Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Limbus Puerorum

Nicholas Senz on Limbo:

And while Ludgwig Ott’s venerable Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma does list as de fide (dogma) the proposition that “souls who depart this life in the state of original sin are excluded from the Beatific Vision of God,” this quotation only begs the question: does this teaching necessarily apply to the case of an infant or unborn child who dies without baptism? Clearly not for Ott, as he writes that “theologians usually assume that there is a special place or state for children dying without baptism which they call limbus puerorum (children’s Limbo)” (emphasis added). Are assumptions the stuff of dogma?

Senz is right that limbus puerorum is not a dogma, but his argument is extremely muddled; the idea of the limbo of children is that there are independent reasons for holding that infants do not have have poena sensus, as opposed to just having poena damni -- which is the exclusion from the Beatific Vision. The de fide proposition is universal by its nature; it applies to anyone who departs life in a state of original sin. Ott is not claiming that limbus puerorum is any kind of exception to that proposition; he is saying that supposing that there is a special state for infants who have died without baptism has commonly been thought by theologians to make more clear how the de fide proposition coheres with other things. Nor could Ott be ignorant of the fact that theologians through the centuries have argued for the hypothesis on the basis of more fundamental doctrines. (And this is certainly part of the argument of Fimister to whom Senz is supposed to be responding.)

The title of the article thus claims that without the limbo of infants a “serious gap” is left in Church teaching. Yet a gap would only exist if no other solution were proposed to the question that the proposal of limbo attempts to answer; but this is not the case.

This is again muddled; if there were no gap, there would be no need for any other solution to the question. That there are different proposals for bridging a gap is not evidence that there is no gap.

He then quotes the Catechism (#1261) and says:

Thus the Church proposes that our knowledge of God’s love, mercy, and salvific power gives us sufficient reason to believe that children who die without Baptism can be saved.

But this is not what the section he quotes says. It says that it allows us to hope that there is salvation for them when she entrusts them to the mercy of God, which is the only thing she can do; this is far more qualified than Senz suggests, and that the qualification is not merely a happenstance of phrasing is made clear by the sentence that Senz does not quote from that section: "All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy baptism." But Senz's interpretation makes no sense of the section -- it requires us to read it as saying that we have sufficient reason to believe that children dying without Baptism can be saved, thus it is so much more emphatic (vehementior, which is quite strong, or plus pressant in the French) that children not be impeded from Baptism.

Is it really better to propose a middle state that puts these children outside of God’s love, simply for the sake of our being able to add a few more theoretical details?

(1) Limbo of children is not posited as a middle state, by definition; in fact, claiming that it is has been condemned (as Ott alludes to, although he does not elaborate, again in the sentence after the one from which Senz quotes). Senz twice calls it a 'middle state', and there is no excuse for this. And (2) it has never been posited to put anyone outside of God's love, which is not even a coherent thing to say. It is a fact of history that the limbo of a children spent several hundred years being attacked as too lenient and now has been undergoing a steady barrage for being too harsh; a sign, I think that these kinds of considerations are not, in fact, very reliable for determining questions of doctrine.

The one thing Senz does get right in his criticism of Fimister's article is that it is a theological hypothesis not a dogma, and that everyone in the argument is in fact hypothesizing to save the phenomena, not drawing rigorous conclusions. But this still requires rational standards.

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