"Limbo has never been a definitive truth of the faith," Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Benedict XVI earlier this year, said in an interview in 1984, during his long term as Pope John Paul II's doctrinal watchdog. "Personally, I would let it drop, since it has always been only a theological hypothesis."...The idea seems to have originated because of the need to moderate the harshness of the religion. But limbo itself may seem too harsh today:
The theology is complicated, but the bottom line is that Augustine, believing in mankind's original sin, persuaded a church council in 418 to reject any notion of an "intermediary place" between heaven and hell. He held that baptism was necessary for salvation, and that unbaptized babies would actually go to hell, though in his later writings he conceded that it would entail the mildest of conditions....
In the Middle Ages, theologians, notably St. Thomas Aquinas, postulated a slightly cheerier idea: limbo, from the Latin "limbus," meaning a hem or a boundary. Here innocents would live forever in what Thomas called "natural happiness," if not in heaven.
The church is growing most in poor places like Africa and Asia where infant mortality remains high. While the concerns of the experts reconsidering limbo are more theological, it does not hurt the church's future if an African mother who has lost a baby can receive more hopeful news from her priest in 2005 than, say, an Italian mother did 100 years ago.Is religion about consolation? Is it about consolation because it's really about expansion and consolation works? Is it about consolation because it's really about expansion and the greatest potential for expansion is among the poorest people who really need consolation? I don't see how any of that has anything to do with whether limbo in fact exists.
"You look at the proper theology, but if there is more consolation, all the better," said the Rev. Luis Ladaria, the Spanish Jesuit who is secretary general of the International Theological Commission, the official body working on limbo.
UPDATE: In related news, Pope Benedict said today that God sees embryos as fully human:
"The loving eyes of God look on the human being, considered full and complete at its beginning," Benedict said in his weekly address to the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square.Do the Psalms count as God's perspective?
Quoting Psalm 139, Benedict said the Bible teaches that God already recognises the embryo as a complete human. That view is the basis for the Church teaching that aborting or manipulating these embryos amounts to murder.
In Psalm 139, the psalmist says to God: "Thou didst see my limbs unformed in the womb, and in thy book they are all recorded."
"It is extremely powerful, the idea in this psalm, that in this 'unformed' embryo God already sees the whole future," Benedict said.