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Development of the Doctrine
of Infant Salvation.




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From the library of
Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield,D,D

BT 758 .W37 1891 copy 1
War fie Id, Benjamin

Breckinridge, 1851-1921.
The development of the

rJnrfrinp nf infant







Professor in Princeton Seminary.



Copyright, 1891, by


New York.



I. The Patristic Doctrine, ... 5

Infants need salvation, p. 6 ; Bap-
tism necessary to salvation, p. 6 ;
Augustine, p. 7.

II. The Medieval Mitigation, . 9

The inherited doctrine, p. 9 ;
Scholastic doctrine of poena
clamni, p. 10 ; Attempt to apply
baptism of intention, p. 11 ; Wy-
cliffe, p. 13.

III. The Teaching of the Church

of Home, 13

Four opinions, p. 13 ; Tridentme
doctrine, p. 14 ; Attempt to ap-
ply intention rejected, p. IT ;
Modern Pelagianizing views, p.

IV. The Lutheran Doctrine, . . 22

Protestant doctrine of the
Church, p. 23 ; Doctrine of Augs-
burg Confession, p. 24 ; Bap-
tism of intention recognized, p.
24 ; Gerhard's teaching, p. 2ti ;
Heathen infants, p. 28 ; Four
opinions, p. 29 ; Modern Lu-
theran ism, p. 31.



V. Anglican Views, 32

Early form of the Articles, p.
32 ; Hooper, p. 33 ; Scrivener,
p. 34 ; Wall, p. 34 ; Present
state of opinion, p. 35.

VI. The Reformed Doctrine, . . 35

Roots of the doctrine, p. 36 ;
Zwingli's teaching, p. 37 ; Five
opinions, p. 38 : 1. All dying in-
fants saved, p. 38 ; 2. Uncertain-
ty as to all, p. 39 ; 3. All cove-
nanted infants saved, p. 40 ; 4.
All covenanted and some others
saved, p. 41 ; 5. Agnostic as to
uncovenanted, p. 42 ; The Re-
formed Confessions, p. 44 ; Syn-
od of Dort, p. 44 ; Westminster
Assembly, p. 46 ; Modern Cal-
vinism, p. 48.

VII. "Ethical" Tendencies, . . 50

Early Pelagianizing, p. 51 ; Re-
monstrantism, p. 51 ; Wesleyan
Arminianism, p. 53 ; The logical
outcome, p. 54 ; Post-mortem
probation, p. 55 ; Dr. Kedney,
p. 56.

VIII. The Doctrinal Development, 57


The task which we set before us in this
brief paper is not to unravel the history of
opinion as to the salvation of infants dying
in infancy, but the much more circumscribed
one of tracing the development of doctrine
on this subject. We hope to show that
there has been a doctrine as to the salvation
of infants common to all ages of the Church ;
but that there has also been in this, as in
other doctrines, a progressive correction of
crudities in its conception, by which the
true meaning and relations of the common
teaching have been freed from deforming
accretions and its permanent core brought
to purer expression.

1. It is fundamental to the very concep-
tion of Christianity that it is a remedial
scheme. Christ Jesus came to save sinners.
The first Christians had no difficulty in
understanding and confessing that Christ
had come into a world lost in sin to estab-
lish a kingdom of righteousness, citizenship
in which is the condition of salvation. That


infants were admitted into this citizenship
they did not question ; Irenaeus, for exam-
ple, finds it appropriate that Christ was
born an infant and grew by natural stages
into manhood, since " he came to save all
by himself — all, I say, who by him are born
again unto God, infants and children, and
boys and young men, and old men/' and
accordingly passed through every age that
he might sanctify all. Nor did they ques-
tion that not the natural birth of the flesh,
but the new birth of the Spirit was the sole
gateway for infants too, into the kingdom ;
communion with God was lost for all alike,
and to infants too it was restored only in
Christ.* Less pure elements, however, en-
tered almost inevitably into their thought.
The ingrained externalism of both Jewish
and heathen modes of conception, when
brought into the Church wrought naturally
toward the identification of the kingdom of
Christ with the external Church, and of re-
generation with baptism. Already in Jus-
tin and Irenaeus, the word " regeneration"
means " baptism ;" the Fathers uniformly
understand John iii. 5 of baptism. The
maxim of the Patristic age thus became
extra ecclesiam nulla salus ; baptism was
held to be necessary to salvation with the

* IrenjEUS, Haer., ii., 22, 4, and iii., 18, 7.


necessity of means ; and as a corollary, no
unbaptized infant could be saved. How
early this doctrine of the necessity of bap-
tism became settled in the Church is diffi-
cult to trace in the paucity of very early
witnesses. Tertullian already defends it
from objection.* The reply of Cyprian and
his fellow-bishops to Fidus on the duty of
early baptism, presupposes it.f After that,
it was plainly the Church-doctrine ; and
although it was mitigated in the case of
adults by the admission not only of the bap-
tism of blood, but also that of intention,^
the latter mitigation was not allowed in the
case of infants. The whole Patristic
Church agreed that, martyrs excepted, no
infant dying unbaptized could enter the
kingdom of heaven.

The fairest exponent of the thought of
the age on this subject is Augustine, who
was called upon to defend it against the
Pelagian error that infants dying unbaptized,
while failing of entrance into the kingdom,
yet obtain eternal life. His constancy in
this controversy has won for him the un-
enviable title of clurus infantum pater — a
designation doubly unjust, in that not only

* De Bapt.. c. 12. t Epistle lviii. (lxiv.)

% With what limitations may he conveniently read in Wall,
Hist, of Infant Baptism, ed. 2, 1707, pp. 359 sq.


did he neither originate the obnoxious dog-
ma nor teach it in its harshest form, but he
was even preparing its destruction by the
doctrines of grace, of which he was more
truly the father.* Augustine expressed the
Church-doctrine moderately, teaching, of
course, that infants dying unbaptized would
be found on Christ's left hand and be con-
demned to eternal punishment, but also not
forgetting to add that their punishment
would be the mildest of all, and indeed that
they were to be beaten with so few stripes
that he could not say it would have been
better for them not to be born. \ No doubt,
others of the Fathers softened the doctrine
even below this ; some of the Greeks, for
instance, like Gregory Nazianzen, thought
that unbaptized infants ' i are neither glori-
fied nor punished" — i.e., of course, go into a
middle state similar to that taught by
Pelagius.J; But it is not to Augustine, but
to Fulgentius (f 533), § or to Alcimus Avitus
(f 525), || or to Gregory the Great (f 604) f

* Compare The Post-Mcene Fathers, edited by Dr. Schaff,
vol. v. (Augustin's Anti-Pelagian Treatises), p. lxx.

t Augustine's doctrine is most strongly expressed in Sermo
xiv. In De Peccat. Merit., c. 21 (xvi.), and Contra Julian., v.,
11, he speaks of the comparative mildness of the punishment.

X Cf. Wall, op. cit., p. 365,

§ De Fide ad Petr., c. 27.

\ Ad Fascinam Swwem.

1" Expos, in Job., i., 16.


to whom we must go for the strongest ex-
pression of the woe of imbaptized infants.
Probably only such anonymous objectors
as those whom Tertullian confutes,* or such
obscure and erratic individuals as Vincentius
Victor whom Augustine convicts, in the
whole Patristic age, doubted that the king-
dom of heaven was closed to all infants de-
parting this life without the sacrament of

2. If the general consent of a whole age
as expressed by its chief writers, including
the leading bishops of Kome, andbyitssynod-
ical decrees, is able to determine a doctrine,
certainly the Patristic Church transmitted
to the Middle Ages as de fide that infants
dying unbaptized (with the exception only
of those who suffer martyrdom) are not only
excluded from heaven, but doomed to hell.
Accordingly the mediaeval synods so define ;
the second Council of Lyons and the Coun-
cil of Florence declare that "the souls of
those who pass away in mortal sin or in orig-
inal sin alone descend immediately to hell,
to be punished, however, with unequal pen-
alties." On the maxim that gradus non
mutant speciem we must adjudge Petavius's
argument f unanswerable, that this deliver-

* De BapL, c. 12.

+ Petavius, Dog. Theol., ed. Paris, 1865, ii., 59 sq.


anoe determines tiie punisnment ot un bap-
tized infants to be the same in kind (in the
same hell) with that of adults in mortal sin :
" So infants are tormented with unequal
tortures of fire, but are tormented neverthe-
less/' Nevertheless scholastic thought on
the subject was characterized by a success-
ful effort to mollify the harshness of the
Church-doctrine, under the inrpulse of the
prevalent semi-Pelagian conception of orig-
inal sin. The whole troup of schoolmen
unite in distinguishing bet ween poena damni
and poena sensus, and in assigning to infants
dying unbaptized only the former — i.e., the
loss of heaven and the beatific vision, and
not the latter — i.e., positive torment. They
differ among themselves only as to whether
this poena damni, which alone is the lot of
infants, is accompanied by a painful sense
of the loss (as Lombard held), or is so neg-
ative as to involve no pain at all, either ex-
ternal or internal (as Aquinas argued). So
complete a victory was won by this mollifi-
cation that perhaps only a single theologian
of eminence can be pointed to who ventured
still to teach the doctrine of Augustine and
Gregory — Gregory Ariminensis thence call-
ed tortor infant am; and Hurter reminds
us that even he did not dare to teach it de-
finitively, but submitted it to the judgment


of his readers. * Dante, whom Andrew Seth
not unjustly calls " by far the greatest dis-
ciple of Aquinas," has enshrined in his im-
mortal poem the leading conception of his
day, when he pictures the " young children
innocent, whom Death's sharp teeth have
snatched ere yet they were freed from the
sin with which our birth is blent/' as im-
prisoned within the brink of hell, " where
the first circle girds the abyss of dread," in
a place where " there is no sharp agony"
but " dark shadows only," and whence " no
other plaint rises than that of sighs which
from the sorrow without pain arise." f The
novel doctrine attained papal authority by a
decree of Innocent III. (c. 1200), who de-
termined " the penalty of original sin to be
the lack of the vision of God, but the pen-
alty of actual sin to be the torments of
eternal hell."

A more timid effort was also made in this
period to modify the inherited doctrine by
the application to it of a development of the
baptism of intention. This tendency first
appears in Hincmar of Rheims (f 882), who,
in a particularly hard case of interdict on a
whole diocese, expresses the hope that " the

* Hurter, Theolog. Doc/mat. Compend., 1878, iii., p. 516.
Tract, x., cap. iii., § 729. Wycliife must be added.

t Hell, iv., 23 sq. ; Purgatory, vii., 25 sq. ; Heaven, xxxii..
76 sq. (Plumptre's translation),


faith and godly desire of the parents and
godfathers" of the infants who had thns
died unbaptized, " who in sincerity desired
baptism for them but obtained it not, may
profit them by the gift of Him whose spirit
(which gives regeneration) breathes where
it pleases." It is doubtful, however,
whether he would have extended this lofty
doctrine to any less stringent case.* Cer-
tainly no similar teaching is met with in the
Church, except with reference to the pecul-
iarly hard case of still-born infants of Chris-
tian parents. The schoolmen {e.g., Alex-
ander Hales and Thomas Aquinas) admitted
a doubt whether God may not have ways
of saving such unknown to us. John Ger-
son, in a sermon before the Council of Con-
stance, presses the inference more boldly, f
God, he declared, has not so tied the mercy
of his salvation to common laws and sacra-
ments, but that without prejudice to his law
he can sanctify children not yet born, by the
baptism of his grace or the power of the
Holy Ghost. Hence, he exhorts expectant
parents to pray that if the infant is to die
before attaining baptism, the Lord may
sanctify it ; and who knows but that the
Lord may hear them ? He adds, however,

* Cf. Waix, op. cit., p. 371.

t Sermon, Be Nat. Mar. Virg., consid, 2, col. 33.


that he only intends to suggest that all hope
is not taken away ; for there is no certainty
without a revelation. Gabriel Biel (f 1495)
followed in Gerson's footsteps,* holding it
to be accordant with God's mercy to seek
out some remedy for such infants. This
teaching remained, however, without effect
on the Church-dogma, although something
similar to it was, among men who served
God in the way then called heresy, fore-
shadowing an even better to come. John
Wycliffe (f 1384) had already with like cau-
tion expressed his unwillingness to pro-
nounce damned such infants as were in-
tended for baptism by their parents, if they
failed to receive it in fact ; though he could
not, on the other hand, assert that they were
saved, f His followers were less cautious,
whether in England or Bohemia, and in
this, too, approved themselves heralds of a
brighter day.

3. In the upheaval of the sixteenth century
the Church of Rome found her task in har-
monizing under the influence of the scholas-
tic teaching, the inheritance which the some •
what inconsistent past had bequeathed her.
Four varieties of opinion sought a place in
her teaching. At the one extreme the earlier
doctrine of Augustine and Gregory, that in-

* In iv., Sect, iv., q. 11. t Cf. Wall, as above,


fants dying unbaptized suffer eternally the
pains of sense, found again advocates, and
that especially among the greatest of her
scholars, such as Noris, Petau, Driedo,
Conry, Berti. At the other extreme, a
Pelagianizing doctrine that excluded unbap-
tized infants from the kingdom of heaven
and the life promised to the blessed, and yet
accorded to them eternal life and natural
happiness in a place between heaven and
hell, was advocated by such great leaders as
Ambrosius Catharinus, Albertus Pighius,
Molina, Sfondrati. The mass, however,
followed the schoolmen in the middle path
of parna damni, and, like the schoolmen,
only differed as to whether the punishment
of loss involved sorrow (as Bellarmine held)
or was purely negative.* The Council of
Trent (1545) anathematized those who affirm
that the " sacraments of the new law are
not necessary to salvation, and that without
them or an intention of them men obtain
. . . the grace of justification ;" or,
again, that " baptism is free — that is, is
not necessary to salvation. ' : This is ex-
plained by the Tridentine Catechism to mean
that "unless men be regenerated to God

* For this classification see Bellarmine, Be Amiss. Gra-
tia, etc., vi., 1 ; and compare Gerhard, Loci (Cotta's ed.),
vol. ix., p. 279 ; Chamier, Panstrat. Cath. (1626), iii., 159, or
Spaniieim, Chamierus Contractus (1643), i>. 797,


through the grace of baptism, they are born
to everlasting misery and destruction,
whether their parents be believers or un-
believers ;" while, on the other hand, we
are credibly informed * that the council was
near anathematizing as a Lutheran heresy
the proposition that the penalty for original
sin is the fire of hell. The Council of
Trent at least made renewedly de fide that
infants dying unbaptized incurred damna-
tion, though it left the way open for discus-
sion as to the kind and amount of their pun-
ishment, f

The Tridentine deliverance, of course,
does not exclude the baptism of blood as a
substitute for baptism of water. Neither
does it seem necessarily to exclude the ap-
plication of a theory of baptism of intention
to infants. Even after it, therefore, a two-
fold development seems to have been possi-
ble. The path already opened by Gerson
and Biel might have been followed' out, and
a baptism of intention developed for infants
as well as for adults. This might even have
been pushed on logically, so as to cover the
case of all infants dying in infancy. On the
principle argued by Richard Hooker, J for ex-

* So Father Paul, Hist, of the Council of Trent, c. 2.

t Perrone, Protect. Theol. in C'ompend. Redact, i., p 494

X Ecclesiastical Polity, v., ix., 6.



ample, that the unavoidable failure of bap-
tism in the case of Christian children can-
not lose them salvation, because of the pre-
sumed desire and purpose of baptism for
them in their Christian parents and in the
Church of God, reasoners might have pro-
ceeded only a single step further and have
said that the desire and purpose of Mother
Church to baptize all is intention of baptism
enough for all dying in helpless infancy.
Thus on Eoman principles a salvation for all
dying in infancy might be logically deduced,
and infants, as more helpless and less guilty,
be given the preference over adults. On
the other hand, it might be argued that as
baptism either in re or in voto must medi-
ate salvation, and as infants by reason of
their age are incapable of the intention, they
cannot be saved unless they receive it in
fact,* and thus infants be discriminated
against in favor of adults. This second path
is the one which has been actually followed
by the theologians of the Church of Rome,
with the ultimate result that not only are in-
fants discriminated against in favor of
adults, but the more recent theologians seem
almost ready to discriminate against the in-

* Thus, e.g., Dominicus de Soto expresses it {Be Natura et
Gratia, ii. 10) : " It is most firmly established in the Church
that no infant apart from baptism in re — since he cannot have
it in voto — enters the kingdom of heaven."


fants of Christians as over against those of
the heathen.*

The application of the baptism of inten-
tion to infants was not abandoned, however,
without some protest from the more tender-
hearted. Cardinal Cajetan defended in the
Council of Trent itself Gerson's proposition
that the desire of godly parents might be
taken in lieu of the actual baptism of chil-
dren dying in the womb.f Cassander (1570)
encouraged parents to hope and pray for
children so dying. J; Bianchi (1768) holds
that such children may be saved per obla-

* This grows out of the development of the doctrines of igno-
rance and " invincible ignorance," the latter of which was au-
thoritatively defined by Pope Pius IX. in his Encyclicaladdress-
ed to the Bishops of Italy. August 10, 1863. See an interesting
statement concerning it in Newman's A Letter to the Duke of
Norfolk, on the Infallibility of the Pope. Thus while an abso-
lute necessity for baptism in re is posited for the infants of
even Christian parents, even though they die in the womb, on
the other hand, as the law of baptism is in force only where it
is known, and even an ignorance morally invincible (as among
sectaries) is counted true ignorance, not even an intention of
baptism is demanded of the heathen or of certain sectaries.
Gousset, Theolog. Dogmat., 10 ed., Paris, 1866, i., 548, 549,
351, ii., 382, may be profitably consulted in this connection.
Among the heathen thus the old remedies for sin are still prob-
ably valid ; St. Bernard says (quoted approvingly by Gousset),
"Among the Gentiles as many as are found faithful, we believe
that the adults are expiated by faith and the sacrifices ; but
the faith of the parents profits the children, nay, even suffices
for them. ,, If the fathers are saved, why not the children ?
Might not a Christian's infant dying in the womb be said to be
" invincibly ignorant " ? Why need the " law of baptism " be
eo inflexibly extended to it ?

t In 3 Part. Thomae, Q. 68, art. 2, et 11. X De bapt. infant.


tionem pueri quam Deo mater extrinsecus
faciat.* Eusebius Amort (1758) teaches
that God may be moved by prayer to grant
justification to such extra-sacramentally. f
Even somewhat bizarre efforts have been
made to escape the sad conclusion proclaimed
by the Church. Thus Klee holds that a
lucid interval is accorded to infants in the
article of death, so that they may conceive
the wish for baptism. \ An obscure French
writer supposes that they may, " shut up in
their mother's womb, know God, love him,
and have the baptism of desire." § A more
obscure German conceives that infants re-
main eternally in the same state of rational
development in which they die, and hence
enjoy all they are capable of ; if they die in
the womb they either fall back into the
original force from which they were pro-
duced, or enjoy a happiness no greater than
that of trees. || These protests of the heart
have awakened, however, no response in the
Church,^ which has preferred to hold fast

* De Remedio . . . pro parentis.

t Theolog. Moral., ii., xi., 3.

X Dog. iii., 2, § 1.

§ De la Marne, Traite metaphysique des Dogmes de la
Trinite, etc., Paris, 182(5.

II Hermessius, Zeitschr. f. Phil. u. kath. Theol., Bonn..

«[ Compare Vasqitez, in 3 P, s. Th., disp. cli., cap. 1 ; Hru-
ter, op. cit., 1878, iii., 516 sq. ; Perrone, Frcelect. Theolog.
(1839), vi. 55.


to the dogma that the failure of baptism in
infants, dying such, excludes ipso facto from
heaven, and to seek its comfort in mitigat-
ing still farther than the scholastics them-
selves the nature of t\v&t poena damni which
alone it allows as punishment of original sin.
And if we may assume that such writers as
Perrone, Hurter, Gousset, and Kendrick are
typical of modern Roman theology through-
out the world, certainly that theology may
be said to have come, in this pathway of
mitigation, as near to positing salvation for
all infants dying unbaptized as the rather
intractable deliverances of early popes and
later councils permit to them. They all
teach, of course (as the definitions of Flor-
ence and Trent require of them) — in the
words of Perrone* — " that children of this
kind descend into hell, or incur damnation ;"
but (as Hurter saysf), " although all Cath-
olics agree that infants dying without bap-
tism are excluded from the beatific vision
and so suffer loss, are lost (pati damnum,
damnari) ; they yet differ among them-
selves in their determination of the nature
and condition of the state into which such
infants pass." As the idea of " damnation"
may thus be softened to a mere failure to at-
tain, so the idea of " hell " may be elevated

* Campend. 1861, i., 494, No. 585. t Op. cit., No. 729.


to that of a natural paradise. Hurter him-
self is inclined to a somewhat severer doc-
trine ; but Perrone (supported by such great
lights as Balmes, Berlage, Oswald, Lessius,
and followed not afar off by Gousset and
Kendrick) reverts to the Pelagianizing view
of Oatharinus and Molina and Sfondrati—
which Petau called a "fabrication" cham-
pioned indeed by Oatharinus but originated
" by Pelagius the heretic/' and which Bel-
larmine contended was contra fidem—and
teaches that unbaptized infants enter into a
state deprived of all supernatural benefits,
indeed, but endowed with all the happiness
of which pure nature is capable. Their
state is described as having the nature of
penalty and of damnation when conceived
of relatively to the supernatural happiness
from which they are excluded by original
sin ; but when conceived of in itself and ab-
solutely, it is a state of pure nature, and ac-
cordingly the words of Thomas Aquinas are
applied to it : " They are joined to God by
participation in natural goods, and so also
can rejoice in natural knowledge and love." *
Thus, after so many ages, the Pelagian con-
ception of the middle state for infants has
obtained its revenge on the condemnation
of the Church. No doubt it is not admit-

* Cmnpend, 1861, i., 494, cf. ii., 252.


ted that this is a return to Pelagianism ;
Perrone, for example, argues that Pelagius
held the doctrine of a natural beatitude for
infants as one unrelated to sin, while
" Catholic theologians hold it with the death
of sin ; so that the exclusion from the beatific

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