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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Limbo Is Out of Limbo

By now I'm sure you've all heard the news. Limbo is gone. Again.

I have to admit, I'm confused. I didn't know Limbo had re-opened again in the first place. I thought it was closed for the second time back in the sixties, even though not long ago I heard good old Mother Angelica do a whole show about how stupid it was for anyone to think there was no Limbo. I was only half paying attention to the program because Sister Mary Fiacre identifies with Mother Angelica on some level and was being noisy about it. Perhaps Mother Angelica looks like someone Sister Mary Fiacre once knew. I'm not sure what Sister Mary Fiacre was trying to say. Perhaps it was, "Mother Angelica, PLEASE, we closed Limbo back in the sixties!"

I've also read this stupid remark, "Limbo is in limbo." No, it's not. It's gone. Again.
Limbo 101.

1. Limbo was never doctrine in the church. It was an idea that was bandied about by St. Thomas Aquinas because he was worried about what happened to all the little unbaptized babies and the Aborigines who died with Original Sin on their souls. "Hmmmmm, " thought Thomas, "Surely the innocent and the un-Catechized would not go to hell with all the other unbaptized people who knew better but were too lazy and sinful to be baptized? But you can't go to heaven if you're not baptized. " So, Thomas surmised, God must have some really nice place for them to go. All the little babies and their Aborigine baby sitters. They would all be happy, but they would never see God.

Although Limbo was never really doctrine in the Catholic Church I can tell you for a fact that for a very long time not many Catholics knew that. All the nuns I knew, the ones who taught me, the ones with whom I taught, right up to good old Mother Angelica, never mentioned anything about Limbo being just an idea. They taught us about Limbo, period.

2. There was a Limbo before that Limbo. It's where everyone who died before Jesus opened the gates of heaven landed. That's what Jesus was doing on all day on Holy Saturday while he was dead. He went to Limbo and let everyone out. That's what we mean when we say "He descended into Hell". We don't really mean "hell", we mean the "Limbo of the Fathers."

It must have been really weird for Judas to arrive in the afterlife just as Limbo closed and hell opened. One of the other things my grade school nuns taught me as though it was a fact was that Judas went to hell because he hanged himself and suicide is a mortal sin. (They shouldn't have gone around saying that because we don't know if Judas is in hell. In fact, we never say anyone is in hell, not even Hitler. We give everyone the benefit of the doubt. At the last second anybody could have said, "What was I thinking!!??" But Judas could well be the first permanent resident of Hell. What timing!)

So there was the Limbo of the Fathers.
Then there was no Limbo.
Then there was the idea of Limbo.
And if we are honest with ourselves, we'll have to say Limbo re-opened for the babies and the Aborigines in the minds of millions of Catholics. We'll call it:
Wishful thinking Limbo.

Then I thought that Limbo was permanently closed after Vatican II. That's why I'm so surprised with yesterday's announcement that Limbo was closed. Again. It should be covered in cobwebs by now, musty and unusable.

Perhaps some people would just not let go. People who actually have their own television show.

Anyhow, now it is closed. The babies and the Aborigines all went to heaven right away, they never were in Limbo because the church is saying there was never a baby Limbo in the first place. I think a lot of people are going to be really happy to hear that. A lot of people.

But not everyone.


Anonymous said...

So my precious stillborn grandson will be in Heaven now; perhaps he is in the arms of my mother, his great-grandmother -happy tears!
I didn't know that Limbo had been re-opened in the first place, I always rather liked the idea of its' existence - very Biblical, and literary - I didn't mind it at all. The nuns always told us that it was a happy place......
I don't mean to remain anonymous, but whenver I try to sign on to Google, I am rejected and consigned to anonymity :(

Anonymous said...

maybe Google is trying to send you to limbo. I had a brother die of SIDS and it always bothered my mother that he died before his baptism. I told her many times that since they had the intention to baptise that it should count for 'baptism of desire' so she shouldn't feel bad. Closing limbo is even better, because who would really want to go there instead of heaven, and who wouldn't be a little down at not seeing their baby in heaven because of a scheduling problem?

p.s. try 'other' instead of the google option, then you can put your name in the slot, and not be anonymous any more.

alex said...
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Amy said...

I never knew Limbo was closed... and I grew up in the 70's, long after the gates should have been bolted shut. I guess the nuns at my CCD program didn't know, either. At any rate, glad to hear it... I never did accept the idea of unbaptized babies being penalized for something that they had no control over.

Anonymous said...

At the point of mass when the priest makes the sign of the cross on his forehead, mouth and heart is the congregation supposed to do the same? The priest who taught me 20 years ago said it was required for priests but the congregation started to mimic the priests but it isn't required by parishioners.

Kim said...

I am so happy that my 2 year old won't be stuck in limbo for having a forgetful mother.

buckeyepride said...

How many of you are like me? I'm not really interested in all of this limbo mumbo jumbo. (Sorry, I couldn't resist!)

I understand that in a personal situation such as the one in the first comment left by "anonymous" such an item may draw more attention from those who have a real concern due to a related event. What a sad story, by the way. I guess for such individuals it's nice that this statement was made, but from here on out I wish that they would let this sleeping dog lie.

Since I have no such similar experience from which to pull, I'm just not interested.

I think, and again this is only an opinion, that too many folks get hung up in the minutia that they miss the big picture. I feel the same way about those who attempt to relate tales of the apocalypse - JESUS IS COMING - THIS GUY COULD BE THE ANTICHRIST - WARNING: IN CASE OF RAPTURE, THIS CAR WILL BE UNMANNED! - etc., etc., etc.

I think, and again this is only an opinion (my favorite catchphrase, if you couldn't tell), that stuff like this just isn't for us to know. Sure, it might be fun to postulate over a beer or three, but why worry about so much that we DON'T know and WON'T EVER know in this life, when there is SO much that is ACTUALLY KNOWN that we haven't yet BOTHERED TO LEARN.

St. John wrote that no one would know the date or the hour, that our Lord would be "as a thief in the night," so why bother to guess at it? There are so many things for which there is no answer in either Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition. No big deal. Why worry about it? Such thinking could apply to many other things that we waste time considering - why bother? There are a lot of things for which there ARE answers in both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition THAT I DON'T KNOW! I should be out there learning and/or practicing THOSE!

My personal preference is to worry about the stuff that is quantifiable. What can I KNOW? NOT what can I THINK I know about what someone else thinks MIGHT POSSIBLY BE? There is so much important stuff that I don't know that I think I should be worrying about that first. My guess is that that will take approximately one lifetime to get a firm grasp on.

Kasia said...

Off The Farm,

In RCIA this year we were instructed to do that. It represents your asking the Lord to purify your mind, your lips, and your heart.

I do not know if it was originally just done by the priest.

God bless,

Anonymous said...

Question: for some time I have been wondering about the "suicide rule". A few years back one of our very dear local priests committed suicide. He was not involved in ANY sort of scandal, but rather, according to his letter, had harbored saddness and simply could not take it anymore. He was an absolutely amazing priest and our entire community was shocked and saddened. My first thought, however, was "oh my goodness, now he'll go to hell for committing suicide." I was assured by several Catholic friends that he would not, but I've always really thought that it was a certainty - commit suicide equals hell. Can you help put this question to rest?

Anonymous said...

Off The Farm: I understand there is a reference to that purifying or sealing of the mind, lips & heart in the Old Testament.

As for Limbo, Sister wrote:
"The babies and the Aborigines all went to heaven right away, they never were in Limbo because the church is saying there was never a baby Limbo in the first place."
Sister, is that what the statement said? I thought it said we have reason to HOPE that God has some loving way to welcome the unknowing unbaptized into His presence.

Amy said...

Dear Sister,
I'm tagging you with a Thinking Blogger Award!
Check out today's post on my blog for more details and to see my list. :)

AWARD DETAILS: Congratulations, you won a Thinking Blogger award!
Should you choose to participate, please make sure you pass this list of rules to the blogs you are tagging.
The participation rules are simple:
1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post (http://www.thethinkingblog.com/2007/02/thinking-blogger-awards_11.html) so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote. That was that! Please, remember to tag blogs with real merits, i.e. relative content, and above all - blogs that really get you thinking!

Tiny Blessings

Kitchen Madonna said...

Thanks for that clarification. But I think Mother Angelica will be cool with it, don't you? She was an uppity nun but now that she's endured a little Purgatory on earth, she's settled down quite a bit. Isn't popping off at the bishop here in Birmingham. Stays in that cloister and prays!

buckeyepride said...

Ugh. The chain letter has infected the blogosphere.

Anonymous said...

Re: suicide, it's grave matter. That is, objectively it's serious enough that it would be a mortal sin if the other necessary aspects were there.
For a sin to be a mortal sin, it has to be
a) objectively grave matter
b) committed with full knowledge
c) committed with full consent

I think it's generally accepted that those suffering from depression who commit suicide probably aren't doing with full consent... or perhaps that they're not thinking about it properly, so there's not the full knowledge?

As for limbo, my understanding is that he's basically saying that it was just theological speculation, it probably doesn't exist, and that God' mercy gives us reason to hope. I definitely haven't gotten the impression that he was making some sort of definitive pronouncement.

Anonymous said...

Off the Farm & Anonymous: I was taught to do the little-cross thing as part of the response to the Gospel antiphon, and to mean by it, "May thy Word be in my mind and on my lips and in my heart." And of course Jesus is the Word --but I can only manage so many thoughts in between the announcement and when it's time to listen to the actual Gospel.

Anonymous said...

the recent Vatican statement concerning the fate of the babies killed before birth (aborted and others)merely states that we can dare hope that these souls are able to enter heaven, it does not say that Limbo does not exist, only that we may hope that these innocents can enter into the Beatific Vision.

Nothing has changed. This, too, is an opinion, just as Limbo is an opinion. Only God knows for certain what really happens.

God bless you and your readers.

Anonymous said...

This from Zenit News (Vatican news agency):

Notion of Limbo Isn't Closed, Expert Says
Adds It's a Theological Opinion That Can Be Defended

ROME, MAY 3, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The theory of limbo is not ruled out, says a member of the International Theological Commission, commenting on a study from the panel.

Sister Sara Butler, a Missionary Servant of the Most Blessed Trinity, has served on the commission since 2004. The commission is an advisory body comprised of 30 theologians chosen by the Pope. Its documents are not considered official expressions of the magisterium, but the commission does help the Holy See to examine important doctrinal issues.

On April 20, the commission released a document, commissioned under Pope John Paul II, called "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized." Benedict XVI approved it for publication.

In an interview with Inside the Vatican magazine, Sister Butler, who teaches dogmatic theology at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, New York, says "the report concludes that limbo remains a 'possible theological opinion.' Anyone who wants to defend it is free to do so. This document, however, tries to give a theological rationale for hoping that unbaptized infants may be saved."

"The [International Theological Commission] wants to give more weight to God's universal salvific will and to solidarity in Christ than to the necessity of baptism, which is not absolute but is qualified in certain ways," she said.

Principles of faith

Sister Butler cited No. 41 of the document: "[B]esides the theory of limbo -- which remains a possible theological option -- there can be other ways to integrate and safeguard the principles of faith outlined in Scripture."

She added: "The commission is trying to say what the Catechism of the Catholic Church -- Nos. 1260, 1261, 1283 -- has already said: that we have a right to hope that God will find a way to offer the grace of Christ to infants who have no opportunity for making a personal choice with regard to their salvation."

The document "is trying to provide a theological rationale for what has already been proposed in several magisterial documents since the council," Sister Butler said. "Generally, the [commission] documents offer a point of reference for bishops and theology professors in seminaries, for example, to offer an explanation for the development of doctrine.

"But I doubt whether this would lead to a further statement from the magisterium, because it says no more than what has already been said in the [Catechism], in the funeral rites for infants who have died without baptism in the 1970 Roman Missal, and in 'Pastoralis Actio' -- the document from 1980 from the [Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith] on the baptism of infants.

"It says nothing new; it is simply trying to make explicit the theological grounding for this hope. 'Gaudium et Spes,' 22, and 'Lumen Gentium,' 14 and 16, at the Second Vatican Council, opened the way for this development. Actually, some wanted the teaching on limbo formally defined at the council, but the topic was excluded from the agenda."

Extra-sacramental gift

The theological commission's document, she said, "just indicates that given our understanding of God's mercy and the plan of salvation which includes Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit in the Church, we dare to hope that these infants will be saved by some extra-sacramental gift of Christ."

"We do not know what the destiny of these children is," she said, "but we have grounds for hope."

Sister Butler spoke of the plight of aborted babies.

"I'm sure we never considered suggesting that these infants be declared martyrs," she said. "We were, of course, aware that in many places Catholics remember the unborn babies who have been aborted on the feast of the Holy Innocents. We didn't propose a solution."

She added: "In this particular instance, death is the way these children might be united with Christ: Through the violent circumstances of their deaths, they may be united to his paschal mystery.

"The Council explicitly taught that God provides a way of salvation for those who are invincibly ignorant of the Gospel and therefore have no access to sacramental baptism.

"The [commission] report extends the logic of this teaching to infants. We suggest that the Holy Spirit offers to them, in a way known to God, the possibility of being made partakers in the paschal mystery."

Sister Butler nevertheless warned that "the ordinary means of salvation is baptism, and that infants should be baptized; Catholic parents have a serious obligation."

"God is not bound to the sacraments," she said, "and therefore, just as we understand there are other possible ways for adults who are in invincible ignorance of the Gospel to achieve salvation, so we presume there are other ways, known to God, open to infants who unfortunately die without baptism."

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Catholic Mission said...

Saturday, March 31, 2012
Cardinal Luis Ladaria S.J Secretary Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith does away with the defined dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus, Limbo and Original Sin in the International Theological Commission position papers: CDF expects the Society of St.Pius X to accept all this
The International Theological Commission (ITC) has done away with the centuries-old literal interpretation of the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus. The ITC places invincible ignorance as an explicit exception to the dogma. The passage quoted does not say that it is an explicit exception to the dogma or that these cases are known to us but ITC assumes that it refers to an exception to the dogma. (1)

Then the ITC says that the Church is only necessary for those who believe and know about Jesus (LG 14) and not for all people. The dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus and Ad Gentes 7, Vatican Council II says all need Catholic Faith and the baptism of water for salvation. The ITC says only those who know.(2)