Unbaptized Infants Suffer Fire and Limbo is a Heretical Pelagian Fable
In past centuries, the Roman Catholic Church approved,
with the highest authority, the teaching of
o That infants who die without baptism have the penalty of fire in hell with the devil;
o That there is no place anywhere, in heaven, hell or anywhere else, where unbaptized infants have rest and happiness.
Since that time it has been a part of the Pelagian heresy to deny that doctrine.
The teaching of
The bodily punishment of unbaptized infants in hell has its analogy in the bodily punishment that infants receive in this life. Both are due to people, as punishment, because of original sin.
Any religion has to respond to the question of why there is evil, even suffering in the world, especially if God – who designed and created the world – is said to be ‘good’ and that is understood to imply that he wills only good and not evil to his creatures. For it is clear that people – infants included – are subject to all sorts of natural disasters, such as earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, droughts, fires &c. The historical and orthodox Christian answer is that it is because all are conceived guilty of the sin of Adam and merit to have as punishments the sufferings that people are prone to in this life. It is good because it is just that people should suffer and so the goodness of God is maintained. The original sin seriously disordered all of creation and that is why people and animals suffer – people in punishment and animals by some kind of extension. That explanation has long fallen into disfavour with churchmen and theologians. They protest that it would not be just to hold people guilty and punish them for what they did not do and had no possible influence over. Indeed, this whole doctrine has been mitigated since the time of the medieval Scholastics.
The Catholic Church has infallibly taught the doctrine, which Augustine defended against the Pelagians, that all are conceived actually guilty of original sin and are punished by God in body and soul for that guilt. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) was a doctrinal ecumenical council that is accepted as infallible by all Catholic theologians. It defined that “all people lost their innocence” in the original sin; indeed, we are born with “the guilt of original sin”, which has the “true and proper nature of sin” and is “in each one as his own.”
“If any one asserts, that the prevarication of Adam injured himself alone, and not his posterity; and that the holiness and justice, received of God, which he lost, he lost for himself alone, and not for us also; or that he, being defiled by the sin of disobedience, has only transfused death and the punishment of the body into the whole human race, but not sin also, which is the death of the soul; let him be anathema:--whereas he contradicts the apostle who says; By one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death, and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.”
The various creatures, human and natural, are like unto ministers used by God to inflict punishment for him, in this world and the next. God deliberately and intentionally permits a tsunami flood to kill hundreds of thousands of people – including infants – because they deserve to suffer and die for the guilt of original sin.
So, infants have the guilt of original sin as their own
and are due “death and the punishment of the body” as a result. Indeed, God
has evidently chosen to subject infants to many of the sufferings, torments
and tortures of the present world that are due to that sin. To now refine our
analogy for the punishment of unbaptized infants in hellfire: infants are not
spared fire in this life or the painful anguish of the senses that it is wont
to sharply invoke. Many infants have been scolded, burnt to death, maimed.
Their anguished cries have made clear their dreadful agony. The fiery
torments of infants have been enacted countless times and continue to be
daily, right in the
“‘A baby or toddler under age five dies nearly
every day in a residential fire,’ said Homeland Security Under Secretary
Michael D. Brown. ‘These young children have a disproportionately higher risk
of fire death than the rest of the population. They depend on their parents
and caregivers to keep them safe, to prevent residential fires from starting,
and to increase the chances that the entire family can escape a fire quickly
and safely. From 1989 through 1998, U.S. children younger than age five were
twice as likely as the rest of the population to die in a residential fire;
in that decade 5,712 children died in fires in this country, according to the
U.S. Fire Administration, part of FEMA and the initiator of the campaign.’” (Marinwood
If the forcefulness of the men of
We shall now present the magisterial texts in which it was defined that unbaptized infants have the punishment of fire in hell.
The definition of
The canons of Carthage XVI are considered to be infallible by Roman Catholic theologians because Pope St. Innocent (-417) and Pope St. Zosimus (-418) approved of them as a rule of the faith. The canons include the following.
“It has been decided likewise that if anyone says
that for this reason the Lord said: “In my house there are many mansions”:
that it might be understood that in the kingdom of heaven there will be some
middle place or some place anywhere where happy infants live who departed
from this life without baptism, without which they cannot enter into the
kingdom of heaven, which is life eternal, let him be anathema. For when the
Lord says: “Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he shall
not enter into the
The canon was written by
Patrick J. Toner in his article on Limbo in the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1910 admits that the Fathers of Carthage condemned the “Pelagian teaching affirming the existence of ‘an intermediate place, or of any place anywhere at all (ullus alicubi locus), in which children who pass out of this life unbaptized live in happiness.’” He further admits that the canon means that “unbaptized infants share in the common positive misery of the damned”.
the course of the controversy Augustine condemned, and persuaded the Council
of Carthage to condemn, the Pelagian teaching affirming the existence of 'an
intermediate place, or of any place anywhere at all (ullus alicubi locus), in
which children who pass out of this life unbaptized live in happiness'. This
Toner tells us that this was admitted by St. Robert Bellarmine (-1621) and various other outstanding theologians who recognized that, “in excluding unbaptized children from any place or state even of natural happiness and condemning them to the fire of Hell, St. Augustine, the Council of Carthage, and later African Fathers, like Fulgentius, intended to teach no mere private opinion, but a doctrine of Catholic Faith.” They perceived that it “seemed to compromise the very principle of the authority of tradition” to depart from that doctrine.
“Besides the professed advocates of Augustinianism, the principal theologians who belonged to the first party were Bellarmine, Petavius, and Bossuet, and the chief ground of their opposition to the previously prevalent Scholastic view was that its acceptance seemed to compromise the very principle of the authority of tradition. As students of history, they felt bound to admit that, in excluding unbaptized children from any place or state even of natural happiness and condemning them to the fire of Hell, St. Augustine, the Council of Carthage, and later African Fathers, like Fulgentius, intended to teach no mere private opinion, but a doctrine of Catholic Faith.” (Limbo, Catholic Encyclopedia)
Toner admits that the authenticity of this canon of the
Council of Carthage “cannot be reasonably doubted”. It is admitted to be an
“authentic canon” also in the 1957 edition of Denzinger’s Sources of
Catholic Dogma. George J. Dyer (Limbo:
Unsettled Question, p. 187) notes the authenticity of the canon of
Aman points out, there has been some question of the authenticity of Canon 3.
He believes that the discussion must be considered at an end, for the
authenticity of the canon has been solidly established. [Dictionnaire de
Theologique Catholique], c. 1754. In agreement with this view are: A. Gaudel,
Augustine wrote that the Pelagian doctrine of an intermediate state had been condemned by the “councils and the Apostolic See.” (Dyer, p. 23)
Moreover, no theologian dissented from the doctrine of material torments for unbaptized infants after Carthage until Abelard in the twelfth century, which is incredible, given that the doctrine is so awful, unless it was understood that the matter had been definitively settled. The doctrine was denied only later, when it had quite understandably fallen into obscurity.
No Limbo of rest and happiness
Firstly, Augustine taught at
“It has been decided likewise that if anyone says that for this reason the Lord said: “In my house there are many mansions”: that it might be understood that in the kingdom of heaven there will be some middle place or some place anywhere where happy infants live who departed from this life without baptism, without which they cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven, which is life eternal, let him be anathema.”
This refers to the doctrine of the Pelagians that Augustine was condemning, that unbaptized infants have a state of rest and happiness in some place of their own, located any place whatsoever.
“Let no one promise infants who have not been baptized a sort of middle place of rest and happiness, such as he pleases and wherever he pleases, between damnation and the kingdom of heaven. This is what the Pelagian heresy promised them.” (The Soul and Its Origin)
“Nor is there any middle place for anyone, and so one can only be with the devil who is not with Christ.“ (Of the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins and of the Baptism of Infants 55)
Thus it is defined by
Infants are punished in the fire with the devil
Secondly, the canon of
This refers to the last judgement scene narrated in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew.
“Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels. ... And these shall go away into everlasting punishment.” (St. Matthew 25:41, 46)
St. Augustine: “He who is not on the right is undoubtedly on the left; therefore, he who is not in the kingdom is beyond doubt in eternal fire. [...] Behold, I have explained to you what the kingdom is, and what eternal fire is; so that when you profess that a child is not in the kingdom, you may acknowledge that he is in eternal fire.” (Sermon 294, 3)
St. Augustine: “If a child is not wrested from the power of darkness, but remains there, why do you marvel that he is in eternal fire who is not permitted to enter the kingdom of heaven?” (Unfinished Work to Julian III, 199)
Thus it is defined by
“Be it therefore far from us so to forsake the case of infants as to say to ourselves that it is uncertain whether, being regenerated in Christ, if they die in infancy they pass into eternal salvation, but that, not being regenerated, they pass into the second death. Because that which is written, “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men,” cannot be rightly understood in any other manner.” (The Gift of Perseverance 30)
He was alluding to the
following Bible text which says that all who are not written in the “book of
life” will go into the
“And hell and death were cast into the pool of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life, was cast into the pool of fire.” (Apocalypse 20:14-15)
Augustine was also given to spell out the doctrine, lest anyone should claim to be blind to his instruction. Unbaptized infants have the punishment of the bodily pains of torment by fire, in hell with the devil. They die with the guilt of Adam’s sin which, given the state of Adam, merits hell fire.
“And neither the first death, which takes place when the soul is compelled to leave the body, nor the second death, which takes place when the soul is not permitted to leave the suffering body, would have been inflicted on man had no one sinned. And, of course, the mildest punishment of all will fall upon those who have added no actual sin to the original sin they brought with them; and as for the rest who have added such actual sins, the punishment of each will be the more tolerable in the next world, according as his iniquity has been less in this world.” (Enchiridion 93)
Where are unbaptized infants? They are, as
The definition of
The Council of Florence (1438-1445) repeated the
“The Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that none of those outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but neither Jews, nor heretics and schismatics, can become participants in eternal life, but will depart “into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life they have been added to the Church.”
It is expressly stated that there are no exceptions and
that “none” who die outside of the Church can but go into the fire with the
The definition is taken from the book of St. Fulgentius
(-533), Ad Petram de fide, which was attributed to
“The quality of an evil life begins with lack of faith, which takes its beginnings from the guilt of original sin. In it, each one begins to live in such a way that, before he ends his life, which is ended when freed from its bonds, if that soul has lived in the body for the space of one day or one hour, it is necessary that it suffer with that same body the endless punishments of Hell, where the devil with his angles will burn forever. […] Hold most firmly and never doubt that, not only adults with the use of reason but also children who either begin to live in the womb of their mothers and who die there or, already born from their mothers, pass from this world without the sacrament of holy baptism, must be punished with the endless penalty of eternal fire. Even if they have no sin from their actions, still, by their carnal conception and birth, they have contracted the damnation of original sin.” (To Peter on the Faith 36, 70)
Anyway, we see that it is heretical to deny that
infants have the punishment of fire, according to both
The definitions of
The Council of Lyons II
“The souls of those who die in mortal sin or with original sin only, however, immediately descend to hell, to be punished however with disparate punishments.”
The damned have
“disparate punishments” [disparibus, unequal] in that each will
receive according to his guilt. As
According to Abbé A. Michel (The Last Things, Edinburgh, 1929), “many eminent theologians, such as Petavius, St. Robert Bellarmine, Estius, Bossuet and others have upheld the Augustinian interpretation of the decree” of Florence that it implies the doctrine that “unbaptized infants are not only deprived of the beatific vision, but have to undergo a positive punishment.”
Dionysus Petavius (-1652) judged that the Council of Florence had determined that the punishment of unbaptized infants is of the same kind (in the same hell) as that of adults who died in mortal sin. “Infants,” he taught, “are tormented with unequal tortures of fire but are tormented nevertheless.”
Some have falsely
interpreted these texts of
Their punishments are “disparate”, not “different”, and so said these councils; indeed, as we have seen, Florence taught that all who die outside of the Church go into the fire, which includes unbaptized infants.
“But they will depart “into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels”, unless before the end of life they have been added to the Church.”
Moreover, Rome always said, when there was controversy after Trent about the fate of the infants, that it is not an error to admit fire for them, which would be incredible if Lyons and Florence had determined otherwise. It is credible that Rome would for pastoral reasons tolerate a majority opinion that is lax and heretical but not an awful minority opinion.
Accurate translations of the passage are to be found in the old Catholic Encyclopedia (Joseph Hontheim, Hell) and in John Clarkson, The Church Teaches (1955). The Traditionalist Catholic writer, Most Rev. Donald J. Sanborn, has recently given one.
“The Council of Florence also defined, in Session VI, the following: ‘But the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go down straightaway to hell to be punished, but with unequal pains.’ This same doctrine is found in the Confession of Faith which was given to the Eastern Emperor Michael Paleologus in 1267 by Pope Clement IV, and which was accepted by this same emperor in the presence of Pope Gregory X at the Second Council of Lyons in 1274. The same doctrine is found as well in the Profession of Faith given to the Greeks by Pope Gregory XIII, and in that which was prescribed for the oriental schismatics by Popes Urban VIII and Benedict XIV.” (Damning Limbo to Hell, MHT Seminary Newsletter, January 2006)
St. Augustine, Doctor of Grace
The heretical Pelagian fable of Limbo was revived by Scholastics
We have seen that it is heretical against the defined faith to deny that unbaptized infants have the punishment of fire in hell with the devil or to say that they have a place anywhere of peace and happiness. Medieval Scholastics contradicted the Catholic doctrine and revived the Pelagian fable.
Augustine’s doctrine that unbaptized infants would have the pain of the senses in Hell was accepted and upheld by all subsequent Catholic theologians for several centuries after him, including the Doctors of the Church, Pope St. Gregory the Great (-604) and St. Anselm (-1109).
St. Gregory the Great: “For there be some that are
withdrawn from the present light, before they attain to shew forth the good
or evil deserts of an active life. And whereas the Sacraments of salvation do
not free them from the sin of their birth, at the same time that here they
never did aright by their own act; there they are brought to torment.
And these have one wound, viz. to be born in corruption, and another, to die
in the flesh. But forasmuch as after death there also follows, death eternal,
by a secret and righteous judgment ‘wounds are multiplied to them without
cause.’ For they even receive everlasting torments, who never sinned by
their own will. And hence it is written, Even the infant of a single
day is not pure in His sight upon earth. Hence ‘Truth’ says by His own
lips, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter
St. Anselm: “Not all individuals deserve to be tormented
in hell in equal degree. Now, after the day of judgment every angel and
everyone will be either in the
St. Avitus of
“Omnibus id veto gravius, si fonte lavacri
Divini expertem tenerum mors invida natum
Præcipitat, durâ generatum sorte, gehennæ,
Qui mox ut matris cessarit filius esse
Perditionis erit: tristes tunc edita nolunt
Quæ flammis tantum genuerunt pignora matres.”
During the Middle Ages, the doctrine regarding the fate of unbaptized infants fell into obscurity because theologians were ignorant of the writings of the Fathers and they were drawn into the early Eastern tradition, which was basically Pelagian, by the writings of an impostor, Pseudo-Dionysius.
Most theologians knew the Fathers only through two twelfth century compilations of quotes, the Sententia of Peter Lombard (-1160) and the Concordia discordantium canonum of Gratian. Indeed, Toner’s article in the Catholic Encyclopedia admits that it was only when the Protestants and Jansenists revived the teaching of Augustine on the fate of unbaptized infants that theologians were compelled to give “attention to the true historical situation, which the Scholastics had understood very imperfectly.”
An Eastern writer at the end of the fifth century pretended to be a contemporary and witness of the apostles and was mistaken to be Dionysius the Areopagite who is mentioned in Acts 17:34. The writings of Pseudo-Dionysius were translated into Latin by Scotus Erigena about 858, were received with much reverence by the medieval Scholastics and many of his ideas were adopted.
Whereas the orthodox doctrine is that all people are born actually guilty of the sin of Adam and deserve to be punished for it in the fire, Pseudo-Dionysius claimed that original sin is only a matter of privation of the “original excellence conferred on our first parents.” Anselm developed this idea though he followed Augustine on the fate of unbaptized infants. Peter Abelard in the 12th century drew the logical conclusion and claimed that the punishment of original sin is privative rather than positive. He was the first theologian to dissent from the doctrine of material torments for infants.
Innocent's teaching is to the effect that those dying with only original sin
on their souls will suffer ‘no other pain, whether from material fire or from
the worm of conscience, except the pain of being deprived forever of the
vision of God’ (Corp. Juris, Decret. l.
St. Albert the Great (-1280) invented the name “Limbo”
and his student St. Thomas Aquinas (-1274) was the first major theologian to
claim that infants have a place of rest and happiness without fire which,
even if it be supposedly located in hell, is still the “place anywhere” of
the Pelagians, condemned at
Carthage: “It has been decided likewise that if anyone says that for this reason the Lord said: “In my house there are many mansions”: that it might be understood that in the kingdom of heaven there will be some middle place or some place anywhere where happy infants live who departed from this life without baptism, without which they cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven, which is life eternal, let him be anathema.”
Augustine: “Let no one promise infants who have not been baptized a sort of middle place of rest and happiness, such as he pleases and wherever he pleases, between damnation and the kingdom of heaven. This is what the Pelagian heresy promised them.” (The Soul and Its Origin)
Aquinas was materially heretical with his teaching on
unbaptized infants. We presume that he was unaware of the definition of
Carthage XVI. It is as well to remember that the Catholic Faith is not based
on canonisations or on making people a Doctor of the Church or on approved
devotions or anything else. It comes to us from the Apostles, through the
orthodox Fathers and particularly
Toner pointed out how Aquinas relied on the impostor Pseudo-Dionysius and was thus drawn into the early Eastern tradition.
“It should be noted, however, that this poena damni incurred for original sin implied, with Abelard and most of the early Scholastics, a certain degree of spiritual torment, and that St. Thomas was the first great teacher who broke away completely from the Augustinian tradition on this subject, and relying on the principle, derived through the Pseudo-Dionysius from the Greek Fathers, that human nature as such with all its powers and rights was unaffected by the Fall (quod naturalia manent integra), maintained, at least virtually, what the great majority of later Catholic theologians have expressly taught, that the limbus infantium is a place or state of perfect natural happiness.” (Limbo, Catholic Encyclopedia)
There is a passage taken from the writings of St.
Gregory Nazianzen (-389) that supporters of Limbo sometimes quote as if to
give some credence to their doctrine and it well exhibits the Pelagian
character of the early Eastern tradition. It heretically claims that
unbaptized infants merit – and indeed have – no punishment, which is quite in contrast particularly
to the definitions of
“It will happen, I believe, that those last mentioned [unbaptized infants] will neither be admitted by the just judge to the glory of heaven, nor condemned to suffer punishment, since though unsealed, they are not wicked... For from the fact that one does not merit punishment it does not follow that he is worthy of being honored, any more than it follows that one who is not worthy of a certain honor deserves punishment on that account.” (Oration 11, 23)
The Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1911 concedes the Pelagian character of the Easterns.
opinions were expressed by Gregory of Nyssa, Severus of Antioch and others –
opinions which it is almost impossible to distinguish from the Pelagian view
that children dying unbaptized might be admitted to eternal life, though not
The point is that the Church endorsed the doctrine of Augustine, not the errors of the Easterns from before Pelagianism was condemned.
Augustine: “Every Christian heart, therefore, must utterly reject the idea of those who imagine that there are ‘many mansions’ spoken of, because there will be some place outside the kingdom of heaven, which shall be the abode of those happy innocents who have departed this life without baptism, because without it they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Faith like this is not faith, inasmuch as it is not the true and Catholic faith.” (On John 14: 1-3)
The position of Innocent
Gregory maintained the Augustinian theology “on the need of grace in fallen man and on the punishment of original sin” in opposition to the other Scholastics and was abused as “infantium tortor” (torturer of infants.) Gregory was professor at the Sorbonne and became General of the Order of Hermits of St. Augustine in 1357; his views “found many zealous supporters again in the seventeenth century”, particularly within that order.
The Dominicans maintained that the infants are kept in a dark subterranean abode while the Franciscans had them above ground in a place with some light. At the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century, there was much difference of opinion as to what the deprivation of the vision of God implied and no definition was attempted.
The teaching of the Catechism of Trent
It is notable that the
Church’s official catechism for 400 years (Catechism of
Some Protestants like Calvin (-1564) had been saying that the children of believers are saved if they die without baptism.
“If the knowledge of
what has been hitherto explained be, as it is, of highest importance to the
faithful, it is no less important to them to learn that the law of Baptism,
as established by our Lord, extends to all, so that unless they are
regenerated to God through the grace of Baptism, be their parents Christians
or infidels, they are born to eternal misery and destruction. Pastors,
therefore, should often explain these words of the Gospel: ‘Unless anyone be born again of water and
the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the
The wording of the Catechism compares favourably
with the doctrine of the Fathers. For instance, St. Prosper of
“We speak now of children before the use of reason and before they are able to make any use of free will. Some are regenerated in baptism and pass on to eternal happiness, others are not reborn and go to unending misery. […] Among pagans, among Jews, among heretics, and among Catholic Christians also, how large a number of children die who manifestly, as far as their own wills go, have done neither good nor evil. But we are told that on them weighs the sentence which the human race received for the sin of Adam, our first father. And the rigour of this sentence, which is not relaxed even for children, proves only how grave that sin was.” (The Call of All Nation ; )
Many Catholic theologians after
Toner described how a theological party emerged, when
the Protestants and Jansenists had “compelled attention the true historical
situation”, that opposed “the previously prevalent Scholastic view” because
“its acceptance seemed to compromise the very principle of the authority of
tradition”. Bellarmine and various other outstanding theologians recognized
that, “in excluding unbaptized children from any place or state even of
natural happiness and condemning them to the fire of Hell,
“This reacted in two ways on Catholic opinion, first by compelling attention to the true historical situation, which the Scholastics had understood very imperfectly, and second by stimulating an all-round opposition to Augustinian severity regarding the effects of original sin; and the immediate result was to set up two Catholic parties, one of whom either rejected St. Thomas to follow the authority of St. Augustine or vainly try to reconcile the two, while the other remained faithful to the Greek Fathers and St. Thomas…
“Besides the professed advocates of
Augustinianism, the principal theologians who belonged to the first party were
Bellarmine, Petavius, and Bossuet, and the chief ground of their opposition
to the previously prevalent Scholastic view was that its acceptance seemed to
compromise the very principle of the authority of tradition. As students of
history, they felt bound to admit that, in excluding unbaptized children from
any place or state even of natural happiness and condemning them to the fire
of Hell, St. Augustine, the Council of Carthage, and later African Fathers,
like Fulgentius (De fide ad Petrum, 27), intended to teach no mere private
opinion, but a doctrine of Catholic Faith; nor could they be satisfied with
what Scholastics, like St. Bonaventure and Duns Scotus, said in reply to this
difficulty, namely that St. Augustine had simply been guilty of exaggeration.
Neither could they accept the explanation which even some modern theologians
continue to repeat: that the Pelagian doctrine condemned by St. Augustine as
a heresy (see e.g., De anima et ejus orig., II, 17) consisted in claiming
supernatural, as opposed to natural, happiness for those dying in original
sin (see Bellarmine, De amiss. gratiae, vi, 1; Petavius, De Deo, IX, xi; De
Rubeis, De Peccat. Orig., xxx, lxxii). Moreover, there was the teaching of
the Council of Florence, that ‘the souls of those dying in actual mortal sin
or in original sin alone go down at once (mox) into Hell, to be punished.’ It
is clear that Bellarmine found the situation embarrassing, being unwilling,
as he was, to admit that
So, according to Toner, “Bellarmine found the situation embarrassing, being unwilling, as he was, to admit that St. Thomas and the Schoolmen generally were in conflict with what St. Augustine and other Fathers considered to be de fide, and what the Council of Florence seemed to have taught definitively.” It was a major embarrassment that approved Catholic theologians had departed from an infallibly defined doctrine of the Faith due to medieval ignorance of the writings of the Fathers and due to the influence of the writings of the impostor Pseudo-Dionysius. This led to a major theological controversy.
According to George Dyer,
“In the three centuries that followed the council
We shall somewhat trace the course of the controversy.
An Augustinian preacher, Augustine Mainardi was
denounced as un-Catholic when he taught that infants who die in original sin
are damned to be eternally tormented in hell fire because Luther had said the
same thing. He drew up a list of his ideas and appealed to Pope Paul
view of unbaptized infants, said Paul, was that of
Paul observed the same in another letter three years later when Musaeus of Trivigiano, another Augustinian was denounced for the same teaching.
St. Robert Bellarmine taught that the infants are
afflicted with sadness at their felt deprivation but are located “at a higher
place of the inferno so that the fire does not reach them”; which clearly
contradicts the teaching of
Denis Petau (Dionysius Petavius), who is considered to be “one of the most distinguished theologians of the seventeenth century”, set an important precedent in rejecting the Scholastic doctrine to return to the teaching of Augustine that infants suffer fire. He maintained that the Council of Florence had taught this.
Professors at the Louvain who returned to the Augustinian teaching include Florentius Conrius (-1629), Fabricius, Paludanus, Mercerus, Michael Baius (-1589), Wiggers and Rampen.
The lifework of Cornelius Jansenius (-1638) was his Augustinus expounding the doctrine of Augustine on grace against the Molinists. According to him, “Scholastics who gave natural happiness or immunity from eternal fire to infants dying unbaptized had departed far from the mind of Augustine and perhaps of the Church, which had condemned the Pelagians according to his principles.” (Augustinus II, II, 25, p. 181) The Tractu de Statu Parvulorun sine baptismo decendentium of Conrius was included as an appendix.
Jansenist theologians taught the doctrine too, including the Abbe St-Cyran (-1643) and Antoine Arnauld (-1694).
Jacques Bossuet (-1704), the Bishop of Meaux, wrote his Defence de la Tradition et des Saint Peres against the Jesuit Richard Simon who had accused Augustine of departing from the tradition of the Church, of originating a novel doctrine of grace and of authoring the doctrines of Luther and Calvin. He defended Augustine’s doctrine of the fate of unbaptized infants.
“According to Bossuet, both the Council of Lyons and the Council of Florence had said that original sin would be punished in hell. There could be only one conclusion, said Bossuet: the children are in hell, in perpetual torment.” (Dyer, op. cit., p. 72)
Henry Noris (-1704) was chosen by the Hermits of St. Augustine to defend the honour of Augustine and the Order. He formulated what is known as the “Strict Augustinian School” in his Historia Pelagiana. Several popes favoured him during his lifetime and Pope Benedict XIV wrote an apologia in defence of him after his death. He was Papal Librarian under Innocent XII. The punishment of infants is identically the same as that of adults “generically and specifically” in the flames of hell and varies only in degree. He vigorously denied that the infants would have any natural happiness. In his view the Scholastics were contrary to the popes, the councils and the Fathers. Jesuits attempted to have the book condemned and it was cleared by the Holy Office in 1672, 1676 and 1692.
time the decision of the Congregation was favourable; and after each
examination Noris was rewarded in some way by the Holy See. In 1673 he was appointed
to the Inquisition itself; in 1676 he was given a promotion within the Holy
office; and in 1695 he was made a cardinal member of the Inquisition with the
The General of the Augustinian Order Sciaffinati told Laurentius Berti (-1766) to write a book, to be used by all the students of the Order, expounding the whole of Augustine’s thought and particularly his doctrine of grace and free will. He too taught that infants suffer fire. The doctrine of his huge Opus de Theologicis Disciplinis was not merely the private views of a theologian but those of the Order and therefore had a semi-official status. He was denounced to the Holy Office as a Jansenist by two French bishops. In December 1750 Pope Benedict XIV wrote a letter to one of them saying that the work had been submitted to competent theologians who had judged it to be sound; to the other he wrote a letter in May 1751 saying that nothing had been found in his work contrary to any decision of the Church.
The Augustinian General Vasquez sent a formal petition
to Pope Clement XIII requesting protection from calumny in 1758 because the
Jesuits of France,
children who die in original sin are not only distressed by the loss of the
beatific vision but the are tormented by the pain of fire in hell, however
mildly it may be. This is in keeping with the opinions of
Clement replied that the doctrine of the Augustinian
school had been made secure by the decision of Paul
The truth is that any contrary doctrine on the fate of
infants is heretical.
Liberals today tend to totally ignore the definitions of Carthage and Florence and to misrepresent the history of theology regarding the fate of unbaptized infants as if Augustine was an extremist who was corrected by the Scholastics who all taught a happy doctrine that has prevailed without opposition ever since. Some Traditionalists do not know any better.
Tamburini and Pius VI
Pietro Tamburini, an Italian Jansenist and later
professor at the
The Limbo heresy logically fits with the heresy of the
Jesuits on original sin. They did not try to openly deny the doctrine because
the Church had decided it too clearly; instead they diluted it, leaving only
the name. They claimed that original sin consists only in the deprivation of
sanctifying grace, “which no one was entitled to anyway”, and is not a sin in
the true sense of the word, which may be traced to the influence of
Pseudo-Dionysius as we have seen. This contradicts
The Jesuitical heresy is often encountered; Karl Keating of Catholic Answers, a Catholic apologist who is in good standing with the Novus Ordo hierarchy, recently stated it.
and Eve committed the original sin--called ‘original’ because it occurred at
the origin of the human race. They incurred guilt for that sin. Their
offspring – including us – did not. What we have been saddled with is not
the guilt of their sin but the consequences of their sin. They forfeited
the preternatural gifts God had given them, and that forfeiture has extended
through all the generations. But the guilt of that first sin was theirs
alone.” (E-letter of
Having denied that original sin is true sin, it is logical that they should deny that there is any true punishment for it and thus unbaptized infants do not suffer but have a happy middle place; in other words, their “punishment” is the loss of heaven, “which no one was entitled to anyway” but God provides them with a happy place, Limbo. This is the clear teaching of Molina and his Jesuit brothers, Salmeron (-1585), Vasquez (-1604), Suarez (-1617), Becanus (-1624). We have arrived at the position of the Pelagians: no guilt, no punishment, a happy middle place of rest and happiness.
As we have seen,
Council of Trent: “If any one asserts, that the prevarication of Adam injured himself alone, and not his posterity; and that the holiness and justice, received of God, which he lost, he lost for himself alone, and not for us also; or that he, being defiled by the sin of disobedience, has only transfused death and the punishment of the body into the whole human race, but not sin also, which is the death of the soul; let him be anathema:--whereas he contradicts the apostle who says; By one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death, and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.”
The teaching of Tamburini was adopted by the clergy and religious who gathered in 1786 at the Synod of Pistoia at the invitation of Scipio de’ Ricci, bishop of that place and Prato. Pius VI (-1799) censored the gathering.
“We reject as a Pelagian fable a third place for babies who die in a state of original sin.” (Pistoia)
Theologians recognise that Pius did not attempt to
condemn the doctrine that unbaptized infants have the punishment of fire with
the devil in hell nor did he attempt to establish Limbo. He sought only to
censure as historically “false” and “rash” the condemnation of a third place
free of the punishment of fire as being a teaching of the Pelagians as if
it made unbaptized infants innocent. Toner comments as follows: “this,
taken to mean that by denying the pain of fire one thereby necessarily
postulates a middle place or state, involving neither guilt nor penalty,
Traditionalist Catholic theologians also recognise that
Pius did not attempt to condemn the doctrine that unbaptized infants suffer
hell fire or to establish Limbo. The well-known Sedevacantist, Most Rev.
Donald J. Sanborn, who does not appreciate the “historical situation” (as
Toner put it) regarding
The well-known Conservative theologian, Fr. Brian W. Harrison recently wrote as follows.
“It needs to be noted, furthermore, that Pius VI’s
teaching here does not go so far as to condemn or reject as un-Catholic the
Jansenists’ view that unbaptized babies in the after-life do in fact suffer
the ‘pain of sense’. After all,
The third canon of Carthage condemned “anyone who shall say” that there is “some place anywhere where happy infants live who died without baptism” as a distinct heresy and without any mention of the innocence or guilt of the infants. It is a distinct historical heresy of the Pelagians. Another is that the infants are not subject to the fire. No pope can change that. The Jansenists were among the few truly orthodox Catholics who admitted that infants are punished with fire.
Pius wrote as follows.
“The doctrine which rejects as a Pelagian fable, that place of the lower regions (which the faithful generally designate by the name of the limbo of children) in which the souls of those departing with the sole guilt of original sin are punished with the punishment of the condemned, exclusive of the punishment of fire, just as if, by this very fact, that these who remove the punishment of fire introduced that middle place and state free of guilt and of punishment between the kingdom of God and eternal damnation, such as that about which the Pelagians idly talk,—false, rash, injurious to Catholic schools.” (Auctorem Fidei)
Although Pius did not mention anything about happiness and the punishment that he described can be understood as including the suffering of perceived loss à la Abelard and Bellarmine, nevertheless he certainly helped revive the Pelagian fable of “some place anywhere where happy infants live who departed from this life without baptism” as Carthage described it, giving it an appearance of orthodoxy. It is a fact of history, very embarrassing to the heretics that the Pelagians were condemned for teaching this heresy and it is understandable that Pius would want to intimidate Catholics from pointing that out.
Auctorem fidei, is characterised throughout by
hostility to the doctrine and discipline of the patristic Church. Such are
the excesses to which the Jesuits pushed the
Infants included in universal salvation
The admission of unbaptized infants to heaven is consistent with the Jesuit Molinist principle that everyone has sufficient grace for salvation, for that must include infants too.
The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) emphasised the idea that all actually do have a chance to be saved.
“All this holds true not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way. For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.” (Gaudium et Spes, 22)
The new Catechism, published in 1992, encourages us to hope that unbaptized infants go to heaven.
“As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,’ allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1261)
Indeed, we are to hope that all will be saved.
“The Church prays that no one should be lost: ‘Lord, let me never be parted from you.’ If it is true that no one can save himself, it is also true that God ‘desires all men to be saved’ (1 Tim 2:4), and that for him ‘all things are possible’ (Mt 19:26).” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1058)
“In hope, the Church prays for ‘all men to be saved.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1821)
Pope John Paul II wrote assertively in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae to women who have had an abortion, “you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord.” Presumably this would have shocked Augustine who wrote as follows, for in his day Vicentius Victor admitted unbaptized infants to heaven.
“Anyone who would say that even infants who pass
from this life without participation in the sacrament [of baptism] shall be
made alive in Christ truly goes counter to the preaching of the apostle and
condemns the whole Church, where there is great haste in baptizing infants
because it is believed without doubt that there is no other way at all in
which they can be made alive in Christ.” (Letter to
Cardinal Ratzinger commented as follows.
“This state people called limbo. In the course of our century, that has gradually come to seem problematic to us. This was one way in which people sought to justify the necessity of baptizing infants as early as possible, but the solution is itself questionable. Finally, the Pope made a decisive turn in the encyclical Evangelium Vitae, a change already anticipated by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, when he expressed the simple hope that God is powerful enough to draw to himself all those who were unable to receive the sacrament.” (God and the World, Ignatius Press, 2002, p. 401)
In October 2004 John Paul asked the International Theological Commission to find “a more coherent and enlightened way” to consider the question of the fate of unbaptized infants in the light of the “universal salvific will of God”. Its work has continued under Benedict XVI and The Times recently reported as follows.
Conclusion: supralapsarianism and docility
The Jansenists were right about this. We have seen that it has been defined that unbaptized infants have the punishment of fire in hell with the devil and that it has been condemned to say that they have some place anywhere of rest and happiness. As such it is heretical to deny the fiery fate of infants or to attempt to revive the Pelagian fable of Limbo. No pope or Scholastic can change that. The infants die guilty of original sin and are punished for it in the fire.
However, original sin provides only a partial explanation, because it may be asked why – if all are subject to suffering because they deserve it due to Adam’s sin, which they have inherited – why did God not create a different man who was as free in soul as Adam was, whom he foresaw would not sin? Then there would have been no original sin, none would have been created guilty and all this suffering would not have been justified. Presumably such a man was possible, given the infinite number of possible men whom God could have created. Indeed, Catholics believe that the Virgin Mary lived her whole life without sin: so if God is good and wills only good to his creatures, why did he not create a sinless first couple, shall we say, Mary and Martin rather than the sinful Adam and Eve? Why did God not create an entire race of Marys and Martins? Why did he choose rather to create a first couple that he foresaw would sin and then hold their progeny guilty of that sin? Did he not create the world with people the way that he wanted them to be? as fundamentalists are wont to protest against homosexuals when they say that God made not Adam and Steve. It would be incoherent to say that God could not have created a world without evil and suffering: God is all-knowing, all-powerful and eminently prudent, that is, he is perfectly wise; the wise man always first decides what he wants to achieve and then acts so as to accomplish his end. So, why is there all this suffering?
The Dominican Thomists, following the doctrine of Aquinas, teach that God created the universe to manifest to the utmost his goodness in his creatures: and that his aim is best accomplished through the creation of the greatest variety, which includes creatures that fail in the accomplishment of their ends, their goods, and so suffer. Reprobation is a part of God’s providence, that he should allow some to fail. For thereby the goodness of his justice and wrath is manifest and not only the goodness of his mercy and loving-kindness. With people, that entails that they not only suffer in this life, but also that they fail to attain salvation, die guilty and so manifest the goodness of God’s justice in the eternal sufferings they experience in hell. This explanation is known as supralapsarianism, the doctrine that God willed even prior to the fall of humanity in Adam to reprobate creatures and to inflict punishments upon people. That is, God willed to damn infants in hellfire from all eternity. The infralapsarian position – which maintains that God willed evil to his creatures only after the fall – seems incoherent for the reasons given above. Indeed, God could have just created all people in heaven, free but sinless like the glorified saints now, including those baptized infants who never chose God but were chosen by him, for none would refuse the beatific vision as it is good under every aspect. We have argued this from the writings of Aquinas in the essay, ‘Does God Want All to be Saved?’
One should be worshipfully docile in this matter. God is to be adored because he punishes infants and has chosen to do so from all eternity, not because they deserve it, for he permitted their guilt only that he might punish them for the sake of his glory. It would be rebellion against the righteous God not to submit oneself to his wonderful justice and wisdom and to worshipfully join our will to his – whether it regard the merciless punishments of infants in this world or the next. We have a responsibility to protect infants from harm, though the extent of that responsibility is disputed, whether it extends to children not our own, home or abroad. But the guilt had by negligent adults does not change the providential character of God’s permission of that negligence, which he permits so that his justice should be manifest in the punishments suffered by the infants. There is nothing unjust about this. God deliberately permits infants to be burnt alive in fires and to die without baptism and to go to hell to be burnt for all eternity, all for his own glory and may he be praised for it!
This may be a “hard teaching” to some, like unto that according to which some no longer walked with Jesus (St. John 6) but those who have caritas, even the divine and supernatural virtue of the love of God, will be disposed to accept his will and to believe in him as he really is and to accept these teachings about his salvific will. It is impossible to be saved without caritas (charity) and those who do not love God for his own sake but are motivated in their religion by cupiditas, that is, by a worldly love that is not properly ordered to God, may well refuse to accept this doctrine because they love the world above God, saying that they are swayed by their emotions regarding the fate of the infants. The two loves produce contrary motions, affections, causing ambivalence but God gives victory to his elect through delight, an affectionate cleaving unto him. He gives his elect to know him and to love him as he is and to accept the doctrines regarding him. God saves whomsoever he wants by making them lovingly faithful. If people reject this doctrine of infants, it is because they do not love God as he is, they hate him and prefer the world over him. Concupiscent delight has conquered in them and has produced the bitter fruit of blasphemy.
It is a false and harmful charity that seeks to obscure ‘hard teachings’ and to hide the gratuitous nature of God’s love for his creatures and the nature of the loving response that he gratuitously puts into the hearts of his elect. Indeed, if God is eminently prudent, then the devil is thoroughly cheeky and his demons delight to incite people to despise the true God and to thus damn themselves, blaspheming him in their inordinate worldly concern for the reprobate and in their refusal to know him and to adore him as he is. They are wont to utter such dreadful blasphemies as that, Such a God would be unjust, cruel, the devil himself and eminently unlovable! Thus the devil constructs a blasphemous parody of the true religion to damn people in, sometimes called Pelagianism or Molinism. It is almost impossible to find an orthodox Christian these days, who really loves God. People who teach a false doctrine that compromises the doctrines about God, original sin and the punishments that he subjects people to, unite themselves with the demons, inciting blasphemy. Historically, the Jansenists represented honesty and the Jesuits represented doctrinal and moral compromise. The elect are few, the damned many.