Notion of Limbo Isn't Closed, Expert Says

Author: ZENIT


Notion of Limbo Isn't Closed, Expert Says

Adds It's a Theological Opinion That Can Be Defended

ROME, 3 MAY 2007 (ZENIT)

The theory of limbo is not ruled out, says a member of the International Theological Commission, commenting on a study from the panel.

Sister Sara Butler, a Missionary Servant of the Most Blessed Trinity, has served on the commission since 2004. The commission is an advisory body comprised of 30 theologians chosen by the Pope. Its documents are not considered official expressions of the magisterium, but the commission does help the Holy See to examine important doctrinal issues.

On April 20, the commission released a document, commissioned under Pope John Paul II, called "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized." Benedict XVI approved it for publication.

In an interview with Inside the Vatican magazine, Sister Butler, who teaches dogmatic theology at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, New York, says "the report concludes that limbo remains a 'possible theological opinion.' Anyone who wants to defend it is free to do so. This document, however, tries to give a theological rationale for hoping that unbaptized infants may be saved."

"The [International Theological Commission] wants to give more weight to God's universal salvific will and to solidarity in Christ than to the necessity of baptism, which is not absolute but is qualified in certain ways," she said.

Principles of faith

Sister Butler cited No. 41 of the document: "[B]esides the theory of limbo — which remains a possible theological option — there can be other ways to integrate and safeguard the principles of faith outlined in Scripture."

She added: "The commission is trying to say what the Catechism of the Catholic Church — Nos. 1260, 1261, 1283 — has already said: that we have a right to hope that God will find a way to offer the grace of Christ to infants who have no opportunity for making a personal choice with regard to their salvation."

The document "is trying to provide a theological rationale for what has already been proposed in several magisterial documents since the council," Sister Butler said. "Generally, the [commission] documents offer a point of reference for bishops and theology professors in seminaries, for example, to offer an explanation for the development of doctrine.

"But I doubt whether this would lead to a further statement from the magisterium, because it says no more than what has already been said in the [Catechism], in the funeral rites for infants who have died without baptism in the 1970 Roman Missal, and in 'Pastoralis Actio' — the document from 1980 from the [Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith] on the baptism of infants.

"It says nothing new; it is simply trying to make explicit the theological grounding for this hope. 'Gaudium et Spes,' 22, and 'Lumen Gentium,' 14 and 16, at the Second Vatican Council, opened the way for this development. Actually, some wanted the teaching on limbo formally defined at the council, but the topic was excluded from the agenda."

Extra-sacramental gift

The theological commission's document, she said, "just indicates that given our understanding of God's mercy and the plan of salvation which includes Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit in the Church, we dare to hope that these infants will be saved by some extra-sacramental gift of Christ."

"We do not know what the destiny of these children is," she said, "but we have grounds for hope."

Sister Butler spoke of the plight of aborted babies.

"I'm sure we never considered suggesting that these infants be declared martyrs," she said. "We were, of course, aware that in many places Catholics remember the unborn babies who have been aborted on the feast of the Holy Innocents. We didn't propose a solution."

She added: "In this particular instance, death is the way these children might be united with Christ: Through the violent circumstances of their deaths, they may be united to his paschal mystery.

"The Council explicitly taught that God provides a way of salvation for those who are invincibly ignorant of the Gospel and therefore have no access to sacramental baptism.

"The [commission] report extends the logic of this teaching to infants. We suggest that the Holy Spirit offers to them, in a way known to God, the possibility of being made partakers in the paschal mystery."

Sister Butler nevertheless warned that "the ordinary means of salvation is baptism, and that infants should be baptized; Catholic parents have a serious obligation."

"God is not bound to the sacraments," she said, "and therefore, just as we understand there are other possible ways for adults who are in invincible ignorance of the Gospel to achieve salvation, so we presume there are other ways, known to God, open to infants who unfortunately die without baptism." ZE07050301

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