Dare We Hope for the Salvation of the Unborn?
October 2012By Robert Benson
Robert Benson retired in 2009 from teaching medieval English literature and Dante (in translation) at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. He and his wife were received into the Catholic Church in 1993.
They praised in unison your conquering hand, O Lord, for wisdom opened mouths that were mute and gave eloquence to the tongues of infants. Wisdom 10:20-21Many faithful Catholics do not know the Churchs teaching on the fate of the souls of unbaptized infants. Converts have perhaps not thought seriously about the matter, and cradle Catholics fall back easily on teachings they vaguely remember about Limbo. Though Limbo is not mentioned in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it remains a possible theological hypothesis, according to the Vaticans International Theological Commission. In 2007 the commission presented its document The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized to William Cardinal Levada, then-prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who, upon receiving the endorsement of Pope Benedict XVI, approved it for publication and distribution.
In the Churchs reflection on the mystery of salvation, the commission states, the question of the eternal destiny of infants who die unbaptized is one of the most difficult to solve in the structure of theology. It is, in the commissions words, a limit case where vital tenets of faith, especially the need of Baptism for salvation and the universal salvific will of God, can easily appear to be in tension. While acknowledging that the Church does not have sure knowledge about the salvation of unbaptized infants who die, the commission notes that in recent times the magisterium of the Church has shown an increasing openness to the salvation of unbaptized infants. The work even the existence of the commission is not as widely known as it should be, and some who have commented on this consideration of the fate of unbaptized infants have expressed reservations about the Magisterium moving beyond the tradition of Limbo or the mildest condemnation with which St. Augustine assigned the unborn in Hell. The commissions work, however, confirms and elaborates the position articulated in the Catechism that we can hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism (no. 1261).
Because of the great number of children who die these days through abortion, miscarriage, contraception, and fertility experimentation, the commission recognizes a certain urgency in its consideration, and its document is a thoughtful and thorough examination of the question from biblical times to the present. The commission notes that the Church knows the help that can be given by the faith of believers, and cites Mark 2:5, the account of friends lowering the paralytic through the roof to get him to Jesus: And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, My son, your sins are forgiven. Nothing is said of the faith of the paralyzed man whose friends labor on his behalf demonstrated their faith in Jesus power. The faithful today should have similar confidence in Gods mercy and should pray for the salvation of unbaptized infants with fervent hope. The commission adds that Christians should explain to the parents of children who have died without baptism why their own hope for salvation can also extend to those infants or children.
You have two options:
- Online subscription: Subscribe now to New Oxford Review for access to all web content at newoxfordreview.org AND the monthly print edition for as low as $38 per year.
- Single article purchase: Purchase this article for $1.95, for viewing and printing for 48 hours.
If you're already a subscriber log-in here.