What the Church Has Said About Children Who Die Without Baptism
Father Peter Gumpel Gives an Overview
VATICAN CITY, DEC. 16, 2004 (Zenit) - What happens to the souls of children who die before birth, or shortly after birth, or are aborted?
Questions of this nature are ever more frequent, to the point that John Paul II himself, on Oct. 7, asked the International Theological Commission to study the matter more profoundly.
To better understand the matter at stake, we interviewed Father Peter Gumpel, a theologian and historian who has studied the matter since the 1950s.
"The fate in the hereafter of souls that have not been baptized seems to be a marginal problem, but in reality it is at the heart of some dogmatic theses," Father Gumpel said.
"According to Catholic doctrine, all are born with original sin; no one can enjoy the beatific vision without overcoming original sin. The normal way is to be baptized; it is an infallible means to ensure full happiness in the beatific vision," the theologian explained.
Q: But, what happens to those who die without baptism?
Father Gumpel: Although in history there have been different opinions, the supreme magisterium of the Church offers very precise documents and affirmations.
In particular, in the struggle between St. Augustine and Pelagius, the latter denied original sin, while Augustine, Doctor of the Church, asserted its existence. In St. Augustine's time, the doctrine existed according to which outside the Church there was no salvation, so the belief was that those who were not baptized, whether adults or newborns, could not enjoy the salvific vision.
In this context, St. Augustine speaks about children dying without baptism and thinks that hell is their destiny, saying that they are subject to the flames of hell, although adding that they are "very mitigated flames." Given this very harsh consideration, the question arises if St. Augustine ever considered a substitution to baptism by water, for example, baptism by desire.
Catechumens who had shown a willingness to enter the Church, through baptism, perhaps could be saved. Also catechumens not baptized with water, but who suffered martyrdom for their faith in Christ, could undoubtedly be saved. In this case, the concept of baptism of blood is introduced.
St. Augustine did not consider the question of persons who wish to enter the Church.
Q: St. Thomas Aquinas proposes a view that is different from that of St. Augustine. In what way does it change?
Father Gumpel: Indeed. St. Thomas and the Scholastics abandon St. Augustine's theory that children who are not baptized go to hell, even if the latter is in a mitigated form, and construct an intermediate form, known as "limbo." It is a theological construction, to explain the situation of human beings who die and are not in heaven.
Q: Has this theory of limbo ever been presented by the Church as a matter of faith?
Father Gumpel: In 1954 I carried out an exhaustive study, in which I examined all the arguments in favor of the thesis expressed by the infallible magisterium done with authority. I studied all the ecumenical councils, and I came to the conclusion that "limbo" is not an obligatory answer.
It is an opinion that has been repeated in the course of time, without carrying out a critical historical examination of the ecumenical councils.
Prior to Vatican II, a schema was prepared, entitled "To Save in Its Purity the Deposit of Faith." In a special way, by the determination of the Faculty of Theology of Naples, the 11th chapter was included in the document, which formally condemned those who attacked "limbo."
When the plan reached the General Preparatory Commission, the most important commission for the preparation of the council, there were such objections, on the part of cardinals and other bishops, that it was decided to cancel this chapter. The commission referred explicitly to the study I had done, which was later published.
Q: What does the Catechism of the Catholic Church say on this subject?
Father Gumpel: The Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1992, dedicates No. 1261 to children who die without Baptism, and one reads that one can hope that they will attain the beatific vision.
It is an element of the greatest importance, which opens the way to a broader point of view, and it is a pronouncement of the ordinary magisterium of the Church. We cannot say with certainty that they will be saved.
We can hope, and the fact that we can hope, as the Catechism says, is an interpretative key. No one hopes or can hope legitimately for something one is certain is impossible.
Q: What is the basis of this hope?
Father Gumpel: The first consideration that must be made is that, every human being, even if he was an embryo or fetus in the womb, is part of the human family and, ontologically, in his being, has a relationship with all people and, therefore, also with Jesus Christ, who is the head of the new humanity, the new Adam.
From sacred Scripture, we know the salvific will of God. Christ is the redeemer of all and wants all to be saved. Moreover, Christ founded the Church, a visible body, and instituted the sacrament of baptism. And given that baptism is an infallible means, we must do everything possible to have people baptized.
But, what do we do with those who, without any one being at fault, cannot receive the baptism of water? There must be another means to maintain God's salvific plan.
We do not know what this means is. There are many theories. For example, will very small children continue to be so after death, or will they have a different state? Might they not receive a divine illumination with the possibility of choosing for or against God?
Others mention the desire of those parents, good Catholics, who have conceived a child and whom they would certainly have had baptized if it had been possible, and wonder if the parents' desire or that of the Church is not enough.
Of course, although we cannot indicate with certainty by what means they could be saved, the fact remains of their union with Christ and the universal salvific will. This is the central point.
Q: Why did the Pope ask the International Theological Commission to study the matter more profoundly?
Father Gumpel: Today the problem is more complex because, with laws that have legalized abortion, life is taken away from many children who might have desired baptism.
I don't know the Holy Father's intention in detail, but I don't think he wants to go back. The question is rather of a pastoral nature because, when I wrote those articles in 1954, there were few cases. But today, with the multiplication of the number of abortions and the attempts to manipulate fetuses, the number of human beings implicated has greatly increased.
Q: Finally, the question remains of the mystery of the soul and its destiny.
Father Gumpel: Yes. We take seriously a very small human being, just conceived, and call him a human person. If this is so, what will be his final state? Will he be a fetus? Will he grow? It is true that he is already separated from the body but if we say that he has a soul, how will this soul be? Will the soul remain in the state of the fetus, of the child, or will it develop?
As Christians we clearly reject any eugenic approach. Handicapped children, for example, do not remain with their limitation when they enter the beatific vision, because there is no longer a body, and the soul does not have handicaps.
The souls of these children do not have obstacles of the body, and can reach the full development of their mental faculties. Therefore, there are many reasons why it is worthwhile to have hope.
http://www.catholic.org CA, US
Catholic Online - Publisher, 661 869-1000
Children, Birth, Souls, Abortion. Sin
More Catholic PRWire
Showing 1 - 50 of 4,718
A Recession Antidote
Monaco & The Vatican: Monaco's Grace Kelly Exhibit to Rome--A Review of Monegasque-Holy See Diplomatic History
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.
A Royal Betrayal: Catholic Monaco Liberalizes Abortion
Dna. Maria St.Catherine De Grace Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.
Embrace every moment as sacred time
Mary Regina Morrell
Letting go is simple wisdom with divine potential
Mary Regina Morrell
Father Lombardi's Address on Catholic Media
Pope's Words to Pontifical Latin American College
Prelate: Genetics Needs a Conscience
State Aid for Catholic Schools: Help or Hindrance?
Scorsese Planning Movie on Japanese Martyrs
2 Nuns Kidnapped in Kenya Set Free
Holy See-Israel Negotiation Moves Forward
Franchising to Evangelize
Catholics Decry Anti-Christianity in Israel
Pope and Gordon Brown Meet About Development Aid
Pontiff Backs Latin America's Continental Mission
Cardinal Warns Against Anti-Catholic Education
Three words to a deeper faith
Relections for Lent 2009
Wisdom lies beyond the surface of life
Mary Regina Morrell
World Food Program Director on Lent
Pope's Lenten Message for 2009
Keeping a Lid on Permissiveness
Glimpse of Me
The 3 stages of life
Sex and the Married Woman
A Catholic Woman Returns to the Church
Modernity & Morality
Just a Minute
Catholic identity ... triumphant reemergence!
Edging God Out
Burying a St. Joseph Statue
George Bush Speaks on Papal Visit
Sometimes moving forward means moving the canoe
Mary Regina Morrell
Easter... A Way of Life
Papal initiative...peace and harmony!
Proclaim the mysteries of the Resurrection!
Jerusalem Patriarch's Easter Message
Good Friday Sermon of Father Cantalamessa
Papal Address at the End of the Way of the Cross
Cardinal Zen's Meditations for Via Crucis
Interview With Vatican Aide on Jewish-Catholic Relations
Pope Benedict XVI On the Easter Triduum
by Catholic Online
- 26 Coptic Christians dead after heinous attack HD Video
- Jesus Is HERE: Pope Francis declares Jesus intercedes for us every day
- A Big Thank You from JESUS IS - The Series HD Video
- St. Maximinus of Trier: Saint of the Day for Monday, May 29, 2017
- Daily Readings for Monday, May 29, 2017
- Getting Creative With Dead Bodies?
- US Archbishop decries President Trump's budget plan - at odds with ...
- Day 5 - Novena to the Holy Spirit for a New Pentecost for the Church HD
- Day 4 - Novena to the Holy Spirit for a New Pentecost for the Church HD
- Day 3 - Novena to the Holy Spirit for a New Pentecost for the Church HD
- Daily Reading for Wednesday, May 31st, 2017 HD
Copyright 2017 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2017 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.