The Beatification of an Unborn Child and Salvation for Unbaptized Infants

Here is the article: Beatification Date Announced for Married Couple with Seven Children Martyred by Nazis, Including One Unborn Child (NC Register)

As I have opined in previous articles here and in my book Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone, prenatals, infants, and young children, who die at that age, all go to Heaven, necessarily, as they receive a baptism of blood due to their untimely deaths. The universal salvific will of God offers salvation to all human persons, in a way that is concretely available:

Pope Saint 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]

But prenatals in particular do not have access to a baptism of water. But for us fallen sinners, conceived with original sin, one of the three forms of baptism is needed: a baptism of water, or of blood, or of desire. Can prenatals desire baptism, implicitly or explicitly? No, they cannot. They do not have the cognitive ability to understand enough so as to have that desire. So the only type of baptism available for prenatals is a baptism of blood.

Now the common example of a baptism of blood is an adult catechumenate who is martyred for the Faith without yet having received a baptism of water. However, it is wrong to narrow this mode of salvation to only explicit examples of martyrdom. A baptism of desire can be implicit; this teaching extends the baptism of desire to persons who do not explicitly desire baptism into Christianity. As explained in my previous article, an act of true love of God or neighbor, in full cooperation with grace, is sufficient to obtain a baptism of desire. The broadness of baptism of desire, and the broadness of a baptism with water — which is offered to anyone of an age and any background — implies a broadness to the baptism of blood.

Catechumenate martyrs are a relatively small group. And while the offer of salvation is universal, there are only three types of baptism. This suggests that the baptism of blood is also broad, not narrow, in its scope. And two of the three types of baptism are not available to prenatals who die in the womb. There only path of salvation lies with the baptism of blood, if it is given by God to all prenatals who die in the womb. If not, then salvation would not be universally offered or universally available, as the Church teaches.

Now the Church does teach that those who die in a state of original sin are sent to Hell (specifically to the limbo or fringe of Hell). But this can be interpreted as referring only to those adults who are culpable to the extent of an actual mortal sin of omission for never having found sanctifying grace by any of the three forms of baptism in their lives despite ample opportunity. That the opportunity must be ample is implied by the Love, Mercy, and Generosity of the most Holy Trinity, and by the universal salvific will of God. Not all persons who are offered salvation achieve that salvation. So while the offer is universal, there are nevertheless many souls in Hell. But if prenatals have no means of salvation, then the offer would not be universal (which cannot be the case).

Some have claimed that the limbo of Hell is a place of perfect natural happiness, and therefore it is not cruel to sent unbaptized prenatals, infants, and young children to Hell. But that is absurd. First, the chief punishment of Hell is the only punishment of those in the limbo of Hell: the deprivation of the Beatific Vision of God and all that it entails, such as the company of the elect souls and holy angels in Heaven and all the other joys of eternal life. Second, the souls in the limbo of Hell do not have the state of grace. If they died in the state of grace, they would go to Heaven (perhaps by way of Purgatory). And they cannot be given the state of grace after death, as that would imply a type of baptism after death, which is contrary to dogma.

Human persons cannot have perfect natural happiness forever, in the limbo of Hell, since they lack the Beatific Vision of God, all the joys of Heaven, the company of their family members in Heaven, and do not have the state of grace and the infused theological virtue of love. The claim that such a state can be a form of happiness, and moreover that it can be a state of perfect happiness that last forever is contrary to the Church’s teaching on the need of human persons for God and grace. A human person without grace is in a natural state, but human persons were created to only be happy with God and grace. So no one is happy in Hell.

Saint Thomas Aquinas is often cited on the opinion of perfect natural happiness in the limbo of Hell. But the opinions of Thomas are not dogma. And it is most important to know that he died prior to the two Ecumenical Councils that decided an important teaching on the limbo of Hell: the Second Council of Lyons and the Council of Florence. Both Councils taught that those who die in a state of original sin and those who die in a state of unrepented actual mortal sin go to Hell, but with different punishments. But perfect natural happiness is not compatible with any type of punishment from God that lasts forever. Had Saint Thomas known of these teachings from the Ecumenical Councils, he would have accepted those teachings and altered his opinion on the limbo of Hell.

Since salvation is offered to all, but prenatals who die in the womb lack access to baptism by water or by desire, they must have access to salvation by a baptism of blood. For the universal salvific will of God requires access to salvation, concretely — that is, in a very real and obtainable way — to all human persons. Therefore, prenatals who die in the womb are given a baptism of blood prior to their deaths, by virtue of the suffering of the loss of the vast majority of their lifespan. By this suffering, they are united to Christ on the Cross and to His salvific death, which is the source of the efficacy of all types of baptism and salvation.

Neither can we limit the baptism of blood given to prenatals who die in the womb (as well as infants and young children who die at that age) to only those who die in certain circumstances, having to do with dying for the Faith. For they do not choose to die as martyrs, as the unbaptized catechumenate martyr so choose. Thus, they do not obtain the baptism of blood by their own choice; they are too young to understand and choose. But the baptism of blood cannot be limited to those prenatals, infants, and young children who die as martyrs, like the Holy Innocents. For salvation cannot be limited to only those who are fortunate enough to have such a circumstance at their deaths. The offer is universal, and so all prenatals, infants, and young children who die without baptism by water or blood, who are too young to be guilty of any actual mortal sin of commission or omission, must be given a baptism of blood.

Salvation is a free gift. It is not earned. Catechumenate martyrs who choose to suffer greatly and die for the Faith do not earn salvation. They obtain the free gift by that choice, but an adult who chooses a baptism of water also obtains salvation by that choice. God gives salvation freely, though it can be lost by any unrepented actual mortal sin. Since prenatals, infants, and young children are not guilty of even the actual mortal sin of omission of culpably having failed to obtain the state of sanctifying grace and are not guilty of any other actual mortal sin, they cannot fail to receive the free gift of salvation by a baptism of blood from Christ.

Now the Apostolic See recently approved the beatification of a prenatal who died in the womb: Beatification Date Announced for Married Couple with Seven Children Martyred by Nazis, Including One Unborn Child. And while such a beatification is not infallible, as the canonization of a Saint by the Roman Pontiff would be, it is consistent with the salvation of prenatals who die in the womb, and inconsistent with a final destination in the limbo of Hell.

One might try to argue that only those prenatals, infants, and young children who die as martyrs have the baptism of blood and therefore salvation in Heaven. But this raises the question as to why the Lord Jesus, who said, “Amen I say to you, unless you change and become like little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven,” (Mt 18:3) and who is Love and Mercy by His very Divine Nature, would save only some innocent prenatals and not others.

The prenatal in the case of the martyred family fell into an unusual circumstance, and other prenatals in the world, even in that same place and time, might have died by different circumstances. Such differences are outside the control of the individual who is saved, while, by comparison, a choice resulting in a baptism of water or of desire is done by the individual’s choice. An infant is baptized by the choice of one or more adults. But mere circumstance, outside of one’s control, cannot cause the loss of salvation and eternal punishment, since God is Justice, Love, and Mercy. Salvation cannot be left to chance, as those who are not saved are punished forever in Hell or in the limbo of Hell.

Therefore, the salvation of this one prenatal, who died a martyr, implies the salvation of all other prenatals who die in the womb, and even implies the salvation of all prenatals, infants, and young children who die at that young age, without a baptism of water. They are all in the same boat, so to speak. Their cases are not fundamentally theologically different, not to such an extent that some would have eternal happiness in Heaven, and others would have eternal punishment in the limbo of Hell.

Thus, by this act of beatification, the Apostolic See is acknowledging the salvation of prenatals, infants, and young children who die without a baptism of water. (When it is said that they die without baptism, the meaning is that they die without the formal Sacrament of baptism, not without any form of baptism.)

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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10 Responses to The Beatification of an Unborn Child and Salvation for Unbaptized Infants

  1. Daniel says:

    Interesting point! If this doesn’t end the idea of limbo, it at least makes the case for it more difficult.

  2. A Recent Reader says:

    According to my very limited capacity, this seems to be such profound information–along with your other articles on the three baptisms. So grateful to be recipient of this info which makes huge difference in seeing God’s goodness through would-be-claims of contradiction/injustice.

  3. guilhermefeitosa024 says:

    Ron, was arguing with a traditionalist and he accused Pope Paul VI of heresy in this way:

    “If you believe it is a dogma of faith that every council confirmed by the Pope is infallible, then Paul VI committed heresy by saying that Vatican II was pastoral and not dogmatic.”

    How to respond?

    • Ron Conte says:

      It is not a dogma that a Council or a Pope is infallible. Only a teaching (or a dogmatic fact) can possibly be infallible. A teaching of a Council can be infallible or non-infallible; a decision of a Council on dogmatic facts is infallible, but other decisions on discipline are generally non-infallible. Also, Popes cannot fail in faith by heresy, apostasy, idolatry or in other ways, as they have the charism of never failing faith which was taught by Vatican I and also is the ancient and constant teaching of the Church:

  4. Seraphina says:

    Thank you for this post. I am wondering, in addition to your proposals, could baptism of desire not also be applied to the many infants who die in utero by virtue of the desire of their parents, or indeed any baptised adult? The logic being, no one prior to the age of reason presents for Baptism via their own decision, it is always via the faith of the parents (in usual circumstances) or by the faith of any baptised person (in the case of risk of imminent death, where my understanding is parental permission is not required). In the same way, when a child dies before any adult had the opportunity to present the child for the sacrament, to me it would be consistent with the Mercy of God for Him to be willing to spiritually apply the sacrament, based on the desire present in either the parents or any member of the church Militant whilst the infant was alive. Appreciate your thoughts

    • Ron Conte says:

      Some theologians have suggested a baptism of desire might save them. It is for the Church to decide if they are saved by a baptism of blood or of desire.

  5. Giovanni says:

    I think you are mistaking the notation of what we term Hell commonly, that is Gehenna, and Hell in its general meaning.

    Commonly there are thought to be four layers of what is called “Hades”, that is, the Limbo of the Infants, the Limbo of the Fathers, Purgatory, and Gehenna.

    It is not infallibly certain that all children who die before baptism go to Heaven. Such a thing is speculation and would contradict in a sense the necessity of baptism that the Church has always advocated for.

    Babies cannot make a choice, though those with the power of reason can. Hence by definition all people with the power of reason can only go to Heaven or Hell, that is, choosing to be with God, or against God.

    Those who knowingly and purposefully reject baptism, knowing full well what they are rejecting choose by their actions to go to Hell.

    Heaven and Hell are not simply states which can compared to a scale. Heaven and Hell are free choices of the will (this applies to those who have the power of reason, for I personally at this moment am not sure how therefore those who do not have reason can go to Heaven such as baptized infants, but we know for certainty that they do).

    This being said, those who have free will can choose Heaven or Hell, those who are unbaptized and without the power of reason cannot choose, thus I argue that they cannot go to either Heaven or Hell, and this is what the notion of Limbo is.

    Martyrdom is a different story, but I am dealing with average cases of unbaptized infants.

    • Ron Conte says:

      The only version of limbo taught by the Church is the limbo of Hell, which the Church teaches has the chief punishment of Hell, deprivation of the Beatific Vision and all that entails. Such persons cannot be in the state of grace, and so they cannot be happy.

      The version of limbo as a place of perfect natural happiness is not compatible with the teaching of the Church throughout the ages. My position is speculative, but I argue that it is well supported.

  6. exploreanbg says:

    If a parent can validly consent and make baptismal vows for their pre-rational children, why can a child of Catholic parents not enjoy a baptism of desire, applying the desire of the parents to have the child baptised after their birth?

    • Ron Conte says:

      because of the universal salvific will of God, baptism for young children cannot be limited to parents who know about baptism, or who are good enough to desire it for their little ones. So ultimately, I think they are baptized by blood, by the fact of their early deaths united to the salvific sacrificial death of Christ on the Cross.

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