Waiting in Limbo Limbo is a concept found within the Catholic Church and refers to the idea of an intermediate state between heaven and hell. Limbo is derived from the Latin ‘limbus’ and literally means ‘hem’ or ‘border’, as of a garment, or anything joined. Limbo is divided into Limbus Patrum, the temporary resting place of the souls of good persons who died before Jesus’ resurrection, and Limbus Infantium, the home of children who die without being freed from original sin. Original sin refers to the sin that all humans, according to Christianity, have inherited as a consequence of the sin committed by Adam(as) as a result of which he was ejected from the Garden of Eden. It is through the ritual of baptism that one is cleansed of original sin. Baptism, whatever form it takes, symbolises the remission of sins, and the union of the believer with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection so that he becomes one of Christ’s faithful. The concept of limbo entered Catholic teachings after the 13th century. Before then Catholic teachings suggested that all non- baptised people, including newborn babies who died, would go to Hell. This was because original sin had not been cleansed by baptism. Peter Abelard, a French scholastic philosophiser, argued, however, that babies, not having any personal sin, did not deserve to be punished. He proposed instead that there was a state of existence where unbaptised babies, and those unfortunate, but just, souls born before Jesus, (eg. prophets) would not experience pain but neither would they experience the Beatific Vision of God until Christ’s triumphant ascension into Heaven. This state was that of limbo. 2 The Review of Religions – Janaury 2007 Sarah Waseem – UK EDITORIAL COMMENT Abelard’s idea was accepted in the 13th century by Pope Innocent III and limbo itself was defined in 1904 by Pope Pius X in his catechism. And so it was that after the 13th century the Catholic Church decided that babies who died before being baptised, would go to Limbo, where they do not enjoy God, but neither do they suffer, because, having Original Sin alone, they do not deserve Paradise, but neither do they merit Hell or Purgatory. In 1984, Joseph Ratzinger, then Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, (now Pope Benedict XVI) announced in The Ratzinger Report that, as a private theologian, he rejected the claim that children who die unbaptised could not attain salvation. Pope John Paul II is reported to have been deeply troubled by limbo and had it dropped from the church’s 1992 catechism (a summary of its beliefs.) He also asked the International Theological Commission, which advises the Vatican, to take up the issue. In 1992 the Catechism of the Catholic Church stated that: As regards children who have died without baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God, who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children, which caused him to say, ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them’ [Mark 10:14, cf. 1 Tim. 2:4], allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy baptism. A final decision on this matter is still awaited under Pope Benedict XVI. It is expected that the 3 EDITORIAL COMMENT The Review of Religions – January 2007 International Theological Commission will recommend in their report that the doctrine that all children who die do so “in the hope of eternal salvation” be formally adopted, thus rejecting the theological hypothesis of Limbo. To the writer’s knowledge the Pope Benedict has yet to make a firm decision. However, for many Catholic parents whose children have died prior to being baptised, such a ruling will come as a relief. No longer do they have to agonise about the state of their child’s existence in the next life. Many argue however that instinctively it does not make sense that a baby can be capable of sinning as it has not acquired the ability to discern right from wrong. Islam rejects the notion of original sin, teaching instead that we are all born sinless. Once we have acquired the maturity and ability to become accountable for our actions, we then choose to sin or not to sin. Sin is not therefore hereditary and passed from generation to generation. Now if the Catholic Church accepts that children can attain salvation without baptism, where does this leave the doctrine of original sin? The point of original sin is that it is only through baptism – i.e. the cleansing away of sins, that one attains union with Christ. If such union is possible without baptism and if children who die in infancy can attain salvation, what are the implications for original sin? Does it ‘descend’ on us at some later point in life? The 1992 catechism talks about ‘… the great mercy of God, who desires that all men should be saved’ making it sound very much like the Islamic teaching that hell is a temporary state that God wishes people to move on from. Again this is at odds with the general Christian notion of hell which is seen as eternal. There is a further doctrinal complication ahead. The whole 4 EDITORIAL COMMENT The Review of Religions – Janaury 2007 point of the resurrection was the that God loved mankind so much that he allowed His only begotten son to suffer the crucifixion and death. So Jesus(as) took on the sins of the world in order to save them thereby allowing believers to rid themselves of original sin. Through his belief in the resurrection, a Christian attains salvation. If God, according to Catholic doctrine, now determines who gets into heaven and who does not, regardless of whether they have been baptised, where does that leave original sin, and what was the need for Him to send Jesus(as) to save the world. Furthermore, there was no point in Jesus(as) giving up the ghost during crucifixion, nor of his spending three days in the bowels of the earth, nor of his rising to sit on the right of God the Father. The reality is that Christianity as it is now preached has introduced so many innovations into belief that it has become more implausible in its doctrine and practice. Limbo must go, but it will be very interesting to see how Catholic theologians then address other consequent anom- alies in belief, the greatest of all being the notion of Trinity. 5 EDITORIAL COMMENT The Review of Religions – January 2007 CORRECTION: The quote from Prophet Jesus(as) from Matthew 6:19-20 on the back cover of the August 2006, should have read: ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt and where thieves do not break through nor steal.’
A discussion of the many bounties and gifts from Allah bestowed on those who follow the message of the Holy Qur'an.