The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized

The document of the (Roman Catholic) International Theological Commission of the same name is here. This post argues that the ITC document fails to take sufficient account of past magisterial teachings and fails to propose a bold and compassionate theological solution to the problem. As is often the case with theology written by committee, the ITC document discusses the issues, but declines to offer an definitive conclusions.

A more lengthy treatise on this topic is found in my book of Roman Catholic salvation theology: Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone. This post is a brief summary of the most relevant magisterial teachings and arguments.

First, the Magisterium has NEVER taught that unbaptized prenatals, infants, or little children, who die at that young age without formal baptism, are sent to Hell. The infallible teaching of two Ecumenical Councils (Lyons II, Florence) stated the following:

The Council of Florence: “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.”

Anyone who enters the state of grace by some form of baptism (water, desire, or blood) and who loses the state of grace by an actual mortal sin, and who never repents, therefore departs “this life in actual mortal sin” and is sent to Hell. A person who departs this life “in original sin alone” has never entered the state of grace. But so far the Magisterium has not directly answered the question as to who fits in this latter category.

I argue that other teachings of the Magisterium necessarily imply that no unbaptized prenatals, infants, or little children die in a state of original sin alone. Instead, those who die in original sin alone are those persons only who failed to obtain the state of grace by a baptism of water or desire or blood, despite ample opportunity. These souls are guilty of an unrepentant actual mortal sin of omission, and so they deserve eternal punishment. But unbaptized prenatals, infants, and little children are not guilty of grave sin, and so they cannot be punished in Hell.

Some persons argue that the guilt of original sin deserves eternal punishment, if it is not removed by some form of baptism. But the Magisterium says otherwise:

Pope Pius IX: “Because God knows, searches and clearly understands the minds, hearts, thoughts, and nature of all, his supreme kindness and clemency do not permit anyone at all who is not guilty of deliberate sin to suffer eternal punishments.” [Quanto Conficiamur Moerore, n. 7.]

Some persons claim that these baptized children are not given eternal punishment, because they are sent to the limbo (fringe) of Hell, where there is (supposedly) perfect natural happiness. This claim is contradicted by the teaching of Sacred Scripture that Hell is a place of eternal punishment, and by the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.” [CCC 1035]

The souls in the limbo of Hell — the part of Hell where those who die in original sin alone are sent — are eternally separated from God, therefore they suffer the chief punishment of Hell. Also, they die without ever having obtained sanctifying grace, so they lack the state of grace forever. And they are forever separated from the Saints, holy Angels, and loving family members. So it is absurd to claim that these souls are happy, or are free from punishment.

Some persons suggest that salvation is given by God to whomever He chooses, and denied to whomever He chooses, for some mysterious reasons that we cannot fathom. In this view, unbaptized children are simply not among the elect. But this idea is not compatible with Catholic teaching; it is essentially a Calvinistic view of predestination.

In the Catholic view, predestination is a result of free will, grace, and the foreknowledge of God. Salvation is offered to everyone, but God knows which persons freely choose to reject salvation by choosing to commit actual mortal sin and refusing to repent. There is no mysterious inexplicable choice by God to save some persons, and pass over others, leaving them to be condemned to Hell.

Pope John Paul II: “The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only 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.” [Redemptoris Missio 10]

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]

No one is sent to Hell, unless he is unrepentant from actual mortal sin, including the actual mortal sin of never having found sanctifying grace in this life, culpably, despite ample opportunity.

Since unbaptized prenatals, infants, and little children are not guilty of actual mortal sin, and they have not had ample opportunity to obtain sanctifying grace by some form of baptism, they cannot be punished in Hell.

Some foolish persons say that God is not required to give salvation to anyone. OK, fine. But we know from the infallible teaching of Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium that God has in fact chosen to offer salvation to all human persons.

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’ (John 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 Timothy 2:4-6]

God wills all human persons to be saved, and He never condemns anyone to Hell who is not guilty of actual mortal sin. But in order to have eternal life in Heaven, one must die in the state of sanctifying grace. Therefore, God must grant to unbaptized prenatals, infants, and little children who die without a baptism of water, either a baptism of desire or of blood.

I argue that a baptism of desire is not possible, since these little souls lack sufficient use of reason and free will to desire baptism, even implicitly. So the type of baptism given to them must be a baptism of blood.

Some modern-day Pharisees would deny a baptism of desire and of blood to unbaptized prenatals, infants, and little children. What they propose is a mitigated form of the heresy of Feeneyism, whereby only a baptism of water is available to little children. But they also correctly note that a prenatal cannot be baptized with water. So they end up with a Calvinistic form of salvation theology for prenatals that essentially predestines these souls to Hell — in contradiction to the above quoted magisterial teachings.

I say that a baptism of blood cannot be limited to those who explicitly choose martyrdom for Christ, just as a baptism of desire cannot be limited to those who explicitly desire baptism. The merciful love of God and his universal salvific will grant to these little souls the state of sanctifying grace, by a baptism of blood, in view of their impending deaths, their lack of any deliberate sin, and the lack of ample (or in many cases any) opportunity for another type of baptism.

All little children go to Heaven.

{10:13} And they brought to him the little children, so that he might touch them. But the disciples admonished those who brought them.
{10:14} But when Jesus saw this, he took offense, and he said to them: “Allow the little ones to come to me, and do not prohibit them. For of such as these is the kingdom of God.
{10:15} Amen I say to you, whoever will not accept the kingdom of God like a little child, will not enter into it.”
{10:16} And embracing them, and laying his hands upon them, he blessed them.

Further Reading:
The Salvation of the ‘Little Ones’: Do Infants who Die Go to Heaven?
What is the eternal destiny of an infant or young child who dies?
All little children go to Heaven

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

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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1 Response to The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized

  1. Francisco says:

    To me, it is impossible for God Not to send infants to Heaven as their final destination because that will make God unjust. It’s not the babies fault not being formally baptized.

    From the CCC:
    2822 Our Father “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” [95]
    I agree with you Ron that these infants will receive a baptism of blood (for at this early age and due to their lack of reason, they cannot desire any type or form of baptism – they are truly “invincibly ignorant”); and since our Father desires all men to come to the knowledge of truth, I think they will briefly learn the truth about our Lord Jesus Christ (what they lacked to learn on this earth) in a very high level of Purgatory before entering Heaven.

    Same # of the CCC continues…
    He “is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish.” [96] His commandment is “that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” [97] This commandment summarizes all the others and expresses his entire will.

    Jesus told us “love one another; even as I have loved you”; God is love and He loves everyone.

    {15:22} And if, through ignorance, you neglect any of these things, which the Lord has spoken to Moses,
    {15:23} and which he has commanded through him for you, from the day that he began to command and thereafter,
    {15:24} and if the multitude will have forgotten to do it, then they shall offer a calf from the herd, a holocaust as a most sweet odor to the Lord, and its sacrifice and libations, just as the ceremonies ask, and a he-goat for sin.
    {15:25} And the priest shall pray for the entire multitude of the sons of Israel, and it shall be forgiven them, because they did not sin willfully. Nevertheless, they shall offer incense to the Lord for themselves, and for sin, as well as for their error.
    {15:26} And it shall be forgiven all the people of the sons of Israel, as well as the newcomers who sojourn among them, for it is the culpability of all the people through neglect.

    Notice that God “forgives because they did not sin willfully”; now, how much more innocent babies for not being formally baptized!

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