Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Limbo Revisited

So, there have been a lot of articles recently about the issue of limbo, a state not heaven nor hell for unbaptised babies and children who know no personal sin. This idea was originated by St. Augustine as a way to reconcile God's infinite compassion with the doctrine of Original Sin (which he helped develop).

I've selected three articles, from three of my main Catholic news sources: Zenit, CNS, and CWN.

The 41 page report states that the concept of limbo reflects an "unduly restrictive view of salvation". I'm actually surprised that this document even came out. I remember learning in a CCD class (of questionable quality, in hindsight) many years ago that Limbo was an old, outdated belief. And, the Catechism states:
1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,"63 allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.
Hence, the surprise in this document. The document says that one of the problems is that this is still a widespread belief, and something that needs to be addressed pastorally.
The church continues to teach that, because of original sin, baptism is the ordinary way of salvation for all people and urges parents to baptize infants, the document said.

But there is greater theological awareness today that God is merciful and "wants all human beings to be saved," it said. Grace has priority over sin, and the exclusion of innocent babies from heaven does not seem to reflect Christ's special love for "the little ones," it said.

"Our conclusion is that the many factors that we have considered ... give serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and enjoy the beatific vision," the document said.

"We emphasize that these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge," it added.
Limbo was never defined as Dogma, and I would say that it is reasonable to conclude that it probably wont be decided either way. Thus is the nature of the Church, we're not presumptuous of God's justice and power.

People in popular media, of course, don't get it.
Last Friday, in a message to CWN subscribers, I warned that secular reporters were likely to provide sensational and inaccurate coverage of a new Church document on the fate of unbaptized infants. Sure enough, a much-traveled Associated Press story began: "Pope Benedict XVI (bio - news) has revised traditional Roman Catholic teaching on so- called 'limbo…'"

Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

Yep. Benedict didn't really have anything to do with this, and it is not reflective of the official teaching of the Church. This doesn't revise the teaching of the Church at all, it really seems to expand on what is in the Catechism. And, on top of that, Limbo isn't even the so-called traditional teaching of the Church.

I find it interesting that this is all coming out as Pope Benedict is visiting St. Augustine. It's sort of like "Sorry, dude, good try though". It's good to see that Benedict is willing to not be a strict Augustinian. His own theologian.

We can only pray for them, or pray that no babies will ever die without being baptized. Either would be a good option.


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