The Fate of Unbaptized Infants In Light of the Universal Necessity of Baptism

In reply to the question concerning the salvation of aborted infants by virtue of a vicarious “baptism of desire” on the part of their parents or by “baptism of blood” on either their part or “on the part of the Church,” it can only be said that such is absolutely impossible. The Council of Trent infallibly defined the necessity of the Sacrament of Baptism, and decreed: “If anyone says Baptism is optional, that is, not necessary for salvation, let him be anathema” (De Baptismo , Canon V). Further, the Ecumenical Council of Vienne defined that: “All the faithful must confess only one Baptism which regenerates all the baptized, just as there is one God and one faith. We believe that this Sacrament, celebrated in water and in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is necessary for children and grown-up people alike for salvation” (Denzinger 482). Thus, it is tantamount to heresy even to doubt that aborted children are lost for all eternity, because it means falling into the “private judgment”‘ of Protestantism or, what is worse, the subjective speculation of a perverse and humanistic “theology.”

St. Augustine, in his “Epistle to Boniface” says, “For it is not written ‘Unless a man be born again by the will of his parents’ or by the faith of those presenting him or ministering to him,’ but of water and the Holy Spirit” (Rouet de Journel: Enchiridion Patristicum: 98). The originator of this “infant-salvation” heresy was an Irish monk named Morgan, known to posterity as Pelagius — one of St. Augustine’s greatest enemies. Augustine declared: ‘Let no one promise infants who have not been baptized a sort of middle place of happiness between damnation and Heaven, for this is what the Pelagian heresy promised them’ (The Soul and Its Origin, Patrologiae Latinae, Migne, 44:475). St. Augusitine and many early fathers held that unbaptized infants go to Hell (the doctrine of limbo will be discussed further down). Thus, the Ecumenical Council of Florence declared: “The souls of those who die in actual mortal sin, or only in Original Sin, immediately descend into Hell” (Denz. 693). This is also the explicit teaching of the Council of Lyons II (Denz. 464). The notion of “Baptism of Blood,” itself a mere fallible and undefined speculation, cannot apply in this case, since aborted infants are not dying for the sake of Jesus Christ, nor the Faith, nor even for virtue. Indeed, they are dying precisely for the lack of virtue on the part of their parents, for loss of Faith on the part of their murderers, and against the precepts of Jesus Christ; and the infants involved have no will either to accept or reject this, morally or otherwise. Furthermore, the principal Ecclesia supplet (‘The Church Supplies’) would never function in this case, for the aborted child is not a member of the Church. The Church cannot hope to supply eternal life to those outside her membership.

The Holy Innocents, celebrated on December 28, died morally for Christ, and thus were “baptized in their own blood”; yet they did not need membership in a Church which was of a future Testament, and in which no Saint in the Old Covenant was saved (They were also all circumcized males). Under the New Law, it is defined infallibly that all must be saved in Christ; that is, in His Mystical Body, of which the aborted have no share. “Anyone who would say that even infants who pass from this life without participation in the Sacrament of Baptism shall be made alive in Christ goes counter to the preaching of the Apostle and condemns the whole Church, because it is believed without doubt that there is no other way at all in which they can be made alive in Christ’ (St. Augustine, Epistle to Jerome , Journel: 166).

As for “Baptism of Desire” of the parents, this is absurd on its face; the mother does not wish her infant well, but dead. Besides, can we lose our salvation purely for someone else’s sin? Yet this would be the case, for if a child could be saved by the desire of its parents, then it would follow that it could also be lost for its parents’ ignorance and lack of desire.

One of Protestantism’s patriarchs rejuvenated this scheme of Pelagius; his name was John Calvin. As St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori states: “Calvin says that infants born of parents who have the faith are saved, even though they should die without Baptism. But this is false: for David was born of parents who had the faith, and he confessed that he was born in sin. This was also taught by the Council of Trent in the Fifth Session, number Four: there the fathers declared that infants dying without Baptism, although born of baptized parents, are not saved, and are lost, not on account of the sin of their parents, but for the sin of Adam in whom all have sinned” (Explanation of Trent , Duffy Co., 1845, p.56). Thus, a child cannot be damned for its parents’ sins, nor saved by its parents’ virtues: and this is only just. The great Scriptural exegete, Father Cornelius a Lapide, known to the world of patristics, was a Flemish Jesuit named Cornieilis Van Den Steen. In his monumental Commentaria , he declared: “Calvin, in order to detract from the necessity of Baptism, maintains that the children of believers are justified in the womb simply because they are children of believers. But this is absurd and perverse, and condemned by the Church as heretical. If it be lawful to wrest this passagewith Calvin, then we may do the same with every other passage, and thus pervert; the entirety of Scripture. No commandment will survive, not even the institution of Baptism itself!” (In John III). Thus, St. Ambrose concludes: “No one is excepted: not the infant, nor the one prevented by any necessity’ (Abraham, Patrol. Lat. 14:500 ).

The General of the Dominican Order, Thomas de Vio Gaetani, better known as Cajetan, revived this ‘vicarious baptism of desire’ contemporarily with Calvin. Happily, this error was ordered expunged from his works by the Pope. In his decree against the Synod of Pistoia in 1794, Pius VI alludes to “that place of the lower regions which the faithful generally designate as the limbo of the children” in which the souls of those dying “with the sole guilt of original sin” go. Nevertheless, the view which the Holy Father adopts in no way holds either for a parental or infantile ‘baptism of desire’ nor for the rewards of the Beatific Vision for unbaptized souls (Denzinger 1526). This limbo of the children amounts to merely the ‘highest place’ in the abode of Hell, as explained by St. Vincent Ferrer in his sermon preached on the Octave of the Epiphany (Sermons, London: Blackfriars , 1954, p. 82-83). For, as one sainted pontiff declared: “If anyone says that, because the Lord said ‘In My Father’s house are many mansions,’ it might be understood that in the Kingdom of Heaven there will be some middle place, or some place anywhere, where the blessed infants live who departed from this life without Baptism, without which they cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven which is life eternal: Let him be anathema. For when the Lord says ‘Unless one be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he shall not enter into the Kingdom of God,’ what Catholic will doubt that one who has not deserved to be a co-heir with Christ will be a partner of the Devil?” (Pope Zosimus at the Council of Carthage XVI, Canon 3, Denzinger , 30th edition, p.45, note 2).

“O my God, I give Thee infinite thanks on behalf of myself, all creatures, and especially my particular friends, for the gift of life, and the capacity to know and love Thee. I thank Thee for having preserved our existence and allowed us to be born alive to receive Holy Baptism. If we had died before being delivered from Original Sin by the grace of Holy Baptism, which has been the misfortune of many souls, we would never have seen Thy divine face, and we would have been deprived of Thy holy love forever. May the angels and saints bless Thee forever for this most special favor Thou hast accorded us!” — St. John Eudes

  • Donald E. Flood

    Some claim that the Council of Carthage, being a regional Council of the Church, was not infallible. However, St. Pope Zosimus published Carthage’s canons as his own, which made them infallible and binding upon the universal Church. This is referred to in the Council of Ephesus. Pope Zosimus’ Tractoria was sent to the whole world:

    “Pope Zosimus of blessed memory directs us, when writing to the bishops of the whole world.” (Ephesus; Denzinger 134)

    “The same teacher Zosimus trained us, who, when spoke to the the bishops of the whole world.” (Ephesus; Denzinger 135)

    “We[Zozimus], however, by the inspiration of God have referred all things to that of our brothers and co-bishops.” (Ephesus; Denzinger 134)

    This is the beginning of his Tractoria and it tells us all things are referred to the African bishops, which is why the Council of Carthage received this great praise:

    “Furthermore that which was determined in the decrees of the synod of Cathage [418 AD], we have embraced as the Apostolic See’s own (Ephesus; Denzinger 136), and,

    “But although we do not dare to esteem lightly the deeper and more difficult parts of the questions which they [Augustine and Zozimus] have treated in more detail who have restrained the heretics, we do not consider it necessary to add what their writings, according to the aforementioned regulation of the Apostolic See, have taught us.” (Ephesus; Denzinger 142)

  • Nicole Surprenant

    This article suffers from a plurality of subjects: innocence, original & actual sin, guilt, justification, murder, God’s Will, salvation, sacraments, damnation, happiness… which, when thrown together in a few paragraphs, may blur together causing slips into hasty general judgement, and skipping the important particular judgement (allusion intended.) Please allow such examination more nicety (i.e., precision) which is requisite for the sciences– particularly theology.

    Agreed: Baptism is necessary medii et præcepti; even as St. Augustine says, \Whoever says that even infants are vivified in Christ when they depart this life without the participation of His Sacrament (Baptism), both opposes the Apostolic preaching and condemns the whole Church…\–

    Purportedly, the article’s subject is an unbaptized dead infant. Infant? Yea, rather, fetus, or clausus. Perhaps ’tis quibbling, but I question Mr. Malone’s presuming that St. Irenaeus equivocates fetuses with \infantes et parvulos et pueros,\ since infants, children and youth as well as grown folk must naturally be born before they can be born again. Permit another quibble: St. Augustine is not simply damning helpless kiddos– rather he condemns our presumption in that we set ourselves up as gods– initiating our version of the covenant, making unbacked assurances of salvation when, God knows, no mortal has the RIGHT to grace. Initiation being the Creator’s domain, ours is reception and co-operation in this new and eternal covenant. Yet dare you imply that God’s covenant of mercy is less generous than the previous covenants? How can you posit that the Crucifixion, that act of utter love, eradicates the venerability of these situationally-similar innocents? Christ came to fulfill, not destroy the law; those who pass immediate from the darkness of the womb to the darkness of the grave are no less precious than the Holy Innocents who passed from their brief lives to the Hell of the Just. Do not tempt us to blame God! So much for such jargon.

    Truly, I suspect that Mike Malone’s questioner should have built up to his salvific complications, first going directly to the heart of his query: are the poor babies unhappy because of their immature entry into eternity? In answer, two Doctors of the Church offer sufficient support for our hearts and heads:

    \She sent me to fetch Papa’s big tumbler, and
    put it beside my tiny thimble, then, filling both with water, she asked me
    which seemed the fuller. I replied that one was as full as the other—it was
    impossible to pour more water into either of them, for they could not hold it. \ –St. Therese, Little Flower of Liseux. Therese Story of a soul.pdf

    \Although unbaptized children are separated from God as regards the union of glory, they are not utterly separated from Him: in fact they are united to Him by their share of natural goods, and so will also be able to rejoice in Him by their natural knowledge and love.\ –St. Thomas Aquinas, Angelic Doctor.

    God bless!

  • Nicole,

    You may find these articles on the subject to be better:

    The Limbo of the Infants by Brother Thomas Mary — — this is very brief, a sidebar really.

    Limbo and the Mystical Body: on the Borderlands of Dogma — — this is a longer piece by yours truly.

    Weighing in on Limbo — — again, by me.

  • Commments

    You say that a person cannot lose his salvation purely because of someone else’s sin. Yet, if the thrust of your article is true, and no unbaptized infant is saved, then an aborted baby loses its salvation simply because of the sins of its mother and abortionist.

    How do you reconcile this?

  • Alyosha Karamazov

    The thing is original sin. The punishment is not for the sins of the mother or the abortionist. Those unfortunates will have to answer for their own sins. The magisterial pronouncements from Florence and Lateran II are definitive:

    The Second Council of Lyon (1274) and the Council of Florence (1438-1445) both taught that “The souls of those who die in actual mortal sin or in original sin only immediately descend into hell, even though they suffer different penalties” (D 464, 693).

    See this: