Salvation for Little Children: common false ideas

The following false ideas are sometimes suggested when the subjection of salvation for unbaptized little children is raised. This article points out the errors and false assumptions in these claims.

1. The idea that, if aborted babies go to Heaven, abortion somehow becomes a good thing.

This idea is expressed in a number of different ways. The problem in each case is that it does not distinguish between the sin of abortion and the innocence of the victim. Consider the similar case of the catechumenate who is martyred before baptism. The teaching that such martyrs receive a baptism of blood and therefore go to Heaven does not imply that murdering Christians is good. The murder of all innocent persons is unequivocally condemned by the Church. But God loves innocent souls.

2. The idea that little children cannot receive a baptism of blood because they are not true martyrs.

The preeminent example of a baptism of blood is the catechumenate, preparing for baptism, who dies for the Faith before formal baptism with water could be performed. It is dogma that such persons are given the state of grace before death by a baptism of blood, i.e. a non-formal baptism. But this does not imply that the only way to obtain a baptism of blood is by being a martyr; that would be a false assumption.

The martyr absolutely does not earn or merit his salvation. All salvation is an unmerited gift from Christ on the Cross. Jesus merited our salvation; we do not merit the gift of salvation at all. We can merit an eternal reward, over and above that initial gift. But even a blood-soaked martyr did not earn his salvation by his own suffering.

Therefore, little children (prenatals, infants, young children) who die at that young age do not need to be martyrs, in the strict sense, to receive a baptism of blood.

3. A related claim that the Holy Innocents received a baptism of blood by dying on behalf of Christ, something that other little children, such as victims of abortion, have not done.

Unlike the catechumenate martyrs, the Holy Innocents did not choose to die rather than give up their Faith. They did nothing that was personally meritorious. Yet the Church teaches that they died in a state of grace and are in Heaven. Therefore, a baptism of blood can be obtained without dying as a martyr. The fact that the murderers of the Holy Innocents had the motivation of attempting to find and kill the Christ-child does not make the Holy Innocents martyrs in the strictest sense. They are martyrs in a broader sense of the word, having suffered innocently, just as Christ suffered innocently.

But the same can be said for all little children who die at a young age. They suffer innocently, like the Holy Innocents, like Jesus Christ, and so they receive a baptism of blood from Christ on the Cross, prior to their death.

4. that we cannot know the fate of unbaptized little children

This claim is phrased in various ways, such as that God might save them “in ways known to him”, or that we cannot know the fate of unbaptized children. The problem with such an assertion is two-fold. First, as my previous post and my book explains, magisterial teaching at this point in time is sufficient for us to know that they go to Heaven. And second, the Magisterium certainly is capable of answering the question more definitively in the future. It is foolish to claim that, on such an important matter of salvation, the Magisterium will never make the answer clear, or that the Magisterium is somehow unable to do so.

We know that baptized children who die at that young age go to Heaven. We certainly can know the eternal destination of unbaptized little children. They have not committed any actual mortal sin, as some adults may have. So salvation in their case need not be qualified by the provision of having avoided or repented from actual mortal sin.

5. that any soul can have eternal perfect natural happiness without the Beatific Vision of God

This claim is no longer a tenable position, as my previous post explains.

6. that the opinion of St. Thomas is tenable today.

The fact that St. Thomas held the idea is not proof that it is tenable today, since St. Thomas was unaware of infallible and non-infallible teachings of the Magisterium in the 700+ years since his death. In particular, Thomas died before the Second Council of Lyons, which was the first to infallibly teach that those souls who die in original sin alone go to Hell to be punished. It is highly unlikely that Thomas would have held that those who die in original sin go to a place of natural happiness, if he had written after Lyons II issued that teaching.

7. that the Church already teaches that unbaptized little children die in a state of original sin alone.

The two Ecumenical Councils which taught the fate of those who die in original sin alone did not say that any infants or little children die in that state. The application of this teaching to children, rather than adults, is in the realm of theological opinion. The opinion is occasionally referenced in magisterial documents, but not so as to teach even non-infallibly that little children go to the limbo of Hell.

8. that the Church has no teaching that any specific persons go to Hell, therefore we may hold that perhaps no one goes there.

The teachings of Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium have always warned us, with the words of Jesus:

[Luke]
{13:23} And someone said to him, “Lord, are they few who are saved?” But he said to them:
{13:24} “Strive to enter through the narrow gate. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and not be able.
{13:25} Then, when the father of the family will have entered and shut the door, you will begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us.’ And in response, he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’
{13:26} Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’
{13:27} And he will say to you: ‘I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!’
{13:28} In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, yet you yourselves are expelled outside.

[Matthew]
{7:13} Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate, and broad is the way, which leads to perdition, and many there are who enter through it.
{7:14} How narrow is the gate, and how straight is the way, which leads to life, and few there are who find it!

And according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, those persons only are sent to Hell who die unrepentant from actual mortal sin: “God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end.” [CCC 1037]

9. that God “does not have to save anyone”

Well, that is a half truth. In the abstract, God did not have to create anything, did not have to create humanity, did not have to offer fallen humanity a path of salvation, did not have to offer salvation to everyone. But the other half of the truth is that the Church definitively teaches that God did decide to do all those things, including to offer everyone salvation. And God cannot change His mind. So, given that God has decided to offer salvation to all, He in fact does “have to” offer everyone a real opportunity for salvation.

10. that baptism of desire is only available to adults (or at most older children) and baptism of blood is only available to true martyrs

This narrowing of the two non-formal forms of baptism is essentially a mitigated form of the heresy of Feeneyism. While the condemned heretic Fr. Feeney held that baptism with water was necessary for salvation, mitigated Feeneyism holds that baptism with water is necessary for infant salvation. This claim holds that all prenatals, and the vast majority of infants and little children, are unable to obtain baptism by any means other than water.

Feeneyism is abject heresy. A mitigated version of Feeneyism which targets only little children, but allows baptisms of desire or blood for adults, is not sufficiently different from Feeneyism proper to avoid the charge of formal heresy.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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2 Responses to Salvation for Little Children: common false ideas

  1. Rico says:

    Hi Ron,

    I have this notion that infants have always been baptized in the Catholic Church since time immemorial. However, upon reading about the great doctor and Church father St. Ambrose, I learned that he was only a catechumen when nominated to succeed the episcopate chair of Auxentius the Arian tyrant who persecuted the Catholics. He was baptized only eight days before he was ordained bishop in 7 December 374. His family, especially his mother seemed to be very devout Christians. Nothing explains why they didn’t have him baptized as an infant. It seems that in his day, there was a custom of postponing baptism. I don’t know if this was a widespread practice, but then why would they do that? Can you help sort this out for me? Thanks…

    • Ron Conte says:

      Infants were baptized in the early Church. Origen says that the practice began with the Apostles. But you know that we are all fallen sinners. And sometimes customs have too much influence over us. At certain times in Church history, people postponed baptism because baptism forgives all sins and all punishment due for past sins, and they wanted that benefit. The Roman emperor Constantine (considered the first Christian emperor) was not baptized until he was near death.

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