Sunday, October 08, 2006

The inhabitants of Limbo...

"How low can you go?" - Remember that song and dance from Chubby Checker - it was called the "Limbo" since you had to dance forward under a stick, bending back until you were as if suspended in air. Limbo is like being suspended - as everyone knows.

Many blogs are covering the topic - the
definition of Limbo - well there won't be a definition as such, just a statement from the Commission's findings. It is so not going to be abolished, one can be sure of that.

Yet I thought it interesting that for centuries, millenia, the inhabitants of Limbo have been represented in art. They are called 'putti', which translates 'little boy', in Italian. The ancient Romans frequently painted them in frescoes and sculpted them on facades or objects. Since the Renaissance they are often seen in Roman Catholic religious art, frequently in the clouds surrounding the Madonna, along with little Cherubim. In his secular work, Michelangelo used them, as did most of the great painters of mythology.

It demonstrates how deeply embedded in the unconscious is man's concern for the innocent dead. It suggests the belief in Limbo is a major dimension of man's spirituality. Though it has never been formally defined by the Church, it is a comforting belief for those who have lost children. On the other hand, to say the departed are in a suburb of hell is not at all comforting. It reminds me of something St. Therese said to a sister in her monastery whose spirituality was focused upon the justice of God. Therese said something like this, "Well, if that is what you expect of God, then may you have it. We receive according to our hope. As for me I will continue in my confidence and hope in His merciful love." (A very free-base quote from memory.)

In art, the putti are usually shown joyfully playing, often exhibiting gifts of the fine arts, suggesting a superior talent and knowledge. Their Limbo is one of natural happiness and contentment. If the souls of the innocent, as it has long been believed, are deprived of the beatific vision, surely they may keep company with the saints and the Madonna - even Christ in His humanity, I suppose. How could that be? Well, the Blessed Virgin and the saints could visit them. If they are depicted in art as surrounding these personages, then one can hope it could be a reality. (Not that art is dogma, although some Orthodox iconographers would have you believe that.)

Ah! There is the key...hope. Limbo, while not a defined article of faith, is a place one may hope exists; furthermore, one may hope, that in God's merciful love, the unbaptized may be saved. I'll bet the conclusion by the Commission will be on those lines. No big deal, unless the SSPX's make it into one. OH! MY! GO.....! What if there are Jews there! :)

I missed my chance for Limbo - I always imagined it would be like being on Valium, running around naked in the sun, painting when I felt like it, bathing in the ocean - oh I'm sorry, that was one of my vacations.


  1. I always heard limbo was a suburb of Heaven.

    In today's reading, Jesus said not to prevent the children to come to Him...

    The Church hasn't confirmed there is a limbo?

    Maybe there isn't.

  2. Rhapsody! What a great comment! Now that is a post.
    That's all the Commission has to say. :)

  3. When I was a child, which is hard to remember, it seems that a regular discussion subject when out of hearing of the Sisters, was how much neater it would have been to go to Limbo, no praying and all that, and play games and have a rollicking good time.

    I was stationed in the Army in Germany and knew a little German so I went to a German movie once. Some kind of detective thriller and I understood very little.

    But there was a cartoon that was absolutely delightful. It seems Otto worked at the hauptbahnhof (train station) pushing carts of baggage to and from trains. One day he wasn't paying attention and he got hit by a train and got killed.

    Well, he gets up to the pearly gates and reports in to St Peter and awaits his assignment. Much to his displeasure, he was handed a small harp and some angel wings and was told to go over and sit in the choir with angels and sign "Hosanahs" all day long.

    Otto said (and this is a very free-base quote from my ancient memory.) "Hey, this is Heaven and I'm supposed to be happy. I'm most happy when I'm drinking beer. I want to drink beer!"

    St Peter shook his head, and dragged Otto over to the choir and plunked him down with the harp in it and told him to sing "Hosannahs."

    Well Otto tried to sing "Hosannahs" for a few minutes and threw down his harp and escaped. They caught him and brought him back to St Peter who told him again that he had been assigned to sing "Hosannahs."

    Otto, exasperated, said, "Hosannahs, Hosannahs, F... Hosannahs! I want to drink beer!"

    Well, I don't remember how it ended because I was laughing so hard. Interestingly the rest of the audience in the theater didn't think it was that funny.

    That word is more scatological over there and crude, but it doesn't carry the heavy meaning that it does in English. You would hear it regularly in the rural area of Bavaria where I was stationed.

    But you never heard the word "verdammt." "Damned" That word was really sacrilegious.

  4. Ray - that is really funny - esp. the bit on what you guys discussed when you were little - my same thoughts.

    My sister-in-law is German, she and my little brother still live there. She uses the "F" word all of the time.

    I posted on your blog as you were posting on mine.

  5. The Church, while having not declared dogmatically about Limbo is very follow the tradtion. It has always and everywhere been understood that the unbaptized innocent that die can not enter Heaven. Jesus said "Unless you be born again of water and the spirit.." Commend them to the mercy of God..beyond that we do not know and it is not good to place them in either Heaven or Hell..thus we have Limbo because we don't know.

  6. Let me qualify my comments by saying I am not a god believer. But I do feel terribly sorry for the grief and sadness the concept of limbo has caused catholic women for hundreds of years. Believing that their little loved one would NEVER be able to get to heaven must have been a psychological torment.

    And now for the catholic church to say that the concept of limbo has served its purpose and they are going to abolish it, smacks of a policy of deliberate psychological and emotional abuse.

    It is no comfort to those thousands or perhaps millions of women who are now dead, whose babies died before they were baptised. They spent their lives in agony believing their babies were lost to god. What a terrible thing to do to believers.

  7. BeeBee: Since you admit that you do not believe in God you have pretty much nothing of value to say about why the Catholic Church teaches what she does. The Church does not exist for spiritual prozac so people can feel good about themselves. The Church is there to teach us how to get to Heaven and sorry...some people don't make it. No one deserves Heaven it is a gift.


Please comment with charity and avoid ad hominem attacks. I exercise the right to delete comments I find inappropriate. If you use your real name there is a better chance your comment will stay put.