Limbo: In or Out?
An exclusive interview with a member of the Pontifical Theological Commission on the controversial topic of original sin, baptism, salvation, and the doctrine of limbo
By Andrew Rabel
On Friday, April 20, 2007, the International Theological Commission (ITC), an advisory body comprised of 30 theologians from around the world chosen by the Pope, released its long-awaited document, The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized -- the issue of original sin, baptism, salvation, and limbo.
Following the release of the document, commissioned under Pope John Paul II (1978-2005), there was considerable confusion in the press, with typical comments being that the Church had finally buried its teaching on Limbo after some 800 years.
In hopes of shedding some light on this controversial theological matter, Inside the Vatican’s Andrew Rabel, an Australian Catholic writer, in late April conducted an exclusive interview with an International Theological Commission member, the American nun Sr. Sara Butler, a Missionary Servant of the Most Blessed Trinity (MSBT). She is one of two women appointed to the International Theological Commission by John Paul II in 2004, and presently teaches dogmatic theology at St. Joseph's Seminary in Dunwoodie, New York.
Sr. Butler has been a Missionary Servant of the Most Blessed Trinity since 1956. She has served as instructor and professor at a variety of institutions, including 14 years at Mundelein Seminary in the Archdiocese of Chicago. She is a member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission.
An early supporter of women's ordination, Sr. Butler says she came to the conclusion, after much theological research, that she could support the Church’s teaching. She recently published The Catholic Priesthood and Women: A Guide to the Teaching of the Church, (Hillebrand Books, 2007), a strong defense of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, the document in which Pope John Paul II set forth the reasons for the Church’s teaching that only males may be priests. Here is the transcript of the interview.
Inside the Vatican: Sister Butler, your commission’s latest document about limbo has sparked a lot of controversy. In essence, what is the International Theological Commission trying to say in its document about the fate of unbaptized infants?
Sister Sara Butler: The commission is trying to say what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1260, 1261, 1283) has already said: that we have a right to hope that God will find a way to offer the grace of Christ to infants who have no opportunity for making a personal choice with regard to their salvation. It’s trying to provide a theological rationale for what has already been proposed in several magisterial documents since the Council.
ITV: The weekend after the document was issued, statements in the media indicated Pope Benedict had approved its publication, and agreed with its contents. Can you comment on this?
Sister Butler: The Pope was present for the initial discussion at the meeting of the International Theological Commission, as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). He said this was a topic that had been brought by bishops to the CDF and therefore was being recommended for our consideration.
At that time, Cardinal Ratzinger did not impose any conclusion on us, and as far as I know it would be unprecedented that a Pope would comment publicly on a document prepared by the ITC.
The current Prefect of the CDF, Cardinal William Levada, has approved the document. According to our statutes, the conclusions are submitted to the Pope and are published only with his consent. It seems that this document is being handled in a different way than previous documents. I don’t remember that any previous ones received special notice from the Pope.
ITV: If this is not a document of the Magisterium, does this mean we can expect subsequent action from the Holy See, affirming any authentic theological developments here?
Sister Butler: The document is a theological explanation of why the Church now feels it is possible to hope that a way of salvation is open for infants who die without Baptism; in the past, it seemed that there was no hope for them.
I would not be able to speculate on whether there will be any subsequent action. I think the document is for the use of other theologians. Generally, the ITC documents offer a point of reference for bishops and theology professors in seminaries, for example, to offer an explanation for the development of doctrine. But I doubt whether this would lead to a further statement from the Magisterium, because it says no more than what has already been said in the CCC, in the funeral rites for infants who have died without baptism in the 1970 Roman Missal and, in Pastoralis Actio (the document from 1980 from the CDF on the baptism of infants). It says nothing new; it is simply trying to make explicit the theological grounding for this hope. Gaudium et Spes 22 and Lumen Gentium 14 & 16 at Vatican II, opened the way for this development. Actually, some wanted the teaching on Limbo formally defined at the Council, but the topic was excluded from the agenda.
ITV: In paragraph 37 of your document, a line from the Council of Lyons II is cited: that "as for the souls of those who die in mortal sin or with original sin only, they go down immediately to hell to be punished with different punishments." It says that these magisterial statements do not oblige us to think that these infants necessarily die with the stain of original sin, so that there would be no way of salvation for them. How so?
Sister Butler: That quotation is taken from a section entitled "Issues of a Hermeneutical Nature." The effort there is to give a theological interpretation of a magisterial statement from the past. First of all, you have to consider what was at issue at the time. The question was whether the soul is judged immediately after death or whether the judgment was deferred till later on. The focus was not on the destiny of unbaptized infants who die but on when the soul was judged. This was a question between the East and the West, and the formulation you quote was proposed to the Eastern Church in the hopes of restoring full communion.
So the "hermeneutical question" requires understanding the document in its context. The controversy was whether judgment took place at the moment of death, or at the end of time. No one was contesting whether different kinds of sin warranted different kinds of punishment.
ITV: In n. 40 it says in summary: the affirmation that infants who die without Baptism suffer the privation of the beatific vision has long been the common doctrine of the Church, which must be distinguished from the faith of the Church. It then says that the privation of the beatific vision, which is the traditional understanding of this punishment, is a theological opinion.
How does that square with statements in Denzinger numbers 858 and 1306 (according to the new version) which after all is a compilation of magisterial teaching, in this case taken from the Councils of Lyon II and Florence?
Sister Butler: I don’t have my Denzinger near at hand. In number 40 of the document we are trying to distinguish what belongs to the faith of the Church from the "common teaching." The faith of the Church is that these infants inherit original sin and therefore baptism is necessary for them as the ordinary means of salvation. That infants who die without being cleansed of original sin by baptism are deprived of the beatific vision is the common teaching.
That common doctrine that such infants suffer the loss of the beatific vision is not the same thing as the faith of the Church; it’s a conclusion theologians drew. The theories that they suffer only this loss, and not the torments of hell, or that they enjoy a "natural happiness," are theological opinions.
So we are distinguishing three things, (i) the faith of the Church, (ii) the common doctrine about the privation of the beatific vision, and (iii) certain theological opinions. There are different levels of teaching here.
We did a thorough review of the history of the doctrine, and what is in Denzinger has been taken into consideration in the document.
ITV: Reading sections 68-69, the document seems to take a line similar to the late Swiss theologian, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, who seemed to argue that we are allowed to hope that all men may be saved. Is the document trying to say all unbaptized infants are saved, on the basis of this theological concept?
Sister Butler: It doesn’t draw that conclusion; it just indicates that given our understanding of God’s mercy and the plan of salvation which includes Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit in the Church, we dare to hope that these infants will be saved by some extra-sacramental gift of Christ. We do not know what the destiny of these children is, but we have grounds for hope. We are very clear that the ordinary means of salvation is baptism, and that infants should be baptized; Catholic parents have a serious obligation.
The document makes no blanket declaration. It only attempts to justify, in view of what was previously the common teaching, that it is reasonable to hope that these infants may be the object of God’s special providence. We hope that God will embrace them in His saving mercy, just as it says in the Catechism, the funeral rites, and Pastoralis Actio.
ITV: In section 86 the document says, "Some of the infants who suffer and die do so as victims of violence. In their case, we may readily refer to the example of the Holy Innocents and discern an analogy in the case of these infants to the baptism of blood which brings salvation." This seems to square with what certain groups in the Church are pushing for, namely, the declaration of aborted unborn infants as martyrs of the Church, thus baptized in their own blood. Does the document lend support to such individuals?
Sister Butler: I’m sure we never considered suggesting that these infants be declared martyrs. We were, of course, aware that in many places Catholics remember the unborn babies who have been aborted on the feast of the Holy Innocents. We didn’t propose a solution; we just offered some indicators as to why we think God offers them a way of salvation. In this particular instance, death is the way these children might be united with Christ: through the violent circumstances of their deaths, they may be united to His Paschal Mystery.
ITV: In Ludwig Ott’s masterful treatise Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, he says, "Other emergency means of baptism for children dying without sacramental baptism, such as prayer and the desire of the parents or the Church (vicarious baptism of desire - Cajetan), or the attainment of the use of reason in the moment of death, so that the dying child can decide for or against God (baptism of desire - H. Klee), or suffering and death of the child as quasi-Sacrament (baptism of suffering - H. Schell), are indeed possible, but their actuality cannot be proved from Revelation."
Does the ITC document say anything much different from this when it says in paragraph 79, "It must be clearly acknowledged that the Church does not have sure knowledge about the salvation of unbaptized infants who die. She knows and celebrates the glory of the Holy Innocents, but the destiny of the generality of infants who die without Baptism has not been revealed to us, and the Church teaches and judges only with regard to what has been revealed. What we do positively know of God, Christ and the Church gives us grounds to hope for their salvation, as must now be explained."
Sister Butler: The ITC document agrees that nothing has been directly revealed about the destiny of these infants. It does not directly endorse any of the theories he mentions. Ott’s manual was published just before the Council, and summarized what was taught at that time. At this time -- especially in the 1950s -- there was a very lively discussion of the topic, with theologians proposing different ways in which God might bring about the salvation of these infants. You might say this discussion was interrupted by the Council, and now it has been taken up again, with the advantage that it can incorporate the conciliar teachings.
The Council explicitly taught that God provides a way of salvation for those who are invincibly ignorant of the Gospel and therefore have no access to sacramental baptism. The Council is optimistic about the possibility of salvation for those persons when it teaches in Gaudium et Spes 22 (cited in CCC 1260) that "since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal Mystery."
The Catechism goes on to say, "Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved." The ITC report extends the logic of this teaching to infants. We suggest that the Holy Spirit offers to them, in a way known to God, the possibility of being made partakers in the Paschal Mystery. Pope Pius XII said in an Allocution to Italian midwives that since infants are incapable of making a personal act of love that would bring about their salvation, it is imperative to see that they are baptized. Given the teaching of the Council that I have just mentioned, we are more confident that God will offer them salvation in some way. We are not obliged to conclude that they are in Limbo, without any further hope.
However, the theory of Limbo is not ruled out. According to no. 41 of the document: "...besides the theory of Limbo (which remains a possible theological option), there can be other ways to integrate and safeguard the principles of faith outlined in Scripture." The ITC wants to give more weight to God’s universal salvific will and to solidarity in Christ than to the necessity of baptism, which is not absolute but is qualified in certain ways.
ITV: The document says that Catholic belief in Limbo actually did not start to be challenged until the middle of the 20th century (ie no. 26). Do you envisage this doctrine surviving? The document still says that Limbo is a legitimate option to uphold in balancing the tension between the necessity of sacramental baptism and the infinite mercy of God...
Sister Butler: The report concludes that Limbo remains a "possible theological opinion." Anyone who wants to defend it is free to do so. This document, however, tries to give a theological rationale for hoping that unbaptized infants may be saved.
If somebody like Fr. Richard McBrien supposes that the ITC document rejects the doctrine of original sin, this is of course a mistake. The fact that one might jump to this conclusion, however, is precisely why a careful theological study was needed. There are several doctrines involved. We have set out the theological principles in a new order. From our review we conclude that the common teaching which has been in our possession does not belong to the faith of the Church. We take the doctrine of God’s universal saving will of God as a starting point. By contrast, St. Augustine took the necessity of Baptism as a starting point, and incorporated the doctrine of God’s universal saving will in a very qualified way.
ITV: Following the attacks made by McBrien et alia, does the Church say now that baptism is not necessary for salvation?
Sister Butler: Those who suppose this document denies the doctrine of original sin are wrong, but so are those who presume it teaches that all unbaptized infants who die are saved, as if this were a truth of revelation. It says there are good grounds for the hope that God offers them a way of salvation. This is an important distinction: we don’t know, for there has been no revelation about this. We are only trying to assess what we don’t know from what we do know. From what has been revealed, we judge it reasonable to hope that God will bring unbaptized infants to heaven.
As to your question regarding baptism, "Does the Church now say that baptism is not necessary for children?" the answer is "no." In the Catechism, paragraph no. 1257 says: "We do not know of any means other than baptism into eternal beatitude." But God is not bound to the sacraments, and therefore, just as we understand there are other possible ways for adults who are in invincible ignorance of the Gospel to achieve salvation, so we presume there are other ways, known to God, open to infants who unfortunately die without baptism.
Saturday, April 28, 2007
Friday, April 27, 2007
Text reveals more ancient secrets
By Rebecca Morelle
Science reporter, BBC News
Scientists used advanced imaging technology on the original parchment (left) to reveal the under-text (right), which was previously hidden
Experts are "lost for words" to have found that a medieval prayer book has yielded yet another key ancient text buried within its parchment.
Works by mathematician Archimedes and the politician Hyperides had already been found buried within the book, known as the Archimedes Palimpsest.
But now advanced imaging technology has revealed a third text - a commentary on the philosopher Aristotle.
Project director William Noel called it a "sensational find".
The prayer book was written in the 13th Century by a scribe called John Myronas.
But instead of using fresh parchment for his work, he employed pages from five existing books.
Dr Noel, curator of manuscripts at the US-based Walters Art Museum and a co-author of a forthcoming book on the Archimedes Palimpsest, said: "It's a rather brutal process, but it means you can reuse parchment if you are short of it.
"You take books off shelves, you scrub off the text, you cut them up and you make a new book."
In 1906 it came to light that one of the books recycled to form the medieval manuscript contained a unique work by Archimedes.
Archimedes was a mathematician from what is now Sicily
And in 2002, modern imaging technology not only provided a clearer view of this famous mathematician's words, but it also revealed another text - the only known manuscript of Hyperides, an Athenian politician from the 4th Century BC.
"At this point you start thinking striking one palimpsest is gold, and striking two is utterly astonishing. But then something even more extraordinary happened," Dr Noel told the BBC News website.
One of the recycled books was proving extremely difficult to read, explained Roger Easton, a professor of imaging science at Rochester Institute of Technology, US.
"We were using a technique called multispectral imaging," he said.
This digital imaging technique uses photographs taken at different wavelengths to enhance particular characteristics of the imaged area.
Subtle adjustments of this method, explained Professor Easton, suddenly enabled these hidden words to be revealed.
"Even though I couldn't read Ancient Greek, just the fact that I could see the words gave me shivers," he said.
Foundations of logic
An international team of experts began to scrutinize the ancient words, explained Reviel Netz, professor of ancient science at Stanford University, US, and another co-author of the palimpsest book.
The paintings and words in the prayer book cover the hidden works
A series of clues, such as spotting a key name in the margin, led the team to its conclusion.
"The philosophical passage in the Archimedes Palimpsest is now definitely identified as a relatively early commentary to Aristotle's Categories," said Professor Netz.
He said that Aristotle's Categories had served as the foundation for the study of logic throughout western history.
Further study has revealed the most likely author of this unique commentary is Alexander of Aphrodisias, Professor Robert Sharples from University College London, UK, told BBC News.
If this is the case, he said, "it gives us part of a commentary previously supposed lost by the most important of those ancient commentators on Aristotle".
A provisional translation of the commentary is currently being undertaken.
It reveals a debate on some aspects of Aristotle's theory of classification, such as: if the term "footed" is used for animals, can it be used to classify anything else, such as a bed?
The passage reads:
For as "foot" is ambiguous when applied to an animal and to a bed, so are "with feet" and "without feet". So by "in species" here [Aristotle] is saying "in formula".
For if it ever happens that the same name indicates the differentiae of genera that are different and not subordinate one to the other, they are at any rate not the same in formula.
Dr Noel said: "There is no more important philosopher in the world than Aristotle. To have early views in the 2nd and 3rd Century AD of Aristotle's Categories is just fantastic.
"We have one book that contains three texts from the ancient world that are absolutely central to our understanding of mathematics, politics and now philosophy," he said.
He added: "I am at a loss for words at what this book has turned out to be. To make these discoveries in the 21st Century is frankly nutty - it is just so exciting."
"Just the fact that I could see the words gave me shivers." Professor Roger Easton
"I am at a loss for words at what this book has turned out to be." Dr Will Noel
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Actually, this post isn't about Dr. Jones's remarks about Samuel Francis, but what he says about the "revolutionary Jew," this point in particular:
He is not our enemy because of some occult racial inheritance. The revolutionary Jew is our enemy because he has rejected Logos. This means that Jews to the extent that they accept, honor and revere Logos, are not our enemies. There are Jews who accept Logos fully by sincerely accepting baptism, and there are Jews who accept it in some lesser capacity by their docility to the truth. We all know Jews like this, and they should not be excluded from our fellowship, especially since many of them have suffered at the hands of “the Jews” themselves.
As the Gospel of St. John makes clear, the Jews became “the Jews” the minute they rejected Christ. As such, their only identity is negative. The minute they rejected Logos, which means reason, order, speech, and word, they became revolutionaries, determined enemies not only of Christ and the Christian social order, but any order in any society not of their own revolutionary making.
On the one hand, Dr. Jones asserts that there are Jews who sincerely pursue and follow the truth as they understand it. On the other hand, he wishes to distinguish between the Jews who accepted Christ and those who rejected him. But then he generalizes by saying all who reject Christ reject Logos, and reject any order that is "not of their own making." Who is culpable for rejecting Christ? Only God knows. Do all who reject Christ do so culpably? No, and Dr. Jones admits this if he thinks there are Jews who do follow at least the lower Logos. It is one thing to criticize the form of Judaism that develops after the destruction of the Temple, it's another to say that all Jews are opponents of Logos or Christ, simply because of their beliefs.
UCAN: Changes in liturgy since Vatican II ‘mixed bag of results,’ Vatican worship official says in interview
UCAN: Changes in liturgy since Vatican II ‘mixed bag of results,’ Vatican worship official says in interviewBy Gerard O'Connell
VATICAN CITY (UCAN) – Archbishop Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, has spoken with UCA News about the recent apostolic exhortation on the Eucharist and its significance for the church in Asia.
The Vatican released the document, Sacramentum Caritatis (Sacrament of Charity), on March 13. That text, whose English version has more than 25,000 words and more than 250 footnotes, confirms the validity of the liturgical renewal prompted by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and endorses recommendations made by the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist in October 2005.
Archbishop Ranjith became one of the first appointments of Pope Benedict XVI to the Roman Curia when the pontiff assigned the Sri Lankan prelate to his present post on Dec. 10, 2005. In this position, he is particularly well placed to comment on the exhortation and its relevance for the church in Asia.
Archbishop Ranjith, 59, studied in Colombo and Kandy in Sri Lanka before going to the Pontifical Urban University in Rome where he gained a degree in theology. After Pope Paul VI ordained him a priest in St. Peter's Basilica on June 29, 1975, he pursued higher studies and gained a licentiate in sacred scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and a special certificate in biblical studies from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
He performed various pastoral and academic duties in Colombo until Pope John Paul II in 1991 appointed him auxiliary bishop of that archdiocese. In 1995, Pope John Paul named him bishop of Ratnapura. From 1995 to 2001, he served as secretary general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka and chairman of the National Commission for Justice, Peace and Human Development.
In the latter role, he became deeply involved in searching for a solution to Sri Lanka's civil conflict. The government appointed him an emissary on peace negotiations with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka.
Pope John Paul II brought him to Rome on Oct. 1, 2001, as adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and appointed him on April 29, 2004, as apostolic nuncio to Indonesia and East Timor.
The following is the interview UCA News conducted with Archbishop Ranjith in early April. When he later reviewed the text, the archbishop supplied detailed notations for documents that he had cited in the interview:UCA NEWS: How has the liturgical renewal initiated by Vatican Council II been carried out in Asia? What are its positive achievements and negative results?
ARCHBISHOP RANJITH: Generally, there have been many changes in the way liturgy was celebrated in Asia since the council. Some of us who were brought up in childhood under the liturgical orientations of pre-conciliar times know what these new changes were and how they affected our life as Catholics.
As your question indicates, there has been a mixed bag of results. Among the positive changes, I see the use of vernacular languages in the liturgy, which helped to lead the faithful to better understand the word of God, the rubrics of the liturgy itself, and a more responsive and shared participation in the celebration of the sacred mysteries.
Adaptations to local cultural practices have also been tried, though not always with good results. The use of the vernacular has at times helped in generating a theological vocabulary in the local idiom that eventually could be helpful to evangelization and the presentation of the message of the gospel to those of non-Christian religious traditions, which constitute the overwhelming majority of the people of Asia.
Some negative aspects have been the quasi total abandonment of the Latin language, tradition and chant; a far too facile interpretation of what could be absorbed from local cultures into the liturgy; a sense of misunderstanding of the true nature, content and meaning of the Roman rite and its norms and rubrics, which led to an attitude of free experimentation; a certain anti-Roman "feeling," and an uncritical acceptance of all kinds of "novelties" resulting from a secularizing and humanistic theological and liturgical mindset overtaking the West.
These novelties were often introduced, perhaps unknowingly, by some foreign missionaries who brought them from their own mother countries or by locals who had been to those countries on visits or for studies and had let themselves be uncritically absorbed into a kind of "free spirit" that some circles had created around the council.
The abandonment of the spheres of the sacred, the mystical and the spiritual, and their replacement by a kind of empiricist horizontalism was most harmful to the spirit of what truly constituted liturgy.UCA NEWS: How is the new exhortation on the Eucharist relevant for the church in Asia?
ARCHBISHOP RANJITH: Seen as a whole, the document is for me something that re-echoes in the true sense of the word the reform of the Liturgy as it was understood and desired by the cCouncil. I mean not a rejection of positive developments of liturgical reform in force today but the expression of the need to be truly faithful to what was meant by Sacrosantum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Second Vatican Council, promulgated by Pope Paul VI on Dec. 4, 1963).
One could, in a certain sense, state that documents such as Ecclesia de Eucharistia ("The Church [draws her life] from the Eucharist," encyclical "On the Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church," Pope John Paul II, April 17, 2003), Liturgiam Authenticam ("Authentic Liturgy", instruction "On the Use of Vernacular Languages in the Publication of the Books of the Roman Liturgy," Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, May 7, 2001), and Redemptionis Sacramentum ("Sacrament of Redemption," instruction "On certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist," Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, April 23, 2004) already started the needed adjustments reflective of the indications of the Council.
Sacramentum Caritatis crowns it all with a truly profound, mystical and yet so very easily understandable catechesis on the Eucharist that brings out best the fuller meaning of this most holy sacrament. Pope Benedict wants us to understand, celebrate and live the fullness of the Eucharist.
I feel that in the context of Asia such a call should naturally be appreciated, valued and lived. The basic orientations of Sacramentum Caritatis do reflect Asian values like the love of silence and contemplation, acceptance of a deeper life beyond that which is tangible, respect of the sacred and the mystical, and the search for happiness in a life of sanctity and renouncement.
The stress laid on these aspects makes Sacramentum Caritatis a valuable and important contribution towards making the Catholics in our continent live the Eucharist in a truly Asian way.UCA NEWS: Which aspects of the document are most important for Asia's bishops, priests and Catholic faithful?
ARCHBISHOP RANJITH: From a general point of view, the call to consider the holy Eucharist as an invitation to become Christ himself, drawn and absorbed unto him in a profound communion of love, thus making his own glorious splendor shine out in us, is truly in line with the search for spiritual mysticism in the Asian continent.
As I mentioned, Asia is deeply mystical and conscious of the value of the Sacred in human life, moving a human being to look for the deeper mysteries of religion and spirituality. The tendency to banalise the celebration of the Eucharist through a somewhat horizontal orientation, often visible in modern times. is not consonant with that search. Hence, the general orientation of the document is good for Asia.
Going into details, I would say that its seriousness, the tendency to always accent the deeply spiritual and transcendental nature of the Eucharist, its Christo-centric outlook, faithful adherence to rubrics and norms [nos.39-40], interest in sobriety [no. 40], proper and dignified sense of celebration, use of appropriate art and architecture, chant and music, and avoidance of improvisation and disorder are all reflective of the Asian way of worship and spirituality. People in Asia are a worshipping people, with worship forms that are centuries old and not inventions of any single individual.
Adherence to rubrics in the other religious traditions in Asia is strict. Besides, their rubrics are profoundly reflective of the special role of the sacred. Thus, the seriousness recommended by the Supreme Pontiff is very much in consonance with Asian ways of worship.UCA NEWS: Following the Second Vatican Council, there has been much talk, including among Asian bishops, of the need for inculturation of the liturgy. How has this developed in the Asian Churches? What remains to be done, or is it an open process without a concluding date?
ARCHBISHOP RANJITH: As the pope himself states in Sacramentum Caritatis, the principle of inculturation "must be upheld in accordance with the real needs of the church as she lives and celebrates the one mystery of Christ in a variety of cultural situations" [Sacr. Carit. 54]. We know that it is a need emerging from both the call to evangelization or the incarnation of the gospel message in various cultures, and the requirement of a real and conscious participation of the faithful in what they celebrate.
Yet, already Sacrosanctum Concilium indicated clear parameters within which the adaptations of the liturgy to local cultural patterns are to be carried out. It spoke of admitting into the liturgy elements that "harmonize with its true and authentic spirit" [SC 37], ensuring the "substantial unity of the Roman rite is preserved" [SC 38], provided such is decided by the competent ecclesiastical authority, meaning the Holy See and, where legally allowed, the bishops [cf 22: 1-2]. It also called for prudence, in the choice of adaptations to be introduced into the Liturgy [SC 40: 1], the need to submit such to the apostolic see for its consent, if needed, a period of limited experimentation [SC 40: 2] before final approval and consultation of experts in the matter [SC 40: 3].
Sacramentum Caritatis follows the same line, that adaptations of liturgy to local cultural traditions be handled according to the stipulations of the various directives of the church and in keeping with a proper sense of balance "between the criteria and directives already issued and new adaptations" [no. 54], and these too "always in accord with the apostolic see" [ibid. 54]. In short, inculturation through adaptations, yes, but always within clear parameters that ensure nobility and orthodoxy.
As for what has been carried out up to now, one cannot be altogether satisfied. Some positive developments are visible, like the large scale use of vernacular languages in liturgy, making the sacraments better understood and to that extent better participated, and the use of art, music and Asian gestures at worship. But a lot of arbitrariness and inconsistency can also be noted, arbitrariness through the permitting of all kinds of experiments and officialization of such practices without proper study or critical evaluation.
I once was listening to a radio talk given by a Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka who ridiculed Christians for allowing local drum beating in their churches without knowing that those beats in fact were chants of praise for the Buddha. This could be just one instance of unstudied absorption of local traditions that are per se incompatible with what we celebrate.
By inconsistency I mean practices we introduce as adaptations but per se are incompatible with our culture, like just a bow instead of genuflection or prostration before the holy Eucharist, or communion in the hand received standing, which is far below levels of consideration given to the sacred in Asia. In some countries, instead of introducing liturgical vestments or utensils reflective of local values, their use has been reduced to a minimum, or even abandoned. I was at times shocked to see priests and even bishops celebrating or concelebrating without the proper liturgical attire. This is not inculturation but de-culturation, if such a word exists.
Inculturation means deciding on liturgical attire that is dignified and full of respect for the sacred realities celebrated, not abandoning them. I feel that the episcopal commissions on liturgy in Asia at continental, regional or national levels should, with the help of experts, study these issues carefully and seek ways and means to enhance the meaning, dignity and sacredness of the divine mysteries celebrated through solid adaptations that are critically selected and proposed to the Holy See for due approval.
A closer spirit of cooperation with the Holy See in this matter would be needed. There is too much drifting in the matter and even an attitude of "who cares?" that leaves everything to free interpretation and the creativity of single persons. Besides, I wonder if there is a sufficient awareness of what the council itself mentioned on the matter and the guidelines given in Varietates Legitimae ("Legitimate Differences," instruction, Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Jan. 25, 1994) and no. 22 of Ecclesia in Asia ("Church in Asia," apostolic exhortation on the Church in Asia, Pope John Paul II, November 6, 1999).UCA NEWS: In No. 54 of Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict advocates "continued inculturation of the Eucharist" and calls for "adaptations appropriate to different contexts and cultures." What does this mean in Asia?
ARCHBISHOP RANJITH: Asia is generally considered to be the continent of contemplation, mysticism and a deep seated spiritual outlook on life. These orientations may have resulted from or even led to the origins of most world religions in this continent. Any attempts at inculturation of the liturgy or of Christian life cannot bypass these profoundly mystical orientations typical of Asia.
As Christians, we ought to show that Christianity is Asian in origin and it has an even profounder sense of mysticism within it that it can and wishes to share with others. It would be a pity if we strive to project our faith as an appendix of a secular and globalizing culture that endorses secular values and seeks to represent these in Asia. Unfortunately, sometimes in our way of doing things, we do project such an image. This makes us "foreigners" in our own continent.
Take, for example, the large scale abandonment of the cassock or religious garb by many priests and religious in Asia, even missionaries. They hardly understood that in Asian culture, persons dedicated to God or religion are always visible in his or her own garb, like the Buddhist monk or the Hindu sannyasi (holy man). This shows we do not understand what inculturation truly means. Often enough, it is limited to a dance or two during the Holy Mass or sprinkling of flowers, the arathi (closing prayer song) or beating a drum.
In mind and heart, however, we follow secular ways and values. If we are truly Asian, we should focus more attention on the mysticism of Jesus, His message of salvation, the great value of prayer, contemplation, detachment, simplicity of life, devoutness and reflection and the value of silence, and forms of liturgical celebration that focus great attention on the sacred and the transcendent. We Asians cannot be secularists who do not see anything beyond the visible and the tangible.
So too in liturgy, instead of concentrating on just a few exterior gestures of cosmetic value, we should focus on the accentuation of the mystical and the spiritual riches conveyed to us, and highlight these more and more even in our dress and behavior. The universal church would gain from a church in Asia that becomes a tangible expression of Christian mysticism in an Asian way.UCA NEWS: Regarding inculturation, Pope Benedict encourages episcopal conferences to "strive to maintain a proper balance between criteria and directives already issued and new adaptations, always in accord with the apostolic see." Are bishops' conferences in Asia working along these lines?
ARCHBISHOP RANJITH: Generally, I notice a lot of goodwill on the part of the episcopal conferences in this matter. However, there are problems too. As I mentioned, it may be better to have a clear spirit of coordination between the FABC (Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences) and our congregation in this matter. The FABC does have regional coordinating bodies for human development, evangelization, inculturation, ecumenism and dialogue, education, social communication, etc., but I am not aware of such a body for liturgy and worship. Establishing such a regional body would certainly help.
Liturgy is important, for "lex orandi, lex credendi" (the law of prayer is the law of belief). It would then be able to animate and provide quality, meaning and proper awareness to the national episcopal commissions for liturgy on this all important component of ecclesial life. A lot of work still needs to be done in order to achieve better results.
The "proper balance" about which the holy father speaks is due to the need to ensure, on one side, a healthy spirit of openness to inculturation in the liturgy, and, on the other, the need to safeguard the universal character of Catholic liturgy, a treasure handed down to the church by its bi-millennial tradition.UCA NEWS: Can you give a concrete example of what "maintaining a proper balance between criteria and directives and new adaptations" means?
ARCHBISHOP RANJITH: By "proper balance," the holy father means, on one side, faithfulness to the universal and Catholic tradition of the celebration of the holy Eucharist, enshrined in the Roman rite itself, and, on the other, the space provided in Sacrosanctum Concilium and Varietates Legitimae for adaptations. As No. 21 of Sacrosanctum Concilium indicates, there are "unchangeable elements divinely instituted" and "elements subject to change" in the liturgy. Only the latter may be changed, and even that is to be done on the basis of norms that the council itself laid out in the third chapter of the same document.
In the case of the Eucharist, it is the same approach. The Eucharist is not what the church made but what has been the Lord's own gift to us, a treasure to be guarded. Hence, even though exigencies of evangelization and of the inculturation of the gospel message in various situations demands a certain amount of diversity, this is not to be left to the whims and fancies of the individual celebrant. The areas open to diversity are limited and pertain to language, music and singing, gestures and postures, art and processions [SC 39]. In these areas, adaptation is possible and should be undertaken after proper study, due approval of the bishops and then the consent of the apostolic see [SC: Ch. III].
Thus, the sense of balance between safeguarding the essentials and seeking to integrate local cultural elements is very much needed if the church is to profit spiritually. At the same time, I would hold more essential not only adaptations of that type but the noble and dignified celebration of every liturgical act, making it reflect the mysticism of the East. It would be more helpful than just a series of external adaptations, even those introduced following established procedures.
Besides, the love of silence, a contemplative atmosphere, chant and singing reflective of the divine mystery celebrated on the altar, sober and decorous attire, and art and architecture reflective of the nobility of the sacred places and objects, are all Asian values often reflected in places of worship of other religions and more expressive of a truly Asian outlook on liturgy.UCA NEWS: In no. 87 of the exhortation, the pope expresses concern about "grave difficulties" facing Christian communities "where Christians are a minority or where they are denied religious freedom" and where "simply going to Church represents a heroic witness that can result in marginalization or violence." Is he referring to Christian communities in Asia?
ARCHBISHOP RANJITH: The holy father is expressing his appreciation and encouragement of the heroic witness of some Christians for whom the practice of faith brings with it hardship, persecution and suffering. When we talk of such difficult situations, it does refer directly to places where there is explicit obstruction and persecution of the Christian communities. Such harassment is motivated at times by political factors, at other times by religious factors.
Some countries seek to impose or establish state sponsored "churches" to control the Catholic community that way. This latter type of attitude seeks to cut off the hierarchical bonds between these churches and the one of Peter in order to weaken them from within. Such attempts are not so successful, as the spiritual bonds, which cannot be broken that way, continue to link each ecclesial community to the universal church, the mystical body of Christ.
For me, however, another type of situation is more prevalent. It is generally common in Asia where, due to the predominance of one or the other world religion, there are restrictions and controls indirectly placed on the Catholic Church. In such situations, there exists an even worse form of undeclared harassment of Catholics. Missionaries are disallowed, it is difficult to construct ecclesial buildings as no permission for such is granted, public manifestations of faith are controlled, restrictions are placed on Catholic education, laws against conversion are put into force or proposed, and all kinds of discriminating acts are perpetrated. In short, in such situations one needs true heroism to profess and practice one's faith.
I would not name these countries as such, for obvious reasons, but the world knows who they are. Given this situation, the call of the supreme pontiff, "for greater religious freedom in every nation so that Christians, as well as followers of other religions, can freely express their convictions, both as individuals and as communities" [Sacr. Cari. 87] is timely indeed.UCA NEWS: In no. 62 of the exhortatios, the pope suggests that celebration of Mass in Latin and use of Gregorian chant could be done on some occasions and in parts of the liturgy. What do you think Catholics in Asia feel about this? Have you detected a desire for the Mass in Latin among Catholics in Asia?
ARCHBISHOP RANJITH: Sacrosanctum Concilium never advocated total abandonment of Latin or of Gregorian chant. It stated that "the use of the Latin language, except when a particular law prescribed otherwise, is to be preserved in the Latin rites. ... But since the use of the vernacular ... may frequently be of great advantage to the people a wider use may be made of it especially in readings, directives and in some prayers and chants" [SC 36: 1-2]. Besides, it wished that "a suitable place may be allotted to the vernacular in Masses which are celebrated with the people, especially in the readings and 'the common prayer', and also as local conditions may warrant, in those parts which pertain to the people" [SC 54].
In the same passage, the council wished that care be taken to "ensure that the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them" [ibid.].
The point is that the vernacular is not the normal language of the liturgy for Sacrosanctum Concilium but Latin, with permission being granted for the vernacular to be used in specific areas such as the readings, some prayers and chants and parts that pertain to the people. What is remarkable is that it advocates the use of Latin even in "those parts of the ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them" [SC 54].
Unfortunately, a quasi total abandonment of Latin took place almost everywhere soon after the council, so only the older generation of Catholics in Asia has an idea of the use of Latin in the liturgy and of Gregorian chant. With a strong vernacularization of the Liturgy and of seminary formation, the use of Latin did almost completely disappear from most of Asia.
This is rather unfortunate. I am not sure if there is a marked yearning for a return of Latin in the liturgy in Asia. I hope it would be so. Some Catholics who are aware of the beauty of Latin do express such a desire. They have seen or come to experience liturgies celebrated in Latin in Rome or elsewhere and are fascinated by it. Others are fascinated by the old Latin rite, the Pius V Mass now being celebrated in some places of Asia.
But the larger portion of Asian Catholics is still unaware of the value of Latin in the holy Mass. I wonder what they would say if some form of Latin is reintroduced. They might like it and, knowing the spirit of devotion that Asian Catholics carry within themselves, it would certainly help deepen their faith even further. Our people know that not all divine realities are within the reach of human understanding and that there should be room for some sense of spiritual mystery in worship.
Besides, it would be good for the church in Asia not to remain cut off from new trends emerging universally, one of which is a fresh appreciation of the church's bi-millennial Latin heritage. This is not to say we ought to abandon the vernacular and embrace Latin in toto. A sound and sober use of Latin as well as the vernacular, on the lines of Sacrosanctum Concilium, would be a gain for all. Besides, in Asia some other religions have preserved an official "liturgical" language, like Sanskrit for Hinduism and Pali for Buddhism. These are not spoken languages but are used only in worship. Are they not teaching us a lesson that a "liturgical language" which is not in common use can better express an inner mysticism of the "sacred" in worship?UCA NEWS: The pope wants "future priests" to learn Latin in seminaries, so as to read Latin texts and sing Gregorian chant. How do you think young Asians studying for the priesthood regard that call? Will Asia's seminaries welcome it?
ARCHBISHOP RANJITH: There is no question of a welcoming. I think it is a need, and rather than falling into a well of isolationist narrow mindedness or a purely empiricist approach to faith that, by the way, is not Asian and does not leave room for an understanding of that which is transcendent, our priests and seminarians should be encouraged to open out to the wider reality of their faith, which is Catholic and universal, its bi-millennial roots and development and its mystical and sacred dimensions. And since Latin has been at the very root of much of the developments in theology, liturgy, and ecclesial discipline all along, seminarians and priests should be encouraged to learn and use it.
This would help the church in Asia not only to grasp better the content of the depositum fidei (deposit of faith) and its development, but also discover a theological language of its own, capable of presenting the faith to the peoples of Asia convincingly [cfr. Ecclesia in Asia 20]. Learning Latin is in no way a going backward but, on the contrary, going forward. Only thus could a truly profound process of inculturation take place. Any so-called theology not rooted in the fonts of sacred scriptures and the tradition of the church, prayed on one's knees and illumined by the light of a holy life is but empty noise-making and would lead only to disorder and confusion.
The same is true of liturgy. Latin is the ordinary liturgical language of the church. In the origin and development of the Roman rite, it had a major role to play. Thus, a sufficient knowledge of this language would facilitate a better understanding and appreciation of the beauty of what is celebrated. As the holy father stated, "the beauty of the liturgy is part of this mystery; it is a sublime expression of God's glory and, in a certain sense, a glimpse of heaven on earth" [Sacr. Carit. 35].
Celebrating in Latin thus would help build a sense of awe and respect as well as a profound spiritual link with what the Lord himself inspired the church to assume as its form of worship. This openness to Latin would also help the students appreciate better the role of Gregorian chant in the church. The holy father wishes that it "be suitably esteemed and employed" as it is the "chant proper to the Roman liturgy" [Sacr. Carit. 42]. Learning the simplicity and beauty of this great body of chant would also help musically talented priests and seminarians in Asia to be inspired by it and be able to compose dignified and prayerful chant forms that can harmonize better with the local culture. It would be presumptuous to assume that using Gregorian chant would harm inculturation of the liturgy. It could actually be beneficial.UCA NEWS: Is there anything else you wish to tell churches in Asia about the exhortation and how they should implement it?
ARCHBISHOP RANJITH: A careful look at Sacramentum Caritatis convinces me more and more that it is not only a treasure trove of information, inspiration and a truly pastoral yet deeply theological reflection on the Eucharist but, more so, a document that seeks to bring to completion that which was truly desired by the Second Vatican Council and its document on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium. The post-conciliar reform of the Liturgy, though laudable in some aspects, had not been all that faithful to the spirit of the council.
As Cardinal Ferdinando Antonelli, a member of the commission that worked on the reform then, attested: "I am not happy about the spirit. There is a spirit of criticism and impatience towards the Holy See which would not augur well. And then, everything is a study on the rationality of the liturgy and no concern for true piety. I am afraid that one day one would say of all this reform what was said about the reform of the hymns at the time of Urban VIII: accepit liturgia recessit pietas (as liturgy progresses, piety goes backward); and here accepit liturgia recessit devotio (as liturgy progresses, devotion goes backward). I hope I am wrong" [from the diaries of Cardinal Antonelli, April 30, 1965].
We have seen a lot of banalization and obscuring of the mystical and sacred aspects of the liturgy in many areas of the church in the name of a so-called "Konzilsgeist" (council spirit).
In the last 20 years or so, the church has sought to set the course of liturgical reform straight and in line with the indications of Sacrosanctum Concilium. Documents such as Liturgiam Authenticam, Varietates legitimae, Redemptionis Sacramentum and Ecclesia de Eucharistia are part of that attempt, and Sacramentum Caritatis, which is a collegial document in that it collects the propositions of the bishops' Synod on the Holy Eucharist, is the culminating moment, I would say, of that course of "setting things right." It truly is a correction of course and should be welcomed, appreciated, studied and put into practice.
The cultural heritage of Asia is deeply religious and conscious of the value of the sacred and mystical in human life. So the church in Asia should welcome this document and its orientations, which are directed very much towards a restoration of the profound values of spirituality and faith into liturgy most wholeheartedly and take necessary steps to implement its indications as zealously and as faithfully as possible.
This is my wish for the church in Asia, the continent of mysticism.
- - -
Gerard O'Connell is the special correspondent in Rome for UCA News.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
These are the questions that once again came to my mind, this time as I was sitting in on the Ancient Philosophy Society meeting the week before last. While there were some good papers (especially the one by Denis O'Brien), others were not so good.
With the custom of presenting papers at conferences comes the bad habit of reading the paper rather than presenting a lecture--because of the very nature of the format, authors of papers usually have the tendency to focus on their writing and creating a product as something to be read, rather than something to be heard. Instead of developing a succinct presentation of arguments, one feels free to craft in accordance with the demands of his own writing style and those of "conventional" prose, ignoring the impact of the finished text on the listener.
A related problem is that when one is focused on writing, rather than drafting an oral presentation for an audience, length is not the concern that it should be, especially if one is thinking of getting the paper published later. When the paper becomes too long for a live presentation, one must do some editing, either incorporating those changes into the text itself and then using this abridged version for the presentation, or one leaving notes and directions on the original paper (especially if he is a procrastinator), eliminating chunks of text as one reads the paper, and summarizing those texts as best as possible. This makes for a rather awkward presentation, as one is compensating for these edits as one reads the paper.
Rhetorical and lecturing skills become irrelevant when one is just reading from essay or paper. Even if the paper in itself is interesting and could even aid our comprehension of the topic, when we are reading it ourselves and can mull over it slowly and write notes, it is possible that it becomes a dreadful bore when read aloud. There are certain things that can be done to lead a reader to understanding that can't be done with an audience.
1. One source of failure is trying to do too much in a paper, especially by making a grand summary of the arguments in order to characterize a thinker or to attach a label to him, some sort of -ism.
2. Providing a good, thorough commentary of a "systematic" text may be more successful. But for this to be of use to the audience, they should already have a very good knowledge of the texts and of the puzzles. It is best to reduce the amount that listeners have to take on faith or trust. Then they can concentrate on relating what they are hearing to reality once they have determined that the commentary is good. (If they are not familiar with the author or the text, they can still refer what is being said to reality and judge its import, but they will be unable to determine the worth of the commentary and its accuracy. It is presumably the intention of the commentary's author to set forth a valuable commentary for its own sake, but that must still be judged by a greater good or end, namely that of philosophy itself, to which the writing of commentaries is ordered.)
3. Works that are not systematic are especially problematic for conference papers, as they require of the listeners an even greater familiarity of the texts in order for them to judge well the claims that are being made. (Is the problem made worse by questions of interpretation?) In order to be thorough, one will need to give a summation of the relevant texts, and refer to them. It should be obvious that this can be too overwhelming for the audience, unless they are given a list of the texts as a handout.
4. If it is necessary to refer to secondary literature, this should be done as sparingly as possible, at least while one is reading the paper. (The publication of the paper will facilitate an investigation of secondary sources.) Unless the subject of one's paper is precisely what someone else has written about a particular philosopher ot text in order to object to it, too many citations to secondary sources and diverging opinions can confuse the audience and obscure the main points one is trying to make.
Papers could be instantly improved if the author were to insert summaries and recapitulations into the text--this would be of benefit to an audience that is more intent on listening than on taking detailed notes. (Without those notes, it would be difficult to give an adequate response and critique--it is usually the case that during the Q&A session people ask for clarification and even a reiteration of the main points.)
Another strategy is to focus on select point (or a few points) that is under dispute, or to make what is implicit in a text explicit (with the purpose of showing that the text is still relevant today, if what is explicit is insufficient). While I like an authentic live disputation, it is not clear to me if the format of a disputed question for organizing one's paper would be acceptable to one's peers. Still, such a clear presentation of arguments and objections would be beneficial to beginners in philosophy. Similarly, a compare-and-contrast of two or more philosophers should be attempted only if one can be both brief and thorough. In general and not only in papers, psychologizing (trying to read the author's mind and guess how he would react to such a question, or looking at the psychological causes that led him to hold a position) or speculative genealogies should be avoided. (This is not the same as looking at the principles that the philosopher endorses and then drawing conclusions from them--this is certainly valuable in showing that he is inconsistent, if what he explicitly holds contradicts what flows from his premises.)
The importance of defining terms cannot be emphasized enough; this basic step is so often ignored by philosophers today, perhaps revealing the confusion that exists in their own minds. The necessity of definitions will depend on the audience--some audiences may share the same lexicon. Nonetheless, this cannot even be assumed of all academics.
Analytic philosophers tend to rely on their own made-up jargon; can it be said that most analytic philosophers strive to use words univocally, and are thus forced to make up new words? It is easier to use common words as much as possible, along with analogical naming and figurative speech. However, it is true that some do not understand analogical naming and believe that all naming must be univocal. They may need to be disabused of this prejudice.
That's enough for now... more later if I think of anything more to say.
Monday, April 23, 2007
ITC-LIMBO Apr-20-2007 (1,240 words) xxxi
Vatican commission: Limbo reflects 'restrictive view of salvation'
By John Thavis
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After several years of study, the Vatican's International Theological Commission said there are good reasons to hope that babies who die without being baptized go to heaven.
In a document published April 20, the commission said the traditional concept of limbo -- as a place where unbaptized infants spend eternity but without communion with God -- seemed to reflect an "unduly restrictive view of salvation."
The church continues to teach that, because of original sin, baptism is the ordinary way of salvation for all people and urges parents to baptize infants, the document said.
But there is greater theological awareness today that God is merciful and "wants all human beings to be saved," it said. Grace has priority over sin, and the exclusion of innocent babies from heaven does not seem to reflect Christ's special love for "the little ones," it said.
"Our conclusion is that the many factors that we have considered ... give serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and enjoy the beatific vision," the document said.
"We emphasize that these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge," it added.
The 41-page document, titled "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized," was published in Origins, the documentary service of Catholic News Service. Pope Benedict XVI authorized its publication earlier this year.
The 30-member International Theological Commission acts as an advisory panel to the Vatican, in particular to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Its documents are not considered expressions of authoritative church teaching, but they sometimes set the stage for official Vatican pronouncements.
The commission's document said salvation for unbaptized babies who die was becoming an urgent pastoral question, in part because their number is greatly increasing. Many infants today are born to parents who are not practicing Catholics, and many others are the unborn victims of abortion, it said.
Limbo has never been defined as church dogma and is not mentioned in the current Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states simply that unbaptized infants are entrusted to God's mercy.
But limbo has long been regarded as the common teaching of the church. In the modern age, "people find it increasingly difficult to accept that God is just and merciful if he excludes infants, who have no personal sins, from eternal happiness," the new document said.
Parents in particular can experience grief and feelings of guilt when they doubt their unbaptized children are with God, it said.
The church's hope for these infants' salvation reflects a growing awareness of God's mercy, the commission said. But the issue is not simple, because appreciation for divine mercy must be reconciled with fundamental church teachings about original sin and about the necessity of baptism for salvation, it said.
The document traced the development of church thinking about the fate of unbaptized children, noting that there is "no explicit answer" from Scripture or tradition.
In the fifth century, St. Augustine concluded that infants who die without baptism were consigned to hell. By the 13th century, theologians referred to the "limbo of infants" as a place where unbaptized babies were deprived of the vision of God, but did not suffer because they did not know what they were deprived of.
Through the centuries, popes and church councils were careful not to define limbo as a doctrine of the faith and to leave the question open. That was important in allowing an evolution of the teaching, the theological commission said.
A key question taken up by the document was the church's teaching that baptism is necessary for salvation. That teaching needs interpretation, in view of the fact that "infants ... do not place any personal obstacle in the way of redemptive grace," it said.
In this and other situations, the need for the sacrament of baptism is not absolute and is secondary to God's desire for the salvation of every person, it said.
"God can therefore give the grace of baptism without the sacrament being conferred, and this fact should particularly be recalled when the conferring of baptism would be impossible," it said.
This does not deny that all salvation comes through Christ and in some way through the church, it said, but it requires a more careful understanding of how this may work.
The document outlined several ways by which unbaptized babies might be united to Christ:
-- A "saving conformity to Christ in his own death" by infants who themselves suffer and die.
-- A solidarity with Christ among infant victims of violence, born and unborn, who like the holy innocents killed by King Herod are endangered by the "fear or selfishness of others."
-- God may simply give the gift of salvation to unbaptized infants, corresponding to his sacramental gift of salvation to the baptized.
The document said the standard teaching that there is "no salvation outside the church" calls for similar interpretation.
The church's magisterium has moved toward a more "nuanced understanding" of how a saving relationship with the church can be realized, it said. This does not mean that someone who has not received the sacrament of baptism cannot be saved, it said.
Rather, it means that "there is no salvation which is not from Christ and ecclesial by its very nature," it said.
The document quoted St. Paul's teaching that spouses of Christians may be "consecrated" through their wives or husbands. This indicates that the holiness of the church reaches people "outside the visible bounds of the church" through the bonds of human communion, it said.
The document said the church clearly teaches that people are born into a state of sinfulness -- original sin -- which requires an act of redemptive grace to be washed away.
But Scripture also proclaims the "superabundance" of grace over sin, it said. That seems to be missing in the idea of limbo, which identifies more with Adam's sinfulness than with Christ's redemption, it said.
"Christ's solidarity with all of humanity must have priority over the solidarity of human beings with Adam," it said.
Liturgically, the motive for hope was confirmed by the introduction in 1970 of a funeral rite for unbaptized infants whose parents intended to present them for baptism, it said.
The commission said the new theological approach to the question of unbaptized babies should not be used to "negate the necessity of baptism, nor to delay the conferral of the sacrament."
"Rather, there are reasons to hope that God will save these infants precisely because it was not possible to do for them that what would have been most desirable -- to baptize them in the faith of the church and incorporate them visibly into the body of Christ," it said.
The commission said hopefulness was not the same as certainty about the destiny of such infants.
"It must be clearly acknowledged that the church does not have sure knowledge about the salvation of unbaptized infants who die," it said.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, was president of the commission and head of the doctrinal congregation when the commission began studying the question of limbo in a systematic way in 2004.
U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada now heads the commission and the doctrinal congregation. Cardinal Levada met with the pope to discuss the document Jan. 19 and, with the pope's approval, authorized its publication.
“La Civiltà Cattolica” Breaks the Silence – On Romano Amerio
He was the most authoritative and erudite representative of criticism of the Church in the name of Tradition, but for decades the discussion of his thought was barred. The magazine of the Rome Jesuits has broken the taboo. Authorized from on high
by Sandro Magister
ROMA, April 23, 2007 – In “La Civiltà Cattolica,” the magazine of the Rome Jesuits printed with the prior scrutiny and authorization of the Vatican secretaiat of state, a review has been published that signals the end of a taboo.
The taboo is the one that has obliterated from public discussion, for decades, the thought of the most authoritative and erudite representative of criticism of the twentieth century Church in the name of the great Tradition: the Swiss philologist and philosopher Romano Amerio (in the photo), who died in Lugano in 1997, at the age of 92.
Amerio, although he was always extremely faithful to the Church, condensed his criticisms of it in two volumes: “Iota unum: Studio delle variazioni della Chiesa cattolica nel XX secolo [Iota Unum: A Study of Changes in the Catholic Church in the Twentieth Century],” begun in 1935 and finalized and published in 1985, and, and “Stat Veritas. Séguito a Iota unum [Stat Veritas: Sequel to Iota Unum],” released posthumously in 1997, both issued by the publisher Riccardo Ricciardi, of Naples.
The Latin words in the title of the first volume, “Iota Unum,” are those of Jesus in the sermon on the mount: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter [iota] or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” (Matthew 5: 17-18). The iota is the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet.
“Iota Unum,” 658 pages, was reprinted three times in Italy, for a total of seven thousand copies, and was then translated into French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and Dutch. It thus reached many tens of thousands of readers all over the world.
But in spite of this, an almost complete blacklisting fell upon Amerio in the Church, both during and after his life.
The review in “La Civiltà Cattolica” thus signals a turning point. Both because of where and how it was published – with the authorization of the Holy See – and because of what it says.
Strictly speaking, the review concerns a book about Amerio published in 2005 by his disciple Enrico Maria Radaelli. But without a doubt it is the great Swiss thinker who is at the center of the reviewer’s judgments.
And the judgments are largely positive, both on “Amerio’s intellectual and moral stature,” and on “the importance of his philosophical-theological vision for the contemporary Church.”
The reviewer, Giuseppe Esposito, is a psychologist who is well read in theology. Although he does not agree with Amerio in everything, he maintains that his thought “deserves more extensive discussion,” and “without prejudice.”
In particular, he writes, “it seems simplistic to relegate his reflection – and that of Radaelli – to the sphere of nostalgic traditionalism, as a position now irrelevant, incapable of comprehending the new movements of the Spirit.”
On the contrary, the reviewer maintains, Amerio’s thought “confers a form and a philosophical framework upon that ecclesial component which, following in the path of Tradition, reaches out to safeguard Christian specificity and identity.”
For Amerio, this form and philosophical framework are found in “the primacy of the truth about love.”
As is well known, the link between truth and love is at the center of Benedict XVI’s teaching.
Here, then, is reproduced the review that appeared in “La Civiltà Cattolica” on March 17, 2007, n. 3762, pages 622-623.
The reviewed book, the first one systematically dedicated to Romano Amerio’s life and thought, is the following:
Enrico Maria Radaelli, "Romano Amerio. Della verità e dell’amore [Romano Amerio: On Truth and Love]", Marco Editore, Lungro di Cosenza, 2005, pp. XXXV-340, 25 euro.
"In love with the truth and with the Church..."
by Giuseppe Esposito
A passionate devotee of Romano Amerio (1905-97), Enrico Maria Radaelli presents his life, word, and thought, placing the reader before an intellectual production that unfolded over a period of about 70 years.
And so here is Amerio as philosopher, philologist, historian, and also theologian, with his important contributions on Descartes, Giacomo Leopardi, Alessandro Manzoni, but above all on Tommaso Campanella.
The author’s primary intention is that of bringing back to light the figure of his master after the ostracism that followed the publication, in 1985, of his “Iota Unum.” This is the text that synthesizes Amerio’s thought, and, for the author, it is a true “metaphysical compendium of Catholic knowledge” (p. 135), capable of furnishing convincing and solid arguments in support of the faith.
The book, translated into seven languages, was not received well in Italy, and Amerio was branded as a traditionalist, preconciliar, Lefebvrist. But according to Radaelli, it is an error to reduce all of Amerio’s thought to his position on Vatican Council II.
This is, in the first place, because “Iota Unum” did not originate directly from the Council, nor from esteem for the schismatic bishop Marcel Lefebvre (whom Amerio criticizes for his separation from ecclesial communion), but is instead a collection of reflections begun thirty years earlier, and pertaining to more general topics.
In the second place this is because dwelling on controversy trivializes the important fundamental question Amerio raises, well represented by the author in the title: “On Truth and Love.”
This is the nucleus of Amerio’s thought: the primacy of truth over love. Subverting this order, and thus producing a “metaphysical dislocation of essences,” for Amerio is inevitably translated into an attack against Christ, the Word of God, the Logos. It is for this reason that he wrote “Iota Unum,” and, presenting it to Augusto Del Noce, defined it as an attempt to “defend essences against the waywardness and syncretism of the spirit of the age” (p. 231). And to Del Noce, who was fascinated by his argument, it seemed that “the ultimate philosophical problem for the ‘Catholic restoration’ that the world needs is that of the order of essences” (p. 233).
In love with the truth and with the Church, preoccupied with the secularization of Christianity, with its reduction to morality and works at the expense of the primacy of Christocentrism, Amerio criticizes “fundamentalist ecumenism,” the dissolution of the Christian identity in religious relativism, the renunciation of the Truth in favor of respect for other-truths, the reduction of the one true religion to one of the various possible religions.
It is decisive to pose the absolute centrality of the Word: “The absolute value attributed to the divine reality of the Word (Logos), as well as of the facts that religion derives from it, [...] shelter man from the disorientation of relativism” (p. 19).
This is a reminder not to undervalue the risks inherent in naturalism, and in any “conception of the Spirit cut down from the supernatural to the natural, [...] from the religious to the cultural, from the spiritual to the intellectual” (p. 130).
For Radaelli, what happened in the end was precisely what his master feared: “The subversion of the principles according to which reason is replaced in its first causality by love, plans by realization, intellect by freedom, ideas by praxis, [...] the classical values of religious naturalism seem to have the upper hand against the supremacy of the supernatural” (p. 206).
The author, with carefully chosen and deliberately apologetic language, highlights Amerio’s intellectual and moral stature, and clarifies the importance of his philosophical-theological vision, for the contemporary Church as well. The result is certainly a defensive, impassioned harangue that is sometimes grating, but it is above all a provocation to engage Amerio’s “powerful thought.”
Of course, it is not possible to share the negative judgment extended to the Council in its entirety and to all the positive things it produced.
Furthermore, there is a questionable attempt to explain all of Christianity’s current difficulties as if they were almost entirely the result of a deviation from the dogma of the Logos, of the demotion of Truth to second place after love. The reality is more complex, and one cannot trace everything back to just one aspect: in this case, there is the risk of philosophical reductionism.
And yet the Amerian hypothesis deserves more extensive discussion, and it seems simplistic to relegate his reflection – and that of Radaelli – to the sphere of nostalgic traditionalism, as a position now irrelevant, incapable of comprehending the new movements of the Spirit, if it is not in fact – with allowances for due caution – almost an obstacle to His action.
But if one frees oneself from fundamentalist prejudice, the nucleus of Amerio’s reflection becomes a stimulus for thought.
And this is not a matter of an isolated metaphysical view of Christianity: it confers a form and a philosophical framework upon that ecclesial component which, following in the path of Tradition, reaches out to safeguard Christian specificity and identity.
In this perspective, the work of Radaelli, by reproposing the deep Amerian theoretical questions, invites one to confront these without prejudice, in a more serene way.
The text, knowledgeably introduced by Antonio Livi, dean of the faculty of philosophy at the Pontifical Lateran University, is also accompanied by interviews with Amerio and reviews of “Iota Unum,” as well as by a small glossary to aid the reader. Together with the list of Amerio’s works, the indices of names, persons, places, and topics are complete and very useful.