Monday, April 23, 2007

Decision on Limbo Causes Quite a Stir

Well, well, well, this whole limbo thing has caused quite a stir.

For those of you who are confused about what has been going on, a papal commission charged with the task of reviewing the small "t" tradition of limbo has returned with the opinion, approved by Pope Benedict, that "there are good reasons to hope that babies who die without being baptized go to heaven." Thus, in effect, canceling the idea of a "limbo of the children", not to be confused with the "limbo of the fathers": a place where the Old Testament Patriarchs and holy men and women waited for Christ to admit them into Heaven.

This decision is not necessarily coming out of no where. The idea of limbo has been in question in recent years as the church tried to comprehend God's universal salvific will (1 Tim 2:4) and the problem of abortion and children who die in non-Christian cultures who never get the chance to choose baptism. The Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, home of bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, has a question and answer page from 1999 asking about the catholic belief in limbo. It states:
The Catholic Church never "believed" in limbo. The existence of limbo for unbaptized infants is not part of divine revelation, but rather was and is an educated theological "guess." The term was coined by St. Augustine of Hippo and literally means "fringe." This came about because God has not chosen to reveal what happens to deceased unbaptized infants.
In addition, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was promulgated in 1992, states this about children who die before baptism:
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," allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism.
Not wanting to reduce the importance of baptism, the CCC follows this up by stating: All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.

Even though the idea of limbo has been suspect in recent years, some theologians seem shocked at the commission's opinion and Pope Benedict's approval. Rev. Richard McBrien, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame stated after hearing the decision:
"If there's no limbo and we're not going to revert to St. Augustine's teaching that unbaptized infants go to hell, we're left with only one option, namely, that everyone is born in the state of grace,''
He goes on:
"Baptism does not exist to wipe away the "stain'' of original sin, but to initiate one into the Church,''
Fr. McBrien takes this a little too far obviously and his conclusion is, to say the least, extreme. All the commission has decided is that it is conceivable that God can provide an extraordinary means of sanctification. All it is saying is that we are bound by the sacraments but God is not and that, through God's Mercy and Justice, it is appropriate to hope that innocent children are allowed a place in the kingdom. Why is this so wrong and why is this so out of touch with our belief about original sin and the sacraments?

Now, granted, limbo is a long tradition, held since the time of Augustine, so it is understandable why some wish to hold tightly to the idea of a limbo. Yet, why it is so inconceivable that God could allow an extraordinary means of sanctification to those, who through no fault of their own, are not washed free of sin by baptism? This is not taking away the necessity of baptism but only taking into account the mercy of God. God is perfectly just and perfectly merciful and I don't think removing the idea of limbo is stressing mercy more than justice. Why isn't it a just thing to offer an extraordinary means of salvation to those who have the chance of baptism stolen from them?

I doubt the debate of limbo in theological circles will end based on the decision of this commission; it will remain what it always has been: a theological guess, what changes is what the Church's official "guess" is.


Trip said...

Some of the Headlines:

BBC - How can limbo just be abolished?
NYT - Vatican City: Pope Closes Limbo
Reuters - Catholic Church buries limbo after centuries

Such blatant sensationalism and inaccuracy. It's as if the MSM is deliberately trying to surpass the bar of untrustworthy-ness set by politicians, lawyers, and used-car salesmen.

Saginaw said...

So true, the Catholic Church has never definatively held that there was a limbo.
These headlines are just attempts to make people think the Church will change her beliefs on all the hot topics i.e. contraception, homosexuality, celibate priests

Anonymous said...

I agree one hundred percent!!!!!