Friday, 20 April 2007

Limbo in...erm, limbo

From Reuters:

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Church has effectively buried the concept of limbo, the place where tradition and teaching held that babies went if they died without baptism.

In a long-awaited document, the Church's International Theological Commission said limbo reflected an "unduly restrictive view of salvation".

The 41-page document was published on Friday by Origins, the documentary service of the U.S.-based Catholic News Service, which is part of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Pope Benedict, himself a top theologian who before his election in 2005 expressed doubts about limbo, authorised the publication of the document, called "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised".

The verdict that limbo could now rest in peace had been expected for years. The document was seen as most likely the final word since limbo was never part of Church doctrine, even though it was taught to Catholics well into the 20th century.

"The conclusion of this study is that there are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in revelation," it said.

"There are reasons to hope that God will save these infants precisely because it was not possible (to baptise them)."


I'm sorry. Did I miss something here? "There are reasons to hope God will save these infants..." "Reasons to hope"? I don't need "reasons to hope" for those precious children and those parents, some of whom are my friends. I know. God is love - every baby is His most precious creation, and should one die when she has barely touched this Earth, who could believe that He would do *anything* other than sweep that soul back up into His arms?

Only people who had never loved anyone deeply could possibly assume otherwise and even dream of creating a place like limbo.

You may ask, and rightly so, "*Why* did they feel the need to come up with limbo?" Well, if the Church allowed unbaptised babies to go straight to heaven, the next question would be about good people who hadn't been baptised...and if the babies could go to heaven, then the door to heaven would be open for *them*, and what would be the point of baptism into the Church? Or, indeed, the Church at all?

Hmmm. Does that sound like a clarification of God's will? Or does it sound like a way of putting God in a box, of justifying the Church's existence? After all, if there are as many paths to God as people, with only "Remain in God, who is love, and operate from there" as the key principle...there's no need for organised religion or laws to keep the faithful 'good' and separate from their wholeness - whether it's their anger, sexuality, passion, or pain. There is just a community of people, interconnected through their humanity and divinity, helping eachother on their way home.

No way of controlling anyone, of being more worthy than anyone, of having all the answers. That must be a frightening thought for those who are addicted to a priesthood of any denomination. Maybe even for all of us, much as we'd hate to admit it.

So, goodbye to limbo, which, like the Church that gave it birth, has an "unduly restrictive view of salvation." (The "If you're not in the club, you can't come into the treehouse" view of salvation, I call it. It's difficult to hate the Church if you think of the Vatican as a bunch of adolescent boys dressing up in red robes, making up ever more complex rules for their club. And actually believing that those rules determine how God, reality and the world work.) Good riddance. Aristotle, go on up!

And hello to the little ones looking down from heaven over the centuries who've been having a good giggle about this whole concept:

"You mean I nearly spent 75 years there? Blimey. Mind you, the harp playing IS getting a bit tedious..."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The next question would be about good people who had not been baptised...

Actually I am not sure about this. I rather imagine that it would more likely focus upon the 'age of reason' - ie, those people who had attained the age of reason and could thereby be said to have wilfully or willingly sinned... But the question you pose, about good people who were unbaptised would not have been too far off, I don't suppose. At least nowadays people in the church do not assume that unbaptised adults will go to hell. And this view was interestingly foreshadowed by CS Lewis in 'The Last Battle' with the good soldier who was able to enter into Aslan's kingdom...and that occurred when limbo was standard teaching material...