Unbaptized Infants – Empire Essays

Unbaptized InfantsDemonstrate knowledge of the broad history of Christian thought concerning either infants by summarizing the arguments presented in the class readingThe author traces the history of Catholic doctrine about the fate ofinfants who die unbaptized: (1) from Augustine’s teaching that theyare condemned to hell where they suffer “the least of its pains”; (2) tothe medieval doctrine of Limbo as the state in which those Infants,although excluded from the vision of God, enjoy a natural happiness;(3) to the consoling words that John Paul II, in Evangelium vitae,addressed to a woman who had caused her child to be aborted, thatwhen she had repented and was reconciled to God, she could askforgiveness from her child who was now “living in the Lord.”THE CATHOLIC CHURCH HAS CONTINUED TO AGREE with Augustine thatinfants, although they seem to be the most innocent of God’s creatures,are born alienated from God by a guilt they inherit from our first parents;infants can be freed from this guilt only through the redeeming grace ofChrist, which they would receive in the sacrament of baptism. However,the Church has not continued to hold with Augustine that infants whodie unbaptized are condemned to hell where they must suffer what hedescribed as “the mildest punishment.”^During the twelfth century an important development took place inCatholic thought regarding the kind of punishment God inflicts on thosewho come before his judgment innocent of any personal sin but still bearingthe guilt of original sin. Early in that century Anselm of Canterbury^ andHugh of St. Victor^ still held with Augustine that infants who diedunbaptized would suffer in hell. But later in the same century PeterFRANCIS A. SULLIVAN, S.J., is professor emeritus of the Gregorian University,from which he earned his S.T.D. His areas of special competence are ecclesiologyand ecumenism. His recent publications include: “Infallibility,” in The CambridgeCompanion to John Henry Newman, ed. Ian Ker and Terrence Merrigan (2009);and “‘Ecclesial Communities’ and their ‘Defectos Sacramenti Ordinis”‘ EcumenicalTrends 39.3 (2010). Forthcoming are two articles: “Catholic Tradition and Traditions”;and “The Development of Doctrine on the Salvation of the Adherents ofOther Rehgions, in Vatican II and the Postconciliar Magisterium.”‘ Augustine, Enchiridion ad Laurentium c. 93 (PL 40, 275).^ Anselm of Canterbury, De conceptu virginali et de originali peccato c. 28, inOpera omnia, 6 vols., ed. F. S. Schmitt (Edinburgh: T. Nelson, 1946-1961) 2:170-71.^ Hugh of St. Victor, Summa sententiarum, tract. 5, cap. 6 (PL 176,132).THEOLOGICAL STUDIESAbelard proposed that while the alienation from God caused by the guilt oforiginal sin would exclude infants who died unbaptized from the beatificvision of God, it would deserve no other penalty than that.” The fact thatPeter Lombard introduced this opinion into his Sentences^ guaranteed itswide adoption among theologians in the 13th century, at the beginning ofwhich it was confirmed by Pope Innocent III who declared in 1201 that thepenalty for original sin is deprivation of the vision of God, while the tormentsof hell are suffered by those guilty of actual sin.^ This declaration ledto the conclusion that it was not appropriate to speak of those who did notsuffer such torments as being in hell, and the term “limbo” (from the Latinlimbus, meaning “fringe”) was adopted as the name of the state for infantswho died unbaptized. Thomas Aquinas proposed reasons for believing thatinfants in limbo would enjoy a state of natural happiness, and would not besaddened by their exclusion from the beatific vision.^From the 13th century on. Catholic theologians commonly taught thatlimbo is the eternal state of infants who die unbaptized, on the grounds of atwofold argument: (1) since infants are not capable of the desire for baptismthat could supply for the lack of the sacrament, the actual reception ofbaptism is the only way they could have been freed from the guilt of originalsin before their death; and (2) while such guilt would exclude them from thebeatific vision, it merited no other penalty. While this was the commonbelief of the faithful, it never became the official teaching of the CatholicChurch, even though Pope Pius VI defended this teaching as free of Pelagianismwhen the Jansenist Synod of Pistoia in 1786 charged it with heresy.^At Vatican I a draft of a dogmatic constitution. De doctrina catholica,included the statement: “Those who die with original sin alone will foreverlack the blessed vision of God.”‘ This did not become definitive Catholicdoctrine, since that draft was never voted on by the council. However, it didshow that some in the drafting commission had wanted the council to ruleout speculation by Catholic theologians about ways that infants who diedunbaptized might be freed from the guilt of original sin and enjoy the visionof God. As it turned out, such speculation did become quite vigorous 50years later, during the first half of the 20th century. In 1954, William Van“• Peter Abelard, Commentaria in Epistolam Pauli ad Romanos, liber II {CorpusChristianorum, Continuatio Mediavaelis 11) 169-70.^ Peter Lombard, Sententiae, Lib. II, dist. 33, cap. 2.Innocent III, Maiores ecclesiae causas, letter to Humbert, ArehbishoD of Aries(DS 780).^ Thomas Aquinas, In II Sent., d. 33, q. 2, a. 2; De malo q.5, a. 3 4° Pius VI, bull Auctorem fidei (1794) (DS 2626).Vatican I, Schema reformatum constitutionis dogmaticae de doctrina catholica,cap. 5, no. 6, in Acta et decreta sacrorum conciliorum recentiorum: Collectio lacensis1 vols. (Freiburg: Herder, 1870-1890) 7:565.INFANTS WHO DIE UNBAPTIZED 5Roo, a colleague of mine for many years in the Faculty of Theology of theGregorian University, published an article entitled “Infants Dying withoutBaptism: A Survey of Recent Literature and Determination of the State ofthe Question.”^” His study of what had been written by Catholic theologiansduring the previous 30 years in favor of the opinion that those whodied as infants could be freed of the guilt of original sin without havingreceived the sacrament of baptism, showed that the solutions offered werebased on the classic doctrine that the lack of baptism in re could be suppliedby baptism in voto, or by death for Christ, as was recognized in the case ofthe Holy Innocents. Thus, it was proposed that infants might receive anillumination at the moment of death that would enable them to desirebaptism, or that the desire of their parents or of the Church that they bebaptized, would provide the needed votum baptismi. The painful and evenviolent death that many infants suffer was also proposed as supplying forbaptism. Van Roo concluded his survey of this literature thus:As the question stands today, we are in the presence of a common theologicalteaching and a conviction which runs through a number of documents of the Churchcontrary to the new positions. This evidence of a common teaching of theologiansand of a sensus Ecclesiae blocks the way to the various solutions seeking salvationfor the infants dying without baptism. Nor does the recent wave of literature changethe situation.^’The various positions generally have been advanced by their authors with sufficientprudence and caution, avoiding any affirmations, looking to the Church for a sign ofencouragement. No such sign has been given. . . . Given the present state of thequestion, then, I would say that one is not free to affirm that all infants are saved, orthat infants dying without baptism are given a means of salvation other than baptismin reP’Clearly, in Van Roo’s opinion the arguments proposed in favor of thesalvation of infants who die without baptism were not convincing enoughto outweigh the common teaching that they would be consigned to limbo.On the other hand, he certainly did not share the opinion of anothercolleague at the Gregorian, Sebastian Tromp, who, as secretary of theTheological Commission in the preparatory phase of Vatican II, drafteda chapter about infants who die unbaptized that was to be included inthe proposed Schema de deposito fidei pure custodiendo. In his drafthe rebuked as “rash and dangerous”‘^ the recent theories proposed by^° William A. Van Roo, S.J., “Infants Dying without Baptism: A Survey ofRecent Literature and Determination of the State of the Question,” Gregorianum 35(1954) 406-73.‘1 Ibid. 472. ‘^ Ibid. 473.” See Giuseppe Alberigo and Joseph A. Komonchak, eds.. History of Vatican II,5 vols. (MaryknoU, N.Y.: Orbis, 1995-2006) 1:245.6 THEOLOGICAL STUDIESCatholic theologians to explain how such infants could be saved withoutbaptism, and he insisted that the doctrine excluding such infants fromsalvation was taught definitively by the ordinary universal magisterium.^’*Tromp’s chapter on this question was dropped from the schema de depositofidei because it was approved by only a minority of the Central PreparatoryCommission.^^ The question about the salvation of infants who dieunbaptized is not mentioned in any of the documents of Vatican II. Onthe other hand, the theologians involved in the work of the council weresurely aware of the ongoing and lively discussion regarding ways thatinfants dying without baptism could be freed of original sin and be saved;many of the bishops must also have been aware of this. The council’ssilence on the question, as well as the Central Preparatory Commission’srejection of Tromp’s effort to have the council condemn such speculation,suggests that the mind of the council was to let the discussion continuewithout hindrance.Given this fact, one can ask whether Vatican II made any contributionto the discussion of this question. In my opinion, it did make an importantcontribution by insisting so strongly on the universality of the salvific willof God. The basic difficulty with the traditional doctrine about limbo isthat Christian salvation is eternal life in the enjoyment of the beatificvision of God, from which infants in limbo are excluded through no faultof their own. This raises the question about the sense in which it can besaid that God wills their salvation. While Vatican II did not address thisproblem, it did insist, more strongly than any previous council had done,that the salvific will of God is truly universal. In Lumen gentium no.l3 thecouncil gave emphatic expression to this universality by describing thosecalled to salvation as “omnes universaliter homines.” In Gaudium et spesno. 22 there is the powerful statement: “Since Christ died for everyone,and since the ultimate calling of each of us comes from God and istherefore a universal one, we are obliged to hold that the holy Spirit offersto everyone the possibility of sharing in this paschal mystery in a mannerknown to God.”^^I have seen no commentary on this text that applied it to the salvation ofinfants who die unbaptized. However, in his commentary on chapter 1 ofGaudium et spes, Joseph Ratzinger stressed a point in this text that canthrow light on that question. I refer to the point that, in his view, justifiedhis contention that article 22 of Gaudium et spes” Ibid. 310. 11* The English translation of the Vatican II documents that I use throughout is fromNorman P. Tcinner, ed.. Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, 2 vols. (Washington:Georgetown University, 1990).INFANTS WHO DIE UNBAPTIZED 7represents an advance over Lumen Gentium. The latter lays too much stress onman’s activity… . Here on the contrary it is decisively acknowledged that the wayof salvation is God’s affair and cannot be defined by us. . . . It is God or his HolySpirit who offers his salvation to man and associates him with it…. Salvation is nota “work” of man. Wherever it occurs, it must ultimately be a sharing in the Eastermystery of cross and resurrection.”I would apply Ratzinger’s thought to the question under consideration hereby saying: “The way of salvation for infants who die unbaptized is God’saffair and cannot be deñned by us. It is God or his Holy Spirit who offers tothose infants a salvation that must be a sharing in the Easter mystery ofcross and resurrection.” Since what has been thought to exclude thoseinfants from salvation is their lack of baptism, either in re or in voto, onecan also invoke Aquinas’s doctrine that “God did not so bind His power tothe sacraments as to be unable to bestow the effect of a sacrament withoutthe sacrament.”^^ Applying this to the case of the infant who diesunbaptized, we can say that God did not so bind his power to the sacramentof baptism that he cannot free an infant from the inherited guilt of originalsin without the sacrament.In the years following Vatican II, the council’s stress on the universalityof the salvific will of God strengthened the conviction among many Catholictheologians that God’s will to save every human person must be efficaciousfor infants who die without having been baptized. An article I findparticularly significant, both for its author and for the journal in which itappeared, is Jean Galot’s “La salvezza dei bambini morti senza battesimo”in La civiltà cattolica.^^ Galot argues that the development fromAugustine’s doctrine that infants who die unbaptized are condemned tohell where they suffer “the least of its pains,” to Aquinas’s belief that theyenjoy a natural happiness in limbo, was motivated by the conviction thatfor God to inflict even the least pains of hell on infants as punishment forthe inherited guilt of original sin was incompatible with God’s mercy.However, Galot insists, this well-intentioned solution, motivated as it wasby the consideration of God’s infinite mercy, still left the infants to sufferthe eternal separation from God, which in fact is the essential pain ofdamnation.^” Galot concludes that the exclusion of unbaptized infants from” Herbert Vorgrimler, ed.. Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II(New York: Herder & Herder, 1967-1969) 5:162.^* Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae 3, q. 64, a. 7.^’ Jean Galot, S.J., “La salvezza dei bambini morti senza battesimo,” La civiltàcattolica 122 (1971) 228^0.^° See Catechism of the Catholic Church (Washington: U.S. Catholic Conference,1994) no. 1035: “The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, inwhom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created andfor which he longs.”ö THEOLOGICAL STUDIESsalvation is incompatible with God’s universal salvific will. He then invokesthe principle that Vatican II urged theologians to remember that “in Catholicdoctrine there exists an order or ‘hierarchy’ of truths, since they vary intheir connection with the foundation of the Christian faith. “^^ Galot doesnot actually use the term “hierarchy of truths,” but his argument is basedon the same principle. The problem with the limbo solution was that itbased the exclusion of unbaptized infants from the presence of God—ineffect their eternal damnation—on the necessity of baptism, for whose lackthey could not supply by its votum. Galot offers the following solution.For the solution to this problem . . . the necessity of baptism has to be put inits place. It is secondary to the salvific will, which is the regulating principleof the whole economy of salvation. In determining the fate of those infants,one ought not to have begun with the consideration of the necessity of baptism.Historically the question was put badly, because one sought exclusively to solvethe problem of this necessity. Rather, one ought to have begun with thecertitude that God has provided for the salvation of these infants, and thenhave asked how the necessity of baptism is verified in their case. Failing tofollow this basic method, theologians proposed theories that sought first of allto be in accord with the necessity of baptism, but that are not in accord withthe divine salvific will. They failed to recognize that the necessity of baptism isonly a means instituted by God for the realization of his plan of salvation, andtherefore it cannot conflict with his plan with regard to the salvation of thoseif^^Recall that Van Roo had remarked, toward the end of his survey, thattheologians had been looking to the Church for a sign of encouragement,but no sign had been given. But within four years after the close of Vatican IIsuch a sign was given, not in the form of a doctrinal statement, but in theform of a new Ordo exsequiarum (Order of Funerals), approved by PopePaul VI and promulgated on August 15,1969. This Order included funeralrites for deceased children, not only for the baptized but also for theunbaptized. Prior to this date it had been the custom to celebrate a Massof the Angels for the funeral of a baptized child, but no mass at all for anunbaptized child, who would not be buried in consecrated ground. The factthat the new Order contained funeral rites for an unbaptized child was notonly very consoling for the parents of such a child, but must also have beenencouraging for theologians who had been looking for such a sign. Theymust have been even more heartened by the prayers the Order specified tobe said in the several parts of the funeral rites for the child who diedwithout ^^^^ Vatican II, Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis redintegratio no. 11.^^ Galot, “Salvezza” 239-40, my translation.^^ Order of Christian Funerals Approved for Use in the Dioceses of the UnitedStates of America (New York: Catholic Book, 1989) nos. 278,282,289,293,322,325.INFANTS WHO DIE UNBAPTIZED 9FUNERAL MASSIntroductory ritesMy brothers and sisters, the Lord is a faithful God who created us all after his ownimage. All things are of his making, all creation awaits the day of salvation. We nowentrust the soul of N. to the abundant mercy of God, that our beloved child mayfind a home in his kingdom.Opening prayerGod of all consolation, searcher of mind and heart, the faith of these parents isknown to you. Comfort them with the knowledge that the child for whom theygrieve is entrusted now to your loving care.Final commendationLet us commend this child to the Lord’s merciful keeping; and let us pray with allour hearts for N. and N. Even as they grieve at the loss of their child, they entrusthim/her to the loving embrace of God.You are the author and sustainer of our lives, O God, you are our final home.Trusting in your mercy and in your all-embracing love, we pray that you give him/her happiness forever.RITE OF COMMITTALLord God, ever caring and gentle, we commit to your love this little one, whobrought joy to our lives for so short a time. Enfold him/her in eternal life. We prayfor his/her parents who are saddened by the loss of their infant. Give them courageand help them in their pain and grief. May they all meet one day in the joy andpeace of your kingdom.Concluding prayerGod of mercy, in the mystery of your wisdom you have drawn this child to yourself.In the midst of our pain and sorrow, we acknowledge you as Lord of the living andthe dead and we search for our peace in your will. In these final moments we standtogether in prayer, believing in your compassion and generous love. Deliver thischild out of death and grant him/her a place in your kingdom of peace.These prayers clearly encourage the parents of the deceased infant to havehope that their infant “may find a home in his kingdom,” that God will“give him/her happiness forever,” that they and their child will “meet oneday in the joy and peace of God’s kingdom,” and that God will “grant him/her a place in God’s kingdom of peace.” Clearly the Church no longerholds that infants who die without baptism are in limbo and foreverexcluded from God’s kingdom of peace.It seems likely that Ratzinger, speaking as a theologian, would haveagreed with this statement, because, in his interview with Vittorio Messori,published as The Ratzinger Report, he is quoted as having said: “Limbo wasnever a deñned truth of faith. Personally—and here I am speaking more as10 THEOLOGICAL STUDIESa theologian and not as Prefect of the Congregation—I would abandon it,since it was only a theological hypothesis.”^’*The first doctrinal statement of the magisterium to recognize the newstatus of the question regarding infants who die without baptism is found inPastoralis actio: Instruction on the Baptism of Infants issued by the Congregationfor the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) on October 20,1980.^^ Theintention of this instruction was to explain why the Church continues toinsist that infants should be baptized within a few weeks of their birth, andwhy parents should not be persuaded by the argument that baptism shouldbe deferred until the child is mature enough to make its own decision.Against such an argument, the CDF declared: “By its doctrine and by itspractice, the Church has shown that it knows no other means than baptismto assure to infants their entry into eternal beatitude. That is why it iscareful not to neglect the mission it has received from the Lord to cause tobe reborn of water and the Spirit all those who can be baptized.” It thencontinued: “With regard to infants who have died without having receivedbaptism, the Church can only commit them to the mercy of God, as it doesin the funeral rites that it has created for them.”^^ In this statement theCDF clearly recognized that while the Church cannot be sure that infantswho die without baptism are saved, neither is the Church sure, as it used tobe, that because they had neither received the sacrament nor had the desireof receiving it, they must retain the guilt of original sin, which excludesthem from the vision of God. It is noteworthy that the CDF invokes thenew funeral rites for unbaptized infants as supporting its statement that onecan only commit them to the mercy of God.The next official document that treats the question of infants who dieunbaptized is the Gatechism of the GathoUc Ghurch. This was first promulgatedin 1992 by Pope John Paul II, who also promulgated its revised anddefinitive text in 1997. Both of these editions contain the following statementabout infants who die without baptism.1261. As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Chureh ean onlyentrust 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 tome, do not hinder them,” allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation forchildren who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Chureh’s eallnot to prevent little children eoming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.^’^ Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger with Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report:An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church, trans. Salvator Attanasio andGraham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1985) 147.^^ CDF, Pastoralis actio. Acta Apostolicae Seals (hereafter AAS) 72 (1980)1137-58.^* Ibid. 1144.INFANTS WHO DIE UNBAPTIZED 11In the margin is a reference to no. 1257, which repeats the sentencequoted above from the CDF instruction Pastoralis adío. Here, however, itfollows that quotation with the principle affirmed by Aquinas, giving itemphasis with italics: “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism,but he himself is not bound by his sacraments. ” Here, I believe, theCatechism suggests that when the Church entrusts unbaptized infants to themercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them, she has good reasonto trust that God will do for them what baptism would have done.A further step in the development of doctrine about infants who dieunbaptized can be seen in the encyclical Evangelium vitae issued by JohnPaul II in 1995, where he spoke of infants, while they are still in theirmothers’ wombs, as “the personal objects of God’s loving and fatherlyprovidence,” and declared that “Christian Tradition . . . is clear and unanimous,from the beginning up to our own day, in describing abortion as aparticularly grave moral disorder. “^^ After having expressed a strong condemnationof the crime of direct abortion, John Paul went on, toward theend of his encyclical, to address pastoral words of exhortation and consolationto women who have had an abortion. He said to them:The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced yourdecision. . . . The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly, whathappened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragementand do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face ithonestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humilityand trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgivenessand his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You will come to understandthat nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgivenessfrom your child, who is now living in the Lord.^^One can well imagine the consolation that a woman, whose consciencewas burdened with the guilt of having chosen to abort her child, would findin the words the Holy Father addressed to her. I suggest that one can alsofind in these words an indication of the mind of John Paul II with regard tothe present state of her aborted child. The idea that the mother can askforgiveness from her aborted child would suggest that they share thecommunion of saints. The affirmation that her child “is now living in theLord” would suggest that it is now living in the presence of God. One canhardly say this about a child in limbo, who would be forever excluded fromthe vision of God. Theologians who had been looking for signs of encouragementfrom the Church for their efforts to justify belief in the salvationof infants who die unbaptized have good reason to see in these words of^^ John Paul II, The Gospel of Life no. 61 (Washington: U.S. Catholic Conference,1995) 109.2» Ibid. no. 99, pp. 177-78.12 THEOLOGICAL STUDIESJohn Paul II not only a confirmation of the progress made thus far but alsoa step further toward the official acceptance of this belief.It would seem, however, that John Paul’s further step must have strucksome influential member of the Roman Curia as “a step too far.” Theevidence for this surmise is that the definitive Latin text of Evangeliumvitae that was published in Acta Apostolicae Sedis simply does not have thesentence that reads: “You will come to understand that nothing is definitivelylost, and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, whois now living in the Lord.” In its place, the definitive Latin text has“Infantem autem vestrum potestis Eidem Patri Eiusque misericordiae cumspe committere” (“You can commend your infant with hope to the sameFather and his mercy”).^^ No explanation is given for the substitution ofthis sentence for the one that was in the encyclical as it was originallypublished. Even more puzzling is the fact that on the Vatican website,which gives the text of Evangelium vitae in eight languages, the translationsinto seven modern languages (English, French, German, Italian, Spanish,Portuguese, and Polish) all have the original sentence, while the Latinhas the sentence that was substituted for it in Acta Apostolicae Sedis.Undoubtedly the Latin is the definitive text, but almost anyone who goesto the Vatican website for the text of Evangelium vitae will choose one ofthe modern languages, and will not know that a sentence that was in theencyclical as originally published, and that would be consoling for a motherwhose infant died unbaptized, is not found in the Latin text.I do not know of any explanation for this change except for a remarkmade in a note to a document entitled “The Hope of Salvation for InfantsWho Die without Being Baptised,” which was issued by the InternationalTheological Commission in 2007.^° Endnote 98 of this document reads:It is notable that the editio typica of the encyclical of Pope John Paul II, EvangeliumVitae, has replaced paragraph 99 which read: “You will come to understand thatnothing is definitively lost and you will be able to ask forgiveness from your child,who is now living in the Lord” (a phrasing which was susceptible to a faultyinterpretation), by this definitive text: “Infantem autem vestrum potestis EidemPatri Eiusque misericordiae cum spe committere” (cf. AAS 87 [1995], 515), whichmay be translated as follows: “You can entrust your child to the same Father and tohis mercy with hope.”Evidently someone had judged that the pope’s original sentence hadbeen “susceptible to a faulty interpretation,” and had convinced him thatit should not be retained in the definitive Latin text. It hardly seems possible^’ John Paul II, Evangelium vitae no. 99, AAS 87 (1995) 515.^° International Theological Commission, http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070419_un-baptised-infants_en.html (accessed August 16, 2010). This document is also available in Spanish andItalian.INFANTS WHO DIE UNBAPTIZED 13that the change could have been made without his approval. But we are nottold what the “faulty interpretation” was, of which his sentence wasthought to be susceptible. I surmise that his sentence could be taken tomean that we can not only hope that infants who die without baptism are inheaven; we can also be sure of it. I think that is a reasonable interpretationof what the pope actually said, when he told the mother that her child “isnow living in the Lord.” And that is why I suspect that someone convincedthe pope that he had gone “a step too far.” The reason he might have givenis that the Catechism of the Catholic Church had not gone beyond sayingthat we can hope that the infants are saved. I think it is also significant thatthe title of the document on this question that was issued by the InternationalTheological Commission in 2007 was: “The Hope of Salvation forInfants Who Die without Being Baptised.” In the course of this lengthydocument the ITC offered a very positive assessment of the theological andliturgical reasons for hoping that those infants are saved. However, it didnot go beyond recommending hope. Rather, it twice insisted that we cannotgo beyond hope to sure knowledge. It first stressed this point in the paragraphthat concluded its section entitled: “Reasons for Hope.”It must be clearly acknowledged that the Church does not have sure knowledgeabout the salvation of unbaptised infants who die. She knows and celebratesthe glory of the Holy Innocents, but the destiny of the generality of infants whodie without baptism has not been revealed to us, and the Church teaches andjudges only with regard to what has been revealed. What we do positively knowof God, Christ and the Church gives us grounds to hope for their salvation.^^The ITC returned to this theme toward the end of its study, saying:Our conclusion is that the many factors that we have considered above give serioustheological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptised infants who die. will besaved and enjoy the Beatific Vision. We emphasise that these are reasons forprayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge. There is much that hasnot been revealed to us. We live by faith and hope in the God of mercy and lovewho had been revealed to us in Christ, and the Spirit moves us to pray in constantthankfulness and Joy (I Thess 5:18).^^I conclude this study by asking, what does the Catholic Church now holdand teach about the fate of infants who die without baptism? Someonemight prefer to put the question this way: What should a confessor orspiritual advisor say to a woman who has had an abortion, if she asks himabout the present state of her child? My answer is that he should certainlynot tell her that her child is in limbo enjoying a natural happiness, but willnever be admitted to heaven. Rather, he should tell her that the Churchencourages her to hope and pray that her child is in heaven. But may hego further than this, and tell her that in a letter addressed to the whole^^ Ibid. no. 79. ^^ Ibid. no. 103.14 THEOLOGICAL STUDIESCatholic Church, Pope John Paul II told a woman who had an abortion thather child was now living in the Lord? Could he then leave her consoled bywhat the Holy Father had said? Or must he tell her that after his letter hadbeen published, the pope had taken back what he had said, because it couldmean we can be sure that children who die without baptism go to heaven,and we cannot be sure of that, since it has not been revealed?Here I would ask, is it certain that it has not been revealed thatunbaptized children go to heaven? My reply is that there are good reasonsto believe that it has been revealed, in somewhat the same way that theImmaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is revealed, that is, bybeing implicitly contained in truths that have been explicitly revealed. Asrevealed truths in which the salvation of unbaptized children has beenimplicitly revealed, I would propose two: the sincere will of God for thesalvation of every human person, and the tender love of God for littlechildren, which was revealed by Jesus when he said to his disciples: “Letthe children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom ofheaven belongs to such as these” (Mt 19:14). I think that anyone whoseriously meditated on these two truths and applied them to God’s providencefor infants who die unbaptized, could well become convinced thatGod in his loving mercy does for those infants what the sacrament wouldhave done, so that nothing can hinder them from coming to him and livingwith him forever.Copyright of Theological Studies is the property of Theological Studies and its content may not be copied oremailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder’s express written permission.However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.

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