Can UnBaptised Babies Go To Heaven?

     When considering the development of doctrine, especially in the last half-century, a popular case has been that of the possibility of the salvation of un-baptised babies. The consensus of the Church, as far as I can tell from my reading-- from Saint Augustine to Pope Pius XII-- has been that those Just who die without baptism cannot go to Heaven, but rather may spend eternity in Limbo. Limbo is natural beatitude, which Father Garigou-Lagrange, famous Thomist, defines thus:

"Natural beatitude consists in that knowledge and love of God which we can attain by our natural faculties. If man had been created in a state purely natural, by his fidelity to duty he would have merited this beatitude, namely, first, a natural knowledge of God's perfections reflected in His creatures, a knowledge without any mixture of error; secondly, a rational love of God, the Creator, love composed of reverent submission, fidelity, recognition, the love, not indeed of a son, but of a good servant in relation to the best of masters."

 I have a wholly amateurish grasp of St. Thomas, but it is my understanding that his synopsis-- affirmed by long-standing consensus by Christians-- is that babies who die without baptism, and therefore are still in Original Sin, are not damned, but rather spend eternity in the above state of natural beatitude. They experience God's presence as Creator, and suffer no material wants.

     This consensus is based on the truth that Heaven is the Blessed Vision of God; it consists of seeing God in Himself.  This sight of God is supernatural beatitude, not merely natural, which is to say that man was created destined for this sight, but not in himself capable of it. All the more, because of the fall of Original Sin, man is not in himself capable of this sight.

     The vision of God as He is, face to face, requires Christ's Paschal Mystery.  To see God, Man must be raised back up and higher, by Christ's grace. To see God requires fidelity to this Grace, cooperative faith. The ordinary means of this life of grace is baptism and the subsequent sacraments. Those who have fidelity, have faith, are baptised, or desire baptism, as with catechumens. The unbaptised do not go to Heaven because they do not have faith, and supernatural life. 

    Unbaptised babies do not have actual sin, so they do not merit damnation, but merit natural beatitude, or eternal life in Limbo.

     This is my understanding of the traditional consensus on the matter, but I welcome any corrections.

     In the last few decades, this common consensus-- that unbaptised babies do not go to Heaven-- has been mitigated greatly. Pope John Paul II taught that, while the Ordinary means of salvation is baptism, God is not bound by His sacraments to not use extraordinary means, according to His Mercy, to save. The Roman Curia published The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Baptism, which articulates Pope John Paul's reasoning on the matter, a reasoning, it appears, that is accepted also by Pope Benedict XVI.

     For my part, I dispute what is, admittedly, the centuries-old common understanding of the Church on this matter. I believe we can do so with piety, and by appealing to tradition.

     My first reason for suggesting that infants who die without benefit of baptism can go to Heaven is that the Church appears to have the power to make it so.

     It is the always accepted tradition that catechumens who die before baptism can go to Heaven. Catechumens have the gift of faith, and are oriented to baptism. The Spirit is already moving towards manifestation. And we all know that grace is the prime sine qua non of conversion. A person does not first desire grace, and then receive it, rather his desire is itself the product of grace. Grace makes a person capable of the freedom of repentance and conversion. Only in grace does a person begin to be capable of freedom. All this might be used as an argument against the possibility of Heaven for the unbaptised. However it cannot because we have this tradition, in the case of catechumens, of the unbaptised going to Heaven. It would seem that the fruits of baptism are already present to an extent in the catechumen. Why can this not be the case with infants?

    Obviously in the case of adult catechumens, the person has a seemingly more active assent and intent, than with infants. A consideration of the relationship of grace to personal action, as only begun above, shows us that even in adults it is not that they first have intent and assent, and then grace. No ones assent or intent begins before grace. So it seems to me that the difference between an adult and an infant are more tenuous, in the arena of grace, than we might first think.

    Why can't infants be catechumens? Clearly a baby can be baptised, with the Church, in her parents and godparents particularly, giving vicarious assent and intention. It seems to me that the Church also has the power to enroll infants in the catechumenate, vicariously orienting them towards baptism. This orientation towards baptism is clear with Christian parents, who already vicariously intend baptism. The desire and hope for the sacrament is there. It is tradition, in the weave of Church life, that the Body can act vicariously on behalf of her members. What hinders the very mighty Church from orienting the unborn and the infant towards baptism, giving them her hope for and desire of baptism? 

     The Liturgy, which should be our first resource for the spirit and doctrine of the Church (not always Greek natural philosophy), shows us that the Church does 'save' the 'unbaptised'! In the ritual of baptism for infants, the introduction boldly unites the catechumenate of adults with that of infants: 

"It must be kept in mind that the formulary for baptism of a child is simply an abridgment of that for an adult. In olden times baptism of adults was not administered in one continuous ceremony but in stages spread out over a period of time, and not all of these took place within the sacred edifice." 

In the Rituale, the rite for baptism of an adult is lengthy, with the catechumen undergoing several rites of exorcism and profession of faith over the course of months, and as the Rituale says, not in the church building necessarily. This can be done in the home, as well.

     Even in the more pithy liturgy for infant baptism, The Church shows that she is 'saving' an 'unbaptised' infant.  She asks the infant, for whom the godparent is vicariously speaking, what he is seeking. The infant responds, through the godparent: "Faith."  The Church replies, "What does faith offer you?" The infant confesses: "Eternal Life."

     The infant, it would seem to me, is a catechumen little different from an adult catechumen. During the rite, but before Baptism, the baby is called "chosen", "the servant of God," and the priest performs the laying-on of hands, claiming the baby for the Church.

     Even before this pre-baptismal catechumenal rite, the old Rituale has a blessing for a pregnant mother in which both mother and child are blessed. Is this not a catechumenal rite for the unborn, unbaptised baby?

     Examining the liturgy of the Church is sufficient, I think, to show that a baby who dies before baptism can be saved-- that the Church has the power to do it. At the very least, this should show that to question the customary understanding of the subject is not against tradition.

     We have every reason to pray to Our Blessed Mother, conceived without sin in the womb of St. Anne, and to Saint John the Baptist, who was extraordinarily "baptised" and "confirmed" by the Holy Spirit in the womb of St. Elizabeth, that they will take special care of the catechumens in the womb. 

     Saint John; Please be the special godfather of all our babies in the womb, and with the Mother of God, bring them to Heaven, the fruit of the faith that the Church holds for them as Vicar, she with the power to bind and to loosen. Amen

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