Necessity of Baptism

In a recent discussion, I was told that the baptism of infants in a case of the likelihood of imminent death by a layman was not a matter of necessity for the infant to be baptised but a reassurance for the conscience of the parents. The reason put forward was that it was ridiculous to think that God would punish a child because it wasn’t baptised in time before its death, so emergency baptism is not a necessity but can only be a relief of the conscience. This apparently is a pervading view in some theological circles.

The above reasoning is somewhat troubling. There are a couple of issues that are problematic. One is that this view does not reflect a view found in prominent Fathers; it seems rather to be an opinion that reflects the thinking of Protestants and perhaps Roman Catholics. Another is the theology that underlines the reasoning and the implications of what baptism is and does.

There is not place here to survey a range of Fathers regarding this matter but the statements of St John Chrysostom will be considered as a good representative of patristic thought, especially regarding Scriptural exegesis.

The key Scriptural basis for the necessity of baptism is John 3:3-5. ‘Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen amen, I say to you, unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born, being old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Amen amen, I say to you, unless someone is born of water and of Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”‘ The Lord seems to want to make it clear that being born again of water, baptism, and Spirit, is a must to enter the kingdom of God. That is baptism is necessary.

How does Chrysostom deal with this text? Here is a quote from his homily on John 3:3: ‘What He [Jesus] declares is this: “Thou sayest that it is impossible, I say that it is so absolutely possible as to be necessary, and that it is not even possible otherwise to be saved.”’ Here Chrysostom makes clear that Christ was intending by his comment that baptism is necessary. He also ties it in with salvation in case one would argue that entering the kingdom is perhaps different from salvation. Let us look at another quote: ‘That the need of water is absolute and indispensable, you may learn in this way. On one occasion, when the Spirit had flown down before the water was applied, the Apostle did not stay at this point, but, as though the water were necessary and not superfluous, observe what he says; “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?”’ Again, Chrysostom is clear on the necessity of water and so baptism. A third quote to confirm Chrysostom’s view: ‘We risk no common danger; for if it should come to pass, (which God forbid!) that through the sudden arrival of death we depart hence uninitiated, though we have ten thousand virtues, our portion will be no other than hell, and the venomous worm, and fire unquenchable, and bonds indissoluble.’ Here it seems to counter an argument that baptism is necessary for us to enter the kingdom while on earth but one may nevertheless enter the kingdom on judgement day, because Chrysostom speaks of portion of the uninitiated as hell and bonds indissoluble, that is not a only a temporary time in hell but an eternity in hell. This quote also counters those that may think that the last resurrection of the body achieves the same thing as baptism because in that case dying without baptism now would only have temporary consequences until the resurrection. Note also that even ten thousand, or innumerable virtues, does not permit salvation. From his exegesis on this text, Chrysostom is clearly of the opinion that baptism is necessary for salvation and status as a exegete is such that this is likely to be the standard understanding of the matter within orthodox tradition. So, far this is largely a proof text approach to the question, so we should turn to the theology underlining the matter.

Regarding the theology of baptism, Chrysostom’s homily provides a wealth of information. Beginning with the quote noted above regarding virtue, it seems that we must not consider baptism in the same manner as virtue. Chrysostom when speaking of ten thousand virtues is not counting virtues but stating that even if we are perfect in virtue yet die without baptism then our portion is hell. This means that baptism is not something for which we are judged with other virtues or sins on judgement day but is rather better understood as an ontological state that in itself determines our possible salvation independent of our sins or virtues. We could say that baptism brings us into a state where we are able to be forgiven our sins in the future as well as cleansing us from past sins. Sinners, virtuous and innocent persons alike require baptism. We should not say that person x was innocent or virtuous and so should be in heaven regardless of his baptism state. The view that one perishes because one inherits guilt from Adam is also inconsistent with Chrysostom. It places baptism into an way of thinking that our salvation is only about individual sin and virtue because one who is not baptised is punished for his individual, personal guilt inherited from Adam, that is for a sin.

If baptism is independent of the judgement of sin and virtue then what is it? Let us turn to Chrysostom again:

‘The earthly birth which is according to the flesh, is of the dust, and therefore heaven is walled against it, for what hath earth in common with heaven? But that other, which is of the Spirit, easily unfolds to us the arches above. Hear, ye as many as are unilluminated, shudder, groan, fearful is the threat, fearful the sentence. “It is not (possible),” He saith, “for one not born of water and the Spirit, to enter into the Kingdom of heaven”; because he wears the raiment of death, of cursing, of perdition, he hath not yet received his Lord’s token, he is a stranger and an alien, he hath not the royal watchword.’

Here we see the reason that one requires baptism: It is because our birth according to the flesh is walled off from heaven, that is the material world, since the fall, is in a state of separation and alienation from God. What connection does one in the state of death have with Life? This state applies to all those born, it is an ontological condition that is independent of our free choice, virtue and sin. Baptism is necessary to leave this state and to bring man back into a common life with God.

Here is another quote to consider:

For as long as we are divided in this respect, though a man be father, or son, or brother, or aught else, he is no true kinsman, as being cut off from that relationship which is from above. What advantageth it to be bound by the ties of earthly family, if we are not joined by those of the spiritual? what profits nearness of kin on earth, if we are to be strangers in heaven? For the Catechumen is a stranger to the Faithful. He hath not the same Head, he hath not the same Father, he hath not the same City, nor Food, nor Raiment, nor Table, nor House, but all are different; all are on earth to the former, to the latter all are in heaven.

This quote is interesting because it shows that being human is not only an individual experience but one that is also communal and related, one of family. Thus, our salvation depends not only on our individual state of virtue but also on our relationship with the family of God. If we are a stranger to this family then we cannot share the benefits of this family regardless of our individual abilities, such someone not a member of the royal family cannot expect to inherit the royal throne because they are not a member of the royal family and not because of any other disability. Family relationship is part of what it is to be human; it is a means of intimate union but also of separation. To join the heavenly family is not something that is of a mental attribute of sharing a common faith as Protestants effectively believe with ‘faith alone’ because catechumens also share this faith yet they are still considered strangers before their baptism. It is not simply about receiving the Spirit else St Peter would not have mentioned water also. Joining the family is something that requires both a created, the need of water, and an uncreated aspect, the work of the Spirit, because it is a family that is both united to the uncreated God and to other created members. Without a created aspect there can be no union in and of the created nature and without the uncreated there could be no union with the uncreated, God. This union is in Christ who as God-man has perfected the union of God and man and thus enabled our salvation in union with Him.

So, this is the logic that supports the contention that an emergency baptism is not merely something to rest the conscience of the parents but is a necessity for the salvation of the child, who is born in the state of death and alienation from God. This is not the child’s fault but it is a fact of the human condition after the Fall, which it shares. Our lives are not merely the product of our own choices but also those of whom we are dependent; this is what it is to be human. Human existence is of unique persons within community; we cannot divorce the two aspects, although we can distinguish them so that it is true that a son is not judged for the sins of his father but also that the consequences of one’s sin may affect a number of following generations.

108 Responses to Necessity of Baptism

  1. Rob Bellarmine says:

    What is Perry Robinson doing these days?

  2. Nick and others,

    While I can understand the inconsistencies with regards to the council of 1672 and the points that you wish to make about it, the issue of the acceptability of the council is not directly relevant to this discussion on the necessity of baptism and should be taken up elsewhere. The evidence of the canon is relevant and helpful but there are reasons that it cannot be forced as the full and final definitive answer on the matter and so it is best to leave it as evidence for readers to weigh up taking into account the legitimate debate concerning the council.

  3. Nick says:


    Sorry I missed your question: who are these Orthodox doubting the canon? I have never heard of such a debate!

    There are various canons of Scripture in Orthodoxy, with the 1672 council being the most “authoritative” and states the 7 “Catholic” DeuteroCanonical are as inspired as the rest. However, a pretty major/authoritative Catechism for (at least) the Russian Orthodox is Metropolitan Philaret’s Catechism written in 1830, which says this:

    “34. Why is there no notice taken in this enumeration of the [66] books of the Old Testament of the book of the Wisdom of the son of Sirach, and of certain others?

    Because they do not exist in the Hebrew. ”

    In other words, the 7 DeuteroCanonical books are of inferior status; not inspired, but can be useful.

    The Greek Orthodox are said to accept the 7 as well as a few more, and the smaller Orthodox churches sometimes have variations as well.

    As for transubstantiation, it’s hard to commit the word concept fallacy since it’s a distinctly “scholastic” term, and 1672 even mentions the substance/accidence distinction along with using the term “transubstantiation.” I’m not suggesting a whole-sale accepting of Scholasticism, only that “transubstantiation” is not a cuss word nor “Latin error”.

    When I mentioned the “conglomeration” comment, I had examples like the above in mind. For example, all Catholics of every stripe accept the same canon of Scripture and same terminology (even if a given tradition prefers to express the Eucharist in non-scholastic terms).

  4. Fr Alvin,

    St Gregory of Nyssa seems to focus primarily on purity in terms of participation in the divine. He necessitates baptism as the means of purity, although he indicates that the fires of hell will purify one, which he seems to believe will eventually achieve the same result as baptism, consistently with his universalist ideas of salvation. An infant being pure at birth does not require a baptism for purity and, even if so and not given, there would be no need for a purification of fire, or a very brief one, and so an unbaptised infant would begin eternal life along with baptised infants. Nevertheless, on other points of thinking St Gregory seems to express the same reasoning as St Cyril of Jerusalem.

    Here are some quotes from his Great Catechism and the section on the sacraments, chapters 33-37. These quotes help to put the work on Infants into context of his baptismal thinking. I chose these particular quotes due to their relevance to the mechanics issue, the sense of necessity, the two fold nature issue and also that what the resurrection does and does not do.

    BUT the descent into the water, and the trine immersion of the person in it, involves another mystery. For since the method of our salvation was made effectual not so much by His precepts in the way of teaching as by the deeds of Him Who has realized an actual fellowship with man, and has effected life as a living fact, so that by means of the flesh which He has assumed, and at the same time deified, everything kindred and related may be saved along with it, it was necessary that some means should be devised by which there might be, in the baptismal process, a kind of affinity and likeness between him who follows and Him Who leads the way.

    I mean, that without the laver of regeneration it is impossible for the man to be in the resurrection; but in saying this I do not regard the mere remolding and refashioning of our composite body; for towards this it is absolutely necessary that human nature should advance, being constrained thereto by its own laws according to the dispensation of Him Who has so ordained, whether it have received the grace of the laver, or whether it remains without that initiation but I am thinking of the restoration to a blessed and divine condition, separated from all shame and sorrow. For not everything that is granted in the resurrection a return to existence will return to the same kind of life. There is a wide interval between those who have been purified, and those who still need purification. For those in whose life-time here the purification by the laver has preceded, there is a restoration to a kindred state. Now, to the pure, freedom from passion is that kindred state, and that in this freedom from passion blessedness consists, admits of no dispute. But as for those whose weaknesses have become inveterate, and to whom no purgation of their defilement has been applied, no mystic water, no invocation of the Divine power, no amendment by repentance, it is absolutely necessary that they should come to be in something proper to their case, — just as the furnace is the proper thing for gold alloyed with dross, — in order that, the vice which has been mixed up in them being melted away after long succeeding ages, their nature may be restored pure again to God. Since, then, there is a cleansing virtue in fire and water, they who by the mystic water have washed away the defilement of their sin have no further need of the other form of purification, while they who have not been admitted to that form of purgation must needs be purified by fire.

    BUT since the human being is a twofold creature, compounded of soul and body, it is necessary that the saved should lay hold of the Author of the new life through both their component parts. Accordingly, the soul being fused into Him through faith derives from that the means and occasion of salvation; for the act of union with the life implies a fellowship with the life. But the body comes into fellowship and blending with the Author of our salvation in another way.

  5. Andrea Elizabeth says:

    Fr. Kimel,

    I wonder if an analogy of pre-baptism to courtship and baptism to marriage applies. The infant, as a person created in the image of God and with God as his Father and creator, can enjoy a loving relationship with Him and then may wish to be further united to Him in Holy Baptism, even after death. An infant may be pre-disposed to wish further union if his parents are also Christians in the way Fr. Patrick describes. I also wonder if unbaptized infants who prematurely die and who have non-Christian parents will be given a choice according to their capability.

  6. Ioannis,

    Following the logic of my speculation regarding embryos, an unbaptised non-Christian mother is not herself united to Christ and so an embryo in her womb could not be be said to have any union with Christ via union with its mother.

    Regarding conception and birth, I haven’t seen these questions dealt with before so I can only speculate. I think that speaking of birth may reflect our perspective on things such as most cultures recognise age from the date of birth not conception, yet we have already lived about nine months. I think that birth is the moment that we complete becoming our own unique human hypostasis and can engage with or be engaged by the world in our own right. Thus, speaking of birth signifies the completion of the baptismal process and our full identity as a unique hypostasis united to Christ. I think the conception is included in birth in the context of baptism, although perhaps one may see a distinction if they wish to more specifically speak of the process of baptism but I think it would not be wise to equate parallels too closely else we could go beyond the Fathers.

  7. Fr Alvin Kimel says:

    If I may, I’d like to ask Fr Patrick and others to discuss the quote passages above from *Life After Death* by Met Hierotheos. The Metropolitan asserts that every infant is born with an illuminated nous:

    “For we believe that at birth a person has a pure nous: his nous is illuminated, which is the natural state. The inheritance of ancestral sin … lies in the fact that the body inherits corruptibility and mortality, which, with the passage of time, and as the child grows and passions develop, darkens the noetic part of his soul.”

    Because the newborn has not yet contracted the sickness of disordered passions, “he is not prevented by any illness of the soul from enjoying participation in the Light.” He is not born sick but well. It is only as he grows up in a disordered, corrupt world and struggles with his mortality that he becomes sick and thus in need of purification. The infant is not born into a state of spiritual death; rather he is born into a state of spiritual life and vitality and only subsequently dies spiritually.

    If this is true, then it is hard for me to see a compelling reason why the Church “must” baptize infants, especially in emergency situations. I understand the benefits of raising a child within the apostolic faith and ascetical and sacramental life of the Church. But I do not find in Met Hierotheos an assertion that every person, regardless of age, needs to be born again by the power of the Holy Spirit. Why is this not Pelagian?

    As I have already mentioned, I have not read other books by Met Hierotheos. All I know is that he is often and approvingly quoted as an Orthodox authority, especially on matters of the spiritual life. Now perhaps I am reading Met Hierotheos incorrectly. I realize that members of this forum may not have Met Hierotheos’s book at hand, but the article by St Gregory he is relying upon is available online: Concerning Infants Who Have Died Prematurely. As far as I can tell, St Gregory makes no distinction between unbaptized infants who die prematurely and baptized infants who die prematurely. May I ask you to read St Gregory’s piece and explain to me whether, according to St Gregory, an infant needs the new birth of the Spirit that the sacrament of Baptism presumably bestows.

    Please understand, I am not attempting to argue for a crass Augustinian of original guilt, nor do I fear for the eternal salvation of unbaptized infants. I am happy to trust the God of Jesus Christ to do whatever is necessary to bring them into his Kingdom. But I have always believed that that the new birth in the Spirit that Baptism confers is something that every human being, even the child in the womb, truly needs. By Eastern standards, am I wrong to believe this?

  8. ioannis says:

    Fr. Patrick,

    It is very interesting what you wrote about those infants dying in the womb of their mother before their birth. But what about those infants who have an unbaptized non-christian mother?

    Do you think that there is a reason that Christ said that one needs to get born by water and not that he needs to get conceived by it? Do you think, with regard to Christian baptism, that the notion of conception is included in the notion of birth or they are two distinct things?

  9. Nick, I am sympathetic to your concern: the wavering on the “latinism” in the council seems to me disengenuous…

    However, I asked you before and you never responded: who are these Orthodox doubting the canon? I have never heard of such a debate!

    Further, the appeal to transubstantiation from that council is merely a word/meaning fallacy: it is quite clear to any scholar of repute that what is meant by “transubstantiation” in 1672 is roughly the same as what modern English speakers mean by “real presence of Christ” (though perhaps a little stronger). I think it is quite foolish to assume that what that council means by transubstantiation is the same as the erudite latin theologians mean by transbustantiation. Again, word/meaning fallacy.

    Lastly, I think one could describe the Roman Catholic church as a “conglomeration of independent churches united on some level (the prerogatives of the papal office), but leaving much in the realm of cultural or individual opion.” I thus think this criticism either cuts both ways or is pretty meaningless (I prefer the latter).

    But yes, I think there is very little to historically support the charge of “latin error” at 1672. I just don’t think that refuting this charge accomplishes what you think it does.

  10. RiverC says:

    It seems to me, however, that when we discuss the mechanics of a thing, we forget about both man’s and God’s freedom, and behave as though necessity were above them all, and what remains is mere submission to brute facts; duties and inevitabilities. In short, we feel, lip service to ‘salvation by grace through faith’ but at heart a commitment to a checklist.

    I always detect a linguistic tension between any hard and fast definition of a thing in toto and the very notion of freedom, of holiness, and ultimately of love and of grace. This doesn’t mean that I think they are incompatible, but rather, there is and always must be a tension for us between them.

    Men of different times perhaps had different constitutions for such things, as perhaps being in a society where you were always someone else’s subject might allow a mingling of duty and grace that does not exist for us in the free world.

    Given such things, interpreters such as Hierotheos Vlachos have been greatly helpful to myself and to others as well. The centuries themselves change the connotation and definition of words in ways both subtle and far reaching, and most often, both.

    I think we must recall the linguistic rule of ‘the meaning of the message is determined by the recipient.’ The wise orator, as our fathers in the faith were, knew men’s hearts well enough to know the words to speak to them to get their meaning across. This is the ‘magic’ of good speech and the only way to actually communicate, as otherwise the other person is wont to simply re-arrange your words into a more convenient meaning.

    Fr, I have noticed a certain tone that is adopted in more public orations of the Fathers, which I suspect is a less nuanced (purposely) approach to each subject, so that basics would not be lost. I have been informed that you might retain 5% of what was told to you over a day; if this is at all true, the probabilities favor a simplified and bold version of each topic for maximum retention to a broad audience.

    I do recall in several places some of the Fathers noting that to the initiate we must speak differently. But this is not an accusation of Gnosticism, for the Gnostics told the initiate one thing, and the acolyte something entirely different, whereas with the Fathers I think we see to one a bold draft, and to the other a more detailed description, but both of the same subject.

    In such a case, I do not think we can treat the basics as more than a fence around the topic, such as a guideline like the creed which we may check ourselves against. For instance, I think that if we come to the point in our reasoning where we think people needn’t be baptized to be saved, then we have gone astray. This doesn’t, I think, imply restrictions on how baptism saves a man, or what exactly the remission of sins entails as a process, etc, etc. If man is in a state of separation from God by sin and death, and Christ opens a path through baptism in the Jordan so that the old nature may be renewed and reunited with God, it doesn’t either necessarily follow that anyone who in the end was saved must have been baptized, nor does it follow that a person has at their own disposal any other means of doing so. But neither creates, really, a mechanism for salvation per se, by which we as humans may pass judgment on this or that person based on what we see. It does strongly recommend to each of us a path which we should follow unless we are totally without faith or courage.

    These are my thoughts, given the entire discussion as I have read it, and I pray that they do not cause injury.

  11. ioannis says:

    Perhaps even the thief had received the baptism of water by John the Baptist according to Matthew 3:5-6 “Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins”

  12. Nick says:


    It seems to me the Orthodox are trying to have it both ways when it comes to 1672, and this is generally the response I get from Orthodox. On one hand they frankly admit various points of 1672 are “Latin Errors,” yet they refuse to show any official or high level repudiation of 1672, effectively leaving it on the books.

    The appeals to “Western Captivity” and Jesuit influence and training in Latin seminaries is ultimately begging the question if 1672 is not ‘officially’ repudiated (after being widely accepted). If it’s heresy, it needs to be condemned, not swept under the rug. For example, you say: “…there was an unfortunate tendency to lean too far towards the errors of the Latins…” Are you saying 1672 espoused heresy? If it wasn’t strictly heresy, the most you can complain about is poor wording rather than heresy.

    Also, Catholics are not “embracing” 1672 when it suits their needs since it’s not a Catholic council. Catholics point to 1672 when Orthodox say “transubstantiation” is a “Latin error” and yet embrace that very thing in 1672. Another good example I mentioned earlier was that 1672 accepted the 7 Deutero-Canonical books, yet Orthodoxy today cannot agree on the canon among themselves.

    Lastly, your concluding paragraph seems to get at the real heart of things, which is that Orthodoxy is more of a conglomeration of independent churches united on some level but leaving much in the realm of cultural or individual opinion. This might be fine on one level, but it unfortunately tends towards internal and external fights over ‘religious purity’ that are ultimately subjective.

  13. And another from St Cyril regarding Martyrs:

    If any man receive not Baptism, he hath not salvation; except only Martyrs, who even without the water receive the kingdom. For when the Saviour, in redeeming the world by His Cross, was pierced in the side, He shed forth blood and water; that men, living in times of peace, might be baptised in water, and, in times of persecution, in their own blood. For martyrdom also the Saviour is wont to call a baptism, saying, “Can ye drink the cup which I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptised with?” And the Martyrs confess, by being made a spectacle unto the world, and to Angels, and to men; and thou wilt soon confess…

  14. Here is a quote from St Cyril of Jerusalem, who both echoes the words of St John Chrysostom and what I have been saying.

    For since man is of twofold nature. soul and body, the purification also is twofold, the one incorporeal for the incorporeal part, and the other bodily for the body: the water cleanses the body, and the Spirit seals the soul; that we may draw near unto God, having our heart sprinkled by the Spirit, and our body washed with pure water. When going down, therefore, into the water, think not of the bare element, but look for salvation by the power of the Holy Ghost: for without both thou canst not possibly be made perfect. It is not I that say this, but the Lord Jesus Christ, who has the power in this matter: for He saith, Except a man be born anew (and He adds the words) of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Neither doth he that is baptized with water, but not found worthy of the Spirit, receive the grace in perfection; nor if a man be virtuous in his deeds, but receive not the seal by water, shall he enter into the kingdom of heaven. A bold saying, but not mine, for it is Jesus who hath declared it: and here is the proof of the statement from Holy Scripture. Cornelius was a just man, who was honored with a vision of Angels, and had set up his prayers and alms-deeds as a good memorial before God in heaven. Peter came, and the Spirit was poured out upon them that believed, and they spoke with other tongues, and prophesied: and after the grace of the Spirit the Scripture saith that Peter commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ; in order that, the soul having been born again by faith, the body also might by the water partake of the grace.

    Lecture 3: On Baptism, The Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem

  15. Everyone,

    Please forgive theoretical discussion on matters that are very close to home for many. It is a concern that a soul would be wounded in such a discussion and it in such an open forum it is impossible to know the audience so that the discussion can be properly spoken in wisdom. It has been good that the discussion, even with some disagreement, has been conducted in good natured manner, may God grant that it remain so. I hope that the discussion will be of value even in the almost certain likelihood that agreement is not reached.

  16. Fr Stephen,

    Regarding the “mechanics” of the mysteries, I find your statement somewhat problematic given the patristic evidence. Firstly, the Fathers were quite adamant regarding some ‘mechanics’ of the Eucharist such as using wine mingled with water. For the Fathers this mattered since using only wine or only water, described as a “wicked heresy”, was incorrectly setting forth the Mystery, thus leading to a failure to be changed by grace, that is grace is bound by ‘mechanics’. The issue of unleavened bread was one of the principle reasons for the continuing split between Old Rome and New Rome; an issue over mechanics which mattered. The canons also concern themselves with the ‘mechanics’ of baptism: the names used and the use of triple immersion. If grace has no mechanics then there would not be such a strong canonical tradition insuring that the mechanics are done correctly. The two are clearly linked. What is not accessible to us is how God’s grace transforms material elements to cause a new reality.

    I would argue that ‘mechanics’ are important because of who we are. That is we are of body and soul our salvation needs to be effected at both levels and the bodily level is one in which form matters. Thus, the mysteries being truly both spiritual and material require certain forms otherwise we are in danger of heading to some form of monophysitism where the spiritual absorbs the material and the material is denied its own distinct real existence in union with the spiritual. We are material and our salvation requires both spiritual and physical aspects. The physical requires form and mechanics. Christ needed to be incarnate, as a human male, (if he came as a daffodil or a talking mouse, if one thinks he would need to teach also, this would not have been correct unless he came primarily to save mice or daffodils) grow into a man and truly die for our salvation. It was necessary for God to do this to save us, so I cannot say that there is no necessity regarding the incarnation of the mysteries in actual and particular physical form with actual physical mechanics for our salvation.

    You state that the only mechanic is the grace of God and that we must avoid what is the [only] other alternative of a merely mechanical theory, which is what happens if we speak of mechanics. However, I believe that there is another alternative, which I described above, one where it is not mere mechanics but primarily the grace of God and, because we are humans with bodies, this grace is effected through physical means with mechanics. God had to become what we are so that we can become what He is and this was not only 2000 years ago but continues today as Christ is constantly continuing to become what we are so that we can become what He is. Denying that grace needs to come through the mechanics of the mysteries seems to me to deny the continuing need of the incarnate presence of Christ now in His Church; Christ is with us not only in spirit but in body.

  17. Nathaniel,
    Forgive me. I obviously drew incorrect conclusions. It’s a very interesting discussion.

  18. Fr Stephen, as the person who used the term mechanism, I hope that you can give me the benefit of the doubt that I did not intend it in the manner you have framed it. Truly, your explanation of the term is unrecognizable to me in my intended usage. I have stated numerous times “we don’t know” and, when I dared to speculate, I only did so as an attempted “exposition of the types.” I chose this method since it is precisely the type of analysis dared upon by all the fathers, east and west; and it is precisely this literary engagement that Fr Behr encourages. Forgive me if I have gone astray or presumed too much.

  19. Thank you, Thomas. The neither heaven nor hell language some are using is bothering me. I don’t envision heaven, or limbo, as being just an experience of God’s love, but that his kingdom is peopled and that babies will not be alone, even if it is in some nice sort of empty sense of being loved. I fully expect to see and hug Isaac someday, that is if I’m allowed in heaven as I believe he is more worthy to be there than I. I hope the same for you and James’ mother too.

    And to whom it may concern, I was wrong in solely attributing Fr. Kimel’s quote to St. Gregory, as many have pointed out, it was from Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos).

    I’m also thankful for the discussion.

  20. Thomas says:

    @Perry — I don’t recall any details about Pelagius’ encounters with the clergy in Palestine, whether local synods or ‘informal meetings’ or something else. But I think the fact that Pelagius was not condemned for his teachings his informative as the Palestinians (esp. the monastics) were never reluctant to condemn heterodox teachings.


    @Nick — regarding Jerusalem’s synod of 1672: it is important to understand its context. Most of the local Orthodox Catholic churches were under Ottoman domination, including Jerusalem; there was pressure to repudiate the so-called ‘Confession of Cyril Lucaris’ (its content was repudiated and it was denounced as a forgery; Cyril Lucaris was not condemned); the Jesuits were engaged in numerous machinations trying to effect a ‘union’ (Cyril Lucaris’ successor as patriarch of Constantinople was placed there through Jesuit intrigue, including pressure on the government, not once, not twice, but three times, each time repudiated by the Orthodox and later condemned as a heretic [and suspected of complicity in the assassination of Cyril Lucaris]).

    Probably the finest Orthodox theologian of the 20th century, Georges Florovsky, regarded that synod to be part of the ‘Western captivity’. Because the focus of the synod was the repudiation of Calvinism, there was an unfortunate tendency to lean too far towards the errors of the Latins, a tendency not helped by the fact that many of its attendees were educated in schools of the Latin heretics. I think this is a view shared by every informed Orthodox Catholic Christian I know.

    I find it interesting that Papal Christians frequently like to embrace the Jerusalem synod of 1672 when it suits their purposes (most especially, it seems, on the Latin error of ‘transubstantiation’), but ignore its teaching that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone.

    We Orthodox Catholic Christians do not have an ‘official’ process for recognising a synod as having an ‘official status’ (an Orthodox Catholic friend likes to say he doesn’t belong to any organised religion because he is Orthodox!). Some Orthodox Catholic Christians tend to be ‘hung up’ on the number seven: the first seven Ecumenical (Imperial) Synods are certainly accepted and embraced by all. Orthodox Catholic Christians less ‘hung up’ on the number seven will point to the real Eighth Ecumenical (Imperial) Synod (Constantinople 879-880); I know no Orthodox Catholic Christian, no matter his position on recognising it as ‘official’ who doesn’t accept its teachings. The same can be said about the Constantinopolitan synods of 1341-1351 which are widely accepted as the Ninth Ecumenical (Imperial) Synod.


    I can whole-heartedly agree with the quote from Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos). (In fact, I’ve never encountered anything written by him which I have found myself in less than whole-hearted agreement.)


    @ Fr Patrick — I cannot remember the last time a topic here generated so much discussion. Thank you for that.

    Like Nathaniel and Andrea Elizabeth, this is not just an academic topic for me. I had a son, James, who died in utero. Andrea Elizabeth, I am sorry for your loss. I know how difficult it is.

  21. Brothers,
    Fr. Alvin brought my attention to this discussion – indeed it is interesting. As a priest of the Church, I would never neglect the Baptism of an infant who was in danger of death which is to say, how could I deny to such a one any benefit that I might possibly offer?

    Earlier, someone mentioned the “mechanism” of Baptism. This, I think, is problematic. We cannot speak of the mechanics of grace – such a metaphor intrudes into the holy and leads our minds to think of such Divine actions as though they were things of the earth.

    The only “mechanic” of our salvation is the grace of God. We should surely obey the commandments (such as to Baptize) wherever possible. But we should not be tempted to develop a “mechanics” of such a thing. We are not medieval scholastics. Instead, grace has no mechanics. Grace is the Divine Life of God and nothing less – and as such has no limits or “mechanics”.

    My trust is in the mercy and grace of God and I would never want to substitute any merely “mechanical” theory that would somehow tell God whom He may save and whom he may not.

    Obey the commandments – but do not think they tell us more than they do.

    These are thoughts that came as I read through. Forgive me.

  22. Fr Alvin Kimel says:

    David, the only book I have read by Met Hierotheos is his book*Life After Death*, so I welcome all the illumination you and others can provide me.

    But I think I have to disagree with you when you state “Though I have not read through these comments exhaustively, I’m not sure that anyone here has explicitly stated that baptism being necessary for salvation means that if you aren’t baptized you don’t go to heaven which is what you seemed to imply.” Perhaps I have misunderstood both the original article, as well as subsequent comments, but I think that Fr Patrick and others have argued that salvation requires an ontological change, which is normally, though not exclusively, bestowed in Holy Baptism. (Unfortunately, the comments are not numbered, so I cannot easily refer to them to demonstrate my point.) If I have misread either the article or the thread, I welcome correction. In any case, I reiterate the questions I posed in my previous comment. I look forward to your comments.

  23. David Richards says:

    Fr. Kimel, have you read anything else by Metr Vlachos? It is usually easier to understand the context of what he says within the framework of the theology as set forth in, say, An Introduction to Orthodox Spirituality or the impressive volume Orthodox Psychotherapy. I know because some of his other works are hard for me to grasp at unless supplemented by others. Just my personal experience.

    Though I have not read through these comments exhaustively, I’m not sure that anyone here has explicitly stated that baptism being necessary for salvation means that if you aren’t baptized you don’t go to heaven which is what you seemed to imply. Because ‘salvation,’ like ‘sin,’ may be used in more than one sense.

    On the contrary, I think Metr Vlachos actually *affirms* what has been said here but that his comments have to be viewed through a proper grid. Metr Vlachos says that infants do inherit corruption and death, and this is just what the Orthodox understand by the wide usage of ‘sin’ to include nature. He further says that the deepest purpose for infants to be baptized is their deification with Christ in the Church. This sounds very much like an ontological change to me – not merely the existential – since union with Christ in Orthodoxy is conceived as a real union.

    ‘Sin,’ in the narrow sense to mean personal guilt – this cannot possibly apply to infants. As the Metropolitan points out they are innocent, their nous is pure not having been darkened by the passions. But, their nature is still fallen, corrupt, and decaying. Following St Maximos who spoke of two gifts being imparted at baptism, one natural and the other personal, I’m not sure why it would be problematic to affirm that baptism is necessary for salvation yet if an infant fails to be baptized he does not *necessarily* go to hell.

  24. Fr Alvin Kimel says:

    Fr Patrick, Perry, Nathaniel and others: you seem to agree that an ontological change, normally bestowed in Holy Baptism, is necessary for salvation, even for infants. Is this right? Can you unpack this a bit more. What is this ontological change? What precisely does the infant lack that bars them from enjoying Heaven?

    Met Hierotheos seems to be saying that infants do not need to be changed ontologically. They already enjoy an illumined nous, uncontaminated by the evil of the world; hence if they should immediately die, they will simply continue on their journey to God. Am I reading him correctly at this point? Of course, Met HIerotheos is affirms the benefits of Holy Baptism for infants: it unites them to the Church, in which they receive power to overcome the passions and conquer death. Perhaps this might be considered a “change” but it would seem to be more existential than ontological.

  25. What St. Gregory of Nyssa says in Fr. Alvin Kimel’s quote rings true with me. If I may tell our story. 11 years ago, 4 years before we found the Orthodox Church, our baby, Isaac, died at 7 months gestation. We were Protestants at the time and I had not been raised with the belief in the necessity of baptism. I thought it was just a public testimony that you were saved already. Therefore I was not concerned about his not being baptized. But I did have the intuition to purposefully commit his care to the Lord. His gravestone says, “In His Care”. And I found a little statue of a lady with her arms spread over a baby’s cradle to place on his grave. I didn’t believe in Mary as the Christian’s mother then either.

    4 years later as I was inquiring on an online forum into Catholicism, a man told me about Orthodoxy. Eventually I told him about Isaac for some reason, and he related that when his sister in law miscarried, he gave her an icon of the guardian angel holding a little boy’s hand. He shared a link to it and I was struck in my heart that that was a little boy Isaac’s age at that time, and with Isaac’s coloring and mouth. I understood icons as windows to heaven at that moment. We purchased the icon and around the time of our crismation, a miraculous event (which I do not share publicly) occurred that further revealed to me that Isaac had been at least crismated into the body of Christ. It was very clear. This is why I say that infants can be received into the Church in heaven. If the Orthodox Church is the true Church on earth, what happens in the earthly Church also happens in heaven. We still have the same relationships and the same sacraments. And God is not unable to produce water and oil out of nothing.

  26. Fr Alvin,

    From what I can see, while it is very helpful speaking of the purity of an infant’s nous and how they can experience communion with God, I am not sure whether it directly provides a definitive solution to the debate regarding infants. It adds evidence to support the idea of them being able to participate in life due to an infants pure nous but the comment on baptism, especially when it mentions that it “is to attain deification, which is achieved only in Christ and in the Church” tends to shift the issue back the other way. The emphasis on state rather than justice fits with the idea of state in the post as being the basis for salvation rather than justice. It also adds support to the point that I was raising regarding the experience of an infant in “hell” or “heaven”.

  27. Fr Alvin Kimel says:

    Fr Patrick has written a very helpful article and the subsequent discussion has been illuminating. I was wondering if Fr Patrick and others might comment on the following passage from Met. Hierotheos’s book *Life After Death*:

    “How will the infant be judged or where he will be sent, since he did neither evil nor good in his life? St. Gregory says that the problem is not to be put in this way since it is not a matter of justice, but of a natural state of the health or illness of human nature. […]

    This teaching of St. Gregory of Nyssa gives us the opportunity of underlining here that the soul of a man is not impure at birth, but pure. Man from his birth experiences illumination of the nous. Therefore we see that even infants can have noetic prayer, corresponding of course to the images and representations of their age. When a person is created his nous is in a state of illumination. We have observed many times that there are infants who pray, even in their sleep. A monk of the Holy Mountain says that when small children turn their attention in some direction and laugh without a reason, it means that they see their angel. What happens in the lives of saints, for whom it is altogether natural to be with the angels, happens in little children.

    Therefore orthodox theology does not teach what theology in the West says, that man inherits the guilt of the ancestral sin. For we believe that at birth a person has a pure nous: his nous is illuminated which is the natural state. The inheritance of the ancestral sin, as we said in another place, lies in the fact that the body inherits corruptibility and mortality, which, with the passage of time, and as the child grows and passions develop, darkens the noetic part of his soul. Indeed the developed passions linked with corruptibility and mortality and darkness of the environment darken the noetic part of the souls of children.

    There is the problem of what happens at holy Baptism. That is to say, since infants have a pure nous which is in a state of illumination, and they have noetic prayer, then why do we baptise them?

    The answer, as we see in the whole patristic tradition, is that by holy Baptism we are not getting rid of guilt from ancestral sin, but we are being grafted on to the Body of Christ, the Church, and are acquiring the power to conquer death. This is how we understand the baptism of babies. We baptise them so they may become members of the Church, members of the Body of Christ, that they may pass over death, overcome the garments of skin, decay and mortality. That is to say that as they grow, whenever the nous becomes darkened by passions and the darkness of the surroundings, they may have the ability to conquer death in Christ, to overcome the passions and to purify the noetic part of their souls once more.


    The deepest purpose of Baptism for both infants and adults is to attain deification, which is achieved only in Christ and in the Church.

    Since this point is quite crucial, I may be permitted to quote the words of St. Gregory of Nyssa about the purity of the souls of infants: “Whereas the innocent babe has no such plague before its soul’s eyes obscuring its measure of light, it continues to exist in that natural life; it does not need the soundness that comes from purgation, because it never admitted the plague into its soul at all”. The infant nous is pure, it has not been ill, it is distinguished by health and the natural state and therefore is not prevented at all from partaking of the divine Light.


    However, the soul which has not tasted virtue but is also not sickened with evil can also share the good to the depth to which it can contain the eternal blessings, empowered by the vision of Him Who is. Thus infants, although inexperienced in evil, will share in divine knowledge, divine light, empowered by the vision of God, by divine grace; and naturally with the vision of God they will advance to more perfect knowledge.

  28. Regarding infants who die in the womb, I would argue that while in the womb the infant is connected to Christ via being physically connected to the mother. Thus, the faith and union of the mother for this time would benefit the child in the womb, notwithstanding that the child is its own hypostasis and would not be baptised if the mother is baptised. Thus, the necessity of baptism to unite the child to Christ would only come after the birth of the child and the cutting of the umbilical cord, which allows enough opportunity for baptism.

  29. Perry,

    From what I can gather there is definitely hope for those baptised who may initially experience partial hell, however, I don’t think that this necessarily extends to those unbaptised. I see this open to those caught in sins but nevertheless with an open heart of repentance at time of death. I believe that it is effected by the bond of love expressed in sacrifice. It most importantly raises another point to consider is that our salvation is not only dependant on ourselves but upon those around us. Thus, through the prayers of another we may be saved but this can go the other way and we could be lost due to the influence of others, which can be seen when Christ speak of the millstone around someones neck for offending a little one. Thus, I think we need also to look at the social connections in salvation rather than only the individual acts or state. We are not only saved as individuals with God but we are also saved as a community with each other. I think that our connection to the community is also essential for our salvation.

    I think St John Chrysostom is making a point about community connection in his homily and that this is the reason why even a virtuous man who is not connected via baptism has a portion in hell. That is one thing that I have been trying to say in this post. It is not just about individual relation to God via sin or the image of God but also about community. Your interpretation of Chrysostom seems to fall back to an individual’s state in relation to God rather than the individual’s relation to the community to which I think St John was referring.

    I would argue that the community of God, the Church, can only be but one in Body, it cannot be constructed of different bodies but must be united in flesh and blood, otherwise we would introduce division into the life of God as it is expressed in the Church. I believe that this union requires a union at the level of the created as well as the union of created and uncreated achieved by Christ. Thus, baptism, by water or blood, is necessary to achieve this created union via a created means. If one is not united to the Body of Christ then their salvation would assume the possibility of divided bodies in Christ and I believe would be contrary the unity of divine life expressed in the saved. I think that it would be a denial of our humanity to permit salvation that doesn’t require union of body as well as soul, as it would be a denial of our humanity to force union against our will. The only means apart from baptism, in some manner, that I can see is a union at the resurrection but while I think that this restores the potential of the body for union regarding God, it does not necessarily imply the reestablishment of union regarding each other or to Christ.

    Another point, is that the fire of hell is the love of God. Thus, for one to be separated from God does not mean the complete non-presence of God but in a manner reflecting our rejection of His love. Thus, given that an infant was separated in regard to community, it does not mean that it will suffer via its experience of God’s love in that separation. Also, there seems an assumption that on death an infant will suddenly gain an adult’s sense of experience, is this so? An infant who has almost no experience of life will not suffer any loss of life. It is impossible for it to have a bad experience in hell unless one has a literalistic idea of the fires of hell or assumes that an infant in a moment suddenly gains all the life experience of an adult and hence loss. An infant in the kingdom may advance in life and gain a fuller experience of it throughout eternity but an infant in “hell” would only experience a eternal decrease in life but from almost no experience of life I am not sure that such a decrease would have much of an affect on the child and if it still experiences God’s love freely then I don’t see the matter being entirely negative. Perhaps also we could see hell as a two-fold condition one being the relation to God via community and the other via love. Thus, there may be a separation at one level leading to eternal death but at another level there continues an experience of both God’s and the Saints’ love, depending on one’s heart to receive. Thus, the prayers of the saints can benefit those in hell through love even if it doesn’t necessarily change there state of separation.

  30. Nick,

    “Along with this comes the problem of knowing when to ‘draw the line’, for example why does a miscarriage get more sympathy than a infant over 40 days old? And why not extend that to a 1year old or 2 year old? ”

    The distinction is because it is humanly impossible to baptize the infant before it died. I guess Mormons go ahead and baptize the dead. After 40 days, it becomes a matter of a person’s standing with the Church, special circumstances possibly warranting the delay.

  31. Nick, if you read my commments above, you’ll note that I’m keen to keep all these subtleties. And I agree fully, extra-ordinary outside of the case of martyrdom is speculation at best. Thus, I believe firmly in the use of emergency baptism for dying infants (my own son almost died after birth, so this is not merely academic speculation).

    Unfortunately, I don’t think Limbo is acceptable to our tradition. But I think a council would be required to resolve that question.

    Lastly, where do you see Orthodox arguing against the so-called deutero-canon? Our accepted OT is the Septuagint and I’m pretty sure that is not open to debate (though I’m also pretty sure the Vulgate would be an acceptable exception of antiquity). Even the first Geneva Bible and the KJV contained them. In short, I don’t think anyone arguing for a modern Protestant Bible speaks on behalf of any authentically Orthodox teaching.

  32. Nick says:


    Good points and I understand where you are coming from, but what cannot get swept under the rug is that all men need to be united to Christ, and thus care must be taken not to give unfortunate infants a ‘free pass’ of guaranteed extra-ordinary baptism (especially when no such thing has been taught in any definitive manner).

    This idea should also take care not to make a mockery of the fact infants are to be baptized, which would lose it’s force of urgency and efficacy of baptism if there is a ‘free pass’ floating around already.

    Along with this comes the problem of knowing when to ‘draw the line’, for example why does a miscarriage get more sympathy than a infant over 40 days old? And why not extend that to a 1year old or 2 year old?

    It’s not an easy issue, but I think Limbo is an acceptable answer without in any way denying the possibility of extra-ordinary means of salvation. The problem is the extra-ordinary is speculation at best.

  33. Nick,

    You said: “which to me ‘plainly’ say baptism is necessary even for infants who are subject to damnation otherwise.”

    Certainly, those who reject baptism for their children or, out of negligence, put it off are risking the salvation of their child. This council however does not deal with those who:
    1. Die suddenly in the night (aka SIDS) on the eve of their scheduled baptism on the 40th day according to the rubrics of the Church
    2. Die in utero due to miscarriage
    3. Die in utero due to abortion

    Thus, the statement from this council should only be extremely carefully applied to these occasions since it clearly only applies to the “normal” cases.

  34. Nick says:


    I’d like to touch upon some points:

    1) Has a formal council or any significant formal statement ever been given repudiating any or all parts of Jerusalem1672? I just don’t see the ‘judicial’ basis for calling the council into question, even if it allegedly had Latin influence – and as I have said, if it had Latin influence, what were these EO thinking by allowing ‘wolves in the sheepfold’? Such should have been condemned and repudiated immediately, at least something like Florence.

    But more importantly, if you are saying that my Latin glasses are causing me to misread Jerusalem, then there is really no problem in you affirming it, and the “Latin influence” charge is irrelevant since the Eastern mind never was using terms in the same manner. But in this case I simply appeal to the “plain English” reading of the canons, which to me ‘plainly’ say baptism is necessary even for infants who are subject to damnation otherwise. I don’t see any technical terms or distinctions being made that would make it impossible for my Latin-glasses to understand what was being taught.

    The only sense in which Jerusalem 1672 is a ‘gotcha’ is in that I’ve come to be disappointed when the EO include Catholics in their browbeating of Protestants and yet the EO affirm in Jerusalem many of the things they condemn Catholics for believing. Like I said, Dositheos is ‘plain English’ for the most part and is not a matter of latching onto key words while ignoring context and overall meaning. For example, when Jerusalem says the 7 DeuteroCanonical books are inspired Scripture (while various EO today deny these books), I don’t see that as taking something out of context or misunderstanding deep theological distinctions.

    2) I never intended to give off the impression it was an ecumenical council, but still normative in some truly significant sense just like other ‘pan-Orthodox’ councils. And as for Ware’s book, I was not in any way giving Ware any credence on anything and everything he says (or even that he’s a leading authority), I only pointed his book out because he presented this council as a generally accepted historical fact: The Council of 1672 is one of the more significant and noteworthy of the last 1,000 years. Here is a link to the GoogleBooks version where I did a search for “1672” in The Orthodox Way. I wouldn’t consider these comments anywhere near to that of endorsing ordaining women or universalism.

    3) I used the term ‘based on emotions’ loosely, never intending it to mean purely emotions, but rather the nagging idea in all minds that something doesn’t seem right about infants being damned. Your use of terms like “toasted” and “crispy” emphasize the emotional aspect of this.

    4) The Sanctity of Life issue is not something bland, but rather based upon humanity being made in the image of God. I’m not sure how you are defining imago dei, but I understand it as humanity being endowed with an immortal soul and rationality that animals do not have. This is what distinguishes killing of animals and killing of humans (Gen 9:6). This is true aside from whether the Word became Incarnate or not.

    5) I don’t think the person-nature distinction is being undermined or violated in this case. There is a real ‘alienation’ from God which all men are born in, but nobody says this is akin to individual sinning via an act of the will. But to push this to the point that it’s only a natural defect with the innocent person being violated by ending up damned has the effect of undermining the Sacraments and making them only necessary when someone commits personal sin and after the age of reason. There is a balancing act here for all sides.

    6) As I just said, it’s a balancing act, but I don’t believe the Catholic end has been “moving away from Limbo” in any official manner or that ‘monergism’ is the Catholic view. The standard Catholic view has always been baptism is normative for uniting all men to Christ, while acknowledging the personal innocence of infants (i.e. no actual sin). Limbo was seen as the only way to harmonize the two points, without causing baptism to become dispensable.

    7) The final point I want to make is that I’ve never suggested there was no extra-ordinary-baptismal means for salvation of infants.

  35. The “union of types” is centered around the image of Christ, the unjust sinless man condemned to die. The mother rounds out this type, but is not essential to it. So Andrea, of course the aborted would, at least in my idea, fit this type. In one sense, the aborted fit it even more since their death is an unjust act of violence.

    That being said, the Mother of God is the patron for such aborted children. She is “the only hope that maketh not ashamed” and our “mediation and salvation.”

  36. Or what about aborted babies whose mothers don’t weep? God have mercy on their souls.

  37. nathaniel,

    In the main, that is what I am thinking.

    As to the injustice of the consequences, wouldn’t that be a great basis for God to over turn it? If humanity is subjected to these consequences through its own choice and the devil’s temptation, God’s cause seems supremely just and supremely good.

    Perhaps the weeping mother is a type, but perhaps not. I don’t know. BUt are the tears of a non-Christian mother less? Even the dogs, even the dogs…

  38. Perry, am I then understanding you right as saying this:
    * Ontological regeneration is necessary
    * This is ordinarily in baptism
    * Thus infant baptism remits primordial sin
    * We know of at least one extraordinary case (martyrs)
    * Hopefully there are other extraordinary cases
    * We should avoid defining speculating/defining them

    I guess my remaining question is how is an infant who unjustly bears the punishment of personal sin (death) while having no personal sin of his own with a weeping mother bearing the suffering of his death not united to Christ? It seems to me that the union of “types” is precisely the same as in baptism.

    I’m not sure how such a definition would differ in the slightest from the post-apostolic definition of a baptism by blood.

    Although I unintentionally implied otherwise above, This does not require the sanctity of the mother. I only meant to imply the sanctity of the Panagia who certainly must pray at the premature death of a child. Sorry for conflating the two.

  39. thomas,

    Regarding the councils that exonerated Pelagius, to my knowledge they were not councils in the least,but informal meetings of some clerics. Consequently they cannot stand as any ecclesial defense of Pelagius.

  40. Nathaniel,

    If you read what I wrote, I didn’t claim you said that the “East taught Limbo.” I said it was a “floating” of the idea, which seems entirely in line with your previous remarks in your summation.
    I did finish reading your remarks and I looked over my remarks (twice) before posting them. I think a re-reading of my comments might be sensitive to what I was getting at. We have no way of knowing the sanctity of the mothers of who lost children to Herod. Secondly, I widened the scope of those outside the faith who die as children. The holy innocents won’t cover them. So the problem still remains. And I gave reason why the holy innocents are not proto-typical martyrs, which is one reason for thinking that the baptism of blood per se can’t go the whole way in explaining the matter.

    As for whether it was the normative teaching in the west, I’ll leave that to the Catholics to fight about. It was certainly taught widely by Catholic authorities of various ranks and in a rather unquestioned manner. For my part, the test would be whether you could get burned at the stake for denying it. I strongly suspect that if one had done so, they’d up on the pyre. Consequently I don’t take Cahtolic distancing from Limbo seriously. They strike me as ad hoc.

    As for your last remark, I agree, the question is union with Christ, which is why questions of recaptuilation and the nature of the imago dei should be operative.

    I don’t think that extraordinary forms of union with Christ need to be theologically defined. I am content with what is defined in terms of what the Fathers and Councils teach and leave it at that. It would be neater or more tidy if we had a theory of everything, but we don’t. The kinds of speculation that Catholics offer I think only highlight worries about doctrinal development as well as showing a different spirit in doing theology or understanding it.

    to be clear I am not trying to tar you with Catholicism, I just don’t see a need to go further than Scriptures, the Fathers and the Councils go.

  41. I do want to explicitly say: it is not baptism which is required, but union with Christ in His death. Baptism is the *normal* way this is achieved. Martyrdom is a second. The thief on the Cross and the Holy Innocents a third. I think “baptism by tears of a holy mother” is perhaps a fourth.

    I have *never*, *ever* said that the ontological change is limited to baptism alone. I *have* said that the extraordinary forms of union with Christ need to be theologically defined.

  42. David LIndblom says:

    Perry said:

    “All this warrants is, I’d argue a good hope, but nothing more.”

    I agree that this is the final best approach. When considering a unique exception where there is no sure way to know the outcome of God’s actions I think to fall down on the side of God acting in mercy being how often He tells us how loving, merciful, compassionate and desirous of everyone’s salvation He is.

    Also, Perry, I too think the examples of miscarriages and abortions need to be brought to bear in this discussion. I, too, think it’s the other side who had a lot more explaining to do and are most inconsistent in their take on things. Again, no disrespect intended.

  43. Perry, your response to me only demonstrates that you didn’t finish reading my post, since you miss key subtleties that I emphasized explicitly at the end, namely “baptism by tears of a holy mother.” The Holy Innocents certainly fall into this category.

    Further, even what you did read of mine you misunderstood. I never said “the East taught Limbo” I merely said it was speculated about (which you concede in your response). Certainly this became the normative teaching in the West. But I was never talking about normative teaching, only the geographic location/language of where at least one person had speculated about Limbo. I reject Limbo out of hand, it is not compatible with the gospel.

    Please re-read my post an interact with its subtleties. I welcome your further comments.

  44. @Thomas – The quote is Canon 110 of the Councils of Carthage (

    The Canons of Carthage were ratified at both Trullo and 2 Nicea (see Thus, the quote is not “from” 2 Nicea, but made ecumenically authoritative at 2 Nicea.

  45. Thomas says:

    @Nathaniel — I cannot find your quote in the canons of the Seventh Ecumenical Synod. Could you please give me a more specific reference?

    @ Fr Patrick — I generally refer to St John Chrysostom, once I’ve established who I’m talking/writing about, simply as St John. But I guess that might be deemed confusing since there are so many canonised Johns.

    It is my understanding that Pelagius taught newborns were born free of any ‘stain’ of Ancestral Sin. I reject that teaching. Regarding so-called Pelagianism, I think Augustine was in error. It should be noted that when Pelagius travelled to Palestine local synods there declined to condemn his teaching. IMO, the best response to Pelagius is St John Cassian. I think there is an unfortunate tendency to embrace the error of Augustine as a result of rejecting the error of Pelagius. (The history of the Church is filled with examples of ‘over-correction’ against a heresy which results in a different heresy.)

    One ought, IMO, note the Symbol of Faith confesses that Baptism remits sin, but makes no mention of it remitting ‘Original Sin’ or ‘Ancestral Sin’. In the case of those of sufficient age to have committed sin, the Mystery of Baptism does indeed remit sin, but the ritual itself emphasises that Baptism is a means of uniting the one being baptised to Christ and becoming a member of His Body, the Church. Being united to Christ is, I maintain, essential to salvation.

    If St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain (who, IIRC, was in some areas too heavily influenced by Latin teachings) taught that infants have sins which need to be remitted in Baptism, then I think this would be example of influence of Latin errors. Even the Latins have (largely) given up that erroneous teaching.

    I did not find the quotes from St John Chrysostom or St Gregory the Theologian jarring, only the conclusion being drawn from them — and that only ‘somewhat’ jarring.

  46. Nathaniel,

    I don’t think one speculation by a Cappadocian counts as an Eastern floating of Limbo. One swallow does not make a spring. Besides, his philosophical motivation for doing so is entirely suspect. Perhaps I am just ignorant here of other sources that do so. But the idea had nothing like the standing it did in Rome and the same goes for the idea that unbaptized children get automatically toasted upon death. If you read Florence, the Catholic representatives openly proclaimed this teaching as the teaching of the Roman church, with the Pope sitting right there with nether a peep of papal correction or disapproval. It was the common teaching of the Roman church for centuries.

    As for how I am not Pelagian, the answer I think is simple and direct. I do not think people get to heaven without ontological change. I also think that baptism is generally necessary for salvation, but not absolutely necessary. Lots of people have been changed without baptism, and this the church has recognized since its beginning. If this weren’t so the baptism by blood and **other** such exceptions would never have existed, but they do. So I reject the premises that baptism is absolutely necessary and that people enter heaven without ontological change.

    Another issue is whether repentance, belief and forgiveness are possible post mortem. (damn even Luther thought this was possible) I think they are in certain cases and under certain conditions. When and how they are fulfilled I have two answers. First, I’ll let you know what they are when I return from the other side of death and the second is like unto it, God knows. But plenty of Fathers speak of sins forgiven in this age and the age to come and they mean post mortem.

    Something else to take into consideration is what constitutes condemnation? Since I subscribe to an Issuant account, I don’t think God repays evil for evil but hands people over to the destiny they have chosen and the state into which they have fixed themselves. To say that children are condemned on the basis of concupiscence alone is to say that either they have fixed themselves in vice, which is absurd and denies a gnomic mode of willing to them or conflates natural and hypostatic wills.

    Let me add another case for consideration. Not a small number of women have children die in their womb. Are we to say they become roasty toasties on the cosmic spit simply because they are unbaptized? That is, is there anything left on such a condemantion of the imago dei at all? We could add to this the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents. Were they baptized? I don’t think so. Are they crispy by now? I don’t think so and I don’t know of any Father who says they are. It will not do to say they die as simply martyrs, first because they had no choice in the matter and so their status is diminished relative to other martyrs and second, any child who dies by disease or defect of nature dies due to the effects of sin, even if that is not a chosen sin of a Pharonic king. It certainly is with respect to the prince of this world.

    All this warrants is, I’d argue a good hope, but nothing more. But writing as if concpuisence practically replces (not that you’ve done this) seems to me entirely wrong on so many fronts.

  47. Nick,

    I think you’ve mischaracterized the two sides. One side is not merely based in emotion. Rather it is rooted in concerns over the intrinsic goodness of human nature qua the imago dei and the recapitulating work of Christ in his incarnation. If abortion is immoral because Christ was a person at conception and so recapitulates human existence from conception forward (rather than being wrong because of some bland Platonic “sanctity of life”) then the fate of infants is relative to this Christological truth. More to the point, this saving work is done prior to Christ’s baptism. Also, there are concerns over how a view of toasting unbaptizxed children on the basis of concupiscence alone comports with the distinction between person and nature that structures not just how ancestral sin is understood but also the graces of baptism, since the graces of baptism for us do not, pace Augustine, operate in a monergistic way.
    That said, it seems to me that the shoe is on the other foot for a few reasons. It is no state secret that Rome has been moving away from doctrines like Limbo for some time. And Rome’s catechetical statements regarding the fate of the unbaptized seem to be based on concerns over divine goodness. I grant that that is an intuitive and legitimate concern, but given the more monergistic way that Rome’s doctors have understood baptism, I don’t see how they can do any better. The irony is that the chief of the definers has defined itself into a position where it cannot define a solution.

    No one disputes the necessity of baptism. All sides agree on the general necessity of baptism. In the main I agree with the post regarding the necessity of baptism and recapitulation, but that is in terms of its general necessity.

    As for the Synod of Jerusalem, your remarks misrepresent my position. I do not dispense with the teaching of that Synod. What I’ve said I believe is a few things. First Catholics routinely, without any analysis or argument latch on to key words and interpret them within a Catholic theological context, rather than proving that the framers had such conceptual content in mind. This is due in large measure to nothing less than pride and laxity. They think they see an easy “gotcha” opportunity and don’t do their homework, which is frankly intellectually irresponsible and vicious. That is, they don’t know who the framers were or what their theological mind was or what the mindset of the chief bishop composed it. .That is, the statements of the synod need to be understood in their context.

    Second, the Synod is admitted by all sides to be pen-ultimately normative. It is not an ecumenical synod. This doesn’t mean it has no authority, but that it has a subordinate authority. And like other subordinate authorities it can be interpreted and corrected by other sources that outpace it in authority, and this has been done in other documents of a similar standing in Orthodoxy. Sloppy thinkers take questions of authority to be an all or nothing deal on all occasions.

    Third, Fr. Patrick is correct to note the somewhat overbearing influence of Catholic missionaries at the synod, which is why the synod’s decisions have been received with caution. Not only that, but the synod failed to actualize the conditions for being ecumenical since there was no discussion and no open call, among other deficiencies. This is in the main no fault of its participants, but of the conditions unjustly imposed on it by the Islamic authorities. Consequently the attempt by underinformed Catholic apologists to tear the synod away from the context of established Orthodox norms for propaganda purposes falls flat.

    As for the citation you quote, I firmly believe it. But I dare say that I probably don’t believe it teaches what most Catholics looking at it think it teaches. The clause teaches the general necessity of baptism and the fate of those who remain under the power of death, sin and the devil. If you wish to argue that it teaches that unbaptized infants on account of concupiscence go to hell, this will be of no help to you. First because I don’t think you can find other normative sources in Orthodox theology to say the same. Second, because Rome herself after having many doctors teach it, has moved away from it as an error. The only way you could support such a teaching is by arguing that what tradition has said in the past, as opposed to what the Roman church teaches now, pace Fortescue and Co., is ultimately normative. In short, to get that teaching out of the text in an attempt to show the isomorphic content between Orthodox and Catholic teaching can only come at the expense of falsifying Catholicism carte blanche.

    As for your not seeing any good reasons for not taking the synod as ultimately normative, that would depend on what you’ve seen and what you’ve bothered to see. Let me be frank. Most Catholics read Ware’s book and that’s pretty much it. Or they run off to Nichols’ works in hope of getting some inside Roman scoop and hence answers on the cheap. Now in general Bp. Ware’s book is a fine book, but it is not the only or last word on the subject. It is a general introduction and I can’t help but think how utterly stupid it would be if I took some general work on Catholicism and used it as the be all and end all of all discussion on what Catholicism teaches.

    And Bp. Ware has said some completely stupid things such as that women’s ordination is an “open question” in Orthodoxy. I suppose the ordination of adolescents is an open question too on the flimsy basis he provides. If he thinks such things he should just go back to the “church” of England and get it over with.
    There are similarly stupid statements in his “Inner Kingdom” in the last essay favoring a kind of universalism, which is entirely ironic given that he was Farrell’s doctoral director for his dissertation of “Free Choice in St. Maximus the Confessor” at Oxford and wrote a forward to the work, showing that he is still completely ignorant of the solution provided by St. Maximus and the theological dangers that that heresy poses to Chalcedonian Christology. You can’t be Chalcedonian and adhere to Universalism any more than you can affirm the former and adhere to Calvinistic Predestinarianism since they both turn on the same mistaken principles. Universalist, Open Theists and Predestinarians all need each other, because they all fundamentally agree.

    Now why does Ware’s name come up again and again? Because there is no other name under heaven which Catholics bother to read in the game of “gotcha” apologetics. Why is it that Ware’s name is some kind of game stopper but say Metropolitan Platon, Basil Kherbawi, or Callinicos are never mentioned? The reason is simple, because the objectors just don’t know the sources and don’t care to.

    As for your remarks on positive and negative punishments, they entirely miss the point. The point is not a question of divine justice, but of divine goodness. So even if God were within his rights to condemn people in such a condition, the question is whether that would be good or not. People in positions of power and self assurance are concerned about justice, whereas those who are helpless and weak with respect to themselves are concerned with goodness and mercy, who routinely cry “Save me before I am utterly lost!”

  48. Firstly I think that assurance of salvation can be taken too much for granted by people on both sides. Isn’t what makes “nominal” Orthodox the belief that since they were baptized as infants that they don’t have to do anything after that? Some elders who are considered Saints where worried about their salvation till their last breath, as communion with God, salvation to us, requires constant vigilance.

    Secondly, since baptism is “necessary”, it should be a cause of concern if an infant was deprived of it, whether it died in the mother’s womb, or after birth. I can’t say for certain how effective other factors are, like intent of the parents, the known-to-God disposition of the baby, or prayers for the dead, but I don’t think they can be dismissed either.

  49. We’ve covered a lot of ground, I think it may be worth summarizing at least some of the interesting points.
    * There is nowhere any official teaching of the church that the unbaptized can partake in heaven
    * It is explicitly taught that rejection of baptism is a condemnation to death
    * Limbo was speculated both in the East and the West
    * Guilt issues aside, mankind is born ontologically dead (original/ancestral/primordial sin)
    * Thus, mankind needs an ontological change
    * Water (baptism) and blood (martyrdom) affect such an ontological change
    * No other mechanisms are as of yet known to affect such a change
    * It is the explicit teaching of the Church that baptism in infants remits original sin (aka affects the ontological change).

    Perry asserts that God does not condemn anyone based on original sin alone. This seems to me equivalent to saying that people can go to heaven without the ontological change. I fail to see how this is not Pelagianism (I’m not trying to accuse you, Perry, I just don’t understand).

    In my mind we can admit the unbaptised infants to heaven if we can adequately describe the as of yet unknown mechanism by which the ontological regeneration occurs. This mechanism would be extra-ordinary in the sense that once the child is able to be baptized he should be. I’d like to propose the following for consideration:
    * Since in Christ death itself is united to life
    * And since Christ was an unblemished sacrifice
    * And since Christ’s mother suffered at the Cross
    * And since what is required to affect the ontological change is union with Christ in his death, whether baptism, martyrdom or the thief on the Cross
    * Therefore, a child conceived within a holy union blessed by the Church will, at his untimely death, be received into the heavenly glory by virtue of the fact that he has been united to Christ by having died a (personally) sinless death in the presence of the tears of his mother.

    This is to me the most theological apropos mechanism by which the ontological change may be wrought in an unbaptized infant. It would permit those children who die in utero as well as those who die suddenly before the 40 day baptism to be regenerated by their death itself, while still admitting the need for emergency (or lay) baptisms in the case of foreseen immanent death. It also does not contradict any of the Church’s formal teachings, since we do not deny that original sin needs to be remitted (we have merely defined an extraordinary mechanism by which it is remitted).

  50. Nick,

    The council in question has a number of influences from Roman Catholic theology so the council cannot be seen to represent universal Orthodox opinion on all points including that of baptism. Nevertheless, the decree in question at least shows that a more definite view than expressed in this post was found acceptable by a number of Orthodox Bishops and that this view was not quickly rejected by another formal council. Thus, it helps to confirm that the logic expressed in the post is a viable Orthodox opinion, if not formal Orthodox teaching, and that there was a justifiable reason to be concerned with the comment expressed at the start of the post that infant baptism is not necessary because it is ridiculous that God would deprive an unbaptised infant of the kingdom on the ground of lacking baptism. Maybe God will save all unbaptised children and I hope so but I don’t think that this can be guaranteed in Orthodox teaching nor is the idea of unbaptised infants being excluded from the kingdom ridiculous, even if shown to be wrong.

  51. Drew,

    From what I can gather in the homily of the quote, St John Chrysostom was primary focused on an exegesis of the Gospel of John and this was an interpretation of John 3:5 in order as he proceeded through the Gospel. So, the homily was written to help his listeners understand what Christ meant in this text and not primarily to persuade his hearers not to neglect baptism. Of course since necessity of baptism was the subject of the Scripture at this point, he was not slow to point the matter out to those in his audience. Nevertheless, his primary aim was exegesis and I think that it is unlikely that he would be waxing too hyperbolic else he give a false interpretation of the Scripture.

  52. Drew says:

    I have a question:

    Is it fair to take into account the fact that St John Chrysostom was a masterful rhetorician, and that this quotation is taken from a homily no doubt given to persuade his hearers not to neglect baptism? The Golden Mouthed may be waxing hyperbolic here.

    Just a thought.

  53. Nick says:

    It seems to me that there is more evidence favoring the necessity of baptizing than the idea infants have a free pass (which is based more on speculation and emotion). This is an emotional topic, and our emotions should guide us to an extent, but we must balance that with Truth as well (which we all admit is not easy in this case). The obvious ‘safety check’ in all this is also to take care that Baptism isn’t emptied of it’s importance and necessity.

    The Eastern Orthodox Council of Jerusalem in 1672 was widely accepted and signed by all Patriarchs. Decree #16 says the following:

    We believe Holy Baptism, which was instituted by the Lord, and is conferred in the name of the Holy Trinity, to be of the highest necessity. For without it none is able to be saved, as the Lord says, “Whoever is not born of water and of the Spirit, shall in no way enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens.” {John 3:5} And, therefore, baptism is necessary even for infants, since they also are subject to original sin, and without Baptism are not able to obtain its remission. Which the Lord showed when he said, not of some only, but simply and absolutely, “Whoever is not born [again],” which is the same as saying, “All that after the coming of Christ the Savior would enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens must be regenerated.” And since infants are men, and as such need salvation, needing salvation they need also Baptism. And those that are not regenerated, since they have not received the remission of hereditary sin, are, of necessity, subject to eternal punishment, and consequently cannot without Baptism be saved. So that even infants should, of necessity, be baptized.

    Now some folks like Perry believe the teachings of the Council can be dispensed with, but I’ve not see any reasonable grounds as to why an EO can do such. And, just as importantly, if such teachings are ‘damnable Latin errors’, the EO should have roundly condemned this Council rather than let it remain on the books to this day. In Bp Ware’s Orthodox Way book, he expressly says this Council is a significant council for the Orthodox over the last millennium.

    In the Catholic view, there are ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ punishments associated with sin. The ‘negative’ punishments are those in which rewards are not strictly due to an individual and thus can be revoked without any injustice. On the other hand, there are ‘positive’ punishments which are due to culpability resulting from ‘actual sins’, and thus deserve ‘active’ punishment. So, as an example, if a group of children are told they will get a treat if they all behave, and one of the children disobeys, that treat can be revoked from all the children without any injustice. This is an example of ‘negative’ punishment. However, it would be unjust for the parent to spank all the behaving children just on the account of one who disobeys. In that case, only the child who disobeys is deserving of a spanking. This is an example of ‘positive’ punishment.

    Carrying that example over to Baptism: due to Adam’s sin, all men are born deprived of the graces to enter Heaven (‘negative punishment’), yet apart from ‘actual sin’ on their part as individuals, God cannot justly allow them to suffer hellfire (‘positive’ punishment). Thus the doctrine of “Limbo,” in which either some ‘third state’ must exist for unbaptized infants, or else they go to hell but feel no pain except for being deprived of Heaven. But even St Thomas says this latter pain is not necessarily just either, and he states the unbaptized infants enjoy ‘natural’ happiness (e.g. no hunger, peace of mind, etc), but not Heaven.

  54. David LIndblom says:

    Monk Patrick,

    I think Perry has done a quick and excellent job of putting St. John’s teaching in proper perspective. I think pushing it to the extreme of damning infants is a kind of Pharisaical Orthodox fundamentalism. No disrespect intended.

    From what I understand of what you and those who truly hold to this idea of damned unbaptized infants is that they take Christ’s words that no one enters the Kingdom of Heaven unless they are born both of water and the Spirit to be utterly unqualified and w/o exceptions. The focus being on “water”. Child wasn’t Kingdom..period. No exceptions. Then, go on to make these very exceptions when it comes to martyrs and the thief on the cross. This is a glaring inconsistency in their position. If water is truly the only means of this ontological change then these two examples cannot be of people who made it into the Kingdom. Yet we know this is not the case. So there are ways God changes people w/o the use of water. These are exceptions. They are exceptions because, I would suggest, the people have neither ability nor opportunity. This is absolutely not applicable to all others who do have ability and opportunity. It would make more sense to me that if there was to be any damnation involved in an infant’s case it would be of the parents who knew what to do but refused. Why would the child bear the brunt of any kind of punishment for the failure and sin of it’s parents? You said that freak accidents are in God’s hands..granted. But w/ this view is not God culpable in some way? He knew the child was unbaptized yet allowed this accident which took the life of this child thereby damning it.

    As far as causing problems w/ Church practices, I believe it was Brad who pointed out the Church doesn’t baptize till 40 days. A lot can and does happen in 40 days. Sudden death is surely a distinct possibility. Why would anyone in their right mind take the chance of their child or anyone else’s being lost for eternity?? Further, and this may be a bit of a stretch, what of what Christ said about forbid not little children coming to Him. By purposely not allowing an infant to be baptized are we not, at the very least, possibly keeping this child from Christ? Plus, what of when He said how if anyone causes one of these little ones to stumble they would be better off hanging big rock around their neck and hopping into the sea. If I were a priest and did not allow an infant to be baptized and they die suddenly have I not eternally injured them?

    There are other examples but I’ll stop here.

    As far as the quote from St. Gregory seems to me that the first line should put things into perspective:

    “‘It will happen, I believe…”

    I’ve read little of the Fathers but this sounds like the start of an opinion, however informed it is still and opinion. Is there any other teaching w/in the Church that teaches about some kind of permanent middle place for those not worthy of Heaven but not evil enough for hell?

  55. Monk Patrick,

    A few things seem clear to me. First that the consensus of the Fathers and conciliar teaching is that the absence of baptism doesn’t damn, but its rejection does.

    Second, Chrysostom has a lot of writings. I think it would be best to take a look at other things he writes. In the material you cite, he seems to be concerned with individuals who delay baptism intentionally and rely on a kind of naturalism or Pelagianism. This was a somewhat popular practice. So what he has in mind is the general necessity of baptism. That seems to be the gist of the whole text. Otherwise we craft Chrysostom into some kind of crypto-Augustinian, which seems like a very awekward fit.

    For those who intentionally delayed baptism a claim to have other virtues as sufficient would be vaccuuous since it would entail the sin of presumption and deliberate neglect of divine commands. Such is not the case for infants or for those through no fault of their own do not have the church present to them.

    In short, I don’t think the text is applicable in the way you think it is.

  56. Perry,

    Following David’s latest comment, if you don’t think that God sends people to hell for inherited corruption alone then on what grounds is the person mentioned by St John Chrysostom sent to hell: “We risk no common danger; for if it should come to pass, (which God forbid!) that through the sudden arrival of death we depart hence uninitiated, though we have ten thousand virtues, our portion will be no other than hell, and the venomous worm, and fire unquenchable, and bonds indissoluble.”?


    Please let me know your thoughts on the section I posted from St Gregory the Theologian. I am interested in what you have to say and what holes you may find and how something may reflect badly on Church practices.

  57. David LIndblom says:

    Perry, you said:

    “The former is understood in terms of state relative to nature, namely corruption and weakness.”

    “So to say that one carries the sin of another is said in terms of corruption. That is, we suffer from the consequences of anothers actions. That seems quite intuitive.”

    OK, this is how I understand things. I’m still a little shaky on the whole person/nature thing in general though.

    Then you said:

    “Third, I don’t think God sends ppl to hell for inherited corruption alone. If you tbink this is Orthodox teaching, perhaps you can direct me to what you take to be the relevant sources.”

    Again, this is how I see things and I do not believe the Orthodox Church teaches this but this is, at least, a possibility when it comes to unbaptized infants not being allowed into the Kingdom of God. This is what I thought was being offered here as a possible teaching on these infant’s fate. I wholly reject this and see numerous holes in this thinking as well as it reflects badly on Church practices and this cannot be so.

  58. Perry,

    I interpret that document in the terms of inherited state as both yourself and Nathaniel have said. Infants inherit death and hence corruption and sin. Saying that “infants are not born with actual sin” could be taken, in context of the understanding of inherited sin as inherited corruption, to mean no actual inherited corruption. Other than this, there is nothing to link Pelagius with what Thomas said, and my apologies, Thomas, for doing so.

  59. Nathanial, It seems to me to de-puzzle it requires refleciton on the imago dei and its relationship to divine power.

  60. I’ve still never worked out how a pre-baptismal synergism might work however… It honestly puzzles me.

  61. Perry, certainly. I only mean to say that, as relates to the requirement of baptism, there is no significant difference between East/West as regards original/ancestral sin. The difference relates to the outworking of the baptismal grace in the life of the believer. It is why, for instance, there is both a monergistic *and* synergistic reading of Orange.

  62. nathanial,

    the question of inherited guilt seems to me to be significant for the following reasons. For either it is the case that I existed prior to embodiment or I acted as a member of a collective agent in ages past, which is merely to temporalize the previous view, as well as seemingly conflating person and nature. Moreover, it also seems to imply that God can make people guilty or later one, make them so via imputation apart from any actions they have personally done. Once that is acceptable, the ball is rolling down the familiar Augustinian hill.

  63. David,

    Sin can be spoken of either widely or narrowly. The former is understood in terms of state relative to nature, namely corruption and weakness. The latter in terms of acts performed by persons. And these two correspond to the distintion between person and nature. to posit inherited guilt would imply a confusion between these two categories and entail serious theological error in other areas of Christian theology.

    So to say that one carries the sin of another is said in terms of corruption. That is, we suffer from the consequences of anothers actions. That seems quite intuitive.

    Secondly I don’t think persons are “punished” by God in a vindictive sense, which is to say that I endorse an Issuant or Consequentialst view of punishment.

    Third, I don’t think God sends ppl to hell for inherited corruption alone. If you tbink this is Orthodox teaching, perhaps you can direct me to what you take to be the relevant sources.

    If this strikes you as unclear, please direct me to what seems unclear to you and perhaps I can clear it up.

  64. Sorry, “hereditary guilt” in the last paragraph should read “hereditary sin.” Sorry for confusing the two.

  65. Monk Patrick,

    So do you read that to imply that infants have actual sins in that document or no?

    And if they are actual sins, when were they committed and by whom?

  66. In my mind, I’m not guilty of Adam’s sin, but yet I still bear his punishment (death/separation from God). At the same time, I continually heap my own sins “on the fire.” What has to be fixed, regardless of my personal sin, is my separation from the divine life. This only comes from Christ who, being homoousias with the Father, unites the divine to human flesh and destroys death by death. If I wish to be raised with Him, I must die with him. This is baptism. Without baptism, I am not united to Christ, the author of life. Without life, I die. The judgement at the eschaton is merely the Cross: did I unite myself to it or not?

    In short, I’m born dead. If I do nothing, I stay dead. If I am united to Christ in baptism and the Eucharist, and don’t unrepentantly sin away my baptism, I’m raised to life.

    I don’t see a huge difference between “ancestral sin” and “original sin.” The guilt issue that some bring up and push as a huge East/West difference, I don’t really see as a big difference. Even without personal sin, I still inherit the condition of my fathers… Guilt or no guilt, the end is the same (death) and the remedy is the same (life in Christ).

    One thing to keep in mind: the teaching about baptism erasing hereditary guilt did not arise in the Pelagian controversy, but before it. At the very minimum, St Ambrose says “Peter was clean, but he must wash his feet, for he had sin by succession from the first man, when the serpent overthrew him and persuaded him to sin. His feet were therefore washed, that hereditary sins might be done away, for our own sins are remitted through baptism” (De Mysteriis 32). This quote was probably a good 10-30 years before the Pelagian controversy erupted.

  67. David LIndblom says:

    Perry or someone help me out here. I don’t understand how one is not guilty of another’s sin yet they, nevertheless, carry that sin and are punished by God for that sin to the point of eternal damnation if this sin that they carry yet are not guilty of is not washed away by baptism??? Not being a smart-aleck here but this seems non-sensical and completely against all that I’ve been taught so far about this.

  68. Perry,

    I mentioned Pelagianism because of this comment by St Nicodemus: “…since, according to them, those infants have no sins to be pardoned.” I think that one line of reasoning that infants do not need to be baptised is that they are innocent of sins, that is have no sins to pardon, and hence it is ridiculous that God would punish them in any manner. This seems very close to what Pelagius was saying on this point and that only sins that one is wilfully guilty of are in need of remittance. The Canon seems to say that infants need to be baptised because they inherit ancestral sin, in some manner, which of itself needs to be remitted for salvation and so there is a just reason that unbaptised infants may not be saved even though they are innocent of sins.

  69. Monk Patrick, I can’t see how Thomas’ remarks border on Pelagianism, since Pelagius denied any inherited corruption or sin glossed widely. I think thomas is only denying that the guilt of an act is inherited from our first parents.

  70. Thomas,

    My apologies for identifying a saint in a manner that is off-putting. The reasoning behind why I have used “Chrysostom” alone is largely due to the problem that writing out his name and title in full each time is a bit heavy when used multiple times in an essay. Because “Chrysostom” is a title given to the saint and not his proper name, I think that it is legitimate to use it to identify him without using “St” just as we use Christ, or Mother of God as titles without the addition of other reverential terms.

    Are you finding the comments that I am writing jarring and the comments of St John Chrysostom, St Gregory the Theologian and the evidence of the sacred Canons not jarring? If this is the case then perhaps I am reading them wrongly or reading them out of context and it would be helpful if you could explain how they are better to be read. If you find St John, St Gregory and the sacred Canons jarring then are we to say that they do not express an Orthodox mindset?

    What you are saying about infants not being born with actual sin is sounding dangerously close to the heresy of Pelagius, whose ideas the Council(s) of Carthage met to refute. Here is an interpretation of the Canon 121 (110) of Carthage, the Canon which Nathaniel just quoted, as found in the Rudder and I believe of St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain:

    This view too was a product of the heretical insanity of the Pelagians: this refers to their saying that newly begotten infants are not baptized for the remission of sins, as the Orthodox Church believes and maintains, but, instead, if anyone say that they are baptized for the remission of sins, yet the infants themselves have not incurred any taint from the original (or primordial) sin of Adam, such as to require to be removed by means of baptism (since, as we have said, those men believed that this original sin is not begotten with the human being, simply because this was not any offense of nature, but a mischoice of the free and independent will). So the Council in the present Canon anathematizes the heretics who say this: First, because the form of the baptism for the remission of sins which is given to infants is not true according to them, but false and factitious, since, according to them, those infants have no sins to be pardoned. Secondly, because the Apostle in what he says makes it plain that sin entered the world through a single human being, namely, Adam, and that death entered through sin, and thus death passed into all human beings, since all of them have sinned just like Adam. This passage, I say, cannot be taken to mean anything else than what the catholic Church of the Orthodox has understood and believed it to mean, to wit, that even the newborn infants, notwithstanding the fact that they have not sinned by reason of any exercise of their own free and independent will, have nevertheless entailed upon themselves the original sin from Adam; wherefore they need to be purified through baptism necessarily from that sin: hence they are truly, and not fictitiously, being baptized for the remission of sins.

    Please explain how your thinking is different to Pelagius in this matter.

    I think that your comment about baptism by Priests and Bishops is not much different to what I have stated. Here is a quote from St Basil the Great, referring to St Cyprian of Carthage, that is one reason why I stated what I did:

    For although the ones who were the first to depart had been ordained by the Fathers and with the imposition of their hands they had obtained the gracious gift of the Spirit, yet after breaking away they became laymen, and had no authority either to baptize or to ordain anyone, nor could they impart the grace of the Spirit to others, after they themselves had forfeited it. Wherefore they bade that those baptized by them should be regarded as baptized by laymen, and that when they came to join the Church they should have to be repurified by the true baptism as prescribed by the Church.

  71. The canon you refer to (CX) is actually Canon 110 of the Councils of Carthage, which were ratified at the 7th Ecumenical Council and was not crafted at 2 Nicea. Further, Surius is the only historical reference we have for your “Note” which he claims appears in an ancient codex. However, we have a variety of copies of this canon in Greek, none of which contain this section. It is likely spurious. I would however like to see a serious scholarly study on the issue.

  72. David LIndblom says:

    You know, if this Canon Note is binding I’m having real trouble w/ this! This seems to go against the plethora of scripture that emphasizes God’s mercy, compassion, desirous of everyone’s salvation etc. In my mind it also backs up what another poster said about the Church not immediately baptizing infants is grossly irresponsible.

    Another thing, since the Church holds that human life begins at conception then what about aborted or miscarried babies? Will they not also go to hell?? That would certainly be a logical conclusion.

    I see this belief as no better than rabid Calvinists who assert that God predestines infants to hell. This teaching is ridiculous.

  73. David LIndblom says:

    Geez, what’s worse in the Notes section of Canon CX of the Seventh Ecumenical Council it states:

    “[Also it seemed good, that if anyone should say that the saying of the Lord, “In my Father’s house are many mansions” is to be understood as meaning that in the kingdom of heaven there will be a certain middle place, or some place somewhere, in which infants live in happiness who have gone forth from this life without baptism, without which they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, which is eternal life, let him be anathema. For after our Lord has said: “Except a man be born again of water and of the Holy Spirit he shall not enter the kingdom of heaven,” what Catholic can doubt that he who has not merited to be coheir with Christ shall become a sharer with the devil: for he who fails of the right hand without doubt shall receive the left hand portion.]”

    Are these “Note” binding also??

  74. Thomas, so when the 7th Ecumenical Council approved the following as an ecumenical anathema, it was incorrect?

    “… whosoever denies that infants newly from their mother’s wombs should be baptized, or says … that they derive from Adam no original sin, which needs to be removed by the laver of regeneration … let him be anathema.”

    The problem that I have is that the idea that Ancestral Sin is somehow *contra* “Original” sin is that such is a modern phenomenon owing to various Origenist theological revivals in *Western* (including Westerners converted to Orthodoxy) theological circles. Are there different emphases? Certainly! Substantially different theology? Maybe. But the two are not dialectically opposed.

    I agree with everything else you write.

  75. Thomas says:

    First, forgive me, but I find references to St John Chrysostom (found in many places besides this essay) as ‘Chrysostom’ as if it were a surname off-putting. I am curious as to why it is done, never having heard or read a good explanation.

    Second, Brad’s reference to ‘smells pretty funny’ is, I believe, what I would describe as something which jars an Orthodox mindset. If someone has a well-formed Orthodox mindset, it is, to use Brad’s words ‘a pretty good indicator’. In this case, I find the thesis of the essay somewhat jarring (but only somewhat) for two reasons: it seems inconsistent with the emphasis on the mercy, compassion, and love of God as typified in the Parable of the Prodigal Son and greatly emphasised and insisted on by St Isaac the Syrian (I’ve been reading a lot of St Isaac recently); it also seems inconsistent with the Church’s teaching on Ancestral Sin which emphasises — contra much of Western Christianity — infants are not born with actual sin.

    OTOH, the idea that Baptism effects an ontological change of the person does seem very much in keeping with an Orthodox mindset.

    Finally, from everything I have read, I must disagree with the notion ‘that only Priests and Bishops are permitted to baptise.’ It is my understanding that priests and bishops are the normal ministers of Baptism, but that any Christian can administer Baptism in case of need, and, when a layman or laywoman has administered Baptism and the one baptised survives, a priest or bishop may employ a ‘conditional baptism’ and will then seal Baptism with Chrismation. It is due to the belief of an ontological chance being effected by Baptism that the Church rejects the idea a person can be ‘re-baptised’. (The belief, taught by Papal Christianity, that non-Christians can administer Baptism is not only nonsense [non-sensical], but, IMO, heretical, as it denies the ancient teaching that one cannot give what one does not have.)

  76. David LIndblom says:

    Evagrius, here’s a link to Kevin Allen’s website. He has a popular podcast called The Illumined Heart over at Ancient Faith Radio. While I doubt he’s a scholar he was a practitioner of Hinduism and is now an Orthodox convert. If he’s not what you’re looking for perhaps he can direct you to someone who can be helpful. The link goes to his Essays page. Here it is:

  77. Evagrius says:

    Fr. Patrick and Perry

    Thank you for your thought provoking responses — you’ve provided significant points to seriously consider. I don’t know what either of your credentials are when it comes to Buddhism, but I’m appreciative of the opportunity to vet some thoughts on Buddhism by way of your informed philosophical and Eastern Orthodox perspectives which I’ve come to respect from reading the blog.

    I understand that invoking Buddhism on this post wasn’t necessary for discussing the topic and that it strays from the purpose of this blog. As such, I’ll accept your invitations to discuss the topic elsewhere and with others.

    As a last request though; if either of you, or anyone else viewing this thread could direct me to another forum or person who has a serious interest in, and strong knowledge of, both Eastern Orthodoxy and Buddhism, I would be very grateful. I can find plenty of places online to discuss Eastern Orthodoxy, and I can find plenty of places to discuss Buddhism; however, I’ve had a lot of difficulty finding a place or person that can intelligently and respectfully discuss both. I suppose I’m looking for advanced practitioners/scholars of Buddhism who converted to Orthodoxy and became similarly knowledgeable; or vice versa. Perhaps both religions require such a great deal of commitment to master that it’s been all but impossible to find deeply meaningful comparative discussion either in print or dialogue.

  78. Evagrius,

    To say that Mahayana Buddhism includes the notion of salvation depends on a equivocation. The person per se is not saved since personhood is intrinsically tied up with suffering. The annihilation of all persons qua persons isn’t an end to hope for.

    In any case while the Buddha, what little we can know from stories three centuries later was probably quite wise, he was also quite wrong. And so he cannot offer salvation to humanity. And this is in accordance with Buddhist principles since what the later mythology of buddhism offers is not salvation, but elimination.

    This is why Buddhism is a religion of no hope and of bondage. Cultural Buddhists seem to know this, especially when they are struck by the forgiveness of sins offered by Christianity. I’ve known not a few Buddhist converts who were amazed at the goodness of God in forgiving their sins, which was for them an unspeakable relief.

    And it seems given the historical standing of the resurrection of Christ, that Christianity stands in an entirely superior position regarding the veracity of metaphysical claims over against Buddhism, not to mention that the text of the NT is far more historically reliable than any surviving Buddhist text.

    You are correct that one’s fate in Buddhism doesn’t depend on one life here, but that is little help since it actually points to how bad the situation is on Buddhism such that the claims that “liberation” have taken place, even if one should desire it, ring rather hollow and implausible. That is, given the innumerable past lives to over come, each with new errors, it seems the situation is far worse and quite hopeless. The notion of the Boddhisatva seems like a pious fiction in the face of such a debt. For myself I’d much rather prefer a Stoic or generally Hellenistic view of things, since at least it takes reality as it is seriously, namely as a conflagration of opposing powers with no resolution.

    An apokatastasis in a Christian context would need to be monergistic since it is the only way the inclusion of all and their permanence in a state of blessedness could be achieved. This is exactly why Origen could not achieve even a permanent state.

    But I suppose all of the above is to say that this blog is devoted to discussing Christianity, and Orthodox Christianity in particular, and not Buddhism. If you wish to be a Buddhist, I am sure you can find plenty of other places to discuss it.

  79. Evagrius, then please disregard my previous comments as I mistook you for someone else.

  80. David,

    While the thief on the cross and martyrs represent a qualification or exception on “water”, with actual death happening instead of symbolic death, one should be careful of going on to say that one does not require any physical form of death linked directly with Christ to be saved.

    I think we must take care of saying God can do what He wants. He is just and merciful but He is also true and would deny Himself to be self-contradictory. Nevertheless, I am not going to say that He cannot do something; this must always be left open due to our ignorance. On the other hand we should not say that He definitely will do something exceptional nor impose our standards of justice on Him nor to allow our thoughts to be subject to sentimentalism.

    Also, although St Chrysostom is quite strong in his wording, unbaptised babies, while they may not enter the Kingdom, will not necessarily be punished. I believe, St Gregory’s answer is the best regarding the state of those unbaptised through no fault of their own including infants and I think he presents the best Orthodox answer. Nathaniel quoted it earlier in part but here is the relevant section in full:

    And so also in those who fail to receive the Gift, some are altogether animal or bestial, according as they are either foolish or wicked; and this, I think, has to be added to their other sins, that they have no reverence at all for this Gift, but look upon it as a mere gift — to be acquiesced in if given them, and if not given them, then to be neglected. Others know and honor the Gift, but put it off; some through laziness, some through greediness. Others are not in a position to receive it, perhaps on account of infancy, or some perfectly involuntary circumstance through which they are prevented from receiving it, even if they wish. As then in the former case we found much difference, so too in this. They who altogether despise it are worse than they who neglect it through greed or carelessness. These are worse than they who have lost the Gift through ignorance or tyranny, for tyranny is nothing but an involuntary error. And I think that the first will have to suffer punishment, as for all their sins, so for their contempt of baptism; and that the second will also have to suffer, but less, because it was not so much through wickedness as through folly that they wrought their failure; and that the third will be neither glorified nor punished by the righteous Judge, as unsealed and yet not wicked, but persons who have suffered rather than done wrong. For not every one who is not bad enough to be punished is good enough to be honored; just as not every one who is not good enough to be honored is bad enough to be punished. And I look upon it as well from another point of view. If you judge the murderously disposed man by his will alone, apart from the act of murder, then you may reckon as baptized him who desired baptism apart from the reception of baptism. But if you cannot do the one how can you do the other? I cannot see it. Or, if you like, we will put it thus If desire in your opinion has equal power with actual baptism, then judge in the same way in regard to glory, and you may be content with longing for it, as if that were itself glory. And what harm is done you by your not attaining the actual glory, as long as you have the desire for it?

  81. David LIndblom says:

    Just thot I’d pop in a make a couple of simple comments. First, I like what you say concerning the whole change in ontological state when one is baptised. Hadn’t thought of it quite in that way. But, I am bothered by the suggestion of a possible bad ending for unbaptised infants. You pointed out that there is nothing of any substance written specifically about unbaptised infants in the Fathers or scripture for that matter. So, I think, we need to tread very carefully on this matter. As someone else pointed out, it’s one thing to have neither ability nor opportunity and quite another to have these and refuse. I like what Metropolitan Kallistos Ware said that we are bound by the sacraments but God is not. You make a case for the thief being brought into union w/ Christ via his death by crucifixion and his confession of faith. But even here, this is not what Jesus said. He emphatically stated that is must be by “water” and the Spirit. So, while I agree w/ your assessment of why the thief was saved, we still have a case where God did not abide strictly by His own stated means we are to follow for salvation and out of mercy saved a man anyway. I see it as the same principal for God saving unbaptised infants on account of mercy and the fact that they could not be baptised in some cases. This still has absolutely no bearing on others who have ability and opportunity to be baptised yet don’t and are damned. So, my point is, I don’t see it as a necessary element in maintaining the teaching of the necessity of baptism to the point of damning infants who are not baptised. Is God not free in His dispensation of mercy in these exceptional cases?

  82. Evagrius,

    While this matter is not relevant to the post and so it is not the place to pursue the matter here in depth, I just wanted to take up a point that you stated that: “Mahayana Buddhism as the more humane alternative”. Although this comment was targeted to a particular point, I want to briefly query Buddhism in regard to being more humane.

    Buddhist liberation, in a very similar manner to Platonic thought, is a deliverance from this life of suffering and also the body. The end goal incorporates a separation from the body and also a sense of the loss of unique personal identity. Personally, I understand my humanity as a union of soul and body in a unique person/hypostasis. To divide soul and body is to destroy my humanity and Buddhist liberation is for me only death of my humanity. Also, the loss of a unique personal identity will also be destruction of my humanity, which would also occur in any reincarnation because I would have many human bodily identities which would destroy the uniqueness of each body/soul union. Overall, I think Buddhist teaching is really anti-human and a path to the death of humanity and thus could hardly be more humane than Christianity.

  83. Evagrius says:


    No, I wasn’t even aware of the Eirenikon blog until your mention of it.

  84. Nathan,

    While I understand that need for justice from a just and good God and I would not wish anyone to suffer the experience of hell, I think that the Gospel is more about ontological state than about legal justice. Let us consider the case of two men that both lived a life of murder and rape and then in old age one repents and is baptised while the other ceases to murder and rape due to old age but does not repent of his acts nor gets baptised. On merit of their sins both men should receive equal punishment if justice is to be done, yet the baptised man is forgiven all sins and lives in joy while the other receives eternal punishment. What justice is it when one man repents and is baptised and lives in glory while the other simply stops due to old age and perishes in hell, yet they committed the same crimes? What extra virtue is there, at the level of physical actions, when one is dipped thrice in water with some prayers and is then free from all sins? While this story is only hypothetical it is a possible scenario in Christianity. The only way this works without infringing justice is that ontological state is more important than balanced judgement sheets, such sheets are much more akin to Judaic thinking. Thus, the first man, who repents and is baptised, while committing no better virtue nor less sins than the second man, is saved because the his ontological state is such that he can be. The other man, while not committing any more sins, does not have this state and so cannot be saved. Justice is done in the context of ontological state, thus for two unbaptised sinners the one who commits more and worse sins will be punished more severely than one who does more minor sins and for those saved, one who does greater virtue will receive a better reward than one who does less. Nevertheless, even in these cases the state of the heart is important.

    Why is this so? Because our life is sharing the life of God and our salvation depends on Him freely being all in us. It is His energies that are our life and His virtues that become our virtues. Our virtues in and of themselves are not sufficient for life and so don’t in themselves merit anything. Our sin prevents God being all in us but if we repent so that He can freely be all is us then this end situation means that the previous sins can be forgiven, they are no longer a hinderance to us sharing in life. Our virtues are important because it is with them that God can work His virtue and we can partake of His virtue. If we do not develop our virtues neither do we partake of His virtues as our own. Our heart is important in all this because it is seeking to do what is pleasing to God is the way that opens the door from Him to be all in us. Owning our virtues as being from ourselves, that is being proud of them, shuts God out because we think that our virtues of themselves are something without realising that they really are God’s, and so we lose everything.

    So, in terms of sharing the life of God status and heart are the key elements, actual actions are important but within the context of status.

  85. Evagrius,

    Are you the same person using that name who regularly comments on Eirenikon?

  86. Brad,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond. While I accept that there are some counter-examples that may be difficult to understand, we also need to keep paramount the teaching of our Lord and that of St John Chrysostom. On my reading both of them affirm the necessity of baptism for salvation. St Gregory the Theologian another important Father, is also consistent with this teaching as is also at least one of the sacred Canons. St Gregory has dealt with the issue of justice. Those who wish to teach otherwise will need to show why this teaching needs to be qualified and how it can be so while remaining theologically consistent.

    The thief shares the same death as Christ that is crucifixion, he confessed Christ and died to his own desire to be released from his death and accepted it as a just result for his sinful life. I think there is enough here to see a union with the death of Christ combined with faith.

    The responsibility that you mention regarding baptising children is something seen in Christian history. St John the Faster (6th Cent) wrote a canon about those being negligent of baptising their children canonising them for three years with continuous lenten fasting. There is other evidence also with reduced penance for less than seven days age being baptised because the custom was the eighth day to be baptised; so the custom was taken into consideration regarding negligence and also rules were made to ensure baptism on the day a baby became ill. Also, there is a ninth century canon where women are not allowed to suckle their children if they are baptised after five to six days, which may explain the Greek custom of waiting for the 40 days. So, the sense of responsibility that you suggest should be associated with the necessity of baptism is present in the history and tradition of the Church.

    The reason for rebaptism is that only Priests and Bishops are permitted to baptise. Lay baptisms are not effective. If baptism of infants was not necessary then it would not be permitted for laymen to baptise an infant even at the point of death. It is only because baptism is considered necessary that in the canons a orthodox layman, even the father, is permitted to baptise the child in emergency when no Priest is available because it is better for the child to have someone provide the form of baptism than to die without it. Sometimes, such lay baptisms can be accepted as a form if the child survives and only completed by a Priest but it is correct for a Priest to give the baptism in the normal manner later because it turned out that the baptism was not necessary.

  87. Evagrius says:


    What I wrote:
    “Of course, if you study modern scholarship and in particular higher critical studies of Judaism and Christianity, they appear to be different in this respect.”

    Should read:
    they appear to be _no_ different in this respect

    Why think I’m a Christian now? The answer to this question is not readily apparent to me. Nonetheless, I’ll list some possible reasons for why I might think I’m a Christian now.

    1) I said the Sinner’s Prayer as a child (on more than one occasion even). Well, what one does under spiritual duress doesn’t seem to count. I doubt one can be emotionally raped into being a Christian.
    2) I’m one of God’s chosen elect. As a Calvinist I was never able to satisfactorily resolve how I would actually know I’m elect. After all, the ogre god who reprobates most of humanity might have some other shenanigans up his sleeve in the name of glorifying alleged justice.
    3) I’m psychologically persuaded that I’m a Christian. Well, actually, I’m not; but even if I was, I’m not sure how that would make me a Christian. I suspect psychological persuasion may be a component of belief; but at the risk of committing the the Fallacy of the Beard, I’m not sure how much persuasion is enough. Apophatically speaking, I’m not psychologically persuaded that I’m not a Christian.
    4) I may nominally be a Christian. I’m not adverse to self-identifying as Christian provided the proper qualifications. On the other hand, I don’t go around self-identifying myself as a Christian in everyday life. I suspect people I work with might be surprised that this sailor talking beard is a Christian in light of North American cliches. Jesus may have said that he would be ashamed of those who were ashamed of him, yet somehow I don’t think he meant that he would be ashamed of those who are ashamed to be associated with what the word Christian has come to denote.
    5) I was baptized within a Canonical Orthodox Church. If anything, this might be the best reason so far for thinking I’m a Christian. Yet, if the road to hell is paved with the skulls of bishops (HT Chrysostom), maybe it’s only a necessary precondition of theosis and not a sufficient one. But, this brings us to the next point.
    6) I behave like a Christian. Oh wait, no I don’t – in fact, in lieu of a reliable way to discern where I’m at on the path to theosis, I’ll default to abysmal to describe my progress. On the other hand, maybe I do – after all, maybe I attend all the church services and keep the fasts and feasts. Just how does a Christian behave again? At risk of violating the St. Ephraim’s prayer of Great Lent and a maxim of Confession; I might even admit that I haven’t seen others making the progress I’d expect after years of eucharistic participation. Does Orthodoxy provide the sufficient preconditions for theosis? Well, that wasn’t a rhetorical question. What about my private endeavors at asceticism and charity? Well, that’s private.
    7) I want to be an Orthodox Christian. Yes and no. Have you read The Brothers Karamazov? One of my favorite parts of this book is Part III, Book IX, Chapter 8: The Evidences of the Witnesses. The Babe. In this part Mitya has a dream in which he senses a profound sense of compassion for the poor villagers and infant. One might have an experience, or set of experiences, where the bottom falls out of the I-and-thou distinction. In light of this, perhaps one feels a certain level of compassion where, for example, if the unbaptized babe goes to hell, that is tantmount to being in hell oneself. Perhaps I can call this the existential component which governs which religions are tolerable and which aspects of a given religion are tolerable. In light of this, there ideas and practices I’ve encountered within Orthodoxy that cut against my grain and others that don’t. What these relate to, and whether they constitute sine qua non conditions of being an Orthodox Christian, is another post I suppose.

  88. Brad says:

    Fr. Patrick,

    I think I’m just reading “necessary” in your writing some universal context, as though this were the only way God can/could save someone. Again, it may be unorthodox, but my belief is simply that just because God revealed a single path doesn’t mean that God is bound by that single path. I think the thief on the cross and catechumens that die (as they’re at least claimed by the church) are potentially good counter-examples where the mystery may not be really well defined. I suspect there could be other examples with early non-Jewish converts (of which, there is probably nothing written so it’s just a historical speculation on my part). Saying that the thief was martyred seems to betray the common usage of the word because it was when he was dying that he professed Christ (whereas at least most people we would call martyrs died because of their faith). I tend to think that the thief fits fairly squarely in the “claimed but unbaptized” category, much like a catechumen or possibly an infant that has had “first day prayers”. I don’t disagree that baptism is transformative and essential for salvation within the church, I just think it’s a mistake to say that people that die before they can partake of the mysteries cannot be saved. That, in my mind, is us saying too much based on speculation. But maybe that gets solved with some kind of counter-factual baptism concept (e.g. “baptism of desire”, “baptism of blood”) in addition to the guardian of the infant being able to act as a sponsor would during a baptismal service.

    But, more to my point, the conclusion (as I am reading it) evades a number of practices and concepts present in the church. As you mentioned, there are multiple baptismal time frames for infants even though the infant could die at any time (car accidents, SIDS, undiagnosed medical problems, etc.). I would again state that, based on my understanding of your conclusion, those delays would be completely irresponsible and sinful. It would be similar to saying that you didn’t bother putting your child in a car seat because you didn’t expect to get into an accident. I would generally assume that the church wouldn’t tolerate such negligence, so the conclusion seems off to me.

    “Rebaptism” is problematic to me because there shouldn’t be any reason to baptize someone a second time (if an emergency baptism or a counterfactual baptism were sufficiently transformative, why do we need to redo it?). It raises a question about the necessity of the emergency baptism. Maybe the priest I spoke to about this practice regarding infants was mistaken or maybe he spoke broadly and meant that Chrismation and First Communion services would be performed later (which he could have easily assumed I would have lumped into a baptismal service).

    I wish I had more time for this, even just to write out a response more coherently, but, sadly, I don’t. I’ll try to keep up here and there though.

  89. Nathan says:


    I don’t think the issue is “want[ing] a God who will just make it all work out in the end,” but rather theodicy: if unbaptized infants share the left-hand portion, the same fate as the Devil, how is God good or just? A juridical God who punishes on the basis of guilt looks pretty good in comparison to a God who inflicts torment on the basis of ontology.

  90. Canadian,

    One factor that needs to be considered in your thinking is that a baby in the womb is not considered baptised if the mother is baptised while it is within her womb. It requires its own baptism after birth. The unborn child is considered to have its own will and thus requires its own confession of faith, albeit via a sponsor. This I believe brings out that while baptism is necessary it does not save one without that one also having faith and free consent. Also, it helps to avoid a confusion between earthly birth and baptism birth and a return to some form of Judaism where the one is a member of the Church because of they were born of Christian parents. Also it prevents the thought that membership of the Church is merely one of earthly relations.

    Having said that I also think that a case could be made for some form of temporary union of an unborn baby to Christ through its union with the mother until the time of its birth.

  91. Evagrius, Why think you are a Christian now?

  92. Canadian says:

    If Christ recapitulates, deifies, and sanctifies every stage and aspect of humanity in himself, and if during his own human formation within the Mother of God his humanity was in full communion with God (with the Father not just with God the son through the hypostatic union), doesn’t that mean humanity can be in communion with God even before birth? I know Christ was a divine person in her womb and we are human persons, but it seems to show that complete communion with God is possible at that stage. I’m not sure, just thinking…..

  93. Evagrius says:

    Hi Nathaniel

    Mahayana Buddhism includes the notion of universal salvation within its Bodhisattva ideal. The Bodhisattva vows to liberate all sentient beings. Thus, although it may take many kalpas (aeons or extremely long periods) for all beings to liberate, there is this hope.

    When you say “no one actually knows” if any escape samsara, I’m not sure what you mean. Are you saying that you haven’t been presented compelling evidence? Or are you saying that Buddhism is uncertain on this question? If the former, fine and well, I don’t know how Buddhist metaphysical claims could be rigorously proven to qualify as warranted or justified belief (not that Christianity is better situated in that respect). If you mean the latter, I would dispute that Buddhism isn’t so uncertain about the possibility of liberation. Apart from the universal Buddhist recognition of Gautama as someone who attained Buddhahood, the various Buddhist traditions are also quite decisive that liberation has happened, can happen, and ultimately will happen via the Eightfold path.

    As for being culturally conditioned. Buddhism surely did evolve and co-opt traditions from the cultures where it took root. In China, Buddhism evolved into the Chan (Zen [Japanese]) school, integrating elements of Chinese Daoism. Of course, if you study modern scholarship and in particular higher critical studies of Judaism and Christianity, they appear to be different in this respect.

    Buddhism certainly doesn’t try to sell “a God who will just make it all work out in the end”. Buddhism does not assert that there is a God (at least in the conventional sense). It seems indisputable that most people do not have a fortuitous life and death – tragedy and ignorance are commonplace in this world. Within Buddhism there is room for accommodating this state of affairs; one’s ultimate outcome does not hinge upon the condition of a single and most likely non-fortuitous incarnation.

    I think it’s unfair to pathologize the desire for a God who provides sufficient preconditions for apokatastasis. Besides, I don’t see why apokatastasis must be monergistic within a Christian context.

  94. Perhaps I am missing something, but I have *never* heard of a re-baptism of any person who, in an emergency situation, was baptized by a layman in good standing. Confirmation via Chrismation, yes. But rebaptism, no. Does anyone have any record of such a rebaptism as being normative (ie not just based on the ignorance of a particular priest)?

    To the more general matter, and I hope that this will clear up some of Evagrius’ and Brad’s concerns, my frustration is not my desire to impose a clear teaching that all unbaptized go to hell. I’m concerned that our official teachers often glibly answer “of course the unbaptized go to heaven” when we have no such clear teaching in our tradition. This has nothing to do with St Augustine. We just simply don’t know. What few Fathers have touched on it only do so in a speculative manner, but where they all agree is this: if you are wondering whether to baptize, the answer is yes.

    Buddhism provides no escape either. Samsara (the cycle of rebirth) is essentially the teaching that we are all consigned to live in the “hell” of this life for eternity and that *maybe* some who are enlightened may escape, but no one actually knows. It offers no promises, only speculation. Even worse, the dharma is so heavily culturally conditioned that I would even call it far worse than Judaizing.

    The bottom line is that Westerners are rich and comfortable. As a result, we want a God who will just make it all work out in the end, lest we encounter any discomfort. There are lots of people who will try and sell you this God, from Buddhists to atheists to Orthodox priests promising that the unbaptized go to heaven. It just doesn’t work this way and the only path that we know leads to salvation is to repent, believe and be baptized. Anything else is at best a crap shoot.

  95. Brad,

    The post is about dealing with what God has revealed to us about what is necessary and how in particular St John Chrysostom has understood this matter. I am only trying to suggest a model that may explain why it is that God seems to be limiting Himself. I don’t think that one can just say God can do anything therefore He cannot be restricted in any way. I believe that each thing revealed to us about the path of salvation is what is the best way for God to give us the best life throughout eternity; we know that God desires all to be saved and that as a good and just God that He will do anything and everything He can to bring this about. He does not arbitrarily consign nor desire anyone to go to hell. I understand that if there seems to be limits on God then it is because without these God would deny Himself, which we know from Scripture He cannot do. Denying Himself is not about Him saying to us that He doesn’t exist but it is about denying who He is or what His life is in any manner. Our eternal existence is us having the same life as God by grace. We are intimately connected to who God is and if there are some limits on the path of our salvation it is because it the is the only way of God not denying Himself or not denying Himself in us and so effectively not denying us. One aspect of God that is pertinent to this post is that God is one and for us to share His life fully then we too must be one and this must be true for each aspect of our humanity, the only distinction between us can be our each unique hypostasis such as in the Trinity. As I said earlier, the Fall resulted in a separation of creation and God which has been restored in Christ; He brings creation back into union with God and we can participate in this union by uniting ourselves with Christ; in fact there can be no other path to being one with God or each other. Our earthly birth is such that we partake of the division of the Fall and separation from the life of God, although not completely so because we can only exist at all by some from of participation through God’s long-suffering love; this division still leaves us capable of virtue and choice, that is we maintain the image of God, but separated from the grace of God this virtue is only to a human or created extent, although this too is exercised with some level of God’s grace, and is incapable of the perfection required to share fully the life of God; that is the likeness of God, also being disconnected from the full life of God our life heads to death, corruption and sin our necessarily limited energies as creatures are incapable of enabling us to avoid this; only the energies of God are capable of sustaining full life. Baptism restores our union with God’s energies and so enables us to share the likeness of God. The only alternative to union with God is a fall into non-existence that is death but being unable to deny ourselves we can never truly be non-existent hence eternal ‘hell’. The only path to sharing in full life that I can see for unbaptised infants is that the final resurrection is a forced union of all creation with Christ. For adults, who have rejected God, this is ‘hell’ because their freedom is removed; it would be like being in a eternal dictatorship with a dictator who forces our whole being in manner that we do not want. However, for infants who have neither accepted not rejected Christ, this situation would not be hell yet neither perhaps the full joy of participating in the fullness of God’s life as the saints do, but the infants would be at peace. Perhaps even infants have a choice that God knows and they experience life in line with this choice just as adults. It is hard to know how much we develop in the life to come and mature in our experience of life. However, there may not be a forced union and separation continues to be realised after the resurrection which raises to life our present body but doesn’t effect a union of that body unless it is already present at death. Such a separation though is still in God since it cannot be outside the omnipresent God. Gods love is that which burns as hell, yet this burning is relative to the rejection of God and so an infant will not experience any burning even if separate from God. These views seem to fit with what St Gregory is saying and are not inconsistent with St John.

    There are various customs of when a child should be baptised, some so on the eighth day, in line with circumcision, others after 40 days and St Gregory the Theologian even recommends at three years old or perhaps even older. I cannot see any irresponsibility in any of these approaches as long as one is prepared to baptise a child immediately if there is the risk of it dying, apart from the constant risk of a freak accident, which is in God’s hands. What is your perceived problem with rebaptising emergency baptisms by a layman in context of the logic of the post? How is it opposite to what I am saying?

  96. Nathaniel,

    The quote of St Gregory the Theologian can be found in Oration 40 in the Post-Nicene Series, which can be found online. Reading through the Oration, St Gregory seems to be of the opinion that an infant does not receive the reward of baptism but neither suffers any punishment. He focuses much less on the necessity or hell that one finds in St John Chrysostom, yet I do not see them as contradictory but different emphasises on the same spectrum. They are both dealing with the issue at the time of adults not getting baptised and this is the group to whom their speeches are targeted. St Gregory touches on infants directly but only in passing, St John does not mention them in his exegesis. St John is much firmer on the negative outcome of not being baptised, although one cannot deduce from this that he would not agree with St Gregory regarding those who have not received baptism through no fault of their own. Both their positions seem to me to be the only coherent understanding of Scripture and all that one can know about God.


    Regarding the first part of your comment, sadly there is not always agreement among Orthodox about matters. The official Orthodox view is that of the Fathers, especially the conciliar decisions. St John Chrysostom is highly regarded because he can be trusted to offer on official Orthodox view, which is why I have quoted from him. I wrote this post because I was concerned that some were not following this official view. I may very well be wrong but I think it is valuable to put forward the reasons why I have concern. I believe discussion can help to come to agreement, if parties are willing to listen to each other even if defending their positions as dogma.

    Regarding Augustine, I think that he tried to develop a framework that would be an explanatory model for the Tradition that he received and, while his model produced results that were consistent with the Tradition to a level, it had flaws and when the model was later used by those less connected to the Tradition it produced results that become contradictory to Tradition. I am concerned that we may throw the baby out with the bath water if we reject his model for good reasons but think that means also rejecting the result, which is often Tradition that he is trying to explain. This result may still be true within a better orthodox explanation. Thus, his reason for the necessity of baptism may be wrong but this does not mean that there is no necessity of baptism.

    The term alien is found in Chrysostom and I am not intending to say anything more than what he is saying. Perhaps, I may have interpreted him wrongly but barring a very poor translation, the idea of being alien to God is taught by one, who sets the standard of what Orthodox teaching is, so it must be an Orthodox teaching unless one can demonstrate that Chrysostom on this point is not within the consensus of a clear majority of other Fathers. Also, I think there needs to be a much deeper examination of what is being meant by alienation and what effects this has before one can make a complete comparison between the Roman Catholic view, the view I have stated and other EO views.

  97. Evagrius says:

    If in fact as an Orthodox Christian I must believe that God will consign unbaptized infants to hell, I cannot help but seriously consider converting to Mahayana Buddhism as the more humane alternative. I’m completely fed up with misanthropic religions and their passion-co-opted notions of God which are intolerable to any remotely illumined sense of compassion. At least in Buddhism the unbaptized infant will continue within the cycle of rebirth unto eventual liberation.

  98. Brad says:

    There’s a difference between denying infant baptism or arguing that baptism is not necessary for salvation and saying that requiring baptism for salvation limits God’s free will and omnipotence. This may be a bit unorthodox (though I’ve heard it from several orthodox priests), but I’ve always understood it that the church defines the known way that salvation comes to us.

    Insofar as emergency infant baptism is concerned, the conclusion smells pretty funny to me. Granted, that’s no kind of argument, but it’s been a pretty good indicator for me in the past. First, I had an orthodox priest just this week tell me the opposite of what you’re saying. He mentioned that the church re-baptizes the emergency baptized. Further, if what you say about emergency infant baptism is true, then it’s completely irresponsible to perform 40-day churching rites or to even wait after the birth of the child. Lastly, I ran across this:

  99. Canon 110 of the Canons of Carthage is also extremely relevant:

    Likewise it seemed good that whosoever denies that infants newly from their mother’s wombs should be baptized, or says that baptism is for remission of sins, but that they derive from Adam no original sin, which needs to be removed by the laver of regeneration, from whence the conclusion follows, that in them the form of baptism for the remission of sins, is to be understood as false and not true, let him be anathema.

    For no otherwise can be understood what the Apostle says, By one man sin has come into the world, and death through sin, and so death passed upon all men in that all have sinned, than the Catholic Church everywhere diffused has always understood it. For on account of this rule of faith (regulam fidei) even infants, who could have committed as yet no sin themselves, therefore are truly baptized for the remission of sins, in order that what in them is the result of generation may be cleansed by regeneration.

    The following, says Surius, is found in this place in a very ancient codex. It does not occur in the Greek, nor in Dionysius. Bruns relegates it to a foot-note.

    [Also it seemed good, that if anyone should say that the saying of the Lord, In my Father’s house are many mansions is to be understood as meaning that in the kingdom of heaven there will be a certain middle place, or some place somewhere, in which infants live in happiness who have gone forth from this life without baptism, without which they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, which is eternal life, let him be anathema. For after our Lord has said: Unless a man be born again of water and of the Holy Spirit he shall not enter the kingdom of heaven, what Catholic can doubt that he who has not merited to be coheir with Christ shall become a sharer with the devil: for he who fails of the right hand without doubt shall receive the left hand portion.]

  100. Lastly, I think that admitting unbaptized infants to heaven wholesale based upon the fact that they have no personal sin is a largely juridical view. St Paul is far more concerned with being “united to Christ.” The unbaptized lack this union. It is on this basis, not one of personal sin, that the unbaptized are unable to partake in the heavenly mysteries.

  101. Lucian says:

    To tempt or mock God is a blasphemy.

    There’s a difference between not being able to do something (on one hand), and not wanting to do it and/or belittling its importance (on the other).

  102. In my humble opinion, while many have speculated that both unbaptized infants and “unreached people” might somehow attain the heavenly state, I have not yet seen anyone theologically define by what mechanism it might be so. The only mechanism of salvation that we know of is “repent, believe and be baptized.”

    I do think the best example is the thief on the cross. If I may speculate theologically for a moment, what is baptism but being united to Christ in His death? What is martyrdom but the same? Could we not say that the thief on the cross was also united to Christ in His death in the same way as one who is baptized or martyred? This certainly needs significantly more “teasing out,” but it is, I think, a good start in the right direction toward a scriptural and patristic understanding of the meaning of baptism as it relates to the martyrs and the thief on the cross. Once such a theology is defined, it could then perhaps be applied to the case of unbaptized infants…

  103. Does anyone have an actual copy of Gregory Nazianzus’ Oration 23? I’d like to verify this quote:

    ‘It will happen, I believe . . . that those last mentioned [infants dying without baptism] will neither be admitted by the just judge to the glory of Heaven nor condemned to suffer punishment, since, though unsealed [by baptism], they are not wicked. . . . For from the fact that one does not merit punishment it does not follow that one is worthy of being honored, any more than it follows that one who is not worthy of a certain honor deserves on that account to be punished.’

  104. Nick says:

    This is a subject which has had me scratching my head since there does not appear to be an ‘official’ Eastern Orthodox answer. Instead, various scholars or ‘minor authorities’ (e.g. priests) give their opinion in dogmatic fashion, but they don’t always agree. What is more disheartening is that Augustine is very frequently mentioned in such discussions, often by those who are more lenient on infant baptism, all to claim Augustine went to far in stating the necessity of baptism.

    And a lot of this is tied into how one views “Original Sin” (which all sides accept is an imperfect term to describe the effects of the Fall). What you appear to affirm – that men truly are “alienated” from God in a real sense – is right in line with the Catholic position, but I’ve read various EO who wont go as far as to say that, and often limit the effects of the Fall to physical death/suffering and tendency to desire sin, but not ‘ontological alienation’.

  105. Bratislav says:

    In regards to baptism and martyrdom, a short citation I came across this morning in an article by Fr Alexander Golitzin:

    “Martyrdom was a ritual…understood as both a repetition of baptism or substitute for it, and a sacrifice parallel and similar to Christ’s passion and the Eucharist, that is to sy, as a redemptive sacrifice. It was the instantiation of the Temple’s new presence among Christians, who saw themselves as true Israel and spiritual temples.” R.D. Young, “In Procession before the World: Martyrdom as Public Liturgy in Early Christianity.

  106. Anam Cara says:

    So you would consider the thief on the cross a martyrdom that becomes baptism by blood? He was never baptized as we think of baptism, but Jesus said to him, today you will be with me in paradise.

  107. Nathaniel,

    Thanks for the comment. I recognise that there are many seemly contrary examples and nuances to the matter but I wanted initially to look at the framework in which to consider baptism, then to see how the exceptions can be understood within that framework or perhaps render the framework impossible.

    Could you please provide a reference for “according to all the canon” in reference to the burial of a catechumen, by whom I assume is meant one that has been formally made such? To imply from this that such a catechumen is to be understood as if having received baptism seems a direct contradiction to Chrysostom’s teaching, so this leads me to approach the evidence with caution, although it may well be that Chrysostom is either wrong or only generalising and could permit qualification. The practice of giving christian lay burial to catechumens could be ancient but it would be good to understand its development and origin and, even if it is shown to be ancient and that Chrysostom practiced it, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the spiritual state of the catechumen is something other than what Chrysostom indicates and this would also need to be established. A formal catechumen indeed does share a level of union with Christ and the church, so this may be the reason that they are given a christian burial rather than merely left to those outside the Church to bury.

    The matter regarding unbaptised martyrs is indeed one that goes back deep in the history of the church. The martyrdom is considered to be baptism in blood and it fits with the model because one key aspect of baptism is sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ in the name of the Trinity. A martyrdom is a direct sharing in the death of Christ and the martyr is united with Christ in this death of the created body. The witness of the martyr is one that is linked to that of the Church and they die united to the Church, and Christ, at the level of the faith such that, for example, the martyr can be identified as an Orthodox martyr rather than an Arian martyr; this unites them to the family of Christ.

  108. I agree with your conclusion, emergency baptisms for infants are required. However, I find the analysis somewhat lacking. It doesn’t take into account the sudden death of a Catechuman which, according to all the canon, is afforded an Orthodox burial. Further, we have the problem of the unbaptized martyr saints, of whom there are numerous. Thus, I think further nuance is required.

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