Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Theology: The Exemplar of Madness.

There is a story by Poe. I think it may be The Murders in the Rue Morgue but ever-advancing dementia prohibits me from being sure, and I cannot be bothered to check. Suffice to say that Poe wrote it, and that it is excellent in many respects.

In the story, the narrator states a marvellous line that shines out of the dark context like a beacon and sheds much light on an aspect of various forms of insanity:

They say I am mad, but would a madman behave as I have done?
Of course the reader is left in no doubt that the narrator is indeed mad, and the proof of that fact is his meticulous argumentation is support of his behaviour which, even though there is a definite thread of rationality in his actions, and each one of which can be analysed and seen to be reasonable within the context of that which preceded it, but, taken as a whole, drive one to the ineluctable conclusion that one is reading the ravings of a complete madman, yet he is completely unaware of his own psychopathology.

One is left with the same impression when one reads the precise and analytical argumentation of Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., Associate Professor of Theology at the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, in his paper entitled Could Limbo Be 'Abolished'? which was published on 7 December 2005, and which can be found here.

In this article, Fr Harrison analyses Ratzinger/Benedict’s intention to abolish limbo, and argues, in part…

…first: that it would clearly be impossible for the Pope to make an infallible (ex cathedra) definition contradicting the Church's bimillennial tradition that (at least after the proclamation of the Gospel, and apart from a rare 'baptism of blood' — being slain, like the Holy Innocents, out of hatred of Christ) such infants are eternally excluded from the beatific vision; and secondly, that in view of this impossibility of our reaching any certainty of their eternal salvation, any (non-infallible) magisterial document raising further hopes to that effect would be inopportune and irresponsible. For such a document would inevitably accentuate the already-existing tendency for Catholic parents to be lax and negligent about having their children baptized promptly after birth, and would therefore run the risk of being partially, but gravely, responsible for barring Heaven to countless souls, in the event that Limbo does turn out to exist after all. I am firmly persuaded that nothing more should be said about this matter than what is already said in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. While the Catechism says cautiously that Catholics are "allowed" (not obliged) to "hope" that there is a way of salvation for infants who die unbaptized (#1261), it also emphasizes that "the Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude" (#1257), (Harrison’s emphasis).
Harrison continues at some length to argue that limbo cannot be abolished, and concludes…

It should be clear from the above survey of relevant Catholic magisterial statements that those who now talk about Limbo as only ever having been a mere "hypothesis", rather than a doctrine, are giving a very misleading impression of the state of the question. They are implying by this that the pre-Vatican II Church traditionally held, or at least implicitly admitted, that an alternate 'hypothesis' for unbaptized infants was their attainment of eternal salvation — Heaven. Nothing could be further from the truth. Limbo for unbaptized infants was indeed a theological "hypothesis"; but the only approved alternate hypothesis was not Heaven, but very mild hellfire as well as exclusion from the beatific vision! In short, while Limbo as distinct from very mild hellfire was a 'hypothetical' destiny for unbaptized infants, their eternal exclusion from Heaven (with or without any 'pain of sense') — at least after the proclamation of the Gospel, and apart from the 'baptism of blood' of infants slaughtered out of hatred for Christ — this was traditional Catholic doctrine, not a mere hypothesis. No, it was never dogmatically defined. But the only question is whether the doctrine was infallible by virtue of the universal and ordinary magisterium, or merely "authentic"(Harrison's emphasis).
Unfortunately for Harrison, the Church's International Theological Commission didn’t agree with him, since they have just published a 41 page document entitled The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised which said limbo reflected an "unduly restrictive view of salvation," according to the U.S.-based Catholic News Service. Furthermore, this thumbs-down verdict on limbo is seen as most likely to be final since limbo was never formally part of Church doctrine, and the theologians advising the Pope concluded that since God is merciful he "wants all human beings to be saved."

Admittedly I haven’t read the International Theological Commission’r report, The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised, but I am willing to bet that were I to do so, I would arrive at the same conclusion that I was driven to about Fr. Harrison: it was written by madmen!

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