Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Teaching on Limbo in a State Of...

One of the things I find so refreshing in the Catholic Church is the history of such rich theological expression.  Saintly theological giants such as St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Anselm, Bl. Duns Scotus, and even a modern theological giant in our time like Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI have engaged in theological discourse to eloquently spell out matters of a theological nature in blessed Mother Church.  One thing that each of these theological giants had to discuss was a small teaching in the Church that needed plenty of discourse: the Catholic idea of Limbus Infantum, or Limbo of the Infants.

In my Protestant days I never had any question over the souls of infants who die before receiving the Sacrament of Baptism.  Yet, as a Protestant, I never saw baptism as any other means than just symbolic acceptance of Jesus Christ and his covenant.  I didn't have the Catholic understanding of baptism.

Upon my conversion process into the Catholic Church I stumbled upon the teaching of Original Sin, the mark on every man that separates us from God beginning with the sin of Adam and Eve.  Upon learning about how the church understood original sin, the Council of Florence decreed that any person who died in a state of original sin would not receive the Beatific Vision.  The Beatific Vision is our ultimate destination in Heaven- perfect union with God and a perfected state.  Another way of saying this is that those who die in a state of Original Sin are incapable of a destination in Heaven.  Therefore, based off of scripture, the only other destination would be Hell (not Purgatory as Purgatory is a process of purgation of the affects of sin for the Heaven-bound soul).  So the original idea was that unbaptized babies went straight to the place of the damned.  This was not something that sat well with theologians.  Understand, we do not have a monopoly on grace in the post-Vatican II Church.  These theologians tried to reconcile this teaching with the understanding of a loving and merciful God. St. Augustine is a theologian well known for his original discourse on Limbo, who believed these infants were damned.  Peter Abelard, a theologian in the 1100's had made the claim that the loss of the Beatific Vision is all that would occur for the infant who died without baptism.  St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure also provided their theories that, while based off of our understanding of Original Sin and believing an unbaptized infant would not receive the Beatific Vision in the afterlife, that there would be no actual eternal punishment and suffering to endure in the afterlife as no personal sin was committed by the child.  It was even posited that an infant in Limbo could experience even a natural joy similarly experienced in our lives now.  So the theory had developed over time in the Catholic teaching on Limbo of the Infants- a place where unbaptized infants were to end up as a result of the loss of the Beatific Vision, but a state of being without eternal torment as a result of personal sin committed during one's life.

As we find ourselves here in the Catholic Church in 2015, this is a teaching that is not spoken of very often.  In many ways it has been downplayed, yet not abrogated by the Magisterium of the Church.

In 2007, the International Theological Commission was asked by the Vatican to weigh in on this issue.  The result was a document called The Hope of Salvation For Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized.  The ITC weighed in to offer grounds that the Church can "hope" for the salvation of these infants.  In the document it correctly acknowledges that as mentioned in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude." (CCC 1257)  Yet, the Church teaches that there are 3 means of baptism.  There is baptism by water as the normative means of baptism.  There is the baptism by desire, i.e. someone who may convert to the faith in heart and mind, but for whatever reason cannot legitimately be baptized by water before the time of their natural death.  There is also the baptism of blood, i.e. that one dies as a martyr of the faith before official entry into the Church through baptism of water.  

The Commission makes the correct statement also that God is all powerful and is not bound by any of the sacraments he has prescribed to the Church.  The Commission suggests that God may possibly use any of these other means of baptism to receive the souls of these infants into Heaven.  The problem that has already been deduced by others is that as far as the Church understands, babies do not have a desire for anything.  Babies are not capable of reasoning and therefore cannot desire anything.  They just have natural reflexes guiding their actions.  The guidelines for martyrdom are particular, and it has also been suggested by others that infants do not possess the faith in Christ in order to be martyred for Him.  Also, even though God is not bound by anything, He reveals to us His nature and plan of salvation for mankind.  His nature and plan for us involves the sacraments, therefore one wonders why he would use a new plan outside of the one he has given to His Church.

Nonetheless, the Commission leaves us with a vague permission that one can hope for their salvation even if we do not understand how God saves these children.  This same document also goes against the grain and issues warning to parents not to delay the baptisms of their children, and concedes that Limbo is still a valid theory in the Church.  So the only goal of the document is just to suggest that one has the ability to hope for this salvation of unbaptized infants only, not that the Church knows if this salvation occurs.

So that being said, even based off of this document, I am not convinced that the Church has abandoned the teaching on the Limbus Infantum.  My reasons are as follows:

1. This teaching is not entirely unbiblical, as a Limbo of the Fathers (Abraham's Bosom) is mentioned by Christ himself as being a place of the soul's waiting for the Son of God to come for them.  We know such a state was involved in God's plan, so it is possible that it still is.

2. The list of Catholic theological giants that subscribed to some form of Limbo, whether they were comfortable with the teaching or not, is not to be taken lightly.  Dr. Taylor Marshall has a list mentioned in one of his several blogs on this topic.

3. People mistakenly think that Pope Benedict XVI did away with this Church teaching for God.  NY Times articles declared "Pope Closes Limbo" (as if the Pope had such a power).  In the book format interview with then Cardinal Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth, Ratzinger states that his personal opinion on the issue (and not the opinion as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, his title in the Roman Curia at the time) is that the teaching on Limbo should be done away with. This is based off of our current understanding of God's mercy as spelled out after Vatican II.  As he became Pope, he gave his approval of the Commission's document during his pontificate.  Yet, as mentioned earlier: the teaching on Limbo is still a valid belief to hold in the Church.  So Pope Benedict did not abrogate this teaching at all.

3. It is not infallibly defined intrinsically in any council of the Church, yet it's mention in magisterial  and council documents gives it weight and merit (which leads me to think that this is why the commission, nor Pope Benedict can technically abrogate it).

4. People think that the teaching on Limbo is a punishment on these infants.  I admit, it is hard to understand.  Yet, Jesus had many teachings that did not sit well with others in his own time.  The understanding of Limbo though is a very merciful outreach of the souls of the infants in question.  Limbo explains why these children do not suffer for eternity like the Massa Damnata, but have the possibility of joy in their final state.  So even though it is hard to understand, we can know it is not cruel.

It is obvious that the Church is in need of more dialogue about this teaching.  I hope and pray that this happens over the coming years.  This teaching should not be accepted based off of it being "traditional" or hard-line, but should carefully be accepted to be a teaching that exists in our Church.  Whether or not that actually changes in the future, God be praised!

Some good links on this:

Catholic Exchange

Dr. Taylor Marshall's Blog

Catholic Essentials



Why Francis Chan Made Me Catholic

As my first entry into this series, I am going back to my days as an Evangelical.  Francis Chan. Let me start by saying that this man was my hero in my Protestant days, and in some ways is still a hero to me. Francis was the former pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley.  This man built up that Church and turned it into a "mega church".  He felt a call from God to get away from the fame he had built for himself, subsequently resigned from his position at Cornerstone, and immigrated to China for a few years to find God in his roots.  He felt the Holy Ghost calling him back to the United States and now resides in San Francisco, CA as an evangelist/ inspirational speaker.

In my days as an Evangelical, I received my first "retreat high" from this preacher.  I was on a college retreat in Forest Home in CA, and he was the speaker leading the retreat.  I had never before, nor since, encountered a Christian who can captivate and bring silence into a room the first few seconds into his talk.  Francis has a definite gift for engaging the hearts of every person in the room.  God bless Francis, but I think he would say it is all God.  If so, then that is not really fair to anybody else with a mouth to speak and the Holy Ghost living inside of them.  So I do want to give Francis a tiny drop of credit.

Now, how did Francis Chan make me Catholic?

It doesn't take much time into any of Chan's sermons to feel a sense of guilt being dropped on you.  That is one of the aspects that makes Chan's talks so impacting, the challenge of being complacent in the presence of Almighty God.  If you look at Chan's life, you can see the same guilt occuring in his heart and soul.  If you know his background, his Church had a huge fortune being thrown at him, but he did not want to take any more money than he needed.  When his fame got too big for him, he quit and ran away to a Communist country to get away from it all.  When he came back to the U.S., in his talks he explains that he couldn't justify being in a building for Jesus, but had to go out into the world.  All this is wonderful and inspiring! Yet, one then understands another aspect of why Francis Chan is so restless.  It is really up to him to figure out what God wants.  Whatever may be good in whatever ministry he is involved in, he worries that he may be too comfortable and then worries about the judgment of God- and then runs in another direction.  What does God want from Him?  Well, his faith, love, and devotion.  Yet, Chan cannot be settled into any ministry he has been a part of.  Again, one just walks away thinking that Chan is looking for God still in all of these ministries.

I have read all of his books, and while they hold some water to all that is Chan, it is dry in comparison.  In his book Erasing Hell: What God Said About Eternity, and the Things We've Made Up, Chan is confronting fellow emerging movement, and former Pastor, Rob Bell.  Rob Bell's book Love Wins was written to begin the removal of the doctrine of Hell from Evangelical Theology.  Chan wrote a book defending the doctrine of Hell as a rebuttal.  In his book, he acknowledges that Hell is a traditional doctrine as defined not only through the bible, but historic Ecumenical Councils.  In a footnote to that point, he then goes on to then dismantle the use of Ecumenical Councils as a valid reason to hold any Christian belief, as the councils were corrupt and defined doctrines and dogmas that they should not have.  So already, even though Chan uses councils as a reason, he then removes them as a reason.

When I read this, it became clear to me what the true "protest" in Protestantism was: authority.  Even though a Protestant may say that all authority comes from God, but through the bible.  Yet, they really cannot mean that, because the bible does not define the bible.  The bible needs an interpreter.  So, a Protestant may not understand this (does understands, but disagrees), but they place the authority on themselves, and I would say at the expense of God's authority.

So bringing this back to Chan- to me it seemed that even though Francis is such a profound speaker and evangelist, he is still looking for God.  What he doesn't believe or accept is that the God-man, Jesus Christ, established ONE Church.  We can see in history that one Church, that then had people separate themselves from her.  In it Christ has given us the gift of the sacraments, to ground us and to lift us into the Kingdom of Heaven.  Chan wants Christ in his heart so bad, but his uncertainty
is his own enemy.

What Chan showed me is that God left us with an authority. We are physical beings who cannot sense God on our own.  God has to spell things out for us.  Therefore, it did not make sense that God would just leave us a book that none of us can agree on.  Yet, in that book He left us a Church.  In that Church, He set up an authority that He is Sovereign over.  That Church gives us the lines that mark the path to God, where I do not have to figure this path out ALL by myself.  We all must walk the path, but without a map, how do you know where the treasure is?  The bible is just one part of the map, but we need the interpreter as well.

I love Francis Chan.  Again, this man is still a hero to me in some ways.  Even though he finds himself unsettled, he would give everything to God if he knew that is what God asked.  That is to be admired.  I pray often for his conversion to the Catholic faith.  Every good gift he has is Catholic, whether he knows it or not.

Also, small side note.  There was another man who became so unsettled with his life, that he gave up every worldly possession he had.  He felt so drawn by God that he left his home and ran into the wilderness to care for the leapers.  He felt called by God to evangelize the Mohammedans, and made a venture to visit and try to convert the Sultan himself!  Yet, he did not do anything without the approval of his Bishop, and also the Pope.  This man was confident that even though he gave all to God, that without adhering to the authority that God left for His Church, that he was to just be a wanderer without a home.  That man was St. Francis of Assisi.

Why ___________ Made Me Catholic

There is one reason why every Catholic should be a Catholic, because it is the truth.  Yet, on a personal level, every Catholic may have handfuls of reasons why he or she is Catholic.  While reflecting on my upbringing, my conversion to Evangelical Protestantism, my confirmation into Continuing Anglicanism, and then reaching my home in the Catholic Church I am reminded of all the small moments, interactions, people who played a role in my becoming Catholic.  So on top of some other blogs coming up, I am going to be sharing stories of those things that made me a Catholic.  

Stay tuned...