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The West’s Legacy of Violence against Children

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It is unsurprising to see Evangelicals at the forefront of the opposition to New York State’s recent law loosening restrictions on child murder within her borders (as well as similar proposed laws springing up in Virginia, Vermont, etc.).  After all, they have been amongst the most active in trying to foster a culture of life in all the States since Roe v. Wade.  And for that they are to be commended.

Furthermore, their assertion, together with conservative Roman Catholics’, that callousness towards the unborn is a sign that the States are living within a post-Christian phase of their history is certainly true.  What is not going to be so obvious to them, however, is that Western Europe and all her children the world over entered into post-Christianity not 46 years ago with Roe, nor 56 years ago with Abington Township School District v. Schempp (which removed Bible reading from public schools), but nearly 1,000 years ago when the West was torn away from the apostolic faith of the Orthodox Church by the Bishop of Rome (1054 A.D., the Great Schism).  And, strikingly, it is precisely in the teachings about children and salvation of both the Roman Catholic and Protestant sects that emerged from this schism that proves that point (thanks to Jay Dyer for mentioning their teachings in one of his lectures). 

The Roman Catholic teaching has developed this way:

In response to Pelagius (d. 425), who taught that the heresy that baptism is not necessary for salvation (called Pelagianism), St. Augustine (d. 430) contended that unbaptized children who die are condemned to hell. They do not suffer all its pains because they are not guilty of personal sin, but because baptism is necessary for salvation, they will not enter heaven.

— http://www.aboutcatholics.com/beliefs/do-unbaptized-babies-go-to-limbo/

In the 14th century, the poet Dante described limbo as the "first circle of hell" in The Divine Comedy, where such souls were not punished but grieved for their separation from God.

Later, theologians surmised that the "limbo of infants" was a state where they were deprived of the vision of God, but did not suffer because they did not know what they were deprived of. 

—Nick Pisa, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1549439/The-Pope-ends-state-of-limbo-after-800-years.html

Today, the official Roman Catholic position seems to have become a murky sort of optimism - ‘We hope the babies will be okay’:

The Church does not accept or officially condemn the theory of Limbo because it is a theological theory. Theological theories usually don’t result in official responses by the Church unless it becomes clear that these theories are either excellent ways of explaining doctrine or that they explicitly go against such doctrine. The Church may also reject some theories as heretical if it becomes clear that they are not in accord with the truth found in Scripture and Tradition.

The theory of Limbo is not heretical because Scripture and Tradition do not explicitly say what happens to unbaptized babies. However, due to the problems with the theory of Limbo, this theory plays almost no role in current Catholic theology. Instead, modern theology and church practice stress the fundamental solidarity of redeemed humanity and God’s will that all may be saved.

— http://www.aboutcatholics.com/beliefs/do-unbaptized-babies-go-to-limbo/

The Protestant attitude toward children is not much better.  John Calvin’s system of the total depravity of human nature and double predestination, in which God before the creation of the world assigns some men to Heaven and some to Hell irrespective of their actions, implies that it is possible for babies to be sent to Hell.  And this is indeed what one finds among some Protestants:

The Westminster Confession of Faith uses very precise wording on this matter: "Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word" (WCF 10.3). Note, however that the WCF does not say that "all" infants dying in infancy are regenerated, but that the Holy Spirit works as he pleases in elect infants (cf. Luke 18:15-16; 1:39-44) and those "who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word."

—Dr Joseph R. Nally, Jr, http://reformedanswers.org/answer.asp/file/40610

Dr Joseph P. Farrell makes a controversial statement on the modern Evangelical teaching about salvation, but it needs to be stated nevertheless.  He writes,

But the most obvious, and yet, unappreciated fact of the American Baptist culture is its link between “believer’s baptism”, a kind of spiritual abortion, and the actual practice of abortion, the murder of the unborn itself. With this, the moral confusion and persisting (nay, galloping) theological illiteracy of the American version of the religion of the Second Europe is evident:

The greatest damage to the home of Baptist theology has been the change it brought in the status of children. The exclusion of children from the covenant completely alters how they are approached. One, since they are outside the church they should not be prayed with. John Bunyan is an example of one who pressed his theology to consistency at this point. Second, they should be preached to as lost. Thus the child is pressed to have an experience. Jesus said that the standard of faith was that of a little child (Luke 18:15-17). The Baptist makes it the opposite. The child must become like the adult. 1117

The moral inconsistency of the position of most American evangelists on this point does not even seem phase them, perhaps because of the confusion within their ranks over baptism itself. The insistence upon a mentalist “conversion experience” deepened what was already in evidence long before within the Second Europe, the division of the physical and spiritual dimensions of a sacrament in a kind of “sacramental Nestorianism”. Thus, for the “traditional” Baptist, the water of Baptism and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit are separate, the former being administered only after the “decision” for Christ is made, which constitutes the latter.

—God, History, and Dialectic, Volume 3, pgs. 622-3, from the e-version available at https://godhistorydialectic.wordpress.com/read-this-first/

Both Roman Catholics and Protestants, despite their good works to end physical abortion, are nonetheless guilty of great spiritual violence towards children.  It is not so surprising, then, that abortion has been able to rise to the proportions that it has in the post-Orthodox West.

Thus, while a Day of Mourning and calls for repentance are very appropriate responses to the latest gains for child murderers in the States (https://www.christianpost.com/news/pro-life-activists-plan-day-of-mourning-call-for-repentance-after-revolting-ny-abortion-law.html), what would be even more efficacious for them and for the West as a whole would be a rejection of their own twisted, post-Great Schism theology and anthropology (which does not spare even children from its baneful effects) and a return to the Orthodox Church, the first Church of the West, the Church of the Holy Apostles, and its much milder teaching regarding original sin:

 . . . Originating with Augustine, that [Roman Catholic] dogma [limbo] reflects a Latin understanding of the effects of “original sin.” Passages such as Romans 5:12 were (mis)interpreted so as to imply that the “original sin” of Adam is transmitted, rather like a defective gene, to all future generations. Therefore any conceived child bears “the sin of Adam” and consequently bears Adam’s guilt. That guilt, and its mortal consequences, are removed only by baptism. If a child dies before being baptized, according to this view, it is still stained with original sin and cannot enjoy the beatific vision.. Yet it was also recognized that such children are innocent of any personal sin. Thus it became necessary to conceive of a domain, realm or state in which such children would spend eternity, one that is distinct from the punishments of hell but equally devoid of eternal blessedness. This conundrum, based on a noble but defective theological logic, led to the notion of limbo.

If the logic is defective, it is because the underlying presupposition is false. The consensus of Eastern patristic tradition, and of Orthodox theologians today, is that the “original sin” of Adam is not transmitted (sexually or by any other means) from generation to generation like an inherited disease. Rather, what we inherit or receive from creation of the “first man Adam” (who represents all of humanity) is the consequence of sin, namely mortality, death. “As sin came into the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, so death spread to all men because all men sinned…” (Rom 5:12).

—Fr John Breck, https://oca.org/reflections/fr.-john-breck/lessons-from-limbo

On such a foundation, the West will have a much better chance of building the culture of life so often longed for by the more traditional-minded Roman Catholics and Protestants but which has grown elusive - and which will remain elusive as long as the estrangement of the West from the Orthodox Church lasts.

Author: Walt Garlington