Why Infants Do Not Go To Hell - Orthodox View of Salvation Versus Catholic Teaching

There is a pretty significant difference in the salvific views of Catholicism — as defined in the ecumenical councils of Catholicism — and what Orthodoxy teaches.

PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT

Ben: 

Hey everyone, I'm Ben and this is Facing East, and I'm here with Al Blazek today and we're going to talk about the Orthodox view on salvation.

So, I was going to be explaining the Orthodox view on salvation. Previously he was Catholic so he's also going to explain some of the Catholic views as well. This video is not going to necessarily going to be portraying the Byzantine Catholic view or my understanding of salvation, but rather the Orthodox view. So, I'll let Al give his intro here.

Al:

Sure! So as Ben mentioned, I was Catholic for more than forty years. I was a Melkite, for those who are familiar with that — it's an eastern rite of Catholicism. I was actually married to my wife in that rite back in 2001. My whole family was baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia in 2015. So I have a lovely wife, Susan, seven children, and God-willing an eighth on the way — coming in April 2020, so we'll see.

Ben: 

Congratulations!

Al:

Thanks! And so all I want is for Ben and I to have a conversation around, what does Catholicism formally teach? What does Orthodoxy teach? And how do those views align or differ? There is a pretty significant difference in the salvific views of Catholicism — as defined in the ecumenical councils of Catholicism — and what Orthodoxy teaches.

Ben: 

Okay, so, you explain that you were Catholic for many years and that you converted to Orthodoxy, mainly based on the theology of salvation.

Al:

Right. So, a lot of Orthodox — especially cradle Orthodox — will look (and they are serious issues) things like the Filioque, for those familiar with that discussion, of papal supremacy, papal infallibility, very important topics. For me, a very practical topic, though, is "Who can be saved?" and "How are people saved?" As a Catholic, I was somebody who was constantly doing apologetics to get people — primarily Protestants, some non Christians, pagans, atheists, that sort of thing — to look at things. And part of that was, "How are we saved?"

A modern Catholic will look and have a view that is quite similar in many ways to an Orthodox Christian, which is that objectively, formally, one needs to be a member of Christ's church to be saved. One needs to be baptized to be saved. And those are true as far as they go.

Where we differ — and it's a huge difference in terms of practical realities — is, "How formal and how rigid are those requirements?" So, a Catholic who is pre-Vatican-II who had been raised in the early 1900s, and was looking at what Catholicism taught formally about salvation would say,

Well, if you're not baptized, then you can't go to heaven. It's impossible.

John 3:5 says, "Unless a man be born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God," and Catholicism affirms that through multiple Ecumenical Councils: Fourth Lateran, Second Lyon, Florence, Trent — saying that those who die in mortal sin or in original sin only go strictly to hell, although to be punished with different punishments.

Thomas Aquinas himself talked about the four levels of of hell. In the uppermost level was limbo, which is where the damned infants go, who do not have baptism. And so limbo comes from the Latin word limbus meaning "edge", so it's the edge of hell — it's the part of hell that isn't quite as hot — and so Orthodox Christians would take enormous offense to this.

You could either say, because it's not quite as dogmatically defined, that Orthodox Christians would either say, "Well, yes, unbaptized children can — and do — go to heaven, or they at least have the ability to, and it's God's grace and mercy, and we trust on God's mercy.

But if you're a Catholic, and you are a traditional Catholic, and you hold to the dogmatic teachings of the Catholic Church, you are not allowed to believe this. You must believe that unbaptized children and unbaptized people — which is, you know, even more horrific — go to hell. It is important to note that, for babies at least, they go to what I refer to as "nice hell". It's a hell without any physical pain, but it is definitely separated from God, separated from the Saints. And it is, in fact — it's hell. It's just not a painful one. 

But as I mentioned earlier — the statement in particular that I mentioned before — is that from the council Florence. So I just repeat:

"The souls of those who depart in actual mortal sin, or in original sin only, descend immediately into hell, but undergo punishments of a different kind." 

So, that's the baseline view of the difference between Catholicism and Orthodoxy. There are also others that we can get into.

Ben: 

Ok. So, we have talked — we actually had a full video on this prior, but the footage was lost, so we're kind of going through a lot of this again.

Like I brought up in the previous video — it was always kind of my understanding of Catholicism — was this "grace alone" salvation, where we're saved through the grace of God. We don't know God's grace, and we don't know God's infinite mercy. So while Scripture and the rigid black-and-white rules that the Church defined as dogma say, "You need to be baptized, you need to receive the Eucharist unless you're before the age of reason, you need to know all these things," I guess I always kind of understood that to mean "the letter of the law," but that there was always a "spirit of the law" associated with it, and God was the Judge that was able to determine what the spirit of the law is, or what the proper punishment is outside of the rigid law that the Church has to uphold — Like a country, like a continent: my understanding is kind of like, you know, the law says you must pay your taxes, and you know (in the context of government) you have to pay taxes, and there is a situation where someone who is so poor they couldn't afford to pay their taxes. Well, a merciful judge wouldn't send them to prison for ten years for tax evasion. That was always kind of my logic, I guess. It's not dogmatic.

Al:

And that and that's why modern Catholics on this one point are very well aligned with traditional Orthodoxy. My own mother, when I converted, was very angry when I mention that this was the reason I was converting. Because she said very directly "You were never taught that, I don't believe that. We don't believe that." And the reality is that that's true for any Catholic who was raised in that period starting with Vatican II and beyond, there's been a complete inversion of, for lack of a better term, the traditional Catholic view on matters.

But the reality is is that the Catholic Church, like the Orthodox Church, is a dogmatic church. It's a doctrinal church and so ecumenical councils held by the Catholic Church are binding under pain of sin, mortal sin actually, because you're denying known truths. So, going back to the first few ecumenical councils which Orthodox and Catholic have in common, if you were to say "well, I'm Catholic, but I really believe that Jesus was the greatest creation of God the Father. That's really my view," you can't hold that to be a Catholic or Orthodox Christian. That's Arianism and that's been condemned. "Oh, I believe that Christ only had one will, not two." Well, no that's been condemned. "I believe, you know, He had one nature not two natures." These are all things that were had dealt with at ecumenical councils. Monothelitism and Monophysitism, which is what I just mentioned, those were condemned at councils. The seventh ecumenical council condemned iconoclasm; that's why Catholics have statues and so do some orthodox churches, actually. Russian orthodox churches when I visited, there weas some very beautiful statuary. But most eastern churches will have iconography and thus the term iconoclasm because some of the eastern leaders were literally destroying icons. You think of the word "cataclysm"; "iconoclasm" means destruction of icons.

So why all this rigmarole and why am I giving it? Well, the Catholic Church has--I always forget the numbers--either twenty one or twenty two ecumenical councils. And so, the ecumenical councils that happened post-schism, the Councils of Lateran, the councils of Lyon, Florence and Trent,  Vatican I, Vatican II, these are ecumenical councils and you have to believe them as a Catholic. And if you deny any of the truths that are taught there, you're an error. If you know that you're supposed to believe them and you deny them, then you are again, under the Catholic system, a heretic and you're in an objective state of mortal sin.

So, without diverting too much, I do want to make a distinction between those who are honestly in error and those were heretics, so that people don't think I'm saying something I'm not. I'm not a theologian, there's a lot of people who aren't theologians and so we can all have erroneous thoughts. The question is when you look at a teaching by your church, Orthodoxy in my case, Christ Church, if they're teaching something, then you have to submit to it and if at that point you don't, then you move from being heterodox from being to being a heretic.

So that is kind of the crux of all this and that's what I'm saying. If you look at these economical councils, it's not just one statement made at one council. It's multiple statements at multiple councils by multiple popes. So for instance John the 22nd  said that the Roman Catholic Church teaches that the souls of those who die in moral sin, or with original sin only, descend into hell immediately. However, they will be punished for different penalties and in different places, which is an affirmation of what Thomas Aquinas said in his delineation of Hell having four levels, with limbo being the lightest and gehenna being the worst. The   second council of Lyon said the souls of those who die in mortal sin, or original sin only, immediately descend to hell, yet to be punished with different punishments.

Yes, I'm kind of repeating myself but this just goes to show that this was the standard of different ecumenical councils throughout hundreds of years of the church. And so, you have this very consistent view of Catholicism saying you you can't go to heaven if you haven't been baptized. And while it's bad enough thinking about babies during that, the real depressing thing is when you think about, say like a Protestant, who believes in believers baptism. If a Protestant never gets baptised, until he's 18 or something; sometimes it's ten, sometimes it's five; I've seen them pretty young but I've seen them very old. Theoretically, a sixteen year old Protestant who I knew, was never baptized, who got into a car accident and died; friend of ours, his daughter babysat for us.

Objectively, almost certainly that soul in the Catholic system is in hell so and Trent says that we are anathematized if we try to have good hope for the salvation of those who have not been baptized. So where orthodoxy would say yes, baptism is important, it would probably not use the term that Catholicism would use, but maybe it would, that baptism is the sacrament of initiation, right? that's what brings you into the church. And yet, Orthodoxy has very clear examples, like the 40th martyr of Sabast, whose acknowledged as a saint.

Ben:

But wasn't--and correct me if I'm wrong here--but wasn't he kind of in a situation where baptism by blood would have been an accurate description?

Al:

Right, right. And we should get into that. So that's a great example of one of the few edge cases where Catholicism says well, okay, yes there are certain edge cases where you can be baptized by blood or by desire. That would be one of the case.

Ben:

Right. Like the good thief would be baptised by desire.

Al:

Well, without getting too theological, I think the good thief, because its prior to Christ's resurrection from the grave, would be under a different standard or -- I hate using the word dispensation, it has a very Protestant sort of sound to it--but every every time I've kind of asked that question myself and gone so what happened with the thief on the cross? Baptism of desire? and the answer was, well, he was still under the Old Covenant because Christ hadn't yet risen from the dead. I mean the thief died, then Jesus died.

And so, but that's kind of the whole point, right? Under the Catholic scheme, there is a point at which Jesus rises from the dead and people who objectively were saved under the Old Covenant now become unsaved because, all the sudden, the standard is changed and so this is something that Catholics have to believe. As far as baptism of blood, which is a really important point. First, I have to make note that there is a group of Catholics, they normally are called Feeneyites after Father Leonard Feeney, who said that baptism of blood and desire was heretical. They believe in a very strict form of what you'll sometimes hear termed as EENS, which means outside of the church no salvation. Which, by the way, Orthodoxy believes that as well. Anyone who saved to save through the Orthodox Church. They may not explicitly know it. We have good faith that a lot of people who were born lived and died as faithful Protestants and Catholics may, by God's grace be saved through the Orthodox church, even though they have not been formally United to it. But father Feeney essentially said, not only is this an absolute, but it is absolutely necessary for you to have water baptism and, if you do not have it, you are absolutely, definitively, going to hell. But for most Catholics, they would say "well there's also baptism of blood and baptism of desire." And baptism of blood and desire are very, very narrowly defined. Things like what people say "well, you know the children of abortion have baptism of blood," that's false. The baptism of blood in the Catholic system is somebody who willingly sheds their blood.

So the fortieth martyr of Sabast, just to give a quick version of the story... forty Christians go out, they're being put on the ice and told "you're gonna freeze to death." They're naked and there's a hot bath near by, and if you don't use it, you're just gonna die. One guy apostasizes, runs and hits the bath.

And when the Roman soldier sees it, he strips off, goes down on the ice and dies with the rest of them. You never got baptized but he's definitely in heaven. People saw forty crowns coming from heaven including on this fellow whose name is lost to time. 

But the fact is is that that would be an example of baptism of blood. Baptism of desire would be the equivalent of somebody who had known about Christ, knew that they needed to be baptized, really wanted to be baptized, and maybe they're living by themselves as an aborigine somewhere and they have no one to baptize them. And under the Catholic system you cannot baptize yourself. Actually, really, under the Orthodox system you can't either, but you know let's put that aside for second. The point is that that person could be seen as having baptism of desire.

But in both cases, realize that the will of the person involved is critical, so unbaptized children who died through miscarriage, who are aborted, our young babies who were who were murdered, they do not really get the baptism of blood. The holy innocents who are seen as martyrs, remember, are under the old system (this is before Christ's death and resurrection and so it is a different thing than if the same thing happens again under the Catholic system). Post His resurrection those same children, they would be in hell. 

So this is where Orthodoxy looks and says this doesn't make any sense; it's not what we taught for the first thousand years of church history. If you look at it all the post schism declarations...they are all post schism. This is where all the stuff comes from, it's here. I mean, you can find saints who make noise about this and Augustine is the one who's trotted out the most because he had some of the most severe words to say. But he also believe that infants suffered fire; they actually suffered the pain of fire and people forget that about Augustine. Which was condemned by Pope Pius 6th, in the late seventeen hundreds, he condemned the Jansenists who also said that infants suffered the torments of fire in hell. And he said that the "Jansenists' doctrine, which rejects as a fable that place of the lower regions, which the faithful generally designate by the name of limbo of children (limbo) in which the the souls of those departed with the sole guilty of original sin are punished, but with the punishment of the condemned, exclusive of fire." So the Jansenists' rejection of this idea--they're punished with the punishment of the condemned, exclusive a fire--"is false, rash, injurious, to Catholic schools."

And also so in other words to be a Catholic you have to believe that unbaptized children are in hell. 

Ben:

So, I guess an important distinction to also make here is the Orthodox versus Catholic understanding of original sin because you  it is say it is much easier to theologically say that an unbaptized person would not be damned in the Orthodox view than in the Catholic. 

Conversation continued in video above.

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