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:”)
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.
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.