This is a repost of a florilegium compiled by someone else who has given their permission to repost it and requests they remain unnamed. LikeIfall florilegiums, this is a living document so if you have additional quotations on the topic, regardless of which position they take, please post them in the comments section below or email them to us at email@example.com and we will add them.
This is simply a compilation of quotations from the Church Fathers, known as a “florilegium,” on the topic of what happens to infants who die unbaptized. The most authoritatively the Church has spoken on this are the council of Carthage in 419 (accepted by Trullo in the East in 692) and in the Confession of Dositheus (accepted by the pan-Orthodox Council of Jerusalem in 1672). As read via the Church Fathers quoted below, these two statements seem to indicate that infants, far from being tormented as unrepentant sinners will be, are placed in a state of limbo wherein they will await the judgement and will be glorified in the Resurrection according to the level of glory they attained in their short sinless lives on Earth. More than that, nothing is known.
St. Irenaeus (d. 202)
“He [Jesus] came to save all through himself; all, I say, who through him are reborn in God [baptized]: infants, and children, and youths, and old men. Therefore he passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, sanctifying infants; a child for children, sanctifying those who are of that age . . . [so that] he might be the perfect teacher in all things, perfect not only in respect to the setting forth of truth, perfect also in respect to relative age” (Against Heresies 2:22:4 [A.D. 189]).
St Gregory the Theologian (d. 390)
“Do you have an infant child? Allow sin no opportunity; rather, let the infant be sanctified from childhood. From his most tender age let him be consecrated by the Spirit. Do you fear the seal [of baptism] because of the weakness of nature? Oh, what a pusillanimous mother and of how little faith!” (Oration on Holy Baptism 40:7 [A.D. 388]).
“‘Well enough,’ some will say, ‘for those who ask for baptism, but what do you have to say about those who are still children, and aware neither of loss nor of grace? Shall we baptize them too?’ Certainly [I respond], if there is any pressing danger. Better that they be sanctified unaware, than that they depart unsealed and uninitiated” (ibid., 40:28).
St. Gregory of Nyssa (d. 395)
“It is a sign of the perfection of God’s providence, that he not only heals maladies that have come into existence, but also provides that some should be never mixed up at all in the things which he has forbidden; it is reasonable to expect that he who knows the future equally with the past should check the advance of an infant to complete maturity, in order that the evil may not be developed which his foreknowledge has detected in his future life, and in order that a lifetime granted to one whose evil dispositions will be lifelong may not become the actual material for his vice.
“Therefore, to prevent one who has indulged in the carousals to an improper extent from lingering over so profusely furnished a table, he is early taken from the number of the banqueters, and thereby secures an escape out of those evils which unmeasured indulgence procures for gluttons. This is that achievement of a perfect Providence which I spoke of; namely, not only to heal evils that have been committed, but also to forestall them [foreknown evils] before they have been committed; and this, we suspect, is the cause of the deaths of new-born infants.
“But seeing that our reason in this matter has to grope in the dark, clearly no one can complain if its conjecturing leads our mind to a variety of conclusions. Well, then, not only one might pronounce that God, in kindness to the founders of some family, withdraws a member of it who is going to live a bad life from that bad life, but, even if there is no antecedent such as this in the case of some early deaths, it is not unreasonable to conjecture that they would have plunged into a vicious life with a more desperate vehemence than any of those who have actually become notorious for their wickedness. That nothing happens without God we know from many sources; and, reversely, that God’s dispensations have no element of chance and confusion in them every one will allow, who realizes that God is reason, and wisdom, and perfect goodness, and truth, and could not admit of that which is not good and not consistent with his truth. Whether, then, the early deaths of infants are to be attributed to the aforesaid causes, or whether there is some further cause of them beyond these, it befits us to acknowledge that these things happen for the best.
“The premature deaths of infants have nothing in them to suggest the thought that one who so terminates his life is subject to some grievous misfortune, any more than they are to be put on a level with the deaths of those who have purified themselves in this life by every kind of virtue; the more far-seeing providence of God curtails the immensity of sins in the case of those whose lives are going to be so evil. That some of the wicked have lived on does not upset this reason which we have rendered; for the evil was in their case hindered in kindness to their parents; whereas, in the case of those whose parents have never imparted to them any power of calling upon God, such a form of the Divine kindness, which accompanies such a power, is not transmitted to their own children; otherwise the infant now prevented by death from growing up wicked would have exhibited a far more desperate wickedness than the most notorious sinners, seeing that it would have been unhindered.” -On Infants’ Early Deaths
St Ambrose of Milan (d. 398)
“Unless one be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. He excepts no one, neither the infant nor one hindered by unavoidable accident. These may, indeed, enjoy some unexplained immunity from suffering, but I fail to see how they can possess the honour of the Kingdom.” -On Abraham, 2:11:84
Pope St. Innocent (d. 417)
But that which Your Fraternity asserts the Pelagians preach, that even without the grace of Baptism infants are able to be endowed with the rewards of eternal life, is quite idiotic. But those who defend this for them without rebirth seem to me to want to quash Baptism itself, when they preach that infants already have what is believed to be conferred on them only through Baptism. (Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3: 2016.)
“The idea that infants can be granted the rewards of eternal life even without the grace of baptism is utterly foolish” (Denzinger 219). To the Synod of Milevis
Pope Zosimus (d. 418)
“If anyone says that, because the Lord said ‘In My Father’s house are many mansions,’ 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 departed from this life without Baptism, without which they cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven which is life eternal: Let him be anathema. For when the Lord says ‘Unless one be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he shall not enter into the Kingdom of God,’ what Catholic will doubt that one who has not deserved to be a co-heir with Christ will be a partner of the Devil?” -Council of Carthage XVI, Canon 3, Denzinger , 30th edition, p.45, note 2
Council of Carthage (419)
Anciently attached to the 110th Latin canon although not in the Greek. “Also it seemed good, that if anyone should say that the saying of the Lord, In my Father’s house are many mansions is to be understood as meaning that in the kingdom of heaven there will be a certain middle place, or some place somewhere, in which infants live in happiness who have gone forth from this life without baptism, without which they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, which is eternal life, let him be anathema. For after our Lord has said: Unless a man be born again of water and of the Holy Spirit he shall not enter the kingdom of heaven, what Catholic can doubt that he who has not merited to be coheir with Christ shall become a sharer with the devil: for he who fails of the right hand without doubt shall receive the left hand portion.”
St. Augustine of Hippo (d. 430)
“Likewise, whosoever says that those children who depart out of this life without partaking of that sacrament shall be made alive in Christ, certainly contradicts the apostolic declaration, and condemns the universal Church, in which it is the practice to lose no time and run in haste to administer baptism to infant children, because it is believed, as an indubitable truth, that otherwise they cannot be made alive in Christ. Now he that is not made alive in Christ must necessarily remain under the condemnation, of which the apostle says, that ‘by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation’ [Romans 5:18]. That infants are born under the guilt [reatus, actually “liability”] of this offense is believed by the whole Church”
-Treatise on the Origin of the Human Soul, Addressed to Jerome, Ch 7, #21
“Because even renewed parents beget children, not out of the first-fruits of their renewed condition, but carnally out of the remains of the old nature; and the children who are thus the offspring of their parents’ remaining old nature, and are born in sinful flesh, escape from the condemnation which is due to the old man by the sacrament of spiritual regeneration and renewal”
-On the Merits and the Forgiveness of Sins, and the Baptism of Infants Book II, Ch 44, XXVII
“If you want to be a Catholic, do not believe, do not say, and do not teach that infants carried off by death before they are baptized can attain the remission of original sin.”
-On the Soul and its Origin Book II, AD 419
“Even an infant, therefore, must be imbued with the sacrament of regeneration, lest without it his would be an unhappy exit out of this life; and this baptism is not administered except for the remission of sins. And so much does Christ show us in this very passage; for when asked, How could such things be? He reminded His questioner of what Moses did when he lifted up the serpent. Inasmuch, then, as infants are by the sacrament of baptism conformed to the death of Christ, it must be admitted that they are also freed from the serpent’s poisonous bite, unless we wilfully wander from the rule of the Christian faith. This bite, however, they did not receive in their own actual life, but in him on whom the wound was primarily inflicted”
-On the Merits and the Forgiveness of Sins, and the Baptism of Infants Book II, Ch 43, XXVII.
“It will happen, I believe… that those last mentioned [infants dying without Baptism] will neither be admitted by the just judge to the glory of Heaven nor condemned to suffer punishment, since, though unsealed [by Baptism], they are not wicked… For from the fact that one does not merit punishment it does not follow that one is worthy to be honored, any more than it follows that one who is not worthy of a certain honor deserves on that account to be punished” -Oration on Holy Baptism, 40:23
Pope St. Gregory the Great (d. 604)
“For there be some that are withdrawn from the present light, before they attain to shew forth the good or evil deserts of an active life. And whereas the Sacraments of salvation do not free them from the sin of their birth, at the same time that here they never did aright by their own act; there they are brought to torment. And these have one wound, viz. to be born in corruption, and another, to die in the flesh… As if reviewing the woes of mankind he said in plain words; With what sort of visitation does the strict Judge mercilessly slay those, whom the guilt of their own deeds condemns, if He smites for all eternity even those, whom the guilt of deliberate choice does not impeach?” -Moralia 9, on the Book of Job
St. Symeon the New Theologian (d. 1022)
“Therefore, if anyone, having experienced beforehand such disgrace and insignificant, shall then become proud, is he not senseless and blind? That saying that calls no one sinless except God, even though he has lived only one day on earth, does not refer to those who sin personally, because how can a one day old child sin? But in this is expressed that mystery of our Faith, that human nature is sinful from its very conception. God did not create man sinful, but pure and holy. But since the first-created Adam lost this garment of sanctity, not from any other sin but from pride alone, and became corruptible and mortal, all people also who come from the seed of Adam are participants of the ancestral sin from their very conception and birth. He who has been born in this way, even though he has not yet performed any sin, is already sinful through this ancestral sin. For this reason there has come another birth, or rebirth, which regenerates man through Holy Baptism by the Holy Spirit, again unites him with the Divine nature as it was when he was created by the hands of God, restores all the powers of his soul, renews them and brings them to the condition in which they were before the transgression of first-created Adam; in this way it leads him into the Kingdom of God, into which no one unbaptized can enter, and enlightens him with its light and grants him to taste its joys.” Homily 37:3
“Thus, in soul Adam died immediately, as soon as he had tasted [from the fruit of that tree from which God had commanded him not to taste, threatening him that if he should only taste of it he should die]; and later, after nine hundred and thirty years, he died also in body. For, as the death of the body is the separation of it of the soul, so the death of the soul is the separation from it of the Holy Spirit… Later, for this reason, the whole human race also became such as our forefather Adam became through the fall – mortal, that is, both in soul and body. Man such as God had created him no longer existed in the World” (Homily 45:3).
The Lenten Triodion. Originally compiled in the 14th century by the monk Nikephorus Xanthopolous
“We should also know that when baptized infants die, they enjoy the Paradise of delight, whereas those not illumined by
Baptism and those born of pagans go neither to Paradise nor to Gehenna. When the soul departs from the body, it has no concern for the things of this world, but only for the things of the Heavenly realm.” (Saturday before Meatfare Sunday)
Confession of Dositheus (1672) Ratified by the Pan-Orthodox council of Jerusalem in 1672
“And, therefore, baptism is necessary even for infants, since they also are subject to original sin, and without Baptism are not able to obtain its remission. Which the Lord showed when he said, not of some only, but simply and absolutely, “Whoever is not born [again],” which is the same as saying, “All that after the coming of Christ the Savior would enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens must be regenerated.” And since infants are men, and as such need salvation, needing salvation they need also Baptism. And those that are not regenerated, since they have not received the remission of hereditary sin, are, of necessity, subject to eternal punishment, and consequently cannot without Baptism be saved. So that even infants should, of necessity, be baptized.”
**Notice it says “punishment” and not “torments.” The compiler believes the reference is the “punishment” of not being able to attain theosis in limbo as one can only be glorified in the resurrection according to the glory one attained in this world and having not been baptized, they have not *yet* been made God’s property in a way the Church has declared.
9 thoughts on “Limbo, Orthodoxy, and the Fate of Unbaptized Infants”
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The Council of Carthage seems to completely eliminate any possibility that infants will receive some kind of happiness. I wonder if the East, through Trullo, ever accepted this canon in particular, as it would, frankly, make the Lenten Triodion heretical, since belief in some kind of middle place is anathema.
“Anciently attached to the 110th Latin canon although not in the Greek. “Also it seemed good, that if anyone should say that the saying of the Lord, In my Father’s house are many mansions is to be understood as meaning that in the kingdom of heaven there will be a certain middle place, or some place somewhere, in which infants live in happiness who have gone forth from this life without baptism, without which they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, which is eternal life, let him be anathema. For after our Lord has said: Unless a man be born again of water and of the Holy Spirit he shall not enter the kingdom of heaven, what Catholic can doubt that he who has not merited to be coheir with Christ shall become a sharer with the devil: for he who fails of the right hand without doubt shall receive the left hand portion.”
The Greek version of the canon does not include this part, so it wasn’t received at Trullo. However, it does not contradict the Triodion or preclude infants from experiencing some kind of happiness. It says there’s no middle place in the *Kingdom of Heaven.* “Limbo” is not in the Kingdom of Heaven.
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I noticed also missing was the quotes by St Ephraim the Syrian:
Ephraim the Syrian says that infants in paradise are equal to angels and they will be higher than many saints for their sinlessness. Unbaptized children will be in paradise, will be saved, and God will determine the measure of their bliss
And the apocryphal “Apocalypse of Peter” states:
That, in heaven, aborted children are cared for by an angel named Temlakos. He writes, “The children shall be given over to the caretaking angel Temlakos, and those who slew the children will be punished forever, for this is God’s will.” Though it is not canonical, so I don’t know how authentic that is.
Do you have the exact citation from those two sources so we can find approved translations and add them to the florilegium?
So with regards to the Sain Ephraim quotes:
There the married state finds rest after having been anguished by the pangs of giving birth, brought on by the curse and by the pain of childbearing; now it sees the children whom it had buried amid laments, pasturing like lambs in Eden; exalted in their ranks,
glorious in their splendours, they are like kindred of the spotless angels.
Hymns on Paradise (Hymn 7(VII), verse 8)
The river of humanity consists of people of all ages, with old, young, children and babes,
infants in their mothers’ arms and others still unborn, in the womb.
Such is the sequence of Paradise’s fruit: firstfruits issued forth with the autumn harvest, wave upon wave, fecund with blossoms and fruit.
Hymns on Paradise (Hymn 10[X], verse 13)
There are several more I recalls seeing but I don’t know where they are
The Apocalypse of Peter, while quite dubious in it’s statements was genuinely considered canonical by Clement of Alexandria(I know he is not a saint, but his views would have been pretty popular at the time):
“As for their children, they shall be delivered unto the angel Temlakos (i.e. a
care-taking angel: see above, in the Fragments). And they that slew them shall be tormented eternally, for God willeth it so.”
I have no idea how to reference it so I added the link with the text
The Shepherd of Hermas which was considered canonical by several church fathers and quoted most prominently Saint Iraneus of Lyons states:
“They are as infant children in whose hearts no evil originates; nor did they know what wickedness is, but always remain as children. Such accordingly without doubt, dwell in the kingdom of God, because they defiled in nothing the commandments of God. …all infants are honorable before God, and are first in persons with Him.”
(Hermas, 150; 2.53)
The idea that children are born with punishable sin was refuted by Clement of Alexandria. Interestingly he brought it up while debating gnostics sects.
+ Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis, Bk. 3, Ch. 16, ¶100, vv4-7 (FOTC Vol. 85, p. 319) +
“In such ways Julius Cassian, the founder of docetism, argues his case¹…²[quoting from scripture] “No one is pure from stain,” says Job, “not even if his life is only of one day’s duration.”³ It is for them to tell us how the newly born child could commit fornication or in what way the child who has never done anything at all has fallen under Adam’s curse.⁴ The only thing left for them to say and still be consistent, I suppose, is that birth is evil not just for the body but for the soul for which the body exists. When David says, “I was brought into being in sin; my mother conceived me in disobedience to the Law,”⁵ he is speaking prophetically of Eve as his mother: “Eve became the mother of all who live.”⁶ If he was brought into being in sin, it does not follow that he himself is in sin, still less that he himself is sin.⁴”
1. Stromateis 184.108.40.206 (FOTC 85.313)
3. Job 14:4-5 LXX
4. Cf. Stromateis 4.12 (ANF 2.423-424)
5. Psalm 50:5 LXX (51:5 MT)
6. Genesis 3:20
Here is some heretical Tertullian getting posted for further copntxt:
“If you mean the (region in Hades of the) good, why should you judge the souls of infants and of virgins to be unworthy of such a resting place-those who by reason of their condition in life were pure and innocent?” (Tertullian, 210; 3.233)
“For you let even necromancy, and the divinations, whom you practice on immaculate children, and the invoking of departed human souls.”(St. Justin Martyr, First Apology XVIII, 155 A.D)
Here we see Saint Justin Martyr referring to them as immaculate in a similar manner as Tertullian, though it is a bit of a weak quote.
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I am wondering. Many times while carrying a child in my womb, conceived in Holy Marriage, I felt God’s indescribable Love for it. Whenever I received Holy Communion, Jesus entering my heart and His own Blood in me, which nourishes my child within, I have thought He has embraced them also. Baptism is important as the Holy Spirit descends upon and cleanses the tiny soul that it may not be deprived of grace or if knowing and loving God. Surely these little ones who die in complete innocence, maybe even passing in the womb, have the briefest of purifications and enter almost, but not quite, immediately into heaven. From there I believe they intercede for the rest of us: especially their parents, who desired God for them.