I was perusing Dante’s Inferno and I saw that the first place visited was called Limbo. Dante saw it: “as a pastoral setting of forests with green meadows, flowing streams, and tall castles. Figures like Ovid, Homer, and Aristotle live in Dante’s limbo, as does a parade of characters from Greco-Roman mythology, and even some Muslims, like Saladin, who managed to fight the crusaders and gain their respect at the same time.”
I assume it had to be placed there because it could not be placed in Purgatory (Purgatorio) since souls in Limbo, unlike Purgatory, have no chance to go to Heaven (Paradiso). Dante’s Limbo differed from the teachings of the church that “those who died in friendship with God before the Resurrection went to a place in Hell called the ‘Bosom of Abraham’”. That place, is not like the Hell we think about because the souls there exist in comfortable circumstance.
The Catholic Church was not so much concerned with them as with what happens with unbaptized babies. St. Augustine concluded in the fourth century that unbaptized babies apparently must be punished in the fire of hell, but only with the “mildest condemnation” apparently putting them in the Bosom of Abraham. As time passed, people were not happy with that so it changed a bit. Saint Thomas Aquinas thought infant souls wouldn’t go to heaven, but they wouldn’t suffer in the afterlife, either. What then to do? The Catholic Church came up with the concept of LImbo. Up into the twentieth century it taught that the unbaptized babies went there.
Again, though, many in the church with more modern and humane considerations thought that was not right. Why would a baby be deprived of heaven just because it was not baptized? The Church though had a problem. It is reported: “Jesus answered: Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” That would seem to exclude these babies.
But the pressure was on since it seemed so cruel to punish infants without sin. In 2007 the Church announced that “the results of a papal investigation of the concept of limbo. Church doctrine now states that unbaptized babies can go to heaven.” It did not throw out the concept of Limbo altogether because “An outright reversal would go against hundreds of years of theological interpretation.” So too one would believe Saint Christopher like Limbo was put on the back burner.
The Church’s teachings appear to take into consideration the opinion of its flock. At one time usury was condemned but as time passed the condemnation was lessened and in a lawyerly or jesuitical (“old anti-Jesuit canard that we can be a little slick with our reasoning”) manner probably best defined by Slick Willy: “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” It had no difficulty with slavery, as we know from the acts of the the nation’s most prominent Jesuit priests at Georgetown who in 1838 sold the enslaved African-Americans which belonged to them. Finally ” Pope Leo XIII condemned the practice in 1888.”
Pope Paul VI in 1965 published Nostra Aetate. The church now allowed that truths could be found in other religions. The Jews as a people no longer were to be blamed for the death of Christ. No longer were the teachings that the Jews killed Christ or that Protestants were in error and could not be granted religious freedom were to be tolerated.
On can only wonder when other teachings that seem so fixed in concrete today will be changed to meet the demands of society that becomes more enlightened. Dare I think that some day the Church might permit the use of contraceptives?