Whoooooa ... No More Limbo!
Christ's Descent into Limbo by Duccio di Boninsegna 1255-1318
Having been raised a Catholic, but long, long past even remotely considering myself to be Catholic now, I read with some interest Vatican Considers Consigning Limbo to Oblivion. Like wow, a blast from the past. Indeed, a blast from the past that was the linchpin to my shucking the notion of being a Catholic, and eventually my not taking serious any commitment to any other religion fettered with the sort of silliness that the Catholic Church imposed on its members. Mind you, it's not as if the notion of limbo, some in-between world found sandwiched with heaven on top and hell on the bottom, was ever Church dogma, rather it's some weird vestige of the medieval church that was alive and well, and taught in Catholic schools, until very recently. The Church, in a manner of speaking, just sort of went along with the whole idea.
I encountered limbo somewhere in grade school, and if I'm not istaken it was somewhere around the 4th grade in a religious class. Let's set the stage: My parents weren't exactly well off, but it was pretty clear that if I wasn't put into a structured environment I'd likely make a mess of my education. I started out in a local public school but it didn't take long before my natural inclinations for trouble and being bored in general took over and I became what teachers refer to either as a "disruptive element" or that "pain-in-the-ass" kid. My mother wasn't partial to this sort of behavior out of me, Lord knows she didn't put up with it at home, and having been raised a Catholic, and attending what the Catholic church called "religious instruction", which meant I went on afternoon a week to what was specifically Catholic religious instruction, I was in good standing to make the transfer over to the Catholic school uniform-wearing group. Moreover my reading ability was a bit higher than that of my peers and Catholic schools in those days were a bit selective (I haven't a clue if they're this way now or not), and this helped to make me a good candidate for entrance into the local Catholic school a few months into the start of the school year (this all happened a few months into the third year in school.) My mother took advantage of the chance, feeling that it was an investment that was clearly called for if I was to get an education in the normal span of time and in the general correct trajectory of how educations were expected to flow. And yes, she had a reason to do this in the way she did - having unexpectedly walked in on me dancing on a desk in the back of what was otherwise a classroom dedicated to study, my mother saw the light, or at least she did after she tanned my young bottom.
So off to Catholic school I go and it took a year but I finally hit the "limbo" situation, and this was a head squeezer of a religious concept. I was never one to just accept much on the basis of faith (well, if my wife asks this of me that's fine, but when it comes to where we relegate the souls of unborn children ... well, I get ahead of myself here ...), and when I was hit with this limbo thing my head imploded, or some such thing. From the article we learn the following about limbo:
"But limbo, that netherworld of unbaptized babies, worthy pagans and even a few Muslims ... Unlike purgatory, a sort of waiting room to heaven for those with some venial faults, the theory of limbo consigned children outside of heaven on account of original sin alone. As a concept, limbo has long been out of favor anyway, as theologically questionable and unnecessarily harsh. It is hard to imagine depriving innocents of heaven."
Indeed, it was the last sentence that got me, I mean newborn babies are sent to limbo and not heaven because ... why? Well, they're not baptized, and you can't baptize someone that isn't alive and only baptized souls made it into heaven, ergo babies floated off to limbo. Ok, that was the theological whatever behind this, even if it wasn't officially supported by the Church it did serve wonderfully to do one thing: Guilt parents. I mean it was YOUR kid, right? It died and you may not have had anything to do with that, but oh well, the kid's floating his or her days of eternity in limbo because you didn't get it baptized in time. Apparently back in 1984 the current Pope, who as a cardinal at the time, had this to say about limbo:
"Personally, I would let it drop, since it has always been only a theological hypothesis."
A hypothesis? Wow ... generations of Catholics have been guilted and allowed to think their kids have been relegated to some lesser state than heaven because of a fouled up "hypothesis". How does the church test theological hypotheses anyway? Does the Church have theological theories? Again I digress ...
What's worse is that this limbo thing wasn't the worst possibility for babies. Since the Catholic Church maintains that we're all tainted with original sin, and even new born babes bear this dark mark on their souls, then the fact was:
The theology is complicated, but the bottom line is that Augustine, believing in man's original sin, persuaded a church council in 418 to reject any notion of an "intermediary place" between heaven and hell. He held that baptism was necessary for salvation, and that unbaptized babies would actually go to hell, though in his later writings he conceded that it would entail the mildest of conditions.
So given a choice, if your kid was going to wind up somewhere without benefit of baptism, what would you choose, limbo or a mild flavor of hell? And who knew that hell came in levels of intensity, sort of like buffalo wings? Why I never became a theologian I don't know ...
Well, wanting to lift the burden of parents having to ponder their innocent but deceased new born as living in hell, in 1905 we're told the following by the then Pope:
"... Pope Pius X stated plainly: "Children who die without baptism go into limbo, where they do not enjoy God, but they do not suffer either."
Now that was comforting, right? Your kid isn't living in hell, but he or she is dwelling somewhere called limbo where, essentially, no one's around to love them and sure as heck God doesn't care about them. Now that's a God I want to be worshipping ...
Leave it to St. Thomas Aquinas to put a nice spin on this:
In the Middle Ages, theologians, notably St. Thomas Aquinas, postulated a slightly cheerier idea: limbo, from the Latin "limbus," meaning a hem or a boundary. Here innocents would live forever in what Thomas called "natural
happiness," if not in heaven.
Ok, so they don't have God's love, but they're otherwise happy, that's not so bad, right?
Well, my sarcasm has been exercised and I'm once again reminded of why I have such a hard time with organized religion of any flavor, but especially one that considers us damned from the point of birth and is so sure it's the only source of salvation, and if you don't get that salvation or otherwise toe the line you're damned for all eternity. Gee, I wonder if I'm going to go to the mild, medium, hot, or extra-spicy version of hell ... I'm not going to lose sleep over it.