Tuesday, December 13, 2011
WHAT THE LIMBO?
Read more about what Pope Benedict says about limbo by pressing this sentence.
Limbo as a semi-doctrine is the place of rest where the souls of all the just remained until heaven was reopened by Christ (descended into hell, from the Apostles' Creed). This can rightly be called a definition of limbo since it is implied in the Apostles' Creed.
Some have believed too that limbo continues as the place for the unbaptized, in particular babies who for whatever reason died before being baptized. Normally, this theological proposition was to describe what happened to babies born to Catholic families, not the great unwashed of civilization who never intend to become Catholic either through invincible ignorance or the fault of the Church in not evangelizing properly.
So, can the non-baptized be saved, babies, children or adults? We generally say that yes they can if through invincible ignorance or no fault of their own they do not know Christ and His Church. Once knowing both, and they still refuse to be baptized and become Catholic, we would say that salvation could well be closed to them.
There are many good people who are quite content not being Christian or knowing, loving or serving the true God. They are profoundly spiritual and take their own non-Christian religion seriously. Why do we do all kinds of theological machinations to make sure we feel good that somehow God will bring them to heaven and through Jesus Christ that they never really gave a "flip" over?
Why not just say that they are in limbo and great place much like the faith they may have celebrated but the true God isn't there? Why do we have to say they are in heaven too just to make us feel better?
Posted by Fr. Allan J. McDonald at Tuesday, December 13, 2011
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This posts raises an interesting point and many questions. What does it means for a person to be "good" when they are not Catholic or even Christian? What does "good" mean generally speaking? Did Christ become incarnate so we would all be "good"? Did he not establish parameters for salvation? Isn't that the mission of the Church - to continue to promulgate and make manifest those parameters of salvation? And these "good" people, whoever said they were in heaven? Shouldn't we just place this in the hands of God and his mercy while praying for them? Didn't God himself discuss the necessity of the sacrament of Baptism? If God wanted universal salvation, couldn't he do so? Then why did he establish a Church with these sacraments?
[My bias - I choose to believe the construct of limbo and the doctrine of extra ecclesia nulla salus (with all its nuances that I have carefully studied and without falling into Feenyism). But, I agree based on my former confusion (pre-study) of these issues, that it is probably best not to really bring up these doctrines with, say, a grieving relative, as we must all always rely on God's mercy.]
Isn't it okay to simply say we don't know?
"It must be clearly acknowledged that the church does not have sure knowledge about the salvation of unbaptized infants who die," it said.
Exactly, Father: we say that just to make ourselves feel better, and to try to stop the naysayers from accusing us of being 'non-inclusive' with our doctrine. The fact is (with the exception of canonized saints), we don't know WHO is or is not in Heaven and won't until we get there, assuming we do. Indulging in that kind of wishful thinking can get in the way of evangelization. After all, if everybody's going, what do we need any religion (or laws, or morals) for? Just wait for good ol' God to come get us...
I'd have to agree with Quickness and Nancy that we simply don't know who is in heaven and who isn't apart from the canonized saints. But so many of us, and I include myself, want to believe that all good people are in heaven regardless of their "faith" condition. That is a form of gnosticism I think especially when we canonized the deceased at the funeral Mass or say that everyone who died as a result of 9/11 must certainly be in heaven.
I would disagree with your premise that we have reconsidered the construct of Limbo because we want to "feel good" about the dearly departed. There are significant theological reasons, not emotional ones, for this rethinking.
I would also disagree with your premise that those who have not become Christian are guilty of not giving a "flip" about Him. There are many who have considered Jesus and Christianity, but who have chosen to remain unbaptized.
Limbo was thought of as a state of perfect "natural" happiness. But a state of perfect natural happiness is insufficient for beings made for supernatural happiness. If you were promised the presidential suite at the Plaza Hotel, would you be really happy in a single room at the 52nd Street Days Inn?
I like very much what the Theological Commission said about how we should understand "exta ecclesia," that "there is no salvation which is not from Christ and ecclesial by its very nature."
I think I was trying to articulate the same point with my post of questions.
There is a fine line, though, in espousing the (correct) view that we have no idea of the salvic condition of anyone other than the canonized. The idea tends toward either of two directions, it seems. First, toward gnostic-style ecumenism and indifferentism. Second, toward orthodoxy and adherence to the one True Faith, Holy Mother Church, and her sacraments.
Nancy A. points out very well why we need to move toward the latter instead of espousing the former, which is a very dangerous idea and is a plague on our times (usually manifested in relativistic thinking and actions).
God has given us the path and the means of salvation in Holy Church. We need to bring people to the Church and her sacraments instead of basically acting as if they are just fine in whatever religion they are in (whether that be Protestantism, Hinduism, etc.)
I think of it this way: God has set out the "rules", the means of salvation - the sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist and Penance, in particular). These are the means for everyone, Catholic or not. Just because one is outside the Church does not mean that the "rules" do not apply to them. For example, just because a baptized Protestant is not Catholic does not mean that the "rule" about going to Confession for mortal sins does not apply...
My point is this: Obviously, God's grace and mercy factors in here, but there is a specific path that we need to bring people onto.
Father, you mentioned something that especially bothers me, and that is the trend of canonizing the deceased at funeral Masses. I grew up going to a lot of funerals (I had a lot of older relatives) and it was almost jarring to watch the switch from the solemn, sometimes grim atmosphere of the Old Funeral Mass to the force-yourself-to-grin atmosphere of "We're here to celebrate the life of..." After reading Father Schouppe's book on Purgatory it was almost galling to hear some of the inane remarks some priests would make at a Catholic funeral. I particularly remember wincing at hearing a priest from my diocese's chancery say in a funeral homily, "Now he's with Jesus" at the funeral of someone who was a heroin addict and had stolen a great deal to support his habit! I hope he WAS with Jesus, but the point is, that is not OUR call to make, only God's and we do the dead no favors by making everyone left behind ASSUME the deceased is in Heaven, since all motivation to pray for the deceased is removed by such remarks. Even more disheartening is the dumbed-down versions of heaven some priests construct to "console" the bereaved, like, "If there's a card game going in Heaven, I'm sure she's playing in one now..." (yes, I actually heard a priest say that at a graveside service).
Let's leave the canonizing to the pope.
Secular humanist morons understand it this way: Nice people go to Heaven (which is one long, continuous Democratic National Convention; mean people go to Hell (which is where Hitler, Ronald Reagan, Republicans, Jews and Catholics are). They know this is in the Bible somewhere but they just can't find it yet.
I believe in limbo and it is preached at my parish. I understand how people on EWTN etc want people to think that unbaptized babies go to heaven so as not to upset people. I undertand limbo is a theory and the church simply doesn't know. Limbo makes since and it has been taught for centuries. I couldn't understand why the Catholic church excommunicated people who murder unborn babies and doesn't excommunicate people who murder adults, until I read something a pope wrote 5oo years ago on the subject. (yes it seemed the Church's documents in the past were so clear to understand). The pope said the reason murderers of unborn babies were excommunicated and not the murderers of adults is because the murder of a baby is sooo bad and evil because it keeps the soul of the unbaptized baby from going to heaven. Now that makes perfect since.
So, is there a Limbo or isn't there????
Is this an 'up for grabs doctrine'?
(It's so unlike the Catholic Church to be wishy washy on a topic.....)
Limbo was never a doctrine. It was a widely known theological opinion. Scholars and theologians argued on both sides, but Limbo never became part of the doctrine of the Church.
We do believe in limbo for the "just" prior to Christ's resurrection. The question is did Limbo go out of existence after that or are there others there that were not released and still go there?
My understanding is also that Limbo was never a doctrine, more of a widely held folk belief. Regarding Hell and who may be there,we simply cannot speculate. We should presume neither upon God's mercy nor upon His justice. Christians today, with their tendency toward universalism and their belief that no one should ever feel any shame or guilt, are quite presumptive of God's grace. They need to be reminded that all of Christ's talk about love, etc. is bracketed by His exhortations regarding right belief and is often punctuated with what should be considered very strong warnings. Certainly, we should not be concerned either that Heaven will be too full or Hell too empty. Christ have mercy...
Someone, who probably wanted me to feel good, told me it went away as a result of Christ's trip while he 'suffered death'.
Limbo seems to be an attempt to reconcile the need to willfully acknowledge Christ as Saviour as God with the possibility that a human either could not or does not ever actually make an informed choice for rational reasons.
You may recall Carol's rancor at our priest declaring that everyone could get to heaven. Limbo offers a way through the eye the needle for a significant number of people.
But in our case we have to admit that, after being exposed to and at least comprehending Christ as God, then we are on the hook to continue and can't really claim an excuse. There are likely to be other shortcomings that are taken care of by purgatory.
In response to Frajm's question, as I understand it, there are lots of people who refuse to accept the Truth of Christ and are creating a division and barrier between themselves and God. They could likely have a very acceptable afterlife, but will be separated from God. Will they know this? Will they suffer as shades? Or will they be forever ignorant and spared the pain of their choice in exchange for never knowing God? Again, that may not seem so bad except to those of us who know better.
I love having the Hell, Heaven, and Purgatory conversations with my Protestant co-workers. They are all "assured" of their place in Heaven, becasue they have all been "saved" you see. Hell will be quite full they say (anyone who doesn't stand and announce Christ as personal Lord and Savior it seems) and Heaven will be populated by all who have so announced, but since some of those saved are more or less good than others, Heaven will be broken up into levels. The more good, the better your "house" and the closer to God you get to be.
I laugh myself silly at these visions that employ secular standards (bigger houses) to Divine Joy at being in the presence of God. I have better luck with the Purgatory conversations after I get one of them to give me the houses in heaven conversation. I can't imagine what they would do with Limbo.
In the end I think God's mercy provides a path to Heaven to those who have been denied it by normal means. For example, the millions of aborted unborn. Surely they would not be consigned to Limbo for failing to be baptized. Surely they would merit salvation as Martyrs.
Interesting point there about aborted "martyrs", Templar. Reminds me of the Holy Innocents to an extent.
Remember, though, that the Catholic Church teaches that there are multiple "levels" of Heaven depending on one's merit (probably better stated as one's correspondence with grace and the Divine Will). So, like most things Protestant, they have the idea, but are interpreting it incorrectly. When I taught about this idea in RCIA last year in a class on merit, the class was really put off by the idea of multiple levels of Heaven. Of course, we can take the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is surely closer to her Son in Heaven than any of us will be if we find ourselves saved!
RCG, I do not expect those who knowingly refuse to accept the truth of Christ to have "a very acceptable afterlife." I would expect at least simple annihilation for them, if not something worse. Going soft on us, RCG?
The Limbus patrum was a temporary state of waiting as redemption had not yet been accomplished. No soul remained in this state after Christ's ascension and the "opening" of the gates of heaven.
The Limbus infantium was a permanent state of natural happiness for the unbaptized, although redemption had been accomplished. There is no escape.
They are hourses of a considerably different color, necessitated by considerably different theological notions.
Good post there, Pater. You are exactly correct about the importance of that distinction.
I believe (correct me if I'm wrong) the Limbus patrum is the oft-referred to "Abraham's Bosom" to which Christ descended on Holy Saturday and from which Christ delivered the just of the Old Testament when he opened the Gates of Heaven. This is a dogma of the Faith not open to debate.
The Limbus infantium is actually, according to the theory, a part of hell in that it is outside the presence of God. But, it is far different from our conception of hell in that there is, as Pater points out, a state of natural happiness. This is a theological construct about which reasonable minds may differ (I happen to believe in this theological construct).
Dare I ask what is your take on the Limbus infantium, Pater? :-)
Pin, I am allowing for people who consciously apply reason or a domestic value, religion, etc, to reject God and salvation through Christ for other than purely selfish reasons. For example, Objectivists must reject salvation to be faithful their selfish objectives and therefore risk damnation. OTOH, Buddhists, e.g. may reach a point where they will willfully reject salvation through Christ, perhaps out of frustration or confusion, to remain faithful to their doctrines.
To Marc, this is exactly my question about limbo, if Christ only delivered the just of the Old Testament out of it, what about the Pagans and any unjust Jews are they still there? Is limbo a natural state of happiness for those who were good but did not want Christ's salvation. Just wondering. Hell seems a bit harsh for them don't you think?
Father, to your first point about the pagans and unjust of the Old Testament: Christ only delivered the just from Abraham's Bosom because the unjust and "pagans" were already in hell as there was no need for Christ to open the gates of hell. So, those people went to hell, if there were any such people.
While I agree that hell seems harsh for those who live virtuously outside the "normal" means of salvation and it is theoretically possible that there is some sort of limbo for those people, I don't recall ever hearing any teaching on that. My guess would be that those people would go to purgatory, if God judged them to be invincibly ignorant in the truth of their hearts. So, I think the dogma of purgatory eliminates the necessity of a theological construct of limbo for the unbaptized virtuous...
Just my educated guessed there. As a lawyer, I apply the analogy of sliding scale judgment to these situations. God judges us on a sliding scale in accordance with the level of our intellect, faith, life circumstances, etc. only he knows what we would have done had things been different and only he knows if a pagan would have responded to the Faith, if they had been instructed. That's the way I look at it anyway...
(any typos are the fault of the iPad on which I'm typing!)
RCG, People who apply reason to reject Christ!!!?? That is the most inexcusable unbelief! Buddhists? Please...am I misunderstanding you or are you trying to cut these people some slack? "There is no other name under Heaven given among men whereby you must be saved." Acts 4:12
Actually people can 'rationally' reject Christ. It is the final step of pure faith that they can't make. 'Self' overwhelms people. As far a Buddhists: The point is that outwardly there is a great deal in common with the ethics of Christianity and Buddhism, e.g., and people can get confused as they compare the outward manifestations and conclude there is no difference. Certainly the introspection of Buddhist 'prayer' and meditation has some similar benefits physically, mentally, and emotionally. But the revelation and knowing of God is what completes the set and they lack that. What I am saying is that these people will reject God without really knowing what they are doing. They will not allow themselves to have the complete set because the answer can only be revealed, Grace is given, and cannot be earned or reasoned. They refuse to accept that the Universe contains inconsistencies from our perspective.
Their afterlife would be like the fat cat by the fire in winter. Or the dog watching TV: they are entertained and happy, but have no idea what is going on.
RCG, And where is the basis for your "fat cat in winter by the fire" concept of the afterlife?
Pin, I got that from "Gladiator'. Actually, it is pure 'rcg' in that I am postulating that God, in His mercy, knows people can be kind, etc. and still not 'get' Him. What is his disposition for them afterwards?
Two points: First if a person died in an era when Church Doctrine was less developed than it is now, would his judgement be different? Secondly, if I am lucky enough to get My Reward and find someone who I had concluded, on this side of the veil, was lacking, what would my reaction be? I am inclined to take Christ's lesson about the workers in the vineyard to heart so I am not making the same mistake as the morning crew.
Actually, popular Buddhism is based almost exclusively on "faith" in lieu of meditation. Not to insult it by reducing it to its most base, but popular Buddhism is essentially repitition of the name of a particular Buddha in hopes that he will basically apply his merits to you to bring you to salvation/nirvana/"the pure land."
Anyway, the point is this: the Eastern perspective is so completely different than the Western that it seems a different sort of catechetical standard is in order. I don't know enough about it to make a suggestion as to what that might be, but I do know that their lack of faith in Catholicism may be somewhat excused by their cultural perspective. This is an example of something that, in my opinion, would serve as mitigating evidence at their judgment.
To rcg's other point about some sort of limbo with natural happiness for these people, I think it is an interesting idea. BUT, let us not forget that limbo (the theological construct) is still part of hell. So, we shouldn't be pleased that anyone might be subjected to limbo. Even if it doesn't happen to involve some of the other torments we usually associate with hell, it certainly involves the absence of God.
Where does the Church teach that there are "levels" in heaven, please?
The Council of Florence.
There are various degrees of beatitude in heaven corresponding to the various degrees of merit. This is a dogma of faith.
Since we're talking about the Council of Florence, I'll throw this out there for discussion viz-a-viz Catholic doctrine on children dying in a state of original sin:
From the Council of Florence: "[T]he souls of those dying in actual mortal sin or in original sin alone go down at once into hell, to be punished, however, with widely different penalties"
The workers in the vineyard who came in late presumably confessed Christ at that late moment.
I took a course in grad school called "Christianity and the Encounter With World Religions." It would have been garbage except that it was taught by a hard core Calvinist theology prof who happened to be teaching the course for his colleague who was on sabattical...heh, heh. He said on the first day, "Now, I must tell you from the start that Christianity must encounter world religions only from a position of strength. The Christian must not be afraid to say, "We know something you do not, and we have a Truth that transcends any common ground that you may, unfortunately, assume." I nearly stood up and cheered. Guess he wrecked that usually feel-good, wishy-washy, world group grope. I don't hear many people with the courage to say that today...except the Pope and the Calvinists I know.
I find references to Florence that seem to me to indicate that the souls in heaven will have different appreciation of the glory of God based on the "justice" or "merit" that accompanied them to heaven.
But I can't find the Florence document(s) on heaven having "different levels." Can you post a link to the appropriate Florence document? Thx
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