Monday, 23 April 2007

In Limbo

That they sinned not; and if they merit had,
'Tis not enough, because they had not baptism
Which is the portal of the Faith thou holdest;
Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy: Inferno

Speaking of the next life, it would seem that every limbo boy and girl, all around the limbo world, gonna do the limbo rock now that they will no longer be in their own special handbasket hell, in the netherlands of heaven. In case you missed the Pope flexing his Papal infallibility muscle with his recent limbo declaration, click here.

In essence, the Pope has built a stairway to heaven for infants who die before baptism so that they may suffer no more in that liminal holding tank called limbo (a place incidentally, that bears not an iota of mention in the Bible).

As the Holy See's International Theological Commission admits, "it must be clearly acknowledged that the church does not have sure knowledge about the salvation of unbaptized infants who die." How does one aptly respond to such a statement except to smile and say, indeed?

Now, I'll admit, I relish a juicy soteriological conundrum such as this. And a conundrum this is, for what are we then to make of Augustine's dogma of original sin and indeed, other interrelated doctrinal issues such as the sacraments, Immaculate Conception and grace? Eradicating centuries-old supporting theology, while a liberating step for Roman Catholicism, is tricky business, because when you pick at the very pillars and foundations of theology such as that of Augustinian thought in Catholicism, then you run risk of crumbling an entire section which just so happens to be housed atop and near and dear to constructs such as limbo. This is not necessarily a bad thing, merely a bold one.

I'd be willing to bet the farm at the Divinity Poker Challenge (letting Jesus spin the wheel, of course) that the Pope has thought three to four chess moves ahead in removing this little complicated, sidestep move from the overall sacred dance (consider the not so coincidental fact that in the West Indies, limbo is thought to mean 'to bend backwards'), but the question remains, if limbo's a salvific improbability, what other theological babe(s) is he willing to throw out with the holy bathwater for the sake of strengthening missionary efforts and/or making a bigger splash in papal history? Purgatory, indulgences, mediatrix liturgy?

Surely if any of us had absolute and certain knowledge about salvation and our posthumous fate (and by certain knowledge I mean empirical), well gosh darn, gee willickers, might we not have saved ourselves many a Holy war and all that paving of endless paths to the Divine instead of just building one highway marked "Shortcut to Heaven?"

But since none of us has all the answers to give Virginia, (no, forgive me father, for I have sinned: not even the Pope) ~ except by taking a flying leap of faith and reason, an act which often involves closing our eyes wide shut, crossing our fingers and toes, and drinking a pitcher of bloody Marys for good measure ~ what else is there to do but to keep dancing in our own little hokey-pokey kinda way and hope we get picked in the ultimate Spot Dance?

Don't move that limbo bar
You'll be a limbo star
How low can you go?
Chubby Checker, "Limbo Rock"


Becca said...

I honestly do not think that little children go to hell before they have the opportunity to know Christ. Sorry, but I do not believe that God would ever be that cruel to the innocent. I don't agree with the Pope. Egads, something about this makes me so utterly sad. Sorry Holy. If you want to remove this response I do fully understand.

Take care.

Jeri said...

What I really want to know is whether this actually changed the fabric of the Catholic universe. Were there hundreds of little not-quite-Catholic babies, happily doing baby things in limbo, which I envision as the ball pit in the play structure of heaven, who were suddenly transmogrified into heaven? Or did the theologians du jour actually recant previous teachings and admit that the little babes might have been playing in heaven's playground all along?

Since I don't really believe in original sin, just volitional sin, the whole point is pretty academic to me. It is a pretty hilarious example of solipsistic religion though!

Jeri said...

And Becca - I think that's part of the point! In religion-by-bureaucracy, where the rules are so huge and hollow and cold, I think the earthly dogmatists completely lose perspective. When it comes to questions of theology, do we trust our heart to help understand the eternal mystery of the spirit and the immensity of God's love?

EbNflo said...

Yet another reason why I have such a hard time with (any) religion or religious leader(s) who claim to know what happens when we die or live or live in "sin" or interpret some version of the bible or pontificate in any way about how things shoulda, woulda, coulda be.
Besides, I kinda like the hokey-pokey better than the limbo but definitely, definitely prefer yoga to both.
I can remember being a kid in Catholic school and my third grade teacher, Sister Agnes Bartholomew, was telling me that if my handwriting didn't improve, God (who stands over the world with a very sharp pencil; ever ready) would pierce me as punishment.
It took me a long time to get over that image... and many other images I was taught about, including, those poor little babies who were languishing in limbo and those poor, unprepared people walking around purgatory with nothing to do but wish they'd spent their time better.
Don't even get me started about confession...

Anonymous said...

I could really get into this discussion, but it goes against my nature to blog about anything too serious while my brain is getting fried from IT-related issues at the office. So I'll just leave my mark with, "Indeed."

Hope your week is off to a good start! Gumby doing the limbo made my day complete. :)

Holy said...

Becca: Yes, the Pope always had difficulties with this notion as well, I'm guessing stemming back to his Cardinal Ratzinger days, which is why I think he was determined now to bring closure to it and begin a new page in a more enlightened era.

And it would sound like most Catholics never gave it much credence. How could any reconcile it - I delivered a stillborn baby (Shelby) and to imagine that the fate of her soul was banishment to a kind of netherland celestial holding tank....whether I was a devout Catholic or not, as a mother, I could never buy that.

Jeri: I'm guessing it brings relief to the Catholic community - it's a very small c-catholic thing to do - presuming innocence and grace unto babes who aren't tarnished by the free will of sin, such as it were.

Original sin is tricky ground. I believe sin to be an absence of light...and in ways, a necessary evil for all things dualistic. Whether we need to see sin as sin is another question. But you're entirely correct, I think, on viewing sin from a volitional angle......accept one's nature free from guilt and imperfection labels....and just choose to be a good person.

Nat: I'm reading Angela's Ashes right now - Frank McCourt spins quite the tale of his childhood at the hands of the stern, unhappy priests who clearly seemed not to like children. Yet every Catholic, fam damily included, I have ever come to know are just so wonderful and richer for their faith - be they "reformed" Catholics such as yourself or the pious and upstanding heroes like my Uncle, a retired Bishop with 50 years of service in mountainous Peru....

We're all just slogs trying to make our way according to our beliefs.

I've almost finished Deepak Chopra's book on Death and I love where he goes with suggesting that our afterlife will be a construct that accords to our faith and beliefs while living - so if you're Buddhist, you'll die into nirvana, if you're Osama bin Laden, you'll finally get your vestal virgins....(well ok that's debatable but...) and if you're someone like me, you'll go hang out all angelic on a big fluffy cloud, eating Lindt chocolate bonbons, wearing a sexy white Grecian dress and waving a wand all guardian like. Or soemthing like that.:)

Brenda: Oh you're no fun...I'd love to hear if you think this is a good thing, given that you are one grounded deep in her faith...and if you think it moves the Church forward in faith or backward in theological doubt by opening up other cans of worms. But it is brain-frying...I hear you on that.

Have a day, all!

EbNflo said...

Angela's Ashes is one of the saddest books I've ever read. Maybe it didn't help that I read it very near to Mother's Day. Frank McCourt is a wonderful writer. It is absolutely amazing what he lived through. I still have some of those images in my mind's eye.
I'm off to Starschmucks: my little heaven on earth.

Anonymous said...


I have ever had a problem with man defining and delineating Faith. Even as a child in the Catholic church (and I was IN the CHURCH...I even thought once upon a time that a convent would be a lovely place to be...) I never could accept the authority that was given to Priests, Bishops, Cardinals and Popes. I could never figure out what made them so much closer to God than I.

Now, having read Eat Pray Love, I understand that Practic makes Perfect...or rather that Practice makes one see The Perfect more clearly. So, maybe those in power in the Church can see things as they really are. Maybe.

But when it comes right down to it, I think that any Faith that assigns a kind of hell to babies not baptized is not seeing Perfect clearly at all.

I suppose I see Religion as a path to understanding God. But it is neither God Itself, nor is it God's How-To/ Do It Yourself guide book back to Love. It is Man's guide book...researched, written and published by Man. Maybe, MAYBE with a couple sentences written by the Man Himself on the back cover, urging everyone to read with an open heart and an open mind...

Anonymous said...

My husband was a Catholic and I liked all the ritual stuff when we went to mass. I even took the classes from the priest to be able to marry my good Catholic husband. I then signed my children away to the Catholics but I had my fingers crossed when I did it. I knew they would pick for themselves in the end just like we all do. I learned about hell and limbo from the priest because I was never baptized. I guess I am playing with fate because I still have not been baptized like a Christian.
After being married to a good Catholic boy I finished school and taught at a Catholic University. I learned a lot of about this religion but I guess I just could not buy into it. I did read that book you recommended (Eat Pray Love) when it went on sale for half price at I have listened to it twice now and I am going to do a powerpoint presentation on some of her main concepts. I think it will really help the women in treatment. They are always so lost when it comes to spirituality. I will let them know it is good to be cherry pickers. I really loved how she put out so many things in her book. I guess I will now watch the heat of the day turn into the cool of the night....See you in limbo and skinny brother was so good at doing the limbo....

I always look forward to reading your blog.... Another book please!


Anonymous said...

I was brought up a good little Catholic girl until I was 8. But then my Mom found the King James version of the Bible and had spent 10 years listening to her Missionary Baptist in-laws every Sunday afternoon inundating her with doctrine and she decided to yank me outta Church just after my First Communion and right before Major Bradford (can you believe they named that kid *Major*????) was going to ask me to be his girlfriend! Of course he didn't then because I wasn't a Catholic girl anymore, I was now a godless sinner. So I got christened, safe from limbo. Not that I believe in limbo, because a few years later I started getting dragged to the Missionary Baptist church and later got saved and immersed in the flowing waters of a creek in the middle of February because it only works if you're immersed completely and the water is flowing, see.
So then I was safe, and entered into the Church again. I was 12.
I didn't find God, my God until I was 35 and had looked for a while.
I think it is very important to give children a base, a belief in a belief system. A church, a place to start. Hopefully one that is open-minded and open-hearted. Not having a belief system is just as horrible for a child as never having a Santa Claus or birthday presents. Does that make sense to anyone but me? JUST AS LONG as they are made aware when they get older and start asking questions that they are told it is OKAY to have those questions and to go out and find the answers for themselves.

I put off commenting here this long because it was all about THE CHURCH and limbo and it took me this long to remember that I was Catholic once. Yeesh. Or that it wasn't really JUST about being Catholic, but about babies and belief and what happens later.

Anonymous said...

Hello schmidty - Gel here. Great site, not been here before.

Anonymous said...

As one who was undoubtedly burned at the stake for heresy in a past life, I take the Pope and all the other church bosses say with a generous grain of salt.

Whether Roman Catholic, Buddhist, Protestant, Moslem, or whatever, we all will face that inescapable day of reckoning when we breathe our last request for mercy and wait to find out if it was answered. Nothing we were taught as good children will fully prepare us for mortality and none of the clerics will be there to hold our hands and lead us through whatever gates await.

All we can do is wait and see and do our best in the meantime...



Robin Edgar said...

How low can U*Us go? ;-)

pp said...

Holy, I cannot even begin to comment on this new Pope's ... uh ... pomposity(?)

I'm sure you're all too familiar with my position on religions in general and the Holy Roman Catholic Church in partiuclar, so I won't belabor those points here and now.

Wanted to thank you for your recent visit and your support. Means a lot to me.

I notice that this article is somewhat older... I wonder if I'm leaving this comment on the correct blog?

Ah well. It matters not. All trails lead to The Great Path, right?



Holy Thought of the Week

"To live fully is to let go and die with each passing moment, and to be reborn in each new one."

~ Jack Kornfield ~