My mother was born to a Norwegian Lutheran, who feared for her infant children, lest they die prior to receiving the ordinance of baptism. I never knew my grandmother, but according to my mother, her fear was genuine.
Has there ever been a crueler teaching than the idea that unbaptized infants would be rewarded with eternal damnation? The idea of “limbo” was intended to soften that teaching. It was said to be a place — not quite heaven — where unbaptized babies could live without experiencing the torments of hell. I am not sure whether Grandma Thompson believed in limbo, but it is hard to imagine her taking much comfort from it.
Now, limbo is about to be abandoned by the Roman Catholic Church. Prior to his election as pope, Benedict XVI called limbo “only a theological hypothesis,” and he is doing something about it:
This month, 30 top theologians from around the world met at the Vatican to discuss, among other quandaries, the problem of what happens to babies who die without baptism. They do not like the word for it, but what they were really doing, as theological advisers to Pope Benedict XVI, was finally disposing of limbo – a concept that was never official church doctrine but has been an enduring medieval theory of a blissful state among the departed, somehow different from both heaven and hell.
What concept will replace limbo? According to early reports of the meeting, the theologians are set to replace limbo with a more “compassionate” doctrine that unbaptized children die “in the hope of eternal salvation.”
When my first child, Neill, died, my mother inquired about my beliefs with respect to the state of his soul. I explained that Neill would live in heaven, and that if I did my part, I would be with him again. That sat well with her. I suspect it would have pleased Grandma Thompson, too.