Monday, April 11, 2011

Salvation by umbilical cord

Over at the other One True Church®, two contributors to Energetic Procession (repeatedly nominated for Best Orthodox Theological Blog on the Web) can’t see eye-to-eye on the necessity of baptism.

Monk Patrick takes the view that salvation or damnation may hinge on whether or not you’re still attached to the umbilical cord. That’s a fascinating theory, though how he squares that with his Johannine prooftext (Jn 3:3-5), which explicitly precludes salvation by natural affinity, poses a bit of a challenge.

In any event, I was crestfallen to discover that representatives of the Truly Orthodoxy can’t agree on something this basic. Here I was hoping that the other One True Church® would compensate for the notorious deficiencies of sola Scriptura.  

Fr Patrick (Priest-monk Patrick) says:

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...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.

Perry Robinson says:

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.
Fr Patrick (Priest-monk Patrick) says:

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.
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.

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