Questions on Limbo or more importantly the Fate of the Unbaptized Baby

[FONT=Arial]Questions on Limbo or more importantly the Fate of the Unbaptized Baby.
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On another thread it was said:

If only that was true. It is not “doctrine” if it changes. I can list a plethora of “DOCTRINE” … was a liar. It is harsh to discount past … so easily.
This kind assessment of my views of course did not deal with Catholic teachings, but with the teachings of my leaders. It didn’t call Catholic leaders and thinkers “liar” but my church leaders.
I am do not believe I have ever or will ever speak of Catholic leaders like this, but the above does frame this discussion so …

With that intro however, I truly believe that “Limbo” and the “Fate of the Unbaptized Baby” is a problem for most Catholics.
A handful of modern Catholics acknowledge that Limbo or hell proper is the Traditional (with a big “T”) final resting place for unbaptized babies.
However, there is a SEA-CHANGE among modern Catholics that I am unsure is defendable.

I was listening to an episode of Catholic Answers and two topics came up. One was either homosexual marriage or female priests. The argument offered was the CCC clearly taught against this and we can hang our hats on that. OK. The other was Limbo. I was quite certain that Limbo was in the Baltimore Catechism with which my mother grew up. I was surprised to find the TENATIVE way in which Limbo was described there. What however was not tentative either here in in my follow on research was the fate of the unbaptized baby.

So, I agree that Limbo is not “big-T Tradition.” It has been taught and is thus strictly speaking a doctrine (or teaching), but it NEVER was an irreformable doctrine. Where I a Catholic I would have no trouble rejecting the theological speculation of Limbo (I find it ironic that I am not allowed to define what is and is not binding doctrine in my church).
That being said, from Thomas Aquinas and earlier (to the ECF), the fate of the unbaptized baby has always been some form of hell. Limbo was theological speculation for the purpose of rescuing the unbaptized baby from the horrors of hell, but Limbo was just the hell associated with the denial of the “beautific vision.”
I, like Thomas Aquinas, am aware of “baptism of desire” which was originally was for Catechumens who didn’t receive baptism for some reason.
I, like Thomas Aquinas, am aware of the “baptism of blood” where a person is martyred for the faith. That being said infant death from Thomas Aquinas and before has ALWAYS been excluded from these two categories.
I also know of nobody from the above timeframe that would have said, “We are governed by God’s sacraments, he is not,” as a reason to teach that unbaptized babies might not be in hell.

Now, I say always, never, and “T”-Tradition, but the literature is so vast I have not read it all (nobody has). My question then is, "Is there anything from Thomas Aquinas or earlier to suggest that the fate of the unbaptized is not hell (hell being at the least a denial of the beautific-vision for eternity)."

Charity, TOm

The fact is we simply don’t know the fate of unbaptized babies/children under the age of reason because God has not revealed this to us. It’s that simple.

Thomas Aquinas and other theologians, though could not/cannot let it go at that. They must speculate–it’s their vocation to speculate based on Scripture, Sacred Tradition and what the Magisterium has decided. Theologians’ speculations are not the teachings of the Church, even if some teach them as if they are. That is the important thing to remember here.

This is why the CCC states that since we cannot know the fate of unbaptized infants/young children, we leave them to the mercy of God. Really, we can say no more about it with any certainty. It may not be comforting for some, but it’s simply how it is.

This kind assessment of my views of course did not deal with Catholic teachings, but with the teachings of my leaders. It didn’t call Catholic leaders and thinkers “liar” but my church leaders.
I am do not believe I have ever or will ever speak of Catholic leaders like this, but the above does frame this discussion so …

With that intro however, I truly believe that “Limbo” and the “Fate of the Unbaptized Baby” is a problem for most Catholics.
A handful of modern Catholics acknowledge that Limbo or hell proper is the Traditional (with a big “T”) final resting place for unbaptized babies.
However, there is a SEA-CHANGE among modern Catholics that I am unsure is defendable.

I was listening to an episode of Catholic Answers and two topics came up. One was either homosexual marriage or female priests. The argument offered was the CCC clearly taught against this and we can hang our hats on that. OK. The other was Limbo. I was quite certain that Limbo was in the Baltimore Catechism with which my mother grew up. I was surprised to find the TENATIVE way in which Limbo was described there. What however was not tentative either here in in my follow on research was the fate of the unbaptized baby.

So, I agree that Limbo is not “big-T Tradition.” It has been taught and is thus strictly speaking a doctrine (or teaching), but it NEVER was an irreformable doctrine. Where I a Catholic I would have no trouble rejecting the theological speculation of Limbo (I find it ironic that I am not allowed to define what is and is not binding doctrine in my church).
That being said, from Thomas Aquinas and earlier (to the ECF), the fate of the unbaptized baby has always been some form of hell. Limbo was theological speculation for the purpose of rescuing the unbaptized baby from the horrors of hell, but Limbo was just the hell associated with the denial of the “beautific vision.”
I, like Thomas Aquinas, am aware of “baptism of desire” which was originally was for Catechumens who didn’t receive baptism for some reason.
I, like Thomas Aquinas, am aware of the “baptism of blood” where a person is martyred for the faith. That being said infant death from Thomas Aquinas and before has ALWAYS been excluded from these two categories.
I also know of nobody from the above timeframe that would have said, “We are governed by God’s sacraments, he is not,” as a reason to teach that unbaptized babies might not be in hell.

Now, I say always, never, and “T”-Tradition, but the literature is so vast I have not read it all (nobody has). My question then is, "Is there anything from Thomas Aquinas or earlier to suggest that the fate of the unbaptized is not hell (hell being at the least a denial of the beautific-vision for eternity)."

Charity, TOm

Thanks for your question.

I’m not aware of anyone saying that the unbaptized infants could be in heaven prior to the teachings of Thomas Aquinas.

Even though Thomas Aquinas had some powerful interaction with God, being protected from his concupiscence being one example, he still not say that he was a prophet of God and could speak for God (again, as far as I know).

You say that the teaching “little t” tradition presents a problem for Catholics. By problem, you are probably asserting that the Catholic Church has been proven to be unprotected from teaching error - and therefore must be a false church. For me, it would require a doctrinal teaching that would later be reversed.

As far as I know, the Church’s teaching on contraception does not rise to the level of doctrine. If the Church decided to change its mind on this, that would not cause a problem for me. Of course, now that we know that chemical forms of contraception kill very young humans, it seems the Church was right on this non-doctrinal teaching. Over time, it might eventually be declared a formal doctrine, and that seems all the more likely as time goes on.

In summary, for me, the answer to your question is, “no.”

This kind assessment of my views of course did not deal with Catholic teachings, but with the teachings of my leaders. It didn’t call Catholic leaders and thinkers “liar” but my church leaders.
I am do not believe I have ever or will ever speak of Catholic leaders like this, but the above does frame this discussion so …

With that intro however, I truly believe that “Limbo” and the “Fate of the Unbaptized Baby” is a problem for most Catholics.
A handful of modern Catholics acknowledge that Limbo or hell proper is the Traditional (with a big “T”) final resting place for unbaptized babies.
However, there is a SEA-CHANGE among modern Catholics that I am unsure is defendable.

I was listening to an episode of Catholic Answers and two topics came up. One was either homosexual marriage or female priests. The argument offered was the CCC clearly taught against this and we can hang our hats on that. OK. The other was Limbo. I was quite certain that Limbo was in the Baltimore Catechism with which my mother grew up. I was surprised to find the TENATIVE way in which Limbo was described there. What however was not tentative either here in in my follow on research was the fate of the unbaptized baby.

So, I agree that Limbo is not “big-T Tradition.” It has been taught and is thus strictly speaking a doctrine (or teaching), but it NEVER was an irreformable doctrine. Where I a Catholic I would have no trouble rejecting the theological speculation of Limbo (I find it ironic that I am not allowed to define what is and is not binding doctrine in my church).
That being said, from Thomas Aquinas and earlier (to the ECF), the fate of the unbaptized baby has always been some form of hell. Limbo was theological speculation for the purpose of rescuing the unbaptized baby from the horrors of hell, but Limbo was just the hell associated with the denial of the “beautific vision.”
I, like Thomas Aquinas, am aware of “baptism of desire” which was originally was for Catechumens who didn’t receive baptism for some reason.
I, like Thomas Aquinas, am aware of the “baptism of blood” where a person is martyred for the faith. That being said infant death from Thomas Aquinas and before has ALWAYS been excluded from these two categories.
I also know of nobody from the above timeframe that would have said, “We are governed by God’s sacraments, he is not,” as a reason to teach that unbaptized babies might not be in hell.

Now, I say always, never, and “T”-Tradition, but the literature is so vast I have not read it all (nobody has). My question then is, "Is there anything from Thomas Aquinas or earlier to suggest that the fate of the unbaptized is not hell (hell being at the least a denial of the beautific-vision for eternity)."

Charity, TOm

What you need to understand is that Thomas Aquinas, nor anyone before him could no such a thing. Nor anyone since.

It is not a dogma that was given by Christ and the Apostles. They did not tell us what happens to unbaptized babies.

So anything is speculative and always has been.

What we do know is that Christ and the Apostles taught that to have eternal life one must repent and be baptized. This goes for everyone. So we can hang our hat on that.

We can also hope and pray for God’s mercy on those who are unbaptized, especially babies who have no control over that situation .

A lack of magisterial voice on the matter is not the same thing as it being 50/50. Theologically, I think you can make a far more convincing argument for the salvation (or damnation) of infants than you can for the idea of a neutral or pleasant limbo outside of the Beatific Vision that earlier theologians subscribed to. But, since this is not explicit in revelation, it’s not the sort of thing that Rome is going to speak about.

As a comparison: Rome has not dogmatically spoken as to the exact meaning of Jesus’ parables, or for that matter, any of the Biblical stories, but that isn’t to say that one explanation is as good as another. The voice of thorough scholarship - outside of infallibility - is still a powerful tool for illuminating us.

Exactly. If we want to go into more detail, though I think a case can be made for God’s mercy for them. After all, he wills that all men be saved and would not see any be damned. Surely innocence and lack of opportunity holds more weight with God than condemning such souls would have.

Just my personal speculations, which are certainly no better than that of Thomas Aquinas. :blush: It may be that God did not reveal this to us to keep us from being presumptuous or thinking, like some of our Protestant brethren, that it doesn’t matter. But here again, we can only speculate since God has not told us his motivation for keeping this from us.

Thank you all for your responses!

I truly was about to respond with some movement on this subject, but then I remembered the Council of Trent.

The following statement (from my understanding of the Catholic perspective) are true for homosexual marriage and even female priests.

  1. The ECF received the deposit of faith from Christ and His apostles.
    
  2. Not all ECF spoke about homosexual relations/marriage or female priests, but EVERY ECF that did deal with these in one way or another rejected the possibility of valid homosexual marriage or female priests.
    
  3. The ECF are not protected in their teachings by an chrism of infallibility, but they are the souce to which the church must look for its doctrine (doctrine is not changed from the deposit of faith it is only developed).
    
  4. There are no seeds of development within the ECF that point to anything but no-homosexual-marriage and no-female-priests.
    
  5. Because of #4 it would be impossible to define contra this witness, but in the absence of an irreformable declaration via one of the 21 ECs or a Ex Cathadra statement from the Pope (there IMO has been only 2 of these), it is possible to speculate on these subjects.
    

Now, homosexual marriage and female preists have two things going against them. The ordinary magisterium currently universally teaches against this possibility (including a very powerful statement by Pope John Paul II - that was governed neither by Papal Infallibility nor by Conciliar Infallibility, however). I would argue that until these teachings fall out of favor it would be inappropriate for a Catholic to speculate on the possibility of either of these occurring (at least publically and probably privately). I would also argue that it is IMPOSSIBLE for a future EC to define in opposition to what the ECF taught at all times. Theological speculation is OK concerning something like “single-predestination” and the rejection of “single-predestination,” AND a future council (or Ex Cathedra declaration) could decide authoritatively one way or the other. If the ordinary magisterium stops teaching about homosexual marriage and female priests, then theological speculation is OK, BUT no future council could define EXCEPT in the negative because ALL of the deposit of faith points in the negative direction.

I was about to offer a similar thing concerning the fate of the unbaptized baby (theological speculation is possible, but no council could define positively for the fate of the unbaptized baby), but as I typed “21 ECs” I remembered that Trent spoke clearly concerning the fate of the unbaptized.
I looked it up.

If anyone asserts that this sin of Adam, which in its origin is one, and being transfused into all by propagation, not by imitation, is in each one as his own, is taken away either by the powers of human nature, or by any other remedy than the merit of the one mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath reconciled us to God in his own blood, made unto us righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; or, if he denies that the same merit of Jesus Christ is applied, both to adults and to infants, by the sacrament of baptism rightly administered in the form of the Church; let him be anathema.

If the church is free to “speculate” on the fate of “unbaptized” babies, why is it not free to speculate on the hypostatic union as define at Chalcedon? Or anything else?

I do not see a difference between the doctrine of the hypostatic union as defined at Chalcedon and the fate of the unbaptized baby. What am I missing?
Charity, TOm

The Baltimore Catechism, as much as I like it, is NOT and never was an act of the magisterium of the Church. It was a teaching tool used in the USA to pass on the teachings of the Church, but just b/c something was in the Baltimore Catechism doesn’t mean it is an infallible teaching of the Church - unlike homosexuality or female ordination - both of which are formally defined by the Church’s magisterium.

As far as the Limbo of the infants goes - it was always a theological speculation. Some theologians, like Augustine taught the unbaptized infants are damned. Others, like Aquinas, thought that they might be in limbo, yet others think they might be saved.

In the end we only know:

  1. Baptism is necessary for salvation.
  2. Everyone suffering in Hell has actual sin to account for.
  3. Unbaptized infants fit neither category.
  4. God is not bound by the sacraments and can work outside them if He so chooses.
  5. We don’t know if He so chooses.
  6. Therefore, and this is important, BAPTIZE YOUR BABIES and have hope for those who were not baptized.

There are many areas where the Church allows theologians to debate different answers to theological questions that arise from our incomplete knowledge. Shifts in these opinions among theologians are not the same as changes in doctrine (which are impossible).

Perhaps literally, no, but is inferred in Christian belief about salvation. Christ died for all.

Modern theology on the unbaptized does not deviate from the Council of Trent or Florence. It remains doctrine that it is impossible to enter the Beatific Vision in a state of original sin, and it will always remain that way. Modern theologians do not exclude those that lived in ignorance, or the unbaptized, as potential candidates in the election of Heaven, because God can provide sacramental forgiveness outside of the ordinary means. This is sort of an expansion to the idea of baptism by blood or baptism by desire. Even the early Church - famous for its austerity - did not believe that a person that wished to be baptized, but for unavoidable reasons could not be, would therefore not receive sacramental forgiveness. There is the concept of sacramental forgiveness through the ordinary means, and then forgiveness through the extraordinary means.

The difference is that Trent did NOT state the fate of unbaptized babies and your quote is not to the contrary. It said (summarized in more understandable language) that every one is born with original sin, that baptism, for both adults and children, removes original sin. It didn’t state that unbaptized babies go to hell, or heaven or anywhere else.

The Church has definitely spoken about the hypostatic union in her creeds because she has enough support for it from Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Therefore, speculation is unnecessary and unneeded. The fate of unbaptized infants/small children does not have enough support in either Scripture or Sacred Tradition to be so defined. Therefore we can speculate with the understanding that since it has not been revealed to us, it can only remain speculation.

The important but less authoritative status of the Baltimore Catechism was something I was surprised to discover when I studied this.
The current CCC has a much stronger claim to be the teaching of the Ordinary Magisterium.

I concur that “Limbo is speculation.”
Aquinas is of course a Doctor of the Church which as I understand means he has taught a great deal of truth and created clarity in some aspects of the deposit of faith, but he is not an ECF and thus does not transmit the deposit of faith except in the areas where he agrees with the ECF (BTW, I am unaware of an authoritative line of demarcation concerning who is and who is not an ECF).

Augustine is an ECF and his writing is available to the church when it attempts to determine what Christ left with the church. Correct? But as I mentioned in my post just before yours, everything he taught was not infallible.

Do you have any names of the “others think they might be saved?” Would any of these be ECF?

This I absolutely didn’t know. Where does it come from?
Charity, TOm

The statement “Christ died for all” has been the source of VOLUMES of heresy.
The US Constitution says, “pursuit of happiness,” and this has been used in ways that “original interpretation” folks decry.
Catholics are “original interpretation” folks.
I do not think “Christ died for all” is “theologically pregnant” in the way you suggest it is, and the Catholic Church to my knowledge has never used it that way.
Charity, TOm

I would define an ECF as someone pre 400AD

BUT

I would NOT say all ECF are givers of the deposit of faith.

The deposit of faith (dogma) comes from Jesus Christ, the Apostles and other disciples of the first century who knew Christ.

After that it is no different than Aquinas in that they preserve truth and write about the deposit of faith they received.

Would I not be able to find a place in Trent or a previous council that states that, “those that die in a state of sin, go to hell (or are denied the beatific vision?)”

This is something that if well documented would require something other than hell for unbaptized infants. Do you know where it comes from? I had not seen it within my study of the early church.

This I absolutely didn’t know. Where does it come from?

Charity, TOm

Creedal formula unless they are tied to a council or “the ECF” are not the most reliable sources of doctrine. Do you disagree?
I picked the hypostatic union because it unlike homosexual marriage and female priests is not something being regularly clarified by the magisterium (however I am almost positive it is in the current CCC which I think has been sealed by the ordinary magisterium).
I am fairly certain that all the “Acts” of a council are not infallible so I am not sure what other example I would use (like the second place of Constantinople to Rome from one of the early councils - mentioned on CA recently).
But, the hypostatic union is irreformable dogma from Chalcedon.
The fate of the unbaptized seemed to be irreformable dogma from Trent, but I am not sure the source of this:

This I absolutely didn’t know. Where does it come from?

Charity, TOm

I see this is something Aquinas put forth as he defended/developed “limbo.”
Does it have earlier roots?
Charity, TOm

Though Aquinas is a Doctor of the Church his writings are not doctrine, as you cited. We also need to remember that his writings contain nothing contrary to the teachings of the Church–but that his writings rise no higher than that. That being the case, if we never read Aquinas and we should totally lose everything he wrote the Church would be no worse off nor bereft of sound doctrine. This does not mean that his thought has not been helpful and we should ignore him, but no one should go to him thinking they are going to get definitive Catholic doctrine because that was not his intent nor how the Church views him.

Also, in order to be guilty of mortal sin one must know the sin is mortal, do it anyway, and with free will. Infants can do none of those things, therefore they cannot be guilty of actual sin. It is this that gives us hope that they may, through the mercy of God which he can apply to whomever he pleases, be saved even if they have not been baptized.

It didn’t have a name yet, but St Augustine had previously applied the necessity to choose baptism to say that the unbaptized infants had no means of being saved, but since they were not guilty of personal sin, their state in Hell could not be said to be worse than if they had not been conceived at all.

Development of limbo

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