A few days ago, I posted a critical review of a show on Craig Truglia’s YouTube channel that was dedicated to demonstrating what they understood to be the serious problems with the centuries-long practice of the Roman Catholic Church in baptizing infants and then delaying the reception of the Eucharist and confirmation until the age of reason. Everyone should watch it before making an opinion.
Out of concern for people listening to that I made a post that strongly urged the video to be taken down due to its “serious errors” and “false alarms.” I also made comments as to the performance being rather extreme in its orientation. Having spoken with Reader Paul Trinca face-to-face, who was the chief presenter in the video, I can say there was an opportunity to discuss particulars in more detail (it is always better to discuss in live formats), and some of the statements I made in my initial posting should be clarified. Paul is an upstanding person and he is still wishing to stand up for the truth and shine it bright so all can benefit. That is respectable. In this article, I will provide three areas that I need to adjust in order to compensate for the lack of clarity in my first post. Thereafter, I give 7 reasons for why I still think the aim of the presentation given against credo-communion does not hit the bullseye in a way that is much more substantive than the thoughts I shared before. Before getting into this, I should point the reader that I have some other articles that might be worth reading that are related to this matter, and they are linked to at the very bottom under the small conclusion that wraps up this article.
Firstly, the presenters were giving their understanding of an Orthodox critique of the Catholic praxis of sacramental initiation. They were following the dictates of what they believe Orthodoxy holds, and for that, strictly speaking, they have no reason to be ashamed (provided they are reflecting what Orthodoxy holds). The goal, from my vantage point, refute any clear errors from the vantage point of a Catholic.
Secondly, I realize that Reader Paul Trinca was lumped into my assessment of the show being a “performance” that was extreme and sensational whereas my thoughts were more latched to what was heard from Craig Truglia, whose comments (in my view) were undeniably offensive, extreme, and inflammatory. Trinca shows much more objectivity and though he did not disagree with Truglia, he was not the initiator of the sensational aspects of the video.
Thirdly, I had stated that the presenters made it sound like Roman Catholic children who are merely baptized but not communed have their salvation under threat. This was understood to mean that they believed baptized infants are deprived of salvation in the case of premature death prior to Holy Communion at the age of discretion. However, I should have been more careful and included that they did not explicitly says this, nor do they hold to that. They believe that such infants do go to heaven out of an extraordinary security provided by God’s mercy. Nevertheless, if anyone watches the video, one can see that with the statements being made (particularly by Truglia), that this clarification would not be at all coherent with his overall presentation if he did not come out and emphatically say so. In any case, I still think their presentation has it that the infants/toddlers of Roman Catholic parents have their salvation put into jeopardy since, as they repeated over and over, the physical consumption of the Eucharist is “absolutely necessary for salvation” and how they both denied this was a “disciplinary issue.” Putting the salvation of our children in jeopardy does not require that they be damned, but only that they might be starved of saving grace so much that it would take an extraordinary act of God’s mercy to make up for the lack that the Roman rite is responsible for creating by its rule of delaying communion.
Now, having made those 3 clarifications, I want to offer a more substantive account for why I disagree with the presentation that these individuals gave.
(1) They seem to hold that infants who are baptized but are not communed will still go to heaven upon premature death but by only an extraordinary “non-normative” act of God’s mercy making up for what is lacking by not having the Eucharist. The problem with this view is that it implies that Baptism does not normatively equip the baptized infant for what is fully requisite for everlasting salvation. What is required for salvation? For the infant, it is being cleansed of original sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit which is the seed of future glory. Another way of putting it is this – the infant needs to become a living partaker of the Body of Christ. My argument would be that the sacrament of Baptism does not achieve this for infants *extraordinarily* but *ordinarily*. In other words, we speak of things being achieved extraordinarily because the ordinary process of a thing does not itself provide the means to meet what is achieved. Hence, an extra to the ordinary is required to meet the achievement. However, if we say that the sacrament of Baptism itself does not achieve salvation for infants (remission of original sin and the inhering seed of future glory), then how does this not render violence to the sacrament of Baptism by reducing its promise and effect? I am not Orthodox, and so I cannot speak for the Orthodox Church, but this view of holding infant baptism (alone) is only extraordinarily sufficient for salvation seems to me to be highly suspect of heterodoxy. The only way to rectify this is to admit that the sacrament of Baptism for infants, even before the reception of the Eucharist, is normatively sufficient for the salvation of their souls.
(2) The Scriptures teach us that the only sacrament in the New Covenant which is absolutely required, through a necessity of means, is the sacrament of baptism (Acts 2:36-28). For example, Romans 6:1-11 teaches us that Baptism joins us with Jesus Christ and His resurrection. Or how about the Ethiopian Eunuch who was baptized by the river but does not seem to have received the Eucharist since Luke tells us the following: “Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39). Now, Philip was a deacon. We know that he was not equipped with the power to confirm as is evidenced from Acts 8:4-13, nor would he have been empowered to confect the body of Christ (I’m aware Jerome said he was given extraordinary power to chrismate, but that is not evident from the text). And yet, Philip went away “rejoicing.” How could Luke, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, say that the Eunuch went away rejoicing if he had received the incomplete non-normative means of salvation? The Apostle Peter tells us that baptism “now saves us” (1 Peter 3:21). This, and plenty more, proves this point. However, what of Christ’s words, “Whoever does not eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man has no life within Him” (John 6)? We will answer in a point further down.
(3) As was stated in (1), the removal of original sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit giving us the inheritance of future glory is what we need to be saved. I shorted this to becoming a living partaker of Christ’s body, since that will suffice to incorporate that partaker in the future recapitulation of all things in God. However, we can shorten it even more to simply being in a state of grace. Paul tells us that being “under grace” (Rom 6:14) is another way of speaking of someone’s being a beneficiary of baptism (Rom 6:1-13). The only 2 sacraments that can be said to be absolutely necessary to get one into a state of grace is Baptism and Penance, since these sacraments alone translate someone from the state of sin (mortal sin) to a state of grace (righteousness). The sacrament of the Eucharist presupposes that one is already in a state of grace, and therefore the Eucharist cannot be an absolute necessity of means for salvation, i.e., the state of grace. And this must be the state of affairs normatively, ordinarily, and efficiently. For if we say it is only by way of abnormal or extraordinary means, then we subtract from the integrity of baptism to fully translate one to a state of grace.
(4) But what of John 6 and Christ’s binding statement that unless we eat and drink His flesh and blood, we cannot have life in us? Here we distinguish between the necessity of means versus the necessity of precept. A precept is a binding commandment that must be performed. An absolute necessity of means, however, is more requisite since a subject cannot be said to achieve a certain thing without the attainment of those means, even if one is inculpable for not having those means. Therefore, Christ’s command is a necessity of precept, and a precept binds only those which can obey the precept themselves. Baptism, for example, is both the necessity of precept and a necessity of means (Mark 16:16). For humans who can hear and obey the command of Christ, they must consume the Eucharist in order to remain nourished in the life that Christ gives through baptism.
(5) Truglia/Trinca appeal to Pope Innocent and Augustine as witnesses to the belief that the Eucharist is absolutely necessary for salvation. There is even a claim made by Truglia that Pope Innocent’s letter to the Council of Milevis (417) was an ex-cathedra decree. A few things need to be taken note of here.
(A) Innocent’s letter is not an ex-cathedra statement. If one is trusting the Catholic Church’s understanding of her own doctrine on magisterial authority, then it is fair to play by those rules. If you have to bend those rules in order to prove that the Catholic Church is incoherent, then that is a signal that one is attacking a straw man. Not even universal encyclicals written to the entire faithful are, ipso facto, employments of the Pope’s full magisterial authority (cf. Humani Generis, 20). Nevertheless, Innocent’s doctrine is to be taken with full submission of intellect and will.
(B), Innocent’s point about the necessity of the Eucharist for infants to have life is a subordinate point to the major point being made in his letter, namely, that infants require the sacrament of baptism in order for them to be saved into eternal life. How and in which way Innocent intended his point to be taken would have required more details that he does not give. All we know from his letter is that if Christ taught that those who do not consume the Eucharist are deprived of life, how can infants be suited for eternal life if baptism must precede the consumption of the Eucharist? How and in which way baptism alone deprives someone of life without consuming the Eucharist is not really explained. Moreover, even in decrees that include ex-cathedra teaching, it is not the surrounding rationale of the document that is protected from error, but rather the primary object of the decree that is binding on all. In that case, Innocent’s letter is fully authoritative in that it requires the baptism of infants by divine law, which is still upheld by the Catholic Church today.
(C), there are no grounds within Augustine nor, presumably, Innocent, for the idea that we can have an extraordinary hope that unbaptized infants will be saved, and therefore the same exceptionalism that one might utilize for the sake of unbaptized infants cannot be used with respect to the un-communed infants who are merely baptized but die prematurely. At least, not while. The teaching of Augustine, Jerome, Fulgentius, Gregory the Great, and the majority of the early fathers is that unbaptized infants do not get saved. Therefore, to try and appeal to the indispensable conditions given by Pope Innocent and Augustine on baptism and the Eucharist, only then to admit that baptized infants who do not consume the Eucharist before premature death are saved nonetheless because of an extraordinary mercy, are not following the theology of these Fathers closely enough. In fact, I would urge that if an Orthodox person were to say that baptism alone without consumption of the Eucharist for infants who die prematurely is only sufficient by way of an extraordinary method performed by God to supplement for the lack is a heterodox view based on Augustine’s own standards. Why is that? Well, we have to look at what Augustine believed to be the barrier that exists from natural human beings from Adam and the state of salvation. For Augustine, it is “original sin” that barricades infants from salvation. Thus, he writes: “Now, inasmuch as infants are not held bound by any sins of their own actual life, it is the guilt of original sin which is healed in them by the grace of Him who saves them by the laver of regeneration” (De Peccatorum Meritis et Remissione, 1.24). But he then says that the Sacrament of Baptism achieves the removal of original sin: “If, however, the infant departs from the present life after he has received baptism, the guilt in which he was involved by original sin being done away, he shall be made perfect in that light of truth, which, remaining unchangeable for evermore, illumines the justified in the presence of their Creator. For sins alone separate between men and God; and these are done away by Christ’s grace, through whom, as Mediator, we are reconciled, when He justifies the ungodly” (Ibid., 1.25). And this is from a book wherein he appears to contradict himself because in other places he says that baptism and consumption of the Eucharist are both together, and not one merely, absolutely required for salvation. However, if we interpret Augustine charitably, I think we can reconcile all his statements on this matter. It is abundantly clear here that Augustine believed that sins are what sever God and man. The removal of all sins, whether actual or original, bring a man back to God. But here he argues that the sacrament of Baptism alone achieves the remission of all sins and even makes “perfect” the baptized infant who suffers premature death. Therefore, Augustine did not share in the belief of either Truglia who said that God will accommodate (by not holding it against them) a baptized infant who does not receive the Eucharist by an extraordinary means of salvation, a means which is not met by baptism itself. Augustine, we can say, was not directly arguing for what baptism achieves apart from or before the Eucharist, but rather was seeking to prove that infants are born with original sin and need to be sacramentally regenerated in order to have life.
(D), we can add to this that Fulgentius of Ruspe (467-527), who is equally venerated by Catholics and Orthodox, answers this entire question for us in a response letter he wrote to the renowned North Africa canon law doctor Ferrandus who asked what he should do with a man who was baptized but then went unconscious. Fulgentius wrote: “I think, holy brother, that what we have discussed, confirmed by the word of the preeminent teacher Augustine, should leave no room for doubt at all, that anyone of the faithful becomes a participant in the Body and Blood of the Lord when in Baptism he has been made a member of the Body of Christ; and, having been brought into the unity of the Body of Christ, he is not to be alienated from the assembly of that Bread and Cup, even if before he can eat that Bread and drink that Cup he depart from this world” (Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3, p. 289). Again, we see from this that Baptism itself achieves one’s partaking of both the Blood and Body of Christ and one already becomes of his membership in the mystical unity that is Christ’s body through Baptism. This is not an extraordinary means, but the ordinary grace of baptism. To say otherwise, I believe, would be to contradict the Fathers, the Apostolic Tradition of the Church, and the perennial doctrine of the magisterium of the Catholic communion. While I am not positive whether the Orthodox would hold to this error, I would simply urge that reforming one’s opinion to reflect the truth is in order.
(6) While Trinca/Truglia try to utilize the concept of extraordinary hope for baptized-but-uncommuned-infants, they still maintain that the Roman practice of delaying communion until the age of discretion in the Roman rite of the Catholic Church is a doctrinal novelty and aberration from Apostolic Tradition. On top of this, that this practice loses the opportunity to bring our kids to Jesus because of the lack of consumption of the Eucharist even before their use of rationality. However, it should be known by the listeners of this podcast belonging to Craig Truglia (Orthodox Christian Theology) that significant Saints and Doctors of the Church who were born to Christian parents were not baptized until adulthood. John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Jerome, Gregory the Theology, Augustine (on account of his Father being a non-Christian), Athanasius, and many others were not until much later in life. Now, it is clear that the wider practice which even these men adopted was to baptize infants (though Gregory the Theologian at one time recommended waiting until the child could answer the Baptismal questions for themselves audibly), but can we say that their parents were all at serious odds with a known trend in many places? I doubt it. It is likely that it took 5 centuries before the baptizing of infants became absolutely universal, though we all know that the benefits of baptizing infants were always believed even by those who were dissuaded from doing it. In any case, if the Roman praxis of separating baptism from communion by the period of time that a child grows into the use of their faculties of reason/will is somehow a “callous” harm to children, as Truglia called it, and one deserving of an ecclesiastical falsification, what does that then say of the families of these Saints and their communities that tolerated this? And if this kind of delay of baptism itself is not an ecclesiastical falsification, nor a heretical novelty, then what kind of logic would support that the Roman rite is doing something equal or worse when they baptize infants immediately after birth but wait until the child can fully partake of communion with the use of their discretion? We can all agree it is not ideal, but what is the weight of our criticism? We can’t rack up the numbers such that the ancient Saints are thereby condemned.
(7) We have to also remember that the Ancient Church developed its usage of the sacraments over time, especially the sacrament of penance. It used to be that the Church looked at the sacrament of absolution as a “single” sacrament just like baptism: one baptism, one penance. It was viewed as the floating object with which an apostate or fallen away member can latch onto after making shipwreck of their faith. It was not until many centuries later that the Church decided to allow private confession and absolution with an unlimited amount of time. Moreover, the old canonical schedules for how long someone had to be outside of communion has been, to my knowledge, overturned by the contemporary practice of both Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism. I’ve only heard of the Syriac Orthodox Church continuing the precise schedule of decades that certain post-baptismal crimes call for. These changes were all done for the purpose of making salvation easier, and not needlessly losing souls. Thus, a disciplinary issue can relate to the salvation of the soul without penetrating into a false doctrine. Someone might say these developments were for the purpose of making salvation more available, whereas the Roman rite’s practice of delaying communion withholds salvation. Well, they are saved through baptism, or the Apostles lied. Our infants and toddlers who are baptized are citizens of heaven by the ordinary grace of baptism. So that charge won’t stick. However, it does keep our infants from the sacrament of communion, and some might say this is the opposite of the developments that took place in penitential disciplinary changes. Now, that is all up to the eye of the beholder. Many thought the developments which took place in penance were for the purpose of allowing more laxity, or an accommodation to the world after the Constantinian revolution which brought about Chrstendom. To make penance easier was a way to allow people to deceive themselves into thinking they were truly repentant when they were not. So, it is a matter of perspective. What we can say is that Roman Catholic children are not going to hell nor are they starved of the spiritual life as they partake of the life of baptism insofar as they can until they reach the age of reason. They are fine. Giving communion does afford them greater opportunities for salvation but let us not pretend that giving both baptism and communion to infants automatically means that those infants will grow to be holy toddlers. You can be both baptized and communed as a little child and run the risk of taking communion less seriously because it had always been a common thing. Conversely, Roman Catholic children who receive at the age of 7 might take it more seriously, and then every day if their families attend daily mass, a feature no longer practiced in Eastern Orthodoxy. Therefore, let us respect the seriousness of the matter while also not elevating the supposed discrepancies as if they were Church-dividing problems.
In conclusion to this short article, I would just go back and say that I remain convinced that there are errors in the video from a Catholic point of view, and they serve as false, though sincere, alarms toward the parents and members of the Roman Catholic communion.