Saturday, October 8, 2011

Harper on original sin

In the last of my recent posts on original sin, I cited Thomas Harper’s long out-of-print little book The Immaculate Conception as containing a very useful discussion of the doctrine.  The book is actually an edited excerpt from Harper’s larger 1866 work Peace Through the Truth, or Essays connected with Dr. Pusey’s Eirenicon.  A reader, FrH, has kindly alerted me that the section from Peace Through the Truth containing Harper’s discussion of original sin is available online here.  (Take note of the “Transcriber’s note” at the beginning of the passage.)

49 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fr. Harper's book, Peace Through the Truth, is available in full in various formats at the following URL:

http://www.archive.org/search.php?query=peace%20through
%20the%20truth%20AND
%20mediatype%3Atexts

(I have inserted carriage returns in the URL to make it wrap in this comment box)

Edward Feser said...

Thanks for that, Anonymous. I might note that in an earlier post I provided links to the three volumes of Harper's The Metaphysics of the School, which are also available online:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/05/scholastics-bookshelf-part-iv.html

FrH said...

Sorry about the skip; I fixed it. All the text was there; it was just in footnotes and whatnot.

I got the original text from archive.org; the problem is that the files are full-image files, hard to real, and hard to scroll. The PDF I posted is a fresh typesetting of it that avoids these problems.

FrH said...

Hard to read, that is, not hard to real.

Anonymous said...

While I am thinking about it, though off topic, I would wish, Professor Feser, to see you teaching at a major Catholic university, with a ministry like the one that Dr. McInerny had for some many years.

There are lots of students at Catholic universities being taught lots of nonsense about philosophy and it would be wonderful to see you working in the midst of that battle for the truth.

Anonymous said...

I agree with FrH that some of the archive.org formats are hard to read, especially the PDF format. Over the years, I have had very good success with the DVJU format. This format is usually clear to read and the free STDU Viewer software (available on line; Google it to find it) provides fast paging and adequate bookmarking capability.

That, combined with Professor Feser's great book recommendations, makes a wonderful combination for those of us who are learning so much from his blog site.

Vincent Torley said...

"For God, had it so pleased Him, might have created men in the merely natural order, and with a merely natural end of existence." (p. 3)

"It is a doctrine of faith then, that these little ones [unbaptized infants - VJT] are deprived for ever of the Beatific Vision. They can never hope to see God face to face, as He is in His one beautiful Glory." (p. 13)

"It is evident from the whole tenour of what we have written about original sin, that this hereditary taint cannot be infused into a child, (if such we may call it,) before it has received its soul. For it cannot affect a yet lifeless foetus, a mere mass of matter..." (p. 18)

Hmmm. Three highly questionable and/or utterly ridiculous statements in 21 pages - and even the transcriber of the book had issues with it, as you point out, Ed. I don't think I'll be recommending Fr. Harper's book to anyone any time soon.

Fr. Harper defines original sin as being "virtually in a condition of habitual aversion from God as his supernatural end" - a contorted explanation, which strikes me as an abuse of language. I did however come across this account of original sin online, which made somewhat more sense:

http://www.cfpeople.org/Books/
Moral/moralp24.htm

Edward Feser said...

Hmmm. Three highly questionable and/or utterly ridiculous statements in 21 pages - and even the transcriber of the book had issues with it, as you point out, Ed. I don't think I'll be recommending Fr. Harper's book to anyone any time soon.

A very silly and unfair thing to say, Vincent. First of all, as you know, the question of the fetus's ensoulment was for a very long time a disputed matter in Catholic theology and philosophy. That abortion is evil was never in dispute, but whether every abortion counted as homicide (as opposed to contraception) was in dispute. Even Aquinas didn't think all abortions counted as homicide. Now, given Scholastic metaphysical premises together with what we know from modern biology, there is no reasonable doubt that abortion is at every stage a kind of homicide. And Aquinas and Fr. Harper would no doubt agree if they were around today. But it is not fair to ridicule Fr. Harper for his erroneous opinion on this subject (he was writing in the 19th century) any more than it would be fair to ridicule other thinkers of his era or earlier eras (again, including Aquinas himself) for taking it.

Second, while Fr. Harper makes too strong a statement when he says that it is a "doctrine of the faith" that unbaptized infants will not possess the Beatific Vision, he is saying something that is nevertheless very hard to avoid given certain doctrines that are de fide. Given the necessity of baptism (at least of desire or blood) and given that an infant cannot plausibly be said even to desire baptism, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that unbaptized infants will not attain the Beatific Vision.

Now, I know that this view is not popular today. Of course, one reason it is unpopular is that people misunderstand it and think it means that unbaptized infants will suffer the torments of hell. That is not what it means, and Fr. Harper's whole point is that they will not suffer those torments, but will in fact enjoy perpetual natural happiness.

But there are also those who are uncomfortable even with the idea that unbaptized infants will be deprived of supernatural happiness even if they will enjoy natural happiness. And so they try to come up with ways of avoiding this result. In my view none of these attempts is plausible. (For one thing, they make the necessity and urgency of baptism unintelligible, or empty the concept of baptism of all content.) But whether they are ultimately plausible or not, they are at best controversial, and difficult to square with traditional teaching. Hence, while Fr. Harper overstates things a bit, his position is highly defensible, and does not deserve the contempt you show it.

(continued below)

Edward Feser said...

(continued)

Third, I have no idea why you regard the claim that God could in principle have made men with a purely natural end as "highly questionable and/or utterly ridiculous." My own view is that the claim in question is true; indeed, I would say that it is precisely what Pius XII meant to uphold when in Humani Generis he criticized those who "destroy the gratuity of the supernatural order, since God, they say, cannot create intellectual beings without ordering and calling them to the beatific vision."

But even if you disagree -- and of course, many contemporary theologians do not like the view in question -- you can hardly deny that many prominent orthodox theologians (including Aquinas himself as traditionally understood) have taken it. So, the contempt you show Fr. Harper is once again completely unwarranted.

Indeed, Fr. Harper is precisely the sort of Scholastic writer whose work should be read by those who think that unbaptized infants will receive the Beatific Vision and that we are somehow naturally called to a supernatural end (whatever that means). Or at least, he is the sort of writer they should be reading it they really want to understand the views of the other side. Which makes it all the more regrettable that you "won't be recommending" Fr. Harper's work.

Tony said...

I fail to see why original sin, as a defect, MUST of necessity be considered only as the lack of original justice (i.e. the santifying grace with its ordering to an intrinsically supernatural end) and a lack of preternatural grace (giving us perfect obedience of the lower faculties to the higher, and as a result immortality). Why is it impossible to view original sin as, in addition to these losses, an actual damage to the natural organism itself, considered even apart from these above-nature graces?

Or to put it another way: if we consider man without sanctifying and preternatural grace, and just man in his human nature not affected by sin, would it be necessary to say that such a man would normally be inclined toward sin, would normally be apt towards self-delusion, and obscuring of the proper good? Why cannot we not propose that these evils are defects even from the human nature as considered without superadded graces? Isn't it possible that human nature without these supernatural levels of grace would be able to sin, but not so darned pre-disposed and inclined toward it? Is it impossible that there be a middle state between having preternatural grace pre-disposing our lower faculties to follow the higher, and our current state pre-disposing our lower faculties to positively rebel against reason and good order?

Joshua said...

Tony,the difficulty is that we cannot say human nature (in the sense of "what it is") has changed. That would be to say that Adam ceased being Adam, and, in baptism, I die. Not die in the spiritual sense, I mean I would simply cease to be, just as Fido would cease to be if transformed into a cat.

Now I suppose what you are suggesting would be genetic? Some kind of inherited genetic infirmity? It couldn't be on the level of the soul, so it must be biological. Now I am not at all clear how we are to say sin has effected the very biology of man, at least directly. I suppose the preternatural gift of being able not to die had to have some salutary effect on the body, and with it gone the natural tendency of things material to corrupt is given sway. But that is merely to say that human nature itself, on the part of matter is corruptible.

I would say also what causes "positive rebellion" is vicious habits. Before any choice, before any influence, our appetites are merely undirected to the end of reason. They desire their proper ends. When it gets to the point where beyond being untrained, they are in fact trained for the wrong thing, you are imply habituation. Maybe I am not clear what you mean by "positive rebellion"

Kjetil Kringlebotten said...

Tony;

Why is it impossible to view original sin as, in addition to these losses, an actual damage to the natural organism itself, considered even apart from these above-nature graces?

Assuming I understood your question (that you are referring to human nature itself), the first answer that popped into my mind was because it is not true. Why would anyone view original sin as something it is not?

Tony said...

Kjetil, we do not have in revelation a specific description of original sin. Neither Jesus nor St. Paul nor anyone else says "here's what we mean in detail by original sin, and here's what it is NOT." Therefore, we have to work it out by deduction as much as by anything else. And our starting premises for such deductions are not so all-fired clear and certain as to admit of no possible obscurity. Your question would make sense if we could observe original sin DIRECTLY, but we cannot.

Tony,the difficulty is that we cannot say human nature (in the sense of "what it is") has changed.

Joshua, I agree that in some sense we cannot propose that human nature has changed: it must still be human nature, "rational animal". But we must ALSO affirm, at the very same time, that "what Adam had to pass down to us" did change: He was supposed to be the source of original justice for us, and by losing his he lost it for the entire race. Since Adam can only pass down "what he has", he cannot pass down original justice. Same for other aspects.

And yet: he must either pass it (the lack) down by way of formal cause, or material cause, yes? If material cause, then this would imply two things we don't want to admit: (1) that for each of us our individual matter, that which distinguishes us from each other, is somehow inherently connected to Adam's matter precisely as affected by sin, which seems impossible; and (2) the identity of original sin can be found within the genetic code or some other material aspect that is subject to scientific observation.

Or, it in in the formal cause. Which means that it is, in some way, damage to our natures. And if I recall correctly, some of the saints used such language readily. Sin has caused a defect in our nature, not in such a way as to make us not to be human, but so as to make us human without being ready and apt and inclined toward human behavior.

Two of the defects ascribed to original sin are clouding of the mind and weakening of the will. I find it not difficult at all to think that the clouding of the mind, the APTNESS we have for allowing, for preferring to have our reason focus especially on immediate and sensible goods to the exclusion of (rationally ordered) proper goods is NOT due to bad habits, but that we start with that aptness. Same with the will: St. Paul says: I do that which I don't want, and I don't do that which I want. It is clear that he is describing the weakness of will. But since he is describing a UNIVERSAL human trait, it suggests that he is not talking about something that comes about on account of bad habits we acquire.

Which leads to my last point. If we are born not with a definite, positive inclination toward (personal) sin, but with a tabula rasa that is wholly neutral about sin, then WHY, oh WHY would every saint from Paul to Augustine to make it clear that every person who is old enough to sin does, in fact, sin? If there was a real, total neutrality in our stance that did not incline is toward something contrary to our natures, then shouldn't there be some people, once in a while, who DON'T commit personal sin even once, and even without baptism? What are the odds that result X happens every single time out of billions of trials if X is not a tendency?

Lucky Free Slots said...

Two years after going on the original sin to reconsider all of their most popular songs by stars like Ben Harper, Rob Thomas.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Thank you for your response. I'm very sorry if my comments sounded unduly harsh, but when I'm reading a book by a Catholic priest (and a Jesuit at that), I expect it to give me proper Catholic doctrine. I understand you're a great fan of Fr. Ludwig Ott, author of "The Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma". One of the reasons why Catholics like that book is that it spells out exactly what is of faith and what is not, and what degree of theological assurance attaches to the Church's various doctrinal pronouncements.

You acknowledge that "Fr. Harper makes too strong a statement when he says that it is a 'doctrine of the faith' that unbaptized infants will not possess the Beatific Vision". But if I'm reading a book on the Catholic faith written by a Catholic priest, I expect it to contain accurate information as to which doctrines are of faith and which are not. Fr. Harper's statement was extremely careless, to say the least.

Next, you argue that Fr. Harper is nevertheless "saying something that is nevertheless very hard to avoid given certain doctrines that are de fide" - namely, the necessity of baptism of desire (at the very least) as a condition for the Beatific Vision. Fr. Brian Harrison would agree with you: he is on the record as saying that the clear "doctrine of the Catholic Church for two millennia has been that wherever the souls of such infants do go, they definitely don't go to heaven".

However, the Pope would disagree. In the 1985 book-length interview, "The Ratzinger Report", the future Pope Benedict XVI stated, "Limbo was never a defined truth of faith. Personally - and here I am speaking more as a theologian and not as prefect of the congregation - I would abandon it, since it was only a theological hypothesis. It formed part of a secondary thesis in support of a truth which is absolutely of first significance for faith, namely, the importance of baptism."

On April 20, 2007, Pope Benedict authorized the publication of a document entitled, "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized", which said there are good reasons to hope that babies who die without being baptized go to heaven, and affirmed that while baptism is the ordinary way of salvation for all people, grace has priority over sin. (Bravo!)

Clear "doctrine" or "theological hypothesis"? I speak on behalf of ordinary Catholics when I say that we have a right to demand clarity regarding such matters.

As for man's having a natural as opposed to a supernatural end, was it not St. Augustine who wrote: "Thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee"? And it was St. Thomas Aquinas who wrote: "Final and perfect happiness can consist in nothing else than the vision of the Divine Essence.... If therefore the human intellect, knowing the essence of some created effect, knows no more of God than 'that He is'; the perfection of that intellect does not yet reach simply the First Cause, but there remains in it the natural desire to seek the cause. Wherefore it is not yet perfectly happy. Consequently, for perfect happiness the intellect needs to reach the very Essence of the First Cause" (S.T. I-II 3.8).

Fr. Harper’s remarks on the "yet lifeless foetus, a mere mass of matter" were also inexcusable, even for the time in which he wrote, as I'll show in my next post.

monk68 said...

Vincent wrote:

"I speak on behalf of ordinary Catholics when I say that we have a right to demand clarity regarding such matters."

With all due respect Vincent, I am an ordinary Catholic and I see no reason why I, or any other “ordinary” Catholic, have a "right" to such clarity. Just because a given theological question which vexes me has yet to be taken up as a matter for formal definition by the ordinary or extraordinary Magisterium; that puts me in no position to demand that the Magisterium do so on my personal time-table or according to my personal assessment of the importance of the issue in question. I am in no position to assess which, among the myriad of open theological issues which Catholics are free to disagree about, should be first up on the Magisterium's radar for formal definition. Indeed, I tend to think that unless a particular issue reaches a crisis point either within the Church, or as an obstacle to the Church's mission, the Magisterium is prudent in allowing and encouraging theological latitude, which in turn often foresters rich theological speculation out of which better articulated formal definitions might ultimately arise.

The key for a Catholic is to retain a “relation of assent” to Magisterial teaching, if and when such teaching is forthcoming. That posture of assent (which is essentially what it means to be "in communion" with Rome) is what allows for continued tangible unity among Catholics in doctrine, sacrament, and government; while simultaneously promoting diversity of opinion and creative theological speculation regarding non-de fide matters.

And notice, that even questions concerning whether or not a given theological proposition does, or does not, constitute de fide teaching is, itself, open to further clarification on the part of the ordinary or extraordinary Magisterium. Hence, questions concerning the authoritative status of a given theological postulate are, in principle, open to resolution should the need for such clarification reach a crisis level. It is the “relation” of assent between the faithful and the Magisterium that constitutes the Catholic Church’s
doctrinal, sacramental and ecclesial unity. Not whether or not the Magisterium has here and now chosen to resolve any given theological debate through exercise of her powers.

Pax Christi,

Ray

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

Back again. I'm currently working on an online pro-life book (written especially for non-believers) aimed at demonstrating the full personhood of the unborn from conception onwards. It should be ready in about four days: I'll be happy to forward you the hyperlink when it is. While doing research for my book, I came across a chapter from Frederick Dyer's masterful work, "The Physicians' Crusade Against Abortion" (Science History Publications, USA, 2005, ISBN 0-88135-378-7). The quotes below are taken from Dyer's book.

One of the earliest physicians to address the epidemic of criminal abortion was Hugh Lenox Hodge, Professor of Obstetrics at the University of Pennsylvania. In a published address to his medical students in 1839 and again in 1854, Hodge described abortion as "murder". In January 1851, the Rhode Island physician John Preston Leonard published in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal a long letter in which he described unscrupulous physicians who performed abortions as "murderers" and declared them to be worse than Herod: "He was influenced by popular clamor and bigotry; these quacks do all for money, and such could be hired to burn out the eyes of infant princes."

In November 1855, David Humphreys Storer, Professor of Obstetrics and Medical Jurisprudence at the Harvard Medical School, gave a lecture at the Medical School, entitled "An Introductory Lecture before the Medical Class of 1855-56 of Harvard University," whose final section dealt with criminal abortion. In that lecture, he stated:

"To save the life of the mother we may be called upon to destroy the fetus in utero, but here alone can it be justifiable. The generally prevailing opinion that although it may be wrong to procure an abortion after the child has presented unmistakable signs of life, it is excusable previous to that period, is unintelligible to the conscientious physician. The moment an embryo enters the uterus a microscopic speck, it is the germ of a human being, and it is as morally wrong to endeavor to destroy that germ as to be guilty of the crime of infanticide."

By the mid-nineteenth century, following the discovery of the ovum in 1827, obstetricians were agreed that the embryo/fetus was a human being from conception onwards. Fr. Tom Harper's book was written in 1866. I think it's fair to say he was a bit behind the times in referring to the "yet lifeless foetus, a mere mass of matter". Physicians in his day knew better, and so should he have, as an educated man. Incidentally, the phrase "mere mass of matter" was used in a letter to the New Jersey Medical Reporter in April 1855 by the New Jersey physician Isaac Skillman Mulford – who was just about the only openly "pro-choice" physician in his day – to refer to an abortive pregnancy, where the fetus was malformed and naturally destined to die, rather than to a "normal" fetus. How ironic, that Fr. Harper described a "normal" fetus using language that even a pro-choice physician in his day eschewed!

In 1869, Pope Pius IX declared all abortion to be homicide.

And even St. Thomas Aquinas, writing in the 13th century, didn't call the fetus "lifeless". He acknowledged that the embryo had at least a vegetative soul, until the age of 40 days (90 for females).

Given this background, Ed, I hope you will understand why I called Fr. Harper's statement ridiculous. I meant no disrespect to the man, however; nor would I question his personal sanctity.

Worth reading: "St. Thomas Aquinas confronts an abortionist" at http://thepracticingcatholic.
wordpress.com/2008/11/14/
st-thomas-aquinas-confronts-an-
abortionist/ .

George R. said...

Father Harper wrote:

For our first parent, by virtue of the Divine compact, did not act as an individual only, but as the constituted head of the human race. Just as in the example of the landed proprietor adduced at the commencement of this inquiry, the violation of the condition contained in the deed of gift was formally and properly the act of the hind; but the will of his children was virtually included in his own, as the result shows. For his heirs and descendants were subjected, equally with himself, to the penalty. And they could point in after-times to the property, which had passed into the hands of others, ands ay, “Through our grandfather’s fault we lost that farm.”

This illustration, which Ed himself uses in his previous post, does not adequately convey the intrinsic damage done to the human race by the sin of Adam. For original sin is not the result of Adam’s sin insofar as he was the constituted head of the human race, but rather insofar as he was the CAUSE of the human race. As a cause is in its effect, so is sinful Adam is in the human race, and an effect cannot be greater than its cause. In other words, Adam after the Fall was simply not capable of generating sinless children, as a sinless Adam would have been. So if Adam had had a son before he sinned, that son could never have contracted original sin, the former’s position as head of the human race notwithstanding.

James said...

Fr. Tom Harper's book was written in 1866. I think it's fair to say he was a bit behind the times

Of course, this was well before the immediate spread of information and one should expect no particular obstetric knowledge (or even interest) on the part of Harper. I simply can’t imagine holding him the slightest bit culpable for not being appraised of what was likely a fringe belief at the time.

Your passion for the subject seems to be causing you to assign unfair amounts of guilt here.

Vincent Torley said...

Ray (monk68),

I entirely accept your point that the Church has the right to make up its mind on vexing theological issues in its own good time. My only request is that at any given time in history, Catholics should be clear about what they are currently required to believe. That applies to issues like monogenism as well as the fate of the unbaptized.

Anonymous said...

so...all of the ten thousand or so infants (including unborn children) that were killed in the Indian Ocean tsunami before they had a bit of water splashed on their foreheads will not be with God in Heaven?

see, it's precisely arid doctrines like this that steer people away from the faith. regardless of what arguments you marshal, most people will find it to be literally unbelievable.

Just a Guy said...

"so...all of the ten thousand or so infants (including unborn children) that were killed in the Indian Ocean tsunami before they had a bit of water splashed on their foreheads will not be with God in Heaven?

see, it's precisely arid doctrines like this that steer people away from the faith. regardless of what arguments you marshal, most people will find it to be literally unbelievable."

There are 2 problems here:

1. It's not a doctrine. It's an opinion that happens to be held by Dr. Feser and several other people. If you don't want to hold it you are certainly not a heretic for having a different opnion on the matter.

Many intelligent theologians do hold the opnion that unbaptized infants can reach Heaven.

2. "Not being with God in heaven" is not shorthand, in this case, for "not being unhappy". The unbaptized infants would still live in a state of perpetual happiness, so I personally still find nothing particularly objectionable about the concept of Limbo.

Just a Guy said...

Excuse me,typo. My post should say, "Not being with God in heaven" is not shorthand, in this case, for "not being happy".

Tony said...

About infants in heaven debate: it is interesting, but we have come quite a ways around a circle (or, maybe a helix?) about this. Augustine seems to have thought that baptism is obligatory and therefore these infants don't go to heaven. Therefore, the "Limbo of the infants" was as a result located in Hell, because the only 2 places for the afterlife (after the final judgment) are heaven and hell. Alternatively, some of his contemporaries and most later theologians insist that they do not suffer. As a result, some proposed that Limbo is not a part of Hell, other just that the only thing they suffer is that one loss, and even in that they are not directly sensible of the loss. Still more recently, more theologians propose that maybe they DO go to heaven, and even if they don't then they live in a natural paradise of happiness. Next, I project theologians will place Limbo in Heaven as a kind of second-class beatitude, not wholly apart from God but not raised to the heights of beatitude that the saints enjoy who had been baptized. However problematic that would be for other reasons, I forecast that some will propose it.

Here is my sticking an oar in: Jesus says that he who is not born of the Spirit, who is not baptized, cannot be saved. On the other hand, the Church insists that Jesus's redeeming act was satisfaction for ALL sins for ALL mankind. Further, the Church insists that God desires all men to be saved (antecedent Will, that is, antecedent to personal sin).

What sense does it make to say that Jesus died to redeem baby X from his sins if baby X dies in utero in an earthquake without baptism (say, 1000 years before Christ in South America), if that there was, literally, NOTHING either that baby or its mother could have done to achieve baptism for X?

St. Thomas Aquinas, although admitting the principle that baptism is "necessry", effectively qualified that necessity: he ALSO taught that if a person reaches the age of reason and, at that moment, wills/intends the due final end insofar as he is capable, then he will be granted sanctifying grace at that moment even if he is a heathen living in a nation that knows not Christ. (If a man does what he is able, God will make up what is lacking and provide the rest.) Aquinas could not POSSIBLY have taught this if he also thought that the doctrine of baptism didn't have some heavy qualifiers.

There is nothing offensive to the faith to propose that God allows for an infant to receive some kind of hidden baptism if he dies without being baptized.

George R. said...

Pope St. Innocent I, to the Synod of Milevis, 417:

The idea that infants can be granted the rewards of eternal life even without the grace of baptism is utterly foolish.


The Council of Florence (Bull Cantate Domino of February 4, 1442):

Regarding children, indeed, because of danger of death, which can often take place, since no help can be brought to them by another remedy than through the sacrament of baptism, through which they are snatched from the domination of the devil and adopted among the sons of God, [the sacrosanct Roman Church] advises that holy baptism ought not to be deferred for forty or eighty days, . . . but it should be conferred as soon as it can be done conveniently.



And my personal favorite,

Pope Saint Gregory the Great, Moralia on the Book of Job:

For there be some that are withdrawn from the present light, before they attain to shew forth the good or evil deserts of an active life. And whereas the Sacraments of salvation do not free them from the sin of their birth, at the same time that here they never did aright by their own act; there they are brought to torment. And these have one wound, viz. to be born in corruption, and another, to die in the flesh. But forasmuch as after death there also follows, death eternal, by a secret and righteous judgment ‘wounds are multiplied to them without cause.’ For they even receive everlasting torments, who never sinned by their own will. And hence it is written, Even the infant of a single day is not pure in His sight upon earth. Hence ‘Truth’ says by His own lips, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God . . . With what sort of visitation does the strict Judge mercilessly slay those, whom the guilt of their own deeds condemns, if He smites for all eternity even those, whom the guilt of deliberate choice does not impeach?

Yikes!

Just a Guy said...

Yes, Popes and Councils expressed strong opinions on the subject. None of them were infallible declarations, and today the Church has stated that infants are entrusted to the mercy of God.

Just a Guy said...

As an afterthought:

All these opinions state that infants cannot enter Heaven accept through baptism. Everybody in the Church agrees about that.

The question is whether or not an extraordinary form of baptism is conferred by God (such as "baptism of blood" granted to those martyred for the faith) on infants or whether only the ordinary form of baptism is efficacious.

And we don't know. We can only speculate.

Just a Guy said...

Accept should be except, of course.

Edward Feser said...

Vincent,

As late as the 1950s, Scholastic writers of unquestioned orthodoxy, in books having the Imprimatur, were debating the question of whether the rational soul was present at conception. Like you, I believe they were mistaken -- and I defer to no one in my hatred of abortion -- but such debate was perfectly within bounds at the time. Hence you simply have no grounds whatsoever for accusing Fr. Harper -- who was writing in 1866! -- of saying something scandalous, given the range of permitted theological opinion in his day.

Re: his statements about unbaptized infants, I have already agreed that he overstates things when he gives the impression that it is de fide that they do not possess the Beatific Vision. But as I have also said, it is perfectly understandable that he should have drawn such a conclusion given how unavoidable their deprivation of the Beatific Vision seems given what IS de fide. Indeed, what he says would not have been scandalous to any generation of theologians prior to the current generation, and certainly not in the 19th century when he was writing. (If anything, the position of Harper and others of his day -- which, it must be emphasized, was that unbaptized infants will enjoy perpetual natural happiness even if not the Beatific Vision -- was milder than that of earlier theologians.)

So, it is quite absurd for you to pretend that Harper made some revealing theological gaffe here, just as it would be absurd to cite Augustine's harsher views as evidence that Augustine is theologically suspect. Nor does the citation of Pope Benedict's opinion show otherwise. For one thing, in the very words you cite, he said he was speaking as a private theologian and not as Prefect of the CDF (which office he held at the time he made the remarks). For another, even if the newer and even milder theological opinion turned out to be correct -- and I do not think it is -- that tells us absolutely nothing about what we should expect a solid and orthodox Catholic theologian to have written in 1866.

Finally, I notice that while you are keen to cite the current Pope's opinions when he is explicitly speaking only as a private theologian, you ignore the statement about the natural vs. supernatural orders that Pope Pius XII made in a document of very high doctrinal authority -- Humani Generis, in words I quote above -- that shows your earlier dismissive remarks about Fr. Harper's views on that subject to be without justification.

Why you insist on trying to make mountains out of these molehills, I can only speculate. It seems to me that you have, for whatever reason, such an animus against Fr. Harper's views on original sin, nature vs. grace, etc. that you are eager to discredit him even to the point of making cheap shots about his views on ensoulment. I'm happy to be proven wrong, but it's hard to see what plausible alternative explanation there can be for your going to the lengths of hauling out obscure bits of 19th century medical trivia for the purposes of indicting Harper for holding opinions that orthodox Catholic writers were holding well into the middle of the 20th century.

In short -- and to paraphrase what you (wrongly) said about Prof. Long's remarks about Grisez a few days ago -- you owe Fr. Harper an apology, or would do if he were still alive.

Herpaes said...

"And we don't know. We can only speculate."

And since God would obviously know that we don't know and are left to content ourselves with speculation, it makes perfect sense to conclude that He would match our pitiful epistemic poverty with a proportional generosity. In other words, amidst all the confusion and endless arguments that flow from all of our cognitive limitations within this shitty, blood-stained world, He ought to be somewhat generous with regards to whom He lets into His presence.

Hence, I should believe that nothing is withheld from the infants. None of this "Only baptized Christians will get into Heaven!" nonsense. In all honesty, I cannot take such things seriously.

Just a Guy said...

"In other words, amidst all the confusion and endless arguments that flow from all of our cognitive limitations within this shitty, blood-stained world, He ought to be somewhat generous with regards to whom He lets into His presence."

Hm, I think the problem here is saying that He "ought" to do anything.

God "ought" to do nothing for us. He owes us nothing. Everything we get from Him is a gift. We already owe God FAR more than he owes us-even infants. Without Him they wouldn't exist at all.

That said, if you want to believe that God lets infants into His presence, go right ahead. Just be careful not to make it sound as if your personal conviction is official Church teaching.

(Note: I'm not saying you're doing that, this is just a general reminder.)

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Ed,

I believe in apologizing when an apology is due, so let me say here and now that I have no doubt that Fr. Harper was a very competent theologian, who did not teach anything scandalous, given the range of permitted theological opinion in his day. I sincerely apologize if anything in my posts suggested otherwise. I do think his biology was a bit behind the times, and I also think he should have been more careful about declaring what is and is not a doctrine of faith, but I will readily acknowledge that he was a fine theologian in his day.

But here's my point: I'm not judging him by 19th century standards. I'm judging him by 21st century standards. The question I asked myself at the outset was: would I recommend his works to anyone today? If you take a look at my very first post, you'll see that I said, "I don't think I'll be recommending Fr. Harper's book to anyone any time soon."

Would you give Fr. Harper's book to a sophomore who happened to be a Gnu Atheist? No. You know they'd have a field day with some of the quotes I gave.

All right. Would you recommend Fr. Harper's book to someone who was curious about the Catholic faith? I don't think I would. I think it would confuse and profoundly unsettle them. I'm a Catholic, and frankly, even I was bamboozled by Fr. Harper's definition of Original Sin as being "virtually in a condition of habitual aversion from God as his supernatural end". I found his explanation of the Church's teaching almost unrecognizable. On the other hand, I loved reading Cardinal Newman's explanation of Original Sin (the famous "Did I see a boy" passage). That made sense to me. I can also readily comprehend what the New Catechism says about Original Sin.

Re the doctrine of Limbo: in 2007, Pope Benedict authorized the publication of a document entitled, "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized", which said that it is legitimate to hope that unbaptized infants are saved, so the view that they are saved is an orthodox one. Pope Benedict wasn't just speaking as a private theologian when he did that: he was opening a door, and declaring that the weight of tradition in support of Limbo did not settle the matter. Fr. Harper wrote his book in 1866, so I can't fault him for not anticipating that. His opinion was certainly not scandalous for his time. But whether we like it or not, it would scandalize many sincere non-Catholic seekers after truth if they were to come across a Catholic work of theology saying that Limbo was a doctrine of faith. I can imageine a Protestant reader would say: "Hang on a minute! Get your story straight! Is it or is it not a doctrine? And how can I tell for sure if something is a doctrine or not?"I can imagine too that someone struggling with the Church's teachings on moral matters would be scandalized to come across a work of theology describing the fetus as a lifeless mass of matter.

Perhaps time has been a little unkind to Fr. Harper, but my own opinion is that his work is best read by mature Catholics only.

Finally, George R.: I don't want to minimize the awful quotes you adduce, but I'll quote back a saying of St. Augustine at you: "We are bound by the sacraments; Christ is not." The Church is within her rights in defining what we must do (e.g. baptize our children) and what we must believe (e.g. the truths of faith). But the Church has no business setting limits on the mercy of God. God has His own ways of saving people that we know nothing of. To say that God cannot save the unbaptized would be blasphemous.

Cheers.

Kjetil Kringlebotten said...

Tony,

It is correct that “we do not have in revelation a specific description of original sin” in the way it is taught dogmatically. But neither do we have for the Trinity or the Incarnation. Arius used Scripture. A lot.

We know that Christ established a Church in which there were some to whom he delegated dogmatic authority. (Matt 16:18-19; 18:18; Luk 10:16; John 20:21-23; Acts 2:42; 1Cor 4:1) Their successors have developed and interpreted what has been given us in Scripture.

Now the main reason that we do not hold that Original Sin entails “an actual damage to the natural organism itself” (assuming that you by this refer to human nature itself) is that a nature cannot be changed without the thing in question ceasing to be. If we burn a log, it does no longer exist. It is not ‘a burned log.’ It is ashes. Just as a dead dog is really improper since what we see is a corpse. If the very human nature of Adam and Eve was altered, they would cease to be.

But we must ALSO affirm, at the very same time, that "what Adam had to pass down to us" did change: He was supposed to be the source of original justice for us, and by losing his he lost it for the entire race. Since Adam can only pass down "what he has", he cannot pass down original justice. Same for other aspects.

And yet: he must either pass it (the lack) down by way of formal cause, or material cause, yes? If material cause, then this would imply two things we don't want to admit: (1) that for each of us our individual matter, that which distinguishes us from each other, is somehow inherently connected to Adam's matter precisely as affected by sin, which seems impossible; and (2) the identity of original sin can be found within the genetic code or some other material aspect that is subject to scientific observation.

Or, it in in the formal cause. Which means that it is, in some way, damage to our natures. And if I recall correctly, some of the saints used such language readily. Sin has caused a defect in our nature, not in such a way as to make us not to be human, but so as to make us human without being ready and apt and inclined toward human behavior.


It seems to me that you believe that Adam was supposed to be this qua his natural state, but for me it seems that he was supposed to be this in his elevated state, yet he lost this. This does not entail a loss or damaging of anything human, but a loss of something super- and preternatural. And this state – this purely natural state in which the lower parts of nature can take control over higher parts – is what constitutes the state of being in original sin.

And FYI, I’m not Catholic, but Lutheran.

Joshua said...

I never get how quickly muddled discussions on unbaptised infants are.

I don't mean to sound arrogant here, but isn't it blatantly obvious that there are two different questions involved?

1. Is there anyone such that dies in original sin only, and not also in mortal sin?

That is one question and here one would, to say no, have to hold that God not only can but does saved through a miracle every single person without baptism who has not personally sinned. Personally I find that a hard statement to make, but disagree if you like and hold it

2. What is the final end for someone who departs this life in original sin only?

Now even if someone holds, on speculation, that there is no such person because God saves all infants, etc. it remains a meaningful question. The answer to this is dogma. They do not obtain heaven. If you die in original sin only, you go to hell. The only debate is between the limbo doctrine of an Aquinas (with its natural happiness) or the "suffers least of all in hell" doctrine of Augustine.

So it is dogma that all who die in original sin do not obtain heaven. Now if we suppose God prevents that, we must say that He has neither revealed nor promised such, and it would be perfectly just were those in original sin not redeemed. There is nothing to merit salvation. The first grace is utterly gratuitous, and that is dogma. However ill it sits with people, no the baby doesn't "deserve heaven"

Further, even if only a hypothetical "last end" the question is related to one's understanding of original sin and therefore useful even if there were no person who ever died in original sin only

Just a Guy said...

The question, though, is whether or not the babies die in original sin. It is possible that there is an extraordinary form of baptism that we are unaware of, like the Baptism of Blood that martyrs for the faith go through, that mitigates original sin.

And we don't know.

Now, you may hold that it's silly or incomprehensible to hold such a view (that babies are baptized by extraordinary means unknown to us), but the fact is that if you privately believe that you're not a heretic.

Such children are subject to the mercy of God. That's good enough for me.

Tony said...

Joshua,

I agree with the teaching that those who do not have sanctifying grace do not see God in beatitude.

But there are *problems* in naming or describing what that actually means. For example, let's take an easy problem: do they "go to hell"?

The English word "hell" is a concept formed in English cultures out of Angle and Saxon cultures, which possibly did not have exact parallel references in their views of the afterlife to what Judeo-Christian theory holds about the afterlife. Therefore, the use of English "hell" might be only an imperfect translation from what the Aramaic, and/or Greek, and/or Latin terms.

How, different? Well, hell is the "place of torment" of sinners. Except that some Fathers and Doctors say that the infants do not suffer torment. Augustine says that "hell" means the place of those who don't see God in the afterlife, and thus places Limbo within hell. But obviously the "place of torment" and the "place of those who don't see God" are ABSOLUTELY NOT the same concept. (They could be the same *place*, but that doesn't make them the same concept.) There is room for considerable overlap, but there is also room for non-overlap as well.

If the proper Anglo-Saxon meaning of hell is "place of torment" and if the Fathers and Doctors who say infants do not suffer are correct, then it is WRONG to say (in English) that these infants go to hell, even though it could be perfectly fine to say that they go the Hades if you are Greek. (But there are, clearly, people in antiquity described as being in Hades not in torment.) There might well be NO single English word whose proper meaning is "all those places for people who don't see God in the afterlife."

That is just one of the easy and simple *problems* to be sorted out. It is simple to sort out simply by insisting on using the phrase "place of torment" or "condition without the beatific vision" and you have skirted the whole ambiguity.

Is there anyone such that dies in original sin only, and not also in mortal sin?

That is one question and here one would, to say no, have to hold that God not only can but does saved through a miracle every single person without baptism who has not personally sinned. Personally I find that a hard statement to make, but disagree if you like and hold it


Unfortunately, you dropped a couple of words, and I don't understand this. Unless I am terribly mistaken, the Fathers and Doctors all agree that mortal sin is personal sin as such that requires deliberateness, and infants are incapable of personal sin with deliberateness so they are incapable of housing mortal sin. Since manifestly infants die, there are many who die with original sin and not with mortal sin. But that must not be what you are getting at, it is too obvious.

Daniel Smith said...

I'm so glad I'm not Catholic! I can't imagine having to defend the doctrine of original sin with regard to unbaptized infants. (Sometimes our quandaries are self-inflicted you know.)

Just a Guy said...

"I'm so glad I'm not Catholic! I can't imagine having to defend the doctrine of original sin with regard to unbaptized infants. (Sometimes our quandaries are self-inflicted you know.)"

We don't have to actually defend it, just point out that the Church has no official teaching on it and you're free to come to your own conclusions as long as you don't spout them off as infallible dogma.

That's all.

I never got why people tied themselves to knots over this. If it bothers you that unbaptized infants might not be in Heaven, then pray for them and trust in God's goodness.

If you believe "A good God would never leave infants out of Heaven!"-well, all right. The Church is fine with you believing that. It's not a heresy.

Joshua said...

I wrote a response last night, but blogger messed up and lost it.

Tony, I don't think I dropped any words, I just phrased my words in an awkward manner.

It is dogma that if you die in original only sin you go to "hell" (infernum). So for someone to say that no person, whether infant or mentally handicapped, goes to "hell" unless he commits personal sin, one must presuppose God miraculously saves every such person.

Now those trashing Fr. Harper would have preferred him to write a book that would have been condemned in his day. As recently as 1947 the Holy Office stated that it was not permitted to teach that God intervenes in each and every case of unbaptised infants dying. They declared the idea rash and prejudicial to the practice of baptism. I don't want to debate the weight of that censure, or whether it has been superceded. Suffice it in his day it was not an allowable opinion

But it still remains that limbo (the "hem" of hell) answers a question about what is owed to someone in original sin only. I agree with you the term hell can be misleading, but disagree about it not being equivalent. For 500+ years it has been, as the Apostle's Creed and catechisms all use "hell" to mean limbo of the Fathers, etc and not just the place of torment. Still, it can lead to confusion.


Just as question, where does Augustine teach limbo? I know he says that infants who die in original sin suffer the least of all, but I always thought that he more or less killed the limbo doctrine until St. Anselm revived it.

Just a guy wrote, "If you believe "A good God would never leave infants out of Heaven!"-well, all right. The Church is fine with you believing that. It's not a heresy."

I don't think that is true. This implies the Pelagian heresy and is an incredibly arrogant thing to claim. We know that no one deserves heaven. We know salvation is gratuitous. We know that there is no meriting whatsoever the first grace. So we know that if God were to allow an unbaptised infant to die without granting baptismal graces, that baby would go a) to hell, but suffer least of all or b) to limbo. And we know this would not violate the goodness or justice or mercy of God.

It is offensive to pious ears to measure God by our limited judgment. "If God is good, He will do X" when He hasn't revealed that He does X is impious speech. It is fine to say "we don't know" but as soon as you start making demands on God, especially when we do know that something is not owed (namely salvation and the first grace to anyone) you throw out the supernatural order's gratuity, you deny the nature of grace.

Just a Guy said...

"I don't think that is true. This implies the Pelagian heresy and is an incredibly arrogant thing to claim. We know that no one deserves heaven. We know salvation is gratuitous. We know that there is no meriting whatsoever the first grace. So we know that if God were to allow an unbaptised infant to die without granting baptismal graces, that baby would go a) to hell, but suffer least of all or b) to limbo. And we know this would not violate the goodness or justice or mercy of God."

Agreed. The question is whether or not the child is granted baptismal grace in an extraordinary manner or not.


That said-I concede the point that the phrase "A good God would never leave infants out of Heaven!" is too radical to be an orthodox statement.

You're correct, that in itself would be a heresy because it presumes that humans are owed something from God.

Nevertheless, it is not heretical to believe, "I don't think it makes much sense from my limited human perspective that a good God would not let unbaptized infants into Heaven, and thus I choose to believe that these unbaptized infants are granted a special baptismal grace that allows them to enter Heaven."

You just need to be careful to emphasize that this is not the official Church teaching on the matter, and other views on the matter are acceptable and also not heretical.

Joshua said...

Just a guy, good! I am glad we are in agreement. I have a bit of an extra-sensitivity to Pelagianism and I am glad we share the same understanding and my at times bombastic response didn't cloud that.

Just a Guy said...

To the contrary! I made an error in my post that could have caused somebody else confusion or worse, like giving them a false strawman of Catholic doctrine to attack, and you corrected it without actually calling me or my motives into question.

Thanks and kudos!

Mr. Green said...

I'd be interested in any scriptural or patristic or scholastic references anyone could point me towards that address the idea for against Original Sin being a fall from an elevated state and not a fall below some "natural" level, or vice versa. It's a plausible explanation, but there is also a history of regarding the Fall as being a "corruption" in some way. (And no, the substantial form of humanity doesn't change, but of course "nature" is not here being used in that technical philosophical sense.) Also there is the notion of all of nature (to use the word in yet another sense) being fallen along with mankind, and I'm curious about the arguments for the other side.

Vincent Torley said...

Mr. Green

Here's a good place to start:

http://www.newadvent.org/summa/
2085.htm

Tony said...

Tony, I don't think I dropped any words, I just phrased my words in an awkward manner.

It is dogma that if you die in original only sin you go to "hell" (infernum). So for someone to say that no person, whether infant or mentally handicapped, goes to "hell" unless he commits personal sin, one must presuppose God miraculously saves every such person.


But Joshua, the question you posed is whether they die only in original sin, not whether they go to hell.

Whatever. I was trying to cut through the problem of the mis-matched concepts underlying the Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, and modern English names for the place in after-life. I just listened to an MP3 this morning by Scott Hahn in which he points up that the Greek word Hades is just the place of the dead, and covers 3 different categories of afterlife treatment, (for the good, the bad, and a middle group). In ancient Greek mythology there are good people wandering around in Hades. Whereas the Hebrew Sheol sliced up the places of the dead differently, it still covered more than just those being tormented. Gehenna is used only to reference one aspect of Sheol. Latin's "infernum" is, literally, "lower regions" and is pretty closely correlated with Greek Hades.

By contrast, the modern English connotation is much more specific than Hades: it means a place of torment. If you were to insist that "hell" just meant "the realm of the dead" like Hades was considered, then there wouldn't be this modern debate about whether God let's babies go to hell. The whole reason the debate happens is because people believe "hell" means "with torment". But since you cannot discuss the matter by flipping back and forth indiscriminately between Sheol and Gehenna and Hades and infernum and hell as if these all meant the same concept, the only way around the thicket is to say the concept you mean: place of torment, place of the dead, place of the dead excluded from God's presence, etc.

My recollection was that Augustine placed infants in infernum for the formal reason that infernum was the place of those excluded from God's presence. It was ALSO his idea, but incidental to his main point, that babies suffered "least" of those in infernum because they did not have personal sin. Other Fathers and later many Doctors said that these infants do not suffer sensibly. This is not absolutely opposed to Augustine's secondary point if you take his point of "suffer least" to be capable of 2 meanings: suffer a little bit, or the amount is zero, because after all zero is also less than all positive amounts.

Tony said...

the Holy Office stated that it was not permitted to teach that God intervenes in each and every case of unbaptised infants dying. They declared the idea rash and prejudicial to the practice of baptism.

Would it not be consistent with the Holy Office's position here to say that

(a) it is inherently possible that God does save a few, or some, many, or even all such babies, but

(b) there is nothing in revelation to say so, and

(c) therefore to TEACH positively "God saves all such babies" exceeds our writ of revealed truth;

(d) it is, therefore, rash to teach positively such a claim; and

(e) teaching such universal extraordinary treatment ALSO prejudices the practice of baptism, because people would forget that baptism has other benefits in addition to merely removing the stain of original sin.

On the other hand, teaching that

"nothing in revelation precludes the possibility that God can save some, many, or even all such babies through some sort of extraordinary form of baptism, like the baptism of the Holy Innocents"

does not posit that God does in fact do so, (much less that He "must" do so), and thus does not run afoul of the Holy Office's censure. There's a difference.

The fact that the Holy Office doesn't censure it by calling it "false" means that the censure is based on something other than knowing that it is false.

Joshua said...

Tony, I am well familiar with Latin and Greek and think the chasing after etymologies to be a red herring here. The word hell is used in the English speaking Catholic world in a broader sense. Just look at the Apostle's Creed, "He descended into hell" or the Roman Catechism or the Baltimore. There is no need to make a big hoopalah over language that is perfectly well within customary use and has been for centuries.


In anycase, the point remains that Fr. Harper really ought not be censured here. Pius X taught very explicitly the same thing, if not in a binding matter. And many theologians though limbo to be very near dogma...indeed several bishops thought it should be defined at Vatican II. I think you will find it a very anachronistic criticism. Just a hundred years before Harper those who doubted limbo merely held that unbaptised babies suffer in hell.

Tony said...

The word hell is used in the English speaking Catholic world in a broader sense. Just look at the Apostle's Creed,

I'll bet you cannot locate, in anything published by a person born in the last 60 years, phrasing that uses "hell" in that sense, except if they were using it in a limited context intentionally intended to conform to the usage in the Apostle's Creed. Nobody uses "hell" to mean "the generic place of the dead excluded from God, including those who do not suffer" nowadays, expecting to be understood. If anyone these days wanted to mean that, they could use "hell" only by carefully adding qualifiers.

I cannot help it if there are at least 3 competing traditions on this matter of infants. I wasn't censuring Fr. Harper, for that very reason.

BenYachov said...

One acceptable opinion on the possible Salvation of the Unbaptized(that is via water) is God will keep them in Limbo till the Second Coming. There was a harrowing of Hell at the first Coming why not one at the second?

I read a book to this effect written by a Catholic theologian.

It's a valid opinion just like Limbo.

It's not possible to receive to Beatific Vision with your soul in the state of Original sin. God doesn't owe anybody the Beatific Vision.

Catholics may only seek salvation for their children threw Water Baptism but that doesn't exclude God saving the unbaptized in other ways.

Aquinas said God has bound all Grace in the Sacraments but God Himself is not bound. I do remember Aquinas even speculating on God commuting salvation to Children who died in the womb (after ensoulment) without water baptism.

I personally believe God does save unbaptized infants. But I also believe it is my duty to act as if He doesn't.

In the Navy I learned it is better to call a Security Alert and be wrong then to not call a Security Alert and be wrong.

God threw his Church commanded us to pursue salvation for Children threw water baptism. So we must do so and not listen to liberal heretics who say water baptism isn't important.

But we need not heed Radtrad heretics who say it is not permited to hope for the salvation of unbaptized infants.

Believe what you want(Limbo or extra-ordinary extra sacremental grace) but be orthodox about it.