Friday, October 06, 2006
The Question of Limbo...
Is there such a place?
News today is that the Holy Father has made no pronouncement of any new understanding of limbo, the place, or state, unbaptised infants go to. Here is the traditional teaching on it:
"Persons, such as infants, who have not committed actual sin and who, through no fault of theirs, die without baptism, cannot enter heaven; but it is the common belief they will go to some place similar to Limbo, where they will be free from suffering, though deprived of the happiness of heaven." - Baltimore Catechism
The Catholic Church's official catechism, issued in 1992 after decades of work, dropped the concept of limbo and says: "As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God … " CCC
It has never been a defined dogma of the Church, albeit the traditional belief. The concept of limbo was one I was taught in school. Some saints held that it is actually a place on the "outskirts" of hell, while others have described it as a paradise separate from the beatific vision. An uber-Catholic I work with seems to prefer the place in hell concept, which fits in well with his fire and brimstone spirituality.
In the part of the creed wherein we profess "He descended into hell" it is commonly believed that it refers to Christ's descent into limbo to free our first parents and the saints of the old testament. Some theologians, such as Hans Urs Von Balthazar believe Christ really did descend into actual hell - I can't remember in which of his writings wherein he discusses that. I believe many Orthodox Catholics accept the same belief, as did the early Christians - although I could be mistaken. Nevertheless, it remains a matter of speculation to some degree.
Press reports claim that the Commission studying the subject, as well as the Holy Father will abolish the belief. I doubt that. You just don't undo tradition to assuage the modern human sentiment that everyone must be saved, do you? Then what does, "He descended into hell" really mean? Of course some Orthodox legends have it that in the end, the Blessed Virgin will obtain the release of all the souls in hell as well, such mystical fantasies have never been taught in the Latin Church and are contrary to the faith.
As Cardinal Ratzinger, the Pope has said he believed the concept of limbo could possibly be set aside because it is "only a theological concept" and "never a defined truth of faith." Nevertheless, this is a vastly different statement than saying it does not exist.
One ought not to depend upon the media for papal teachings.
Update: Gerald has a post from Asia News on the same subject.