"And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God"
-- Micah 6:8

"The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict."
-- American Bar Association Standard 3-1.2(c)

"There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
--Pope Benedict XVI, June 2004

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Pope Mark Teaches

OK folks, let's try this again: the Church Fathers, St. Augustine, the medieval schoolmen including St. Thomas, and all modern teachers up until the late 20th century have taught, taking Sacred Scripture at face value, that unbaptized children do not go to heaven.

Pope Benedict may decide to suggest instead a shrug of "well, we don't really know, let's hope for the best" but then, as if to undercut that very "hope," he will supposedly reiterate that "parents should still baptize their children quickly."

Now, some have come out and honestly denigrated the saints and scholars who were not as enlightened as we are: "Limbo was one of those items in RC theology just hanging around waiting for a post-Vatican II correction. Was delighted to hear that our Dear Holy Father apparently wants to excise it from our doctrine. Bravo B16- Friend of Babies and Children." Got it? Sts. Augustine and Thomas hated babies!

Some, only slightly less dismissive of any pre-2006 teachings, like Mark Shea, self-satisfyingly tell us that all is OK, after all, God is not bound by the sacraments, and I'm confusing grace with the sacraments. After throwing out non-sequiturs such as Dismas the Good Thief (baptism of desire) and the Holy Innocents (baptism of blood), Shea assures us that discarding Limbo is not to denigrate the need for grace. No, no... grace is of course needed, but baptism is not strictly needed according to Pope Mark.

Of course it is question begging and mere ipse dixit to posit that God miraculously intervenes to impart sanctifying grace to souls lost in Original Sin. There is no support for this unheard of theory in any traditional source of theology: Scripture, the Fathers, the great schoolmen or manualists, or the modern Popes. Even JP II and Benedict have not suggested this novel idea. The times we know it happened are miracles attested to in Revelation: the Immaculate Conception (attested to by Tradition) and the cleansing of St. John the Baptist (attested to in Sacred Scripture). Moreover, this claim contradicts the very point made by the modern Catechism Shea cites for the 'God is not bound by the sacraments' mantra: "The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude."

Exactly. If the Pope wants to "hope" that something miraculous happens to take infant deaths out of the clear-cut case of 'no baptism=no salvation,' so be it. He would presumably be proposing a mere theory and leaving the faithful free to choose the Fathers', the scholastics', and his predecessors' teaching.

But what Pope Mark proposes is not what Pope Benedict proposes, a vague "hope against hope, leave it up to God" approach. No, what Shea and the combox magisterium propose is something new and radical, the positive statement that God can and does simply ignore His revelation in Scripture. Of course, if this novel teaching is true, why then would infant baptism be required at all? After all, God would certainly not "punish" the innocent child for the negligence of the parents who fail to have him baptized any more than he would "punish" the innocent stillborn child who cannot be baptized. So we're left with the Anabaptist solution, which is that infant baptism is not necessary and only those with the age of reason are held to the requirement to be baptized.

What other conclusion can be drawn from Pope Mark's teaching that God is not bound by the sacraments and will intervene to infuse grace into an innocent (of actual sin) soul?

Nevertheless, Shea and his combox cardinals will no doubt continue to re-write the Faith to suit their view of whom God should admit to heaven.

(For further on this by an entirely orthodox theologian, not a comboxer, see Fr. Brian Harrison, "Could Limbo be 'Abolished'?", wherein he argues persuasively that Limbo is no mere opinion but belongs to the authentic magisterium.)


Anonymous said...


Tom, given God's sovereignty, is it really theologically proper to say that God is "bound" by anything? Yes, He makes and keeps covenants. But is God actually "bound" by the sacraments, even if he created them as means of grace?

I'm not trying to argue for or against Shea's comments concerning Limbo. I'm trying to get a handle on the whole notion of divine sovereignty.

Tom McKenna said...

I have never asserted, despite Shea's mud-throwing claim, that God is "bound" by the sacraments. In fact, I explicitly mentioned the two times we know of where God intervened to impart sanctifying grace to an unbaptized person: St. John the Baptist and Our Lady (who was conceived without Original sin and never stood in need of regeneration).

I have no doubt that Shea and others genuinely feel the need to find some way to rationalize these souls into heaven; that all those saintly Popes, scholars, and Doctors just can't really have been right. They lose faith in the teaching of the Church and the good will of her brightest scholars, saints, and Fathers. In their pride, they feel more competent than their fathers to expound the Faith.

But to posit some novel idea that God basically ignores the sacraments and dispenses from their necessity as a routine matter to save unbaptized infants is a self-serving exercize in hubris without precedent in Church teaching.

Trying to do the "compassionate" thing from the viewpoint of man and then crafting a theory to do an end-round around baptism is no way to engage in (Catholic)theology. Good intentions do not equal sound theology. God does not follow our rules. No one has a right to heaven. It's a free gift and God is the gatekeeper, not us.

Anonymous said...


Tom, I'm not taling about Limbo. I'm talking about the idea of divine sovereignty. I'd like to know what your thoughts are on the subject, Linbo aside.

BTW, please don't consider this a defense of Shea's foam-mouthed ramblings. I have no use for Shea except as garden fertilizer....