Thursday, December 10, 2009

Infants and Salvation

For a Catholic, one thing held is that baptism is necessary for salvation. So what happens to unbaptized infants?  One might argue from this dilemma that Catholicism presents an unnecessarily cruel view of what might happen to persons who die before baptism: What could they have done to deserve damnation?

In any Christian tradition, though, anyone being honest with themselves and with the Scriptures has to admit that this is not an easy theological question--it will either be hard emotionally, or hard intellectually, but I'm pretty convinced we can't have it easy both ways unless we stop thinking about it. (It may also be the case, as sometimes happens in Christianity, that it's going to be difficult on both fronts.) People who deny the notion of baptismal regeneration tend to focus instead on saving faith, commonly thought of as a faith which includes a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. A pastor for whom I have great respect once said that when talking about salvation, a fundamental question to ask is: "Did they know Jesus?"

But there's the thing. As a general categorization, nobody under the age of three meets that mark, because it's just not possible in general for them to have a saving faith (that would seem to require a greater cognitive faculty than they have), much less one that expresses as a personal relationship with Christ.

The most reasonable answer I've heard thus far is: We can't guarantee salvation, but we shouldn't necessarily deny it, either. (The Catholic form of this is that while the Church is bound by the sacraments, e.g. baptism, God is not, therefore we may hope for, but not preach as fact, the salvation of unbaptized infants.) The Biblical basis for both of these variants of hope can be readily seen: God desires all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. By implication this means that knowledge of the truth is not the same thing as salvation (therefore infants, who lack the cognitive ability to affirm the truth, are not barred by default from salvation.) But it seems like all of the definitions of what it means to be saved--barring exceptional circumstances--imply some sort of cognitive ability on the part of the saved, or some ritual which might be given them. In any case it seems to imply something which many infants who die will lack. (Not to mention those who die without the opportunity for infancy.)

How do you resolve this dilemma? Do you:
(a) Believe that children who are unable to meet and don't meet the marks are damned.
(b) Believe that children who are unable to meet and don't meet the marks are saved.
(c) Believe that children who are unable to meet and don't meet the marks might be saved, but that there is no guarantee.

I believe that I've covered the three broad categories of response here, but feel free to tell me if I've missed one. I'm counting "there is no way to know," or similar statements, as variants of response (c). My answer, in case you hadn't guessed, falls somewhere in the realm of (c). I encourage people to comment and give a response on this question, even if you're just giving the letter as your answer.  Feel free to elaborate on your answer if you want!

3 comments:

Luke said...

I would mention here the Holy Innocents, who are the children who were slaughtered by Herod when he was searching for the baby Jesus. The Church commemorates these children as saints in the church at least on some level, and they even have a feast day in the Church. So it would seem that, as you said, while we may be bound by the sacraments, God is not.

Kev Johnston said...

C is correct, of course. But I tend to think that it is more likely than not, due to the lack of all sin but Original and a sentiment along Luke's lines...

Dan Lower / KKairos said...

I concur.

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