Limbo in Limbo
Limbo is a Catholic doctrine about a third possible destination in the afterlife. Actually, it’s the fourth option when one also considers their doctrine of Purgatory. (Remember, this is Catholic teaching rather than biblical teaching.) According to the Roman Catholic Church, when a good non-baptized person (or an innocent, non-baptized infant) died their soul couldn’t go to heaven, and it was distasteful to think of them as going to hell, so a third option became official church doctrine. This option was called Limbo. It was a place of mild punishment. It wasn’t heaven and wasn’t quite as bad as hell. It also, wasn’t in the Bible and now, suddenly, it is no longer a Catholic doctrine.
What happened to Limbo? Pope Benedict quietly put the doctrine into a new category. The doctrine isn’t wrong, he says. And it isn’t right. It’s somewhere in between, which, ironically, means Limbo is in doctrinal limbo.
For all of your life up until just recently, every Catholic had to be taught and had to believe in the doctrine of Limbo. Now, no priest has to teach it and no one has to believe it. You can be a Catholic and not believe in Limbo. Again, the Pope isn’t saying the doctrine is right or wrong. It was right. It was truth. Now, it’s just suddenly unnecessary and not necessarily true. He either won’t say, or doesn’t know any more.
This decision has gone widely unnoticed. But to me, it illustrates one of the great flaws of the Catholic church along with any other churches that believe in modern, on-going revelation from God. The Pope (and the Catholic Church) claim to be modern day revealers of God’s truths. According to them, they not only reveal truth, they can make it. And now, suddenly, they don’t know what the truth is while at the same time and in the same stroke of the pen, they are changing the doctrines of salvation.
What happened to Limbo is just the latest example of such a thing. While some of you were still alive (if you were born before 1966), Catholics who ate red meat on Friday’s would go to hell for it. But one day, the Second Vatican Council decided that was no longer the case. Now, Catholics can eat whatever they want and still go to heaven.
For Catholics, such changes are business as usual. For me, it’s a problem. I understand the idea of continued revelation—the church was not fully formed and the truth not fully revealed in the first century and so God would reveal new truths as time went on (or so we are told). But how does that fit with having a new truth revealed and then unrevealed? Meat was not originally banned on Fridays. Then it was. Now it isn’t, again. Limbo wasn’t once a doctrine. Then it was. Now it isn’t, again. This isn’t advancing revelation. This is doctrinal ping pong. We are told that what once was believed was not fully accurate, then we are given a new doctrine and then we are told that the first doctrine was actually right and not the newer one. How can we avoid being confused? When such things happen, shouldn’t we question the original claim that they have inspired, new revelations at all?
In contrast, Paul argued that if anyone (including the apostles) tried to change the Gospel by saying a person must also be circumcised to be saved, well, then that person was to be accursed and their message disregarded (Gal. 1:6-10; 6:12-13).
We must decide for ourselves whether God created a faith which was constantly evolving and being changed (either by the Catholic church or any other denominational conference) or was the faith “once for all delivered” (Jude 1:3). If the faith was once for all delivered as Jude states, then we should also expect there to be someone trying to change it and the duty falls to us to contend earnestly for that original faith.
What say you? Which path of revelation should we take?