Point-Counterpoint: The Doctrine of Limbo

In this month’s issue of the UK’s Catholic Herald, there’s a rather interesting point-counterpoint on a topic that is seldom discussed these days: limbo. In a pair of editorials, one author states that abandoning this longtime doctrine (as some theologians propose) would create a “serious gap in Church teaching”, while a second author responds reasoning why the current edition of the Catechism, by omitting reference to limbo, is accurate since we have no need for this doctrine.

Christ pulling Adam and Eve out of limbo on Holy Saturday – Chora Church, Istanbul

It could be an enriching read for anyone curious about this topic (which I am). After all, where do the souls of the unborn end up if they fall victim to the violence of abortion or agony of miscarriage? What about the children whose parents have just been lazy about getting them baptized? I’ve held that limbo makes sense (in my simple understanding of it). Furthermore, I don’t find the two views below to be at odds with one another (not that either author stated such). Cannot limbo exist while at the same time we pray in hope that those lost without being baptized (speaking of the “limbo of infants”) will find Heaven with the help of God’s mercy which is not bound by the gifts and limits He confers to us? Anyway, below are snippets of each:

POINT: Abandoning limbo would leave a serious gap in Church teaching

[N]ext month in Ramsgate, a theological colloquium, organised by the Dialogos Institute, will look again at the importance of limbo. A number of the distinguished speakers are likely to challenge the idea that limbo can be abandoned. Although the word “limbo” has only been used once in an authoritative document (in 1794), discarding it leaves a serious gap in Church teaching. Some would argue that limbo is, to all intents and purposes, a dogma.

The issue can be confused by differences of terminology. When we recite in the creed that Christ “descended into hell”, we are referring to what theologians have called “the limbo of the fathers”. In the Bible the place where the wicked are tormented after death is called Gehenna as distinct from Sheol or Hades a more general term for the place of the dead outside heaven. Confusingly, classic English translations of scripture translate both as “Hell”. […]

there is the limbo of the infants: the destination of babies who, though they cannot enter heaven because they have not been baptised, are guilty of no personal sin. As St Gregory Nazianzen put it, these infants “will neither be admitted by the just judge to the glory of Heaven nor condemned to suffer punishment.” That those who die in original sin only are confined to hell in this sense is not a theological opinion but a dogma of the Catholic Church solemnly defined by the seventeenth ecumenical council in 1438, which taught “the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go down straightaway to hell to be punished, but with unequal pains.” […]

But although those who die in actual sin suffer in hell, neither the limbo of the infants nor the limbo of the fathers is a place distinguished by suffering (see Luke 16:19–31). Even if one takes the gloomy view of St Gregory the Great and St Augustine, who taught that infants undergo “the mildest condemnation of all”, one must bear in mind that this would be a quasi-paradisal condition unimaginably happier than the world in which we now live.

COUNTERPOINT: The Catechism is right, we do not need limbo

[…] Thus the Church proposes that our knowledge of God’s love, mercy, and salvific power gives us sufficient reason to believe that children who die without Baptism can be saved. If there is any gap, it is only a lack of description of the exact method or mechanism by which God would do this, but surely “through His merciful, salvific love” is adequate to make the idea intelligible. […]

[R]emember the axiom of Peter Lombard, who wrote that God is the author of the sacraments, but He Himself is not bound by them. God doesn’t tie His own hands by His gift of the sacraments to us. […]

To add one more opinion to the debate, it seems more fitting that the God who in the person of His Son bade the children to come to Him would provide the means to bring the countless of children who, through no fault of their own, did not reach the baptismal font to enter into their Father’s house.

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,’ allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism.
CCC 1261

It seems like the past couple years have been so preoccupied with debates over already established dogmas and doctrines from dissenting Catholics that we forgot how to have mutually stimulating debates over doctrines where difference of opinion doesn’t mean dissent but, rather, [real] discussion. ☩


Nobody Likes the “Throwaway Culture”

The current fad of penning digital ‘open letters’ about a situation an individual endured or an individual’s pet cause has become nauseating. Often a perfectly good message becomes obscured with the odor of attention-seeking motive. Today there’s another one of these “viral” letters that has social media and news websites abuzz: An open letter to the parent that thought it was OK to invite the entire class to their child’s birthday except for my sonThe stench aforementioned indeed lingers with this letter but it brings up an interesting, and larger, point.

The “letter” details a situation where a child with Down Syndrome was the only student in his class who wasn’t invited to a classmate’s birthday party. It goes on to explain how sad the boy was when he found out and how the mother is, understandably, upset about this.

I’m curious if many of the people sharing this story online, shocked this would happen, understand the ideology that has led to the brazen disregard for some vulnerable human beings. This situation is a clear symptom of the “Culture of Death” St. JPII regularly spoke about and, more recently, the “Throwaway Culture” that Pope Francis continually mentions. Should we expect any different behavior from a culture which makes it mainstream to encourage the abortion of babies that might require special needs from their parents? Should we be shocked at this display of disregard of human dignity when we have politicians and referendums calling for suicide assisted by a patient’s doctor when someone’s life becomes too burdensome to those around them?

6/28/16 – Celebrity Doctor shares the heartwarming story of vulgar comedian who aborted two babies in one year and says she is “grateful” for her “thoughtful” choice.

I’d encourage the people who are touched by this woman’s unfortunate story to start questioning which culture they are celebrating with their words, enjoyment and money. Do they eat up the worldly, self-centered, and short-sighted Throwaway Culture that so easily disregards people deemed burdensome or contribute to the Culture of Life which strives to take into account the inherent dignity of every person it encounters, no matter their needs. Only one of these ideologies is compatible with the love everyone is so moved to talk about on social media. The longing for this tender love is engraved on the hearts of everyone–if only more people just reflected on this more maybe #lovewins could one day carry a whole different meaning.


A Victory for Life: Parenthood and Purpose

To the credit of ABC and Good Morning America, a story has hit the Internet about a mother who wrote a letter to a doctor–a prenatal specialist–who suggested she abort her child because they detected Down syndrome in the unborn baby (Emmy). The letter was written nearly a year after she turned down the advice of the doctor.

She’s given us a purpose and a joy that is impossible to express. She’s given us bigger smiles, more laughter and sweeter kisses than we’ve ever known. She’s opened our eyes to true beauty and pure love.

The fact that this story is going ‘viral’ online, along with it being reported via mainstream media outlets is a victory not only for Emmy, but for everyone who fights for The Culture of Life. The message from the mother also highlights the most healthy paradigm towards parenting one can have: that with parenthood comes a purpose (a sacred one) and once a parent recognizes this purpose and completely embraces it, love, joy, and graces overflow. May God bless this family.

The letter read:

A friend recently told me of when her prenatal specialist would see her child during her sonograms, he would comment, “He’s perfect.” Once her son was born with Down syndrome, she visited that same doctor. He looked at her little boy and said, “I told you. He’s perfect.”

Her story tore me apart. While I was so grateful for my friend’s experience, it filled me with such sorrow because of what I should have had. I wish you would have been that doctor.

I came to you during the most difficult time in my life. I was terrified, anxious and in complete despair. I didn’t know the truth yet about my baby, and that’s what I desperately needed from you. But instead of support and encouragement, you suggested we terminate our child. I told you her name, and you asked us again if we understood how low our quality of life would be with a child with Down syndrome. You suggested we reconsider our decision to continue the pregnancy.

From that first visit, we dreaded our appointments. The most difficult time in my life was made nearly unbearable because you never told me the truth. My child was perfect.

I’m not angry. I’m not bitter. I’m really just sad. I’m sad the tiny beating hearts you see every day don’t fill you with a perpetual awe. I’m sad the intricate details and the miracle of those sweet little fingers and toes, lungs and eyes and ears don’t always give you pause. I’m sad you were so very wrong to say a baby with Down syndrome would decrease our quality of life. And I’m heartbroken you might have said that to a mommy even today. But I’m mostly sad you’ll never have the privilege of knowing my daughter, Emersyn.

Because, you see, Emersyn has not only added to our quality of life, she’s touched the hearts of thousands. She’s given us a purpose and a joy that is impossible to express. She’s given us bigger smiles, more laughter and sweeter kisses than we’ve ever known. She’s opened our eyes to true beauty and pure love.

So my prayer is that no other mommy will have to go through what I did. My prayer is that you, too, will now see true beauty and pure love with every sonogram.

And my prayer is when you see that next baby with Down syndrome lovingly tucked in her mother’s womb, you will look at that mommy and see me then tell her the truth: “Your child is perfect.”

“I hope he sees Emmy. I hope he sees my words on paper,” Baker told ABC News. “Emmy is proof that children with special needs are worthy and can change the world. She’s doing it right now.”

Most Blessed Mother, Saint Gianna Molla, and Saint John Paul II, please intercede for the mother’s prayers!

MSNBC Planned Parenthood Interview Backfires

In an attempt to draw outrage towards Center for Medical Progress, the pro-life group that made the undercover Planned Parenthood videos, MSNBC interviewed the mother of the 19-week stillborn son whose picture was used by CMP in one of their videos. Pro-abortion groups are claiming that the purpose of using this picture was to purposely mislead people into thinking that it was the image of an aborted baby when the purpose was just to show how well-formed a baby in the second trimester is. The interviewer asked questions trying to get the mother to say she was outraged and felt taken advantage of by CMP (spoiler alert: she wasn’t).

When Lexi first answers, “well my husband and I are extremely pro-life…”, the host surprisingly didn’t frantically cut to commercial break. Lexi kept talking…what ensued was a powerful message about precious life that the MSNBC audience doesn’t normally get to hear unfiltered. Also, it’s just hilarious to see happen.

H/T Joan Desmond, NCR

Pope Francis Validates SSPX Confessions

800px-SSPX_Mass-255x383The pope’s September 1 letter hit the worldwide news in a big way. The letter discussed some plans for the upcoming “Year of Mercy”, starting on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (12/8). He mentioned how all priests will have the ability to absolve anyone who has cooperated in the action of abortion. This confused a lot of Catholics in the United States (including myself) who assumed priests always had this ability. In fact, most priests in the United States have been given this ability already through their respective bishops–something not as common in other parts of the world. Of course, our media reported on this very poorly, adding to the confusion. You can read about it more here.

But there was another part of the letter that deals with the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). Pope Francis dropped this bombshell in the final paragraph of his letter:

A final consideration concerns those faithful who for various reasons choose to attend churches officiated by priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X. This Jubilee Year of Mercy excludes no one. From various quarters, several Brother Bishops have told me of their good faith and sacramental practice, combined however with an uneasy situation from the pastoral standpoint. I trust that in the near future solutions may be found to recover full communion with the priests and superiors of the Fraternity. In the meantime, motivated by the need to respond to the good of these faithful, through my own disposition, I establish that those who during the Holy Year of Mercy  approach these priests of the Fraternity of St Pius X to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation shall validly and licitly receive the absolution of their sins.

This is a huge deal. For anyone who doesn’t know who SSPX is, they are an organization that started in 1970 by Archbishop Lefebvre in response to the Second Vatican Counsel and the changes in the Liturgy that followed. Currently they are in over 60 countries, with 600 valid priests, hundreds of chapels, scores of schools (K-12), and nearly 10 seminaries with the main one in Switzerland. Since Pope Saint John Paul II excommunicated Lefebvre and his four new bishops for illicitly consecrating them in 1988, here are some milestones leading up to where we find ourselves at today:

  • 2007 – Pope Benedict XVI issued Summorum Pontificum, liberating the Traditional Latin Mass (extraordinary form) for the first time since 1970
  • 2009- Pope Benedict XVI lifted the 1988 excommunications placed by Pope Saint John Paul II
  • 2009 – Conversations on bridging the gap between the Vatican and SSPX took place, ending in 2011 and resurfacing a couple times in 2012
  • 2014 – Pope Francis allows SSPX priests to hold Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica (video below)
  • 2015 – SSPX holds a large public demonstration and Mass in response to a “Black Mass” being held in Oklahoma City (video below documenting the event–worth watching)
  • 2015 – Bishop Schneider (Kazakhstan) said in an interview: “To my knowledge there are no weighty reasons in order to deny the clergy and faithful of the SSPX the official canonical recognition, meanwhile they should be accepted as they are.”

So what of this letter? Well, it’s interesting that Pope Francis–seen by many as a progressive or “liberal” pope (a term I disagree with)–has been making some of the biggest strides to reconciling a group that is, conversely, seen by many as traditional and “conservative” (I will point out again that I disagree with these terms when it comes to Catholicism). Now he is using his authority to validate the absolution of their confessions in the upcoming ‘Year of Mercy’. Their Masses still remain valid yet illicit.

He also made a point to add “I trust that in the near future solutions may be found to recover full communion with the priests and superiors of the Fraternity”. This could very well come in the next year. Why would Francis give them the ability to validly absolve people through the sacrament of Confession and then remove that ability exactly a year after? That would be ridiculous.

It has already been pointed out that the Latin Mass has been flourishing under Francis;  that, along with the recent events, means that Francis in indeed no obstacle to the Traditional Latin Mass–something that was feared by some early on. This entire situation is very interesting.

There is no doubt they are not a schismatic group because anyone involved in a schism is automatically excommunicated–they are not (and the now-lifted 1988 excommunications were for a different reason). They are simply not in full communion with the Roman Church due to their odd and “irregular” canonical status which many attribute simply to a situation that was blown out of proportion. However, I must caution that I do not know everything about SSPX history meaning I do not consider myself informed enough to form a solid opinion of the situation.

St Peter’s Basilica Mass:
Oklahoma City Black Mass Response:

Jimmy Akin’s 12 Things to Know and Share on Francis’ Letter