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Extracts taken from
Abortion and Martyrdom edited by Aidan Nichols, O.P.
Published by Gracewing, Herefordshire, England.
E-mail: gracewingx@aol.com
Tel 44 (0)1568 616835
Fax 44 (0)1568 613289

First published in 2002
UK ISBN 0 85244 543 1


by Aidan Nichols, O.P.

The objection of Catholic Christianity to the practice of abortion is well-known. Of the various evils that afflict human society in our time, the murder of defenceless children in the womb is the most gross. The arguments Catholics deploy in the effort to convince their opponents, or the undecided, of the intrinsic evil of abortion are drawn - quite properly - from rational ethics. By appeal to the moral reason, as it works on data generally accessible to any reflective person, it should be possible to show that the destruction of human lives guiltless of any offence save that of existing is an anti-humane act of peculiar, indeed unique, virulence - in a word, that abortion is

The matter does not, however, end there. The passion which Catholics and other 'pro-life' representatives, whether Christian or not, bring to this cause derives in part from the rational humanism they share - or so they hope - with their fellow citizens in civil society. That is the basis of the dialogue to which they are committed. But that passion can also derive from a biblical imperative: for the Judaeo-Christian Scriptures place especial emphasis on the divine favour toward the weakest and most vulnerable members of creation, and see in their defence and vindication (compare the ideas of salvation and redemption) a God-like duty or task.

The special status of aborted children as at one and the same time personal innocents and defenceless victims has to be theologically significant. Perhaps, unknown to the present writer, theologians here and there are already turning their minds to the question of the soteriological particularity of such children - the special niche they may inhabit in the divine plan of salvation for the world. Could Catholicism, which already venerates as bloodwitnesses to revelation the Jewish babes of Bethlehem, massacred in place of Christ, affirm of these children that they too died in silent testimony to a truth greater than themselves - in their case, the truth of the divine command, 'Thou shalt not kill': thou shalt not destroy innocent life?

In the late summer of 1999, Dom Philippe Dupont, the Abbot of Solesmes graciously hosted a modest 'Consultation' where the theological bases, and inconveniences, of this proposal might be addressed. It was not a condition of participation that speakers should take one side of this disputed question. Perusal of the papers now published in book form will soon show how diverse were the opinions presented - though all fall within the bounds of accepted theological discussion in the Catholic Church.

The Consultation, chaired by the editor of this study, consisted, it may be said, of maximalists and minimalists: those who wished theology, and the Church, to acknowledge the largest possible number of the aborted (perhaps all) as recipients of the 'Baptism of blood', and those who considered this thesis temerarious, and were willing to consider as candidates for such recognition only a tiny minority of cases. The Agreed Statement, in seeking to express a consensus position of those present, naturally tends to a more limited thesis on which moral unanimity was possible. (It was regretted by all present that Dom Philippe Jobert, professor of dogmatics at Solesmes and moving spirit of the Consultation, felt unable to sign the Statement for this reason.) It may be observed here that even this 'limited' thesis, fully in accord with classical theological positions as it is, will, however, surprise many, both inside and outside the Church. A more generous application of the key principles can be found in the 'supplementary theses' which participants were able to support as possibly (and so not certainly) true articulations of Catholic faith.

A particular - and unexpected - difficulty in our deliberations concerned the question of the moment of ensoulment, a topic on which, at least in the judgment of some present, the Church has not yet fully clarified her mind. (Others take a different view of the burden, and intentions, of the magisterial documents already in place.) That issue was unavoidable inasmuch as any attempt to secure the declaration of the martyr status of particular aborted infants will need to bear in mind the quantity of time that has passed since their conception. The problem of finding a suitable formulation on this point explains other absences from the list of signatories to the Statement whose names may be found, however, as sources for the supplementary theses.

On the feast of the Presentation, the last feast of the Christmas cycle, in the year 2000, both Statement and theses were sent to a variety of Bishops' Conferences around the world. as well to several dicasteries of the Holy See. The Cardinal President of the pontifical Council for the Family, Archbishop Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, in his reply, expressed the desire to see further theological discussion of these issues. This collection of essays, which I place under the patronage of the Babe of Bethlehem and the Holy Innocents, is intended to serve that end.

Blackfriars, Cambridge,
Memorial day of St Paulinus of York, 2001

Setting the question

Philippe Jobert, O.S.B., Abbey of Saint-Pierre de Solesmes
Aidan Nichols, O.P., Blackfriars, Cambridge

Can the Magisterium of the Church acknowledge children killed in abortion as 'companions of the Holy Innocents' (and therefore martyrs)?

It is a commonplace of Catholic theology that infants, even in the womb, who are killed from
odium fidei, 'hatred of the faith', may be regarded as having undergone a 'Baptism of blood'. The question we wish to raise is whether it is possible and desirable to regard all aborted children, without exception, as supernaturally included within the embrace of divine redemption, to the point, indeed, that the Church, by a solemn act, could declare publicly their martyr status, and invite their intercession.

A 'culture of death' (John Paul II) is a pattern of assumptions and attitudes, found in both the sensibilities of individual persons and the structures of corporate institutions in civil society, the effect of which is to render parents, doctors and lawmakers insensitive to the sacred dignity of human life - especially unborn human life in its mother's womb. Such life, like all human life, already embodies, through the act of creation, the image of God, but it is a specifying feature of the unborn that they have not, as yet, sullied that image by any act of personal sin. True, the nature in which they are created no longer enjoys the communion with God which Adamic grace gave the proto-parents, and suffers that inner dislocation which is the consequence of this deprivation. Affected by original sin, their natural will is not directed to supernatural life. Yet though the divine creative act does not, simply as such, incorporate the newly conceived within the supernatural order of healing and elevation to share the vision of the Holy Trinity, it is nonetheless the design of the divine mercy to order all human beings to that wondrous end. It will be attained - in every case where human freedom meets grace and does not oppose it - by the application of the all-sufficient merits of the Word incarnate in his atoning Cross ('the Blood') through the gift of Baptism ('the water') whether in the sacramental waters or in the 'Baptism of desire' or 'of blood'.

The question of the 'Baptism of blood' arises in the case of aborted infants since their deaths give witness to the word of God, 'You shall not kill', a word written in the conscience of every human being (cf. Rom. 2, 15), so therefore in the murderer's soul. Their murders prevent God from giving justification through Baptism, the ordinary way of salvation in the Christian era. The personal sinlessness of the unborn and their ordering, in the divine intention, to grace and glory renders them, it may be thought, an object of predilection for the malice of the evil Angels whose activity assists the formation of a 'culture of death' operating with especial intensity in the practice of abortion. Hence odium fidei is at work not only in human intentions originated so as deliberately to express such hatred, but at the transcendent level of angelic causality ('the Dragon' of the Apocalypse).

In such a context, aborted infants are brought to their deaths by the same 'rulers of this age' (I Cor. 2:8), who crucified Jesus, and constitute, indeed, icons of his 'crucified Innocence'. In his divine justice, exercised towards all human beings, will not God give these children - whose death is not only a natural but also and above all a supernatural injustice - the supernatural justice he wills for all? Though aborted infants are distinguished from the Holy Innocents whom the Liturgy of the Church commemorates at Christmas in that they were not first aggregated to the people of God by an outward sign (circumcision) typifying Baptism, nor did they die in place of Jesus, nevertheless their combination of personal guiltlessness and the ordering of their humanity to share the Father's glory through Christ conforms them inchoately to the image of the Son, while their violent deaths at the behest (human or angelic) of those who despise the divine image in man, render them more specifically isomorphic with the Son in his crucified condition. Like all martyrs, the aborted point to Jesus in the mystery of his rejection and humiliation. 'Virgin martyrs' are evangelical signs of holiness.

These aborted infants may be held to stand in a special relation also to the Mother of God whose appointment to be Mother of the Church (John 19: 26-27) is inseparable from the compassion she showed at the cross when the 'sword' of Simeon's prophecy pierced her soul (Luke 2: 35). The spiritual ('hidden and mystical') wounds with which the Mother of Christ was afflicted on Calvary when she too 'died', inwardly, in the death of the Fruit of her womb, have power to succour - in proportion (if Mary's Motherhood of the Church be the measuring-rule of her active compassion) to the depth of human need. And of all the needy, those about to be aborted - already potential members of the Church - are the weakest and most abandoned. It is through her wounded Motherhood that Mary is united in a particular mode to these children.

But if aborted children enjoy a special place within the range of Mary's spiritual Motherhood, the Church, of which the compassionate Mother of God is the exemplar, must likewise have a special regard for these infants. Their recognition as martyrs by a possible future act of the College of bishops sub et cum Petro, 'under and with Peter', would testify in striking fashion to the universality of the Catholic Church's philanthropic outreach in the perspective of salvation, and constitute a flaming witness to her stand in defence of the human dignity and rights of the conceptus, the conceived person, everywhere (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2270). As with all those who, through glorification in Christ, have the capacity to sub-mediate the fruits of his redemption, we could expect such a 'claim' of such holy persons for the Church to be divinely answered by the bestowal of spiritual fruit. Such fruit might take the form of their powerful intercession to convert others and bring to repentance - a John the Baptist role as forerunners of the final triumph of divine Innocence. This 'Baptistine' mission would consist in eliciting, among the Church's members generally (whether actual or potential) sorrow for sins against innocence, and among parents in particular, sorrow for abortions committed or colluded in.

The 'claiming' of such children must be related not only to renewed repentance in the Holy Spirit, but also to petition for the diffusion, through the Spirit's gift, of the ethos of the Holy Family, for the supernatural environment of the Holy Family, ('the school of Nazareth' - Paul VI) teaches how 'heaven wishes families to live'. Mary and Joseph provide, through their relation with Jesus, models of care and guardianship for biological parents, and indeed for the analogues of such parents that are celibate women and men in their roles as providers of motherly and fatherly nurturing. Wherever, through the grace of the Sacred Infancy, childlike innocence exists, Christians above all must defend it, for it is a sign of entry into the Kingdom (Matt. 19: 13-15, and parallels), and a presence of the life of Christ in the world. The Holy Family is not simply a moral exemplar but a mysterious presence of the Holy Trinity - through Joseph, 'shadow' of the Father. Jesus the Son, and Mary who is abidingly under the 'wing' of the Holy spirit. The Holy Family is a kind of sacrament of the Trinitarian communio, the divine Trinity, on earth.

Is it, then, by an implicit reference to the intercessory power of the martyrs that Pope John Paul II can speak, in Evangelium Vitae 99, of the mothers of aborted children being 'able to ask forgiveness' from their children, who are 'now living in the Lord'? If so, these will be martyr Companions of the Holy Innocents, delighting to restore, through the grace of Christ, the dignity of offended motherhood in families made to the image of the Blessed Trinity itself.

Editor's Note:

Readers should know that the version of Evangelium Vitae 99 published in the official journal of the Holy See, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, softens the sense of this passage, replacing the statement that 'nothing is definitively lost' and the encouragement to 'ask forgiveness from your child who is now living in the Lord' with the assurance that the child can be 'entrust[ed] with sure hope' to 'the Father and his mercy'. Both versions, however, enjoy validity and can be cited as authoritative in argument, even though the Latin text of the Acta is the more definitive. The original English vernacular text of Evangelium Vitae 99 is made use of by a number of the contributors to this volume.

Appendix: Sources in the Magisterium and St Thomas

John F. McCarthy

John. F. McCarthy is
Capo Ufficio in the Roman Congregation for the Eastern Churches

In what follows, some further discussion is provided of Church pronouncements and (especially) of texts from the writings of St Thomas Aquinas, the classical theologian of the Latin Church.

From the teaching of the Magisterium

The rights of a human fetus

With regard to the claiming of aborted babies by the Church, factor is the increased awareness in the Church of our time of the fully human status of infants in the womb from the first moment conception, a fact that was not clearly recognized in earlier times The
Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say (no. 2270): 'Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the first moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.' Although the evil of abortion from the first moment of conception has always been condemned by the Church, based on the common realization that from the moment of fertilization this new living thing is dynamically ordered to becoming a human person, we are now certain that from the moment of fertilization this new living thing is a human person, whose human soul has been directly created by God (CCC, no. 366), and who thus is already endowed with a human intellect and a human will, even though he cannot use these (apart from preternatural assistance from God) until a sufficient organic base has been built up. This fact of pervasive human existence provides added motivation for the Church to extend her maternal care to infants in the womb. In spite of this awareness, worldly society has unfortunately moved toward 'legalizmg' abortion and has found the means to make abortions even more convenient and available. This gives the Church added reason to be concerned about the fate of aborted children. We have, then, in the Church increased concern for all babies whose lives are threatened in the womb and increased awareness of the social responsibility resulting from the phenomenon of abortion.

The necessity of Baptism

The Church gives witness to the truth revealed by Jesus that '
unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God' (John 3:5). How does the Church interpret these words? The Catechism of the Catholic Church relates them to the words of Jesus in Mark 16:16, where he says: 'He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be condemned' - and it declares: 'Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament', so that 'God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments' (CCC, no. 1257). Thus, the Church allows for the salvation of some apart from Baptism of water. 'The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament' (CCC, no. 1258). Furthermore, 'Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery' (Gaudium et Spes, 22, §5). Hence, 'Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity' (CCC, no. 1260). Two facts about aborted babies are to be noted in the light of these quotations:

a) aborted babies have had no possibility whatsoever to know about the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but have sought the truth in the one way that was open to them, which was to grow physically in the womb;

b) they have suffered a violent death at the hands of persons~ acting contrary to the teaching of Christ and of the Church. ~,

Children who die without Baptism of water

As I pointed out in my article (
vide supra, Chapter 2), the Limbo Children is not an official doctrine of the Church. 'The Church has never made any official pronouncement on the reality or nature of limbo; but it does teach that baptism in some form is required for salvation [1] The Catechism of the Catholic Church leans toward the salvation of such children, when it says (no. 1261): 'As regards children
who have died without Baptism
, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites, for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God, "who wants all men to be saved" (1 Tim. 2:4), [2] and Jesus' tenderness toward childrea which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them" (Mark 10:14), allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism
', that is, without Baptism of water. The catechism is here reechoing the words of Lumen Gentium (no. 22):

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or of his Church, but who, nevertheless, seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation. Nor shall divine Providence deny the assistance necessary for salvation to those who, without any fault of theirs, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, and who, not without grace, strive to lead a good life.

The opening prayer of the funeral Mass of a child who died before Baptism says rather cautiously: 'Lord, listen to the prayers of this family that has faith in you. In their sorrow at the death of this child, may they find hope in your infinite mercy.' There is here no mention of eternal beatitude in Heaven, but there is a mention of the Christian faith and Christian hope of others in relation to the deceased child. The point I am making here is that, if there may be a way of salvation for children in general who have died without Baptism, how much more may there be a way of salvation for children who have been killed before they could have made any act of the will that might hinder their call to Heaven. Through no fault of their own they had not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, and they were striving in the only way open to them to lead a good life. The context of their violent death could be for them an instrument of grace, allowing the Church to be more explicit about their salvation, although it is the sole prerogative of the Magisterium of the Church to determine whether this be so.

In a fifth-century response to the heresy of Pelagianism, the Sixteenth Provincial Council of Carthage (418), guided by St Augustine, who was present as a member, in a canon which was not afterwards included among the articles of faith binding on the universal Church, [3] declared as follows:

It has likewise been decided that if anyone says that for this reason the Lord said, 'In my Father's house there are many mansions' (John 14:2), [namely] that it might be understood that in the kingdom of Heaven there will be some middle place or some place anywhere where the blessed infants live who have departed from this life without Baptism, in the absence of which they cannot enter into the kingdom of Heaven, which is life eternal, let him be anathema. For, when the Lord says: 'Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of God' (John 3:5), what Catholic will doubt that whoever has not deserved to be a coheir of Christ will be a partner of the Devil? For whoever is missing on the right hand must without doubt be present on the left (DH 224).

Pope Pius VI, in the Apostolic Constitution
Auctorem fidei (1794), promulgated in opposition to the Synod of Pistoia (1786), censured as

false, rash, and injurious to Catholic schools ... the doctrine which rejects as a Pelagian fable that place in the lower regions which the faithful generally designate by the name of the Limbo of Children, in which the souls of those dying with original sin alone are punished with the punishment of damnation but without the penalty of fire, as if by the very fact of removing the punishment of fire they were introducing that intermediate place and state free of guilt and penalty between the kingdom of God and eternal damnation about which Pelagians idly talk (DH 2626).

The Second Ecumenical Council of Lyons (1274) had already declared that 'the souls of those who die in actual mortal sin or only in original sin descend forthwith into the Inferno, but to undergo different punishments' (DH 858; cf. DH 1306). The Ecumenical Council of Florence (1442) decreed: 'But regarding children, on account of the often occurring danger of death: since they cannot be helped by another remedy except by the sacrament of Baptism, through which they are snatched from the power of the Devil and adopted as children of God, [the Holy Roman Church] advises that holy Baptism ought not to be deferred...' (DH 1349). In view of this magisterial teaching on the necessity of Baptism for salvation, broaching the question of aborted babies in particular must mean considering whether they might be saved through a vicarious desire for the sacrament of Baptism (as I suggested in the body of my article under the theme of the prayer of the Church) or through Baptism of blood in association with the Passion and Death of Jesus (as I also suggested in a comparison with the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem). Thus, it is not my aim to question the existence of the Limbo of Children, or to deny that those who die only in original sin will be taken there, but rather to examine whether aborted children may be sanctified at the moment of their death and thus not die in the state of original sin.

In 1546 the Ecumenical Council of Trent pronounced that 'if anyone denies that infants newly born from their mothers' wombs are to be baptized..., or says ... that they derive nothing of original sin from Adam which must be expiated by the layer of regeneration, let him be anathema' (DH 1514). In 1547 the Council of Trent went on to declare that this transfer to the state of grace 'after the promulgation of the Gospel cannot be effected except through the layer of regeneration or through a desire for it (aut eius voto)' (DH 1524). These declarations affirm that infants incur original sin at their conception and that they cannot be transferred to the state of sanctifying grace without Baptism of water or of desire. In the present study we are examining whether aborted infants might be sanctified by something equivalent to Baptism of desire at the moment of their death. We are not so much questioning whether some deceased children go to the Limbo of Children as we are suggesting that aborted children do not go there.

Pope Pius XII touched on this matter when he wrote: 'Under the present economy there is no other way of giving this [supernatural] life to the child who is still without the use of reason ... In the case of a grown-up person, an act of love may suffice for obtaining sanctifying grace and making up for the lack of Baptism. To the child still unborn or the child just born this path is not open.' [4] Pope Pius XII is here proposing that, 'under the present economy' of the visible Church, infants are unable of themselves to supply for the lack of the sacrament of Baptism, but he is not denying that they could be sanctified in some way outside of this economy by a direct intervention of divine grace or through Baptism of blood.

St Alphonsus Liguori [5] defines Baptism of blood as 'the shedding of blood, or death undergone for the faith or for another Christian virtue', and he explains that it remits faults and punishment 'from a kind of privilege based upon an imitation of the Passion of Christ'. He goes on to say that 'martyrdom avails infants as well, seeing that the Church venerates the Holy Innocents as true martyrs.' He adds that 'in adults an acceptance, at least habitual, of martyrdom for a supernatural reason is required': not, therefore, in infants. Thus, if 'the Church knows no other way apart from Baptism [of water] of ensuring children's entry into eternal happiness', [6] this does not mean that the teaching of the Church excludes the salvation of children by any other way. Similarly, when the Roman Catechism teaches [7] that 'infant children have no other means of salvation except Baptism (of water)', it means that they have no other ordinary means by which the Church can ensure their salvation. Thus, there is every reason to insist on the Baptism of infants at the earliest reasonable moment after their birth.

The growth of devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary has made ever more vivid our understanding of the merciful love of Jesus and the maternal love of Mary, the new Eve, for all children coming into this world. This development is embodied in the teaching of the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican: 'By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home. Therefore, the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix' (Lumen Gentium, no. 62). 'The Son whom she brought forth is he whom God placed as the firstborn among many brethren (Rom. 8:29), that is, the faithful, in whose generation and formation she cooperates with a mother's love' (Lumen Gentium, no. 63). Infants in the womb about to be aborted are surrounded by dangers and difficulties of the greatest kind. Are we to suppose that Mary, in her superabundant mother's love for the faithful, in whose generation and formation she cooperates, is not concerned about the loss of Heaven threatening infants being aborted? Are we to assume that she is not an advocate, helper, benefactress, or mediatrix for them in their fundamental vocation to eternal life with Jesus in Heaven?

Victory over Satan

When the Catechism of the Catholic Church proclaims the inviolate right to life of every infant in the womb (no. 2270), it cites the words of the Lord to the prophet Jeremiah: 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you' (Jer 1:5). While there is no doubt that the sanctification of an infant living in the womb is in itself a rare and extraordinary grace, nevertheless, a special case can be made for infants facing the moment of their violent death in the womb, in the sense that the grace of sanctification might be expected as a common divine intervention given from the merits of Jesus Christ through the maternal intercession of Mary. The Catechism, in explaining the constant petition of the Church to God the Father to 'deliver us from evil' (Matt. 6:13), speaks as follows: 'In this petition, evil is not an abstraction, but refers to a person, Satan, the Evil One, the angel who opposes God' (CCC, no. 2851). 'Victory over the "prince of this world" (John 14:30) was won once for all at the Hour when Jesus freely gave himself up to death to give us his life. This is the Judgment of this world, and the prince of this world is "cast out" (John 12:31; Rev. 12:10). "He pursued the woman" (Rev. 12:13-16), but had no hold on her: the new Eve, "full of grace" of the Holy Spirit, is preserved from sin and the corruption of death (the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of the Most Holy Mother of God, Mary, ever virgin). "Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring" (Rev. 12:17). Therefore the Spirit and the Church pray: "Come, Lord Jesus", since his coming will deliver us from the Evil One' (CCC, no. 2853). Since the Church prays to Jesus and believes that 'his coming will deliver us from the Evil One', is it not likely that Jesus does come to deliver these infants from the original sin by which they are bound to the power of Satan and to offer them the grace of Heaven?

From the teaching of St Thomas Aquinas

The Limbo of Children

The Greek and Latin Fathers of the first four centuries saw in general no more severe penalty for infants who died without Baptism than exclusion from the beatific vision. But St Augustine and the other African Fathers, in opposition to the Pelagians who were holding that infants have no sin, maintained that infants who die in original sin only will still share in the positive misery of the damned, although with a penalty mild enough that they would want to continue in existence. This opinion remained dominant from the fifth to the thirteenth century; a few theologians differed, but St Thomas was the first great theologian to eliminate the pain of suffering from Limbo by reasoning that infants who die in original sin only will live in perfect natural happiness, having lost the blessing of the beatific vision, but with no awareness of having lost it,
[8] and this is what the majority of Catholic theologians have continued to hold ever since then. [9] However, it is important to note that St Thomas, in presenting his argument for a Limbo of Children, does not speak about children who die without the sacrament of Baptism, but only of children who die 'in original sin', and it seems obvious that, to the extent that a child might die in the state of original sin, this is a benevolent and convincing solution. But the question before us is whether aborted infants do die in the state of original sin.

A way into this issue might take its starting point from a text where St Thomas teaches [10] that all human beings will rise again. 'The resurrection is necessary in order that those who rise again may receive punishment or reward according to their merits. Now either punishment or reward is due to all, either for their own merits, as to adults, or for others' merits, as to children. Therefore, all will rise again.' Daniel 12:2 declares: 'Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake.' Does this imply that not all will awake? St Thomas answers: 'Augustine [11] explains many as meaning all: in fact, this way of speaking is often met with in Holy Writ. Or else the restriction may refer to children condemned (to Limbo) (quantum ad pueros damnatos) , who, although they shall rise again, are not properly said to awake, since they will have no sense either of pain or of glory, and waking is the unchaining of the senses.' Yet it could be objected that babies who die in their mothers' wombs can never be born again, and so they will not rise again. St Thomas replies:

We are born again by the grace of Christ that is given to us, but we rise again by the grace of Christ whereby it came about that he took our nature, since it is by this that we are conformed to him in natural things. Hence, those who die in their mother's womb, although they are not born again by receiving grace, will nevertheless rise again on account of the conformity of their nature with him, which conformity they acquired by attaining to the perfection of the human species.

From these quotations we see that St Thomas does visualize little children, and even those who die in the womb, as condemned to the loss of Heaven, and he states that children who die in the womb 'are not born again by receiving grace'. The direction that St Thomas takes in these statements is significant. Whereas he begins with the principle that everyone should receive punishment or reward according to his merits, and children according to the merits of others, he reaches his conclusions on the punishment of little children from the demerits of Adam, rather than arguing to the reward of little children because of the merits of Christ. It was the strongly pessimistic theological tradition of St Thomas's time that seems to have disposed him to take for granted that aborted children die in original sin, but the outlook of today is far more positive and open to the hope of their salvation. And what St Thomas says in the citations that will be given below seems to provide a foundation for the belief that aborted babies are granted the grace of salvation.

The necessity of Baptism

St Thomas teaches that '
sacraments are necessary for human salvation' even though 'the Passion of Christ is a sufficient cause of [that] salvation', because '[sacraments] work in virtue of the Passion of Christ, and the Passion of Christ is in some way applied to men through sacraments, according to what the Apostle says in Rom. 6:3: ".... all we who have been baptized in Christ Jesus have been baptized in his death."[12] Now 'the power of Christ is linked to us through faith, but the power to remit sins pertains in a special way to his Passion, and so, men are freed from sins especially through faith in his Passion'.[13] Children too need the grace of Baptism: 'That children contract original sin from the sin of Adam is evident from the fact that they are subject to death ... And so all the more can children receive grace through Christ that they may reign in eternal life. But the Lord himself says in John 3:15: "Unless one has been born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." Consequently, it became necessary to baptize children, in order that, just as through Adam they have incurred damnation in being born, so through Christ they may reach salvation in being reborn.' [14] In sum, 'Baptism of water takes effect from the Passion of Christ, to whom someone is configured through Baptism and, further, from the Holy Spirit, as from the first cause.'

Again: 'The Passion of Christ is shared for a remedy with every baptized person as if that person had suffered and died.' [15] And 'by the Passion of Christ, the door of the heavenly kingdom has been opened for us. [16] Now,

'although the effect depends upon the first cause, nevertheless the cause exceeds the effect and does not depend upon the effect. And, therefore, besides Baptism of water, one can attain to the effect of the sacrament from the Passion of Christ, inasmuch as one is conformed to him by suffering for Christ.... For the same reason also someone can receive the effect of Baptism by the power of the Holy Spirit, not only without Baptism of water, but also without Baptism of blood, insofar as one's heart is moved by the Holy Spirit to believing and loving God and to repenting of one's sins; whence this is also called Baptism of repentance' (cf. Is. 4:4).

Thus, there are three Baptisms, namely, '
of water, of blood, and of the Spirit (flaminis), that is, of the Holy Spirit'.[17] St Augustine is in agreement:

Whence Augustine says [18]: 'That suffering sometimes fills the place of Baptism, Blessed Cyprian not lightly cites the case of that unbaptized thief to whom it was said, Today you will be with me in Paradise. And considering this again and again, I find that not only suffering for the name of Christ can supply what was lacking to Baptism, but also faith and conversion of heart, if perchance, due to the lack of time, a celebration of the mystery of Baptism cannot be arranged.' [19]

With these three kinds of Baptism in mind, St Thomas affirms the necessity of Baptism for salvation: 'Baptism is given for this that someone, having been regenerated by it, may be incorporated into Christ and made a member of him: whence it is said in Galatians 3:27: "For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ." And from this it is manifest that all men are held to Baptism and that without it there cannot be salvation for men.' [20]

Baptism of blood and of desire

Baptism of blood is no contradiction in terms. '
From the side of Christ flowed water for washing and blood for redeeming. Therefore, blood fits the sacrament of the Eucharist, while water fits the sacrament of Baptism. But Baptism has its washing power from the power of the Blood of Christ.'[21] In fact, Baptism of blood is even more powerful than Baptism of water.

For the Passion of Christ works, indeed, in Baptism of water by a certain figurative representation; and in Baptism of the Spirit. or of repentance, by a certain affection; but in Baptism of blood by an imitation of the deed [of Christ on the Cross]. Similarly, the power of the Holy Spirit works in Baptism of water by a certain hidden power, and in Baptism of repentance by a movement of the heart, but in Baptism of blood by a very strong fervour of love and affection (cf. John 15:13). [22]

But Baptism of desire is also possible.

The sacrament of Baptism can be lacking to someone in fact but not in desire, as when someone desires to be baptized, but perchance is taken by death before he can receive Baptism. Such a one can attain to salvation without actual Baptism on account of a desire for Baptism which proceeds from faith working through love (Gal. 5:6), through which God, whose power is not bound by visible sacraments, interiorly sanctifies the man. [23]

Now, according toJohn 3:5, '
unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.' To this St Thomas replies: 'He who desires to be regenerated through Baptism of water and the Holy Spirit is regenerated in heart, although not in body.' [24] Thus, 'The sacrament of Baptism is said to be necessary for salvation because there cannot be salvation for a man unless he has it at least in wish: which with God is considered as accomplished.' [25] And so, 'Just as the fathers of old were saved by faith in Christ to come, so also are we saved by faith in Christ already having been born and having suffered.' [26] By Baptism a person is incorporated into Christ as a member of him. [27] But do not adult converts have to be already believing in Christ before Baptism will be ministered to them? 'Adults who believe in Christ beforehand arc incorporated into him mentally, and afterwards, when they are baptized, they are somehow incorporated into him bodily, viz., through a visible sacrament, without the intention of which they could not have been incorporated even mentally.' [28]

It may seem to some that for little babies Baptism of blood does not take the place of Baptism of water, if Baptism of water takes effect ex opere operato, while Baptism of blood takes place only ex opere operantis, and, therefore, only with the exercise of charity (cf. 1 Cor. 13), something of which little babies are incapable because they do not have the use of free will. To this problem St Thomas responds as follows: 'Baptism of water takes effect from the Passion of Christ inasmuch as it represents it sacramentally, while Baptism of blood Conforms in reality to the Passion of Christ, not by sacramental representation . . . [Hence], as regards the res tantum [sanctifying grace], it totally takes the place of Baptism of water when a moment of need excludes the sacrament.' and so, 'Baptism of blood does not have its effect only ex opere operantis, ... but it has it from imitation of the Passion of Christ. So it is said in Apocalypse 7:14 regarding martyrs: "they have washed their garments in the Blood of the Lamb," and, therefore, children, although they do not have free will, if they are killed for Christ, are saved as baptized in his Blood.' [29]

Sacraments before the coming of Christ

St Thomas teaches that there were sacraments before the coming of Christ. 'It was fitting that before the coming of Christ there be certain visible signs by which a man could profess his faith concerning the future coming of the Saviour. And signs of this kind are called sacraments.'
[30] The efficient cause, to be sure, cannot come afterwards in time, yet nevertheless,

the fathers of old were sanctified by faith in the Passion of Christ, as are we. But the sacraments of the Old Law were declarations of that faith inasmuch as they signified the Passion of Christ and its effects. It is thus evident that the sacraments of the Old Law did not have in themselves any operational power of conferring sanctifying grace, but they only signified the faith by which they [the fathers of old] were sanctified). [31]

Hence, 'circumcision conferred grace inasmuch as it was a sign of the future Passion of Christ.' [32]


According to St Thomas, since Abraham was noted for his faith and is called our father in faith, '
a sign (signaculum), or sacrament, of faith was fashioned for him, namely, circumcision.' [33] And St Thomas explains that circumcision had an express likeness to the taking away of original sin in four ways, of which the fourth way is 'with regard to the shedding of blood, in which is signified the Passion of Christ, through which satisfaction would be made for original sin, and, with regard to this benefit, circumcision is defined as the sign (signaculum) of healing from original sin.' [34] And so the circumcised were thereby disposed for eternal life, even though the gate of Heaven was not yet open. '... because the final positive effect of grace is to make one worthy of eternal life, which was done through circumcision, as is now done also through Baptism', although 'in Baptism greater grace is given'. [35] In fact, the benefit of circumcision was also more restricted than that of Baptism, 'because it had a determined people, a determined sex, and a determined time [the eighth day of birth], which does not occur in Baptism'. [36] Circumcision signified justification by faith in the coming Passion of Christ, 'in such wise that the man who was receiving circumcision was professing that he accepted this faith, either an adult for himself or another for little children'. [37] So circumcision was like the sacraments of the New Law in that it could wipe away sin by its very performance.

It is fitting that a sin contracted from another be taken away by another and, therefore, in every stage (statu) after the Fall there has been some remedy by which original sin could be taken away in virtue of the Passion of Christ. And, again, because a born baby, before he had the use of free will, was not able to prepare himself for grace, in order that he should not be left without any remedy at all, it was needful that some remedy be given which would wipe out sin by its very performance (ex opere operato), and this remedy was circumcision. Therefore, it is conceded by all that, as it signified a removal, it did take away sin, and in this it coincided in some way with the sacraments of the New Law, because it accomplished what it figured. [38]

The role of faith

St Thomas, therefore, points out that, '
before the coming of Christ, people were incorporated into Christ through faith in his future advent, the sign of whose faith was circumcision.' St Paul writes to the Romans:

'Blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not reckon his sin.' Is this blessing pronounced only upon the circumcised, or also upon the uncircumcised? We say that faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received circumcision as a sign or seal of the righteousness which he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, and likewise the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but also follow the example of the faith which our father Abraham had before he was circumcised (Rom. 4:8-12 [RSV]).

And, opines St Thomas, before circumcision was instituted, as St Gregory confirms [39], people were incorporated into Christ by the offering of sacrifices, by which the ancient fathers professed their faith. 'Also after the coming of Christ, people are incorporated into Christ through faith, according to Ephesians 3:17: "that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." ... Hence, although the sacrament itself of Baptism was not always necessary for salvation, nonetheless, faith, of which Baptism is the sacrament, was always necessary.' [40]

Justification of children through faith

Before the institution of circumcision, did faith alone suffice for the justification of children? St Thomas replies:

Just as before the institution of circumcision faith in [the] Christ to come justified both children and adults, so also [was that the case] when circumcision had been given.... But it is probable that believing parents said some prayers to God for their newborn infants, and especially for those in danger, or they performed some blessing upon them which was a kind of sign of faith (signaculum fidei) , just as adults offered prayers and sacrifices for themselves. [41]

However, we do not read in Sacred Scripture that the patriarch Isaac, for instance, offered sacrifice to God. To this St Thomas replies that, while St Gregory (again) maintains [42] that among the ancients original sin was remitted through the offering of sacrifices, nevertheless, 'Isaac signified Christ inasmuch as he was offered in sacrifice (Gen. 22:9-10), and so it was not needful that he should signify as offering sacrifice.' [43] Furthermore, 'it is also said of the children of the ancients that they were saved in the faith of their parents (in fide parentium).' [44] But circumcision was prescribed in the Law for the eighth day after birth, not before, and those who were born during the forty years of wandering in the desert were uncircumcised (cf. Josh. 5:5-6). For St Thomas: 'If some died uncircumcised, they were in the same situation as those who died before the institution of circumcision. And this is also to be understood regarding boys who died before their eighth day in the time of the Law.' [45] Moreover, circumcision was incomplete in its extension only to males. St Thomas explains: 'Circumcision was instituted as a sign of the faith of Abraham, who believed that he would be the father of the Christ promised to him (Rom. 4:11 ff.), and, therefore, it suitably pertained only to males.' [46]

Faith in the mediator

St Thomas asks '
whether faith alone availed little children for the remission of original sin, seeing that Gregory says that for little children faith alone, for adults sacrifices and offerings, were effective [among the ancients] .' [47] And St Thomas responds to his own question: 'Faith in the Mediator was always effective for healing from original sin: their own in those who had the use of free will; of another in the others, lest a divine remedy should be entirely lacking to them.' [48] It seems to St Thomas, following the teaching of St Gregory the Great,

for little children faith alone sufficed without any exterior sign [before the institution of Baptism]; not, however, the habit alone of faith, but an act of it regarding the salvation of this child, by force of an interior profession of faith, whosoever it might be who referred a profession of faith to this child; but this pertained more to his parents, who were obliged to take care of the child and through whom he had contracted original sin. [49]

How could faith alone suffice for the salvation of a child? 'In as much as at one time the faith of another together with some witnessing sufficed for the salvation of a child, this was so insofar as that witnessing had the sacramental power which Baptism of water has now.' [50]

Baptism of babies

In comparing the plight of babies before the institution of Baptism with that of babies in the New Testament, St Thomas treats the following problem: '
The age of childhood is more inclining towards pity than is mature age ... But children are not forgiven original sin simply in exchange for the faith and contrition of others, if Baptism of water be not administered to them. It seems, therefore, that original [sin] together with actual sin is not remitted to adults either without Baptism of water.' [51] And he answers thus: 'Since the salvation of a man regards the greatest values, it cannot be taken away from someone who wants it. But it is in the power of a man to impede another man from being baptized with water. Therefore, there can be salvation even without Baptism of water by faith and contrition alone.' [52] St Thomas points out that Baptism of penance, that is, of desire, is not ordinarily sufficient for salvation, but it is sufficient 'when the moment of need excludes the sacrament from being received, for then, although the repentance is without Baptism in act, it is, nevertheless, with the desire and intention of Baptism, and the wish is considered as the accomplished fact for him who does not have time to perform it'. [53] And so, 'although the age of children is more pitiful, it is, nonetheless, needful, if they must be saved, that there be some reason for salvation in them. And because they cannot be saved by their own act of free will, it is needful that they be saved through the sacrament of Baptism.' [54] But as regards the infant children of non-believers, St Thomas is of the opinion that to baptize them against the will of their parents, even to rescue a child in danger of physical death from the danger of eternal death, would be 'contrary to natural justice' and an infringement upon the order of the natural law 'in virtue of which a child is under the care of his father'. [55]

Sanctification without the sacraments

St Thomas points out that '
it is Christ who principally baptizes' (cf. John 1:33) [56] And so: 'The man who baptizes exercises only an external ministry, while it is Christ who baptizes internally, and he can use all men for whatever he wants.' [57] The human person baptizing acts 'as a minister of Christ, who does not bind [i.e. limit] his power to baptized persons or to the sacraments'. [58] Thus Christ, without the sacrament of Penance, conferred the effect of the sacrament upon Magdalen (Luke 7:48). [59] And Christ conferred Baptism of blood upon the Good Thief on Calvary,even though he was not put to death for witnessing to the teaching of Christ:

Nor was that thief crucified for the name of Christ. On the contrary, as Jerome says, 'Christ turned a penalty for murder into a martyrdom (Christus homicidii poenam in illo latrone fecit esse martyrium)', and it is to be said that he had something of martyrdom, namely, a penalty and a righteous will, and he lacked something for martyrdom, namely a cause, just as in the [Holy] Innocents there was lacking a righteous will, but there was a penalty and a cause. [60]

But God can also administer the sacraments through Angels.

Just as God did not bind his power to the sacraments in such wise that he could not confer the effect of the sacraments without the sacraments, so also he did not bind his power to the ministers of the Church in such wise that he could not bestow even upon angels the power of ministering in sacramental matters. And, since the good angels are messengers of truth, if some sacramental ministry should be carried out by good angels, it must be considered valid (ratum), because it ought to be evident that this was done by divine will, as certain churches are said to have been consecrated by angelic ministry. [61]

However, 'what men do in a lower way, viz., through sensible sacraments, which are proportionate to their nature, angels do as higher ministers in a higher way, viz., by invisibly cleansing, illuminating, and perfecting.' [62]

The child in the womb

Regarding babies in the womb: '
Children in their mothers' wombs cannot be subjected to the actions of humans in such a way that through their ministry they may receive the sacraments of salvation. But they can be subject to the work of God, in whose presence they live, that by a privilege of grace they may obtain sanctification, as is evident from those who have been sanctified in the womb'. [63] According to St Thomas, 'Sanctification in the womb is Baptism of the Spirit (Baptismus flaminis).' [64]

St Thomas mentions the Blessed Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, and the prophet Jeremiah as prime examples of persons who have been sanctified 'outside of the common law as though miraculously in their mothers' wombs'. [65] An act of the mind can extend equally to the born or to the preborn. If, therefore, faith ever were sufficient for wiping out original sin, why cannot those in the womb be cleansed from original sin through the faith of another? St Thomas replies:

A child living in the womb of his mother does not, as far as human knowledge can tell (quantum ad humanam cognitionem pertinet), have being that is separate (distinctum) from his mother, and, therefore, cannot be reached by an act of man, whether in these times to be cleansed from original sin through Baptism, or in those [ancient] times to be cleansed through the faith of his parents, but he can be divinely cleansed, as appears in the case of those who have been sanctified in the womb. [66]

Nevertheless, a child in his mother's womb is 'entirely another according to the rational soul which he has from without.' [67] Why, then, such as was the case at Sodom, does God punish little children for the sins of their parents? 'Little children are temporally punished together with their parents for two reasons: because they belong to their parents, and so their parents are punished in them; and because this turns to their good, lest, if they were spared, they might be imitators of their parents' malice and thus might merit heavier penalties.' [68]

Children and the divine mercy

St Thomas maintains that salvation is available in some way to everyone.

Just as there was no stage of the world at which the way of salvation was shut to the human race, so there is no age of the individual man in which the way of salvation is shut. And so, since original sin is in children, by which they are impeded from attaining to eternal salvation, it is needful that some remedy be used for them to remove the aforesaid impediment, and this is Baptism. Hence, whoever denies that Baptism can be afforded to little children is denying the divine mercy, on account of which it is heretical to say this. [69]

Yet, St Thomas holds that 'no one should be baptized before he is born from the womb', or, more strongly, 'in no way can those living in their mother's womb be baptized.' [70] But those in the womb have independent existence. 'A child living in the mother's womb pertains to her by a certain connection of distinct bodies.' [71] Babies in their mothers' wombs cannot be baptized 'because they cannot be subjected to the activity of the ministers of the Church, through whom such remedies are administered.' [72] As Augustine says in his letter to Dardanus: [73] 'No one is reborn unless he is first born.' And, adds St Thomas, 'Baptism is a spiritual regeneration. Therefore, no one should be baptized before he is born from the womb.' [74] But, he adds, 'if a mother should die while a child is living in her womb, the womb should be opened and the child should be baptized.' [75] Furthermore, he notes, 'Those who are asleep are not to be baptized unless they are in immediate danger of death.' [76] And babies cannot sin gravely either before death or after: 'Since children before the use of reason do not have an inordinate act of the will, neither will they have one after death.' [77]

The salvation of babies

How can babies be baptized, when they cannot intend to be baptized? St Thomas points out that

as children in their mothers' wombs do not receive nourishment by themselves, but are sustained by the nourishment of their mother, so also children not having the use of reason, being, as it were, in the womb of Mother Church, receive salvation by an act of the Church.... And, for the same reason, they can be said to be intending, not by an act of their own intention, since they sometimes resist and cry, but by the act of those by whom they are being offered. [78]

Can little babies have faith or a good conscience without having the use of reason?

A little child believes through others, not by himself, and so he is questioned, not himself [directly] but through others, and those questioned confess the faith of the Church in the person of the child, who is aggregated to this faith by the sacrament of faith. But the child acquires a good conscience even in himself, not, to be sure, in act, but in disposition (habitu) through sanctifying grace. [79]

In the Church of the Saviour, as Augustine says [80], 'Little children are presented to receive spiritual grace, not so much by those in whose hands they are carried, although also by them, if they too are good believers, as by the entire company of the saints and of the faithful.' And thus St Thomas is led to say in a passage rich with implications: 'the faith of one [person], indeed of the whole Church, benefits the little child through the working of the Holy Spirit, who unites the Church and communicates the good things of one [individual] to another.' [81] In fact, he avers, 'The prayers which are said in the administration of the sacraments are offered to God, not on the part of the individual person, but on the part of the entire Church.' [82] Consequently, 'Children believe, not by their own act, but by the faith of the Church, which is imparted to them. And, by dint of this faith, grace and the virtues are conferred upon them.' [83] Furthermore, 'since children are baptized, not in their own faith but in the faith of the Church, they are all equally disposed towards Baptism, and they all receive an equal effect in Baptism.' [84] Hence, it does not really matter what the intention is of those who are carrying them. [85]

Application to the question of aborted babies

Just as the teaching of the Church allows us '
to hope that there is a way of salvation' for little children who die without having received the sacrament of Baptism, so does the teaching of St Thomas leave the door of salvation open to them. St Thomas does not teach that aborted babies are saved, but what he says in scattered responses relating to this question seems to lay a solid theological foundation for hope of their salvation. Regarding these responses I note the following.

(a) When St Thomas recommends that the babies of non-believers not be baptized, even in danger of death, if their parents are unwilling, he must be speaking only about remote danger of death, because to grant a natural right to parents of excluding their children from Heaven is unthinkable. In fact, it is against the teaching and practice of the Church (cf. canon 868.2 of the 1983
Code of Canon Law). And we can confidently say that the natural right of parents to care for their child ends with their decision to murder their child and is then superseded by the right of the Church to sanctify that child (cf. Prov. 24:11).

(b) St Thomas says with reference to the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, that they are considered to be martyrs, even though they did not have the conscious intention or desire to suffer for Christ, because they did suffer the penalty of death on account of him. Hence, if babies killed in the womb suffer the penalty of death in some way because of Christ, they may be eligible to become martyrs of Christ.

(c) St Thomas declares that little children intend and believe, not by themselves, but through others, namely, through their parents or their sponsors, but especially through the entire membership of the Church. Hence, to the extent that babies being aborted are sponsored in faith by members of the Church in Heaven or on earth, they may be said to have belief in the saving power of Christ and to have the intention of suffering in union with the Passion of Christ, which adds another element to their eligibility for the grace of martyrdom.

(d) St Thomas points out that Baptism of desire takes the place of Baptism of water only when circumstances exclude the receiving of the sacrament. Otherwise, the Lord Jesus has established the rule that Baptism of water is necessary for salvation. But babies being aborted are in a situation in which they are prevented from receiving the sacrament of Baptism.

(e) St Thomas avers that salvation is available in some way at every age in the life of every human individual. But living in the womb is an age in the life of every human individual, since human embryos and human fetuses are already human individuals endowed with a human soul and with the faculties of intelligence and free will. Therefore, salvation must in some way be available to them, especially if they are facing death in the womb. But Baptism of water is not available, and so, some other means of salvation must be at hand.

(f) St Thomas maintains that, since 'it is in the power of a man to impede another man from being baptized with water', therefore, 'there can be salvation even without Baptism of water by faith and contrition alone.' But babies being killed in the womb are being prevented by the power of man from ever receiving Baptism of water. And, as innocent children, they have no need of contrition, while their faith can be supplied from the faith of the Church. Therefore, sanctification should in some way be available to them.

(g) No one deserves sanctifying grace and no one merits the first grace, but the only great obstacle to the merciful love of Jesus is bad will, and St Thomas assures us that babies in the womb '
do not have an inordinate act of the will'. Hence, they are fully disposed for an infusion of sanctifying grace, either directly by Christ or indirectly through the ministry of others. St Thomas also teaches that, since original sin is in children, it is needful that some remedy be available to them, and he goes on to say that 'whoever denies that Baptism can be afforded to little children is denying the divine mercy'. Hence, one might equally argue that whoever denies that sanctification is in some way available to children being aborted from the womb is denying the divine mercy.

(h) St Thomas maintains that children in their mothers' wombs cannot be subjected to the physical or the mental acts of human beings in such wise as to be administered the sacraments of salvation, although they can, 'by a privilege of grace,' be sanctified by the work of God, 'outside of the common law', as though miraculously, 'as is evident from those who have been sanctified in the womb'. It seems that St Thomas is here referring to a general law laid down by Jesus and cited by St Augustine to the effect that children who are going to be born are not to be baptized until they are actually born. However, this law would not seem to apply to children who will never be born. And thus St Thomas can also say that 'if a mother should die while a child is living in her womb, the womb should be opened and the child should be baptized.' But not without hesitation does St Thomas venture to claim that a child in his mother's womb cannot be cleansed from original sin by any act of man, whether physical or mental, for he adds 'as far as human knowledge can tell'. In this he is relying partly upon the medical knowledge available in his time. Modern medicine can reach the child physically in the womb. [86]

(i) St Thomas explains that, when children are being baptized, 'it does not matter what the intention is of those who are carrying them', because children intend and believe through the faith of the Church. Hence, the murder of an infant in the womb can be received as a martyrdom.

(j) St Thomas notes with the Church (cf. CCC 1257) that it is Christ who principally baptizes, but the Lord did not limit his saving power to the sacraments. We know of the willingness of Jesus to let the little children come unto him (Mark 10:14). Now, St Thomas points out that circumcision was an efficacious sign of healing from original sin, not least in the shedding of the blood of an infant, 'in which is signified the Passion of Christ'. Why, then, would Jesus not see, in the putting to death of an infant in the womb, a sign of his own Passion, and so administer to the child, either directly or through others, his healing and saving grace?

(k) St Thomas recalls that the children of the ancients 'were saved in the faith of their parents' or of some other believing adult. St Thomas does not include children in the womb in this operation of faith, which, he says, 'had the sacramental power which Baptism of water has now'. However, he was not adverting to the special case of infants being killed in the womb. Now, the virtue of Christian faith is not weaker after the coming of Christ that it was before. Why, therefore, can we not believe with grounded hope thatJesus will use the faith of his Church, and in particular the charity of Blessed Mary and of the saints along with the fervour of his faithful on earth, to sanctify these victimized babies? This would be an act of living faith, not having the sacramental power of Baptism, but having intercessory power with the Heart of Jesus.

(1) St Thomas allows that, as at Sodom, little children - even children in the womb - may be temporally punished for the sins of their parents, but he does not say that they may be eternally punished for their parents' sins. Yet to be deprived of Heaven because of the sin of one's First Parents would be an eternal penalty that St Thomas does not seem to envisage here. Nor does St Thomas anywhere visualize anyone being punished for sins that he would have committed in other circumstances, but never actually carried out.

(m) St Thomas gives reasons why, under the Old Law, circumcision was given to males as a remedy for original sin, but not to females, and he points out that male infants who were faced with death before their eighth day of birth could be saved eternally by an act of faith on the part of their parents. But he says nothing specifically about how female infants could be saved, and yet it is contrary to the tenor of his thought to assume that he visualized no ordinary means of salvation for females throughout the entire period of the Old Testament. Similarly, it is reasonable to assume that, while St Thomas does not speak specifically about a remedy for original sin in infants being murdered in the womb, his general principles would allow for some ordinary means of salvation for these infants, over and above a rare direct sanctification by Jesus alone.

Infants being aborted are a special object of divine mercy for at least two reasons: they are absolutely free of personal sin, even though they are stained with original sin, and they are being murdered by their own parents. Now, being murdered by one's own parents is a sin against the natural law that cries out to Heaven. Since Jesus, our Saviour, '
will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth' (1 Tim. 2:4), he also wants children undergoing deadly assault in the womb to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, the truth that he is. The Blessed Virgin Mary, as the new Eve, the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of the Church, is also the Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix of babies being attacked in the womb. In fact, we might say, every time the knife of an abortionist pierces one of their hearts, a sword of sorrow pierces her heart (cf. Luke 2:35). Seeing them dying in the state of original sin, will she not say once again to her divine Son, 'they have no wine' (John 2:3). If Jesus willed to convert the heart of Saul, who 'persecuted the Church of God' (1 Cor. 15:9), into Paul the Apostle and martyr, if Jesus, looking with pity upon a dying thief on Calvary, 'turned a penalty for murder into a martyrdom', will he refuse to convert the tiny hearts of these innocent victims into confessors of his mercy? If Isaac signified Christ in that he was being offered in sacrifice to God, why would Jesus not see in the deliberate killing of a human fetus a representation of his own death on Calvary?

All children in the womb have guardian angels, since 'human life from its very beginning ("inde ab initio") until death is in their care and is surrounded by their intercession' (CCC, no. 336). But when do children need the care and intercession of their guardian angels more than at the moment in which they are being assaulted to the point of death itself in the womb? And Angels can sanctify (cf. Isa. 6:7), when commissioned by God to do so.

Of course, Lazarus was carried by Angels to Abraham's bosom (Luke 16:22), that is, to the Limbo of the Fathers, but this was only a temporary waiting place until Jesus should open the door to Heaven. Now that Jesus has opened the door to Heaven, are we to suppose the guardian angels drop off the souls of aborted children in the Limbo of Children as they themselves proceed on their way back to Heaven? It does not seem so. Jesus says: 'He that shall receive one such little child in my name receives me' (Matt. 18:5). Therefore, conversely, whoever kills one such little child in opposition to the will of Jesus (Mark 10:19) is killing Jesus. And Jesus also said: 'their angels in Heaven always see the face of my Father who is in Heaven' (Malt 18:10). Does there not seem to be a hint in these words that, if a little child is killed in the womb in contempt of his vocation to see forever the Face of God in Heaven, the angels will, nevertheless, carry the soul of that little child to Heaven, 'for the Son of Man is come to save that which is lost' (Matt. 18:11).


St Thomas, while he assumed that aborted children die in original sin unless they are sanctified in some way apart from Baptism of water, also enuntiated various facts and principles which support the hope that aborted babies are sanctified at the moment of their death. These elements include such things as the martyrdom of infants, the vicarious faith of the Church, the availability of sanctification at every age of the human individual, sanctification in the womb, and sanctification by Jesus directly or through the ministry of Angels.

The Church, in the growing awareness of the merciful love of Jesus and the maternal love of Mary, has tended more and more to manifest her hope for the salvation of unbaptized babies. In view of John 3:5, the Church cannot guarantee this, and she must insist that infants be baptized at the earliest reasonable moment after their birth. But aborted babies are a special case. And so, considering the special reasons pertaining to this case as reviewed in the present article, and relying on a wider interpretation of Matthew 2:18 and Jeremiah 31:16, together with Luke 23:43, Luke 2:35, Genesis 3:15, Apocalypse 12:17; Apocalypse 7:14, and a multitude of supporting Scriptural texts, I conclude, subject to the final judgment of the Church, that the Magisterium could proclaim all infants murdered in the womb to be companion martyrs of the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, cleansed and sanctified at the moment of their death in the redemptive Blood of Christ.


1. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Donum vitae, I. 1.
2. R. Lawler, D. Wuerl, and T. Lawler (eds.),
The Teaching of Christ (Huntington, md: Our Sunday Visitor, 1976), p. 529.
3. Cf.J. Pohle, 'Pelagius and Pelagianism',
The Catholic Encyclopaedia, vol. 11 (New York: Encyclopaedia Press, 1911), p. 607A.
4. Pope Pius XII, Discourse of 29 October, 1951.
5. Alphonsus Liguori,
Theologia Moralis, Bk. 6, tract. 2, ch 1, no. 97.
6. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
Pastoralis actio, art. 13.
Roman Catechism, Part II, 'Baptism'.
8. Aquinas,
De Malo, q. 5 art. 2 corp. et ad 1.
9. For a brief history of this theological discussion, see P. J. Toner, 'Limbo',
The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 9 (New York: Encyclopaedia Press, 1909), pp. 256-259.
10. Aquinas,
In IV Sent., dist. 43 q. 1 art. lb = S. Th., Suppl. q. 75 art. 2.
11. Augustine,
De civitate Dei, bk. 20, ch. 23.
12. Aquinas,
S. Th., III q. 61, art. 1, corp. and ad 3.
13. Aquinas,
S. Th., III q. 62, art. 5, ad 2.
14. Aquinas,
S. Th., III q. 68, art. 9, corp.
15. Aquinas,
S. Th., III q. 69, art. 2, corp.
16. Aquinas,
S. Th., III q. 49, art. 5, corp.
17. Aquinas,
S. Th., III q. 66, art. 11, tit. and corp.
18. Augustine,
De Baptismo contra Donatistas, bk. 4, ch. 22: PL Vol. 43, col. 173.
19. Aquinas,
S. Th., III q. 66, art. 11, corp.
20. Aquinas,
S. Th., III q. 68, art. 1, corp.
21. Aquinas,
S. Th., III q. 66, art. 3, ad 3.
22. Aquinas,
S. Th., III q. 66, art. 12, corp.
23. Aquinas,
S. Th., III q. 68, art. 2, corp.
24. Aquinas,
S. Th., III q. 68, art. 2, ad 1.
25. Aquinas,
S. Th., III q. 68, art. 2, ad 3.
26. Aquinas,
S. Th., III q. 61, art. 4, corp.
27. Aquinas,
S. Th., III q. 69, art. 5, corp.
28. Aquinas,
S. Th., III q. 69, art. 5, ad 1.
29. Aquinas,
In IV Sent., dist. 4, q. 3, art. 3e, ad 1.
30. Aquinas,
S. Th., III q. 61, art. 3, corp.
31. Aquinas,
S. Th., III q. 62, art. 6, corp.
32. Aquinas,
S. Th., III q. 62, art. 6, ad 3.
33. Aquinas,
In IV Sent., dist. 1, q. 1, art. 2d.
34. Aquinas,
In IV Sent., dist. 1, q. 2, art. la
35. Aquinas,
In IV Sent., dist. 1, q. 2, art. 4c
36. Aquinas,
In IV Sent., dist. 1, q. 2, art. 5a.
37. Aquinas,
S. Th. III q. 70 art. 4 corp.
38. Aquinas,
In IV Sent., In IV Sent. dist. 1, q. 2, art. 4b.
39. Gregory the Great,
Moralia in Job, PL Vol. 75, col. 635B.
40. Aquinas,
S. Th. III q. 68, art. 1, ad 1.
41. Aquinas,
S. Th. III q. 70, art. 4, ad 2.
42. Gregory the Great
Moralia in Job, bk. 4, ch. 3 PL Vol. 75, col. 635B.
43. Aquinas,
S. Th. Il-Il q. 85, art. 1 ad 2.
44. Aquinas,
S. Th. III q. 68, art. 10, corp.
45. Aquinas,
S. Th. III q. 70, art. 4, ad 3.
46. Aquinas,
S. Th. III q. 70, art. 2 and 4.
47. Aquinas,
In IV Sent., dist. 1, art. 6c, sed contra.
48. Aquinas,
In IV Sent., dist. 1, q. 2 art. 6a, corp.
49. Aquinas,
In IV Sent., dist. 1, q. 2 art. 6b, corp.
50. Aquinas,
In IV Sent., dist. 4, q. 3 art. 3b, ad 3.

51. Aquinas, In IV Sent., dist. 4, q. 3 art. 3b, ob 3.
52. Aquinas,
In IV Sent., dist. 4, q. 3 art. 3b, sed contra 1.
53. Aquinas,
In IV Sent., dist. 4, q. 3 art. 3b, corp.
54. Aquinas,
In IV Sent., dist. 4, q. 3 art. 3b, ad 3.
55. Aquinas,
S. Th. III q. 68, art. 10.
56. Aquinas,
S. Th. III q. 67, art. 4, corp.
57. Aquinas,
S. Th. III q. 67, art. 5, ad 1.
58. Aquinas,
S. Th. III q. 67, art. 5, ad 2.
59. Aquinas,
S. Th. III q. 64, art. 3, ad 4.
60. Aquinas,
In IV Sent., dist. 4, q. 3, art. 3d, ex.
61. Aquinas,
S. Th. III q. 64, art. 7, corp.
62. Aquinas,
S. Th. III q. 64, art. 7, ad 1.
63. Aquinas,
S. Th. III q. 68, art. 11, ad 1.
64. Aquinas,
In IVSent., dist. 6, q. 1, art. ic, sed contra 2.
65. Aquinas,
In IV Sent., dist. 6, q. 1, art. ib, corp.
66. Aquinas,
In IV Sent., dist. 1, q. 2, art. 6b, ad 2.
67. Aquinas,
In IV Sent., dist. 6, q. 1, art. la, ad 2.
68. Aquinas,
S. Th., Il-Il q. 108, art. 4, ad 3.
69. Aquinas,
In IV Sent., dist. 4, q. 3 art. la, corp.
70. Aquinas,
S. Th., III q. 68, art. 11, sed contra and corp.
71. Aquinas
S. Th., III q. 68, art. 11, ad 2.
72. Aquinas,
In IV Sent dist 6 q. 1, art. la, corp.
73. Augustine,
Epistola 187, PL Vol. 33, col. 844.

74. Aquinas, S. Th., III q. 68, art. 11, sed contra.

75. Aquinas, S. Th., III q. 68, art. 11, ad 3.
76. Aquinas,
In IV Sent., dist. 4, q. 3 art. ic, ad 3.
77. Aquinas,
De Malo q. 5 art. 3, corp.
78. Aquinas,
S. Th. III q. 68, art. 9, ad 1.
79. Aquinas,
S. Th. III q. 68, art. 9, ad 2.
80. Augustine,
Epistola ad Bonifacium, PL Vol. 33, col. 362.
81. Aquinas,
S. Th. III q. 68, art. 9, ad 2.
82. Aquinas,
S. Th. III q. 64, art. 1, ad 2.
83. Aquinas,
S. Th. III q. 69, art. 6, ad 3.
84. Aquinas,
S. Th. III q. 69, art. 8, corp.
85. Aquinas,
S. Th. III q. 69, art. 6, ad 4: quoting Augustine: PL 33361.
86. Alphonsus Liguori,
Theologia moralis, bk 6, tract 2, cf. 1, no. 107.

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