ORGAN OF THE ROMAN THEOLOGICAL FORUM
|Editor: Msgr. John F. McCarthy, J.C.D., S.T.D.||Distributed several times a year to interested members.|
|Associate Editor: Rev. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., M.A., S.T.D. ||Not to be republished without permission.|
|Please address all correspondence to:||www.rtforum.org e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org|
Living Tradition, Oblates of Wisdom, P.O. Box 13230, St. Louis, MO 63157, USA
WHETHER ABORTED CHILDREN SHOULD BE CLAIMED AS MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH
by Msgr. John F. McCarthy
For some time now voices have been heard calling upon the Catholic Church to claim all aborted children unto herself as her members baptized in the Blood of Christ. These voices say that the Church as a whole, and the Pope in particular, have the power and authority to recognize aborted children as companion martyrs of the Holy Innocents. Some are convinced that an official claiming by the Church would "cast out the demon of abortion by invoking the Holy Spirit" upon these children and thus, in some way, "give supernatural life to millions of human beings who, like Naaman the Syrian in 2 (4) Kings 5, did not know the true God and yet could become objects of his merciful love." Thus also, they say, such a declaration would be a step towards healing the "moral leprosy" of abortion in millions of its perpetrators by inviting the guilty to acts of repentance and by helping to assuage the wound of injustice felt by the victims. 1 The following is a theological reflection upon some aspects of this appeal.
The principal theological question in this appeal regards the affirmation that the Holy Father has the authority to proclaim aborted children to be members of the Church and companion martyrs of the first Holy Innocents. Problems inherent in this question gravitate around the necessity of Baptism in order to be saved and the necessity of having been killed as a witness of Christ in order to be a martyr. I shall here attempt to address these two problems on a theological level.
THE LIMBO OF CHILDREN.
First of all, as is obvious, a fetus must be human in order to be a valid subject of Baptism or of martyrdom, and, in recent years especially, the Church has been proclaiming clearly the human character of the human fetus from the first moment of fertilization of the ovum. Thus states no. 2270 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the 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." 2 Throughout its history, the Catholic Church "has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion" (CCC, no. 2271), because the human fetus was always known to be at least aimed at becoming a human being but it is now known with certainty and taught by the Church that the human fetus is a human being from the first moment of its biological conception. 3 Thus also, the human fetus, from the first moment of its conception, is a human being with an imperishable human soul, and it is called by God to eternal life in heaven (cf. CCC, no. 1703).
Aborted children die without Baptism of water. Nevertheless, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 1261) affirms: "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 towards children which caused him to say: 'Let the children come to me, do not hinder them' (Mk 10:14), allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism." Hence, the theological problem before us in this case is whether a definite way of salvation can be indicated for the immortal souls of the victims of abortion. If they are not eventually to be brought to Heaven, where do they go? An alternative often conjectured in the past by theologians has been that they go to Limbo. Thus Louis LaRavoire Morrow, Bishop of Krishnagar: "Since infants who die unbaptized have committed no sins, they live in a place of natural happiness called 'limbo.' ... Although in limbo infants enjoy complete natural happiness surpassing any on earth, such happiness cannot compare with the bliss of heaven, where souls see God face to face." 4 Again, in a Catholic dictionary: "The Limbo of Children. It is of faith that all, children and adults, who leave this world without the Baptism of water, blood or desire and therefore in original sin are excluded from the vision of God in Heaven. The great majority of theologians teach that such children and unbaptized adults free from grievous actual sin enjoy eternally a state of perfect natural happiness, knowing and loving God by the use of their natural powers. This place and state is commonly called Limbo." 5
A more contemporary statement is given by Lawler, Wuerl, and Lawler in their catechism for adults: "Most theologians, following St. Thomas, have taught that such infants will certainly not have any personal suffering after death, and that, although they will be deprived of the blessed vision of God because they have died without grace, God will bless them with natural happiness. 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. Many contemporary scholars have suggested that God will provide for the eternal salvation of these persons, enabling them in some way to obtain grace by a baptism of desire before death. Revelation does not give any certainty on this point." 6
Thus we see that, while, on the one hand, the Church has never officially pronounced on "the reality or nature of Limbo," on the other hand, the Catechism of the Catholic Church allows us to hope that "there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism" (see above). Now, our specific question does not regard children in general, but children who have been lethally assaulted by abortion, and it is the contention of some that these children have received Baptism of blood, that they have been washed clean in the Blood of Christ.
THE CLEANSING BLOOD OF CHRIST.
Referring to this idea of washing, Father Francis Frost notes that the cause of our redemption and of the efficacy of the Sacrament of Baptism is the pouring out of the Blood of Jesus on the Cross, his sacrificial offering of Himself to the Father on Calvary. 7 Jesus was "baptized" in this sense by the suffering and death that He underwent: "I have a baptism wherewith I am to be baptized, and how I am straightened until it be accomplished" (Lk 12:50). In this sense, all who are baptized, whether by water, blood, or desire, are washed thereby in the sacrificial Blood of Jesus: "Blessed are they that wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb: that they may have a right to the tree of life and may enter in by the gates into the city" (Apoc 22:14). But those who have "washed their robes" (purified their souls) through Baptism of blood have also mingled their own blood with the sanctifying Blood of Jesus; they have been graced by "the sprinkling of blood which speaks better than that of Abel" (Heb 12:24), because it is the redemptive Blood of Christ. Have all aborted children received this Baptism of blood? Does the blood of these babies, murdered by their own parents, cry out to God from the earth as did the blood of Abel, murdered by his brother Cain (Gen 4:10)? There are indications that it does.
When Jesus spoke of the "baptism" wherewith he was to be baptized, he went on to say: "Do you think that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, no, but separation. ... The father shall be divided against the son, and the daughter against the mother ..." (Lk 12:51-53). What a great separation it is that mothers and fathers should snuff out the life of their sons and daughters while they are still in the womb! And what great occasion is thereby given to the souls of aborted children to resent this injustice! St. John the Evangelist "saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held. And they cried out with a loud voice, saying: How long, O Lord, holy and true, do you not judge and revenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" (Apoc 6:9-10). If aborted children have in some way been killed because of Jesus and his teaching, they qualify to be among those souls "that were slain for the word of God."
John the Baptist died as a martyr in witness to the moral truth that adultery is contrary to the Sixth Commandment of the Law of God (Mt 14:4 par.). In relation to this, St. Thomas Aquinas asks whether faith alone is the cause of martyrdom. On the contrary he quotes Matt 5:10, which says: "Blessed are those who suffer persecution for justice's sake," which, he explains, "pertains to martyrdom, as the (Ordinary) Gloss says." But, he adds, "to justice pertains not only faith but also the other virtues, and, therefore, the other virtues can be the cause of martyrdom." He goes on to say that martyrs are witnesses of Christ, so "the truth of faith is the cause of every martyrdom." But exterior witness is needed in addition to belief in one's heart. "And, therefore, the performing of all the virtues, according as they are referred to God, are declarations of faith through which it is made known to us that God requires works of this kind from us and rewards us for them. And in this respect they can be the cause of martyrdom. And so the martyrdom of John the Baptist is also celebrated in the Church, even though he underwent death, not in favor of the Faith that was being denied, but as a reproof of adultery." 8 Aborted children die in violation of the Fifth Commandment: "Thou shalt not kill." They are silent witnesses to their own right as human persons to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in Heaven. Satan hates them for this witness. They are also witnesses to the obligation of their parents to protect and nurture them. Are not parents who violate to the extent of murder their duty towards their innocent unborn children directly resisting the teaching of Jesus about the Law of God? Does not this desire to violate a basic instinct of nature come ultimately from diabolical suggestion in the minds of the parents and in the permissiveness of society? It seems in the final analysis that the knife or drug of the abortionist is aimed ultimately at the Person of Jesus Himself.
THE SEED OF THE WOMAN.
A clue to this ultimate Satanic aim may be found in Apocalypse 12, which speaks of a great sign that appeared in heaven: "a woman clothed with the sun," who, "being with child ... cried out in her pangs of birth, with anguish for delivery" (vv. 1-2). Now, the "Dragon," who is Satan (v. 9), "stood before the woman who was ready to be delivered," so that "when she should be delivered, he might devour her son" (v. 4). This woman is the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her Son is Jesus. 9 But the Dragon did not succeed in devouring the Infant Jesus, and so, in his anger against the Woman, he "went to make war with the rest of her seed, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (vv. 16-17). "The rest of her seed" are in one sense the spiritual children of Mary and in another sense the spiritual children of the Church. Again, in Gen 3:15, the Lord God is quoted as having said to the Serpent, who is Satan: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed." The enmity of Satan is understood as being directed against the divine Child of Mary in particular and against all of the spiritual children of Mary and of the Church in general. 10 The question is whether aborted children do or do not become children of Mary and of the Church by the very circumstances of their death.
We know from the Gospels and from the whole of the New Testament the enmity that Satan and his seed bear against Jesus Christ and against all of the loyal members of his Church. And we know from history, as well as from personal experience, the enmity that Satan with his followers bears for all those conceived by women. We know also that among the seed of Satan are to be included, not only the fallen angels, but also those human beings who freely put themselves at the service of Satan. In that sense, those who commit abortion are acting as free instruments of Satan, who is the principal agent in these acts of murder, and who is both "a liar" and "a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44). Hence, it was principally the hatred of Satan for Jesus and Mary (Gen 3:15) as well as for all of the children of Eve that sent Herod's soldiers to kill the Holy Innocents, and those murdered children are holy because they have been bathed in the Blood of Christ. The circumstances of their death have made them members of the Church of Christ, children of God and children of Mary. Thus, the dagger of Satan did not prevent their ascent to Heaven.
That a willfully aborting woman makes herself the seed of Satan may be inferred from Gen 3:10: "To the woman also (the Lord God) said: I will multiply your sorrows and your conceptions. In sorrow shall you bring forth children... " (Douay-Rheims translation). The Revised Standard Version more freely renders these same words of the Hebrew text: "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children..." So women can be tempted for selfish reasons of comfort and convenience to exclude the bearing of children, which leads St. Paul to point out: "Adam was not seduced, but the woman, being seduced, was in the transgression. Yet, she shall be saved through childbearing, if she continue in faith and love, and sanctification, with sobriety" (1 Tim 2:14-15).
It can be deduced from these inspired words that a woman willfully aborting her child is being seduced by Satan, who hates the seed of woman (Gen 3:15), to hate and kill her own seed in a Satanic war against all of the physical descendants of the first Eve, but above all against the spiritual descendants of Mary, the New Eve, the supernatural Mother of all the supernaturally living. Her Son, Jesus, will crush the head of the Serpent at the end of the very same war. 11 In other words, pregnant women who refuse to give birth to the children conceived in their wombs are rejecting the Cross of Jesus and are somehow acting from hatred of the Birth of Jesus, as it is predicted in Gen 3:15.
Martyrs are by name "witnesses," and the Holy Innocents are recognized to be martyrs. Yet they died too young to have worshipped God or to have believed in their minds the teaching of Christ. How, then, did they give witness? In the opening prayer of the Mass for their feast day (Dec. 28), the Church declares (ICEL translation): "Father, the Holy Innocents offered you praise by the death they suffered for Christ..." and in the prayer after Communion: "Lord, by a wordless profession of faith in your Son, the innocents were crowned with life at his birth...." Thus, the entrance antiphon: "These innocent children were slain for Christ. They follow the spotless Lamb, and proclaim for ever: Glory to you, Lord." It is this kind of witness that is being attributed to children slaughtered by abortion, because the fact of their being murdered at an age of complete innocence of personal sin would seem to indicate that they have been chosen to become martyrs of Christ.
It seems, therefore, that all aborted children could actually be martyrs of Christ. Just as the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem were murdered ultimately because of the hatred of Satan for the seed of Mary, Mother of Jesus and of the Church (Gen 3:15), so also are aborted children murdered ultimately because of the hatred of Satan for the seed of Mary, Mother of Jesus and of the Church, and, therefore, of every woman precisely because they have the potentiality to know, to love, and to serve God in this life and afterwards to be happy with Him forever in Heaven. Aborted children are like the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, because the dagger of Satan strikes them as potential members of the Mystical Body of Christ, as pre-born children who might soon in this life have Christ living in their hearts. Would God ever give to Satan the power by acts of murder to rob unborn children of any chance to receive the saving grace of Christ?
Regarding the death of the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, Matthew 2:18 quotes the prophet Jeremiah as saying: "A voice was heard in Rama, lamentation and great mourning: Rachel bewailing her children, and she would not be comforted, because they are not" (Jer 31:15). This voice was literally the lamentation of the Jewish mothers of these infant children. But Jeremiah offered hope to those mothers who awaited the Savior, for he went on immediately to add: "Thus says the Lord: Let your voice cease from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, says the Lord: and they shall return out of the land of the enemy" (Jer 31:16). They will never return on the face of this earth, but they will return in the new creation, because of the fact that "the Lord has created a new thing upon the earth: a woman shall encompass a man" (Jer 31:22). That is, a woman, without receiving male seed, shall engender a man in her womb, and this is a prophecy of the Virginal Conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary. 12 And Jesus will lead them out of the land of the enemy into Heaven.
In the spiritual sense of Jeremiah 31:15, Rachel symbolizes both the Church of Jesus Christ and the Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The questions before us are whether this prophecy of Jeremiah refers also to aborted children and whether the Church in our time is fully observing her role in the second part of the prophecy, which may be to recognize that "they shall return out of the land of the enemy" as martyrs of Christ.
BAPTISM OF BLOOD AND OF DESIRE.
Since all aborted babies have immortal human souls, we know that the souls of all aborted babies are really existing someplace. St. Thomas Aquinas conjectured that children under the age of reason who die without Baptism will live forever in a place of natural happiness called the Limbo of Children. 13 However, St. Thomas was not dealing specifically with the case of innocent victims of murder, such as aborted children. Nor was he affirming that these children do not receive Baptism of blood or Baptism of desire. He does note rather, in treating of the question of evil, that "since children before the use of reason do not have an inordinate act of the will, neither will they have one after death." 14 In his commentary on the Sentences of Peter the Lombard, St. Thomas points out that "Baptism does not require a movement of free will, because it is administered principally against Original Sin," and thus can be given to those who do not "recognize it." 15 But he also says a little earlier that he alone can receive Baptism who can participate in bodily washing; therefore, not a child resting in the womb of his mother." 16 Thus St. Thomas makes clear that here he is talking only about Baptism of water, for he does not deny that John the Baptist was sanctified in his mother's womb without being washed with water.
On the contrary, in his Catena Aurea, at Luke 1:41, St. Thomas quotes St. Ambrose saying that John the Baptist leapt in his mother's womb because "he felt grace" ("gratiam sensit"), and he quotes Origen affirming that at this moment "John was filled with grace that flowed over into his mother." Similarly, regarding the fate of the Holy Innocents, St. Thomas affirms in his Commentary on Matthew (2:18) that the Church either "considers them to be reigning and so rejoices over them as over reigning persons," or the Church "awaits consolation in the future." And, in the Catena Aurea at Matt 2:18, St. Thomas quotes St. Hilary saying that the Holy Innocents "were carried away through the glory of martyrdom to the higher status (profectus) of eternity," and he quotes Rabanus Maurus affirming that "this means that the Church does weep over the taking away of saints from this world, but she does not want to be consoled in the sense that those who have overcome the world by their death should return to endure again the struggles of this life, because they must not be called back again into this world."
Writing in his Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas asks "whether anyone can be saved without Baptism," and he replies that one can be saved without actually being baptized (with water) if he has a desire to be baptized which comes forth "from faith working through charity" (Gal 5:6), "through which God, whose power is not bound by visible Sacraments, sanctifies the man interiorly." 17 Thus, he says, a catechumen having the desire to be baptized who dies before receiving the Sacrament does not arrive immediately at eternal life, but will suffer a penalty for his past sins; he will, however, be saved, "yet so as by fire" (1 Cor 3:15). 18 Again, he says that, since infants still in the womb cannot be washed with water, they cannot be baptized at all. 19 He means that they cannot be baptized with water, and he adds that, if the mother should die while an infant was living in her womb, the womb should be opened and the fetus should be baptized. 20 He adds that babies in their mothers' wombs "can nevertheless be subjected to the action of God, in whose presence they are living, in such wise that they achieve sanctification by some privilege of grace, as is evident regarding those who have been sanctified in the womb." 21
Newly born babies cannot consciously intend to be baptized, yet they are validly baptized into the Church. St. Thomas addresses this problem by affirming that "just as children in their mothers' wombs do not take nourishment by themselves, but are rather sustained from the nourishment of their mothers, so also children not having the use of reason are situated as it were in the womb of Mother Church, and they receive salvation not by themselves but 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 cry and try to resist, but through the act of those by whom they are presented." 22 St. Thomas quotes St. Augustine in response to the problem that babies don't have faith and sometimes even the parents are lacking in faith. "In the Church of the Savior small children believe through others, just as the sins which are remitted in Baptism have been received from others. ... (Thus) small 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 true believers, as by the whole society of saints and faithful." 23 St. Thomas adds: "And the infidelity of their own parents, even if after their Baptism they try to taint them with sacrifices to demons, does not harm the children. ... But the faith of one, indeed of the whole Church, benefits the little child through the action of the Holy Spirit, who unites the Church and passes the good things of one to another." 24
Hence, the fact that unborn babies cannot consciously know the object of faith and express their love for God by an act of their will does not exclude their sanctification at the moment of their death through the grace of Jesus made available in his Church, even though they have done nothing themselves to merit it. St. Thomas points out that no one can merit for himself the first grace he receives. 25 Thus, from St. Paul: "Not by works of justice which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the laver of regeneration and renovation of the Holy Spirit, whom he has poured forth upon us abundantly through Jesus Christ Our Savior: that, being justified by his grace, we may be heirs according to hope of life everlasting" (Tit 3:5-7). But, continues St. Thomas, one human person can obtain for another the grace of sanctification, not by the worthiness of his act but by an acceptable supplication of divine mercy, "according to the degree of friendship" that the beseeching person has with God. 26 It is evident, moreover, that no man has a closer degree of friendship with Jesus and with every baby being lethally attacked by Satan than has the Blessed Virgin Mary. It follows that Mary can merit by her prayers the grace of Baptism for these infants. As Mary, at the foot of the Cross, joined in the self-offering of her Son Jesus for the redemption of all mankind, so can she present to God each unborn infant brought by his earthly mother "like a sheep to the slaughter," and she can give testimony for each infant as he stands "as dumb as a lamb before his shearer" (cf. Is 53:7) while his body is being stripped away from his soul.
REPENTANCE FOR ABORTION.
Furthermore, the Church has confirmed the salvation of the Holy Innocents through Baptism of blood and has offered hope that "there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism" (CCC, no. 1261). Supposing that there is a way of salvation for aborted children, it is possible that they tend to be situated among those who are crying out with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, do you not revenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" (Apoc 6:11). The place of these souls, who were "slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held," is "under the altar" (Apoc 6:9). They are under the altar of the Cross of Jesus on Calvary. If they are inclined to cry out for revenge against those who dwell on earth, the Church can help to mitigate that desire. The Church can foster acts of repentance on the part of parents who have aborted a child, on the part of those who have participated in abortions, and on the part of all others who share the guilt as members of human society. Repentance and reparation can heal the wound of death inflicted upon aborted babies and reestablish the bond of love between child and parent. Martyrs of Christ would want to save their human murderers from the pains of Hell, so as to direct their indignation solely against the evil spirit, Satan, who is their ultimate enemy and who will not repent for all eternity, because he is the permanent enemy of God.
There is an aspect of social responsibility in the crime of abortion. Death came upon all men as a result of the sin of one man, and that is also why infants are conceived in the state of Original Sin. This somewhat mysterious solidarity of all human beings with one another in the circumstances of human society has its effect in the case of abortions. The example has been brought forward of the murder of a person by an unknown assailant in Deut 21:1-9. The elders of the nearest town were told by God to sacrifice an unbroken heifer and to wash their hands ceremoniously over the slain heifer and pray to God that this innocent blood not be laid to their charge "in the midst of thy people Israel," and then "the guilt of blood shall be taken from them." Certainly, in the case of abortion, it is Jesus, the innocent Lamb, who has been sacrificed for human society, and it is the Church, especially through the Mass and the other Sacraments, that pleads with God not to hold these murders to general account. But distinct prayers and rites for each distinct abortion are still largely lacking. Public prayers are also in order to exorcise the sin of idolatry. Just as so often in the past demons have demanded sacrifices of children to themselves, so also in our time the sin of abortion is a kind of sacrifice by parents of their children to demons. And demons are demanding these latter-day sacrifices ultimately because of their hatred for Jesus and his Mother.
OF THESE STONES.
John the Baptist called people to a baptism of repentance in preparation for the coming Judgment. Allegorically, John the Baptist typifies repentance in preparation for the coming of the sanctifying grace brought by Jesus. John stood in the River Jordan to administer the baptism of penance and repentance (Matt 3:6). Etymologically, the name Jordan derives from the Hebrew verb yrad, meaning "to come down," or "to descend," 27 with an n added to make yr-dn in the Masoretic text, but which was originally yr-dan, 28 that is, "flowing down from dan," which means "judge" or "judgment." 29 In fact, the tribe of Dan occupied the region around the sources of the Jordan and built their city of Dan there (Jud 18:29). Allegorically, the Jordan signifies Jesus as the Incarnate Word having come down to earth from the Heavenly Judge to free mankind from the judgment incurred by the Original Sin of Adam and Eve, and thus it signifies also the sanctifying grace that flows out from the Heart of Jesus (Jn 7:37-38) through the Sacraments of the Church, beginning with the Sacrament of Baptism, and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Jn 7:39; cf. Jn 1:33).
John the Baptist declared to the Pharisees and the Sadducees that "God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham" (Matt 3:9). We are certain that God is able of any stones to raise up children to Abraham, but we are here reminded of the twelve stones, carried by representatives of the twelve tribes of Israel, that Joshua had had placed in the dry bed of the Jordan at the time of the crossing over into the Promised Land (Josh 4:9). These stones signify the Church of the New Testament, rooted in the Death and Resurrection of Christ, whose members have been made "the seed of Abraham, heirs according to the promise" (Gal 3:29). If Jesus could convert the hardened heart of a hardened criminal into a humble and suppliant seeker of his Kingdom (Lk 23:42-43), he can convert the dormant hearts of victimized babies into beseechers of his grace and lovers of his Holy Face. "For I will take you from among the Gentiles and will gather you together out of all the countries and will bring you into your own land. And I will pour upon you clean water, and you shall be cleansed from all your filthiness, and I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit in the midst of you, and I will cause you to walk in my commandments and to keep my judgments and to do them. And you shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God" (Ez 36:24-28). "O Lord our Lord, how admirable is your name in the whole earth! For your magnificence is elevated above the heavens. Out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings you have perfected praise because of your enemies, that you may destroy the enemy and the avenger" (Ps 8:2-3).
The transforming love of Jesus is illustrated by his action at the wedding feast of Cana (Jn 2:1-11). The need of the newly married couple is satisfied miraculously by Jesus, not because of their conscious request, but at the request of Mary. The changing of water into wine symbolizes allegorically the future changing of wine into the Blood of Jesus. And it signifies tropologically the changing of merely human needs and aspirations into sanctifying grace and supernatural life. Babies being attacked by the knife or the pill of the abortionist still have for a moment the water of human life, but they do not have the wine of sanctifying grace. It is believed by some that Mary, Mother of the Church, feels this need in her heart and says to Jesus in every case: "They have no wine." There is a growing feeling that, even though the usual time may not yet have arrived for the administering of Baptism of water, Jesus works a miracle of grace, out of his own compassionate love for these innocent children, but also because of the request of his Mother.
Tropologically, the Jordan represents the flow of human history down from Adam and Eve, who were judged guilty of Original Sin and who thus infected the whole of the human race except for Jesus and Mary. Human history can help itself only by way of the baptism of repentance and of acts of penance. But Jesus came and stood in the Jordan, thereby (allegorically) sanctifying its waters in the Sacrament of Baptism and in all of the works of sanctifying grace. Jesus submitted at the same time to the baptism of repentance and of penance, not because He in any way needed this Himself, but because he came to take the guilt of the whole human race upon his shoulders, and also, as he said, "for so it is fitting to us to fill up all justice" (Matt 3:15).
Let us try to apply these notions to the case of aborted children. Their lives in the womb have flowed down like the mystical Jordan River from the judgment upon their first parents. They have been infected with the penalty of Original Sin, and they have had no opportunity to make acts of repentance or to believe in the Truth of Christ. But they are not guilty of personal sin. We have been assured that, even if the hearts of these children were as hard as stone, God could raise them up to be children of Abraham and sanctified members of the Church. But their hearts have not been hardened. Could this violent and unjust death be their act of repentance? Could the faith of the Church express their faith for them? We know that, in the water-Baptism of an infant, it is the faith of the sponsors or the faith of the Church that expresses the child's faith. John the Baptist did not receive Baptism of water. He was sanctified in his mother's womb by Jesus, brought near to him by Mary, partly also due to the faith of John's mother, who spoke for him (Lk 1:41-45). Now, Mary is the Mother of the Church and the spiritual Mother of everyone born into the Church (Jn 19:26). 30 Indeed, she is in a real sense the mother of every infant in the womb. 31 May we not hope that Mary brings Jesus to the side of every infant being criminally slaughtered in the womb and that her faith speaks for the infants who cannot speak? The Church, too, is the Mother of all the regenerated, and the Church, through its members, has recourse incessantly to Mary to "pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death." Is it conceivable that Mary does not pray for these innocent victims of abortion at the hour of their death with an efficacious prayer that enables their Baptism of blood or of desire? It seems hardly conceivable.
TO FILL UP ALL JUSTICE.
However, if these aborted infants have received Baptism of blood, they do not per se need to be claimed by the Church in order to be able to enter Heaven. In fact, if they have received Baptism, they are already members of the Church. Nevertheless, it seems fitting that the Church on earth should wash these sanctified souls with the tears of those guilty of the crime of abortion "in order to fill up all justice." To proclaim aborted children as martyrs would encourage remorse in the hearts of those who have killed them, since the guilty will know that they will have to face these children in the life and the Judgment to come. And the acclaiming of these children would encourage their parents to pray to them for forgiveness, thus bringing hope into the lives of the guilty. Such a recognition would also be a blow against Satan, who cannot bear to see good brought out of evil. In view of this as yet unfulfilled need, it appears that the Church should develop a more detailed and explicit spirituality of repentance, including suitable liturgical rites and celebrations, above all for those who have been directly involved in the sin of abortion, but also for all the members of the Church and of human society as a whole.
MARY, MOTHER OF THE CHURCH.
Rachel was the mother only of Joseph and Benjamin among the twelve sons of Jacob, but, as the principal wife of Jacob she represents in Jeremiah 31:15 the motherhood also of Judah, in which tribe Bethlehem lay, and of all the children of Israel. Mary, as the Mother of Jesus and as the principal recipient of his grace, has been made Mother of the Church and Mother of all the regenerated in Christ. 32 As a result of Original Sin, all of the descendants of Adam and Eve except Jesus and Mary have been conceived partially subject to Satan (cf. Col 1:13; Heb 2:14-15), but they do not fully become his "seed" (Gen 3:15) unless by their own willful serious sin. Only Jesus and Mary have been conceived entirely free of subjection to Satan, so that it is against them that the seed of Satan especially vent their hatred. The growth of devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary has enabled the Church better to understand the Merciful Love of Jesus and the role played by Mary in the salvation of the people of God. "Taken up into heaven (Mary) did not lay aside the saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. 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).
Thus, the Church proclaims Mary to be the Mother of God, the Mother of the Redeemer, and the Mother of the members of Christ (LG, nos. 53 and 61). Conceived without the least stain of Original Sin (LG 59), she cooperated with the work of salvation (LG 56 and 61), and she "faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the Cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only-begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, associating herself with his sacrifice in her mother's heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim who was born to her" (LG 58). Thus, "by reason of the gift and role of her divine motherhood" and "with her unique graces and functions, the Blessed Virgin is also intimately united to the Church. As St. Ambrose taught, the Mother of God is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity, and perfect union with Christ. ... 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" (LG 63). The faithful on earth are moved to a filial love towards their mother in Heaven and to the imitation of her virtues (LG 67). "In the meantime the Mother of Jesus in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise she shines forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come (cf. 2 Pet 3:10), a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God" (LG 68).
We may, therefore, ask ourselves how children at the moment of being assaulted unto death in the wombs of their mothers may appear to the Merciful Heart of Jesus and the Maternal Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that is, how these babies, who will never be born into this world, may appear to Jesus, who is "the firstborn among many brethren," and to Mary, who "cooperates with a mother's love" in the generation and formation of the brethren of Jesus. St. Paul writes to the Colossians: "And you, whereas you were sometime alienated and enemies in mind and in evil works, yet now he has reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unspotted and blameless before him" (Col 1:21-22). One can hope that the same grace may be given also to babies, lethally attacked, who have never been enemies of God in mind or in evil works.
We compare the fate of these babies with the fate of the Good Thief facing death on his cross. He was at first inclined to join his criminal companion in mocking the Crucified Jesus (Mk 15:32), thus adding outrage to Jesus to the other sins that he had committed "in mind and in evil works." Yet he was led to repent and to beseech Jesus to remember him when He came into his kingdom, and Jesus took him into his kingdom (Lk 23:42-43). How did this man receive the grace to repent and to ask for Heaven? Undoubtedly, because he was forgiven by the all-merciful Heart of Jesus (cf. Ps 102 ). But Mary was also standing there. The Gospel does not tell us, but one can surmise that this man was helped as well by Mary's prayers for him and by her presence at the foot of the Cross. He was sanctified without Baptism of water because of a desire for Heaven which she helped him to conceive, or so it seems to me.
Similarly, in the case of aborted infants, where the wombs of their mothers become the places of their death, it seems altogether likely that Mary comes to stand beside them, carrying in her Maternal Heart the merciful love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. If the Thief on Calvary could be given the grace of desire for Heaven, so can these infants. They could be given a supernatural enlightenment by Jesus at the painful moment of their death or, if not, then their faith could easily be represented by Mary as their Advocate and Sponsor, as Mother of the Church. In fact, the opposite case appears unthinkable, namely, that Mary, Mother of the Church, does not come to stand beside them and to speak words of faith for them at the agonizing moment of their death. So the issue hangs on the basic desire for life of the infants and the needed help from the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. One's mind travels back to the presentation of Jesus in the Temple and the prophecy of Simeon, who said at that time to Mary: "Behold this child is set for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted. And your own soul a sword shall pierce, that out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed" (Lk 2:34-35). It is a matter of fact that the knife that pierces the heart or the brain of these aborted babies pierces also the Heart of Mary. And thus it follows that, because of this sorrow accepted freely by the Heart of Mary, revealed thoughts, that is, thoughts of faith and love for Jesus, may well come forth at the moment of their death, either directly from the hearts of these unborn babies or vicariously from the Heart of Mary acting as their Mother and their Advocate.
Finally, then, let us return to the thought of "Rachel weeping for her children" (Jer 31:15) in the context of Mary's motherhood of the Church and of all those born of women. If Mary is the spiritual Mother of all men and women, then babies assailed by abortion are mystically in her womb. Mary weeps for babies murdered by abortion, but in this she will be comforted, because she knows that Jesus will lead them out of the land of the enemy (Jer 31:16). But Mary weeps also and more bitterly for those of her children who commit the abortions or favor them in any way, and in this she will be comforted only inasmuch as these sinful people, mothers, fathers, and others, will repent and do penance for their sin. By her sorrow and her suffering, Mary helps them to repent. Perhaps this is the meaning of Apoc 12:2, as it applies to Mary assumed into Heaven: "And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered." 33 Mary wants to be delivered of the pain that she suffers for these innocent babies, until they will have found their place in eternity, and she wants even more to be delivered of the pain that she suffers because of the sins of abortion of these babies. The Church can offer its devotion to Mary by encouraging prayers and acts of reparation for these sins and by helping to restore the bond of love between these babies and their parents. This may indeed be a message for our time.
SYNTHESIS AND CONCLUSION.
St. Thomas Aquinas postulated the existence of a Limbo of Children as a place of eternal natural happiness for children under the age of reason who died in the state of Original Sin. In our time the Catechism of the Catholic Church gives reason for us "to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism." The case of aborted children is even more hopeful in that they are innocent victims of murder. In proposing a Limbo of Children, St. Thomas was not specifically thinking about victims of murder, and the Catholic Church has long recognized the Holy Innocents as martyrs having received Baptism of blood.
The case of aborted children is clearer today than it was in the time of St. Thomas. It is now known and taught with certainty by the Church that the human fetus is a human being from the first moment of fertilization of the ovum. 34 Although some distinguish between the "human soul" and the "rational soul," this would seem to mean that a fertilized human ovum, from the first moment of conception, has a human soul equipped with human intelligence and free will, even though the fetus does not become conscious before a sufficient bodily base has been built up. But the fertilized ovum is already a human being called by God to eternal life with Him in Heaven, a being already objectively redeemed by Christ through the Sacrifice of Calvary (cf. CCC, no. 1703).
The Sacrament of Baptism is intimately tied to the Self-Sacrifice of Jesus on Mount Calvary. All of the grace of the seven Sacraments of the New Law flows from the Blood of Jesus poured out from the Cross and from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, wounded for our salvation. Even before the Passion and Death of Jesus, the Holy Innocents were saved by the shedding of their blood without Baptism of water. John the Baptist was sanctified in the womb of his mother, only later to confirm his witness by the supreme sacrifice of his life. At the dawn of history the voice of the just Abel's blood cried out to the Lord God from the earth. There is evidence that the voice of the blood of each aborted baby calls out to God from the "earth" of his earthly mother's womb as well as from the spiritual womb of the Church and from the mystical womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church and spiritual Mother of all the descendants of Adam and Eve.
Satan hates all of the physical descendants of Eve and all of the spiritual children of Mary (Gen 3:15); he hates all human beings from the moment of their conception, because they have the potentiality to become children of God and heirs of Heaven. In fact, every human fetus or fertilized human ovum is potentially a child of Mary and a member of the Church, and it is for this reason especially that Satan makes war against them (Apoc 12:17). Crimes of abortion are ultimately attacks of Satan against the seed of woman and above all against the spiritual seed of Mary.
Jesus has called "blessed" those who "suffer persecution for justice's sake," not because they will receive the reward of unending natural happiness, but because "theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 5:10). Every procured abortion is performed in an atmosphere of opposition to the Law of God. Every procured abortion is an act of subservience to Satan in his hatred of Jesus and of the Mother of Jesus. Every aborted infant has been persecuted unto death because, in the ultimate analysis, he or she is a potential child of Mary in the Mystical Body of Christ. Thus, every aborted infant has suffered persecution, not only for reasons of natural injustice to that infant's right to life, but also for reasons of opposition to the holiness of Christ.
St. Thomas points out that a knowledge of the object of faith and a movement of free will are not required for the validity of the Sacrament of Baptism. If this is so for Baptism of water, it is also true for Baptism of blood, as is proclaimed by the teaching and the liturgy of the Church. There is reason to hope that the victims of abortion, without making any conscious act, are at the moment of their death sanctified by the Blood of Jesus through the prayer and intercession of the Church, and in particular of the Heart of Mary. This idea, which lacks an official proclamation of the Church, is over and above the possibility of a supernatural enlightenment at the moment of their death, whereby these children would see the object of Christian faith and, strengthened by the actual grace of Jesus and the intercession of Mary, would lovingly embrace God with an act of their will. We have reviewed some evidences in Sacred Scripture for these assumptions and possibilities. God is able to raise up stones to become children of Abraham (Matt 3:9), and all the more clearly to raise up the hearts of innocent children to become members of the Church (Gal 3:29). This divine power and intention is clearly expressed in Ez 36 and in Psalms 8 and 102 (103). It is also illustrated in other places in Sacred Scripture, such as at the wedding feast of Cana (Jn 2). There seems to be no doubt that Mary, Mother of the Church, Mary the New Eve, Mary Queen of Heaven is present at the death of every aborted infant, to pray, to assist this baby soul, to intercede with Jesus, to offer her awareness, her sorrow, and her love in sponsorship of this child. As the archetype of Rachel in Matt 2:18, Mary's tears are sufficient to attract for the dying fetus the forgiveness of Original Sin, by the sacrifice of his tiny life, by the prayers of her Heart, and by the strength of her love for God in support of the desire for life in this infant soul. A sword once again pierces her Heart so that revealed thoughts may live in the mind and heart of this outraged child (cf. Lk 2:35).
What more can the Church do for aborted children? Like Rachel of old, the Church weeps for the truncated lives of these tiny human persons, but with the hope that Jesus will lead them "out of the land of the enemy" (Jer 31:16). Like Rachel of old, the Church also weeps for the murderers of these children, above all for their parents, knowing that these persons will never be led out of the land of Satan, the enemy, if they do not sincerely repent and perform acts of penitence. Both of these reasons seem to call for further initiatives on the part of the Church.
From the evidence presented, it seems to me that aborted souls do not absolutely need to be claimed by the Church in order to be saved or to enter into the eternal happiness of Heaven, if they have already been claimed by Mary, image and model of the Church, Mother of the Church and Mother of all the faithful. Apart from being the spiritual Mother of all mankind as the New Eve, Mary is the Mother of all the members of Christ, "since she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its Head" (Lumen Gentium, nos. 53-54). Mary's work of charity might well include bringing victims of abortion into the Church. Thus, these babies would be baptized in the Blood of Jesus, not only by the mingling of their own blood, but also by the faith of the Church, pre-contained and epitomized in the faith and charity of Mary, Queen of Heaven.
Aborted souls desire the repentance of their parents and the establishment of a mutual bond of love with them. The Church could help in this need by developing a more detailed and explicit spirituality of repentance for those involved in the sin of abortion and for the members of the Church as a whole, not excluding suitable liturgical rites and celebrations. These slaughtered victims of abortion have not only witnessed to the moral truth, "Thou shalt not kill," but they have been killed by a dagger that was aimed ultimately by Satan at the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. By declaring, if possible, the fact of this ultimate aim through the proclamation of these innocent babies as martyrs, the Church could repair the outrage to these infant souls, add millions to its recognized membership, give a new motive for restraint to those who would attempt abortion, strike a powerful blow against Satan and his cohorts, and express in a new and endearing way her filial devotion to Mary and her appreciation for the sanctifying influence of Mary in the lives of her members.
It is, however, the sole prerogative of the Pope and of the universal Magisterium to examine the evidence and to determine whether or not aborted babies can be claimed as members of the Church. In the absence of such a determination, the faithful may not presume this, but can only hope and pray, reassured that in the end, whichever be the case, "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away" (Apoc 21:4).
1. Thus, for example, Patricia de Menezes in a personal letter to this writer, dated 15 June 1995. Her opinion is expressed in a series of statements, entitled Scriptural References and Documentation Relevant to the Proposed Claiming of Aborted Children as Companion Martyr Saints of the First Holy Innocents, of which I have seen 177 printed pages. The present essay touches upon some elements of this opinion in the context of the general question of the destiny of aborted children without implying any judgment regarding the supernatural origin of the thoughts expressed therein.
2. Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Donum Vitae (22 Feb. 1987), no. 6.
3. Cf. Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, no. 58.
4. L.L. Morrow, My Catholic Faith, p. 253.
5. D. Attwater ed., A Catholic Dictionary (3d edition), p. 292, "Limbo." Cf. L. Bouyer, Dictionary of Theology (Desclee: New York, 1965), p. 276, "Limbo." The Latin word limbus means a border, edge, or fringe.
6. R. Lawler, D. Wuerl, and T. Lawler, eds., The Teaching of Christ (Our Sunday Visitor: Huntington, 1976), p. 529.
7. Francis Frost, Presentation of the Doctrine Contained in the Messages about Divine Innocence (67 printed pages, circulated privately), pp. 6-7.
8. Aquinas, S. Th., II-II, q. 124, art. 5.
9. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2853.
10. Cf. Pope John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, no. 11.
11. Cf. Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, nos. 23-24.
12. Cf. C. Lattey in A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, p. 584. The Hebrew verb sabab means basically "to turn around," "to go around," or "to surround" (see Brown, Driver and Briggs' Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 685). In the Poel form (shown in Jer 31:22) it always means "to go around" or "to encompass" (see Wigram's Hebrew Concordance, p. 865), although with the connected purpose of protecting (cf., e.g., Ps 26:5). The RSV rendering, "a woman protects a man," thus appears to be an evasion of the literal meaning and a contradiction to the context, since a woman protecting a man is not "a new thing" created on the earth. Similarly, the rendering in the Jerusalem Bible, "the woman sets out to find her Husband again," exchanges the literal meaning of the words for a creative interpretation of the translators. Guy Couturier, in the New Jerome Biblical Commentary (p. 289) suggests the translation "will protect," as in Deut 32:10 and in Ps 31(32):7,10; however, in all three of these places the verb means literally "to encompass" (cf. the Vulgate, the Douay-Rheims translation, and Wigram's Hebrew Concordance, p. 865).
13. Aquinas, De Malo, q. 5, art. 2 and 3; In IV Sent., bk. II, dist. 23, q. 2, art. 2, and dist. 45, q. 1, art. 2.
14. Aquinas, De Malo, q. 5, art. 3, corp.
15. Aquinas, In IV Sent., bk. II, dist. 23, q. 2, art. 2c.
16. Aquinas, In IV Sent., bk. II, dist. 23, q. 2, art. 2c corp.
17. Aquinas, S. Th., III, q. 68, art. 2, corp.
18. Aquinas, S. Th., III, q. 68, art. 2, ad 2.
19. Aquinas, S. Th., III, q. 68, art. 11, corp.
20. Aquinas, S. Th., III, q. 68, art. 11, ad 3.
21. Aquinas, S. Th., III, q. 68, art. 11, ad 2.
22. Aquinas, S. Th., III, q. 68, art. 9, ad 1.
23. A. Augustinus, Cont. duas epist. Pelagii, bk. I, ch. 22.
24. Aquinas, S. Th., III, q. 68, art. 9, ad 2.
25. Aquinas, S. Th., I-II, q. 114, art. 5, corp.
26. Aquinas, S. Th., I-II, q. 114, art. 6, corp.
27. Cf. Brown, Driver, and Briggs, p. 432.
28. Ibid., p. 434.
29. Cf. Ibid., p. 192.
30. "Wherefore this sacred synod, while expounding the doctrine on the Church, in which the divine Redeemer brings about our salvation, intends to set forth painstakingly both the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the mystery of the Incarnate Word and the Mystical Body and the duties of the redeemed towards the Mother of God, who is mother of Christ and mother of men, and most of all those who believe (matrem Christi et matrem hominum, maxime fidelium) ... " Lumen Gentium, no. 54.
31. "The Mother of Christ, who stands at the very center of (the Paschal) mystery - a mystery which embraces each individual and all humanity - is given as mother to every single individual and all mankind" (Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, p. 23).
32. Cf. Lumen Gentium, no. 61.
33. Cf. Pope John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, no. 30.
34. Cf. Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, no. 58.
Roman Theological Forum |
Living Tradition Index |
Previous Issue |