Friday, June 24, 2011

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist and the limbo of the children

The Child Jesus prepares his Precursor

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
It is well known that most feast days commemorate the day that the given saint died. Occasionally, the feast will be on the day of the movement of the saints relics (as in the case of Sts. Thomas Aquinas and St. Benedict, according to the new calendar) or, for a pope, it will occasionally happen that the feast will fall on the day of the saints ascendance to the papacy (as in the case of Bl. John Paul II). However, it is almost entirely unheard of that a saint’s feast should commemorate his day of birth.
The principle reason why the feast day of a saint is (almost) never on his birthday is that a saint is not born holy, but grows to spiritual perfection through his life. There are, however, three important exceptions to this rule: The Nativity of Jesus (i.e. Christmas), the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and today’s feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. These three – Jesus, Mary, and John the Baptist – are recognized by the Church’s liturgy as having been born holy and filled with the Spirit of God.
Obviously, the three births are different: For Christ was free of original sin without having needed to be redeemed, Mary was freed from original sin by a unique redemptive grace of preservation, and John the Baptist was forgiven original sin when still in the womb. Still, the grace of being forgiven of original sin and filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in the womb seems to be quite exceptional and extraordinary – how blessed St. John was to receive this gift!
In a previous post, we considered the special graces given to St. John and questioned what this might mean for the supposition of a limbo of the children. In our current article, we will discuss what limbo would be (if it did exist) and point out just how bold a claim it is when theologians speculate that non-baptized infants may go to heaven.

That St. John and Jeremiah were cleansed of original sin – The witness of Scripture
In Summa Theologica III, q.27, a.6, St. Thomas considers whether Jeremiah and St. John the Baptist were sanctified in the womb and cleansed of original sin before their birth. At first it might seem like this is a grace reserved specifically to the Blessed Virgin Mary, but St. Thomas affirms that, based on the witness of Sacred Scripture and the Tradition of the Church, we ought to maintain that these prophets were likewise freed from original sin before their birth.
The Scripture passages cited are: Jeremiah 1:5, Before you came forth out of the womb, I sanctified you (for Jeremiah) and Luke 1:15, He shall be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb (for the Baptist). St. Augustine is cited as a patristic authority who occasionally interpreted these verses as speaking of the pre-natal sanctification of Jeremiah and St. John.
Ought we to suppose that others are given this exceptional grace?
St. Thomas makes an interesting statement regarding the sanctification of Jeremiah and St. John the Baptist: “Nor are we to believe that any others, not mentioned by Scripture, were sanctified in the womb. For such privileges of grace, which are bestowed on some, outside the common law, are ordered for the salvation of others, according to 1 Corinthians 12:7, The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man unto profit, which would not result from the sanctification of anyone unless it were made known to the Church.” (ST III, q.27, a.6)
Clearly, the grace of being sanctified in the womb is an exceptional and extraordinary gift. When it comes to graces so unusual, we would be quite bold to posit that the grace is common to many (especially if there is no direct support in Scripture or in Tradition).
Indeed, I believe that most people would admit that St. John the Baptist and Jeremiah received an exceptionally rare grace when they were chosen by God from the womb, forgiven of original sin, and filled with the Holy Spirit. We can reasonably conclude that this exceptional grace is probably not shared by millions or even billions of individuals, but is a special blessing given to only a few.
No child who dies with original sin can possibly go to heaven
The Catholic Church has taught, as certain and unshakable doctrine, that no one (not even a child) who dies in the state of original sin can possibly go to heaven. “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 with different punishments” (Council of Lyons II).
In the state of original sin, man is deprived of sanctifying grace and all that this implies – specifically, man is conceived without possessing supernatural, or even natural, charity. Therefore, as supernatural charity alone can bring a man to eternal life, it is clear that any who die in the state of original sin cannot be saved.
However, we have already pointed out that the specific grace, by which St. John the Baptist was forgiven of original sin while yet in the womb, was an exceptional and extraordinary grace – one which does not seem to be shared with a great number. Therefore, it is probable (as it seems to us) that children who die before baptism do not receive this grace. But, if they do not receive the grace given St. John (or the baptism of blood which was given to the Holy Innocents), then they will not have been forgiven of original sin. And, if they are not forgiven of original sin, then they cannot be saved. Thus, I would maintain that it is probable that any children who die without baptism are not saved and do not enter into heaven.
In support of this, I offer the teaching of the Council of Florence (from the Bull Cantate Domino of Eugene IV): “Regarding children, indeed, because of danger of death, which can often take place, since no help can be brought to them by another remedy than through the sacrament of baptism, through which they are snatched from the domination of the devil and adopted among the sons of God, [the sacrosanct Roman Church] advises that holy baptism ought not to be deferred for forty or eighty days, ... but it should be conferred as soon as it can be done conveniently.” (Denz 712, DS 1349) While admitting of the possibility of “baptism of blood”, it is hard to understand how any sense of “baptism of desire” could be invoked without claiming for these children that exceptional and extraordinary grace which was given St. John the Baptist.
What do we mean by the limbo of the children?
The limbo of the children cannot be a third place somewhere between heaven and hell – rather, it must be part of hell itself. However, when theologians invoke the possibility of limbo for the children who die before baptism, they postulate a place within hell where the punishments are very light and, perhaps, consist solely in the lack of the beatific vision (which is the essence of hell).
However, it is supposed that the children in limbo would enjoy a natural happiness and would even know and love God according to natural charity (though they lack supernatural charity). These children would have no participation in the life of grace, but would most certainly not be entirely separated from God – indeed, none in hell are entirely separated from God, since they at least receive existence from him.
That there is a distinction between the essential punishment of hell which is the deprivation of the beatific vision (poena damni) and the additional punishments of hell which are the sensible torments (poena sensus) is affirmed by Pope Innocent III: “The punishment of original sin is the loss of the vision of God, the punishment of actual sin is the torment of the perpetual Gehenna.” (Denz 410, DS 780) Therefore, in the supposition of the existence of a limbo of the children (which would necessarily be part of hell), the children who died without baptism would suffer only the loss of the beatific vision and not the sensible torments.
St. Thomas Aquinas, Bl. Duns Scotus, and the other great doctors of the Scholastic period maintained that the children in limbo would not even know that they were missing out on heaven (nor that they were condemned to hell), but would be perfectly happy on a natural level; though, of course, without any shred of supernatural happiness. These children would know and love God with a natural knowledge and a natural love. The children would be entirely ignorant of the mysteries of salvation and, unlike the souls condemned to hell for actual mortal sin, these would suffer no existential pains from the lack of the beatific vision (for they would not know that they were missing this supernatural happiness, and would instead be very happy and perfectly fulfilled on the level of nature).
How bold it is to suppose that non-baptized infants may go to heaven
If we are to hold that non-baptized children are saved, we must be claiming that they are sanctified (either in the womb or after birth but before reaching the age of reason) in a miraculous way, which would seem comparable to that of Jeremiah and St. John the Baptist. Certainly, no child with original sin can go to heaven – but those who want to argue against limbo and in favor of the salvation of non-baptized children must be arguing that God forgives their original sin in an extra-sacramental way. We need to recognize just how extraordinary this would be.
Now we cannot know for certain what God’s design is for these poor children, but we do know that the graces given to St. John the Baptist and Jeremiah are extraordinary and extremely special (and that they were given specifically for the edification of God’s people in crucial moments of salvation history). Without a specific, public, divine revelation that non-baptized babies are given a share in these exceedingly marvelous graces, it will be impossible for the Church to state that such children will be saved.
I do not intend, in this article, to argue definitively for the existence of limbo (though I think it quite probable). Rather, I have only attempted to present what the theologians mean when they postulate its existence. Moreover, I believe it is important for us all to consider just how extraordinary it would be for any child to attain to eternal life without having received the sacrament of baptism – it would be a grace equal to that of St. John the Baptist or, on the other hand, of the Holy Innocents.


Anonymous said...

How can someone know and love God without actual grace or habitual grace?


Anonymous said...

What happens to adults who die in original sin only?


Ludwig said...

Why can't the Church teach on the eternal fate of unbaptized infants from the truths that have an intrinsic connection (or a logical connection) with revealed truth?

Anonymous said...

This is a hard saying for those of us who have miscarried or stillborn babies, who had every intention of having them baptized soon after birth. I certainly hope that God imparts abundant grace in his merciful love to these little ones, whose original sin seems to bar them from supernatural happiness.

Mark Harden said...

What about the Catechism (CCC 1261) which states:

"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 men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them," 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."

Is that just a statement of mystery outside the norms of the economy of salvation, and therefore is not in conflict with your analysis?

Michelangelo said...

Dear Father,

Thank you! You got guts to actually say what the Church teaches! Now, what of those grandparents, aunts, uncles and all the Italians who baptize babies surreptitiously, either prior to the public baptism in church, (just in case), or in the sad case of parents who have left the Church and don't intend to have the child baptized at all? Is this a mortal sin? (And, uh, should I confess it??)

And you may have addressed this one before, the Big Question: How do we get Original Sin? If my soul was created by God at the moment of my conception, so the soul is clean as it comes from the Hand of God, but Original Sin is not simply a "physical" "malady" (is it?) Now I suspect the answer lies in the fact that we're not "a body and a soul" but a mysterious composite.

Now, I'm being lazy, but I am also being cagy, because you, being the theologian, but also an excellent technical writer, target your response to us sophomores, when you want to, of course! And I get a lot out of your analysis and synthesis of the issues. God bless you, Father.

Anonymous said...

The misconception of a children's limbo in Hell really underlines a kind theology that attempts to take into account what happens, for instance, to a child who is innocently put to death (i.e by abortion). This non baptized infant (who retains original sin) would, if we are to follow this view, go to this mythical place (limbo) in hell where they would be happy. In short, this is a pharisaic approach in respect to God’s mercy. Secondly, in simplistic terms, it is not possible to be in Hell and yet be ”happy”. In conclusion, would God send aborted children to Hell ? Certainly not.

There are out there non-pharisaic theologians who actually develop a theology based on Tradition, Scripture and Magisterium that accounts for these souls and God's infinite mercy.


Anonymous said...

I think that, as a mother, who has lost children through miscarriage at age one or two month in utero, I would not like to think they are in a part of Hell as mentioned above. I believe God's love reaches infinitely far beyond our reasoning and seriously do you think Jesus would ever say to me "These little innocent ones are in a part of Hell." I don't have to sacrifice my children to "a part of Hell" in order to uphold the doctrine of original sin.

Anonymous said...

Sorry but my little ones who died in utero very early on and were not able to be baptized are not in a "part of Hell" Every true mother knows this and knows just as we can not understand how there can be three Persons in one God we can not know or understand how the infinite love of God will reconcile the doctrine of original sin and the future of these innocents. Seriously, God can do all things and nowhere does Jesus say these innocent little ones will live for all eternity "in a part of Hell." A Mother

Dionysius said...

I am surprised you do not mention the Catechism which states that we may have hope of salvation for these children.

1261 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 men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them," 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.

This provides a much more optimistic view of things, which seems to me more in keeping with Gods infinite love than the theory of limbo. The present Pope seems to support this idea, which of course he should, seeing it is in the catechism.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately I will not be able to comment regularly comment over the next few days due to lack of computer access. I will respond as soon as possible.

dominic1962 said...

Does anyone actually have an *argument* against Limbo other than emotionalisms and scoffing? What else is there besides Limbo as understood by St. Thomas and the other scholastics in our tradition that has any real support besides the Augustinian view? The new theology view that practically (and probably) everyone gets saved eviscerates not only the doctrine of Original Sin but any number of the Church's doctrines with their fuzzy imprecision and erroneous idea of "mercy".

Anonymous said...

@dominic, the church's trust and hope in God's mercy is not mere emotionalism and scoffing.In the name of mercy, God can do great things no mind could imagine.Who could have thought that he could live his glory and come to earth to die a disgraceful death for his ungrateful creatures. So no, hoping in God's mercy is not mere emotionalism.

Nick said...

To me, the chief difficulties to balance are these two points:

1) The Church has spoken clearly on the case of dying in "original sin alone" as being to hell but without pains of fire. The Church has spoken and acted clearly in regards to baptizing Infants in the first place, which would be totally mocked if the Infant already had a free pass to heaven.

2) Jesus died for all men. Period. How does an Infant get the chance to experience Christ's Merits? Or what of faithful Catholic parents who eagerly want to baptize their infant but the infant is miscarried? It would seem that the Christ-empowering gifts given to Christians was powerless to help a parent rescue their child. To not ever have given that child any chance could be framed as a form of Predestination to Hell, a Protestant heresy, which is repudiated by the Church.

True, the birth of St John and St Jeremiah were 'extraordinary', but the tears of Saintly parents for a child they want to baptize is undoubtedly 'extraordinary' in it's Christian heroism.

Concerning the notion that Limbo is a place of natural happiness, the reasoning is sound, and the main objection seems to be that this is located within the realm of "hell", which people cannot see as anything other than fiery.

I think it would be a very interesting theological study if a Saint (while alive) was given an extraordinary vision of seeing their miscarried child in Heaven, and this vision was approved by the Church.

yan said...

I have nothing to add either to the article nor to any of the comments. Just want to say thank you to all for the discussion!

dominic1962 said...

Well, where did this come from? I didn't say that the CCC's allowance of hope is mere emotionalisms and scoffing, but rather some of these comments seem to be such.

That said, if you actually look at the constant actual teaching of the Church, the Doctors, the Saints, etc. you will find very slim pickings for anything other than an affirmation of something like limbo. Thus, even the more recent CCC's statement seems rather odd in that if you look to what has always been taught, it has never been framed in such a way that there is a good chance or hope that those who are not baptized will be saved. The thrust has been, get those kids baptized because those who die in original sin will not be saved. Period.

We should also note that even in the case of abortion, it has been considered that much more abhorrent because such an act basically kills the child twice-once on the temporal sense but also because they are prevented from reaching heaven. (cf. Effraenatam of Sixtus V)

We cannot grasp the totality of God's will, but to use that as a justification for a theological position is intellectually slipshod. Its like throwing your hands up and saying, "It's a mystery!" Well, yes, but that only means we can never plumb its depths, not that we can make it whatever we feel like.

Dionysius said...

In 2007, the International Theological Commission, published a 41 page document on the THE HOPE OF SALVATION FOR INFANTS WHO DIE WITHOUT BEING BAPTISED, which can be found on the Vatican website here:

This official Vatican pretty well demolishes the concept of limbo and its publication was authorized by PopeBbenedict in January 2007.

I am very surprised that this blog does not mention this extremely important document. Frankly, such a blatant omission does not help the credibility of this otherwise great blog.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Your comment is ridiculous.
If you had read the document from the ITC (which DOES NOT share in the "official Vatican" magisterium), you would know that the document does not "demolish the concept of limbo".

Rather, the ITC (which is only a consultative body to the CDF and not an official arm of the teaching authority of the Church) explicitly states that the faithful are still free to believe in limbo.
The ITC only pointed out (as I have in the post) that the idea of limbo has never been an officially declared dogma of the Church -- therefore, theologians may speculate about other possibilities.

Your blatant misunderstanding of who the ITC are and what the authority of their document is (together with your lie about the content of the document) does not help your credibility.

Come back when you are ready to discuss with integrity and honesty. Good day!

dominic1962 said...

That document has no official authority whatsoever. It is on the same level as that commission that Paul VI set up that said birth control was permissible.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

TO ALL: This weekend I will try to get caught up on comments from the week.
Thank you for your patience!

Alessandro said...

This is a long matter to analyse, but I’ll try to harmonize both positions: the official statements of Lyons pinpointed by Reginaldus on one side, and the “hope” of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Recently, Pope Benedict XVI has stated that Limbo isn’t to be held as a dogma, but what does that mean? Does that rule out the inspiration of the Council of Lyons? Not at all, and I’ll show you why.

The Church admits that Original Sin is an impediment to the bliss of heaven. This is true. We also know from the dogmas of the Catholic Church that there are three forms of baptism: by water, by blood and of desire. The first form of baptism is the ordinary sacramental form: everybody must attain to that safe form. The second form is the baptism of martyrdom: a Biblical example are the Holy Innocents, whose massacre by Herod the Great was so important in their salvation that even the Church commemorates them as saints in her calendar. The third and final form is the one resulting from the desire of a person to receive baptism: that was very important in the earliest centuries of Christianity, when the Church delayed the administration of baptism until the adult candidates were ready – not because the Church was contrary to infant baptism, but because most converts were adults in the first ecclesiastical generations, and some of them may even be impostors and persecutors of the Church, which was indeed a grave problem at the time.

What we know from infant baptism is, nevertheless, that the faith of the child is unnecessary: it’s the parents who want the child to be baptised. So, it may well be that baptism of desire can also apply to the stillborn and to infants who are awaiting baptism, in particular when the parents have already decided and desired their infant must be baptised as soon as possible. This is a first case when children may be brought to heaven under certain circumstances.

A second case is that of aborted children: their blood makes them martyrs, so that they may receive a baptism of blood. As for the non-Christian infants who die in pagan families, I think no form of the previously mentioned baptisms may apply. Nevertheless, the statement by Benedict XVI points to the idea that there’s some limit in the traditional doctrine of limbo.

Limbo is ordinarily believed to be eternal, but the fact that children can get to heaven when they die without baptism doesn’t impede them to meet Christ and recognize him on Judgment Day. So limbo may even be temporary for those who unvoluntarily died without the chance to make a choice. Non-baptized children in limbo “would know and love God with a natural knowledge and a natural love” and “ be entirely ignorant of the mysteries of salvation”, in the words of Reginaldus. But on Judgment Day we will all meet Christ in person: these children, naturally loving God, once enlightened by the mysteries of salvation, may plausibly be able to receive a baptism of fire and spirit.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

While I do not agree with the arguments you put forward, I can see that you are at least attempting to deal with the question within the context of the Tradition (rather than from emotions).

In previous articles, I have argued against an idea of "baptism of desire" as well as "baptism of blood" for infants who die ... but I don't want to go into all that again here.
Simply recall just how great a miracle you are proposing ... these millions/billions of children would all be like John the Baptist (or, as you would have it for aborted children, like the Holy Innocents) ... does that really make sense? does it really seem likely?

The one point I will argue, however, is the idea that the children in limbo (if there is a limbo) could go to heaven at the end of time ... this is most certainly not an option.
The Catholic Church teaches infallibly that the particular judgment occurs immediately upon death and is permanent. There can be no change ... if limbo is part of hell (and it must be), then the children who (I believe) are there cannot ever be saved.

There will not and cannot be any final reconciliation of those who died in mortal sin, or even only in original sin ... but they are in hell (or limbo) forever. [this is a de fide dogmatic teaching of the Church]
-- the debate is over whether or not these children die in original sin, or whether they may receive the exceptional and wholly extraordinary grace given to John the Baptist. (I think not, others will argue yes)

In any case, thank you for the comment. There is certainly much room to debate on various aspects of this teaching. Peace!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

A person can know and love God naturally, even without habitual grace.
This is what I propose is the case for the souls in limbo.

To know and love God supernaturally, grace is needed.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

It is not possible for adults to die in original sin only.
At the very least, they commit a sin of omission by failing to turn to God with their whole heart, mind, and strength. This is a mortal sin in them, and for it they are condemned to Hell.

Hence, there cannot be any who have reached the age of reason who have only original sin (or even only venial sin) on their souls ...

The theologians (including St. Thomas) hold that the first rational act will either be filled with grace and merit the forgiveness of original sin, or it will be a mortal sin (usually of omission).

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

To All, regarding the Catechism,

The Church is quite clear in CCC 1261 ... she is unable to pronounce in favor of the eternal salvation of these children ... "the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God" ... as opposed to children who die after baptism, whom the Church teaches go directly to heaven.

The Catechism is not against limbo ... but only avoids mentioning it since the whole debate is a matter for theologians to discuss and is not yet clear enough for the Church to make an official pronouncement.

In truth, whether the children go to heaven or to limbo does not have a great impact on our faith -- this is why I leave the options open in my article (and this is also why I am desturbed when people attack me for saying that limbo is a possibility) ...
What we simply must hold to, however, is the reality of original sin which can only be forgiven by the grace of Christ through the sacrament of baptism which is "simply and absolutely necessary", either by water, by desire, or by blood.

Any theology which makes it so that all people (as infants in the womb) are somehow "magically" baptized by some implicit desire would certainly undermine both human freedom and the dogma of original sin and Christ's saving redemption.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The question of how we contract original sin is very complicated ... what we know for certain is this: It is contracted through generation (and not through imitation) ... i.e. we receive it by the same mode we receive our nature, through procreation.

St. Thomas elaborates (and improves) the earlier opinions of St Augustine and others -- he states that original sin is contracted through Adam because all people were present "in his loins" ... meaning, the active generative power of procreation (i.e. the male reproductive system) contained all humanity insofar as all humanity would spring from Adam's loins.

This is why Jesus did not contract original sin ... he was conceived not by the power of men, but by the Holy Spirit.
Since, our Savior received his human nature from the Holy Spirit (taking the matter from Mary), Jesus did not receive original sin from Adam.
Peace to you!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

While your comment helps me to grow in humility, it offends against your charity ... since you have no right to call me a "pharisaic theologian" and imply that my theology is not based on Tradition, Scripture and Magisterium.
Most of all, I am quite offended that you doubt my trust in Divine Mercy.

In any case ... I am not a theologian, I am just a parish priest who is trying to spread the Gospel in the digital age.
Peace to you.

Andrew said...

"we do know that the graces given to St. John the Baptist and Jeremiah are extraordinary and extremely special (and that they were given specifically for the edification of God’s people in crucial moments of salvation history)."

If I'm not mistaken, sacraments are signs "instituted by Christ to convey grace." As such, they are wholly subservient to the act of God, even if God chooses to make them the normative means of salvation. Clearly, God can and does act outside of the normative process of salvation- the three examples above attest to this.

What I'm questioning is whether the three cases above can be accurately compared to the case of infants. The three above were freed from original sin in an extrasacramental way to provide a certain "service" or function in salvation history- as you say. For example, by freeing Mary from original sin, God allowed her to live a blessed life that serves as an example for us. There is a certain element of public ministry involved- all three of these individuals lived as rational adults in the world, interacting with the world engaged in the normal process of salvation. Their graces are extraordinary, but they are so in comparison to the ordinary world of sin and repentance.

Infants seem a little different. They never have the capacity to use their reason or participate in the same way in the world and the process of salvation. For many, they never leave the womb. For others, they never have the chance to operate as they are meant to do. As such, are they really comparable to the three examples? Mary, John, and Jeremiah are unique in that they lived a life preserved from sin, whereas infants never really get off the ground. While we can have no certain knowledge in this matter, is it not reasonable to think that giving extrasacramental grace to such infants is not particularly extraordinary, given that they don't lead an ordinary life anyway?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The idea of any man being saved as an infant and without the sacraments is entirely extra-ordinary ... Christ himself has said that baptism is necessary for salvation. ... The Catechism of Trent summarizes the general teaching of the Church Fathers and Doctors: "Since infant children have no other means of salvation except Baptism ..."

What bothers me most is that people seem to think that infants are some-how owed heaven. It is almost as though people think that children are conceived in grace, or at least that God is bound by some law to bring them into grace.

But this is not the case. Men are conceived in sin. Infants are not ordered toward God, but are ordered against God (both on the natural level and the supernatural level).
If nothing happens -- i.e. if no extraordinary graces are given -- the infants cannot possibly be saved.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

This is my main point:
Infants don't have to "do anything" to be condemned to hell (i.e. Limbo) ... the Church has taught that those who die in original sin alone go immediately to hell, but are punished diversely (i.e. the infants "suffer" limbo, while those adults who die in mortal sin suffer hell proper) ... if infants do nothing (i.e. commit no actual sin), and God does not fill them with grace either through sacramental baptism or through some other entirely exceptional means (comparable to that in the case of John the Baptist), these infants cannot possibly be saved.

Andrew said...

"What bothers me most is that people seem to think that infants are some-how owed heaven. It is almost as though people think that children are conceived in grace, or at least that God is bound by some law to bring them into grace."

I certainly accept that people are not owed heaven per se. Salvation is a gift, not a right. However, observing the fact that God created mankind and chose to offer salvation to men, is it not reasonable to think this would apply evenly across the board? Infants do not deserve salvation -as humans-, but should they be refused salvation -as infants-?

For example, substitute race. By analogy, suppose it was claimed that God offers salvation to Europeans, but only natural happiness in limbo to Asians. This person could argue that since no one is owed salvation anyway, it is entirely at God's discretion to distribute his gifts as he see fits. If He doesn't want to give that gift to Asians, such is His prerogative, by this line of logic.

Of course, this is abhorrent to Catholic doctrine. It is easy to see that a just God would not predicate his gifts on something so arbitrary and out of human control.

It seems much the same way when you substitute age. Just as a person has no control over their race, a person has no control over their age. An infant does not choose to be an infant, and does not choose to be unable to be normally baptized. Why would a just God predicate salvation on such an arbitrary and uncontrollable factor as that?

This does not claim that infants deserve salvation. No one deserves salvation, whether European or Asian, infant or aged. The fact of the matter is, however, that God has freely chosen to make salvation available to mankind. Is it reasonable to chop this audience up into little bits, denying salvation to Asians, to infants, to blind people, or to skinny people?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The discussion is beginning to enter into the realm of predestination and reprobation (which, by the way, is taught by the Church) ... an area which I don't think is worth getting into here.

Rather than getting into all that ... I think it more helpful to return to the central question: Is the forgiveness of original sin for an infant without baptism an extraordinary and exceptional grace or not? According to the teaching of the Church and by analogy to the case of St. John the Baptist, this seems to be an exceptional grace entirely outside the ordinary means of salvation.

Given that fact, how can we have grounds not merely to speculate, but even to pronounce with boldness that all these infants are saved?
I do not say that I am certain they are in limbo (though I cannot see any way around this conclusion myself), but I do think that people who reject limbo have failed to understand the implications of such a position.

Andrew said...

Rather than getting into all that ... I think it more helpful to return to the central question: Is the forgiveness of original sin for an infant without baptism an extraordinary and exceptional grace or not? According to the teaching of the Church and by analogy to the case of St. John the Baptist, this seems to be an exceptional grace entirely outside the ordinary means of salvation."

It seems to me like we are hung up on two different uses of the word "extraordinary." You seem to be using it in the sense of "highly unusual/unlikely."

In contrast, I am using it in the sense of "non-normative/non-procedural." For example, the Tridentine rite is "extraordinary" in the sense that it is non-normative. The OF is the regular normal mass for the Latin church, but at the same time there's nothing that "unusual" about the use of the extraordinary form.

It is undeniable that baptism by water is the normative means of imparting sanctifying grace. Any action of God outside of this normative structure is definitely extraordinary and non-normative. We both agree on this point, as I see it. God can clearly act either ordinarily or extraordinarily as He chooses. What I do not see is the connection between "extraordinary" and "unlikely." Saying that the TLM is "extraordinary" does not mean that it is unlikely to occur, and similarly I do not see why saying that God acts in an extra-ordinary manner with infants means that He is less likely to do it.

Thank you for your replies! This is quite interesting theologically.

Anonymous said...

If (as I understand) the human soul is always (even at conception) mature and that at the age of reason (assuming one lives that long) the person makes a choice for or against God and given that at the moment of death our intention toward or away from God is set for eternity, is it not probable or at least plausible that at the moment of death for those who are unbaptized and prior to the age of reason (including the stillborn and miscarried) they make the necessary choice?

As potential comparison, did not Christ Jesus descend to Hell (at that point merely the abode of the physically dead) to offer the possibility of heaven to those whose earthly lives ended prior to His sacrifice?

If this is so, I see this as a balance of Justice and Mercy.

If this idea is contrary to church teaching, please advise.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You are correct, "extraordinary" and "exceptional" do not mean the same as "rare" ...

Still, because the grace is exceptional and extraordinary (and because the only revelation of such grace being given is in the cases of John the Baptist and Jeremiah), it would be a bit rash to start speculating that the grace is given to millions (billions?) of others.

In any case, I just hope that people realize what they must be claiming when they deny limbo ...

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Samantha, the important thing to remember is that there is no chance for change (either for or against heaven) after death.

The souls in the limbo of the Fathers did not have to "decide" for or against Christ when he descended -- they had already chosen Jesus before their death (knowingly or not).

I cannot see how we can hold that these infants have the opportunity to make a choice (certainly not after death).

Peace! +

JGP said...

Just a thought Father: Canon Law 1183.2 states: 'The local ordinary can permit children whom the parents intended to baptize but who died before baptism to be given ecclesiastical funerals.'

Since Requiems are not said for those in Hell, does this not presume that somehow these children have been cleansed of original sin? That the intention of the parents have somehow made up for a baptism of desire maybe?
While canon law certainly treats it as an exception, the fact that it is allowed could suggest something.

Incidentally Father, we would love for you to be our parish priest!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You are correct, funeral Masses may be offered for children who die without baptism ... however, it is good to note that the prayers are different from those of baptized children.
If the child has been baptized, the prayers presume the child is in heaven.
If they child has not been baptized, the prayers simply offer the child to God's mercy -- they do not so much pray for the child (as would be the case for a baptized adult), but simply speak of the mystery of God's mercy.

Hence, even the 'funeral' ritual for a non-baptized child recognizes the extreme difficulty in speculating on the child's entrance into heaven.

In any case, I do not mean to say that I am absolutely certain that these children are in limbo ... what I DO MEAN TO SAY though is that people go too far when they claim that God "just has" to save these children or that "we cannot possibly imagine" that these little one's are in limbo (hell).
Such an attitude (while understandable from an emotional point of view) is radically contrary to the Tradition of the Church.

Thank you for the comment and for bringing up the additional point! Also, thank you for your kind words; please pray for all priests that we may follow after His Heart.
Peace to you! +

Anonymous said...

I'm coming to this discussion late but I read through all of the responses and I have a question that has not been asked yet.

We cannot DO anything to sanctify ourselves or DO anything to merit or deserve the removal of original sin. Therefore isn't it correct to say that baptism is a vow to accept God and enter into his santifying grace, and that grace is then what grants us our salvation and absolution? In other words, OUR vow and OUR action is still not what saves us - but only God's grace?

It seems to me that God can/would extra-sacramentally grant that same grace to anyone who has not had the ability to make the choice for or against baptism since our choice is not what saves us.

From the standpoint of God's justice and mercy, it seems impossible to me that anyone who is too young/ignorant to make a rational choice to accept God and receive baptism would have their heavenly salvation denied for the lack of a choice they were as yet unable to make for themselves anyway, more especially if it's not our choice that saves us to begin with. And if that is true, how much more impossible it seems to me would salvation be dependent on whether any other person acts to baptise them. (This is not to say that I don't believe in infant baptism since I think we can act in a positive way for others.)

I cannot believe that God sends anyone to hell (even limbo) that has not had a chance to rationally accept or reject Him. Even we humans in our extreme lack of charity and mercy and justice recognize that as being something we would not do. How much more so would God act in love. How He accomplishes this may forever remain a mystery to us but perhaps it is similar to what Samantha pointed out that Jesus did while He preached to the unbaptized dead.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Your comments imply that God would be unjust if he did not grant salvation to a child who was conceived in original sin and not baptized.
You seem to think that the children, by virtue simply of being created, have a right to heaven.

We have to stand back from the emotions and take a serious look at the theology and the teaching of Christ on the absolute necessity of baptism.

In any case: The position in favor of limbo (which you think is simply impossible and contrary to any sense of justice) is the position of the vast majority of the Fathers, Doctors, saints, and theologians.
We have to learn to be a bit more docile to both Tradition and reason -- and to resist the impulse of our passions and sentiments.

Finally, I do not mean to claim that I am certain the children are in limbo -- my point is only to say that, if they are saved, the exceptional grace given to John the Baptist turns out to be not that exceptional at all ...

(please do not take this response too harshly, I simply want to write clearly and concisely ... and this whole debate is getting a bit old for me)
Peace to you in Christ our Savior! +

enness said...

I don't see what the age of reason has to do with it. The kids are stuck with original sin whether they would choose it or not. Their parents should have had them baptized, I guess.

The question nagging at me is whether we might speculate that limbo could be anything like purgatory, in other words, that prayers offered in atonement could have some impact? If it really is a part of hell then the answer seems clear (Lazarus/rich man), but thought I'd pose the question anyway and try to learn something...

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Very briefly: The reason it is important whether the child has attained to the use of reason is that, if the child has, then there is the possibility of actual sin (and also the possibility of a baptism by desire). Hence, the child who has reached reason will not go to limbo -- he will either go to heaven or to hell (since limbo is for those who die in original sin alone).

Regarding whether limbo could be like purgatory ... recall that it is for those who die in original sin alone. It has been declaired that those who die in original sin alone go directly to hell (though they do not necessarily suffer sensible punishments). Therefore, limbo must be part of hell (it is the "fringe" of hell ... limbo means "fringe").
Hence, it is clear that prayers cannot help those who are in limbo and that they will be there for eternity.

I hope that this clarifies things a little bit!
Remember, I do not mean to say that we have to believe in limbo ... I only mean to say that "if" limbo exists, this is what it would have to be ... and that no child who dies with original sin can possibly be saved.

Peace to you. +

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