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Saturday, April 21, 2007
Limbo in, erm, limbo
From Reuters:

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Church has effectively buried the concept of limbo, the place where tradition and teaching held that babies went if they died without baptism.

In a long-awaited document, the Church's International Theological Commission said limbo reflected an "unduly restrictive view of salvation".

The 41-page document was published on Friday by Origins, the documentary service of the U.S.-based Catholic News Service, which is part of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Pope Benedict, himself a top theologian who before his election in 2005 expressed doubts about limbo, authorised the publication of the document, called "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised".

The verdict that limbo could now rest in peace had been expected for years. The document was seen as most likely the final word since limbo was never part of Church doctrine, even though it was taught to Catholics well into the 20th century.

"The conclusion of this study is that there are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in revelation," it said.

"There are reasons to hope that God will save these infants precisely because it was not possible (to baptise them)."


I'm sorry. Did I miss something here? "There are reasons to hope God will save these infants..." "Reasons to hope"? I don't need "reasons to hope" for those precious children and those parents, some of whom are my friends. I know. God is love - every baby is His most precious creation, and should one die when she has barely touched this Earth, who could believe that He would do *anything* other than sweep that soul back up into His arms?

Only people who had never loved anyone deeply could possibly assume otherwise and even consider coming up with a place like limbo.

You may ask, and rightly so, "*Why* did they feel the need to come up with limbo?" Well, if the Church allowed unbaptised babies to go straight to heaven, the next question would be about good people who hadn't been baptised...and if the babies could go to heaven, then the door to heaven would be open for *them*, and what would be the point of baptism into the Church? Or, indeed, the Church at all?

Hmmm. Does that sound like a clarification of God's will? Or does it sound like a way of putting God in a box, of justifying the Church's existence? After all, if there are as many paths to God as people, with only "Remain in God, who is love, and operate from there" as the key principle...there's no need for organised religion or laws to keep the faithful 'good' and separate from their wholeness - whether it's their anger, sexuality, passion, or pain. There is just a community of people, interconnected through their humanity and divinity, helping eachother on their way home.

No way of controlling anyone, of being more worthy than anyone, of having all the answers. That must be a frightening thought for those who are addicted to a priesthood of any denomination. Maybe even for all of us, much as we'd hate to admit it.

So, goodbye to limbo, which, like the Church that gave it birth, has an "unduly restrictive view of salvation." (The "If you're not in the club, you can't come into the treehouse" view of salvation, I call it. It's difficult to hate the Church if you think of the Vatican as a bunch of adolescent boys dressing up in red robes, making up ever more complex rules for their club. And actually believing that those rules determine how God, reality and the world work.) Good riddance. Aristotle, go on up!

And hello to the little ones looking down from heaven over the centuries who've been having a good giggle about this whole concept:

"You mean I nearly spent 75 years there? Blimey. Mind you, the harp playing IS getting a bit tedious..."


Labels: ,

posted by Irim at 4:57 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 4/21/2007 05:15:00 PM, Blogger Aristotle

    It ought to be noted that the media, as usual, got this one wrong. This theological commission has no magisterial authority and the Pope simply accepted a report. He did not endorse its teachings and has not taught that there is no such thing as Limbo. No Church teaching changed, even though the media, as usual, jumps at any opportunity to make it look as if the Church is changing. It is absolutely reprehensible coverage and proves that one should wait for documents to be taught by bishops, and NOT by secular media, who wouldn’t know anything about Limbo or Catholic doctrine if it jumped up and bit them. The media clearly has a secular and “progressive” agenda, which would love to see Church changes in other areas, such as women in the priesthood, etc. Those things won’t change either.

    For further information, check out the blog, Zadok the Roman.

  • At 4/22/2007 03:06:00 PM, Blogger Michele L


    I am not Catholic, so I speak from a very different belief in this area. However, I was raised in a conservative Baptist background with "implied" thoughts and doctrines also. Without the debates of "how you read" the Bible vs. the way I read it.

    To say:

    "The media clearly has a secular and “progressive” agenda, which would love to see Church changes in other areas, such as women in the priesthood, etc. Those things won't change either."

    In my opinion, that is a dangerous statement. In the histories of all denominations and belief systems have been "changes" that believers fought and resolved would not happen, but in time they did. Changes occur as the world evolves. Our knowledge, sciences, etc. continues to grow. We are able to evaluate and consider many things that the people of the Bible had no understanding or information on.

    I do believe the time has come, where all faith backgrounds are re-evaluating, reconsidering, etc. and they should. There are many atrocities that have occurred in this world in the name of God and Biblical teachings.

    To say that X "won't change", that may be true, but I believe that in time, a faith will die. The Catholic Church (as well as other belief systems) have taken many hits in recent years. We need to evaluate our beliefs continually, based on the information and knowledge available.

    On a personal level, I hope the position about limbo does change.
    Regardless of my beliefs, my hope is that "if" God is what we represent in our beliefs systems, than I surely hope that an innocent baby would be "saved". To teach that God loves all people even beyond what we can comprehend, but then would place an innocent child in any form of hell due to something they had no control over is utterly ridiculous in my mind. I have 2 small children, I wouldn't place them in any kind of "hell" even if they had a choice in their actions.

    Does that mean that my love of my children is more compassionate and worthy than that of God's love?

    If it is true, than maybe I belong in hell, because I would rather be separated from a God that would treat babies in that respect, than to follow that God.

  • At 4/23/2007 06:47:00 AM, Blogger Irim

    Thank you, Aristotle, for your informative comment. You're right, limbo has no magisterial authority, but it has been taught for centuries as if it was a given. It has been deeply woven into the Catholic culture and psyche, which is as important and durable as magisterial authority.

    The media runs the whole spectrum from conservative to liberal, so don't give them a hard time. If they get it wrong, it's up to the Church to make it clear. After all, it *does* have a vocation to teach, yes?

    We'll agree to disagree.

    Michele - agreed...and thank you for the support!


  • At 4/23/2007 07:05:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Michele, I'm with you -- I feel that I would also rather go to hell than serve a God who would arbitrarily condemn human beings to hell simply for being human and not having the proper ritual done to "make up" for being born human.

    Of course I have impossibly speculative questions about the nature of existence/consciousness in the afterlife...

  • At 4/23/2007 08:29:00 AM, Blogger Irim

    Jemila - Ask 'em, hon...here's as good a place as any to start! And you'll probably find that we've all got them too!

    Oooh, this is getting fun.

    BTW, just to clarify: limbo was seen as a place just outside of heaven where those who weren't in a state of supernatural grace through baptism. A place of "natural joy", Thomas Aquinas called it.

    My problem is with the idea that they are denied the fullness of God's presence simply b/c there was no time to baptise them. I can't imagine that God would do anything but pull them close to Him the moment they left us.


  • At 4/23/2007 09:44:00 AM, Blogger Janice

    "Only people who had never loved anyone deeply could possibly assume otherwise and even consider coming up with a place like limbo."

    People who believe in limbo 'have never loved anyone deeply'?

    Does that also go for people who believe in a literal hell or eternal separation from God?

    They couldn't possibly have ever loved deeply?

  • At 4/23/2007 10:06:00 AM, Blogger Michele L

    I think that they can "love deeply" however, I believe a disconnect can happen. For me personally, I 'believed' in Hell (fire, screaming etc.) most of my life, until recently. It didn't ever really affect me until I grew older, and loved Great people "that were headed to Hell".
    I recently read two books about God's Love and Grace. The titles were "If God is Love", and "If Grace is True". They are written by Quaker pastors with more Universalist ideas. I found, even if one disagreed with the Universalist ideas, that it illuminated God's grace and the love of God, in the most astounding ways. I really saw God in a very different perspective.

    As I replied before, I would never harm my children, no matter how much they disappointed me. I remember sitting by my fire place a few months ago, thinking, I can not imagine if my children were ever hurt by fire...then my thoughts went to the Hell I was taught. It was if, I had never REALLY thought about what that meant. God's love is beyond comprehension, but we are supposed to think that most of the world will end up in Hell (because by most beliefs-only one group has it RIGHT- so the rest of us are out of luck). I just think over time, it's like becoming desensitized to violence...we just don't really think about it.

    Jemila, bring on the thoughts....I have disregarded hell in my mind, which has led to thinking about Heaven concepts. I would love to hear your thoughts and questions! Might take this down a very interesting, Heretical road!

  • At 4/23/2007 10:13:00 AM, Blogger Irim

    My point, Janice, is that *I believe* that someone who could *deny babies the fullness of God's presence* - wee children who have done *nothing* 'wrong' except *not live long enough to be baptised* are simply creating an intellectual construct for the unbaptised. It seems unlikely that they would understand the searing pain that the loss of a deeply loved one brings, or they would credit God with greater love and compassion than limbo for babies.

    People who believe in a literal hell/eternal separation from God believe that people have come to that by their own choices and actions. It's not my thing, but it's not a problem for me, b/c adults can *choose*.

    Limbo was created to solve an intellectual/theological problem for those who cannot.


  • At 4/23/2007 11:09:00 AM, Blogger Janice


    I don't have a problem with (or disagree with) the idea that someone is 'creating an intellectual construct'. I do however have a vERY big problem with the assumption or assertion that people who believe that construct or believe in a literal hell are somehow less capable of love than others or have less of an understanding of love than you (or anyone else who believes differently)......I find that illogical and wasn't sure if thats what you really meant or not.

  • At 4/23/2007 01:04:00 PM, Blogger Irim

    As I said in my earlier response, Janice, I have no problem with people who believe in a literal hell/alienation from God, even though it isn't what I choose to believe - b/c people who believe in a literal hell believe that people have gotten there *through choices they have made that lead them away from God*.

    My issue is with the idea that *babies*, who are born *innocent* and are *incapable of making choices that will lead them away from God*, could be kept from the fullness of God's presence when they die, which is essentially what the doctrine of limbo states.

    If you must know, I was thinking very specifically of the celibate Catholic clergy who came up with this.

  • At 4/23/2007 01:33:00 PM, Blogger Janice

    I gotcha Irim. And I do appreciate the discussion even though we might disagree on various points. I've never been comfortable tossing out entire groups of people based on a certain belief (in the context of issues discussed in this particular conversation) or paint with broad strokes which is why I got hung up on that statement you made.

    As far as the rest of the conversation, its been interesting to read along. I appreciate that about this group - the diversity. Certainly gives me lots to think about. :)

  • At 4/23/2007 01:45:00 PM, Blogger Linda

    I have some issues with hell as well. Like Michele said, it is inconceivable that my parent-love may be more perfectly formed than God's. Eternal torture sounds more like the invention of a vindictive creature with wounded pride rather than the perfect love of the Creator for the creation he is looking out for.

  • At 4/23/2007 04:16:00 PM, Blogger Irim

    Janice - Glad I've managed to find the right words! I appreciate the diversity of views and the discussion too - I just find it so frustrating not to be able to talk/explain myself face-to-face sometimes, b/c then I can correct myself as we go. All qool here, sister. :)

    Linda - I've struggled with this so much. I've come to rest (I hope) in the belief that alienation from God by the walls we build are as close to hell as it gets, and if we choose to take so much as one brick out of our wall, God will come the rest of the way to meet us. So I like to think of it as a fluid situation, as it were - one we can change at any time.

    Not sure if that makes sense, but it does in my head anyway!


  • At 4/23/2007 05:35:00 PM, Blogger Linda

    Thanks, Irim, and yes, it makes sense to me. I like the picture you created. I haven't arrived at the final answer to the hell question, but I'm fairly sure it isn't exactly what I was taught to believe as a child.

    I think it was N. T. Wright who talked about hell in terms of discovering at the end of your life that you missed and disappointed God. The idea here is that when we finally see God and know him face to face, finding out we have missed him in our earthly lives will be pure hell.

    Rob Bell (Mars Hill, Grand Rapids, MI) also talked about hell in a podcast I heard (I can't remember the name of it). He reconstructed the way people came to believe in hell as an actual place of eternal conscious torment and deconstructed the hell passages, showing how Jesus used the ideas that came into being in the culture to communicate truths about those who "missed" God.

    I found these resources and McLaren's book, The Last Word and the Word After That, both thought-provoking and helpful for one such as me who is bothered by the thought of a merciless God that we call Merciful One.

  • At 4/23/2007 10:24:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    The afterlife: what is the "soul/spirit"? What will outlast our earthly bodies, socially constructed self-concepts and genetic qualities (positive ones and limitions)? Or will we simply be the best of what we were on earth in a physical resurrection body? Which brings up the question of what kind of universe is the afterlife? What physics operate "there"?

    Will we have an individual consciousness/self-awareness or will we become unselfconscious and completely one with God/all other souls/spirits?

  • At 4/23/2007 10:32:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    I agree, McLaren's book certainly took me down an untravelled path. His book helped with the Biblical passages. I even got a few books he referenced, though I didn't read them as extensively yet. One was The History of Hell, and another was The Origin of Satan. I got a few looks at Barnes and Noble, when I asked for these books! LOL. I even had an employee ask out me what my interest was...I guess I threw him off that day. It was pretty funny!

    I appreciate this so much. It is very nice to have a place to think without being condemned for thinking out loud! Thanks ladies!

  • At 4/24/2007 09:31:00 AM, Blogger Irim

    "The afterlife: what is the "soul/spirit"? What will outlast our earthly bodies, socially constructed self-concepts and genetic qualities (positive ones and limitions)?"

    My best answer to this is "consciousness". I'm not sure what form it will take, but I believe that we are all part of the one divinity that was here at the beginning. I love the Kabbalistic imagery of vessels shattering as they attempt to hold the divine nature, and sparks of divinity scattering everywhere. I think we are more, much more, than just the best of what we are on earth. I tend to think of creation as emanations of the divine consciousness...I'm still working on it, but I think I fall on the consciousness to energy to physical side of things.

    [Will we have an individual consciousness/self-awareness or will we become unselfconscious and completely one with God/all other souls/spirits?

    Personally, I think we will have an individual consciousness, even when we rest in God - the many parts, one body image - and if I dare put this out, I quite like the idea of God evolving through us, since we're all part of divinity - the physical world allowing God to explore all He/She can be in a way that's not possible when you're pure consciousness/energy.



  • At 4/24/2007 09:38:00 AM, Blogger Michele L

    I like it. I am not able to communicate what goes through my head, but I like the way you articulate it.

    The hardest thing for me is being ok with my concepts dying. On the one hand I was ok with getting over my concept of Hell, but Heaven is much harder. I have found not for selfish reasons but more for the babies, people who had horrible lives on Earth, those who lived in bad situations etc. I still want to hope for an everlasting "peace" etc. for those reasons.

    I agree that my thoughts do lie in that realm "for now".... (to constant re-thinking!)

  • At 4/24/2007 01:56:00 PM, Blogger Linda

    Please read this as discussion and not as combat. :-)

    It seems to me that had God wanted us to spend eternity as disembodied spirits, he wouldn't have given us bodies to begin with. I don't know what our heavenly bodies will be like, but I do think there will be something more physical than pure spirit. Otherwise, the Resurrected Christ doesn't make sense. He is the Firstborn from the Dead and appeared in recognizable bodily form.

    If you read the eschatological portions of the Bible carefully, it appears that the physical world will be restored and renewed to its original state of perfection. I see this as including people (the lame walk, the blind see...) I wonder how could we enjoy the final restoration if we do not connect with God's world physically. And I, for one, am weary of a body that doesn't function as it should in a perfect world. I want to know what it is like to work, play, and worship without pain and fatigue. I can't imagine not being in pain every day, but I'm fairly certain that I will find out when God restores all things.

  • At 4/24/2007 02:41:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    I don't take it as combative. ;)
    I completely understand and know what you are talking about, for many reasons of my own, I read the Bible "differently"...not that I have answers (as you may be right), I just have open perspectives on how some of those things are read.

    In my current state, I am reading a listening to many perspectives in the Bible scholarship, history, etc. etc. realms. Many different angles make sense. So much depends on what you align with, and what you are open to.

    I think mostly I am not ok with "tradional" answers and the circular explanations that tend to occur. Who knows, I may come full circle with my ideas, but am searching at this stage.


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