Commenting on the recommendation of the Vatican International Theological Commission to eliminate the concept of limbo, Michelle Tsai, writing for Slate, offers some interesting thoughts on past efforts by church leaders to resolve the final destination of baby souls in the afterlife. It’s nice that today there is a growing theological awareness of God’s mercy, because just a few centuries ago St. Augustine was offering this:
The fate of unbaptized babies has confounded Catholic scholars for centuries. According to church catechisms, or teachings, babies that haven’t been splashed with holy water bear the original sin, which makes them ineligible for joining God in heaven. At the same time, as innocent beings, they surely don’t deserve eternal torment. St. Augustine concluded in the fourth century that the babies must be punished in the fire of hell, but only with the “mildest condemnation.”
I have often commented that while the problem of evil may not be a logically watertight argument against the existence of an all loving, all powerful God, it is pretty darn close. But I do think it is a logical impossibility that a just and loving God sentences babies to Hell. Maybe I’m just a dumbass atheist, but it sure looks to me like eternal baby torture is incompatible with being omnipotent and omnibenevloent.
At least Thomas Aquinas would come along later to provide a voice of moderation:
Eight centuries later, Thomas Aquinas thought infant souls wouldn’t go to heaven, but they wouldn’t suffer in the afterlife, either (and they wouldn’t even know what they were missing). Theologians eventually settled on limbo as a hypothetical compromise–a state of natural, though incomplete, happiness.
Well, that’s much better.
Incidentally, we shouldn’t let the following nugget go by:
Though the Vatican has effectively done an about-face, it won’t directly state that limbo never existed. Instead, it says that official church dogma never included the concept and that limbo remains a “possible theological hypothesis.” Why the hemming and hawing? The church can’t admit to going against hundreds of years of theological interpretation. Such a reversal would be a sign of error. And since the Roman Catholic Church is imbued with the Holy Spirit, it can never be wrong.
The Church declares that it is imbued with the Holy Spirit and is therefore infallible. But scientists are the arrogant ones?