January 14, 2006

The Limbo Rock

The dogma of Limbo has gone the way of St. Christopher – it’s only a Roman Legend – Nevermind! . Surprised? Me neither. The Wall Street Journal, of all places, broke the story on Friday, the 13th, 2006. Yesterday’s headline read: "Stuck in the Middle No More: The Catholic Church Ends "Limbo." What Now?"

For those of you who were not raised in a Catholic family, the reporter Kenneth Woodward gives the definition of Limbo as a: "medieval notion of a place where unbaptized infants, among others, go" after death. [Link for article: http://www.opinionjournal.com/taste/?id=110007808 ] I remember my children’s catechism displaying an artist’s rendition of Limbo in a picture of a beautiful valley with a blue calm river running through a mountain pass. In the depiction, babies and children crawled all over the green grass looking happy and content. We were told that Limbo was as good as Heaven except that God wasn’t there. (Note: Not the Roman Catholic Church’s official definition, just what got communicated to us by the nuns of the order of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange.) Yet the teaching of Limbo goes with the Catholic teaching of baby baptism. The nuns taught us that babies are not born innocent, but all have the stain of Original Sin and cannot get to Heaven without being baptized. If a baby comes into the world stillborn or dies before baptism, they figured, he/she couldn’t be dispatched into hell (as is taught by radio-Bible teacher, Harold Camping), so Limbo served as a good alternative for those poor innocent Original Sin-stained babies.

It seems that this current pope hasn’t been comfortable with Limbo for many years, and now that he’s at the helm, he’s taken on the prerogative of changing it. Woodward put it this way: "Two decades ago, when then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was new to his role as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he said that he personally thought the church should "let [limbo] drop, since it has always been only a theological hypothesis." Now, as Pope Benedict XVI, he can have his way."

So that’s what they’re calling it now, a theological hypothesis?" One Catholic scholar disagrees with this new term. In anticipation of the pope making a proclamation about Limbo, Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., Associate Professor of Theology at the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, wrote an article that appeared in the December 7, 2005 Seattle Times called "Could Limbo Be 'Abolished?"

"It should be clear from the above survey of relevant Catholic magisterial statements that those who now talk about Limbo as only ever having been a mere "hypothesis", rather than a doctrine, are giving a very misleading impression of the state of the question" he argued. "They are implying by this that the pre-Vatican II Church traditionally held, or at least implicitly admitted, that an alternate 'hypothesis' for unbaptized infants was their attainment of eternal salvation — Heaven. Nothing could be further from the truth. Limbo for unbaptized infants was indeed a theological "hypothesis"; but the only approved alternate hypothesis was not Heaven, but very mild hellfire as well as exclusion from the beatific vision! "[See: http://www.seattlecatholic.com/a051207.html ]

So it would seem that Catholic doctrine has painted the Magisterium into a corner. Since their infallible doctrine says only baptized people can get to Heaven, the only other place for unbaptised infants is hell. Yikes! They really have a problem.

"The Christ-Bearer?"

There is a possible way out for the pope. Limbo could be reinstated. Back in the 1960s the wearing of St. Christopher medals was all the rage at my Catholic school. Guys even gave their St. Christopher medals to their girlfriends as a sign of "going steady." Then we were in for a shock – the Church decided that St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers and sailors, never really existed. I was devastated. This revision of history came around the same time as the changes from Vatican II were being implemented. At the young age of twelve – just at the time I was to make my Confirmation -- I became totally disillusioned by my Catholic faith. How could something be true one day and false the next? I ran to an expert who explained to me that the keys of the Kingdom were given to the first pope, St. Peter, and now the apostolic succession of the popes can determine what is true and what is not. They have the keys and what they bound on earth is bound in heaven, so God changes truth in Heaven and they determine it here. (Again, what I was told – you won’t read that in the Catholic Catechism – well, not exactly anyway.)

But now I have discovered that the Roman Catholic Church is still honoring St. Christopher even though he probably didn’t really exist. Wow, doesn’t that give Catholics confidence in their teaching authority? The New Catholic Dictionary has this to say about him: "Martyr (3rd century), died Lydia, Asia Minor. He is one of the most popular saints of the East and West, and is invoked as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. The legends concerning him are confused and often contradictory; however, it is generally conceded that he was engaged in carrying people across a raging stream. One day he carried the Christ Child across, and his burden became heavier at each step until it was almost unbearable, for Christ bore in his hands the weight of the world; to prove His identity Christ caused Christopher's staff to grow into a fruit-bearing tree. This miracle converted many, and excited the rage of the king, who caused Christopher to be imprisoned, subjected to torments, and beheaded. Patron of travelers; invoked against storms and sudden death. Emblems: a tree, the Child Jesus on his shoulders, giant, torrent. Feast, Roman Calendar, 25 July." [See: http://www.catholic-forum.com/saints/saintc05.htm ]

So the Feast Day to St. Christopher is still on the Catholic Calendar even though he is admittedly a legend. Yet the "faithful" are supposed to accept the "legend" as fact. What a bill of goods!! Don’t they ask themselves how could St. Christopher have carried the "Christ Child" across a river in the 3rd century, when Jesus was a baby in the first? Oh, I guess Jesus in His glory in Heaven came down again as a child just to baptize Christopher and then went back to Heaven? When the angels told the onlookers when Jesus ascended into Heaven that He would come back in the same way, they didn’t really mean it? When the Bible says "every eye shall see Him" – they really meant only a legendary man named Christopher would. And Catholics swallow this stuff up lock, stock and barrel!

Perhaps the next dogma to be abolished will be Purgatory – I sure hope so. Limbo is easier to believe than Purgatory, a place where the souls of dead Catholics go to atone for their own sins and if they wore a scapular at the time of death, the Madonna will come in and rescue them on the first Saturday of the month.

Thank God the truth of Scripture doesn’t change like the Cheshire Cat of Catholicism. We can stand on a Rock – not a slippery slimy marble slab of changing winds of doctrine. Truth does not evolve – or devolve. The faith was once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Our God is described as "the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning" (James 1:17).

Heavenly Father, thank you that You preserved Your word and established Your truth and revealed it to babes. Thank you for the simplicity of the Gospel and its never changing foundation that we can rely upon for salvation. Thy word IS a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Pour Your Holy Spirit out upon us as we look to Your word for understanding and help us to not lean upon our own understanding. Keep us who love You steadfast in the Truth as we await Your promised redemption. Help us not to follow decoys that draw us away from the sure foundation You have established for us. Give us the light of Your Spirit to guide us in this dark place of spiritual relativism. We praise You for your indescribable gift. In Jesus’ precious name. Amen.



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