…..from your Pastor’s Desk:
“What ever Happened to Limbo?”
A few weeks ago I was preparing a married couple for the baptism of their child. In the course of the conversation, I mentioned ’Limbo ‘and that not only do we not teach its existence, but that it has never been a part of the ‘official’ teaching of the Church. It
then further occurred to me that; 1. Perhaps many younger parishioners never heard of Limbo. And; 2. Perhaps some of the rest don’t know the actual background or history of the concept. Which leads to the question.
“What Ever Happened To Limbo?
Here’s the short answer: while Purgatory (with a very different feel and a thoroughly revised understanding) remains very much a part of Catholic teaching and belief, Limbo does not. Just check out the official Catholic Catechism – it has 2,865 paragraphs.
Purgatory gets three paragraphs; Limbo gets zero – not even a mention!
While the phrase to be “stuck in limbo” has become part of the English language, the theory of Limbo is linked in Church history with the question “What happens to un-baptized babies when they die”; given the teaching that baptism is necessary for salvation – what becomes of them and for that matter, what happens to good adults who led good lives but without faith or baptism?
The earliest church theologian to address that question had a brief and brutal answer. St. Augustine, who lived in the early 400’s, taught that they are all in Hell, but in a corner of hell where the flames are not at their highest. (Geez -thanks a lot Augustine!)
Catholic theologians in the Middle Ages revised and softened that answer by developing a theory that there must be a place on the border or on the threshold between heaven and hell; -the Latin word for border or threshold is Limbo! These un-baptized infants and non-believing but very good grown-ups enjoy natural happiness but don’t ever get home to be with God, some have likened it to a celestial and eternal day care center ( Still NOT
Heaven, so, thanks a lot one more time!)
Five points can describe the Church’s attitude today toward Limbo, when and if ever the subject comes up: All this talk about Limbo was strictly a theory proposed and discussed by theologians in a day and age when people’s reaction was “That sounds pretty
reasonable to me.” Today people’s reaction, including theologians, is quite
the opposite. At no time was this theory proposed or defined as official church teaching or Christian belief (Although many of our grade school teachers from years ago would be very surprised to hear that and they certainly didn’t tell me)
The theory of Limbo was based on a fundamentalist, literalist and mistaken interpretation of Christ’s words on the necessity of baptism – this interpretation took “Unless a man is born again of water and the spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God” as restricting God
and refusing God permission to be loving, saving and forgiving no matter what the circumstance.
It ignored a much more basic and central Catholic belief that God wills the salvation of every human being (Remember the Baltimore Catechism: -God made us know him, love him and serve him in this world and to be happy with him in the next).
The theory of Limbo missed the Bible’s most direct answer to the fate of un-baptized infants who die young. “Even if a mother forget her unborn child, I will not
forget you,” says the Lord. [Ahh….Heaven At Last!] There’s the best answer.
Limbo or what someone once called “a workable solution to a sticky problem” is not workable, nor is it a solution, nor is it credible. So…
“What Ever Happened To Limbo?”
Nothing – since it never really was….