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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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An Article So Stupid It Made My Brain Hurt

Trying to compare the efforts to change Catholic doctrine under Pope Francis with Pope Benedict XVI’s devaluation of Limbo is absolutely ridiculous. While Limbo was taught in many catechisms, it was always at most a scholastic theory and our best guess to keep unbaptized babies out of hell.  We must remember, that many early churchmen, including St. Augustine thought that children who died with original sin on their souls went to hell (even if it should be the luxury suite in perdition).  Indeed, Limbo which is defined by ignorance of God and natural happiness, is still arguably a type of hell because we are made for God and his absence for all eternity is an essential component of hell even if minus the pain to the senses or hellfire. 

The shift against the theory began under Pope John Paul II and the promulgation of the universal catechism (1993), long before the publication of the International Theological Commission’s report in 2007. Further, if one looks closely, the possibility of Limbo is not utterly taken off the table, just arguably unlikely.  We must accept that we have no certitude on this question, even if we are optimistic that a compassionate and loving God might make some special provision for the little ones.  Many other theories have been put forward, even when Limbo was the reigning presumption. All of them are somewhat problematical. Some argued that the unbaptized children might be given a moment of enlightenment to make a judgment about their eternal orientation. Others would suggest that the desire of parents or of the Church for their salvation might suffice to save them as they have never committed personal sin. It was along these lines that the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen penned a prayer of spiritual adoption for children in danger of abortion.  

The article also confuses the teaching about the Limbo of the Innocents with the Limbo of the Fathers. It is wholly different from the certain abode where the righteous dead await the coming of Christ. After the descent of our Lord into hell or unto the quick or to the dead, he would translate the just, including all the patriarchs and prophets into heaven. This likely included good St. Joseph.  This place for the dead no longer exists. However, this is not the hypothetical Limbo of the Innocents or Children.  Despite the article’s assertions to the contrary, most old popular catechisms suggested that it was eternal— sharing a natural happiness as in the primordial garden but knowing nothing of supernatural happiness and seeing God.

The teaching of Limbo made it into the catechisms because given mortality rates, the Church felt the need to say something to calm the fears of parents. Indeed, even the current universal catechism counsels urgency in getting newly born children baptized. Failure to do so endangers their salvation. While the prospect may be unlikely, Catholics are still free to hold a view in favor of Limbo.

The report of the commission echoes the catechism that we have “strong grounds for hope” that infants might be saved— but this hope is not absolutely certain.  We may have shifted away from Limbo, but we are unwilling to dismiss the need for faith in Jesus Christ and for baptism. The Church teaches that baptism with water and in the name of the Trinity brings spiritual regeneration. Original sin is washed away. We are given sanctifying grace. We are made adopted sons and daughters of the heavenly Father and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. We become temples for the Holy Spirit. We are made members of the Church or mystical body of Christ. All this is the core doctrine involved and it is here that nothing has changed.  The assumption otherwise in the article is a lie and is propaganda for revisionists who care nothing about babies— as they are frequently the same voices that place the selfish and fearful whims of women over the right to life of their children.  There has been absolutely no movement on moral teachings like the indissolubility of marriage or the evil of sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage or the heinous wrong of abortion.  The article is comparing apples and oranges.

The author goes so far as to make a comparison of the slow death of Limbo as a theory to the fate of the traditional Latin Mass.  Again, there is no comparison as a medieval theory to save a few cannot be compared to a liturgy with apostolic roots where we have certitude of its efficacy in terms of the re-presentation of Calvary and the real presence of the Eucharist. 

The Bible says we should not call our brother a fool and so I will not speak further about the article’s author.