Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Pope tries to save souls of unbaptised babies

Pope tries to win hearts and minds by saving souls of unbaptised babies
By Ruth Gledhill and Richard Owen

THE Pope will cast aside centuries of Catholic belief later this week by abolishing formally the concept of limbo, in a gesture calculated to help to win the souls of millions of babies in the developing world for Christ.

All the evidence suggests that Benedict XVI never believed in the idea anyway. But in the fertile evangelisation zones of Africa and Asia, the Pope — an acknowledged authority on all things Islamic — is only too aware that Muslims believe the souls of stillborn babies go straight to Heaven. For the Church, looking to spread the faith in countries with a high infant mortality rate, now is a good time to make it absolutely clear that stillborn babies of Christian mothers go direct to Heaven, too.

Anyone who deludes themselves that Muslims do not know about limbo would be wrong. Dante put Jerusalem’s conqueror Saladin in limbo in his Inferno, along with Ovid and Homer and other pre-Christian villains and heroes.

Even though it has never been part of the Church’s doctrine formally, the existence of limbo was taught until recently to Catholics around the world. In Britain it was in the Penny Catechism, approved by the Catholic bishops of England and Wales, that declared limbo “a place of rest where the souls of the just who died before Christ were detained”.

But its lack of doctrinal authority has long failed to impress the Pope. who was recorded as saying before his election: “Personally, I would let it drop, since it has always been only a theological hypothesis.”

This week a 30-strong Vatican international commission of theologians, which has been examining limbo, began its final deliberations. Vatican sources said it had concluded that all children who die do so in the expectation of “the universal salvation of God” and the “mediation of Christ”, whether baptised or not.

The theologians’ finding is that God wishes all souls to be saved, and that the souls of unbaptised children are entrusted to a “merciful God” whose ways of ensuring salvation cannot be known. “In effect, this means that all children who die go to Heaven,” one source said.

The commission’s conclusions will be approved formally by the Pope on Friday.

Christians hold that Heaven is a state of union with God, while Hell is separation from God. They have long wrestled, however, not only with the fate of unbaptised children, but also with the conundrum of what happened to those who lived a “good life” but died before the time of Jesus.

The answer since the 13th century has been limbo. What remains in an uncertain state, though, is the status of all the pre-Christian and unbaptised adult souls held by some still to be in this halfway house between Heaven and Hell.

The Pope is expected to abolish only “limbus infantium”, where the souls of unbaptised infants go. The precise status of “limbus patrum”, where the good people went who lived before Christ remains . . . well, in limbo.

Although it is the latter that has been subject to such dramatic representation in art and literature, no Christian mother today who miscarries, has a stillborn child or otherwise loses a baby before baptism can bear to view without a purgatorial shudder the traditional images, such as those by Giotto, of Christ freeing Old Testament figures from limbo.

In propelling limbo out of its own uncertain state, the Pope is merely acknowledging the distress its half-existence causes to millions and is bringing his characteristic Teutonic sense of righteous clarity to the matter.

One of the reasons Baptists and some other Protestant denominations resist infant baptism is because they believe the souls of babies are innocent and that it is for adults to choose a life in Christ or otherwise. The Early Church father Tertullian opposed infant baptism on these grounds. But the teachings that took hold of the imagination and the faith of the early Christians were those of the Greek fathers such as Gregory of Nazianzus who wrote: “It will happen, I believe . . . that those last mentioned [infants dying without baptism] will neither be admitted by the just judge to the glory of Heaven nor condemned to suffer punishment, since, they are not wicked.”

This seems lenient compared with St Augustine, who in 418 persuaded the Council of Carthage to condemn the British Pelagian heresy that there was an “in between” place for unbaptised babies. He persuaded the council that unbaptised babies share the general misery of the damned. The most he would concede was that their misery was not quite as bad as that of wicked dead adults.

all article you can find here



Post a Comment

<< Home