The St. Louis Review, like many Catholic publications has a regular “Dear Father” feature. For some reason, the priest responsible for this column is not a priest of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, but rather comes from Peoria. I have had a few “Tums” moments reading this column in the past (for example), but this week the headline and commentary are misleading, inaccurate, and express a viewpoint seemingly not in line with Catholic teaching. From the Review, with my emphases added:


‘Dear Father’ | God’s love dictates the salvation of unbaptized children
Question


by Father John Dietzen

Q. My wife and I are lifelong Catholics. One of our children joined and was married in another church. Their baby, now a year old, was never baptized. Her parents will “let her make her own decision.” A friend told me I can baptize the baby without the parents knowing by pouring water and saying the prayers. Would that be the right thing to do? Does a Baptism have to be done by a priest, or can a layperson do it? What happens to her if she is not baptized?

A. Anyone can baptize, especially in an emergency, by pouring water and saying the proper Baptism formula. Outside an emergency such as danger of death, however, for a variety of reasons this should not be done by someone in your circumstances with your grandchild.

[…]

Part of the problem may be a misunderstanding of the teaching of the Catholic Church about Baptism. Jesus clearly told us that Baptism is the sacramental “sign” by which people enter into his life, his community of faith. Christians always have pondered what exactly this means, since billions of people die without Baptism. Multitudes of these never even hear of God or of Jesus. Did Jesus live and die in vain for all of them?

If God loves all people and wishes them to be saved, how does that happen? As the question applies to very young children, theologians have offered numerous possible explanations through the centuries. Whatever the theory, however, one fundamental conviction is held without doubt. God offers the grace of salvation to everyone who does not place an obstacle to that grace.

Obviously that includes children who die too young to have chosen an obstacle to God’s love. St. Augustine, in fact, uses precisely this principle to support his teaching that God gives the grace of Baptism, and therefore of salvation, to such children.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church approaches the same idea from another direction. Baptism is necessary for salvation, it says, “for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament” (No. 1257). Little children are among those who have not had that possibility.

[…]

As the catechism beautifully expresses it, “God has bound salvation to the Sacrament of Baptism, but He Himself is not bound by His sacraments” (No. 1257).

[…]

So pray, give good example and don’t panic. God does, after all, love your grandchild even more than you do.
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Where to begin?

This article is seriously deficient, at the very least dangerously misleading, and possibly heretical. Strong words, yes, but salvation is a serious business. The headline itself is scandalously erroneous, though I know that the writer of an article does not always write the headline. Even without this headline, the answer given must be corrected.

Baptism does effect, among other things, entry into the “community of faith”, as Father indicates. But this emphasis on the community serves here to cover the silence of this answer as to the primary effects of Baptism, which are the remission of original sin and the conferral of sanctifying grace necessary for salvation. To claim that children have not placed an “obstacle” to God’s grace is simply wrong. We are all conceived with original sin, which places us outside of grace and makes us enemies of God. Yes, this is different than a deliberate sin by the infant, but it does not make the sin less real. This is Catholic teaching.

Merely pasting up a pablum-y, feel-good reply on a subject of greatest import–one that could admittedly cause discomfort to the questioner– isn’t doing anyone involved any good.

And some of the turns of phrase he uses are just amazing. “Christians always have pondered what exactly this means.” Huh? Is he serious? And his rhetorical question of how– since God wishes all people to be saved– how oh how “does that happen” certainly seems to indicate the fait accompli nature of it all. I guess hell is empty, then.

Furthermore, the citation from the Catechism is selectively made. Let’s take a further look at the same Catechism of the Catholic Church cited by the good Father, without leaving out some of the more relevant parts, and with some of my own emphases:

1213 Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: “Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word.”

1250 Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called. The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.

1257 The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. 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. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are “reborn of water and the Spirit.” God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.

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 desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.


The Catechism of the Council of Trent has this to say of Baptism, again with my emphases:

Necessity of Baptism

If the knowledge of what has been hitherto explained be, as it is, of highest importance to the faithful, it is no less important to them to learn that the law of Baptism, as established by our Lord, extends to all, so that unless they are regenerated to God through the grace of Baptism, be their parents Christians or infidels, they are born to eternal misery and destruction. Pastors, therefore, should often explain these words of the Gospel: Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

Infant Baptism: It’s Necessity

That this law extends not only to adults but also to infants and children, and that the Church has received this from Apostolic tradition, is confirmed by the unanimous teaching and authority of the Fathers.


[…]

Finally, as the Apostle teaches, if by one man’s offence death reigned through one, much more they who receive abundance of grace, and of the gift, and of justice, shall reign in life through one, Jesus Christ. If, then, through the transgression of Adam, children inherit original sin, with still stronger reason can they attain through Christ our Lord grace and justice that they may reign in life. This, however, cannot be effected otherwise than by Baptism.

Pastors, therefore, should inculcate
the absolute necessity of administering Baptism to infants, and of gradually forming their tender minds to piety by education in the Christian religion. For according to these admirable words of the wise man: A young man according to his way, even when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Infants Receive The Graces Of Baptism

It may not be doubted that in Baptism infants receive the mysterious gifts of faith. Not that they believe with the assent of the mind, but they are established in the faith of their parents, if the parents profess the true faith; if not–to use the words of St. Augustine–then in that of the universal society of the saints; for they are rightly said to be presented for Baptism by all those to whom their initiation in that sacred rite is a source of joy, and by whose charity they are united to the communion of the Holy Ghost.

Baptism Of Infants Should Not Be Delayed

The faithful are earnestly to be exhorted to take care that their children be brought to the church, as soon as it can be done with safety, to receive solemn Baptism. Since infant children have no other means of salvation except Baptism, we may easily understand how grievously those persons sin who permit them to remain without the grace of the Sacrament longer than necessity may require, particularly at an age so tender as to be exposed to numberless dangers of death.

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As usual, the Catechism of the Council of Trent speaks with refreshing clarity and precision on this matter. What also stands out in this passage is the exhortation of the Church that the faithful be well-taught in the law of Baptism. This week’s
Review article does just the opposite.

And it is this type of misinformation that has brought about the trend that parents are putting off baptism longer and longer, as the Review has covered before, and which practice was corrected by the Archbishop in that same publication. Of course God is merciful. Of course God’s mercy is unfathomable, and we are to hope in it always. Yet God established the law of Baptism. And souls are at stake.

I know priests are very busy, but perhaps an Archdiocesan priest could be persuaded to take on this column in the future. Because if this is the type of answer readers can expect from the current Dear Father column, it should be discontinued.
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