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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Fate of the unbaptised

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So far we have been considering the effects resulting from original sin, as regards this life. We have now to see what effects it will have upon the soul's destiny in the next life. For the sake of clearness we shall take the case of the soul that passes into the other world, unstained by actual sin, but yet still burdened with original sin. Though some who come to the full use of reason may die in this condition, which is a matter of dispute among theologians, it is evident that the question principally concerns children who die without baptism, and in view of their immense numbers, it is of great pra'ctical interest and importance. Opponents of the Church, neglecting her authoritative pronouncements and the general and current teaching of her theologians, are given to seizing upon some opinion held by St Augustine or some other early father, to putting this individual view forward as representative of Catholic doctrine, and then denouncing this as harsh, inhuman, and incompatible with God's loving mercy.

We do not deny that some of the early fathers or later theologians may have spoken about this matter in terms of exaggeration, or held opinions that to us seem harsh and unreasonable, especially when they were excited by the denials of heretics, with whom controversy was often violent and bitter, and led, not seldom, to overstatements on both sides. Notwithstanding the reverence due to these earlier champions of the faith, and the authority and prestige rightly attaching to their names and teachings, it must be borne always in mind that no father and no doctor is infallible ; and where the Church has spoken, or even shown the bent of her mind, it is not only our right but our duty to throw over even an Athanasius or an Augustine, if his teaching is not wholly at one with hers.

On this present question the Church has had occasion to make clear certain points of her faith, sometimes when issuing conciliar decrees, sometimes when publishing condemnations of erroneous doctrines. In the Council of Florence, A.D. 1439, which effected a short-lived reunion between the Church and the schismatical Easterns, she included as an article of her creed the affirmation that " the souls of those who depart from this life, either in actual mortal sin or in original sin only, go down at once into hell, there however to suffer disparate penalties." In 1567 Pope St Pius V condemned a number of propositions taken from the writings of Michael du Bay of Louvain ; among them is one asserting that the unbaptised child, attaining the use of his reason after death, will actually hate and blaspheme God and set himself against God's law. In 1794 Pius VI condemned a great many of the errors propounded by the Erastian synod recently held at Pistoia in Tuscany, among them being the " doctrine that rejects as a Pelagian fable that part of the lower regions (generally known as the limbo of infants) in which the souls of those dying in original sin alone are punished with the pain of loss (i.e., the beatific vision) without the pain of fire. . . ."

From these pronouncements we draw the following conclusions : unbaptised children are deprived of the beatific vision of God, which is man's true final end; this is a part of the defined Catholic faith. It is certain that they neither hate nor blaspheme God nor rebel against his law, and it is, at least, most improbable that they suffer from the fire of hell or any sort of positive, sensible pain ; while, on the contrary, it is most likely that their state is one of true peace and natural happiness. The dogma of faith is clearly contained in Christ's words to Nicodemus : " Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God," John iii 5. and is, also, the direct theological consequence of all that has been said about the nature of original sin. This consists primarily in the privation of sanctifying grace, which is the principle of divine sonship, and, hence, the necessary condition for entry into God's eternal kingdom. The beatific vision is the full flowering of grace ; when the soul in grace is freed from the bonds of flesh and cleansed from its lesser impurities and from the debts it owes to God's justice, it passes naturally into glory. Where, however, the bud has not formed no flower can bloom.

On the other hand, there is no ecclesiastical authority for the opinion, now almost universally rejected, that the child who dies unbaptised suffers any pain of sense, that is, any positive punishment such as is inflicted upon those who die with unforgiven, actual, mortal sins upon their souls. On this point Catholic doctors and theologians have not always been in full agreement among themselves. St Augustine, for example, held that such children would suffer some sort of positive pain, though he admitted that he did not know how or what, and was, as a rule, careful to add that it would be of a kind very light and easy to bear. He was followed by many in the West, whereas the Greek fathers, generally, were inclined to the view that these children suffer nothing except the pain of loss or deprivation of the beatific vision. The theological reason for this opinion, which is now held by all,, is clearly explained by St Thomas : " The punishment," he writes, " bears a proportion to the sin. Now in actual sin there is, first, the turning away from God, the corresponding punishment being the loss of the beatific vision ; and secondly, the inordinate cleaving to some created good, and the punishment corresponding with this is the pain of sense. But in original sin there is no inordinate cleaving to created good, . . . and therefore it is not punished by the pain of sense." 2 Quaest. Disp., De Malo, v, a. 2

From this follows our third conclusion, to wit, that it is most probable that the state of unbaptised children in the next world is one of peace and natural happiness. Since they do not suffer any pain of sense, and since they do not hate God or set themselves against his law, the only thing that could trouble their peace or spoil their happiness would be a sorrow or anguish resulting from the knowledge of the supernatural happiness for which they were intended, but which is for ever lost to them. Some eminent theologians, as St Robert Bellarmine, have held that they do suffer in this way. Apart from the authority of some of the fathers, their main reason for thinking thus is that the child will see and understand his loss and therefore grieve over it. St Thomas, however, denies this and his reasoning seems conclusive.1 Quaest. Disp., De Malo, v, a. 3. It is based on the truth, fundamental in Catholic theology, that grace and, therefore, the possession of the beatific vision, which is the final culmination of grace, are absolutely and in the strictest sense of the word supernatural. They not only exceed man's natural powers of attainment, but also and equally his natural powers of knowing. It is impossible for a man to know, by natural reason alone, without the help of revelation and the gift of faith, that his final happiness consists in the immediate sight and possession of God. Consequently unbaptised children, not having received the sacrament of faith, have not the supernatural knowledge, without which they cannot know what they have lost. Hence their loss causes them no anguish of soul.

Although these considerations may bring some little consolation to the Catholic mother grieving over the fate of her child who has died unbaptised, they will not relieve the weight upon her conscience, should hers have been the fault, or free parents from the obligation to have their children baptised as soon as possible, since there is no measure or proportion between the natural happiness that will be their lot in limbo, and the inconceivable felicity of heaven, of which man's carelessness may so easily deprive them. Moreover, it must be clearly understood that the child dying without baptism is definitely lost. He is not in some midway state between salvation and damnation. He was made for one end only, a supernatural end ; and failure to reach that, whether the fault be his own or another's, is complete failure, is eternal loss, even though unaccompanied by the positive tortures of a soul that has wilfully damned itself.

Conclusion
To conclude this short study of the fall and original sin, we may call attention to the fact that the whole of it is based upon the truth and the reality and the supernatural character of sanctifying grace, Without this the fall becomes a myth and original sin an absurdity Consequently, since the most fundamental error of Protestantisir is its denial of the reality or its grievous misunderstanding of the nature of grace, Protestant theology is always hopelessly at sea anc at loggerheads with itself when dealing with original sin.

Again, the dependence of the dogma of the fall and original sin upon the reality of grace at once puts this dogma into its place amonj those that are essentially mysterious. It is beyond the power our reason fully to understand it, or even to prove its existence This we know only by revelation. But once it is accepted it makei nearly everything else clear. The fall explains the life and deatl of Jesus Christ, and the whole sacramental system. Without original sin the Church, which is the permanent means established by God to make good the damage done by Adam's sin, would be a useless encumbrance, and without the Church religion, in the full meaning of the word, would soon flounder and disappear. And even the history of the world, especially that of the chosen people, can only be properly understood in the light of this dogma. Mysterious, then, as it is, it is lit up and made easy of belief by all around us, by everything that touches us most nearly ; unpalatable as it may be to our natural taste, it is sweetened by its necessary connection with all those things that are our greatest joy in this world and our only hope for the next.
By B. V. MILLER
From The Teaching of the Catholic Church edited by Canon George Smith

Not giving up yet

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The Necessity of Baptism

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Indispensable for salvation
THERE are two ways in which a Sacrament may be necessary for " salvation. It may be necessary as a means, or it may be necessary as the fulfilment of a precept only. Now, in saying that baptism is necessary for salvation, we mean that it is necessary as a means of salvation ; so that, without it, it is impossible to go to Heaven. That being so, it is obvious that baptism is also necessary as the fulfilment of a precept, as we are bound to do whatever is indispensably necessary for our salvation.

It is a fact that is easily demonstrated. Habitual grace, which is the root principle of eternal life, is an absolutely indispensable means of salvation. Now, every soul is originally deprived of this habitual Grace through the sin of our first parents ; and, in the case of adults, it may be doubly deprived owing to the presence of grave actual sin. It is, then, indispensably necessary for salvation that the soul be spiritually regenerated or born again to this life of which it is deprived ; and it is baptism, as we have seen in the previous section, that effects this regeneration.

At this point the reader should avoid any confusion of mind that may arise from his knowledge of the existence of the Sacrament of Penance. It must be perfectly clearly understood that if, after baptism, one has had the misfortune to fall into grave sin, it is the baptismal Character and nothing else that entitles one to avail of God's mercy in the Sacrament of Penance. For this Character entitles us to the advantages that arise from being a member of the Church. Once we have received the baptismal Character, Satan can never again have the same power over us, and can only make us soil our feet, as it were. If Christ had not washed us we should have no part with him ; but since he has washed us we need but to wash our feet, and be clean wholly again. In saying this we do not wish to detract in any way from the fact that mortal sin after baptism is both a destruction of our new life and the gravest infidelity to our baptismal obligations. Indeed, we find that in the early Church, ever since the neophytes had heard the ringing words of Paul, it was regarded as a catastrophe that anyone should sin after baptism ; so much so that many of these early converts never went to Confession, for there was no need of it, and it is doubtful if many of them even reflected on the fact that they might make use of the admitted power of the Church to forgive post-baptismal sin. (Cf. Essay xxvii, The Sacrament of Penance, pp. 965, 967.) Our point is simply to stress the fact that it is fundamentally and originally to the great baptismal Character that we owe all spiritual graces and blessings.

Christ himself tells us that we must receive this spiritual regeneration through baptism, and that without it we cannot save our souls. He says to Nicodemus : " Unless a man be born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God."(John iii 3 sq. 26) When Nicodemus asks him : " How can a man be born when he is old ? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born again ?" Christ explains his meaning, without in any way diminishing its force, declaring solemnly : " Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God."

Heresies on this point
Naturally, what Christ had said so clearly the Fathers of the Church repeated, as occasion arose. Such occasions did arise through various heresies, which the Fathers were obliged to combat. There were the Cainites and the Quintillians in the second century, who held that faith alone was sufficient for salvation and that baptism was not necessary ; there were the Manicheans, from the third century onwards, who regarded water as something evil in nature, and as such quite unsuited as a means of salvation ; there were the Massalians, who regarded it as useless ; and there were the Pelagians, against whom St Augustine wrote, who regarded it as unnecessary. These latter, not recognising the existence of original sin, inevitably regarded baptism as of no real necessity, but admitted its utility for the remission of actual sin and for facilitating one's access to the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Fathers
These and all other errors on the necessity of baptism were resolutely condemned as soon as ever they showed themselves, as the Church always regarded baptism as of absolute necessity. In the controversy between St Cyprian and Pope St Stephen on the question of rebaptising heretics (of which more in a later section) it is taken for granted by all parties that baptism itself is absolutely necessary for salvation. Again, St Irenaeus says that Christ came to save all through himself—that is, all who are born to God again by him, infants and little ones, children, youths and adults. Tertullian points out to us that while the words " Teach all nations, baptising them," etc., show us that baptism is necessary as a precept, the words " Unless a man be born again," etc., show its necessity as a means. St Ambrose tells us that without baptism faith will not secure salvation, as the remission of sin and special graces come only through baptism. St Augustine regards it as a principle that admits of no dispute that no unbaptised person is without sin, and baptism therefore is necessary for his salvation. This is true, he tells us, even of persons who practise virtues and walk in the way of a relative perfection. Even if one has given his possessions to the poor, is better instructed in the truths of faith than the majority of baptised persons, and is careful not to be vain on that account and not to despise baptism, but is not yet baptised—then all his sins are still upon him, and unless he comes to saving baptism, where sins are loosed, in spite of all his excellence, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.6 Moreover, in his controversy with the Pelagians, St Augustine lets us see that he regards the baptism of infants as necessary, owing to the stain of original sin upon their souls.

No substitute for Baptism
At this point the reader may have a difficulty. It can be put in that Mary Magdalen was a saint from that moment in which Christ forgave her because she loved much ? And yet we are not aware that she was then baptised. Is it not true that the Holy Innocents did not receive the Sacrament of Baptism ? Also, that some of the canonised saints were only catechumens, and so forth ? Now, it will promote tidiness and clarity of thought if we deal with this difficulty by proposing to ourselves these two questions, and by answering them : First, Has Christ instituted any other positive means of regeneration besides baptism, either by way of addition to or exception from the law of baptism ? Secondly, Is it not possible that, from the very nature of things which precedes all positive law and is allowed for in positive law, it might happen that a person could receive justification without the actual reception of the Sacrament of Baptism ?

We answer the first of these questions in the negative. We cannot admit any other means of salvation positively instituted by Christ, for the very good reason that his positive law has provided one means and only one. If, therefore, any theories are advanced on the question of salvation which involve the recognition of some means of salvation positively instituted by Christ, other than baptism, such theories must immediately be rejected as at least erroneous. Attempts of this kind have been made from time to time. The best known is that of the theologian Cajetan, who expressed the opinion that in the case of infants dying in the mother's womb, the prayers of the parents could secure the justification and salvation of the children. He thought that a blessing of the child in the womb, given in the name of the Blessed Trinity, would secure this. This opinion was regarded with great disapproval by the theologians of the Council of Trent, and though it was not actually condemned, Pope Pius V ordered that it should be expunged from the works of Cajetan. A somewhat similar view was held by Gerson, Durand, Bianchi, and others. Even St Bonaventure seems to have nodded ; for he says that an infant would be deprived of grace if unbaptised, unless God made it the object of some special privilege.(In IV Sent., I iv, dist. iv.)

The fundamental error of all such views is that they introduce, without warrant of any kind from Revelation, a second means of salvation positively instituted by Christ. They demand the recognition of what we might call a pseudo-Sacrament. If, for instance, such a rite as blessing an infant in its mother's womb is sufficient for its, justification, then we must admit a pseudo-Sacrament positively instituted by Christ, by way of addition to or exception from the law of baptism which he has made. To admit this is gratuitous, as it is not mentioned by Christ, and it is erroneous, as it is plainly against the universality of the words of Christ.

We must conclude then that infants dying in their mother's womb do not enjoy the Beatific Vision in Heaven. At the same time they do not suffer from what is called the pain of sense. According to St Thomas, they enjoy a real happiness which consists, not indeed in that vision of God which grace alone makes possible, but in the natural love and knowledge of God. (In IV Sent., I ii, dist. xxx, Q. II, art. 2, ad 5)

We answer our second question in the affirmative. It can happen that a person receives justification without actually receiving the Sacrament of Baptism. And it can happen in one of two ways : either, i, by Martyrdom, or 2, by Charity.
Father John P Murphy
From The Teaching of the Catholic Church edited by Canon George Smith

Outside the Vatican

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