LIMBO-You know what limbo means—of course you do—you’ve probably used that word hundreds of times. It means hanging on the edge, awaiting a decision from someone else—unable to make a move or a decision until a certain question is resolved etc. But do you know what it means in religious terms?—I don’t recall hearing that term used from any pulpit in the Catholic Church for fifty years. But that was not always the case.
When I was a small child being lectured daily in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Limbo was a dramatically important consideration. It was a hand-wringing, gut-wrenching subject of major, major concern. It was so important that baptisms had to be performed on infants very soon after birth—usually one week. In fact, it was so important that even the slightest hint of a baby’s lack of viability at birth or immediately thereafter mandated immediate baptism by whomever was in attendance—no matter what. Years later, as both a medical student and practicing physician delivering babies, that mandated urgency still prevailed. I, personally, don’t ever recall the perceived need to baptize any baby—as a senior medical student, I did in fact deliver fourteen babies in one night at Saint Louis City Hospital #1. Altogether, during my Medical School, post graduate training years and two years of private practice (Family Medicine), I’d estimate that I delivered 300-400 babies—none were in extremis or showed signs of unviability.
If you are not an older Catholic, or if you are non-catholic, you may not have a clue as to where I’m going with this. Where I’m going is this: the psychological trauma impaled on young children and perpetuated into adulthood was/is both scandalous and shameful. You see, an unbaptized infant who died had absolutely no possible chance of getting into heaven. In fact they were perched in a special place called Limbo right on the edge of Hell—the word limbo comes from ‘limbus’, meaning edge or precipice. Oh they were happy, but only ‘naturally’ happy—-they could never, ever enjoy the beatific vision because they still had the stain of Original Sin.Who in his right mind would want an innocent baby to be subjected to such denial? Do you now understand the hand-wringing, gut-wrenching urgency for baptism—I can still remember the anxiety I experienced just thinking of all the babies in the world who died without baptism—there had to be millions, because most people never even heard of Jesus and Baptism.
So where did the concept of Limbo come from in the first place? Well consider this, the same people who came up with the idea of Original Sin, concocted the idea that Baptism was absolutely necessary for admission into heaven. Those two ideas created an immediate dilemma—what were they going to do with all the babies dying unbaptized—they had to have a rational sounding ‘place’ for them—so they dreamed up Limbo. Augustine, Jerome and the likes were the ‘granddaddies’ of Limbo.
You might ask,’what difference does it make, and I’ll say ‘one hell of a difference’. I spent the first thirty five to forty years of my life worrying about such ‘nonsense’. It was years later that I learned that the concept of Limbo was not official dogma of the Catholic Church—each Bishop could teach it or not according to his whelms. It just so happens that the first Bishop of the Owensboro Dioceses under whom I was instructed was Bishop Cotton, An Opus Dei par excellence. He liked Limbo—he loved torture.
So what do we have now? I haven’t delivered a baby since 1967 and I don’t have a clue as to what Catholic nurses are being taught nowadays. What I do know is this. What, once upon a time, was a sober exercise, performed in private within about a week of birth, now has turned into a ‘gala affair’ performed 2-4 months post partum.
Also, not even a whisper of Limbo—I wonder why— I think I know. People are dropping away from religion like dead flies falling off the wall. All austerity must be eliminated. The hierarchy aren’t dumb—they can see what’s happening. They know that the younger set will never take the time and energy to research church history, and they sure as hell aren’t going to volunteer it to them—how many times have you heard a sermon about the Inquisition, or of the selling of indulgences, or of all the bad (horrible) popes?—I’ve never heard a single one and I’m 86 years old. They know that soon enough all the ‘old heads’ who remember all that crap will soon enough be gone—so they keep ‘mum’—-they ‘sweep it under the carpet’—-it never happened. Its a ruse ‘older than God’.
Guess what—-we old heads are still hanging in Limbo—likely, you are also and just don’t know it.
My two little books Wilderness Cry and Peace in Spirituality explain all. I am attaching Covenant Books’ Press release and video trailer for each. If you got questions, you’ll find the answers there.