Flash! Limbo No Longer in Limbo!
For centuries, the Catholic Church has debated the existence of limbo. Now, Pope Benedict has finally put an end to the confusion.
By Mary Beth Crain
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the least important and 10 the most, where would you put limbo?
Like, at minus 0, most of us would probably answer with a yawn.
To the Catholic Church, however, limbo is numero uno on the list of today’s most vital issues. 32 Students and Faculty Massacred by Campus Madman…Hundreds Killed in Latest Iraqi Car Bombing…New Horrors of Global Warming Revealed…Darfur Genocide Still Raging…Iran Continuing with Nuclear Program…No More Limbo!
In the words of that A-1 Steak Sauce commercial: Yeah, it’s that important.
Yesterday, after years of deep reflection and theological agonizing, Pope Benedict XVI formally abolished the concept of limbo. In a 41-page document, the Pontiff expressed “optimism that unbaptized children will someday reach heaven,” reported the Catholic News Service. It’s something Benny has been mulling over ever since he was plain old Cardinal Ratzinger. In his 1985 “Ratzinger Report,” the Cardinal assured the world that “Limbo was never a defined truth of faith. Personally, I would abandon it, since it was only a theological hypothesis.” Later, in 2000, he went on to elaborate, explaining that the idea of limbo came about as a protective measure, “to justify the necessity of baptizing infants as early as possible” in order to wash away any traces of Original Sin.
Limbo was actually a creation of the 13th century imagination that had a two-fold purpose. The Limbo of the Fathers was a waiting room where the ancient righteous who lived before Jesus were housed until the Son of God could liberate them. The Limbo of Children, or Limbo Infantium, was an antidote to the sadistic 5th century vision of St. Augustine, who, in one of his viler curmudgeonly moods, proclaimed that any baby who died unbaptized would go directly to hell.
Kiddie Limbo was a sort of benign nursery where dead unbaptized babies ended up. Not good enough for heaven, not bad enough for purgatory or hell, the poor little things were relegated to an eternal life of unbeatified bliss. Limbo’s tiny residents were supposedly happy, even though there were two big things missing: their families and Divine Grace. Come to think of it, this might not be such a bad thing. Imagine an eternal Carnival Cruise without your parents or God on board. Spiritually bereft, perhaps, but not too shabby.
For the Church, limbo became a convenient location that accommodated the innocent while at the same time upholding the requirements for membership in the Heaven Club. Instead of being open-minded and open-hearted and saying, “Oh, heck, those little bitty babies never had time to do anything bad, so let’s let ‘em in,” the self-appointed guardians of the Pearly Gates had to keep up standards. After all, what good is a club that takes just anybody?
Anyway, the abolition of limbo has made lots of Catholics breathe easier. “Now a parent whose child dies before they got a chance to baptize it doesn’t have to have all this religious guilt on top of the tragic sorrow of losing a child,” exulted the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, Jesuit and senior fellow of Georgetown U’s Woodstock Theological Center. “We can celebrate their funerals and say, ‘This child is with the angels,’ even though it wasn’t baptized.”
Um, excuse me, but who in their right mind would even believe such crap to begin with? If you were a parent who’d lost your newborn before you’d had a chance to baptize it, would you for one minute accept the horrible idea that your baby will never be with the angels? And worse, that it’s all your fault because you didn’t get him or her sprinkled with magic water in time? Wouldn’t you ask yourself what kind of a religion would make such senseless, heartless rules? And what kind of God would approve of them?
Which brings up an important point: reason or treason? When it comes to religion, people are never rational. Benedict has his work cut out for him because, as conservative as he may be, he has always been a brilliant scholar and passionate disciple of logic. And this doesn’t sit well with the zealots.
There are other problems with not having limbo around anymore. For instance, we can no longer use the expression “In limbo.” A substitute will have to be found. “In Cleveland,” perhaps? Then there’s the Limbo dance. What can we call that now? I think the “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell Hop” works, don’t you?
Isn’t it time to get real? The very notion of limbo defies simple intelligence. It’s a made-up place! Period! It’s almost like, if anyone chooses to believe in such inanity, they deserve what they get. The idea that a human being—and I’m sorry, but that’s what the Pope is—has the power to officially decree the existence or non-existence of some imaginary land is even more mind-boggling. Let’s put it this way. If you were a grownup who still believed that every word of Mother Goose was true, where do you think you’d be? The state asylum might be a good bet. But if you’re a grownup who still believes in limbo—and mind you, there are plenty of Catholics out there who simply refuse to give up the notion, no matter what the Pope says—nobody’s going to send in the guys with the nets. On the contrary, you’d probably be commended for your holy devotion.
Anyway, I’ve drawn up the following list for His Holiness to reflect upon and hopefully declare—after sufficient thought and documentation—no longer in existence:
1. Fantasy Island
I’m serious. After all, we’re truly fortunate that we have such a forward-thinking pope. Maybe I shouldn’t be leaking this, but as SoMA’s Vatican Watchdog, I do have the inside track on the rumblings from Rome, and the latest scuttlebutt is that the Holy Father’s next shocking move will be to declare that the earth is not flat and that the Chinese do not walk upside down.
Now I can finally stop worrying about how much globe-trotting I can do before I finally fall off the edge, and if all the blood will go to my head if I travel to Taiwan. Whew!
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Senior editor Mary Beth Crain’s last piece for SoMA was The Secret of My Success.
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