Catholic Belief is Unified, Right?
Catholic apologists have us believe that Catholics are unified on all Christian doctrine and belief. Since the Catholics have the Pope and an infallible Magesterium, they have the full and final revelation of God, and this revelation is based both on Scripture and Sacred Tradition.
Patty Bonds, sister of James White (of Alpha & Omega Ministries fame) and author of the blog Abba’s Little Girl, brought up the subject of infants perishing in hell in a recent post. As a former Calvinist, Patty believed that infants who died in infancy would go to heaven if elect, and hell if not.
I had also come to the conclusion that even unborn babies that perished were subject to God’s capricious picking and choosing. . . . So if a child was still born, it was entirely up to God whether that child would die with his sinful human nature and suffer damnation for it or if he would somehow become “regenerate” and be saved. (source)
She’s backed by the Westminster Confession of Faith, by the way:
Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who works when, and where, and how He pleases: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word. (X.3)
Many find this idea hard to swallow, and so they hold to something referred to as the “age of accountability.” In this scheme, if a soul is taken from us prior to its ability to hear the call of the Spirit, and so could not have made an informed choice, the soul departs and is with God. In this setup, God won’t hold the soul accountable for sins because the soul doesn’t understand what that means.
In other words, infants dying prior to a certain age (differing based on the individual, but usually between 5 and 7) or the mentally handicapped are always taken to heaven.
It’s warm and fuzzy, isn’t it? But Catholic Steve Ray has some scathing things to say about that:
The Protestant doctrine of the “age of accountability says that babies, young children, mentally retarded, etc. are not accountable for their sins since they are not old enough or capable of commiting moral offence against God. They are therefore not sinners, or at least not held accountable. . . .
The Bible seems to teach that a baby is a sinner (because the Bible says all have sinned, right?) and that “the wages of sin is death”, so if a baby dies, it must go straight to hell. Is there anything that can save them before they are mentally able to understand the Gospel and “accept Christ as their Savior”? Are all children thus given a death sentence for the first decade of their lives? My that seems cruel and heartless, contrary to the love and mercy of God.
It sure is convenient to have the man-made, invented doctrine of the “age of accountability”. This makes some sense of these verses in the Bible. But, what chapter and verse do we turn to as a proof text for this doctrine Jerry? Whre are these words in the Bible? We soon find they don’t exist. Protestants invented them. . . .
There are however, simple solutions to these problems. The [Catholic] Church has resolved the problem; in fact, it never had the problem. (source)
Except that it did have the same problem, and it still does.
Augustine, who the Catholics are always quick to claim as their own, held that infants who died prior to baptism were eternally damned. This is very similar to the Calvinist beliefs blasted both by Patty Bonds and Steve Ray.
Catholics used to believe that infants who died prior to baptism would go to limbo, contrary to Augustine. The issue has been hotly debated, even in Augustine’s time, and no official Catholic position has ever been set down. Instead, limbo is (even today) held as a possible theological conclusion, but is not the only possible conclusion. Since there is no official published Catholic position, individual Catholics are free to believe as their conscience dictates.
So, what’s the advantage to being Catholic again?