Alex Blaze

No more limbo!

Filed By Alex Blaze | April 23, 2007 3:24 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: baptism, Catholic church

Not the dance, silly.

The Pope has released a report that challenges Catholic teaching on limbo. The old teaching was that in order to get into heaven, one had to be without sin. Since every person is born with original sin since the Fall of Adam, they need to be baptized in order to be clean to enter communion with God in heaven. So since many babies weren't baptized, and people don't like the idea of babies going to hell, like St. Augustine said they did, here comes limbo. But now the Pope is saying that they enter the Kingdom of Heaven without being baptized. More from the Scotsman:

"If there's no limbo and we're not going to revert to St. Augustine's teaching that unbaptized infants go to hell, we're left with only one option, namely, that everyone is born in the state of grace," said the Rev. Richard McBrien, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.

"Baptism does not exist to wipe away the "stain" of original sin, but to initiate one into the Church."

"Everyone is born in a state of grace"? Well, that's a different form of Catholicism than most of us are used to hearing.

Especially since there isn't anything said in the New Testament, to my knowledge, about what happens to unbaptized babies. That's really strange if you think about how in Roman times infant mortality was much higher than it is today and that up to half of all pregnancies end in a miscarriage, often without the mother even knowing she was pregnant. Mix that in with Church teaching that life begins at conception, and you have a whole lot of people not getting into heaven through no conscious choice of their own.

But to say that babies can get into heaven turns a lot of teaching on its head, not just about limbo but also about original sin and the purpose of baptism. Now all of this changing around was started by, get this, "pressing pastoral needs":

Benedict approved the findings of the International Theological Commission, a Vatican advisory panel, which said it was reassessing traditional teaching on limbo in light of "pressing" pastoral needs -- primarily the growing number of abortions and infants born to non-believers who die without being baptized.
Besides the fact that these aren't growing or new needs (children have been born to non-believers since before Christ and at least natural abortions have been occurring since before people had the capability of believing or not), are we really seeing a Church that will change its teachings based on the surrounding reality? Yes, it's happened before, notably with Galileo and John Paul II's apology for the Church excommunicating him, but what does this mean for queer people? Many fundamentalists don't like the Bible being interpreted with respect to the culture it's read in, even though they do just that all the time, but to openly say that the needs of the followers can inform a doctrine regarding something that the New Testament doesn't specifically address, well, I don't have to point out the parallels.

Either way, this decision doesn't carry the weight of formal dogma, but it was a highly publicized theological teaching by the Vatican. While we see how it plays out officially, it's one more argument in our arsenal against spiritual violence.


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A. J. Lopp | April 23, 2007 8:09 PM

Interesting, but hardly pressing news.

Without being guilty of Catholic-bashing, I'd like to remark that discussions such as the above show that Catholicism, and Christian doctrine-rendering generally, is careening out of control at breakneck speed toward the Eighteenth Century.

And I say that in the moments when I am feeling generous.

Zach Adamson | April 23, 2007 10:49 PM

AJ.. As a Catholic.. I can assure you that nothing you can do will make me feel more Bashed than the church itself does. But as far as this newest announcement, its really not that surprising. It has always been my belief that official teachings, however "life and death" Rome leads the world to believe their importance, have just been words in the wind. Thats why I think eventually I think the church will soon adopt the dont ask dont tell-let God sort it out policy, then on to acceptance.. Although none of us will live to see either, it will happen..