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Saturday, January 2, 2016
From New Oxford Review (Sep 2008) http://www.newoxfordreview.org/letters.jsp?did=0908-letters
(1) Although limbo may have been "elaborated by theologians beginning in the Middle Ages," as the Vatican's International Theological Commission states, it nevertheless goes back at least to the Fathers of the Church. For example, even though he does not use the word "limbo," St. Gregory Nazianzen wrote, "It will happen, I believe, that the children dying without baptism will never be admitted by the Just Judge to the glory of Heaven, nor condemned to suffer punishment since, though unsealed [by baptism], they are not wicked" (de Bapt., XVIII). Clearly, from this quote alone (and there are others like it found among the Fathers of the Church), the notion of limbo is an ancient tradition of the Church.
(2) The Code of Canon Law is very explicit in regard to the urgency of baptizing infants. Canon 867 states, "Parents are obliged to see that their infants are baptized within the first few weeks," and "If the infant is in danger of death, it is to be baptized without any delay." What is more, even the infant of a non-Catholic who is in danger of death is to be baptized immediately: "The infant of Catholic parents, in fact of non-Catholic parents also, who is in the danger of death (in periculo mortis) is licitly baptized even against the will of the parents" (can. 868; emphasis added). The Code also mentions that aborted babies, "if they are alive, are to be baptized, in so far as this is possible" (can. 871). Why worry about getting into an altercation, even a possible lawsuit, by baptizing some non-Catholic's dying baby if there is no limbo? Why worry about baptizing aborted babies if there is such assurance they go straight to Heaven? Why is Hell so bent on abortion if all babies go straight to Heaven? Even the Catechism (#1261), after giving room for an option other than limbo, follows up immediately by saying, baptize! In other words, "the Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry in to eternal beatitude" (#1257; italics added).
(3) Fr. Albert J. Herbert, in his book Saints Who Raised the Dead (TAN Books), indicates that around eleven saints raised little babies from the dead in order to have them baptized. Among them was St. Joan of Arc, who raised a child already turned somewhat black from being dead for some days. The child came to life, was baptized, and then died again. Other saints listed in the book include Hilary of Poitiers, Colette, Frances of Rome, Philip Neri, Francis Xavier, and Gerard Majella. Why did God do this if there is no limbo and all infants go straight to Heaven?
(4) We have the superhuman efforts of missionaries seeking to baptize every infant possible. St. Jean de Brebeuf summed it up when he declared that he would "go to the ends of the world to baptize a single savage." When St. Anthony Daniel was being shot with arrows and clubbed to death, he noticed a brave of his company dying who had not yet been baptized. He used all his remaining strength to move toward him in order to baptize him. He did not leave him to "baptism of desire," but rather made certain of his baptism by water, as our Lord commanded. These saints displayed a remarkable sense of urgency in seeking the baptism of each and every person, both children and adults, regardless of their own safety. We should ask ourselves what drove them to this. Was it not the Holy Spirit?
(5) We must admit that there is no injustice with limbo. Limbo has always been considered merciful -- most fathers, doctors, and saints considered the only other option to be Hell itself. Such punishment would indeed be along the lines of injustice. We must recognize that we are all beggars, and no one has a right to Heaven or to grace (cf. Catechism, #2007). If a man gives to one beggar rather than to another, he does not violate justice. And here we arrive at the modern problem with limbo: We have lost the sense of sin. When we recognize the evil of sin, then we will see that it can have disastrous effects on our children and the generations that follow -- effects that reach beyond this life. This behooves us to take responsibility for seeking the conversion and baptism of the nations (cf. Mt. 28:19) instead of making God responsible for it all, when, in fact, He has given us the remedy in baptism. This means the Church has the remedy! And she does not bar children from this Sacrament, as the Code of Canon Law indicates. Rather, it is the sins of the parents and the loss of the sense of sin that are often visited upon the children. Is not the current vocations crisis at least in part brought on by the sins of our parents' generation -- i.e., indulgence in contraception and sterilization? Think of all the damage done to children by divorce, drugs, pornography, etc. It seems to me that this is "the serious pastoral problem" that needs to be addressed -- not limbo.
Neither the Catechism nor the recent International Theological Commission's report on children dying without baptism dismisses limbo as a reality, because it simply cannot be done. At the end of the day, all we can really do is entrust unbaptized babies to the mercy of God, because God Himself left the matter grey, if for no other reason than to encourage us all the more to fulfill His commandment: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt. 28:19).
Fr. Sean Kopczynski, C.P.M.
Carmelite Monastery of the Holy Cross
Iron Mountain, Michigan