Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI to abandon the idea of Limbo

As reported by Stephen McGinty for The Scotsman, the Catholic Church is preparing to abandon the idea of limbo, a place or state of infants dying without the Sacrament of Baptism who suffer the pain of loss but not the pain of sense.

As Pope Benedict XVI said in a 1984 interview, "Limbo has never been a defined truth of faith. Personally, speaking as a theologian and not as head of the Congregation, I would drop something that has always been only a theological hypothesis."

In fact, the last time limbo was mentioned in a papal document was in a bull written by Pope Pius VI in 1794. However, in that document, the Holy Father did not teach the existence of limbo, he merely rejected the arguments of the Jansenists against it.

Truly we live in fascinating times. I can hardly wait to read what the Church's Magisterium will teach us on the subject. I am particularly interested because Catholics have wrestled with this problem for centuries. Since the beginning of the 20th century, many theologians have defended the idea that infants dying without the Sacrament of Baptism could attain Heaven and the Beatific Vision. Various substitutes for the Sacrament of Baptism have been proposed such as the prayers of the parents and their desire (which would take the place of the infants desire for Baptism) or the idea that infants who die before the Sacrament can be administered attain the use of reason at the moment of death by a divine illumination permitting the child to decide for God etc.

This is really an interesting problem. This because if we say that all infants who die without Baptism achieve Heaven, then some will say, "Why bother with Baptism since infants are saved anyway." And such an attitude would contradict Church teaching. Moreover, in 1958 the Holy Office warned against this opinion saying that it "lacked solid foundation."

Both the Second Council of Lyons in 1274 and the Council of Florence held between 1438 and 1445, taught that: "The souls of those who die in mortal sin or with only original sin soon go down into hell, but there they receive different punishments" (Denziger 464, 693). Of course, as previously mentioned, theologians distinguish between the "pain of loss" (or exclusion from the Beatific Vision) and the "pain of sense" (resulting from external means and felt by the senses even after the body's resurrection). The Church never taught that unbaptized infants who died would be punished forever in hell as are mortal sinners.

As Mr. McGinty mentions in his article, Pope John Paul II gave a theological commission "the task of looking into the issue in 2004 and there has always been speculation that he wanted to drop the concept after he wrote his own papal document which gave no clear answer to the question of what happens to children who die before being baptized."

And so we wait to hear from Holy Mother Church.

Paul

2 comments:

Jonathan said...

I saw that article on the internet. It is awesome that the Church is going to make an official pronouncement on limbo. For me, since God is Love and Mercy, the whole notion of limbo didn't make sense.

Thanks for that.

Anonymous said...

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