Refutation of the Polemical Claims of Brazilian Calvinists Francisco Tourinho & Frankle Brunno
John Wycliffe was an English pre-Reformer condemned at (1415). Wycliffe’s thesis #6 (“Those who assert that the children of the faithful who die without sacramental baptism will not be saved, are stupid and presumptuous in saying so”) was condemned at the Council of Constance by Pope Martin V (session 15, July 6, 1415). Afterwards , Pope Martin V, in the Council, decided: “The books and pamphlets of John Wyclif, of accursed memory, were carefully examined by the doctors and masters of the University of Oxford (…) This holy synod (..) repudiates and condemns, by this perpetual decree, each and every one in particular of the aforementioned articles; and henceforth forbids any and all Catholics, under penalty of anathema, to preach, teach, or profess faith in the articles herein described or any of them.”
The Dogmatic Teaching of the Church of Rome, defined in an Ecumenical Council, is that children who were not baptized would not be saved. The Church of Rome condemned this thesis of the pre-reformer, reaffirming that unbaptized children, even if they were children of Christians, could not be saved. The Church of Rome today has abandoned this teaching. According to the new guidelines, we must deduce, from the universal salvific will, that there is a way of salvation for children who died without baptism: “The principle that God wants the salvation of all human beings allows us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who die without baptism” (cf. Catechism, 1261).
There is undoubtedly an explicit contradiction here, but the question goes further. If the Council of Constance had already solemnly decided on this question, what allows the Church of Rome to review this matter? Second, if Wycliffe’s thesis would not be condemned today, then he was right, it follows that his condemnation was not fair, and if it was not fair, what makes us think that the others were correct? What guarantee would I have from the Church of Rome, if I were a Roman Catholic, that the faith professed today is true, if in the future the Church of Rome can change even what has already been definitely decided? As we see, the Church of Rome’s doctrine of papal infallibility falls before us, with these and other contradictions.
First things first. Let’s examine whether the damnation or consignment to limbo (let alone to hell), of infants who die unbaptized was ever Catholic dogma, as Tourinho and Brunno claim. It has never been, as a matter of fact. See the relevant articles:
Those who incorrectly argue that limbo is Catholic dogma, often base it on statements such as the following, as laid out by Catholic apologist Scott Eric Alt:
First, Pope Gregory X, at the Second Council of Lyons (1274), said:
The souls of those who die in mortal sin or with original sin only … immediately descend into Hell, yet to be punished with different punishments.
Second, Pope Eugene IV, at the Council of Florence (1439), said:
Moreover, the souls of those who depart in actual mortal sin or in original sin only, descend immediately into hell but to undergo punishments of different kinds.
Third, Pope John XXII, in a Letter to the Armenians (1321), said:
The Roman Church teaches … that souls of those who depart in mortal sin or with only original sin descend immediately to hell, nevertheless to be punished with different punishments and in disparate locations.
. . . Though all this is no doubt Catholic dogma, these quotations speak only generally, and do not at all address the specific question of the fate of infants who die without even the possibility of baptism. [Those who make this argument assume] that the general has application to the specific, even though none of the passages . . . mention infants who die in utero, still less Limbo. That is a separate issue, and a separate theological debate. (“No, the Limbo of Infants is Not Defined Catholic Dogma,” National Catholic Register, 4-5-16)
Denzinger’s Enchiridion is the “official” source (I have a hard copy of the most recent 2012 edition) that compiles Catholic dogmas. It never declares that limbo is a dogma. If our critics claim otherwise, let them produce the documentation. The above three citations (if they want to utilize those) are about a different topic, as Alt observed. The only place I could find in Denzinger that references the concept and word limbo (of children) at all is Pope Pius VI’s Constitution Auctorem fidei (August 28, 1794), devoted to the errors of the Synod of Pistoia (1786). The 26th error was condemned as follows:
The Punishment of Those Who Die with Original Sin Only
26. The doctrine that rejects as a Pelagian fable that place in the netherworld (which the faithful commonly designate by the name of the limbo of children) in which the souls of the dead with only original sin are punished with the punishment of damnation without the punishment of fire, as if those who remove the punishment of fire were thereby introducing some intermediate place and state exempt from guilt and punishment between the kingdom of God and eternal damnation, as the Pelagians have imagined, <is> false, rash and injurious to Catholic schools (D 2626, pp. 535-536)
Basically, this condemnation simply denies that the belief in limbo is Pelagian and is a state between heaven and hell, which is a universe away from the notion that it is required infallible dogma for all to believe. It just isn’t. And if it never was a dogma, then there can be no alleged contradiction between dogmas or doctrines in the Catholic Church in this regard, and the question of whether Pope Martin V contradicted the post-1870 understanding of papal infallibility never even comes up. It’s a moot point; an irrelevancy.
Obviously if different theological opinions on a given issue are permissible according to the Church, then infallibility isn’t in play, because when it is, differing opinions are no longer allowed. Thus, Tourinho and Brunno fail to make rather elementary distinctions in critiquing Catholicism. Sadly, this is all too common. Critics of the Church construct a mere straw man to knock down, accomplishing nothing.
The Vatican’s International Theological Commission issued the document, The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised, which was approved by Pope Benedict XVI in January 2007. It stated about limbo in its second paragraph:
This theory, elaborated by theologians beginning in the Middle Ages, never entered into the dogmatic definitions of the Magisterium, even if that same Magisterium did at times mention the theory in its ordinary teaching up until the Second Vatican Council. It remains therefore a possible theological hypothesis.
This document goes on to state:
34. In the Church’s tradition, the affirmation that children who died unbaptised are deprived of the beatific vision has for a long time been “common doctrine”. This common doctrine followed upon a certain way of reconciling the received principles of revelation, but it did not possess the certitude of a statement of faith, or the same certitude as other affirmations whose rejection would entail the denial of a divinely revealed dogma or of a teaching proclaimed by a definitive act of the magisterium. The study of the history of the Church’s reflection on this subject shows that it is necessary to make distinctions. In this summary we distinguish first, statements of faith and what pertains to the faith; second, common doctrine; and third, theological opinion. . . .
38. d) The Bull “Auctorem fidei” of Pope Pius VI is not a dogmatic definition of the existence of Limbo: the papal Bull confines itself to rejecting the Jansenist charge that the “Limbo” taught by scholastic theologians is identical with the “eternal life” promised to unbaptised infants by the ancient Pelagians. Pius VI did not condemn the Jansenists because they denied Limbo, but because they held that the defenders of Limbo were guilty of the heresy of Pelagius. By maintaining the freedom of the Catholic Schools to propose different solutions to the problem of the fate of unbaptised infants, the Holy See defended the common teaching as an acceptable and legitimate option, without endorsing it.
Let’s now turn our attention specifically to the Council of Constance in 1415 and Pope Martin V: who, incidentally, became pope in November 1417 and confirmed various decrees of the council in 1418 and thereafter, and the polemical claims made by Tourinho and Brunno regarding both.
Denzinger includes a condemnation of 45 errors of Wycliffe made at the Council of Constance in its Session 8: May 4, 1415, and confirmed by Pope Martin V on February 22, 1418 (D 1151-195; pp. 321-325 in the 2012 edition). These do not include Wycliffe’s thesis #6, presently under consideration. The manifest absurdity of some of these propositions is readily seen in the following representative examples:
#10 (D 1160) It is against Sacred Scripture for ecclesiastics to have possessions.
#20 (D 1170) He who gives alms to friars is thereby excommunicated.
#22 (D 1172) Saints who founded religious orders sinned by founding them.
#23 (D 1173) Religious living in religious orders do not belong to the Christian religion.
#27 (D 1177) All things happen by an absolute necessity.
#29 (D 1179) Universities, . . . colleges, . . . and teaching offices in them are vain things brought in by the pagans; they are of as much use to the Church as is the devil.
#36 (D 1186) The pope with all his clerics who own possessions are heretics by the fact that they have possessions . . .
#37 (D 1187) The Church of Rome is the synagogue of Satan . . .
#44 (D 1194) Augustine, Benedict, and Bernard are damned, unless they have repented of the fact that they had possessions and instituted and entered religious orders; and thus, from the pope down to the last religious, all are heretics.
#45 (D 1195) All religious orders, without distinction, were introduced by the devil.
Denzinger (2012) provides footnotes documenting where in his writings Wycliffe made these ludicrous and outrageous statements.
Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils (2017), edited by Norman P. Tanner, lists 58 additional condemned propositions (decreed at Session 15, July 6, 1415), in addition to the aforementioned 45 (out of 260 total that the Church opposed). These can be seen on an EWTN web page that utilizes Tanner as its source, and they include thesis or proposition #6: “Those who claim that the children of the faithful dying without sacramental baptism will not be saved, are stupid and presumptuous in saying this.”
The question, then, is whether this point of theology has been dogmatically established by the Church (thus allowing no contrary views). I have already shown how it is not so established (and there is still more to come on that below). The second thing is: what, precisely did the Council intend, in condemning this particular proposition?
I have asked Dr. Robert Fastiggi, a Catholic systematic theologian, who edited and translated large portions of the 2012 edition of Denzinger, to clarify this, since some skeptics of the Church will claim that my own arguments and interpretations carry no force at all, since I am a mere lay apologist with no formal theological education (though, I hasten to add, I have tons of informal education over 46 years). This is one reason of many why we have Catholic theologians, and Dr. Fastiggi is of impeccable orthodoxy. He is as qualified as anyone to tackle this challenge from our separated brethren. Here are his words in personal correspondence to me:
The Council of Constance did not define limbo as a dogma. Rather, Wyclif’s article no. 6 was condemned because it was “offensive to the ears of the devout” and/or “rash and seditious.” The introduction to the list of condemned articles explains that some of them “were and are notoriously heretical” and others were “offensive to the ears of the devout” and ‘rash and seditious.” The list does not specify which of the articles are heretical and which are “offensive to the ears of the devout” and “rash and seditious.” [From Tanner: “It was found that some, indeed many, of the articles thus examined were and are notoriously heretical and have already been condemned by holy fathers, some are offensive to the ears of the devout and some are rash and seditious.”] To condemn a proposition as heretical, it must be clearly condemned as such, and the faithful must know it has been condemned as heretical. We don’t have a clear specification that article 6 is heretical so it’s best to understand it as condemned because it is “offensive to the ears of the devout” and/or “rash and seditious.”*Why, though, would it be offensive to the ears of the devout and rash and seditious? It is because it is rash and seditious to say that those who believe that unbaptized babies will not be saved are “stupid and presumptuous”. We still teach that “the Church does not know any means other than Baptism that assures entrance into eternal beatitude” (CCC 1257). St. Thomas Aquinas, however, taught that God is not bound to the sacraments, and CCC 1257 takes note of this (though it doesn’t provide the reference). [Dave: the relevant portion from St. Thomas Aquinas will follow Dr. Fastiggi’s words below]*We also need to note that those who believed (and still believe) that unbaptized babies don’t go to heaven did not believe these infants suffer any torment but only the deprivation of the beatific vision. This is clear in Innocent III’s 1201 letter to Archbishop Humbert of Arles (Denz.-H 780). [“. . . the punishment of original sin is the deprivation of the vision of God . . .”]*It’s also important to note that the Church has not totally repudiated the possibility of limbo for unbaptized babies. The 2007 document of the International Theological Commission on the Fate of Unbaptized Infants made this clear.*The CDF approved this 2007 document. Although the ITC document is not magisterial itself, it has been approved by the CDF for publication, which is a witness to its theological soundness.*I think what we can safely say is this: The Church has never solemnly taught limbo as a dogma.*The condemnation of article 6 of Wyclif in session 15 of the Council of Constance cannot be understood as a dogmatic proclamation of the truth of limbo or the absolute certitude that unbaptized babies will not be saved. It is simply condemning the view that those who hold this position are “stupid and presumptuous.”*We need to understand the condemnation of article 6 of Wyclif in session 15 of Constance in light of subsequent theological development. The Church today allows for belief in limbo as acceptable, but she does not require it as a dogma (and never did). Catholics can hope for the salvation of unbaptized babies, but we cannot state with absolute certitude that they are saved (see CCC 1261).*There was no papal error in the condemnation of article 6 of Wyclif during session 15 of Constance. It was not an error to condemn those who regarded an acceptable theological opinion as “stupid and presumptuous.”*The condemnation of article 6 of Wyclif during session 15 of Constance does not in any way challenge papal infallibility or demonstrate papal error.
God’s power is not bound to the sacraments (see CCC, 1257)
St. Thomas Aquinas Summa theologiae III q. 64 a. 7:
But it must be observed that as God did not bind His power to the sacraments, so as to be unable to bestow the sacramental effect without conferring the sacrament; so neither did He bind His power to the ministers of the Church so as to be unable to give angels power to administer the sacraments.
St. Thomas Aquinas III q. 68 art. 2:
I answer that, The sacrament or Baptism may be wanting to someone in two ways. First, both in reality and in desire; as is the case with those who neither are baptized, nor wished to be baptized: which clearly indicates contempt of the sacrament, in regard to those who have the use of the free-will. Consequently those to whom Baptism is wanting thus, cannot obtain salvation: since neither sacramentally nor mentally are they incorporated in Christ, through Whom alone can salvation be obtained.
Secondly, the sacrament of Baptism may be wanting to anyone in reality but not in desire: for instance, when a man wishes to be baptized, but by some ill-chance he is forestalled by death before receiving Baptism. And such a man can obtain salvation without being actually baptized, on account of his desire for Baptism, which desire is the outcome of “faith that worketh by charity,” whereby God, Whose power is not tied to visible sacraments, sanctifies man inwardly. (Dr. Fastiggi’s bolding and italics)
So in the final analysis, what we have in Tourinho’s and Brunno’s critique is yet another instance in a long, sad line of critics of the Church having a very incomplete or dim knowledge of what it is that they are addressing. They merely present a caricatured straw man to knock down, not actual Catholic teaching, as has been amply shown by now. So they have proven nothing, except — with all due respect — their ignorance of Catholic theology and our system of authority.
They claimed, “The Dogmatic Teaching of the Church of Rome, defined in an Ecumenical Council, is that children who were not baptized would not be saved.” That never happened. They understand neither what is meant by Catholic “Dogma,” nor how to properly document when it is decreed. They write: “The Church of Rome today has abandoned this teaching.” It can’t abandon what was never dogmatically established (with a prohibition of contrary views) in the first place. A supposed inexorable, undeniable correspondence between not being baptized and non-salvation is not — and never has been — a Catholic dogma, which means — by straightforward logic — that it could not have been abandoned.
Various opinions on this are allowed to be held among Catholics to this day, as they have always been. But most orthodox Catholic theologians today, following the qualifying thinking of St. Thomas Aquinas (and strong hints in Holy Scripture) do not hold to the proposition expressed by Wycliffe in his thesis #6, brought to the table by Tourinho and Brunno in an effort to besmirch Holy Mother Church. And I agree with the majority of current theologians. In any event, the Church has not dogmatically decided the question.
“There is undoubtedly an explicit contradiction here” (there is not at all, as proven above), “but the question goes further. If the Council of Constance had already solemnly decided on this question,” (it did not do so, as shown). “As we see, the Church of Rome’s doctrine of papal infallibility falls before us . . .” The example provided does no such grandiose thing, since no dogmatic proclamation as to “heresy” being involved was ever made.
Since it wasn’t decreed, and therefore doesn’t involve infallibility or dogma in the first place, then one can’t argue that a “contradiction” is currently present in teachings that are contrary to the strict Augustinian-type views on the question (which are still permitted, but in a small minority among orthodox theologians at present). Not to nitpick, but Pope Martin V was also not “in the Council” as claimed, since he wasn’t elected pope until 1417, two years after it closed.
Dr. Fastiggi showed how the Council of Constance didn’t clarify which condemned propositions had to do with outright heresy. Tourinho and Brunno cite the “Sentence condemning 260 articles of Wyclif” from the Council (Session 15—6 July 1415), but this is also the document that notes — a thing ignored by our two zealous critics — three different sorts of errors in these propositions:
1) “many,” indeed, “were and are notoriously heretical.”
2) But “some are offensive to the ears of the devout.”
3) And “some are rash and seditious.”
Since it’s not stated that thesis #6 fell under category #1, we have no way of authoritatively or logically concluding that it does, from this data. Catholics were not “to preach, teach, or hold the said articles or any one of them.” But of course it doesn’t follow from the prohibition that all of the theses were heretical. It is true that Wycliffe was definitively pronounced to be a heretic by the council:
This holy synod, therefore, . . . declares, defines and decrees that the said John Wyclif was a notorious and obstinate heretic who died in heresy, and it anathematises him and condemns his memory.
But it doesn’t follow that absolutely everything he taught was a heresy. Surely he believed in God, for example (he wasn’t an atheist). That’s not a heresy, even though he was (if we categorize his overall thought from a Catholic perspective) a heretic. Presumably he believed that Jesus Christ was incarnate and redeemed sinners from hell, and any number of other Christian doctrines (if not these, then others), etc., etc. In other words, he believed in some true things.
Likewise, his rant about one of the many permissible Catholic opinions regarding the fate of unbaptized infants did not involve heresy. It seems to me most likely to have entailed what the council noted in #3 above. I agree with Dr. Fastiggi: “it is rash and seditious to say that those who believe that unbaptized babies will not be saved are ‘stupid and presumptuous’.”
That would include someone like St. Augustine (Calvinists’ favorite Church father by far). We shouldn’t be surprised by this, seeing that Wycliffe (see D 1194 above) believed that Augustine was “damned,” unless he “repented” at the last minute for having committed the unthinkable outrages of having “possessions” and entering a “religious order”: both things — in Wycliffe’s bizarre mentality — making him a “heretic.”
These are the desperate lengths that critics of the Catholic Church will go. They will side with an irrational extremist like Wycliffe, who damned even St. Augustine (one of their own heroes: though it is a straw man caricature of Augustine that they revere), and who believed all sorts of ludicrous things, if he opposes the Catholic Church, under the jaded philosophy of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.”
Photo credit: Portrait of Pope Martin V (1368-1431), by the Venetian School, after Pisanello (1995-1455) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
Summary: Two Brazilian Calvinists fail to find error and self-contradiction in Catholic teaching concerning unbaptized infants and papal infallibility, as I decisively prove.