"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Limbo: the issue that won't go away

Why do I say that about limbo when there seem to be so many more pressing concerns for Christians today? Well, the provenance and history of this issue is often cited as a standard objection to orthodox Catholicism not only by some devout non-Catholics, which is only to be expected, but also and more importantly by prog and rad-trad Catholics, whom I follow Richard John Neuhaus in calling "discontinuants." Thus if doctrine can "develop" in such a way that a belief once taught without question in the Church can be abandoned, tacitly if not officially, then the claim of the present Catholic hierarchy to teach infallibly is effectively discredited.

I've already written an article on limbo responding to that charge. That's timely because the charge is about to be revived as the Vatican's International Theological Commission reviews a draft of its pending report on limbo. The key clue to the result has already been given out by the ITC secretary-general, Luis Ladaria, SJ. On Vatican Radio, he said there is "no binding doctrine" on limbo—thus implying that it's been a mere theological opinion after all—and that "[b]ecause of recent developments, not only theological but also of the magisterium, this belief is in crisis today." I predict the eventual report will say that, while it's acceptable as opinion to believe there's a limbo, it's also acceptable to deny there's a limbo.

Beyond reviving the charge I've already addressed, that will cause many Catholics—especially women who have miscarried—to believe that all infants who die without baptism will automatically go to heaven. But as hard-hearted as it might seem to say so, such easy universalism finds no more warrant in the deposit of faith than the old rigorism. The most defensible position, it seems to me, is the one I took in my article: there is a limbo, but it's not permanent; everybody eventually gets the chance to choose definitively for or against Christ. If they've had no opportunity to do so in this life, they get to do so in the next.
blog comments powered by Disqus