Saturday, September 17, 2011

Henry of Ghent on dying without baptism

While uploading some texts by Henry of Ghent I noticed three questions that are pertinent to the current discussion (see e.g. here) on our fallen state, and original sin.  So I had a go at translating them. First, Henry asks whether a child who dies before baptism is damned.  Against: in Matthew 9, Jesus heals a man brought to him on account of the faith of others.  For: John 3 says that unless we are born again through baptism, we cannot enter the kingdom of God.  Henry upholds John - without baptism, we cannot be saved.  In reply to the argument he distinguishes between 'first grace' and 'second grace'. (I do not understand this distinction, perhaps a theologian can help me out here).  Through the faith of others, a man can deserve first grace.  But he could not receive second grace unless, through being aroused to action by the first, he elects to receive second grace by his own free will.  Since a child cannot choose to do this, he or she cannot be cleansed of original sin.  So the cases of the man healed by Jesus through the faith of others, and that of the child dying without baptism, are not the same.  Although Henry adds that perhaps this could happen by 'special grace'.

In the next question, Henry asks whether the punishment for original sin will be the same for that child, as for the child of a 'Saracen' (i.e. a muslim).  He replies that it will be the same, because original sin is the same in all humans, and so the punishment will be the same.  He qualifies this by saying that this punishment is simply being deprived of the vision of God, and is a sort of nothingness.  By implication, it will not be the sort of horrific, eternal torment described here.

In the final question, he asks whether such a child should be buried in a cemetery.  He argues that it should not.  A cemetery is simply a resting place for the children of the church until the final judgment.  But, just as the excommunicated cannot be buried there because separated from the church, so a child dying before baptism cannot, because in the absence of baptism it never was a member of the church.

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