Why Do Infants Die if they Haven't Sinned?


#1

In Romans 5, St. Paul writes:

“12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.”

According to this passage (and echoed elsewhere), the reason “death spread to all men” is “because all sinned.” Newborn infants haven’t sinned, but some infants die. If sin is the cause of death, why do infants die?

My understanding of Catholic theology is that infants die because although they haven’t personally sinned, they inherit the fallen, sinful nature of Adam. But that’s not what the text says. The text says “death spread to all men” and the reason for this is “because all sinned.” Unless “all sinned” means “all have a sinful nature,” which isn’t stated anywhere here, this passage doesn’t make sense to me in light of the Catholic Church’s teachings.

Could someone please explain where I’m going wrong? Thanks!


#2

Original holiness and justice was a result of gifts from the Holy Trinity to Adam and Eve. One of those gifts was immortality. Those were lost so were not given to the descendants. For this reason we need baptism (water, desire, or blood).

Catechism
417 Adam and Eve transmitted to their descendants human nature wounded by their own first sin and hence deprived of original holiness and justice; this deprivation is called “original sin”.

404 How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam “as one body of one man”.293 By this “unity of the human race” all men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as all are implicated in Christ’s justice. Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin , but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state .294 It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original sin is called “sin” only in an analogical sense: it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed” - a state and not an act.


#3

Thanks for replying and for citing the CCC. I did read this passage before posting, and it’s actually one of the reasons I chose to post the question on this forum. The CCC says, “Adam and Eve committed a personal sin , but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state .294 It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice.”

In other words, babies have a fallen human nature, so babies die. I fully agree babies have a sinful nature, but the text doesn’t say people die because they have a sinful nature, it says they die because “all sinned.” It doesn’t say they die because “all were sinful” or because “all have a sinful nature.” It’s a verb. They “sinned.” I just don’t see where the CCC is getting this from.


#4

Because every living thing dies. We begin dying the moment we are born.


#5

You might be overthinking this…


#6

Paul talks about how all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God earlier in this chapter. However, he doesn’t mean to say that all people without exception have sinned- as that would suggest Jesus, the unborn, infants and others have sinned when they haven’t. Rather, he means that all people without distinction fall short. His example is Jews and Gentiles. One group isn’t greater than the other in this respect.

So, to repeat, not all have sinned, particularly (for your example) infants.

In addition, Paul isn’t concerned with physical death, but supernatural death. Through one man death entered the world- physical death, yes, but more importantly and additionally, spiritual death, and this is what Paul is discussing.


#7

Hi Thom, I understand what you’re saying, but the text clearly says, at least in some sense, “all have sinned.” He also says shortly thereafter that there are some “who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam,” so clearly some have never sinned (including infants, I’m guessing). So, what then does he mean by “all have sinned”? Does it mean that all are guilty of Adam’s sin and thus suffer punishment for it? I’m having a hard time believing “all have sinned” means “all have a sinful nature.”


#8

It’s a difficult saying from Paul. In verse 12, he’s talking about sin being the cause of death and that “all sinned”. Beyond just the fact that he certainly knew of infants dying, he also seems to almost instantly contradict this. For he implies sin can’t imputed except under law, “nevertheless” there was still death prior to the giving of the Law to Moses, “even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam.” So does death come because we sinned (v. 12) or by some other means (v. 13-14).

To me, it seems like Paul is laying out that there is both an aspect of death outside of personal culpability (i.e. original sin), but there is also a sense in which, to those of us to whom it may apply, we are personally culpable as well. Verses 13-14 almost appear to be a parenthetical so that we don’t confuse his comment in verse 12 to mean that one must personally sin in order to die. He is just wishing to emphasize our personal sin and its consequence, much like he did in chapter 3, to an audience who was in desperate need to recognizing their sin and need of God’s free grace.


#9

The subtleties of the comments escape me. There’s physical death and there’s spiritual death.

Adam and Eve didn’t die immediately after sinning. The threat of sinning is spiritual death. The physical death of infants is usually the result of natural causes, as is the cause of physical death of most people. Scripture says that our days are numbered the day we are born.


#10

Catechism

404 … transmitted by propagation to all mankind … original sin is called “sin” only in an analogical sense: it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed” - a state and not an act.

  1. Constituted in original holiness and original justice at first.
  2. Mortal sin caused loss of sanctifying grace and by that loss of original justice
  3. Original justice included physical immortality, a preternatural gift: so death came from Adam’s actual sin.
  4. Mankind inherits no preternatural gifts, nor sanctifying grace at conception (except the Virgin Mary).
  5. Romans 5:12 “in whom all have sinned” refers to Adam the head of humankind, so in inherited human nature.
  6. Romans 5:13 “until the law sin was in the world” this means the law of Moses.
  7. Romans 5:13 “but sin was not imputed, when the law was not” refers to culpability for actual sin.

#11

Infants certainly died in Paul’s day, undoubtedly more often than today. Don’t make his words out to be saying something (“only people who sin personally are mortal”) that would have been obvious nonsense to him.


#12

And if people spoke 100% literally all the time, without: context, idiom, hyperbole, or other linguistic nuance— and if we didn’t have need of translation from the original language, and if we only took one verse out of context instead of ALL the scripture together, and if we only relied on the Bible and not also on Tradition— then you might have an argument.


#13

Catholics are not a Bible-only faith, though Scripture is certainly extremely important. What is also of great importance in informing our faith are the teachings passed down from the Apostles about original sin, not all of it written down into Scripture. The “Patristic witness” of the Early Church Fathers is very informative on these matters.

Also, in regard to “all have sinned,” this isn’t meant to be entirely exhaustive. Jesus never sinned, for example. But not belonging to any nation, no membership in any religion, excludes people from sinning. [This is what an above poster meant by understanding “all” in this instance to be "all without distinction.] We don’t need to carry his intent beyond that idea, for certainly a newborn babe is incapble of committing any actual sin.


#14

The whole thrust of the Genesis story is that Adam is created as the head of the human race and the lord of all material creatures, and Eve is created as the mother of all living things. (At least on Earth. Maybe in the whole universe.) They had the spiritual power to name and tame, and thus to affect how every creature grew and developed.

Because they were given so much power by God, their shared sin affected all living things (at least on Earth).

This is not a matter of God changing things; rather, this is God allowing Adam and Eve to suffer the consequences of their own acts. But it is also a matter of everything else in the universe, and every later human, suffering the consequences of Adam and Eve’s acts. There is something in us that protests against death, even the deaths of animals, because we feel that death is somehow unnatural. Genesis tells us that death really is a bug, not a feature.

(Obviously in the universe we’ve got, death has been made somewhat useful to the natural world. But most creatures seem to have senescence and death features that turn on, which implies that they could turn off. And there are other weird things like that. Cue Twilight Zone music.)

Obviously everything dying, because two humans wanted to be like God and were willing to steal for it, is not “fair” in a one-to-one individual consequences of sin way. But it is exactly the way temporal consequences play out, and particularly how historical acts of leaders play out.

It’s not my fault that sailors killed all the dodo birds, and it happened long before I was around. But it still affects me. I’m never going to see a living dodo bird, absent some DNA finagling, and I can’t make the slaughter never have happened. I don’t get a vote on history that’s already happened.

So of course babies have not sinned. But they live in a world which Adam and Eve refused to rule justly, and therefore there are things like disease and weakness of body and birth defects. Baby death is not a matter of fallen human nature; it’s a matter of all Nature having been trampled and broken by Adam and Eve’s sinning feet.

And that’s why we have this in Romans 8:19-23:

“For Creation is awaiting the revelation of the sons of God; for all Creation was unwillingly subjected to empty futility. But having been subjected, she is in hope through Him, because Creation herself shall also be delivered from the servitude of corruption, into the liberty of the glory of the sons of God. For we know that all Creation groans and is in labor until now, and not only she, but ourselves also…”

  • ktisis, Creation, is a feminine word in Greek. That’s just grammatical gender; but it makes more sense to say “she” if she’s metaphorically pregnant and having birthing pains.

#15

I think this is spot on.


#16

I agree with much of this, but point 5 seems to be a strange interpretation. You’re saying “in whom all have sinned” means we have a sinful nature. Those appear to be very different statements.


#17

Very interesting. Thanks!


#18

I mean as explained in the Catechism

405 … human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence". …

http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s2c1p7.htm#405


#19

Why infants die if they haven’t sinned?

Answer-

It is because of the curse of sin in the fallen world we live in.


#20

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