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Pope: Don’t do the Limbo April 24, 2007

Posted by Tim in Religion, Skeptic, Thoughts.
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On April 20th Pope Benedict XVI reversed an 800-year old Catholic tradition: the teaching of limbo.

Limbo is a place “between Heaven and Hell” and comes in two flavours: Patriach class, for the good people who died before Jesus’ Ressurection; and Child class, for infants and people who were mentally unhealthy. According to wiki: .

Saint Thomas Aquinas described the limbo of children as an eternal state of natural joy, untempered by any sense of loss at how much greater their joy might have been had they been baptized.

So it’s a place of “natural” happiness, just less happy than they could have been.

Limbo is or was basically an ad hoc solution for the question of how God could still be “good” if he sent babies to burn, because of their original sin. The Catholic News Service (CNS) reports:

“People find it increasingly difficult to accept that God is just and merciful if he excludes infants, who have no personal sins, from eternal happiness…Parents in particular can experience grief and feelings of guilt when they doubt their unbaptized children are with God.”

Saint Augustine taught in the 5th century that infants who died unbaptized would go to hell, it was only in the 13th century that the concept of limbo took hold.

The CNS report begins:

After several years of study, the Vatican’s International Theological Commission said there are good reasons to hope that babies who die without being baptized go to heaven.

This is how it ends (emphases added):

“Rather, there are reasons to hope that God will save these infants precisely because it was not possible to do for them that what would have been most desirable — to baptize them in the faith of the church and incorporate them visibly into the body of Christ,” it said.

The commission said hopefulness was not the same as certainty about the destiny of such infants.

“It must be clearly acknowledged that the church does not have sure knowledge about the salvation of unbaptized infants who die,” it said.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, was president of the commission and head of the doctrinal congregation when the commission began studying the question of limbo in a systematic way in 2004.

Questions:

  1. How do you “study” limbo “in a systematic way“, over “years“?
  2. Isn’t the Pope supposed to be the “bishop of Rome”, the “Vicar of Christ”, “Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church”, and a whole lot of other things? Doesn’t he have a direct line to God?

The whole thing about “hope” is irritating. Since when did “hope” become a synonym for “I don’t know”? I thought the church was supposed to resolve doctrinal matters, not “hope” that it’s right.

And as Slate magazine asks: What happened to all the babies who used to be in limbo?

Oh for all you Protestants out there, don’t get smug: no concrete answers there either – or differing ones anyway, depending on whether you subscribe to Calvinism (God knows whether the babies would have made the choice to believe or not) or Arminianism (Babies go to heaven – in which case the most merciful thing a parent could do is to kill their children). How you define “original sin” also counts.

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