A commission of Catholic theologians, which was convened by Pope John Paul II last year, was prepared to recommend to a new pope, Benedict XVI last week that the concept of Limbo be relegated to history.
Limbo is, or was, the place where babies go if they die before they are baptized. It is also thought to hold the souls of those who died prior to Jesus, since it is he who Christians believe makes salvation possible for all mankind.
But if Limbo is closed down by official Catholic doctrine, it begs the question, where do all the souls go from there? Ever since the Middle Ages, Limbo has been the accepted afterlife location of souls who couldn’t enter Heaven but who were not bad enough to go to Hell.
So does that mean all those souls have to be evicted? Or is the new church doctrine one of those, “Oops, we goofed again,” admissions? There never really was a Limbo.
The modern concept of Heaven, at least to most Christians, is as a place where souls are at one with God. It is supposed to be a place of everlasting life and joy.
We see images of Heaven as a place with streets paved with gold, with entry only through the Pearly Gates. Angels are abundant and the souls of those who have passed on float around singing praises to God for all eternity.
Of course, no one really knows what Heaven is like. The traditional view of it would actually be more like hell to me. I don’t want to float around the skies singing praises forever.
Perhaps heaven is a different place for different souls. Since few people on Earth agree about what is pleasurable or joyous, it stands to reason they won’t agree about what Heaven should be like.
But if the Pope can change his mind on Limbo, even though Catholic doctrine says he’s infallible, just maybe he has the concept of heaven wrong, too.
Heaven wasn’t always a place where saved souls went. To the early Jews, it was a place inhabited only by God and his band of angels. When people died, they all went to a place that was cold and dry and all souls were eternally thirsty.
In addition to Heaven, Hell, and Limbo, Catholics also have Purgatory. It is supposedly a place where those who have died in grace can go to make amends for their sins – a sort of waiting room for Heaven.
It’s comforting to believe that our minds, or souls, still exist in a sentient state after we die, especially if that place is a pleasant one. But even if such a place, or places, exists, there is precious little evidence about what it is like.
No one has ever been to Heaven and came back to relate the experience. The same is true of Hell. It happens frequently in movies, but never in real life.
So what is the afterlife like, if it indeed exists? Not only does nobody know for sure, nobody really has a clue. It’s all speculation.
And where will un-baptized babies now go if they die? I guess the Catholic Church will leave that decision in limbo.