After 700 years of occupancy, a landlord is entitled to ask the tenants to move. Apparently something like that is happening at the Vatican, where, the Guardian reports, the decision has been made to evict the occupants and close limbo.
You might think anything that's been around for seven centuries would have an established and uncontested place in organized religion, but the newspaper writes, a tad elliptically, that "John Paul II was deeply troubled by limbo and had it dropped from the church's 1992 catechism." Why limbo, a quiet place where nothing was going on as far as we know, a place without misbehaving members of the clergy, should trouble the Pope is not explained. Didn't the Pope have enough to worry him without taking on the consequences of a limbo ouster?
Whether he did or didn't, his successor, Benedict XVI, is also an anti-limboterian, as are some thirty Roman Catholic theologians from around the world who have been meeting in secret and have, if the report is correct, decided to put the kibosh on the place. Limbo, you might say, is on its way to limbo.
Limbo, it must be explained to any unchurched pagans who may be casting an eye on this piece, is where innocent babies who have not been baptized and are, therefore, ineligible for residence in heaven, were thought to reside in a semi-blissful eternity. There was no other place to put the poor blameless things, hence limbo was built and seemed to be going along well enough, paying its taxes and keeping its streets clean before this thunderbolt of an announcement.
All of a sudden the firmament is to be inundated by millions — nay, perhaps billions — of unbaptized babies bumping into angels, clogging up celestial trumpets and interfering with the plucking of harps. The music of the spheres is about to take an awesome drop in quality.
So far as is known, no provisions for relocation or emergency housing have been made, which is typical of decisions made on high by eminent persons of great sanctity but little street cred. There has been some discussion about bringing the babies back for a second go-round. (The Second Coming is not used in this context.) Without tackling the theological questions posed by such a plan, on the practical level, who is going to take care of these children, many of whom died centuries ago?
What exactly would a person think when an angel, bearing a child in swaddling clothes, rings the doorbell and announces, as angels are wont to do in that startling way of theirs, "Behold the child of your great, great, great, great grandmother, who died in 1627. She is yours." Yes, a much needed tax deduction, but who is going to pay for her college? Certainly, the Vatican, with its heavy litigation expenses, is in no position to undertake this new load.
Difficulties abound. Limbo appears in "The Divine Comedy" and "Paradise Lost." Will Dante and Milton be summoned to do a rewrite to conform to modern understanding? It's not just babies involved here. It is believed, by some people anyhow, that the great figures of the pre-Christian era, like the prophets of the Jewish scriptures and Plato and Aristotle, are also gulping down the nectar in limbo. Where are all those unbaptized worthies to reside henceforth?
This is where the Mormons come in and save the Pope's bacon. Mormons can baptize dead people. They do it all the time. They have vast databases groaning with the names of the departed, whom the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints usher out of limbo and into heaven by what is called "proxy baptism." Some Jews have objected to having the Mormons pull sneak baptisms on their ancestors, and the Mormons, displaying a sensitivity they are not known for, have said they won't do it any more.
So the only remaining question is, Are there enough Mormons ready, willing and able to proxy-baptize all those millions of Roman Catholic babies? As for Plato, he is smart enough to take care of himself.
By Nicholas Von Hoffman
Reprinted with permission from The Nation