This article will attempt to prove that Pope Innocent I probably taught that infants needed the literal sacrament of communion to be saved. Obviously, this contradicts Roman Catholic doctrine today. If the assertion in this article is true, this would make Papal Infallibility as it is normally understood impossible.
Yet, I have no illusions that this article settles the matter. I work with laws and regulations. Whenever citing regulations and law, I must take care to be careful with my verbiage because a lawyer can always explain away that the meaning of the words I use. Why? They may possibly lend themselves to a different interpretation. And lawyers specialize finding the least likely possible interpretation, no matter how silly, and employ it in order to defend her/his client.
In the end of the day, I cannot sweat it too much because a lawyer can always justify an out-right falsehood and make it technically work. Sure, to any honest observer the reasonings and inferences of the lawyer are so silly and unlikely that they would not garner any serious consideration outside the law court (which is essentially the Twilight Zone). But, we live with this reality every day.
In the following article, my hope is not to convince anyone that the proceeding historical evidence definitively disproves Catholic dogmas pertaining to the Papacy–this is because almost absolutely nothing from history can convince someone who affirms the Papacy dogmatically. Just as a fundamentalist Christian will find the most creative ways to explain the Book of Genesis as literal, historical fact, the differing genealogies in the Scriptures, and etcetera; so can the Roman apologist twist the words and understand them in such a way where everything works. I respect someone who takes a dogmatic stand and is honest about it. Perhaps, all that word-twisting is the right way to understand everything anyway.
However, for anyone who is weighing the evidence and mulling through history, I think we* have enough clear proof in which to discount the modern view of the Roman Catholic Papacy. And so we begin:
Roman Contradiction: The Eucharist must be given to children versus it must NOT be given to children:
According to Augustine, Pope Innocent asserted that (normatively) even infants cannot be saved apart from partaking in the Eucharist:
What was that which the same pope replied to the bishops of Numidia concerning this very cause, because he had received letters from both Councils, as well from the Council of Carthage as from the Council of Mileve— does he not speak most plainly concerning infants? For these are his words: “
For what your Fraternity asserts that they preach, that infants can be endowed with the rewards of eternal life even without the grace of baptism, is excessively silly; for unless they shall eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, they shall not have life in themselves”…Pope Innocent, of blessed memory, says that infants have not life without Christ’s baptism, and without partaking of Christ’s body and blood. If he should say, They will not, how then, if they do not receive eternal life, are they certainly by consequence condemned in eternal death if they derive no original sin? (Augustine, Two Letters Against the Pelagians, Book II, Chapter 7)
However, canon four of the Council of Trent definitively condemns what the Pope just taught:
If anyone says that communion of the Eucharist is necessary for little children before they have attained the years of discretion, let him be anathema.
The Possible Roman Defense. Is it time for Roman Catholics to pack in now that the Papacy has been proven wrong? Perhaps not.
A Roman Catholic may point out that we are reading Augustine in a far too wooden of a way. The point Pope Innocent may be making is that in some spiritual sense, baptism bestows the grace of the Eucharist to the one baptized.
This reading seems plausible in light of what Augustine says one book earlier about the same issue. In Book I Chapter 40 Augustine writes:
Infants believe by means of other people, even as they have derived those sins which are remitted them in baptism from other people. Nor do you think thus, that they cannot have life who have been without the body and blood of Christ.
A Roman Catholic apologist can rightly point out that Augustine speaks of baptism before this passage, and only baptism after this passage. Contextually, baptism appears to be the only sacrament in view, as Augustine quotes the Pelagian he is writing against seems to speak of baptism in the pluralistic sense (i.e. “mysteries:”)
Those who affirm that baptism does not do away all sins, because we know that full cleansing is conferred by these mysteries.
Therefore the Roman apologist may say Augustine is speaking of only baptism and that the bread and wine are conferred spiritually to those baptized without the sacrament.
The Orthodox Response to the Roman Position. While the Roman apologist can possibly deny that Pope Innocent is endorsing that infants must receive the Eucharist in order to be saved, there is evidence that the Roman defense is incorrect. My argument is that it is more likely that Pope Innocent, and the Pelagian that Augustine was quoting, were speaking of the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist simultaneously for a specific reason that was well understood at the time–that being, it was the common practice to take the one who is baptized and afterwards given him the literal Eucharist.
For example, the practice of coupling the sacraments was taken for granted by Augustine and cited explicitly in Tracate 11, Paragraph 4 in his commentary on John (where he interprets John 6:54.) Let’s keep this in mind when reading Augustine’s fourth book on his Two Letters Against the Pelagians.
In Book IV, Chapter 4 Augustine attacks the Pelagians because, “they assert that there is no evil in infants from which they should be delivered by the sacrament of this flesh and blood.”
It would seem strange, knowing that Augustine’s position was that infants received the Eucharist after baptism, that he would lob the accusation against the Pelagians that they rejected that a spiritualized Eucharist purged evil from infants. This sounds silly. Obviously, Augustine is criticizing them for giving the literal Eucharist to infants even though they reject infants have any sinfulness to be cleansed of.
In Book IV, Chapter 8 Augustine again attacks the Pelagians and invokes both baptism and the Eucharist:
Why do the Pelagians evade this matter? If reconciliation through Christ is necessary to all men, on all men has passed sin by which we have become enemies, in order that we should have need of reconciliation. This reconciliation is in the laver of regeneration and in the flesh and blood of Christ, without which not even infants can have life in themselves.
It appears that the preceding passage by using the word “and” clearly differentiates between the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist. Furthermore, he deliberately invokes the language of Pope Innocent I (“without which not even infants can have life in themselves”) in order to buttress his point. So, not only is it clear that Augustine thought the sacraments, separately and literally, were needed for the salvation of infants but also that he understood Pope Innocent I’s words to be specifically endorsing this idea.
Lastly, in Book IV, Chapter 25 Augustine cites Cyprian again. Here, Cyprian makes the argument that the sacrament of the Eucharist is literally necessary for salvation:
But we ask that this bread should be given to us daily, that we who are in Christ, and daily receive the Eucharist for the food of salvation…those abstaining and not communicating, from partaking of the heavenly bread…[are] separated from Christ’s body.
Augustine’s Unambiguous Synopsis of the Question Elsewhere. Having completed a firm exegesis of the question, consider the following from Against Julian:
Consider what you will reply to St. Innocent, who knows nothing else of this matter except the opinion of those into whose company I introduced you, if that is of any avail. He, too, is on their side; though later in time, yet higher in place. In regard to freeing wretched infants by the grace of Christ from the original evil which is contracted from Adam, he holds with them the true and Christian doctrine. He said that Christ by the laver of His baptism purged away all the former fault, that is, of the first man, who by free will plunged into the depths, and finally defined that infants, unless they eat the flesh of the Son of Man, can by no means have life. (Book I, Par 13; p. 15 in this translation)
Conclusion. It appears most likely that Augustine’s understanding was that, normatively, salvation was tied to a union with Christ made real by regular, literal partaking of the Eucharist–even for infants. To spiritualize the sacrament of the Eucharist In Book II, when it is spoken of literally in Book IV (and is part of the baptismal rite as far as Augustine understood it in his commentary on John) appears to be an unwarranted interpretation.
Pope Innocent did not speak his words in a vacuum and so the literal, more wooden reading of his words is more likely correct and it would have been the reading that Augustine evidently understood.
Who more likely understands Pope Innocent words? A modern Roman Catholic or a Catholic saint that lived at the same time as that Pope ? The answer is obvious.
So, while it is not impossible that Augustine was wrong and he completely misunderstood the plain words of the Pope, the spiritualized interpretation of Pope Innocent’s words is obviously the less likely interpretation. If I were the judge in this case, I would side with the Orthodox prosecutor, not the Roman Catholic defendant.
*The quote from Pope Innocent is not the result of my own original research, as I read it in a lengthy unpublished manuscript. Everything else in this article is original research. However, because the quote that inspired the article is not my own I will remove this article at the author of the manuscript’s request.
The First Vatican Council frames it as such:
“. . . when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility . . .” (IV, 4, 9)
As a (former) Roman Catholic (I’m now headed in your direction!), I had understood there need be a certain set of conditions as to what qualifies as an Infallible statement from the Pope. It was “redux’d” for me in Catechism class sort of like this…
The Pope is infallible when:
1. he addresses the whole church.
2. his statement concerns faith or morals
3. he invokes the apostolic authority of the Chair of Peter.
When understood this way, the concept of Papal Infallibility has indeed a very narrow application. Nothing which the likes of John Henry Newman, who himself had a deep understanding of history, could object to, as he had deemed V-1’s definition to be “the conservative” one proposed at the council, versus a more far reaching, and expansive one which was advocated there, and he had believed this formulation of the doctrine himself before the council ever made it dogma.
Concerning Pope Innocent, a Roman Catholic apologist could potentially argue that the first of those criteria was not met, as Augustine is recalling the Pope’s reply to select assemblies of bishops on different occasions. From your quote, all the nuances of his reply are not present, so the third criterion may not be met either (though it very may well be, as it was the nature of early councils in the west to submit their judgments to the Patriarch of the West for their approval.)
I’m not setting the record straight either, Craig 🙂 though I’m becoming Orthodox (not officially a catechumen yet though), I actually have a deeper understanding for, and even appreciation for, the specific aspects of Catholicism than I did before, including the Papacy. I hope it makes me a better ecumenist. The whole concept of the Papacy in general may ultimately just be a gigantic ecclesial error which the Catholic Church has irrevocably bound itself to, but for everything the concept is worth, it’s not without its merits.
Very thorough reply. I would say that the criteria for papal infallibility is so narrow, that it is pretty much useless for the first 1,000 years of the church. After all, if it is not implied that a papal statement is meant churchwide when it is sent to several bishops and that it carries his apostolic authority (in that Augustine cites it as settling the matter), if these implications are not good enough, then yes. You are right. We would need the explicit statement! This is why I know such a quote does not settle the matter, it rather lends credibility on the side of EO. After all, we have a Pope teaching something that is later anathematized. Quite odd a Pope can teach something, (even if it is not churchwide which is strange being that he is making the blanket statement that all infants need the Eucharist) that is later considered heinous. But, oh well.
May God bless you! What motivated the change?
If you put in this blogpost that Augustine frames it as Pope Innocent having “settled the matter”, I must have missed reading it; or if you’re saying he frames so through inference, I must be dense — in either case, my apologies.
Though he’s writing to whole conferences of bishops, all of those councils fall within his province as Patriarch — it still qualifies as a local affair and not as a catholic one. Innocent was combating Pelagianism, which was a largely Western phenomenon, and *arguably* doesn’t hold the same significance as Leo addressing the Council of Chalcedon.
But maybe this does demolish Papal Infallibility and guarantees that it’s hogwash. Who knows?
“I would say that the criteria for Papal infallibility is so narrow, that it is pretty much useless for the first thousand years of the church.”
Very astute observation. Because of all the wiggle room which instances from early church history supply, this is why certain Catholics have absolutely no qualms in saying that the Petrine office has only used this charism of infallibility TWICE.
I know for Newman, he became convicted of the Pope’s infallibility in studying the history of the Chalcedonian council and St. Leo the Great’s involvements with it. But I am still assessing the history of it myself — the Tome of Leo is NOT one of those two occasions usually referred to.
Lots has motivated the change, and the change is certainly not complete. Acknowledging I had a relationship with God and experienced sacramental grace and lived out a Christian life as best I knew how in the Catholic Church, there came a point (in seminary) where I realized how insecure and dissatisfied I was with it. Since then, I have been trying to be more realistic with how I view history and Scripture (which I suppose I have things like your blog to thank). This, coupled with very positive spiritual experiences at the Divine Liturgy in Orthodox Communions (as opposed to Eastern Catholic), has led to my assent.
I must admit that this has been quite a struggle, as I truly did know the Catholic Church as “Holy Mother Church” who nursed me at the breasts of the pulpit and the altar, so as to feed me the milk of Scripture and Sacrament. But perhaps, somewhere along the way, my growth was being stunted. Yet, I’m still very much converting, and I suppose it will take me a very long time to get over all my former vestiges of heart and mind.
I suppose other, more gentle things have motivated this as well — the beauty of icons, the profound spirituality of the Jesus Prayer, and the extremely saintly life of St. Seraphim of Sarov — all things which I marveled at before I ever rightly considered Orthodoxy.
You make interesting observations. Forgive me if this reply does not make sense because I’m speaking into the computer right now but I think we need to be very careful making decisions predicated strictly Upon feelings. I’m not saying you’re doing this and you may have a more profound appreciation of the lives of Orthodox scenes which I really do not know that well but let me give you this to chew on if that means anything that your dissatisfaction and Seminary which I presume you were training for the priesthood that dissatisfaction could be the result of Roman errors or it could be a satanic deception and you must be very careful and weighing this out. in all honesty it’s not rooms View on Celibacy or papal infallibility that’s an issue for me. The major issue for me is that the Orthodox ecclesiology is much more explicit and apparent earlier with the example of cyprian we can conclude that papal overreach was resisted by almost the whole Christian world right off the bat. I always remember thinking if I were to be convinced by the arguments of tradition that I would have to be orthodox for that reason. upon some surface-level reflection because I am no theologian the filoque also is troubleMatic. but ironically this is secondary to the issue cyprian speaks to because our understanding of the Filoque should be predicated upon our understanding of the scriptures and how the church is always understood them.
I will be praying for you. God bless.