Monday, April 30, 2007

Limbo in Limbo

Not since the 1950s have we seen such a shift in the public teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

Research theologians in the Catholic International Theological Commission have discovered that there are "serious... grounds for hope that unbaptised infants who die will be saved... We emphasise that these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge."

For many centuries Rome has taught that infants who had not been baptised still suffered from the guilt of "original sin", inherited from Adam, and therefore could not be admitted to heaven. Augustine taught that they were in Hell, but only mildly punished. Later theologians constructed the concept of Limbo, and taught that it was a place of happiness, or mere loss - not a place of suffering.

The theological establishment (including the current and previous popes) has been back-pedalling for some time, stating that Limbo was not part of the infallible teaching, but merely an conclusion drawn from other infallible teachings. Since 1970, Catholic funerals have been permitted for unbaptised infants, where their parents had intended for them to be baptised. There are, however, other theologians who state that both St Augustine and councils of the church have defined limbo as official teaching.

Evangelical protestants, for the most part, teach that infants are admitted to heaven if they have not gained the ability to accept or reject God before they die.

The new Catholic teaching, supported by the pope, but not endorsed ex cathedra, is curiously hesitant. It seems to place the concept of Limbo for infants... in limbo.

The statement itself has been curiously delayed. The International Theological Commission completed its statement in December 2005, but it was not until January 2007 that publication was approved by the Pope. The 41-page document was published by the Catholic News Service in Origins, on 20th April. The publication costs $5, and the document is not yet freely available on the Internet.

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