Monday, April 23, 2007

No more tiyanaks?

‘Limbo does not exist’
Vatican scraps ‘place’ for unbaptized babies
Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Inquirer wires
Last updated 03:59am (Mla time) 04/22/2007

VATICAN CITY—The Roman Catholic Church has effectively buried the concept of limbo, opening the gates of heaven to babies who die unbaptized and reversing centuries of traditional Catholic teaching.

In a long-awaited document, the Church’s International Theological Commission said the medieval concept of limbo as a place where unbaptized infants spend eternity but without communion with God seems to reflect an “unduly restrictive view of salvation.”

Pope Benedict, himself a top theologian who before his election in 2005 expressed doubts about limbo, authorized the publication of the 41-page document.

Benedict approved the findings of the commission, a Vatican advisory panel, which said it was reassessing the traditional teaching on limbo in light of “pressing” pastoral needs—primarily the growing number of abortions and infants born to non-believers who die without being baptized.

Theologians said the move was highly significant—both for what it says about Benedict’s willingness to buck a tenet of Catholic belief that dates back to the 13th century, and for what it means theologically about the Church’s views on heaven, hell and original sin—the sin that the faithful believe all children are born with.

The verdict that limbo could now rest in peace had been expected for years. The document was seen as most likely the final word since limbo was never part of Church doctrine.

“The conclusion of this study is that there are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in revelation,” it said.

“There are reasons to hope that God will save these infants precisely because it was not possible (to baptize them).”

Vatican watchers hailed the decision as both a sensitive and significant move by Benedict.
“Parents who are mourning the death of their child are no longer going to be burdened with the added guilt of not having gotten their child baptized,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.

Impact on non-Christians
He said the document also had implications for non-Christians, since it could be seen as suggesting that non-baptized adults could go to heaven if they led a good life.

“I think it shows that Benedict is trying to balance his view of Jesus as being central as the savior of the world ... but at the same time not saying what the Evangelicals say, that anyone who doesn’t accept Jesus is going to hell,” he said in a phone interview.

The International Theological Commission is a body of Vatican-appointed theologians who advise the Pope and the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Benedict headed the Congregation for two decades before becoming pope in 2005.

Generations of torment
The Church teaches that baptism removes original sin which stains all souls since the fall from grace in the Garden of Eden.

Although Catholics have long believed that children who die without being baptized are with original sin and thus excluded from heaven, the Church has no formal doctrine on the matter.

Theologians, however, have long taught that such children enjoy an eternal state of perfect natural happiness, a state commonly called limbo, but without being in communion with God.
The thought that stillborn babies, for example, would be relegated to a kind of no-man’s-land in the afterlife tormented generations of Catholic families.

Concept of limbo
The document said that its conclusions should not be interpreted as questioning original sin or “used to negate the necessity of baptism or delay the conferral of the sacrament.”

Limbo, which comes from the Latin word meaning “border” or “edge,” was considered by medieval theologians to be a state or place reserved for the unbaptized dead, including good people who lived before the coming of Christ.

“People find it increasingly difficult to accept that God is just and merciful if he excludes infants, who have no personal sins, from eternal happiness, whether they are Christian or non-Christian,” the document said.

It said the study was made all the more pressing because “the number of nonbaptized infants has grown considerably, and therefore the reflection on the possibility of salvation for these infants has become urgent.”

Augustine’s teaching
The Theological Commission posted its document Friday on Origins, the documentary service of Catholic News Service.

“If there’s no limbo and we’re not going to revert to St. Augustine’s teaching that unbaptized infants go to hell, we’re left with only one option, namely, that everyone is born in the state of grace,” said the Rev. Richard McBrien, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.

“Baptism does not exist to wipe away the ’stain’ of original sin, but to initiate one into the Church,” he said in an e-mailed response Friday.

While the report does not carry the authority of a papal encyclical or even the weight of a formal document from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it was approved by the Pope on Jan. 19 and was published on the Internet—an indication that it was intended to be widely read by the faithful.

No certainty, just hope
“We can say we have many reasons to hope that there is salvation for these babies,” the Rev. Luis Ladaria, a Jesuit who is the commission’s secretary general, told The Associated Press. He stressed that there was no certainty, just hope.

The document traces centuries of Church views on the fate of unbaptized infants, paying particular attention to the writings of St. Augustine—the 4th century bishop who is particularly dear to Benedict. Augustine wrote that such infants do go to hell, but they suffer only the “mildest condemnation.”

In the document, the commission said that such views were now out of date and that there were “serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and enjoy the beatific vision.”

It stressed, however, that “these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge.”

Parents’ duty remains
No one can know for certain what becomes of unbaptized babies since Scripture is largely silent on the matter, the report said.

It stressed that none of its findings should be taken as diminishing the need for parents to baptize infants.

“Rather ... they provide strong grounds for hope that God will save infants when we have not been able to do for them what we would have wished to do, namely, to baptize them into the faith and life of the church.”

Reports from AP AFP, Inquirer wires
Copyright 2007 Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Inquirer wires. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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