On the Extreme Care That We Must Have For the Baptism of Children in the Case of Miscarriage or in the Death of a Pregnant Woman

A translation from this source.


The following document was composed, printed and distributed in Metz in 1764 through the efforts of Jean-Martin Moye and Louis Jobal de Pagny. The scandal that followed the publication was one of the reasons that prompted the bishop of Metz to remove Jean-Martin Moye from the episcopal see and to name him vicar of the parish in Dieuze in January 1765. The two people responsible for this work had been influenced mentioned within, Sacred Embryology by Francesco Cangiamila, which appeared in Sicily in 1745 with the approval of the Bishop of Catania. The two learned of the doctrine inside this book through the Abrégé de l’Embryologie Sacrée [a shortened version of this book] which appeared in Paris in 1762. It appears that Moye is the only author of this pamphlet, and that Jobal financed its publication. The modern reader might be as shocked at this work as the pastors and the bourgeois of Metz. Modern theology and contemporary pastoral approaches do not accept the very strict beliefs regarding the absolute necessity of sacramental baptism for the salvation of children who died before the age of reason. The doctrine of limbo for children which had been generally accepted since St. Augustine is no longer taught. The Church trusts in the infinite goodness of God and in the universality of salvation by Christ for all those who do not oppose it.  Abbé Georges Tavard (now deceased).  

NOTE FROM THE TRANSLATOR:  Blessed Jean-Martin Moye wrote in a run-on style that does not easily lend itself translation.  This explains the quirky style. I took some liberties with punctuation and phrasing, but I did not want to correct too amply because then the reader would lose the flavour of the original. 


Since it is an article of the faith that we cannot be saved without baptism, according to the words of our Saviour: “If anyone is not reborn by water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven”, everyone, if they have the slightest zeal for souls, must do what he can to procure holy Baptism for children. Nevertheless, experience teaches us that there is an infinite number who haplessly perish without receiving it, and this because of the negligence or the ignorance of those who should oversee this important matter, such as pastors, midwives, fathers, mothers, relatives and friends. In the end, everyone should be able to provide this good work; and yet we only barely think of it, so that every day there are miscarriages and loss of blood; children perish without this sacrament that is so necessary, above all, during the death of pregnant women whom we bury with their fruit, instead of opening them up right after death to give them holy baptism. There should be in every place people capable of performing this operation, and, when they cannot, every person should be ready to do it, whatever character they might be, as decreed by Van Espen, the bishop of Catania in his edict of 1742.

“If a pregnant woman dies,” says the Roman Ritual, “she must be immediately opened up to pull out the fetus/infant to baptize him.” And since we do not know at which time he is animated, because some say thirty or forty days, and now the more competent physicians believe it is at twenty—there are even authors who maintain that he is animated immediately after conception-- the most certain way would be to perform the cesarean operation on all women about whom we have the slightest doubt that they are pregnant; and far from listening to relatives who oppose it, we must on the contrary force them to consent by having recourse to the Magistrate. There are bishops who have excommunicated all those who wanted to stop this act of charity. We must look for the child, not only in the place he would naturally be, but also everywhere where he could be, such as the higher areas of the womb, and see if there is more than one. It is also good to know that sometimes it happens that a woman delivers in agony, and if we are not careful, the child can be suffocated in the bed. We baptize these kinds of children by immersion, that is by dunking in warm water. If there is doubt as to whether he is living, or whether it is a true embryo or child, we baptize with this condition “If you are capable of receiving baptism, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The water must touch the child immediately, his head or chest; thus we must remove the skin that envelopes him,  or if we baptize him under this skin or membrane, the way it is done when there is reason to fear that we will make the child die by opening it, we must rebaptize him conditionally after having opened it; likewise, if we had baptized a child in the mother’s womb on the arm or foot or with a pipe, or by sprinkling with the hand, we must rebaptize the child on the head conditionally.

We must not easily believe that the child is dead, even if he doesn’t give any sign of life, and in doubt we must baptize him conditionally. To distinguish if the production is a true embryo, or only a mole or a blood clot or a false germ, we must examine it with attention, even if the foetus is no bigger than a grain of barley or an ant. If the membrane is whitish, similar to intestines, of oval shape, and it is soft to the touch, we can believe that it is a foetus and not a mole. But if what has come out of the womb is a shapeless flesh, marked with bloody, blackish veins and it is rough and hard to the touch, we can believe it is only a mole of flesh and not a child; but we must nevertheless always open it with caution, because with miscarriages, blood clots, abortions and caesarean operations, we must have great care to examine with all our attention possible all that comes out of the mother’s womb. And we must avoid doing like some imprudent midwives, who toss them indiscreetly without examination; and sometimes it happens that women have miscarriages without hardly realizing it. I was quite surprised when I began to inquire on how people behave in these unfortunate circumstances, to see that the first persons to whom I addressed myself about this had this misfortune, because of their lack of education about this. I beg of those women who will have knowledge of this writing to send it to all those who might make use of it. And if someone wants a greater knowledge about this, he only has to look at the book entitled Sacred Embryology. Benedict XIV has seen and esteemed it, and several bishops have recommended it.

From all this, it is easy to conclude what precautions pregnant people are obliged to take to protect the fruit they are bearing, and with what ardor they should ask God that they have the happiness of receiving Holy Baptism, and with what care they should avoid all that could harm them, such as bad treatments, difficult trips, heavy burdens, quarrels, anger, passions, excessive sadness, bad food, all kinds of intemperance, excessive fasting-- because a pregnant woman of good temperament can still fast during the first two or three months of pregnancy. Bloodletting of the foot is pernicious, that of the arm must be done with prudence in small quantities. Saint Augustin, Saint Ambrose, Saint Jerome and the theologians teach that the use of marriage is dangerous in the first eight days following conception and towards the end of pregnancy. It would be even desirable that during the whole time pregnancy lasts that the couple live in continence. All movement and all violent agitations are bad for the fruit, and can obtain their destruction. Balls, dances, clothing that is too tight, a pregnant person who does not avoid all these things with care, and who puts her child in danger by her imprudence sins mortally and becomes a parricide before the eyes of God, because she occasions corporal death and especially spiritual death, because it often happens he does not receive baptism and he is lost forever, which is the greatest misfortune.

We do not speak of those women who are miserable enough to make perish voluntarily the fruit they bear. They are monsters who inspire horror in nature, and who would deserve death according to the ordinances of our kings. And the Church, to make people realize who much She detests this crime, prohibited during the Council of Elvira the administration of sacraments to them, even at death. Again, if only these miserable ladies had the care to baptize or have baptized these poor victims! But the Devil who brings them to this horrible attack, confuses them to the point that they do not think of this, so necessary as it is. If every pregnant person reflected upon the notion that it is a matter of supreme happiness or supreme tragedy for her child, there is nothing she would not do or suffer to procure baptism for him.

As every person can baptize in case of necessity, even the father or the mother of the child if there is no one else to do it, everyone should know how to baptize. One must:

1.     Pour natural water, and not eau-de-vie or rosewater or any other liquor, but simple water, as God sends it, warm or cold, it makes no difference; one must, I say, pour water on the head of the child in such a way as the water immediately touches the skin; and if there is hair, it must be cut or pushed aside.

2.     At the same time that water is poured, one must pronounce these words: “I baptize in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” All these words are so necessary by that omitting a single one, the baptism would not longer be valid.

3.     The person who pronounces the words must pour the water, because if someone else pronounces the words, the baptism would again be invalid.

4.     If there is a doubt as to whether the child is living, one must add “If you are living… etc.” If there is a doubt as to whether the child is a monster, one must add “If you are man…etc.” In that case, one must avoid choking him but one must have him examined by wise and enlightened persons who will decide.

5.     When a child is baptized, but there is doubt if the baptism is valid, for instance when he is baptized on a member other than the head, or if one is not sure that the water touched him, or that one correctly pronounced the words or finally if there is another reason to doubt of the validity of the baptism, he must be rebaptized conditionally by saying “If you are not baptized, I baptize you in the name… etc.” If during the trouble and confusion, one does not remember the particular condition that one must add, a general condition can be used that supplants all the others, for example “If you are capable of receiving baptism, I baptize you in the name… etc.”

When a child is baptized at birth, the persons who are present must watch carefully the person baptizing to see that she does not miss anything, and then tell the priest everything that occurred. And the person who baptized must be the first to advise if she missed something or if she has a doubt so that if the child is still living, the fault may be corrected by baptizing conditionally.

It is recommended to all who see this writing to pray for all the children who will be subject to the accident of which we have spoken, that they have the  happiness of receiving baptism, and that those who have received it conserve the grace, and that God gives them a holy education. For this, we can employ the intercession of all the children who died in baptismal innocence, so that they may obtain for others through their prayers the grace of baptism that had saved them, and the happiness to conserve it. 

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