after the Nativity, since Christ was presented in the Temple at that time – he had not yet fled to Egypt and the Infants had not yet been killed.
The reason their feast is kept December 28th, within the octave of Christmas, is that the Holy Innocents gave their lives for the newborn Savior. Hence, these first flowers of the Church, martyrs by blood alone, accompany the Holy Child Jesus who entered this world on Christmas day. As they were redeemed by the Birth of Christ, so we today celebrate their birth into eternal life.
These children were not saved without baptism, but they received instead the baptism of blood, through which they were cleansed of original sin and united to Christ’s Body. Washed in their own blood, in place of water, these infants received a non-sacramental participation in the saving death of Christ the Lord, and so share now in his glory. The baptism they received is the most excellent, greater even than the sacramental baptism of water.

Are there three kinds of Baptism: Of Water, of Blood, and of Desire?
The sacrament of baptism derives its power from Christ’s Passion and from the Holy Spirit; but although the effect depends on the cause, the cause far surpasses the effect and does not depend on it. [here I paraphrase St. Thomas, ST III, q.66, a.11] Hence, a man may, without the sacramental baptism of water, receive the sacramental effect from Christ’s Passion, insofar as he is conformed to Christ through suffering for him (i.e. baptism of blood). Likewise a man many receive the effect of baptism by the power of the Holy Spirit, not only without the baptism of water but also without the baptism of blood: insofar as his heart is moved by the Holy Spirit to believe in and love God, and to repent of his sins (i.e. baptism of desire).
Hence we maintain that there are three kinds of baptism: of water (sacramental baptism), of blood (martyrdom), and of the Spirit (earnest desire). This is affirmed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament.” (CCC 1258)
The baptism of blood and that of desire are called a “baptism” not as though they are sacraments, nor less that they give a sacramental character, but forasmuch as they take the place of baptism. As St. Augustine states, “I perceive that not only can suffering for the name of Christ supply for what is lacking in Baptism, but even faith and conversion of heart, if perchance on account of the stress of the times the celebration of the mystery of Baptism is not practicable.” (De Unico Baptismo Parvulorum 4)
However, the unity of baptism is not thereby destroyed, for the other two baptisms are indeed included in the sacramental baptism of water. For the sacrament of baptism derives its power both from Christ’s Passion and from the Holy Spirit, thus these other two (of blood and of desire) are contained and united in the baptism of water. Hence, we affirm that there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism”(Ephesians 4:5), and that this one baptism is in three kinds: of water, of blood, and of desire.
The Baptism of Blood is the most perfect form of Baptism
These two other kinds of baptism can be called a “baptism” precisely because they produce the effect of the baptism of water, and the efficacy of the sacrament of baptism is derived from Christ’s Passion and from the Holy Spirit. St. Thomas tells us, “Now both the Passion and the Holy Spirit act in each of these three baptisms; most excellently, however, in the baptism of blood. For Christ’s Passion acts in the baptism of water by way of a figurative representation; in the baptism of the Spirit or of repentance, by way of desire; but in the baptism of blood, by way of imitating the Divine act. In like manner, too, the power of the Holy Spirit acts in the baptism of water through a certain hidden power; in the baptism of repentance by moving the heart; but in the baptism of blood by the highest degree of fervor of dilection and love, according to John 15:13, Greater love than this no man hath that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (ST III, q.66, a.12)
We do not say that the baptism of blood is more excellent as a sacrament, for it is not a sacrament. But we claim that it is more excellent in consideration of the effect and of the participation in the cause (namely, the Passion of Christ and the movement of the Holy Spirit). Baptism is simply and absolutely necessary for salvation, for “no man obtains eternal life unless he be free from all guilt and debt of punishment. Now this pleneary absolution is given when a man receives Baptism, or suffers martyrdom: for which reason it is stated that martyrdom ‘contains all the sacramental virtue of baptism,’ i.e. as to the full deliverance from guilt and punishment.” (ST III, q.68, a.2, ad 2) Thus we say that sacramental baptism is necessary for salvation insofar as a man cannot be saved without, at least, baptism of desire or (most excellently) baptism of blood.
These Holy Infants were sanctified in this most excellent manner, baptized in their own blood, washed of original sin, and received into the glory of life everlasting.

You Holy Innocents, Pray for us!


Greg said...

May God bless and keep the souls of our modern holy innocents - the aborted throughout the world. Amen.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Greg, I can understand where you are coming from -- the children who suffer abortion are indeed innocents who have suffered a most terrible murder.
However, I would be careful about making too quick a jump from aborted children to the Holy Innocents -- the children killed through abortion are not usually murdered for Christ...they are (most of the time) not Christian martyrs.

Whatever the eternal fate may be of aborted children (and we really ought to be very careful about speculating too wildly in this regard), it would seem a bit much to compare them with the martyred Innocents of Bethlehem.

Let us all pray and work earnestly for an end to abortion.

Frank Davidson said...

Thank you for an excellent and thoughtful post. However, I would not be too quick to dismiss the idea that the aborted innocents are also martyrs. The Vatican's own International Theological Commission, in its document The Hope of Salvation for Infants who die without being Baptised..., states (86b) of such children: "In their case, we may readily refer to the example of the Holy Innocents and discern an analogy ... to the baptism of blood which brings salvation.”
Considerable theological work has also been done on this subject by Fr Philllipe Jobert, OSB and Fr Francis Frost among others. A vast amount of information is contained in the book "Mercy Reigns" (at 300-plus pages too much to condense into a short post) that is deserving of very careful, serious study (with abundant evidence from scriptural and patristic sources). I can supply details to anyone interested in exploring this issue further.
I personally believe these children are indeed martyrs, baptised in the blood of Christ, and witnesses to the truth of the Commandment "Thou shalt not kill" Remember too that abortion, in the present day, is not just a private matter but sponsored, promoted, proclaimed as a "right" and even imposed by godless governments and international bodies. This is truly an assault on God's very creation and in this sense also its victims could arguably be said to die "for Christ" (cf also Rev 12:17). This is a vast subject, but an immensely important one, I believe. It needs to be more wiedly discussed – not speculation, but serious theological debate.

Dolly said...

Thank you, Frank Davidsn. I am more inclined to agree with you and for the information you quoted in defense of the aborted babies. Our God is a God of love, justice and mercy. In case you ar wondering, I have not had an abortion but I feel strongly for those babies who did not make it into the world through no fault of theirs. Thank you fro reminding us to allow God to be God.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Frank Davidson,
You are correct, the ITC document does mention this connection between the Innocents and the children killed through abortion...
However, in this regard, I am of the opinion that the ITC is quite far away from sound reasoning and the Tradition.
[the ITC has no real authority, their document is simply the opinion of scholars -- as they themselves admit -- they are not really a part of the "Vatican", they are not magisterium]

Let me explain why I don't think that we should draw such a connection:
This is the problem with saying that the infants who suffer abortion are "martyrs" for Christ simply because their murder is contrary to the fifth Commandment (Thou shalt not kill) -- it then would seem that everyone who is murdered would become a martyr.

The idea of "martyr" for the Gospel of Life, would make us think that everyone murdered is a martyr ... but that simply cannot be right.

I will grant that abortion is a horrible horrible crime, which cries out to heaven for justice, and which is radically contrary to nature -- but I cannot see how the aborted babies are "dying for the faith" or "suffering for Christ" ... the death they die is a natural evil, perhaps the worst that can be committed; but that does not seem to justifying the application of the term "martyr".

There is very little, theologically or philosophically - or anywhere our Catholic Tradition - which would justify making a connection between the Holy Innocents and the aborted children.

If any want to argue for the salvation of unbaptized children, they should probably look elsewhere.

You talk about having "serious theological debate"; I am open to that, but let's actually look to Revelation and to the Tradition -- the ITC has not done justice to the topic.

I hope that my position is clear.
Together with the Church, let us commend all children who die without baptism to the love and mercy of God.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You are quite right, our God is a God of Love (even before justice, he has infinite mercy).

You speak of "allowing God to be God" ... part of that is to step back and admit that we really don't know what happens to these poor children.
In the case of the Holy Innocents, we do not hesitate to say that they are in heaven, because they are clearly martyrs.

In the case of the aborted babies, we ought not to try to "force God's hand" ... rather, humility requires that we admit that we simply don't know.
But if we don't know where they are (and the Church is very clear on that point -- we simply don't know), then it is dangerous to start making connections between the Innocents and the aborted babies.

Let's allow God to be God, let's trust in his infinite mercy, let's not canonize anyone (not even the babies) until the Good Lord reveals his plans to us.

Christmas blessings to you.

Bernardus said...

Fr. Reginaldus,
Blessings and peace to you. It is true that abortion is horrific and cries continually to heaven for justice. I do not lessen the gravity of this issue. But it is a crime against the fifth commandment and these crimes against the fifth commandment history testifies to over and over again. This subject of the Holy Innocents is best treated apart from that.
The Holy Innocents suffered martyrdom and received baptism by blood as held by Holy Church teachers. Dom Prosper Gueranger gives an excellent sermon testifying to this in which he attributes a quote to St. Augustine. "He that is born is God: a victim must be offered Him, and Innocents must be that offering." Gueranger offers the stark realism that some of those slaughtered babes were the sons of "those Shepherds of Bethlehem, who had been called, on the Night of our Savior's Birth, to go and adore him in his Crib." This sermon certainly causes one to meditate deeply on this mystery of Holy Innocents. I prayerfully question why did God let this play unfold as such, for He is God, and legions would come at his beckoning. Why, oh merciful, good and gracious God, slow to anger and quick to forgive, did You allow this? What pain of heart did you endure in seeing your children sacrificed for you?
Yes, Father Reginaldus, your exercises are for learned discussion, but I think more so to allow me to pray and meditate on these mysteries of God.
You are in my prayers always. Please pray for me.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Thank you very much for this great insight from Dom Gueranger! What a beautiful meditation ... the shepherds and the Innocents ... You have given me something to meditate upon!

Blessings to you, with prayers.

Dolly said...

You are right, no one knows, not even the Church can be certain about this issue. In all humility, I still say let God be God. To believe that these aborted babies maybe martyrs, is not to canonize them, but simply to see them before the eyes of a loving and merciful God.I will remain faithful to the Magesterium, but I am also free to believe in a loving God who will not see these babies' death as something useless and baseless. These are innocent souls who are helpless victims of the present day "Herods" , so to speak, who are perpetuating evil and the culture of death in the present day. Thank you for taking the time to set me right.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Dolly, I certainly don't mean to come off as "setting you straight" ... I mean my comments in all charity.

You are certainly correct that these children are innocent and are helpless victims. I have no doubt that their deaths will not be useless ... we can only trust that God's mercy is at work somehow.

These children are certainly enjoying union with God, whether natural union (Limbo) or supernatural union (heaven proper), I know not...

ExtraEcclesiamNullaSalus said...

This post is being discussed on Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus Forum

Frank Davidson said...

@ Reginaldus

You are of course entitled to disagree with the theologians of the ITC, and with the other theologians whom I have cited in my previous post. This is a matter in which we are all entitled to hold our private opinions – with none being necessarily more authoritative than another.

This issue is too vast to be discussed in detail here, but there are a couple of points I would like to put to you:

First, you say, “The idea of "martyr" for the Gospel of Life, would make us think that everyone murdered is a martyr ... but that simply cannot be right.”

No, not everyone. I would like to suggest the following ways in which the aborted children are different from other victims:

1. They are totally innocent, and in their innocence more perfectly conformed to Christ. Their baptism is a baptism of blood – their own innocent blood, and the innocent blood of Christ. In their innocence they are indeed like the Holy Innocents. (It has even been suggested that all totally innocent victims could be seen as martyrs in the sight of God – take Abel for example. This is not an argument I wish to make here myself, though I do not think it can be too lightly dismissed on theological or philosophical grounds.)

2. They are utterly helpless – even more so than the Holy Innocents. As Pope John Paul II says in Evangelium Vitae (58): ‘No one more absolutely innocent could be imagined... He or she is weak, defenceless, even to the point of lacking that minimal form of defence consisting in the poignant power of a newborn baby’s cries and tears.’

3. Their sacrifice is a total one. They have not even been allowed to breathe one breath of life in this world – unlike other victims, even the Holy Innocents, who at least enjoyed some brief moments of earthly life.

4. In the manner of their death (after conception but before natural birth) they are particularly and uniquely associated with the divine act of creation. Hence, the taking of their lives, no matter what the human motivation, is a direct affront to the Author of life and at the same time a direct denial of the fifth Commandment (and as you know, this Commandment applies particularly to the taking of innocent life).

5. In the particular historical circumstances of today, abortion is no longer merely a private, individual sin but is sponsored, promoted, funded and even imposed by states and international bodies in a deliberate and organised manner. Equally, the scale of it is so vast as to assume almost apocalyptic dimensions – over one billion registered abortions, according to the World Health Organisation, since the late 1960s and continuing at roughly 50 million each year – to say nothing of the millions more unrecorded abortions and the killings through abortifacient drugs and contraceptives. (It is quite possible that the number of children martyred by abortion now exceeds the total number of all Christian saints and martyrs of preceding ages). I believe this amounts to a premeditated assault on the Creator himself by the forces of evil – and that for this reason too the aborted children do actually die "in place of Christ". Taken together with the preceding point – and with Rev 12:17 which I referred to earlier and which I think is very significant in this context – I believe this makes their situation very closely analogous to that of the first Holy Innocents.

[my apologies for the length. I am inexperienced in this business! I will have to send the rest in another post]

Frank Davidson said...

@ Reginaldus, part 2
Secondly, you say in your post to Dolly, "In the case of the Holy Innocents, we do not hesitate to say that they are in heaven, because they are clearly martyrs." I put it to you that we in fact know they are in heaven only because the Church has declared them to be martyrs. We would not otherwise know this since their martyrdom does not fulfil all the normal criteria of martyrdom. They were unbaptised Jewish, and possibly in some cases even pagan children. But as St Quodvultdeus says (Office of Readings for the feast), “The children die for Christ, though they do not know it.” and the concluding prayer for the Morning Office states: “Lord God, the Holy Innocents bore witness to you not by speaking but by dying”. I suggest that the aborted children likewise "die for Christ, though they do not know it" and that, just like the Holy Innocents, they "bear witness not by speaking but by dying". Hence, in the same way, the Church can also claim these children for Christ. Indeed there is no other power on earth except the Holy Catholic Church that has the power or the authority to do so. I fervently believe that the time has come for her to do just this, as she has already done for the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem. The evidence is there; it remains for the theologians to study it carefully and honestly. I refer you again to the book mentioned in my earlier post.

One final point: I do not weep for the aborted children, because I firmly believe them to be in heaven, just like the Holy Innocents. I do however weep for the spiritual death of so many involved in this hideous carnage. The reason for claiming the aborted children as martyrs is not for their own sake but for the sake of those who have committed this sin and need conversion, and for the children of the future, that they may be spared this terrible fate. The burning question is this: what is the Church during for the millions of souls in danger of eternal damnation? If she does nothing, she is handing the victory to Satan. There is a greater need for the theologians and the hierarchy to address this issue afresh in the light of present day realities.

God bless you Father, and thank you for your interest.

@ Dolly

Thank you for both your posts. I believe you have intuitively grasped what I have been trying to say.

God bless you also, and thank you for your insights

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Frank Davidson,
I agree that the murder of unborn children is particularly evil, perhaps even a type of murder which is different from all others ... but I do not see how any of the things you have mentioned make them Christian martyrs. Perhaps they are "natural martyrs" ... but I see no sense in which they are "Christian martyrs".

The Innocents were explicitly killed for Christ -- true, they did not know it, but they were killed by a man trying to destroy Christianity (from the first beginnings of the Church).

1. Yes, the unborn children are totally innocent -- this is a natural innocence, not a Christian innocence.
2. Yes, they are helpless (even more than the Innocents), but what is Christian about this?
3. Yes, their sacrifice is total, but what is Christian about it? How is it supernatural?
4. You say that they "are particularly and uniquely associated with the divine act of creation." This is not Christian, it is natural. This is the act of creation, not the act of redemption. To kill an unborn child is a "direct affront to the Author of life" -- but it is not clearly contrary to the Incarnation.
5. It is true that abortion is state sponsored and funded, it is an organized sin -- but how does organized crime constitute an attack on the Christian faith?

The Innocents were killed by a man who was trying to kill Christ.
Unborn children are being killed without any reference to Christ, for this reason it seems that they cannot be declared martyrs.

Unknown said...

It also seems that since the babies killed by aborition (in the previous reckoning) are prevented from reaching heaven, the crime is all the worse. Was this not the position of Pope Sixtus V in Effraenatam?

One must be exceedingly careful in making the proper distinctions. Viscerally, we think of abortion as a most horrible crime and the victims seemingly deserve salvation. However, as we should know, they aren't completely innocent in that they have the stain of original sin. Thus, it would seem to me, we do them no service in trying to see them as "martyrs".

Papa Puttss said...

Two parts:
Part 1.
I was struck by the term, "Highest form or Baptism". I disagree with the relative measuring of the forms of Baptism. There are no more forms of Baptism than there are of any other sacrament. Baptism is Baptism.
Part 2.
When I got here I was attracted by the discussion concerning martyrdom. I am surprised that no one introduced the root meaning of the word "Martyr". It means witness. Even the Holy Innocents did not witness to the existence of God. The fact that they were washed in their own blood does not increase the efficacy of the Divine action in them over the efficacy of those baptized in Water and the Spirit.

Papa Puttss said...

I missed commenting on the oxymoron, "Most excellent"...
I realize that I made a touch error by writing "or" instead of "of".

Finally let me ask: "Why does every discussion about morality always come down to abortion?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You can say what you want about whether or not there are various forms of Baptism ... the Church herself speaks of three forms -- the Sacramental Baptism of Water, and the two non-sacramental Baptisms of Blood and of Desire.

Baptism is one, since the two non-sacramental forms are united in Sacramental Baptism (as I explained in the article).

Regarding whether the Holy Innocents are martyrs -- the Church has received them as martyrs and they were killed for Christ ... as they did not (and could not) offer any resistance to the action of Divine Grace, they are true witnesses to Christ.

Perhaps in a manner analogous to sacramental infant baptism -- the Church supplies the choice for the Innocents, as she supplies the act of faith for infants to be baptized.

The baptism of blood is the most excellent and most perfect form of baptism, since it participates most closely in the Model and Exemplar (the Crucifixion), and is the highest act of love.

Rather than simply stating that you disagree, offer an argument ... and back that up with at least some reference to the Church's Tradition.

Finally, I share your frustration with the obsession which many have with abortion -- the feast of the Holy Innocents (and many other aspects of morals and spirituality) is regularly hijacked by well-meaning pro-lifers, but this ultimately undermines the true doctrine of the feast itself.

Frank Davidson said...

Father, you introduce the term "Christian martyr" into our discussion and assert that the aborted children are not "Christian martyrs". The Holy Innocents were not "Christian martyrs" when they died, but Jewish and possibly also pagan children. They are seen as "Christian martyrs" today only because the Church has subsequently claimed them – and significantly, there is (I understand) no evidence of any Christian liturgical memorial for them before the late fifth century, nearly 500 years after their death. Thus their claiming as "Christian martyrs" was by no means as immediate or self-evident as it might appear. The permissive abortion laws have been with us for less than 50 years, so it is not surprising if the idea of martyrdom in their respect sounds somewhat novel. But that does not mean that it is wrong.

I am also a little puzzled by your use of the term "natural martyrs". A martyr is a witness – so what does a "natural martyr" witness to? John the Baptist was not, in the strict sense, a "Christian martyr", but a martyr to the truth of the Sixth Commandment. St Bede the Venerable says of him, "His persecutor did not order him to deny Christ but to be silent about the truth. Nevertheless he died for Christ. For as Christ himself said, ‘I am the truth’, in shedding his blood for the truth he therefore certainly did so for Christ." In the same way, I believe, the aborted children witness to the truth of the Fifth Commandment – and thus to Christ, who is the Truth. That makes them to my mind just as much Christian martyrs as the Holy Innocents. I agree of course that the Holy Innocents died directly in the place of Christ and that the connection in relation to the aborted children is not so immediately apparent, but that does not mean it is absent, or invalidate the analogy.

I do not feel you have fully addressed points 4 and 5 of my previous post. The act of creation is both natural and supernatural, since the children are created body and soul and in the image of Almighty God. Likewise, both the act of creation and the act of redemption involve all three persons of the Trinity, and so the children can be said to witness to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If this is not "Christian", I don't know what is.
Secondly abortion, or rather the ideology behind it, is much more than a crime but in fact a monstrous heresy that proclaims "You may kill, if you find it expedient" and "man, not God, is the arbiter of morality". Ultimately, there can only be one author of this monstrous evil, and that is why I again refer to Rev 12:17, which I think applies especially to the unborn children in our day. Today it is not Herod who is seeking to kill the Child, but Satan who is now "making war" on the image of Christ in "the rest of his children". That is why these children are dying for Christ.

Allow me to leave you with another beautiful quotation from Dom Guéranger. He is speaking of the Holy Innocents of course, but I believe his comments are also applicable to the victims of abortion – especially in relation to the goodness of Christ and the efficacy of his grace in the children:
"Is there reason to believe that those children were true martyrs? Where is the merit to obtain the crown of martyrdom? To this doubt, I answer: Would the goodness of Christ be defeated by the cruelty of Herod? Could that impious king order those innocents killed, and Christ not crown those who died because of Him? ... Certainly those children were Thy martyrs, O God, but neither men nor Angels could see their merit, which was before Thy eyes alone. The favor of Thy grace stood in place of their merit. We who have been baptized by water should be all the more ready to honor those little ones who were baptized in their own blood, and therefore linked to all the mysteries of the Divine Infancy."

Papa Puttss said...

Yup, I blew it. I dove in feet first instead of putting my head in it. My comment was intended to state my disagreement with the indication in the title "Most excellent Baptism" since this indicates that there would be forms of Baptisms of greater or lesser quality than others. I don't think you meant to intimate that.
I'll be more careful the next time I write.
Happy New Year and continue the good work.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Paul, I hope that I didn't respond too aggressively again! Please feel free to jump into the discussion as you see fit ... this is meant to be a place of theological discussion, after all!
Happy New Year to you as well.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I think that the problem here is beginning to cross into the realm of the nature-grace debate, something I would rather not get into at this point (it is far too complex an issue to talk about on the fly).

However, I will simply say this: The children murdered by abortion are not killed explicitly for Christ. The death they die is contrary to nature, but not explicitly (or even necessarily implicitly) contrary to the faith.

If denying the truth were equivalent to denying Christ (who is the Truth), then everyone who was falsely accused of any crime would be a Christian martyr.
If taking life unjustly were equivalent to denying Christ (who is the Life), then everyone who was murdered would be a Christian martyr.

John the Baptist died for marriage, but he had proclaimed Christ Lord.
The Innocents died without their own will, but they were killed explicitly in the place of Christ.

I see no comparison with aborted children.

However, I will give you the last word on the issue ... as I don't think that we are likely to agree, I will let your next comment (if you chose to make one) stand.

Happy New Year!

Papa Puttss said...

No offense taken, believe me. In fact your response struck home and I confess that you have an excellent point. I will comply to your request to provide background reasons for my positions with pleasure.

Frank Davidson said...

Thank you Father. I had not in fact intended to respond again. I agree that we have gone about as far as we can go in this forum.

I would only like to renew my offer here to send a free copy of the book "Mercy Reigns" to you or to any other reader of this blog who is open to taking a fresh look at the arguments on this issue – which I have done no more than touch on. The book was in fact prompted by a private inspiration, but all the arguments on this issue are drawn entirely from Scripture and Tradition, so that they stand or fall on their own merits. The book also contains theological clarifications and assesments by the two theologians I mentioned earlier. It has been sent, I understand, to all the bishops of the English-speaking world and many have responded with warm interest and appreciation. You may either email me at my address: or contact the authors directly at At over 300 pages it is no easy read, but it is deserving of serious attention.

My primary interest in engaging in this discussion is first, to encourage serious theological discussion on the status of these billions of innocent human victims, and secondly to raise the burning need for a genuine and effective pastoral response by the Church to the terrible moral tragedy (above all for the perpetrators) of their killing.
Remember, we are talking about a number of human beings murdered equivalent to at least the entire population of China (and quite possibly double this) since 1967, and increasing each year by more than the entire population of Spain. And as Mother Teresa said, for each abortion there are at least two deaths... (you understand the rest). Can it really be that these billions of children, who have been denied (by men) the chance "to know him, love him and serve him in this world" (English Penny Catechism) can also have been denied by God the chance "to be happy with him for ever in the next"? And can it really be that the Catholic Church has no effective pastoral strategy today for calling to repentance the billions of other human beings who have stained their immortal souls with the blood of these innocent children?
I cannot believe it. Yet the only answer on the horizon, it seems to me (and you will understand this better if you read the book), is the claiming of these children – and yes, by the Magisterium and by a formal act – in the manner we have spoken of. I believe that this is an idea whose time has come; that the Holy Spirit is moving the Church to this. I ask only that you set aside all preconceptions and examine the evidence in an open and prayerful spirit. Thank you and God bless you Father

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Frank, for some reason your comment (1:08am) was not posting properly ... I hope that it is posted correctly now (it had been marked mistakenly as "spam").
Blessings to you for a happy New Year.

Pepin the Short said...

You have touched upon a subject which I have always found disturbing.
It would seem that that it does not look good for aborted?unbaptized babies.

I quote from New Advent:

All men, both good and bad, according to the Athanasian Creed, will appear in the judgment to give an account of their deeds. As to children that have personally done neither good nor evil, the baptized must be distinguished from the unbaptized. The former appear in the judgment, not to be judged, but only to hold the glory of Christ (Supplement 80:5),
while the latter, ranked with the wicked, although not judged, will be enabled to realize the justice of their eternal loss (Suarez).

Am I missing something here? The words seem exceedingly clear...

Frank Davidson said...

Thank you Father, and apologies for this! There was some technical glitch, I think. At first it would not post, then it appeared to have posted twice over. It looks now as though it has posted correctly.

May I only add (partly in response to M.) that I am entirely docile to the verdict of the Magisterium, should such a final verdict ever come. The answer, I think, will be found in the love and mercy ("which exalteth itself above justice", James, 2:13) of God, and in the saving blood of Christ.

A happy and holy New Year to all.

Pepin the Short said...

@Frank Davidson:

Amen to that! The concept of unborn babies being 'classified' martyrs anyway because they are dying for Christ by being victims of Satan is a very powerful one and offers a ray of hope.
Also, can't the Vatican, through all its worldwide parishes, dedicate one daily Mass for aborted babies and carry out a 'virtual' or ritual baptism for all aborted babies, every day? Wouldn't this count?
I am not a theologian, so please excuse me if I am dropping some blasphemous clanger by suggesting this...

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

M., what you are proposing is driven almost entirely by emotion and sentiment, rather than the Gospel and the Tradition of the Church.

Now, I know that you have good intentions; I am sure that you mean well; I am very happy to see that you are so strongly pro-life.

However, it would be very foolish for the Church to start making her decisions about theology based on making "powerful statements" ... it would be quite wrong for the Vatican to declare martyrs based on wanting people to feel better, giving "a ray of hope".

We need to look to the Gospel (and Jesus says baptism is necessary); we need to look to the Tradition (and here he find that children who die without baptism go directly to limbo/hell); we need to think rationally about it.

Finally, your last point about "virtual" baptisms for babies who have died is ridiculous! This is Mormon! It is certainly not Catholic. So, no, it wouldn't "count" ...

Again, I know that you have good intentions. I know that you mean well. And I am very glad to see that you are so strongly pro-life. This is all very good.

Moreover, I am not saying that all the babies are certainly in limbo. We simply don't know for certain. And, since we are not certain, we ought not to declare them to be Christian martyrs!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

To readers:
Notice that those who have been making arguments in favor of the idea that the aborted babies all go directly to heaven have not made hardly any reference to the Tradition of the Church. Moreover, even the Scriptural references which they make are tangential ideas loosely related to their argument (ie. the argument is not really founded on Scripture, though it does refer to Scripture).

Whatever we think about the eternal fate of these poor children, it simply will not do for us to make sentimental and emotional arguments, nor ought we to craft entirely new ways of looking at martyrdom simply so that we can included these children.

What we must do is read the Gospel (where Jesus says baptism is necessary, and he also says that he loves children very much), read the Tradition (where we find that those children who die without baptism go immediately to hell/limbo, but we also find that God offers salvation to all), and think rationally about the matter.
Caution is the key -- rather than telling the Church what to do (e.g. "declare them martyrs now!"), we ought to stand back and admit that we really don't know what God has planned for such children...

Let God be God, and let the Church wait for the fullness which is to be revealed on the Last Day.

Pepin the Short said...


1. First of all, no, I am not driven by sentiment or emotion. I am driven by a sense of JUSTICE in that I don’t see why babies who have not had a chance of choosing between good and evil should be treated as evil. However, I will always respect the decisions of the Church but in my small mortal mind I feel a sense of injustice about the treatment of the unborn.

2. Yes, of course it would be ridiculous for the Vatican to pronounce on such matters, just to make people feel better. I wrote in to see if there was something that I was missing. In matters of doctrine and theology it is quite easy to miss the subtle point which makes all the difference. I wanted to see if this was such a case.

3. I don’t know what mormons think about such matters, so any similarity with their principles is purely coincidental. In fact I did apologise if my suggestion/query was out of turn. There was no need to pounce on it with such (unholy?) glee…

4. At the end of the day. God is not bound to His doctrines and can find a way around the ‘doctrine of salvation solely through baptism’ for these children to enter into the eternal vision.

Frank Davidson said...

To M.
Thank you for your post! I absolutely agree that worldwide Masses, walks and pilgrimages of reparation should be made – I repeat, of reparation for this terrible sin and for the repentance of those involved, rather than for the slaughtered children themselves, whom I privately, but firmly, believe to be in heaven. I also think these acts of reparation should be led by our national hierarchies – from cardinals and bishops down, in every diocese and parish even. In this respect I find the response by many of our leaders to be disappointing – with some honourable exceptions it must be said.
As to “virtual” baptism we must be careful of course. There is no way we can add another category to the three already recognised by the Church. There is however a simple ceremony of ‘baptism of desire’ used by some communities. I hasten to add that this in NO SENSE pretends to be an alternative form of baptism but is instead a simple memorial ceremony, intended not only but especially for repentant parents who have fallen into this sin and wish, by praying and lighting candles in memory of their children, to express their profound sorrow for what they have done and to ask forgiveness from God and from their child, “who is now living in the Lord” (Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae 99). I believe this is one small step in the direction of a real pastoral response to this immense human and spiritual tragedy.

Papa Puttss said...

The last sound you heard was the applause from this corner.
Dear readers:
I add to what Reginaldus just said by saying that the abortion question is a lot more complex and a lot deeper than any human can really comprehend and describe. He said it best, "Let God be God."
Finally, how many of you know the work of the Church through the ministry called "Rachel's Vineyard?" It is present in most dioceses and does a great job, spiritually and psychologically in the rehabilitation of the parents who have participated in getting an abortion. In this ministry, the emotional and spiritual dimensions of the question are visited in depth and cause healing to take place. This is a positive action that the Church puts forth and should be known by one and all to be available.

Frank Davidson said...

To Reginaldus,
I do not want to reopen our recent debate. However, I cannot allow your last two posts to pass without comment. In the first place I think you are unfair to M. in characterising his/her suggestions as “driven almost entirely by emotion and sentiment”. M. is right to respond that a sense of justice is the underlying reason – and still more, I would suggest, a sense of God’s infinite Love and Mercy, (which was revealed to St Faustina as his “greatest attribute”, I think). Also, you speak of ‘Tradition’, but the verdict of this particular tradition is not unanimous, as you well know, and it would not be the first time if a minority view were ultimately to prevail. There are many theologians today who in fact believe that the earlier theological opinions were perhaps too narrowly focused on God’s ‘Justice’ to the exclusion of his Mercy.
We know that God is not bound by his sacraments, and thus the absolute necessity of baptism is not lessened or undermined by allowing God to exercise his right to infinite mercy. This necessity of baptism is also the reason why (according to this line of reasoning) it must be the Church – to whom the ordinary means of salvation are entrusted, together with all power to bind and loose on earth – who is seen to claim these children, in order to underline the fact that “Extra Ecclesiam...etc”
Just two more points, Father, in relation to your second post (which I take to refer principally to my own arguments):
1. I will not attempt to defend my own arguments. I am only a simple layman and not a theologian and I may well have argued inaccurately. But I can only urge you to examine the evidence offered in this particular charism, for there are indeed very solid indications (many perhaps overlooked hitherto) both in Scripture and in Tradition, that point towards the reasonableness of this “claiming” by the Church. And many respected theologians (such as Fr Aidan Nichols, O.P. who co-chaired a symposium on this very issue, together with Fr Phillippe Jobert OSB, the former abbot of Solesmes, whom I mentioned earlier) are by no means as inclined as you appear to be to dismiss these profound and serious arguments. (I am not attempting to represent their particular views on this issue, which I am not qualified to state. I merely wish to say that they are open to these arguments, and I believe you should also be).
2. I do not think you have fully appreciated (or at least acknowledged) the immense and burning pastoral issue that is at stake here. In less than 50 years “a great multitude, which no man could number” (Rev 7:9), maybe 2 billion, maybe 3 billion innocent children have been slaughtered – possibly equal to a third or even half the population now on earth. A killing unprecedented in any age – and continuing still at a terrifying and even increasing rate. One has to ask: is this great multitude of innocents excluded from the victory of Christ? and if not, how are they included? And for you, as a priest, whose primary duty is the care of souls, the spiritual death of souls must be even more terrifying. What adequate answer can we offer, pastorally, Father? What answer does the Church have? This is not simply a nice, theological conundrum but a burning pastoral responsibility weighing on us all. It is an unprecedented situation and demands a fresh look at the evidence. I believe that God is offering us just such an answer, and I do think you should be ready to give it full and prayerful consideration

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Frank, I'm not going to start up the discussion with you again ... it is not that I doubt your good intentions, or that I don't enjoy going back and forth with you on the issues ... simply put, I don't think that I have anything more to say.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@M. (6:53pm),
Please do not be offended by my rather direct responses to comments ... I am trying to respond to many many comments every day (while also preparing new posts). If my responses are direct, it is not that I intend to offend, but only that I want to give at lease some response ... several times I said that I do not doubt your good intentions, I wish you would have shown me the same courtesy (rather than accusing me of unholy glee)...

@1) Ok, you speak of justice -- that, by justice, these children must go to heaven.
Here you are entirely outside the Tradition of the Church (and contrary to Scripture) ... here I can see your sentimentality.
You act as though God somehow owes it to humanity to save us ... as though Heaven is not given by grace, but something that he must give us (since he created us). ... You forget original sin ... you forget that no one (not even the most innocent child) DESERVES heaven.
If you had appealed to Mercy, perhaps I would respond to you ... but you appeal instead to Justice. There is nothing more to say here...

@3) Mormons baptize people vicariously after death ... this is what you have suggested. (Frank even seems to be open to the idea).
The sacraments are for the living, not the dead. There is no possibility of vicarious baptism (or vicarious baptism of desire) for the children who have been murdered through abortion. This suggestion is another example of sentimentality ... grasping for straws
[btw, I did not intend to "pounce" on you. I was only trying to respond simply and directly. I said several times that I do not doubt your good intentions, please do not doubt mine.]

@4) Your idea that God will contradict his own revelation is quite far-fetched ... obviously, God is not bound by his doctrines, but I certainly hope that he is not like Allah (Islam's God) who says one thing but can do another!
God is most certainly not bound by the Sacraments (this is Catholic belief) ... but we also have strong reason to believe (from Tradition) that baptism is the only way of salvation open to children ... God will not say one thing and do another, he will not go back on his word ... and he said "You must be born again".

[to be continued...]

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@M. (continued from 6:19pm),

My fundamental point: Why is it that neither you nor anyone else who has been arguing for the salvation of these children have made a substantial appeal to Scripture or Tradition?
You are making elaborate and sophisticated arguments ... you are coming up with "new" ideas, "new" baptisms, "new" ways of salvation. But this is my problem with all of it ... where is the docility to Scripture and Tradition? If you had quoted Scripture more and been more open to the Tradition (which is diverse), I would not have said you are sentimental.

For the record, I have not said with certainty that these children go to limbo ... I have only said that we certainly do not know, and that it is not helpful to compare them with the Holy Innocents whose salvation is certain.

Let me cite from the Tradition (Council of Florence):
"With regard to children, since the danger of death is often present and THE ONLY REMEDY AVAILABLE TO THEM IS THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM by which they are snatched away from the dominion of the devil and adopted as children of God ...
The souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, OR IN ORIGINAL SIN ALONE, go down straightaway to hell to be punished, but with unequal pains."

John 3:5 -- "Truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he be born of water and the Spirit."
John 3:7 -- "You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.'"

There is still room for diversity of opinion, and theological speculation. Limbo is not certain, perhaps these children are in heaven...
Nevertheless, we must approach the issue from a Scriptural point of view, interpreting the Scriptures in light of the Tradition.
It is wrong to try to come up with entirely new and creative "solutions" that make almost no appeal to either Scripture or Tradition. Such "solutions" appeal instead to "a sense of justice", "pastoral sensitivity", and the new "spirit of the present age"... Such "solutions" are the product of sentiment ... they are not of the true Faith.

With this comment, I will end my discussion of the subject on this post.
Partially, I end it because I have been accused several times of sin (unholy glee, pastoral insensitivity, etc.). Partially, I end it because there is nothing more I have to say.
Also, I end my discussion because those with whom I am debating keep making their own "creative", "sophisticated", and "new" arguments; and have simply refused to discuss the witness of both Scripture and Tradition to the necessity of baptism for the salvation of infants. I don't want sophisticated modern reasoning, I want the Faith of the Church which has been handed down to us through the Tradition!

If anyone had made a single reference to the Tradition of the Church (i.e. citing a Council or a Father, or even a Doctor of the Church), I would continue the discussion ... but alas, after many many words, and many comments back and forth, they have yet to done so...
I am not going to play this game any more...

@Paul Dion, Thank you for the words of support and encouragement!