Thursday, August 05, 2010

Mean Calvinism: The Children! Don't Forget the Children!

I take special notice of Tiber swimmers who claim to be former Calvinists. Here's a tidbit from a Roman Catholic convert, commenting on her previous theological position:

I was probably one of the most radical Calvinists of all. I would and did stand flat footed and state unwaveringly that all five points of the TULIP were infallible and that those who were not elect were going to glorify God simply by their depraved lives and their eternal damnation. I had also come to the conclusion that even unborn babies that perished were subject to God's capricious picking and choosing. I had been taught that since it was Tradition that taught us that children were not guilty of actual sin until after an age of accountability that we should reject that idea along with the whole of Catholic Tradition. 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. If your head is spinning right now, don't feel alone. I can't believe I once believed this rubbish either. [source]

The sentiment put forth is that those awful Calvinists are really heartless when it comes to unborn children. If you ever want to tug at heart strings, make sure to put children in your argument. I'm not sure which Calvinism this woman ascribed to, but as far as I know, there isn't one Calvinist view on the issue. Some Calvinists hold children who die unborn whose parents are believers will be saved. Others hold different views: God saves all the unborn, none of the unborn, etc. My personal view is I don't know what God does with the unborn, or infants that die. I do know this: whatever He does, it's Holy. That's good enough for me.

But here's the ironic kicker. If one traces the issue through history, some of the finest minds that Rome claims as her own held some rather straightforward views on helpless unborn children. Consider the description B.B. Warfield gives here of Augustine:

The fairest exponent of the thought of the age on this subject is Augustine, who was called upon to defend [baptism is necessary to salvation] against the Pelagian error that infants dying unbaptized, while failing of entrance into the kingdom, yet obtain eternal life. His constancy in this controversy has won for him the unenviable title of durus infantum pater — a designation doubly unjust, in that not only did he neither originate the obnoxious dogma nor teach it in its harshest form, but he was even preparing its destruction by the doctrines of grace, of which he was more truly the father. Augustine expressed the Church-doctrine moderately, teaching, of course, that infants dying unbaptized would be found on Christ’s left hand and be condemned to eternal punishment, but also not forgetting to add that their punishment would be the mildest of all, and indeed that they were to be beaten with so few stripes that he could not say it would have been better for them not to be born.

And consider this comment from Warfield as well:

If the general consent of a whole age as expressed by its chief writers, including the leading bishops of Rome, and byits synod ical decrees, is able to determine a doctrine, certainly the Patristic Church transmitted to the Middle Ages as de fide that infants dying unbaptized (with the exception only of those who suffer martyrdom) are not only excluded from heaven, but doomed to hell. Accordingly the mediaeval synods so define ; the second Council of Lyons and the Coun- cil of Florence declare that "the souls of those who pass away in mortal sin or in orig inal sin alone descend immediately to hell, to be punished, however, with unequal penalties." On the maxim that gradus non mutant speciem we must adjudge Petavius's argument unanswerable, that this deliverance determines the punisnment ot un bap tized infants to be the same in kind (in the same hell) with that of adults in mortal sin: "So infants are tormented with unequal tortures of fire, but are tormented neverthe less."

And also this:

Nevertheless scholastic thought on the subject was characterized by a success ful effort to mollify the harshness of the Church doctrine, under the impulse of the prevalent semi-Pelagian conception of orig inal sin. The whole troup of schoolmen unite in distinguishing between poena damni and poena sensus, and in assigning to infants dying unbaptized only the former — i.e., the loss of heaven and the beatific vision, and not the latter — i.e., positive torment. They differ among themselves only as to whether this poena damni, which alone is the lot of infants, is accompanied by a painful sense of the loss (as Lombard held), or is so neg ative as to involve no pain at all, either external or internal (as Aquinas argued).

Even though this is a bit nicer, it still seems like it would be kind of rough for our Roman Catholic convert swallow, I mean they're children! Where's the free pass straight to heaven? Warfield explains how Rome started to work it all out:

In the upheaval of the sixteenth century the Church of Rome found her task in harmonizing under the influence of the scholastic teaching, the inheritance which the somewhat inconsistent past had bequeathed her. Four varieties of opinion sought a place in her teaching. At the one extreme the earlier doctrine of Augustine and Gregory, that infants dying unbaptized suffer eternally the pains of sense, found again advocates, and that especially among the greatest of her scholars, such as Noris, Petau, Driedo, Conry, Berti. At the other extreme, a Pelagianizing doctrine that excluded unbaptized infants from the kingdom of heaven and the life promised to the blessed, and yet accorded to them eternal life and natural happiness in a place between heaven and hell, was advocated by such great leaders as Ambrosius Catharinus, Albertus Pighius, Molina, Sfondrati. The mass, however, followed the schoolmen in the middle path of parna damni, and, like the schoolmen, only differed as to whether the punishment of loss involved sorrow (as Bellarmine held) or was purely negative.

Warfield explains Trent's sorting this out:

The Council of Trent (1545) anathematized those who affirm that the "sacraments of the new law are not necessary to salvation, and that without them or an intention of them men obtain . . . the grace of justification;" or, again, that " baptism is free — that is, is not necessary to salvation." This is explained by the Tridentine Catechism to mean that "unless men be regenerated to God through the grace of baptism, they are born to everlasting misery and destruction, whether their parents be believers or unbelievers ;" while, on the other hand, we are credibly informed that the council was near anathematizing as a Lutheran heresy the proposition that the penalty for original sin is the fire of hell. The Council of Trent at least made renewedly de fide that infants dying unbaptized incurred damnation, though it left the way open for discussion as to the kind and amount of their punishment.

I could continue quoting Warfield, but go read the article for yourself. Suffice it to say, this Tiber swimmer hasn't gone that deep into history before making her comments. Note to Romanist converts: before chastising a theological view, make sure it wasn't an acceptable view in your church at one time.


dtking said...


I wonder if this makes Augustine unloving, because he believed that all unbaptized babies who die are not saved.

Oh yes, I understand that in his view they don't suffer as do the lower denizens of hell, but they are not saved. So I guess if this is the standard, Augustine was a baby-hater.

Nick said...

The post was overall fair and honest.

This has been a theological difficulty for Protestants and Catholics, which reasoning ranging from purely emotional to purely rational.

The reasoning is generally along these lines:

(1) Only those united to Christ can be saved.

(2) Infants dying before baptism (or faith, in the case of some Protestants) either are united to Christ by an extraordinary grace (and thus saved) or they are not ( and thus are not saved).

(3) The traditional Catholic position would add another distinction, original sin deprives one the right to Heaven, but the pains of hell are directly proportional to the *actual* sin one commits. Thus while one might not be worthy of heaven, their actual sin can cause them to experience lesser punishment than those who likewise are not worthy of Heaven yet committed more/worse actual sin.
In the case of an infant who has committed no or extremely limited actual sin, folks like Augustine says they receive the "mildest" pain possible (which is unspecified as to what that means, e.g. is this as 'mild' as a bee sting?). Folks like Aquinas would say they suffer no pain but are deprived of Heaven. The Council of Florence speaking on "unequal punishments" favors Aquinas' angle since the "unequal" is assigned to a comparison between original versus actual sin, where as actual sin already grants a range of degrees of punishment.
Protestant soteriology doesn't really operate in this framework, so the above wont make sense to most Protestants reading this.

This is one of those topics where neither the Catholic nor the Protestant gains a true advantage over the other, though I'd argue the Catholic view is more robust. The issue is not easy, since Union with Christ is essential, yet Infants don't deserve as bad of a punishment if any that willfully sinful men do.

More problematic are claims of those espousing Double-Predestination, since God is directly willing the individual do something worthy of damnation, and there are quotes from Calvin and others that effectively say God predestines to hell independent of what the person would ever do.

Mark | hereiblog said...

That's why Anabaptist is the way to go! ;)

EA said...

Nick said: "Folks like Aquinas would say they suffer no pain but are deprived of Heaven."

This would, in Catholic terms, default to "Limbo". However, Limbo has been defined as a theological "theory" and as such has no official status as a "teaching" behind it.

Are you advocating for, or specifying "Limbo" as the Catholic position? It appears that you are without providing any supporting argument.

Constantine said...

Nick writes:

More problematic are claims of those espousing Double-Predestination,…

Double predestination wasn’t probelmatic for Augustine – or Paul – or the writer of Proverbs….

…since God is directly willing the individual do something worthy of damnation…

But God can only do His will…..

I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. (Isaiah 46:10)

Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? (Lamentations 3:37)

Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. (Romans 9:18)

…and there are quotes from Calvin and others that effectively say God predestines to hell independent of what the person would ever do.

Better than those, there are quotes from God!

The LORD works out everything for his own ends— even the wicked for a day of disaster. (Proverbs 16:4)

God’s actions are not dependent upon man.


Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"Mean Calvinism: The Children! Don't Forget the Children!"

Mean Catholicism: The victims of Pedophile Priests! Don't forget the victims of the Pedophile Priests!

Rhology said...

Don't forget the victims of the Pedophile Priests!

Actually, wait, let's go ahead and forget them. We have priests to protect, yo.

Rhology said...

[Rho sits back and awaits the tu quoque that surely approacheth.]