Friday, January 20, 2006

January 20, 2006--Friday Fanaticisms XVIII--Doing the Limbo

It was very disturbing to learn that the Catholic Church is in the process of jettisoning Limbo from its pantheon of places one can wind up in after death (see NY Times article below). Up until now, we have had Heaven, of course Hell, and sort of between them, Purgatory and Limbo. Purgatory for those who have some venial sins to expiate and are thus not yet ready for Heaven; and Limbo for unbaptized babies and “worthy Pagans” such as Moses, Socrates, and Plato.

One thing I thought we could depend upon is the unchanging nature of the Church. It brings so much comfort to know that in a tumultuous world at least one institution is true to its traditions and Truth. Especially about something as fundamental as this. Yes, the Church, after centuries, adjusted its thinking about the centrality of the Earth in the universe and even figured out how to assimilate evolution, but Limbo?

What could be going on here? First a little background—Limbo is not truly biblical but is a construct of early Church theologians, particularly the product of the differing views of Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas. Augustine persuaded a Church council in 418 to reject the idea of an “intermediary place” between Heaven and Hell, contending that unless even babies were baptized they needed to go straight to hell. This was to say the least quite a harsh doctrine especially since so many babies at the time died well before being baptized. So in the Middle Ages, St. Thomas put forth a cheerier idea—let’s establish Limbo (from the Latin limbus, meaning hem or boundary) for the Innocents and others from pre-Christian times that are worthy. This had worked well apparently, until recently.

What might be behind the current move to abolish Limbo? A few things. First, with the Church growing so rapidly in Africa and Latin America (shrinking everywhere else), places where infant mortality is so high, the idea that infants can never get to Heaven is not a good selling point to potential converts. Also, a little closer to home, in the West there is another form of infant mortality (or “murder” if you will) that is the result of abortion.

What is to become of these ultra-innocents? Pre-natal or fetal baptisms? We’re not there yet and so until we figure out how to do that, let’s just get rid of Limbo so these “babies” can also go right to Heaven.

OK, but what now about Moses and Socrates? Where do they go once they are evicted from Limbo? As far as I know, the Church hasn’t figured that out yet. But stay tuned, wait a couple of hundred years, and I’m sure they’ll let us know.


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