Paul Derengowski, ThM
“This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men. Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil, and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives. Afterwards they go to the dead” (Eccl. 9:3).
There is perhaps no subject related to either the doctrines of sin or salvation that elicits more heated commentary than whether or not an infant suffers eternal damnation after dying. Theories have abounded and the Bible has been used to support different arguments. Yet, no one has given the definitive answer, mainly because the Bible is by-and-large silent on the subject. What is known from the Bible tends to upset many who attach emotionally charged arguments in juxtaposition with divine revelation. On the other hand, it does seem a bit strange to think that God, in his infinite mercy and benevolence, would condemn an infant to eternal punishment in hell.
Below are both contra and pro arguments that have been given to either deny or support exaltation or condemnation of infants to heaven or hell. Although it is not my absolute conclusion that God automatically exalts all infants to heaven or condemns all infants to hell, it would appear that the rationale behind most, if not all, the contra arguments are rooted in fallen human philosophy rather than biblical revelation. That, in one form or another, the contra arguments are a rehash of something that someone like Pelagius would say, rather than what Jesus, John, or Paul would say.
This is the position that is typically identified with Roman Catholicism. The idea is that as long as an infant has been baptized, then that infant’s sins have been remitted, including original sin, and should the infant suddenly pass away, then admittance into the presence of God is awaiting. Implied, however, is the opposite effect of not being baptized, which is eternal damnation. It is why one may read in The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church,
With regard to children, on account of the danger of death which can often occur, since no other remedy can help them than the sacrament of baptism by which they are snatched away from the devil’s dominion and made the adopted sons of God, (the Church) warns that holy baptism should not be delayed for forty or eighty days, or for some other length of time according to the custom observed by some; but it must be conferred as soon as can suitably be done, with the provision that, if the peril of death is imminent, the children be baptised [sic] at once without delay, even, if no priest is available, by a layman or a woman, in the form of the Church, as is more fully in the decree for the Armenians.
Elsewhere, Roman Catholicism equates baptism with being born anew or again. Therefore, “The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.” Of course, once again, the flipside of not baptizing infants is to leave them tainted by sin and destined for eternal hellfire, even though Roman Catholic authorities do not explicitly state it as such.
The problem with the Baptism Remits Sin argument is that is simply is not biblical. It is a church tradition foisted upon the Bible, which then uses the Bible to substantiate the position. Baptism is a symbolic gesture related to the resurrection of the believer. It does not remit sin; only the blood of Christ does that in conjunction with the grace of God (Heb. 9:22).
Second, there is no biblical record which states or prescribes that infants be baptized. In the Catechism cited above, Acts 16:15, 33; 18:8 and 1 Corinthians 1:16 are all referred to as biblical texts supporting the idea of infant baptism. But, upon closer inspection, one must read into those verses the doctrine itself, for there is not explicitly claimed otherwise. One thing is for certain: the implication that those infants who are not baptized are destined for eternal flames. Now, that does not preclude the introduction of other extra-biblical doctrines, like Purgatory, from being appealed to, to try and God’s benevolence with the apparent innocence of all infants.
That said, though, there is no biblical justification for either Purgatory or human beings born into the world in a state of innocence. In fact, Purgatory completely undermines God’s sovereignty, while the idea of innocence not only contradicts the Roman Catholic position on original sin, but the Bible’s testimony that the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth (Gen. 8:12), because he was conceived in sin (Ps. 51:5), and that “the wicked are estranged from the womb; those who speak lies go astray from birth” (Ps. 58:3).
So, while Roman Catholicism may appeal to the fallen human intellect and sooth the emotional anguish of having to think about an infant roasting in hell for eternity, if whomever will simply run down to the local parish or cathedral to have their infants baptized, the bottom line is that none of what Roman Catholicism has to say on the subject is supported biblically. In fact, the RCC has said and is saying runs completely counter to what the Bible does say about baptism, sin, and salvation. Therefore, this view should be dismissed as biblically in error and unsuitable as a response to the question at hand.