What happens to un-baptized young children?

Small children - say over two years old - if they die un-baptized what does the church say happens?

Looking at small children, as they get to be old enough to have sinned possibly, as opposed to an infant that has not.

Thanks all,

Your question also applies to un-baptized people of any age that lived Godly lives.

That is all in the hands of God.

The Church doesn’t judge what happens to anyone after death, not even Judas.

It doesn’t.


Didn’t they used to say unbaptized baby or child would go to limbo or purgatory? I think this was taught but not made part of actual doctrine?

There have been speculations and hyootheses, such as limbo (perhaps the same as OT Sheol?). Some include the children being resurrected and living with us bodily while not having the beatific vision. However, the actual answer is not part of our deposit of faith, so we trust in God’s mercy and justice (in the sense of being truly just, not just administering condemnation).

Yes, right. It wasn’t taught as a matter of Faith, but rather as a theological conjecture.

Depends on who “they” is. If “they” is “people” – yes, “people” (mainly theologians) speculated about where unbaptized babies go. If “they” is the Church, no.

No, the speculation was not purgatory as all those in purgatory go to heaven eventually, and purgatory will cease at the second coming.

Many speculated about a place called limbo that is neither heaven nor hell.

Did the Church teach this as doctrine? No.

Children that have not been baptized we leave in the hands of God.

If they were baptized we can know that they are in heaven.

These three articles may be of interest to the original poster.




Some theologians speculate that there is a place called limbo where infants go if they die without baptism. Theoretically, limbo is an eternal happy place without the Supernatural happiness of heaven. Dr. David Anders was on the radio show Called to Communion recently, and he compared eternal natural happiness to a person who gets to play golf on a sunny day forever. Sure, it might be happy, but we know that’s not heaven because we can imagine that. The Bible says we can’t imagine what heaven will be like.

Some theologians speculate that “baptism of desire” can be applied to unbaptized infants vicariously through the Church’s desire and prayers for their salvation.

In the 1500s, Cardinal Cajetan commented on this: “[C]hildren [who are] still within the womb of their mother are able to be saved…through the sacrament of baptism that is received, not in reality, but in the desire of the parents.” (Commentary on the Summa Theologica III:68:11)

St. Thomas Aquinas also appears to have suggested that it is sometimes possible for infants to get sanctifying grace without baptism: “Children while in the mother’s womb have not yet come forth into the world to live among other men. Consequently they cannot be [baptized], so as to receive the sacrament, at the hands of man, unto salvation. They can, however, be subject to the action of God, in Whose sight they live, so as, by a kind of privilege, to receive the grace of sanctification; as was the case with those who were sanctified in the womb.” (Summa Theologiae Part 3 Question 68 Article 11) Earlier in the book St. Thomas mentions that Mary and St. John the Baptist were sanctified in the womb.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux lived in the 1100s. Some websites say that a couple once asked him what would happen to their miscarried child, and he supposedly wrote back with these words: “Your faith spoke for this child. Baptism for this child was only delayed by time. Your faith suffices. The waters of your womb — were they not the waters of life for this child? Look at your tears. Are they not like the waters of baptism? Do not fear this. God’s ability to love is greater than our fears. Surrender everything to God.”

He Supposedly said this. I say Supposedly because I haven’t found a credible source for it yet. I’ve searched for a published copy of this quote in St. Bernard’s written works and I haven’t been able to find it yet. So far, I’ve internet-searched various words from this quote in an English edition of his letters, to no avail. Then I searched for translations of this quote, using various words that one could expect to show up in all translations, such as “faith”, “love,” and “tears.” I translated those words into French, Italian, and Latin, and used them to search his complete works in all those languages to see if they show up near each other, as they should if this quote exists anywhere. I still haven’t found it, but I probably made some mistakes.

In the future I’d like to make search again, looking for those words in various declensions that create different endings in those languages. They might show up in ways that are grammatically different from what I would expect, and my initial search might not have found them because I might have searched using a different ending than the one he used. There are also several possible spellings of those words in medieval versions of those languages, and there are probably synonyms that I don’t know about that I could also search for. Maybe St. Bernard didn’t use the Ordinary word for “tears” (for example), but a synonym. Or maybe the quote is inauthentic – but I hope not, because it’s beautiful. Someday I hope to find out if he said this, and if he did, in what document he said it.

Sin necessitates free choice for the sinner to choose against God. Free choice necessitates the ability to reason. The age of reason is generally around age 7. Children younger than 7 (even those older than age 2) would still pretty much be in the same boat. If it were possible for them to sin, it wouldn’t make sense for the Church not to give them the Sacrament of Reconciliation until the age of reason.

The theory of the limbo of the infants notwithstanding:

  1. We simply do not know. God has not revealed this to us and the Church admits as much; and
  2. We entrust them to the mercy of God.

“We don’t know; we simply entrust them to the mercy of God” is a perfectly fine answer.

We know that Baptism is the normative means of salvation. We know that God is not bound to stick with the norm and can take extraordinary action.

Still, there are things we definitely do not know and can only make conjectures about, as this topic attests.

i may be wrong, but i think the Church says with confidence that unbaptized children who have not reached the age of reason do NOT suffer the pains of hell or of purgatory.

as to whether or not they enter in to the beatific vision, that, i believe, has remained undefined.

Markie Boy, see Fr. Hardon’s dictionary article on Limbo.

And while you’re at it, check out

Effrenatum, Apostolic Constitution of Pope Sixtus V (issued A.D. 1588), opening paragraph

Auctorum fidei, bull of Pope Pius VI (issued A.D. 1794), no. 26

Note that the 2007 ITC document “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized” is not a magisterial document, but a theological study of a consultative body.

Thanks all - spoke to my local priest yesterday. One of the things I am learning and liking in the Catholic Church is how it tends to look on things through the view that God is a loving God.

We trust them to the Mercy of God. The parents may have to answer for why they had not had their little children baptized.

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