24 April 2007

Limbo Reassessed

Limbo is no more.

Slate has a somewhat cheeky article on the occasion of Limbo's going-even-lower than a hypothesis to a mystery:

The Vatican announced on Friday the results of a papal investigation of the concept of limbo. Church doctrine now states that unbaptized babies can go to Heaven instead of getting stuck somewhere between heaven and hell. If limbo doesn't exist, what happened to everyone who was supposed to have been there already?


Though the Vatican has effectively done an about-face, it won't directly state that limbo never existed. Instead, it says that official church dogma never included the concept and that limbo remains a "possible theological hypothesis."

Several problems:

  1. Church "doctrine," says: "As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God..." (CCC, No. 1261). It is difficult to have a doctrine based on mystery.
  2. The reason that the Vatican "won't directly state that limbo never existed" might be because it never asserted limbo's existence in the first place.

Catholic News Service has a better article:
In a document published April 20, the commission said the traditional concept of limbo -- as a place where unbaptized infants spend eternity but without communion with God -- seemed to reflect an "unduly restrictive view of salvation."


"Our conclusion is that the many factors that we have considered ... give serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and enjoy the beatific vision," the document said.


Limbo has never been defined as church dogma and is not mentioned in the current Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states simply that unbaptized infants are entrusted to God's mercy.


The document traced the development of church thinking about the fate of unbaptized children, noting that there is "no explicit answer" from Scripture or tradition.


The document said the church clearly teaches that people are born into a state of sinfulness -- original sin -- which requires an act of redemptive grace to be washed away.

But Scripture also proclaims the "superabundance" of grace over sin, it said. That seems to be missing in the idea of limbo, which identifies more with Adam's sinfulness than with Christ's redemption, it said.

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