On the Salvation of the Unbaptised

In my work in interreligious dialogue, I have often found cause to reflect on the question of the salvation of the unbaptised. Of course, Dominus Iesus is of great importance here, as is the declaration of Lumen Gentium 16 that:

Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.

This has often been questioned as a “heresy” of the Second Vatican Council not only by traditionalist Catholics but also by evangelical protestants. However, I have been reading the statement from the International Theological Commission about the fate of unbaptised children (which the press has popularised as the Vatican’s “renunciation” of the doctrine of Limbo). This document makes for very interesting reading–especially as an example of the theological method of the Catholic Church (see especially the section headed “1.7 Issues of a Hermeneutical Nature”). I could say much about this document, but one thing that I found today which was especially interesting is this PRE-Vatican II statement by Pope Pius IX that those who

lead a virtuous and just life, can, with the aid of divine light and grace, attain eternal life; for God, who understands perfectly, scrutinizes and knows the minds, souls, thoughts and habits of all, in his very great goodness and patience, will not permit anyone who is not guilty of a voluntary fault to be punished with eternal torments. (Encyclical Letter “Quanto conficiamur”, 10.09.1863 (DS 2866)).

This appears to be very important background to the Lumen Gentium statement and indicates that the Council was not setting out on an entirely new direction with its statement.

The Internation Theological Commission statement also makes a distinction between “first, statements of faith and what pertains to the faith; second, common doctrine; and third, theological opinion” which is very interesting. Specifically, they state that

a) The Pelagian understanding of the access of unbaptised infants to “eternal life” must be considered as contrary to Catholic faith.

b) The affirmation that “the punishment for original sin is the loss of the beatific vision”, formulated by Innocent III, pertains to the faith: original sin is of itself an impediment to the beatific vision. Grace is necessary in order to be purified of original sin and to be raised to communion with God so as to be able to enter into eternal life and enjoy the vision of God.

c) In the documents of the magisterium in the Middle Ages, the mention of “different punishments” for those who die in actual mortal sin or with original sin only…must be interpreted according to the common teaching of the time. …These magisterial statements do not oblige us to think that these infants necessarily die with original sin, so that there would be no way of salvation for them.

d) The Bull “Auctorem fidei” of Pope Pius VI is not a dogmatic definition of the existence of Limbo: the papal Bull confines itself to rejecting the Jansenist charge that the “Limbo” taught by scholastic theologians is identical with the “eternal life” promised to unbaptised infants by the ancient Pelagians.

e) Pius XII’s “Allocution to Italian Midwives”, which states that apart from Baptism “there is no other means of communicating [supernatural] life to the child who has not yet the use of reason”, expressed the Church’s faith regarding the necessity of grace to attain the beatific vision and the necessity of Baptism as the means to receive such grace. The specification that little children (unlike adults) are unable to act on their own behalf, that is, are incapable of an act of reason and freedom that could “supply for Baptism”, did not constitute a pronouncement on the content of current theological theories and did not prohibit the theological search for other ways of salvation.

In summary: the affirmation that infants who die without Baptism suffer the privation of the beatific vision has long been the common doctrine of the Church, which must be distinguished from the faith of the Church. As for the theory that the privation of the beatific vision is their sole punishment, to the exclusion of any other pain, this is a theological opinion, despite its long acceptance in the West. The particular theological thesis concerning a “natural happiness” sometimes ascribed to these infants likewise constitutes a theological opinion.

And then there is this statement which should assure even the most hardened evangelical or traditionalist:

42. No human being can ultimately save him/herself. Salvation comes only from God the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.

The method adopted by the Commission therefore is as follows (and I am still reading this bit):

This fundamental truth (of the “absolute necessity” of God’s saving act towards human beings) is unfolded in history through the mediation of the Church and its sacramental ministry. The ordo tractandi we will adopt here follows the ordo salutis, with one exception: we have put the anthropological dimension between the trinitarian and the ecclesiological-sacramental dimensions.

It all makes for very interesting reading, and also very deep reflection on the grace of salvation in Jesus Christ.

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7 Responses to On the Salvation of the Unbaptised

  1. Past Elder says:

    Great Caesat’s Ghost! Vatican II “Catholicism” rides again.

    Limbo itself, or the idea that children who die with no actual sin but only original sin go there, or that the punishment is only the loss of the beatific vision which is consequent upon original sin but not the punishment of the mind in remorse or of the senses that is consequent upon actual sin, has never been an article of the Catholic Faith, is the consensus of opinion among theologians but not formal doctrine, and is on the other hand not to be confused with the Pelagian error. Your “In Summary” states exactly the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Those who think otherwise are more indebted to Dante than Scripture, Tradition, or tradition. There is, in fact, a nice summary of all this in the FAQ on the SSPX site.

    This is a “gotcha”, similar to confronting a pacifist with What if someone tried to rape your wife or daughter. It’s not about wives and daughters, and not about babies, it’s about pacifism per se for the one and about salvation per se for the other.

    Judas H Priest, you didn’t make it out of grade school (meaning through 8th grade here, about age 13, not sure about the Aussie system) without knowing about three forms of baptism. Baptism of Water, the ordinary method and the one given to the Church to take to the ends of the earth; Baptism of Fire, by which catechumens martyred for the Faith before water baptism are baptised; Baptism of Desire, by which those who through no fault of their own did not hear the Gospel and therefore did not reject it but who sought to follow the best lights available to them and who would have believed the Gospel had they heard it — cases which only God can judge — are baptised.

    The statement “No human being can ultimately save him/herself. Salvation comes only from God the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.” cannot assure even the most hardened evangelical or traditionalist because it does not even address their concern, which is, the various ways in which the Roman Church pre and post Vatican II spends so much of its effort trying to find ways in which salvation can come through Jesus Christ without confessing the name of Jesus Christ, the only name given to men under heaven by which they must be saved, the message the Church is commissioned to give, the message the Apostles whose successors they claim to be preferred death rather than to not proclaim.

  2. Schütz says:

    Um, so what are you saying, PE? That only those who explicitly confess the name of Jesus Christ can be saved? Is this the doctrine of the Christian Church? Really? What scripture verse is it based on?

    And while you are at it, I thought I just demonstrated in my post that this is not an idea that begins with Vatican II, but predates it at least until Pius IX, and probably all the way back to the earliest Church Fathers.

    You are a queer beast sometimes. Why do you object if the post-Vat II Church rejects the theological opinion of limbo because it isn’t in revelation? Isn’t this exactly the sort of thing that Lutherans keep saying we Catholics should be doing?

  3. Past Elder says:

    Bless us and save us, Mrs O’Davis!

    I’m saying what I said! Which, before I am subject to more Monty Python psychoanalysis, is not that only those who explicitly confess the name of Jesus can be saved nor is it that among the many ways in which Vatican II “Catholicism” is the most deadly of all the enemies of the Roman Catholic faith (which I DO say it is) is the rejection of Limbo.

    I had two aims in posting what I posted. One of them was, I thought it might be a step forward in our bleeding “interfaith dialogue” for you to see that some, or at least one (me), of those who reject Vatican II on Catholic grounds (which if you recall I did years before I was Lutheran) recognise that some of those who also reject Vatican II do so on grounds that really are nothing more than an attachment to the religious culture that formerly characterised the Church rather than real matters of faith.

    As that regards Limbo, it was to point out that the whole Limbo thing was never a doctrine of the Church, therefore you are quite right that if the Church no longer teaches it, that is no objection because it never did as a doctrine though it enjoyed acceptance as a theological opinion.

    Brother, these guys are getting to you — but you probably see that as a good thing. At least you were a Lutheran. If I really enjoyed putting myself back in the environment from which I happily am now free and arguing about the Brave New Church I’d go take on Dave Armstrong (poor guy) or someone like that.

    BTW, I’ve been poking around in your other blog, and just got to the part about annulments and all. Nancy and I had a story like that, which I’d like to tell you. Do you still look for comments on the other blog?

    Yes, I said I had two aims, and have only mentioned one. We’ll get to the other one later, as this post is long enough already!

  4. Schütz says:

    Oh well, no one expects the Spanish Inquisition…

    Righto. Thanks for clarifying what you meant. Which doesn’t mean to say that it is any more clear to me, but that is simply because of your strange split-personality–I never know when it is the traditionalist Catholic or the liberated Lutheran speaking :-)

    Yes, by all means leave a comment on http://www.yearofgrace.blogspot.com . I don’t often get comments there, and don’t really look for them, but am happy to take up people’s thoughts and reflections on my experiences.

  5. Past Elder says:

    Jumping Judas Priest!

    There’s nothing split about it. I’m a Lutheran, and even if the Roman Church were to say it was all a huge mistake, we’re going to put everything back the way it was, I would not go back, because now I know both how it is now and how it was before are both false.

    But that is not why I post here. If it were, I’d just wait for you to turn up again on Weedon’s Blog. I post here because you were a Lutheran and came to the point where in order to be true to what is authentic in Lutheranism you needed to be Catholic. Guess what? I can understand that. Not endorse, but understand. We’ve got them who convert to Orthodoxy too. But when they convert to Orthodoxy, they convert to Orthodoxy. When a person converts to Catholicism as it is since Vatican II, they no longer get Catholicism but a monstrous and grotesque parody of it invented by vicious lying dogs.

    Maybe that’s too strong. I mean about the dogs. Dogs, unlike the mitred apostates who created and maintain Vatican II “Catholicism”, generally have integrity.

    That’s why I post here from time to time. As an ex-Catholic, not a Lutheran. (Hey, maybe I should post as a Lutheran, because if I did win you back that ought to be worth a whole bunch of hits on the Ablaze! counter, wherever that it, probably in Kieschnick’s office next to HIS Monty Python DVDs!) As an ex-Catholic, not a traditionalist Catholic — which I am not, and as though there could be any other kind of Catholic, though I admire and respect them greatly for fighting the good fight though I cannot join them and wish they could come to see that they are in the position they are in because traditional Catholicism was false too or it would have endured and that what will endure, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith, they can find accurately stated in the Book of Concord, which it pleased the Spirit to show me after twenty odd years of Vatican II hell on earth.

    In sum, in sum I post here because I think I understand what you were looking for, we used to get them like that, but having started out where you sought to go, I’m here to tell you it ain’t there no more, I watched them deliberately and with expressed intent do it in, anti-Christs twice over, don’t be fooled! If you could see it for what it is, you would cry tears not unlike those who remembered the first Temple did on seeing the Second. That’s the ex-Catholic, trying to tell you the bridge is out. The Lutheran isn’t trying to tell you the bridge was in fact always out as I since learned, you know how that is probably better than I, the Lutheran is just saying sorry I missed you on the Lutheran side and if you have to go I’m sorry for that too but if it must be, I can understand that and I wish you well.

  6. Schütz says:

    How’s about in the future, Past Elder, you simply blog as the person you really are–ie. as a confessional and confessed Lutheran. That will save any real confusion, I think–either for yourself or for me.

    And seriously, before God and his Son Jesus, do you really wish to call all the bishops of the Catholic Church “dogs”? I really ask you this, because (intemperate though you and I both often are in our language) this really could be a case of slander against your brothers in Christ.

    I know some bishops who are real dills, and some who are not the wisest of men, and I have maybe heard of (but never met) one or two who may actually be wolves in sheep’s clothing–just as I have known and heard of Lutheran pastors who are the very same.

    But I know many bishops who are saintly and good pastors, faithful teachers of the word and defenders of the poor–especially men like our own Archbishop Denis, new Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne Peter Elliott, my confirmation bishop, Anthony Fisher, and Cardinal George Pell–just some of the bishops I know personally.

    And the chief among them, our dear and revered Papa Benny and our dear departed JPII, are/were men of deep faith and deep commitment to evangelisation.

    Do you really want to sweep these men of God away with the dismissal “vicious lying dogs”? Think very carefully before you answer that question.

  7. Past Elder says:

    Good Brother Schuetz, surely you have not been with these “Catholics” so long that their incredible ability to call white a deeper understanding of black has removed from you any ordinary capacity for reason.

    Of course I am a confessional and confessed Lutheran. But I do not come here on that basis nor is confessional Lutheranism the message I have here. Also the message I do have, here, does not in any way derive from confessional Lutheranism and I am at pains to not have it mistaken as such. I am an ex-Catholic on Catholic grounds, a position I came to over twenty years before I saw Lutheranism as anything more than a misguided attempt to be Catholic without being Catholic. I come here as an ex-Catholic, not a Lutheran, to tell you in various ways that I know what it is you think you have found but what you have actually run into is no more Catholicism that the New World the conquistadores ran into was India though they thought it was.

    Do I really wish to call all the bishops of the Catholic Church dogs? No. That would be unfair to dogs.

    Now please understand: this is in no way a judgement of them as individual souls. That is God’s job, not mine, and for all I know they may walk right in. (Since they probably don’t use phrases like that getting you ready for the RCIA, or whatever the Aussie equivalent is, and use of the phrase may get you a visit from an agent of the Sacred Congregation for the Intergalactic Observance of the Spirit of Vatican II, “walk right in” was a popular Catholic phrase for a person whose life was so blameless as to need no time in Purgatory therefore could walk right in to Heaven.) I am speaking only of their public conduct of their office, which shows, yes including JPII and BXVI, whatever they are bishops of it is neither the Catholic Church nor the catholic church but a monstrous parody of the former claiming the latter fully subsists in it. How this bogus charade affects the salvation of their souls I have no idea and I commend them to the mercy of God whose free grace will be the source of their, mine, and anyone else’s salvation.

    Interesting that the reference to dogs brought on a question which I was encouraged to answer carefully, but the reference to anti-Christs twice over did not.

    OK, now we can relax. What a riot — I say if I wanted to comment to you as a Lutheran I’d wait for you to show up on Weedon’s Blog, and you show up! And with Peter in tow! Poked around on his site. Oh brother. One of these days I’m going to hop a Qantas flight and see what the hell is up with the LCA. They’re in the ILC, which is a good thing (you wanna hear some intemperate talk out of me, let’s get started on the LWF!), but only Associate members, which maybe is a clue.

    I like you, brother. I don’t even begrudge you leaving the church and its Office of Holy Ministry to be Catholic. I just wish that’s what you had indeed found, but I don’t begrudge you that either because that wasn’t your fault that it’s no longer there.

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