Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Is Limbo a Catholic doctrine? From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

(Late Latin limbus) a word of Teutonic derivation, meaning literally "hem" or "border," as of a garment, or anything joined on (cf. Italian lembo or English limb).

In theological usage the name is applied to (a) the temporary place or state of the souls of the just who, although purified from sin, were excluded from the beatific vision until Christ's triumphant ascension into Heaven (the "limbus patrum"); or (b) to the permanent place or state of those unbaptized children and others who, dying without grievous personal sin, are excluded from the beatific vision on account of original sin alone (the "limbus infantium" or "puerorum").

From the Associated Press in April of 2007:

AP - Pope Benedict XVI has reversed centuries of traditional Roman Catholic teaching on limbo, approving a Vatican report released Friday that says there were "serious" grounds to hope that children who die without being baptized can go to heaven.

Theologians said the move was highly significant - both for what it says about Benedict's willingness to buck a long-standing tenet of Catholic belief and for what it means theologically about the Church's views on heaven, hell and original sin - the sin that the faithful believe all children are born with.

Although Catholics have long believed that children who die without being baptized are with original sin and thus excluded from heaven, the Church has no formal doctrine on the matter. Theologians, however, have long taught that such children enjoy an eternal state of perfect natural happiness, a state commonly called limbo, but without being in communion with God.

"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," said the Rev. Richard McBrien, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.

"Baptism does not exist to wipe away the "stain" of original sin, but to initiate one into the Church," he said in an e-mailed response.

My comments: In the AP story, apart from reporting the facts of the story, Rev. Richard McBrien emails a "half truth and some outright lies, which is sad for a priest and a theologian.
Baptism indeed still exists today to wash away the stain of sin, either original sin, or both original and actual sin if one is of the age of reason to have committed actual sins prior to baptism. Yes, through Holy Baptism, Christ initiates a person into the Church, but sanctifies this person in the process and infuses sanctifying grace into the soul. Christ also gives the gift of the Holy Spirit to the person.

Despite the Vatican clarification on a theological construct, I would contend that no one is forbidden to believe in limbo for infants. But I do believe that we are forbidden not to believe the "limbo" that those of the Old Testament who were awaiting the coming of the Messiah, were in the "abode of the dead" what we call in the Credo "hell" as in "He descended into Hell."

In terms of moral doctrine, I don't believe there are any infallibly defined truths or dogmas in moral teaching that applied in each and every single case. There is always some kind of exception for some kind a situation. For example, in Africa when raiding marauders of bandits were invading convents of nuns and raping them, the Church did allow under a pastoral privilege or exception, for them to use artificial birth control. I could be wrong on that and I would stand corrected if someone has evidence to the contrary.

We also have the allowance of what is called "indirect" abortion because one chooses a path of treatment of a serious disease where the medication could cause indirectly an unintended abortion. The abortion comes indirectly.

In other words, defined dogma only pertains to immutable truth and are always the same no matter what. How these dogmas are explained in theology might change, but not the dogma itself.


R. E. Ality said...

I choose to believe in limbo or at least the condition it implies, not just because of God's mercy but even because of his justice.

No one, even the baptized, is worthy, entitled or deserving of Heaven, so no one can properly object that it would contradict God's justice if he were to make an exception for unbaptized babies.

R. E. Ality said...

P.S. I believe he has made that exception.