1) IT IS ASKED: Whether we can hope for the salvation of those people (especially infants) who die without baptism?
2) THESIS: No, because:
-That baptism is necessary to all (even babies) for their salvation is de fide divina et catholica definita. (Cf. Theological notes.)
-Moreover, that the souls of those who die in original sin go immediately to hell (and undergo different “punishments”) is also de fide divina et catholica definita.
-Moreover, the doctrine of the “limbus puerorum” is at least at the level of doctrina tenenda and sententia communis (there are some theologians who consider it theologice certa or even doctrina catholica).
3) PROOF from the loci theologici, that is:
a) From Sacred Scripture: “Amen, Amen, I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5)
b) From Sacred Tradition, that is:
From the consensus of the Fathers:
Tertulian says: “It is prescribed that no one, without baptism can attain salvation from that highest pronouncement of the Lord: Unless one is born of water, he will have no life.” (On Baptism 12.)
Origen: “Whichever soul is born in the flesh is polluted by the stain of iniquity and sin... according to the observance of the Church to give baptism even to little ones; since if there were nothing in little ones that owed to remission and pertained to forgiveness, the grace of baptism would seem superfluous.” (On Leviticus, Homily 8.3.)
St. Ambrose: “Unless one were reborn from the water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. He, thus, does not make an exception for anyone, not the infant, no one is excused from the necessity. Unless they have that immunity of punishment open to them, I do not know that they can enter the honor of the kingdom.” (On Abraham II, 11.79.84.)
St. Augustine: “Whosoever says that those children who depart out of this life without partaking of that sacrament shall be made alive in Christ, certainly contradicts the apostolic declaration, and condemns the universal Church, in which it is the practice to lose no time and run in haste to administer baptism to infant children, because it is believed, as an indubitable truth, that otherwise they cannot be made alive in Christ. Now he that is not made alive in Christ must necessarily remain under the condemnation, of which the apostle says, that "by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation. That infants are born under the guilt of this offense is believed by the whole Church.” (Letter 166.7/21.)
Idem: “If you wish to be a catholic, refrain from believing, or saying, or teaching that ‘infants which are forestalled by death before they are baptized may yet attain to forgiveness of their original sins’.” (On the Soul and its Origin III.9/12.)
St. Prosper of Aquitaine: “It is obvious that all who die without baptism are lost.” (On the vocation of all peoples II.24)
And the rest of the fathers are in agreement.
From the consensus of the theologians:
S. Thomas teaches: “The limbo of the Fathers and the limbo of children, without any doubt, differ as to the quality of punishment or reward. For children have no hope of the blessed life, as the Fathers in limbo had, in whom, moreover, shone forth the light of faith and grace. But as regards their situation, there is reason to believe that the place of both is the same; except that the limbo of the Fathers is placed higher than the limbo of children, just as we have stated in reference to limbo and hell.” (ST III-Supp. 69.6)
Idem: “The souls of children are not without natural knowledge such as is proper to a separated soul according to its nature, but they are without supernatural knowledge, which is here implanted in us by faith, because in this life they neither actually had faith nor received the sacrament of faith. Now it pertains to natural knowledge that the soul knows it was created for happiness and that happiness consists in the attainment of the perfect good. But that that perfect good for which man was made is that glory which the saints possess is beyond natural knowledge. Hence the Apostle says in the First Epistle to the Corinthians 2, 9 that "Eye has not seen nor ear heard neither has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love him," and afterwards in verse 10, he adds "But to us God has revealed them through His Spirit." Which revelation pertains to faith. And therefore the souls of children do not know that they are deprived of such a good, and do not grieve on account of this; but this knowledge which they have by nature, they possess without grief.” (On Evil 5.3c.)
Idem: “[Whether Baptism is to be Deferred]: I answer that... if they be children, Baptism should not be deferred. First, because in them we do not look for better instruction or fuller conversion. Secondly, because of the danger of death, for no other remedy is available for them besides the sacrament of Baptism.” (ST III.68.3c.)
St. Bonaventure says: “ . . . the punishment of being deprived of the sight of God and the loss of heavenly glory affects both adults and children who are unbaptized. The children are punished with the others, but by the mildest punishment because they deserve punishment of loss, but not the punishment of the senses. ” (St. Bonaventure, Breviloquium, Part III, Ch. V, n. 2.)
Likewise St. Albert as well as Scotus, and almost all the scholastics, in their commentaries on Peter Lombard’s Book of the Sentences, Book II, distinction 33, question 2, articule 3), agree. Also almost all theologians who had Magisterial sanction before the 1960’s agree as well. (But I have not had the chance to collect their passages on the subject.)
From the doctrine of the extraordinary Magisterium:
PP. Gregory X, in the 2nd Council of Lyons, declared: “Now, the souls of those who depart in mortal sin, or only with original sin, immediately descend into hell, but to be punished differently.” (Denzinger 464 .) This doctrine was infallibly defined and ratified by Eugenius IV, in the Concil of Florence. (Denzinger 693 .)
The Concilium of Trent infallibly taught the following: “If anyone says that baptism is optional, that is, not necessary for salvation, let him be anathema.” (Denzinger 861 ).
From the doctrine of the ordinary Magisterium:
PP. Siricius says “we want to succour with all haste those infants who yet could not speak... [by bringing them to] the sacred waves of baptism, lest Our own soul be in danger if, as a result being denied the saving font, ... each one of them, on leaving the world, loses both [eternal] life and the kingdom.” (Denzinger .)
PP. Innocent I says: “That children can receive the reward of eternal life without the grace of baptism is utterly foolish. For if they do not eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink of his blood, they will not have life within themselves [cf. Io. 6:53]. Those who claim they will without regeneration seem to me to want to render baptism itself vain, by preaching that they have what the faith professes is conferred only by baptism. If, therefore, they do not want to impede anyone from being reborn, then they necessarily profess that the holy waters of regeneration are useless.” (Denzinger .)
Council of Carthage XVI: “Not one of our children is held innocent until he is freed through baptism.” (Denzinger 109a .)
PP. Innocent III moreover distinguished between the poena sensus (the physical suffering of those who descend into hell with actual sins) and the poena damni (the deprivation of vision of all those who are in hell, even of children who descended there only with original sin): “The penalty of original sin is the loss of the vision of God; the penalty of actual sin is the torment of everlasting Hell.” (Maiores Ecclesiae Causas, AD 1201; Denzinger 410 .)
PP. Pius IX: “God, who sees distinctly, who searches into and knows the mind, spirit, habits and thoughts of all men, would never of His supreme goodness and mercy permit anyone to be punished with eternal torments (aeternis puniri supplicis), who has not incurred the guilt of voluntary sin.” (Encyclical Quanto Conficiamur, 10 Aug. 1863; Denzinger 1677.)
The Council of Florence declared: “Regarding children, indeed, because of danger of death, which can often take place, when no help can be brought to them by another remedy than through the sacrament of baptism, through which they are snatched from the domination of the Devil and adopted among the souns of God, it [the synod] advises that holy baptism ought not to be deferred for forty or eighty days, or any time according to the observance of certain people, but it should be conferred as soon as it can be done conveniently.” (Denzinger 712 .)
The provincial Council of Cologne: “Faith teaches us that infants, since they are not capable of this desire, are excluded from the kingdom of heaven if they die [unbaptized].” (Collectio Lacensis, V. 320.)
PP. Pius VI also condemned as temeraria the doctrine of those who deny the existence of the “limbum puerorum”: “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; Denzinger 1526 .)
Pope Pius XII: “All that we have said about the protection and care of natural life is with even greater reason true of the supernatural life, which the newborn child receives with baptism. In the present dispensation there is no other means of communicating this life to the child, who has not yet the use of reason. And yet the state of grace is absolutely necessary for salvation: without it supernatural happiness, the beatific vision of God, cannot be attained. In an adult an act of love may suffice to obtain him sanctifying grace and so supply for the lack of baptism; to the child still unborn, or newly born, this way is not open. If therefore we remember that charity towards our neighbor obliges us to assist him in case of necessity; that this obligation is graver and more urgent according to the greatness of the good to be procured or the evil to be avoided, and according to the inability of the needy one to help himself; then it is easy to understand the importance of providing for the baptism of a child, devoid of the use of reason and in grave danger or even certainty of death.” (Acta Apostolicae Sedis, December 20, 1951, p. 854.)
From the consensus of the faithful:
(As is known through the catechisms, both universal and particular.)
The Roman Catechism teaches: “[On the necessity of 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 a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. [Necessity of Infant Baptism] That this law extends not only to adults but also to infants and children, and that the Church has received this from Apostolic tradition, is confirmed by the unanimous teaching and authority of the Fathers. If, then, through the transgression of Adam, children inherit original sin, with still stronger reason can they attain through Christ our Lord grace and justice that they may reign in life. This, however, cannot be effected otherwise than by Baptism. Pastors, therefore, should inculcate the absolute necessity of administering Baptism to infants.... The faithful are earnestly to be exhorted to take care that their children be brought to the church, as soon as it can be done with safety, to receive solemn Baptism. Since infant children have no other means of salvation except Baptism, we may easily understand how grievously those persons sin who permit them to remain without the grace of the Sacrament longer than necessity may require, particularly at an age so tender as to be exposed to numberless dangers of death.”
The Baltimore Catechism (n. 3): “Q. 631. Is Baptism necessary to salvation? A. Baptism is necessary to salvation, because without it we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. Q. 632. Where will persons go who -- such as infants -- have not committed actual sin and who, through no fault of theirs, die without baptism? A. Persons, such as infants, who have not committed actual sin and who, through no fault of theirs, die without baptism, cannot enter heaven; but it is the common belief they will go to some place similar to Limbo, where they will be free from suffering, though deprived of the happiness of heaven.... Q. 642. Is it wrong to defer the baptism of an infant? A. It is wrong to defer the baptism of an infant, because we thereby expose the child to the danger of dying without the Sacrament.” Catechisms nos. 1 & 2 also taught the same, although less explicitly.
The Greater Catechism of PP. St. Pius X: “11 Q. When should infants be brought to the Church to be baptised? A. Infants should be brought to the Church to be baptised as soon as possible. 12 Q. Why such anxiety to have infants receive Baptism? A. There should be the greatest anxiety to have infants baptised because, on account of their tender age, they are exposed to many dangers of death, and cannot be saved without Baptism. 13 Q. Do parents sin, then, who, through negligence, allow their children to die without Baptism, or who defer it? A. Yes, fathers and mothers who, through negligence, allow their children to die without Baptism sin grievously, because they deprive their children of eternal life; and they also sin grievously by putting off Baptism for a long time, because they expose them to danger of dying without having received it.... 16 Q. Is Baptism necessary to salvation? A. Baptism is absolutely necessary to salvation, for our Lord has expressly said: "Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.” His Lesser Catechism (for children) teaches the same, although less explicitly.
And many others teach likewise.
Even if the doctrine of the “limbus puerorum” is not itself de fide (i.e. to be believed with the theological virtue of faith), nevertheless it is sententia communis, doctrina tenenda and doctrina catholica, and as such, it is to be held by all with religious assent—such that a doctrine that is opposed to it is, at the very least, offensiva piarum aurium, temeraria and iniuriosa scholis catholicis, and perhaps savoring of a greater error.