Dying in a State of Original Sin Only

The Magisterium infallibly teaches that all who die unrepentant from one or more actual mortal sins will be condemned to the punishments of Hell forever.

Pope Benedict XII: “By this Constitution which is to remain in force forever, we, with apostolic authority, define the following…. Moreover, we define that according to the general disposition of God, the souls of those who die in actual mortal sin go down into hell immediately after death and there suffer the pain of hell.” (Pope Benedict XII, On the Beatific Vision of God, in the year 1336)

The Second Council of Lyons infallibly teaches:

“The souls of those who die in mortal sin or with original sin only, however, immediately descend to hell, yet to be punished with different punishments.” (Denzinger 464)

The Council taught that the souls of those who die with “original sin only” are sent to Hell, just as the souls who die unrepentant from actual mortal sin are sent to Hell — but with different punishments.

The Council of Florence infallibly teaches:

“But the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go down straightaway to hell to be punished, but with unequal pains.” (Florence, Sixth Session, 6 July 1439.)”

The Council of Florence taught the same dogma: All who die (1) unrepentant from any actual mortal sin, or, (2) in a state of “original sin alone”, are sent to Hell to be punished, but with unequal pains.

What does it mean to die in a state of “original sin alone”?

A person is freed from original sin by baptism. But baptism can occur in any of three ways:

1. by water (the formal Sacrament of Baptism)
2. by blood (e.g. the Holy Innocents)
3. by desire (e.g. the Patriarchs)

A person who dies without receiving any one of these types of baptism dies in a state of original sin alone.

Why is the punishment of those who die in original sin alone “unequal” to the punishment of those who die from various actual mortal sins? The reason is that their sins are unequal. God is just, and so the punishments of Hell are exactly fitting to the culpability that each person has for the unrepentant sins that resulted in his or her condemnation. The sin of dying in original sin alone has the least culpability, and therefore the least punishment, of all who are sent to Hell.

The claim that those who die in “original sin only” are sent to a place where there is no punishment, where they are very happy and perfectly naturally fulfilled, constitutes a blatant rejection of the infallible teaching of the Councils of Lyons II and Florence, and so also constitutes the sin of heresy.

Why are those who die in “original sin alone” sent to Hell at all?

The Magisterium has always taught that Hell is a place of punishment for sin. Those persons only are sent to Hell who deserve eternal punishment. So even those who die with the least culpability, among all condemned to Hell, must deserve never-ending punishment.

Now one theory is that the mere fact that a person has original sin deserves eternal punishment, and therefore God may send unbaptized prenatals and unbaptized infants and little children (prior to the age of reason) to Hell as a just punishment. However, I can find no magisterial document asserting that original sin deserves eternal punishment. Nor do any proponents of this theory ever cite a magisterial document such an assertion.

The proponents of this “innocent infants deserve Hell” theory are fond of saying that God is not required to offer salvation to anyone. In the abstract, as a pure hypothetical, this is true. But the Magisterium definitively teaches that God has freely decided to offer salvation to everyone. This doctrine of the universal salvific will of God is, in my theological opinion, infallible under the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

Cardinal Ratzinger: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him’ (Jn 3:16-17). In the New Testament, the universal salvific will of God is closely connected to the sole mediation of Christ: ‘[God] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all’ ” (1 Tim 2:4-6). (CDF, Dominus Jesus, n. 13.)

Cardinal Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI, taught that God sent Christ, not to condemn the fallen world, but to save the world, even to offer salvation to all. He “gave himself as a ransom for all” — not “for many”, not “for few”.

Pope John Paul II: “However, as I wrote in the Encyclical Redemptoris Missio, the gift of salvation cannot be limited ‘to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all.’

“For those too who through no fault of their own do not know Christ and are not recognized as Christians, the divine plan has provided a way of salvation. As we read in the Council’s Decree Ad Gentes, we believe that ‘God in ways known to himself can lead those inculpably ignorant of the Gospel’ to the faith necessary for salvation (AG 7). Certainly, the condition ‘inculpably ignorant’ cannot be verified nor weighed by human evaluation, but must be left to the divine judgment alone. For this reason, the Council states in the Constitution Gaudium et Spes that in the heart of every man of good will, ‘Grace works in an unseen way…. The Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery’ (GS 22).

“It is important to stress that the way of salvation taken by those who do not know the Gospel is not a way apart from Christ and the Church. The universal salvific will is linked to the one mediation of Christ. ‘God our Savior…wants all men to be saved and come to know the truth. And the truth is this: God is one. One also is the mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all’ (1 Tim 2:3-6). Peter proclaimed this when he said: ‘There is no salvation in anyone else’ and called Jesus the ‘cornerstone’ (Acts 4:11-12), emphasizing Christ’s necessary role at the basis of the Church.” (Pope John Paul II, All Salvation Comes through Christ, General Audience, May 31, 1995)

Pope John Paul II taught that the gift of salvation “cannot be limited” only to those who explicitly believe, nor only to those who have formally entered the Church by baptism with water. The holy Pontiff explicitly and clearly taught that, since God has in fact freely decided to offer salvation to all, “it must be made concretely available to all”. God would be contradicting Himself if he has a universal salvific will and yet does not make the offer of salvation concretely available to all.

So what happens to the millions of prenatals who die in the womb? There is no possibility that they can receive a baptism by water while in the womb, nor can anyone be baptized after death. But the Magisterium teaches that salvation must be concretely available to ALL. It is not sufficient, to meet this condition, for us to say that the prenatal could have been baptized if they had not died, as if that hypothetical possibility (which did not happen) were the concrete fulfillment of the universal offer of salvation.

Neither does it make sense to say that God arbitrarily gives a non-formal baptism to some who die in the womb and not others. Such a claim would contradict the universal salvific will and the teaching that salvation must be made concretely available to all.

Therefore, the only possibility remaining is that God gives a non-formal baptism to all prenatals who die in the womb.

This non-formal baptism cannot be of desire, since the prenatal does not have sufficient use of intellect and free will. A person can only desire and choose what he or she knows. Therefore, the type of non-formal baptism must be of blood. By virtue of their deaths so very early in life, these prenatals are united to the Savior of the world dying on the Cross, and so they obtain a baptism from the source of all baptism, and therefore die in a state of grace, not in a state of original sin alone.

The same principle applies to unbaptized infants and little children. The universal salvific will of God offers salvation to all, and makes that offer of salvation concretely available to all. These unbaptized infants and little children are too young to understand and seek baptism on their own. So it is not sufficient to say that they had a hypothetical opportunity to be saved, if only someone had baptized them. A hypothetical circumstance that did not occur, does not make salvation concretely available to all.

Therefore, infants and little children who die without baptism must be given a non-formal baptism of blood by God, sometime before the moment of death. They then die in a state of grace, not in a state of original sin.

Who, then, dies in a state of original sin alone and is sent to Hell?

Compendium of the Catechism: “Hell consists in the eternal damnation of those who die in mortal sin through their own free choice.” (Compendium, n. 212)

Compendium of the Catechism: “How can one reconcile the existence of hell with the infinite goodness of God? God, while desiring ‘all to come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9), nevertheless has created the human person to be free and responsible; and he respects our decisions. Therefore, it is the human person who freely excludes himself from communion with God if at the moment of death he persists in mortal sin and refuses the merciful love of God.” (Compendium, n. 213)

Catechism of the Catholic Church: “God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end.” (CCC 1037)

The Magisterium teaches that those persons only go to Hell who die “in mortal sin through their own free choice”. In other words, to be condemned to Hell, the human person must “freely exclude himself from communion with God” by persisting in mortal sin through the last moment of life, thereby willfully refusing the merciful love of God. The only persons who go to Hell are those who willfully turn away from God, by a mortal sin, and persist unrepentant from that sin through the end of their life.

If an adult was never formally baptized AND never found sanctifying grace in his life despite ample opportunity, then he committed an actual mortal sin of omission and deserves eternal punishment. The sin of dying in a state of “original sin alone” is nothing other than the actual mortal sin of omission of never having found sanctifying grace in life (by any of the three forms of baptism), despite ample opportunity. No other conclusion is in accord with all of the teachings of the Magisterium on this question — the Conciliar teaching on those who die in original sin alone, and the Papal teaching on the universal salvific will of God and the concrete availability of salvation for all.

Since the use of reason is a matter of degree, children beyond the age of reason (about 7 years of age) may still not have sufficient use of reason to commit this type of actual mortal sin of omission. The same is true for mentally-disabled persons who lack sufficient use of reason. They have some use of reason, but not enough to have the type of full knowledge and full deliberation needed to commit an actual mortal sin of commission or omission. Therefore, these persons, too, would be given a non-formal baptism of blood if they die without a formal baptism.

In this way, God offers eternal salvation to all human persons. God condemns to Hell only those persons who knowingly and freely choose to commit an actual mortal sin and who refuse to repent through the last moment of life. Everyone who dies in a state of unrepentant actual mortal sin is sent to Hell. All other persons die in a state of grace and are sent to Heaven (perhaps by way of Purgatory). There are only two final destinations: Heaven and Hell.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic moral theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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