Apologetic Tract What happens to a child who dies before baptism?

By 10:02 AM


What happens to a child
who dies before baptism?


If baptism is necessary for salvation, what happens to children who died before baptism?

For many years it was speculated that there was a place called “Limbo” for those who died without the chance to be baptized through no fault of their own.  The Latin word for Limbo (Limbus) means “boundary or edge.”

Limbo was considered by the early Fathers of the Church to be the place where those who, before the coming of Christ, believed in God and were faithful to God at the time of their death went until the death and resurrection of Jesus.

In the Apostles Creed we profess that Jesus “descended into Hell. On the third day He rose again and ascended into heaven.”  This descent into hell is not the Hell of eternal damnation, but the place where those, awaiting the justification of God, went after death.

Later, as people reflected on the necessity of baptism for salvation, they speculated about the fate of infants who died before being baptized.  If Hell was the place where those, who died in the state of alienation from God by choice, live out their existence, then what happens to infants who never chose to be alienated from God?  Some people speculated that they went to Limbo.  Here they would experience natural happiness but not the   perfect happiness of seeing God face to face.
Even though this may be a reasonable explanation of a mystery, this has never been the official teaching of the Church.

This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church officially states:
“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’ (Mark 10:14, cf. 1 Tim 2:4), allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism.  All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy baptism.”
(CCC 1261)

Before Pope John II died, he asked the International Theological Commission to study the question concerning the fate of unbaptized infants.  On April 22, 2007, this advisory Commission issued a statement entitled "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die without Being Baptized."

They stated: “Our conclusion is that the many factors that we have considered above give serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that un-baptized infants who die will be saved and enjoy the beatific vision.  We emphasize that these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge.  There is much that simply has not been revealed to us.  We live by faith and hope in the God of mercy and love who has been revealed to us in Christ, and the Spirit moves us to pray in constant thankfulness and joy.

“What has been revealed to us is that the ordinary way of salvation is by the sacrament of baptism. None of the above considerations should be taken as qualifying the necessity of baptism or justifying delay in administering the sacrament.  Rather, as we want to reaffirm in conclusion, they provide strong grounds for hope that God will save infants when we have not been able to do for them what we would have wished to do, namely, to baptize them into the faith and life of the Church.”

I would like to give my personal reflections and summation of the question.

First, we believe that God wills all to be saved and that Jesus has saved all. (This is the teaching of the Church.)

Second, because of this we believe that God gives each person the opportunity to be saved. (This is the teaching of the Church.)

Third, because the infant is created good and knows only good, never committing personal sin, God presents himself to the infant before death as The Good. The infant chooses the Good, by God’s grace, and therefore is with God forever. (This is our hope.)

Fourth, even though the third statement is a matter of speculation, it is based on the revealed plan of God as we know it from the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church.

Fifth, to insure that each child has a definite chance of eternal salvation, it is the practice of the Church to baptize infants as soon as possible after birth.  Because salvation is so important to each individual and is the desire of God for each, we should not depend upon speculation but upon the assurance of our faith.



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