The Father William Most Collection
Unbaptized Infants: St. Thomas, etc.
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
The Church has given us no teaching on the eternal fate of these babies. The view of St. Thomas Aquinas has been widely accepted, never rejected by the Church.
Here is the his position:
1) On the one hand, there is no positive suffering for the babies, for they have no personal guilt. This is confirmed by Pope Pius IX, in Quanto conficiamur moerore, August 10, 1863 (DS 2866) "God in His supreme goodness and clemency, by no means allows anyone to be punished with eternal punishments who does not have the guilt of voluntary fault."
2) On the other hand, their souls seem to lack the transformation by grace needed for the Beatific Vision. So they cannot have it. But they have a natural happiness, and do not miss what they do not have.
Toward a Solution:
1) God has the power to remedy this lack of grace even without a Sacrament. St. Thomas Aquinas, in Summa II. 68. 2. c. wrote that God "is not bound to the visible sacraments." Therefore God could supply that grace outside of Baptism. He did it in the case of the Holy Innocents.
2)Does He actually provide the remedy?
(1) Theologians commonly hold that God provided for the salvation of those who died before Christ in some way. As to the Hebrews, circumcision seems to have been the means for boys, but not of course for girls. (Cf. St. Thomas ST III. 62. ad 3). But the theological opinion just mentioned extended also to those outside the Hebrew people.
(2) St. Paul in Romans 3. 28-30 says that if God had not provided for those who did not know the Mosaic Law, He would not be their God. So, Paul concludes, He must have done so, and did it through the regime of faith. Would Paul argue similarly for unbaptized infants? Likely.
(3) St. Paul, in 1 Cor 7. 14 says that the pagan partner married to a Christian is made holy through union with the Christian, "Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy." "Holy" reflects Hebrew qadosh, set aside for God by the covenant. So the pagan partner and the children did come under the covenant.
(4) God shows great concern for the objective moral order (cf. Our Father's Plan, chapter 4. For example, in the Gospel description of the Last Judgment, Jesus does not accept the excuse of those who say they did not know it was Jesus in the poor, etc. He pays attention only to the objective fact. Cf. also Leviticus 4, 1 Cor 4. 4, and all instances of involuntary sin.
Does He also will to rectify the objective physical order?
In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Abraham explains (Lk 16. 25): "Remember that you in your lifetime received good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish." Of course the rich man had violated charity -- but that is not mentioned. Only the reversal and physical rectification is mentioned. The woes in Luke 6:24-26 seem similar.
Conclusion: In view of all the above, God may well speak thus of the aborted babies: "These infants have been deprived of everything in the normal objective order they should have had, even of a chance for birth. Instead, without deserving it, they have been torn apart or cut up alive. So it is right to make up for that. They suffered evil, like Lazarus. Now they should be comforted. I showed concern for the rebalancing the objective physical order in the case of Lazarus. I made provision for the eternal salvation of people before Christ. St. Paul argues in Romans 3. 28-30 that if I did not, I would not be their God. I revealed through St. Paul, in 1 Cor 7. 14, that a pagan partner in marriage is brought under the covenant merely from being united to the Christian, and similarly the children. So it is right for me to provide grace to these children even outside of the Sacrament. My hands are not bound by the Sacraments."
What of Limbo? If our deductions are not correct, then the babies would be in Limbo, which, as St. Thomas Aquinas said, involves no pain, and is such that the babies do not even know what they have missed (St. Thomas, De Malo q. 5, a. 3 ad 4). We might compare two persons: one whose tastes are not highly refined, who is completely happy with a ballgame and popcorn; the other whose ability to enjoy things has been refined: he will be satisfied only with the most artistic things. Similarly the babies, lacking the refinement of the power to know given by grace, will be fully satisfied, and not know what they have missed.
If Limbo be the answer, will they be separated from parents who have reached Heaven and the Vision of God? No, for two reasons: 1) Heaven is not essentially a place, but a state. You could have two persons side by side, even in a place, such that one is enjoying interiorly the divine vision, the other is not. They can be together, yet in different states. 2) God does satisfy every legitimate desire of those who reach heaven. (Cf. Apoc. 21. 4:"He [God] shall wipe away every tear from their eyes.") Parents who deeply want their children of Limbo will not be separated from them. Limbo and heaven are most basically states more than places. And even as to place, after resurrection, bodies will be like the Risen Body of Jesus, who came to see the Apostles locked in an upper room. He simply ignored the door, did not bother to open it by a miracle. Risen bodies are not bound by place.
Objection: The Council of Florence in 1439 taught (DS 1306):"The souls of those who depart in actual mortal sin or only original sin descend into the realm of the dead (infernum), to be punished however with unequal punishments."
Reply: 1)The word poena in Latin need not always be the same as English "pain" - it can mean merely deprivation of something. As we saw above, Pius IX taught that God does not allow anyone to be punished with eternal punishments without the guilt of personal fault.
Vatican II, On ecumenism #6, taught that if any language in older teachings is in need of improvement, it should be improved. Such is the case here, at least if we do not think of the difference of Latin poena and English "pain". Paul VI in Mysterium fidei did not contradict the Council, but said that the older texts are not untrue in themselves, if properly understood.
2) The word infernum in Latin means merely the realm of the dead, not hell in the English sense. Cf. the Creed in which we read that after His death, Jesus "descended into hell"- the archaic English use of the word.
3) Our reasoning above tends to show that the aborted babies, and probably other unbaptized babies also, are given grace by God outside the Sacrament of Baptism, and so do not depart this world in original sin, which is merely the lack of grace that should be there.