Dear Father Angelo,
since I was a child, although I have lived in a family where until now there has always been a lot of distrust towards the Catholic Church and its doctrine (solo per evitare la ripetizione che segue), I have always loved the figure of Jesus Christ and His teachings and at least initially I used to take part in the Sacraments.
Endowed with a reflective character and prone to fear, doubt, confusion and despair, over time I ended up like many boys of my age to distance myself from the truth and waste part of my life on empty things. Although many times I have risked to completely lose faith, I never wanted to abandon the path I had undertaken; I have resumed attending Mass and I can already almost feel that love thanks to which human beings reach salvation.
But every day old uncertainties feed me (SUGGESTION: But every day past uncertainties hunt me ), clouding the soul and hardening the heart. Reflecting on children who died without Baptism, a Sacrament so beautiful that cannot be denied , and considering their condition that is similar in a way to that of the dead before Christ, I wonder how their destiny could be reconciled with the words of the Gospel of John (3.5). “Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”
It seems a contradiction to me, but I am sure that if I were not so similar to Nicodemus I would understand its meaning.
I was also interested in having more information about the behavior of the Church towards those who in some historical moments, in particular at the time of Theodosius and that of Charlemagne, were guilty of abuses in the name of the faith against pagan peoples.
I thank you for the patient work of evangelization you carry out on this site, may the Lord bless you and all those who do his will, never forget the good received.
Answer of the priest
1. As regards to the first point, which is of doctrinal nature, the fate of infants who died without Baptism has been assimilated for a long time to that of the righteous in the Old Testament, that is to say to those who died in God’s Grace and are perfectly purified post mortem .
The second book of Maccabees attests this common faith present amongst the Jews of the time on the possibility of being purified even post mortem: “He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought.” (Mc 12,43-45)
2. Certainly there is a difference between the righteous of the Old Testament and children who died without Baptism.
The former had committed personal sins.
The latter, on the other hand, have no personal sins so it would make no sense to offer suffrages for their sins.
3. For children who died without Baptism the problem lies in this:because of original sin they do not have the Grace and without the Grace, which is a quality of supernatural order, they are not fit to enter Paradise. What Our Lord said always remains true: “Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”
4. However, the Church has always believed that alongside the Baptism of water, there is also a Baptism of desire and a Baptism of blood. And it also believes that if it is very true that without Grace one cannot enter Paradise, it is also true that Grace is not l merely dependent on the Sacraments (gratia non alligatur sacramentis).
Jesus said that: “The wind 4 blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” This means that just as its starting point or its end are not known precisely (cannot be precisely determined) , similarly it is with the action of the Holy Spirit which cannot be circumscribed in material terms.
5. Since God wants everyone to be saved (1 Tim 2: 4), nothing denies that through ways only known to Him the possibility of salvation, of receiving grace, can also be given to children who have died without Baptism.
This is the common thought of the Church today also expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “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.”
6. You ask me about Theodosius. We know of him, who certainly had many merits, that there was also a particularly dark page.
In Thessalonica (now Thessaloniki) in the year 390 the population hanged the magister militum of Illyricum and governor of the city Buterico because he had arrested a famous charioteer and had not allowed the annual games.
Theodosius ordered retaliation. He had a chariot race organized in the great circus of the city a few days after the events and later, having closed the doors, he ordered to slaughter all the people (about 7000) gathered there.
As soon as Saint Ambrose learned of this fact, he ordered him in a letter to do an adequate penance threatening that he would not celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in his presence if he had not first mourned the crime (epistle 51).
According to Theodoret, when St. Ambrose learned that Theodosius was about to enter the church after the carnage, he went out into the hall and prevented him from entering.
This fact is narrated in many representations that depict Saint Ambrose.
7. You also ask me about Charlemagne. I think you are referring to the massacre against the Saxons.
You need to know how things went.
Here is what two famous historians write, the Bihlmeyer and the Tuechle: “It was the Saxons themselves who offered conversion to Christianity as a guarantee of their submission; in the Paderborn diet of 777 it was declared mandatory for all Saxons. Imposing ranks were baptized. But in 782 the proud people rebelled under the leadership of the heroic Westphalian noble Vitichindo, rising with a powerful shock for the defense and independence of the ancient pagan faith; the Christian Churches were destroyed, the missionaries expelled or killed, the compatriots who had passed to Christianity severely oppressed. This insurrection and repeated transgressions of sworn pacts were fiercely avenged by Charles, who, as the annals of the Frankish kingdom and other sources tell, had 4,500 Saxon prisoners executed at Verden on Aller (782). There may be some reservations about the number of victims, but the massacre is beyond any doubt. This horrible event ignited the whole people even more for a new battle: but in the battles near Detmold and along the Has (783) they were defeated. Vitichindo, recognizing the futility of further resistance, was baptized with many men of his entourage at Attigny in Champagne (785); Charles himself acted as his godfather ”(History of the Church, II, 81,1).”
Of course, this is a dark page in the events of Charlemagne, and perhaps it is not the only one.But(Nonetheless) his work cannot be judged by this event alone.
I would only add that he was also granted the title of blessed, the celebration of which is permitted only in Aachen.
I wish you well, I remember you to the Lord and I bless you.
Translated by Emanuele Menchiari