by Aidan Nichols, O.P.
The matter does not, however, end there. The passion which Catholics and other 'pro-life' representatives, whether Christian or not, bring to this cause derives in part from the rational humanism they share - or so they hope - with their fellow citizens in civil society. That is the basis of the dialogue to which they are committed. But that passion can also derive from a biblical imperative: for the Judaeo-Christian Scriptures place especial emphasis on the divine favour toward the weakest and most vulnerable members of creation, and see in their defence and vindication (compare the ideas of salvation and redemption) a God-like duty or task.
The special status of aborted children as at one and the same time personal innocents and defenceless victims has to be theologically significant. Perhaps, unknown to the present writer, theologians here and there are already turning their minds to the question of the soteriological particularity of such children - the special niche they may inhabit in the divine plan of salvation for the world. Could Catholicism, which already venerates as bloodwitnesses to revelation the Jewish babes of Bethlehem, massacred in place of Christ, affirm of these children that they too died in silent testimony to a truth greater than themselves - in their case, the truth of the divine command, 'Thou shalt not kill': thou shalt not destroy innocent life?
In the late summer of 1999, Dom Philippe Dupont, the Abbot of Solesmes graciously hosted a modest 'Consultation' where the theological bases, and inconveniences, of this proposal might be addressed. It was not a condition of participation that speakers should take one side of this disputed question. Perusal of the papers now published in book form will soon show how diverse were the opinions presented - though all fall within the bounds of accepted theological discussion in the Catholic Church.
The Consultation, chaired by the editor of this study, consisted, it may be said, of maximalists and minimalists: those who wished theology, and the Church, to acknowledge the largest possible number of the aborted (perhaps all) as recipients of the 'Baptism of blood', and those who considered this thesis temerarious, and were willing to consider as candidates for such recognition only a tiny minority of cases. The Agreed Statement, in seeking to express a consensus position of those present, naturally tends to a more limited thesis on which moral unanimity was possible. (It was regretted by all present that Dom Philippe Jobert, professor of dogmatics at Solesmes and moving spirit of the Consultation, felt unable to sign the Statement for this reason.) It may be observed here that even this 'limited' thesis, fully in accord with classical theological positions as it is, will, however, surprise many, both inside and outside the Church. A more generous application of the key principles can be found in the 'supplementary theses' which participants were able to support as possibly (and so not certainly) true articulations of Catholic faith.
A particular - and unexpected - difficulty in our deliberations concerned the question of the moment of ensoulment, a topic on which, at least in the judgment of some present, the Church has not yet fully clarified her mind. (Others take a different view of the burden, and intentions, of the magisterial documents already in place.) That issue was unavoidable inasmuch as any attempt to secure the declaration of the martyr status of particular aborted infants will need to bear in mind the quantity of time that has passed since their conception. The problem of finding a suitable formulation on this point explains other absences from the list of signatories to the Statement whose names may be found, however, as sources for the supplementary theses.
On the feast of the Presentation, the last feast of the Christmas cycle, in the year 2000, both Statement and theses were sent to a variety of Bishops' Conferences around the world. as well to several dicasteries of the Holy See. The Cardinal President of the pontifical Council for the Family, Archbishop Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, in his reply, expressed the desire to see further theological discussion of these issues. This collection of essays, which I place under the patronage of the Babe of Bethlehem and the Holy Innocents, is intended to serve that end.
Setting the question
A 'culture of death' (John Paul II) is a pattern of assumptions and attitudes, found in both the sensibilities of individual persons and the structures of corporate institutions in civil society, the effect of which is to render parents, doctors and lawmakers insensitive to the sacred dignity of human life - especially unborn human life in its mother's womb. Such life, like all human life, already embodies, through the act of creation, the image of God, but it is a specifying feature of the unborn that they have not, as yet, sullied that image by any act of personal sin. True, the nature in which they are created no longer enjoys the communion with God which Adamic grace gave the proto-parents, and suffers that inner dislocation which is the consequence of this deprivation. Affected by original sin, their natural will is not directed to supernatural life. Yet though the divine creative act does not, simply as such, incorporate the newly conceived within the supernatural order of healing and elevation to share the vision of the Holy Trinity, it is nonetheless the design of the divine mercy to order all human beings to that wondrous end. It will be attained - in every case where human freedom meets grace and does not oppose it - by the application of the all-sufficient merits of the Word incarnate in his atoning Cross ('the Blood') through the gift of Baptism ('the water') whether in the sacramental waters or in the 'Baptism of desire' or 'of blood'.
The question of the 'Baptism of blood' arises in the case of aborted infants since their deaths give witness to the word of God, 'You shall not kill', a word written in the conscience of every human being (cf. Rom. 2, 15), so therefore in the murderer's soul. Their murders prevent God from giving justification through Baptism, the ordinary way of salvation in the Christian era. The personal sinlessness of the unborn and their ordering, in the divine intention, to grace and glory renders them, it may be thought, an object of predilection for the malice of the evil Angels whose activity assists the formation of a 'culture of death' operating with especial intensity in the practice of abortion. Hence odium fidei is at work not only in human intentions originated so as deliberately to express such hatred, but at the transcendent level of angelic causality ('the Dragon' of the Apocalypse).
In such a context, aborted infants are brought to their deaths by the same 'rulers of this age' (I Cor. 2:8), who crucified Jesus, and constitute, indeed, icons of his 'crucified Innocence'. In his divine justice, exercised towards all human beings, will not God give these children - whose death is not only a natural but also and above all a supernatural injustice - the supernatural justice he wills for all? Though aborted infants are distinguished from the Holy Innocents whom the Liturgy of the Church commemorates at Christmas in that they were not first aggregated to the people of God by an outward sign (circumcision) typifying Baptism, nor did they die in place of Jesus, nevertheless their combination of personal guiltlessness and the ordering of their humanity to share the Father's glory through Christ conforms them inchoately to the image of the Son, while their violent deaths at the behest (human or angelic) of those who despise the divine image in man, render them more specifically isomorphic with the Son in his crucified condition. Like all martyrs, the aborted point to Jesus in the mystery of his rejection and humiliation. 'Virgin martyrs' are evangelical signs of holiness.
These aborted infants may be held to stand in a special relation also to the Mother of God whose appointment to be Mother of the Church (John 19: 26-27) is inseparable from the compassion she showed at the cross when the 'sword' of Simeon's prophecy pierced her soul (Luke 2: 35). The spiritual ('hidden and mystical') wounds with which the Mother of Christ was afflicted on Calvary when she too 'died', inwardly, in the death of the Fruit of her womb, have power to succour - in proportion (if Mary's Motherhood of the Church be the measuring-rule of her active compassion) to the depth of human need. And of all the needy, those about to be aborted - already potential members of the Church - are the weakest and most abandoned. It is through her wounded Motherhood that Mary is united in a particular mode to these children.
But if aborted children enjoy a special place within the range of Mary's spiritual Motherhood, the Church, of which the compassionate Mother of God is the exemplar, must likewise have a special regard for these infants. Their recognition as martyrs by a possible future act of the College of bishops sub et cum Petro, 'under and with Peter', would testify in striking fashion to the universality of the Catholic Church's philanthropic outreach in the perspective of salvation, and constitute a flaming witness to her stand in defence of the human dignity and rights of the conceptus, the conceived person, everywhere (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2270). As with all those who, through glorification in Christ, have the capacity to sub-mediate the fruits of his redemption, we could expect such a 'claim' of such holy persons for the Church to be divinely answered by the bestowal of spiritual fruit. Such fruit might take the form of their powerful intercession to convert others and bring to repentance - a John the Baptist role as forerunners of the final triumph of divine Innocence. This 'Baptistine' mission would consist in eliciting, among the Church's members generally (whether actual or potential) sorrow for sins against innocence, and among parents in particular, sorrow for abortions committed or colluded in.
The 'claiming' of such children must be related not only to renewed repentance in the Holy Spirit, but also to petition for the diffusion, through the Spirit's gift, of the ethos of the Holy Family, for the supernatural environment of the Holy Family, ('the school of Nazareth' - Paul VI) teaches how 'heaven wishes families to live'. Mary and Joseph provide, through their relation with Jesus, models of care and guardianship for biological parents, and indeed for the analogues of such parents that are celibate women and men in their roles as providers of motherly and fatherly nurturing. Wherever, through the grace of the Sacred Infancy, childlike innocence exists, Christians above all must defend it, for it is a sign of entry into the Kingdom (Matt. 19: 13-15, and parallels), and a presence of the life of Christ in the world. The Holy Family is not simply a moral exemplar but a mysterious presence of the Holy Trinity - through Joseph, 'shadow' of the Father. Jesus the Son, and Mary who is abidingly under the 'wing' of the Holy spirit. The Holy Family is a kind of sacrament of the Trinitarian communio, the divine Trinity, on earth.
Is it, then, by an implicit reference to the intercessory power of the martyrs that Pope John
Paul II can speak, in Evangelium Vitae 99, of the mothers
of aborted children being 'able to ask forgiveness'
from their children, who are 'now living in the Lord'?
If so, these will be martyr Companions of the Holy Innocents, delighting to restore, through the grace of Christ,
the dignity of offended motherhood in families made to the image of the Blessed Trinity itself.
Readers should know that the version of Evangelium Vitae 99 published in the official journal of the Holy See, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, softens the sense of this passage, replacing the statement that 'nothing is definitively lost' and the encouragement to 'ask forgiveness from your child who is now living in the Lord' with the assurance that the child can be 'entrust[ed] with sure hope' to 'the Father and his mercy'. Both versions, however, enjoy validity and can be cited as authoritative in argument, even though the Latin text of the Acta is the more definitive. The original English vernacular text of Evangelium Vitae 99 is made use of by a number of the contributors to this volume.
John F. McCarthy
The opening prayer of the funeral Mass of a child who died before Baptism says rather cautiously: 'Lord, listen to the prayers of this family that has faith in you. In their sorrow at the death of this child, may they find hope in your infinite mercy.' There is here no mention of eternal beatitude in Heaven, but there is a mention of the Christian faith and Christian hope of others in relation to the deceased child. The point I am making here is that, if there may be a way of salvation for children in general who have died without Baptism, how much more may there be a way of salvation for children who have been killed before they could have made any act of the will that might hinder their call to Heaven. Through no fault of their own they had not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, and they were striving in the only way open to them to lead a good life. The context of their violent death could be for them an instrument of grace, allowing the Church to be more explicit about their salvation, although it is the sole prerogative of the Magisterium of the Church to determine whether this be so.
In a fifth-century response to the heresy of Pelagianism, the Sixteenth Provincial Council of
Carthage (418), guided by St Augustine, who was present as a member, in a canon which was not afterwards included
among the articles of faith binding on the universal Church,  declared as follows:
The Second Ecumenical Council of Lyons (1274) had already declared that 'the souls of those who die in actual mortal sin or only in original sin descend forthwith into the Inferno, but to undergo different punishments' (DH 858; cf. DH 1306). The Ecumenical Council of Florence (1442) decreed: 'But regarding children, on account of the often occurring danger of death: since they cannot be helped by another remedy except by the sacrament of Baptism, through which they are snatched from the power of the Devil and adopted as children of God, [the Holy Roman Church] advises that holy Baptism ought not to be deferred...' (DH 1349). In view of this magisterial teaching on the necessity of Baptism for salvation, broaching the question of aborted babies in particular must mean considering whether they might be saved through a vicarious desire for the sacrament of Baptism (as I suggested in the body of my article under the theme of the prayer of the Church) or through Baptism of blood in association with the Passion and Death of Jesus (as I also suggested in a comparison with the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem). Thus, it is not my aim to question the existence of the Limbo of Children, or to deny that those who die only in original sin will be taken there, but rather to examine whether aborted children may be sanctified at the moment of their death and thus not die in the state of original sin.
In 1546 the Ecumenical Council of Trent pronounced that 'if anyone denies that infants newly born from their mothers' wombs are to be baptized..., or says ... that they derive nothing of original sin from Adam which must be expiated by the layer of regeneration, let him be anathema' (DH 1514). In 1547 the Council of Trent went on to declare that this transfer to the state of grace 'after the promulgation of the Gospel cannot be effected except through the layer of regeneration or through a desire for it (aut eius voto)' (DH 1524). These declarations affirm that infants incur original sin at their conception and that they cannot be transferred to the state of sanctifying grace without Baptism of water or of desire. In the present study we are examining whether aborted infants might be sanctified by something equivalent to Baptism of desire at the moment of their death. We are not so much questioning whether some deceased children go to the Limbo of Children as we are suggesting that aborted children do not go there.
Pope Pius XII touched on this matter when he wrote: 'Under the present economy there is no other way of giving this [supernatural] life to the child who is still without the use of reason ... In the case of a grown-up person, an act of love may suffice for obtaining sanctifying grace and making up for the lack of Baptism. To the child still unborn or the child just born this path is not open.'  Pope Pius XII is here proposing that, 'under the present economy' of the visible Church, infants are unable of themselves to supply for the lack of the sacrament of Baptism, but he is not denying that they could be sanctified in some way outside of this economy by a direct intervention of divine grace or through Baptism of blood.
St Alphonsus Liguori  defines Baptism of blood as 'the shedding of blood, or death undergone for the faith or for another Christian virtue', and he explains that it remits faults and punishment 'from a kind of privilege based upon an imitation of the Passion of Christ'. He goes on to say that 'martyrdom avails infants as well, seeing that the Church venerates the Holy Innocents as true martyrs.' He adds that 'in adults an acceptance, at least habitual, of martyrdom for a supernatural reason is required': not, therefore, in infants. Thus, if 'the Church knows no other way apart from Baptism [of water] of ensuring children's entry into eternal happiness',  this does not mean that the teaching of the Church excludes the salvation of children by any other way. Similarly, when the Roman Catechism teaches  that 'infant children have no other means of salvation except Baptism (of water)', it means that they have no other ordinary means by which the Church can ensure their salvation. Thus, there is every reason to insist on the Baptism of infants at the earliest reasonable moment after their birth.
The growth of devotion to the Hearts of Jesus and Mary has made ever more vivid our understanding of the merciful love of Jesus and the maternal love of Mary, the new Eve, for all children coming into this world. This development is embodied in the teaching of the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican: '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). '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' (Lumen Gentium, no. 63). Infants in the womb about to be aborted are surrounded by dangers and difficulties of the greatest kind. Are we to suppose that Mary, in her superabundant mother's love for the faithful, in whose generation and formation she cooperates, is not concerned about the loss of Heaven threatening infants being aborted? Are we to assume that she is not an advocate, helper, benefactress, or mediatrix for them in their fundamental vocation to eternal life with Jesus in Heaven?
When the Catechism of the Catholic Church
proclaims the inviolate right to life of every infant in the womb (no. 2270), it cites the words of the Lord to
the prophet Jeremiah: 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and
before you were born I consecrated you' (Jer 1:5). While there is no doubt that the sanctification
of an infant living in the womb is in itself a rare and extraordinary grace, nevertheless, a special case can be
made for infants facing the moment of their violent death in the womb, in the sense that the grace of sanctification
might be expected as a common divine intervention given from the merits of Jesus Christ through the maternal intercession
of Mary. The Catechism, in explaining the constant petition
of the Church to God the Father to 'deliver us from evil' (Matt. 6:13), speaks as follows: 'In this petition, evil is
not an abstraction, but refers to a person, Satan, the Evil One, the angel who opposes God'
(CCC, no. 2851). 'Victory over the "prince of this world" (John
14:30) was won once for all at the Hour when Jesus freely gave himself up to death to give us his life. This is
the Judgment of this world, and the prince of this world is "cast out" (John 12:31; Rev. 12:10). "He
pursued the woman" (Rev. 12:13-16), but had no hold on her: the new Eve, "full of grace" of the
Holy Spirit, is preserved from sin and the corruption of death (the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of
the Most Holy Mother of God, Mary, ever virgin). "Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to
make war on the rest of her offspring" (Rev. 12:17). Therefore the Spirit and the Church pray: "Come,
Lord Jesus", since his coming will deliver us from the Evil One' (CCC, no. 2853).
Since the Church prays to Jesus and believes that 'his coming will deliver
us from the Evil One', is it not likely that Jesus does come to deliver these infants
from the original sin by which they are bound to the power of Satan and to offer them the grace of Heaven?
A way into this issue might take its starting point from a text where St Thomas teaches  that all human beings will rise again. 'The resurrection is necessary in order that those who rise again may receive punishment or reward according to their merits. Now either punishment or reward is due to all, either for their own merits, as to adults, or for others' merits, as to children. Therefore, all will rise again.' Daniel 12:2 declares: 'Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake.' Does this imply that not all will awake? St Thomas answers: 'Augustine  explains many as meaning all: in fact, this way of speaking is often met with in Holy Writ. Or else the restriction may refer to children condemned (to Limbo) (quantum ad pueros damnatos) , who, although they shall rise again, are not properly said to awake, since they will have no sense either of pain or of glory, and waking is the unchaining of the senses.' Yet it could be objected that babies who die in their mothers' wombs can never be born again, and so they will not rise again. St Thomas replies:
From these quotations we see that St Thomas does visualize little children, and even those who die in the womb, as condemned to the loss of Heaven, and he states that children who die in the womb 'are not born again by receiving grace'. The direction that St Thomas takes in these statements is significant. Whereas he begins with the principle that everyone should receive punishment or reward according to his merits, and children according to the merits of others, he reaches his conclusions on the punishment of little children from the demerits of Adam, rather than arguing to the reward of little children because of the merits of Christ. It was the strongly pessimistic theological tradition of St Thomas's time that seems to have disposed him to take for granted that aborted children die in original sin, but the outlook of today is far more positive and open to the hope of their salvation. And what St Thomas says in the citations that will be given below seems to provide a foundation for the belief that aborted babies are granted the grace of salvation.
Again: 'The Passion of Christ is shared for a remedy with every baptized person as if that person had suffered and died.'  And 'by the Passion of Christ, the door of the heavenly kingdom has been opened for us.  Now,
With these three kinds of Baptism in mind, St Thomas affirms the necessity of Baptism for salvation:
'Baptism is given for this that someone, having been regenerated by it,
may be incorporated into Christ and made a member of him: whence it is said in Galatians 3:27: "For as many
of you as have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ." And from this it is manifest that all men are
held to Baptism and that without it there cannot be salvation for men.' 
It may seem to some that for little babies Baptism of blood does not take the place of Baptism
of water, if Baptism of water takes effect ex opere operato,
while Baptism of blood takes place only ex opere operantis,
and, therefore, only with the exercise of charity (cf. 1 Cor. 13), something of which little babies are incapable
because they do not have the use of free will. To this problem St Thomas responds as follows: 'Baptism of water takes effect from the Passion of Christ inasmuch as it represents it sacramentally,
while Baptism of blood Conforms in reality to the Passion of Christ, not by sacramental representation . . . [Hence],
as regards the res tantum [sanctifying
grace], it totally takes the place of Baptism of water when a moment of need excludes the sacrament.' and so, 'Baptism of blood does not have its effect only ex opere
operantis, ... but it has it from imitation of the Passion of Christ. So it is said in Apocalypse 7:14 regarding
martyrs: "they have washed their garments in the Blood of the Lamb," and, therefore, children, although
they do not have free will, if they are killed for Christ, are saved as baptized in his Blood.' 
Hence, 'circumcision conferred grace inasmuch as it was a sign of the future Passion of Christ.' 
And, opines St Thomas, before circumcision was instituted, as St Gregory confirms , people were incorporated into Christ by the offering of
sacrifices, by which the ancient fathers professed their faith. 'Also after
the coming of Christ, people are incorporated into Christ through faith, according to Ephesians 3:17: "that
Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." ... Hence, although the sacrament itself of Baptism was not
always necessary for salvation, nonetheless, faith, of which Baptism is the sacrament, was always necessary.' 
However, we do not read in Sacred Scripture that the patriarch Isaac, for instance, offered sacrifice
to God. To this St Thomas replies that, while St Gregory (again) maintains 
that among the ancients original sin was remitted through the offering of sacrifices,
nevertheless, 'Isaac signified Christ inasmuch as he was offered in sacrifice
(Gen. 22:9-10), and so it was not needful that he should signify as offering sacrifice.'
 Furthermore, 'it is also said of the children of the ancients that they were saved in the faith of their parents
(in fide parentium).' 
But circumcision was prescribed in the Law for the eighth day after birth, not before, and those who were born
during the forty years of wandering in the desert were uncircumcised (cf. Josh. 5:5-6). For St Thomas: 'If some died uncircumcised, they were in the same situation as those who died before the
institution of circumcision. And this is also to be understood regarding boys who died before their eighth day
in the time of the Law.'  Moreover, circumcision was incomplete in its extension only to males. St Thomas explains: 'Circumcision was instituted as a sign of the faith of Abraham, who believed that he would
be the father of the Christ promised to him (Rom. 4:11 ff.), and, therefore, it suitably pertained only to males.' 
How could faith alone suffice for the salvation of a child? 'In as much as at one time the faith of another together with some witnessing sufficed for the salvation of a child, this was so insofar as that witnessing had the sacramental power which Baptism of water has now.' 
But God can also administer the sacraments through Angels.
However, 'what men do in a lower way, viz., through sensible
sacraments, which are proportionate to their nature, angels do as higher ministers in a higher way, viz., by invisibly
cleansing, illuminating, and perfecting.' 
St Thomas mentions the Blessed Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, and the prophet Jeremiah as prime examples of persons who have been sanctified 'outside of the common law as though miraculously in their mothers' wombs'.  An act of the mind can extend equally to the born or to the preborn. If, therefore, faith ever were sufficient for wiping out original sin, why cannot those in the womb be cleansed from original sin through the faith of another? St Thomas replies:
Nevertheless, a child in his mother's womb is 'entirely
another according to the rational soul which he has from without.'  Why, then, such as was the case at Sodom, does God punish little
children for the sins of their parents? 'Little children are temporally
punished together with their parents for two reasons: because they belong to their parents, and so their parents
are punished in them; and because this turns to their good, lest, if they were spared, they might be imitators
of their parents' malice and thus might merit heavier penalties.' 
Yet, St Thomas holds that 'no one should be baptized
before he is born from the womb', or, more strongly, 'in no way can those living in their mother's womb be baptized.'  But those in the womb have independent
existence. 'A child living in the mother's womb pertains to her by a certain
connection of distinct bodies.'  Babies in their mothers' wombs cannot be baptized 'because they
cannot be subjected to the activity of the ministers of the Church, through whom such remedies are administered.'  As Augustine says in his letter
to Dardanus:  'No
one is reborn unless he is first born.' And, adds St Thomas, 'Baptism
is a spiritual regeneration. Therefore, no one should be baptized before he is born from the womb.'  But, he adds, 'if a mother should die while a child is living in her womb, the womb should be opened and
the child should be baptized.'  Furthermore, he notes, 'Those who are asleep are not to be baptized
unless they are in immediate danger of death.'  And babies cannot sin gravely either before death or after: 'Since
children before the use of reason do not have an inordinate act of the will, neither will they have one after death.' 
Can little babies have faith or a good conscience without having the use of reason?
In the Church of the Saviour, as Augustine says , 'Little 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 good believers, as by
the entire company of the saints and of the faithful.' And thus St Thomas is led to say
in a passage rich with implications: 'the faith of one [person], indeed
of the whole Church, benefits the little child through the working of the Holy Spirit, who unites the Church and
communicates the good things of one [individual] to another.'  In fact, he avers, 'The
prayers which are said in the administration of the sacraments are offered to God, not on the part of the individual
person, but on the part of the entire Church.'  Consequently, 'Children believe, not by their own act, but by
the faith of the Church, which is imparted to them. And, by dint of this faith, grace and the virtues are conferred
upon them.'  Furthermore,
'since children are baptized, not in their own faith but in the faith of
the Church, they are all equally disposed towards Baptism, and they all receive an equal effect in Baptism.'  Hence, it does not really matter
what the intention is of those who are carrying them. 
(b) St Thomas says with reference to the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, that they are considered to be martyrs, even though they did not have the conscious intention or desire to suffer for Christ, because they did suffer the penalty of death on account of him. Hence, if babies killed in the womb suffer the penalty of death in some way because of Christ, they may be eligible to become martyrs of Christ.
(c) St Thomas declares that little children intend and believe, not by themselves, but through others, namely, through their parents or their sponsors, but especially through the entire membership of the Church. Hence, to the extent that babies being aborted are sponsored in faith by members of the Church in Heaven or on earth, they may be said to have belief in the saving power of Christ and to have the intention of suffering in union with the Passion of Christ, which adds another element to their eligibility for the grace of martyrdom.
(d) St Thomas points out that Baptism of desire takes the place of Baptism of water only when circumstances exclude the receiving of the sacrament. Otherwise, the Lord Jesus has established the rule that Baptism of water is necessary for salvation. But babies being aborted are in a situation in which they are prevented from receiving the sacrament of Baptism.
(e) St Thomas avers that salvation is available in some way at every age in the life of every human individual. But living in the womb is an age in the life of every human individual, since human embryos and human fetuses are already human individuals endowed with a human soul and with the faculties of intelligence and free will. Therefore, salvation must in some way be available to them, especially if they are facing death in the womb. But Baptism of water is not available, and so, some other means of salvation must be at hand.
(f) St Thomas maintains that, since 'it is in the power of a man to impede another man from being baptized with water', therefore, 'there can be salvation even without Baptism of water by faith and contrition alone.' But babies being killed in the womb are being prevented by the power of man from ever receiving Baptism of water. And, as innocent children, they have no need of contrition, while their faith can be supplied from the faith of the Church. Therefore, sanctification should in some way be available to them.
(h) St Thomas maintains that children in their mothers' wombs cannot be subjected to the physical or the mental acts of human beings in such wise as to be administered the sacraments of salvation, although they can, 'by a privilege of grace,' be sanctified by the work of God, 'outside of the common law', as though miraculously, 'as is evident from those who have been sanctified in the womb'. It seems that St Thomas is here referring to a general law laid down by Jesus and cited by St Augustine to the effect that children who are going to be born are not to be baptized until they are actually born. However, this law would not seem to apply to children who will never be born. And thus St Thomas can also say that 'if a mother should die while a child is living in her womb, the womb should be opened and the child should be baptized.' But not without hesitation does St Thomas venture to claim that a child in his mother's womb cannot be cleansed from original sin by any act of man, whether physical or mental, for he adds 'as far as human knowledge can tell'. In this he is relying partly upon the medical knowledge available in his time. Modern medicine can reach the child physically in the womb. 
(i) St Thomas explains that, when children are being baptized, 'it does not matter what the intention is of those who are carrying them', because children intend and believe through the faith of the Church. Hence, the murder of an infant in the womb can be received as a martyrdom.
(j) St Thomas notes with the Church (cf. CCC 1257) that it is Christ who principally baptizes, but the Lord did not limit his saving power to the sacraments. We know of the willingness of Jesus to let the little children come unto him (Mark 10:14). Now, St Thomas points out that circumcision was an efficacious sign of healing from original sin, not least in the shedding of the blood of an infant, 'in which is signified the Passion of Christ'. Why, then, would Jesus not see, in the putting to death of an infant in the womb, a sign of his own Passion, and so administer to the child, either directly or through others, his healing and saving grace?
(k) St Thomas recalls that the children of the ancients 'were saved in the faith of their parents' or of some other believing adult. St Thomas does not include children in the womb in this operation of faith, which, he says, 'had the sacramental power which Baptism of water has now'. However, he was not adverting to the special case of infants being killed in the womb. Now, the virtue of Christian faith is not weaker after the coming of Christ that it was before. Why, therefore, can we not believe with grounded hope thatJesus will use the faith of his Church, and in particular the charity of Blessed Mary and of the saints along with the fervour of his faithful on earth, to sanctify these victimized babies? This would be an act of living faith, not having the sacramental power of Baptism, but having intercessory power with the Heart of Jesus.
(1) St Thomas allows that, as at Sodom, little children - even children in the womb - may be temporally punished for the sins of their parents, but he does not say that they may be eternally punished for their parents' sins. Yet to be deprived of Heaven because of the sin of one's First Parents would be an eternal penalty that St Thomas does not seem to envisage here. Nor does St Thomas anywhere visualize anyone being punished for sins that he would have committed in other circumstances, but never actually carried out.
(m) St Thomas gives reasons why, under the Old Law, circumcision was given to males as a remedy
for original sin, but not to females, and he points out that male infants who were faced with death before their
eighth day of birth could be saved eternally by an act of faith on the part of their parents. But he says nothing
specifically about how female infants could be saved, and yet it is contrary to the tenor of his thought to assume
that he visualized no ordinary means of salvation for females throughout the entire period of the Old Testament.
Similarly, it is reasonable to assume that, while St Thomas does not speak specifically about a remedy for original
sin in infants being murdered in the womb, his general principles would allow for some ordinary means of salvation
for these infants, over and above a rare direct sanctification by Jesus alone.
All children in the womb have guardian angels, since 'human life from its very beginning ("inde ab initio") until death is in their care and is surrounded by their intercession' (CCC, no. 336). But when do children need the care and intercession of their guardian angels more than at the moment in which they are being assaulted to the point of death itself in the womb? And Angels can sanctify (cf. Isa. 6:7), when commissioned by God to do so.
Of course, Lazarus was carried by Angels to Abraham's bosom (Luke 16:22), that is, to the Limbo
of the Fathers, but this was only a temporary waiting place until Jesus should open the door to Heaven. Now that
Jesus has opened the door to Heaven, are we to suppose the guardian angels drop off the souls of aborted children
in the Limbo of Children as they themselves proceed on their way back to Heaven? It does not seem so. Jesus says:
'He that shall receive one such little child in my name receives me' (Matt. 18:5). Therefore, conversely, whoever kills one such little child in opposition to the will of
Jesus (Mark 10:19) is killing Jesus. And Jesus also said: 'their angels
in Heaven always see the face of my Father who is in Heaven' (Malt 18:10). Does there
not seem to be a hint in these words that, if a little child is killed in the womb in contempt of his vocation
to see forever the Face of God in Heaven, the angels will, nevertheless, carry the soul of that little child to
Heaven, 'for the Son of Man is come to save that which is lost' (Matt. 18:11).
The Church, in the growing awareness of the merciful love of Jesus and the maternal love of Mary,
has tended more and more to manifest her hope for the salvation of unbaptized babies. In view of John 3:5, the
Church cannot guarantee this, and she must insist that infants be baptized at the earliest reasonable moment after
their birth. But aborted babies are a special case. And so, considering the special reasons pertaining to this
case as reviewed in the present article, and relying on a wider interpretation of Matthew 2:18 and Jeremiah 31:16,
together with Luke 23:43, Luke 2:35, Genesis 3:15, Apocalypse 12:17; Apocalypse 7:14, and a multitude of supporting
Scriptural texts, I conclude, subject to the final judgment of the Church, that the Magisterium could proclaim
all infants murdered in the womb to be companion martyrs of the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, cleansed and sanctified
at the moment of their death in the redemptive Blood of Christ.
1. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Donum vitae, I. 1.
51. Aquinas, In IV Sent., dist. 4,
q. 3 art. 3b, ob 3.
74. Aquinas, S. Th., III q. 68, art. 11, sed contra.
75. Aquinas, S. Th., III q. 68, art.
11, ad 3.
Version 18th July 2009