Back in the 5th century, St. Augustine wrote that when unbaptized babies die, they go straight to hell. Why? That pesky concept of original sin, dating back to Adam and Eve.
By the Middle Ages, Catholics had relented somewhat, and people came up with the concept of limbo. While never actually part of church dogma, popular belief was that unbaptized babies went to limbo, along with some philosophers and pre-Christian Jews.
This week, a Vatican committee published a report that rejects the concept of limbo. Not only that, but they suggest that unbaptized babies might, just might enter heaven directly. After spending years debating the issue, how did they come to this conclusion? Seems the 21st century God is a kindler, gentler one than back in the 12th century.
Limbo, the commission said, “reflects an unduly restrictive view of salvation.”
“Our conclusion,” the panel said in its 41-page report, is that there are “serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and brought into eternal happiness.” The committee added that although this is not “sure knowledge,” it comes in the context of a loving and just God who “wants all human beings to be saved.”
Oh, and it’s also a way of competing with other faiths for the hearts and minds of believers.
The question of limbo had become a “matter of pastoral urgency” because of the growing number of babies who do not receive the baptismal rite. Especially in Africa and other parts of the world where Catholicism is growing but has competition from other faiths such as Islam, high infant mortality rates mean many families live with a church teaching them that their babies could not go to heaven.
Traditionalists are not happy with the report.
“It makes baptism a formality, a party, instead of a necessity,” Wolfe said. “There would be no reason for infant baptisms. It would put the Catholic Church on par with the Protestants.”
It would also deprive Catholic leaders of a tool in their fight against abortion, he added. Priests have long told women that their aborted fetuses cannot go to heaven, which in theory was another argument against ending pregnancy. Without limbo, those fetuses presumably would no longer be denied communion with God.