in 1984, when His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI was a mere Cardinal
Joseph Ranzinger, presiding over the Vatican's doctrinal enforcement
lobby, he expressed his opinion that he was personally in favour
of scrapping the 13th-century notion of 'Limbo', the no-man's
land situated between Heaven and Hell and reserved for unbabtized
babies, which he termed a mere "hypothesis."
It was the
French monk Peter Aberlard who introduced the idea of Limbo. Before
the 13th Century, all unbaptized people, including new-born babies
who died, went to hell because they had not been cleansed of original
sin by the Christian baptism ceremony. Abelard said that babies
who had no personal sin didn't deserve such punishment
year, in his new position of supreme power, the Pope gave his
approval to a 41-page document drafted by the International Theological
Convention, although adding that its conclusions were not to be
considered Roman Catholic Church dogma. Published in US magazine
'Origins', the report announced: "The many factors that
we have considered... give serious theological and liturgical
grounds for hope that unbaptised infants who die will be saved."
And so a
concept that had been preached and believed in for 800 years has
been virtually abolished. It's sad that a baseless fable should
have caused so much mental anguish to Catholic parents of stillborn
or early-dead children over the centuries, believing that their
child would never reach Heaven, and whose little corpse was refused
burial in the church graveyard. Instead they can now believe as
the Muslims do, that the departing soul of an innocent babe will
go straight to Heaven.
'Limbo' comes from a Latin word meaning "the edge", and Limbo
was usually described as a sort of dim and foggy place where there
was no pain, but no real pleasure either. In Purgatory, that other
no-man's-land between Heaven and Hell, there is pain. And plenty
order to qualify for the Plenary, which wipes out a whole
lifetime of sins in one fell swoop, Catholics have until
December 8, 2008 to go on pilgrimage to Lourdes, visit all
the officially sanctified shrines... To get to Lourdes,
naturally, you'll try to make use of the recently inaugurated
Augustine, august father of the Church, warned that "the pain
suffered by those who expiate their faults by purgatorial flames
is more intolerable than any one can suffer in this life." The
only good thing about Purgatory is that you know it's good for
you in the long run, because the sins you accumulated on earth
are being seared away and you'll eventually emerge purified in
Heaven. Still, one naturally wants to stay there for as short
a time as possible. Is there any way to speed up the process?
As a matter
of fact there is. Apart from the temporary forgiveness of sins
afforded by confession and penance, there are the esteemed 'indulgences'
which the Church can bestow on an individual from its 'Treasury
of Merit', and which can grant full or partial remission from
one's stay in Purgatory.
in order to pay for the rebuilding of St Paul's basilica in Rome,
Pope Leo X began the practice of selling indulgences. The idea
proved to be a popular money-spinner. They even had a chart that
listed a price for each type of sin you could be forgiven. The
slogan went: "As soon as the gold in the casket rings / the rescued
soul to heaven springs." Then along came an upstart German monk
named Martin Luther who called foul. He denounced such transactions
and denied the Pope's right to grant pardons on God's behalf.
This caused a massive schism and the Christian Church split. Suddenly
there weren't as many indulgences being handed out as there used
But now -
lucky Catholics! Suddenly there's a unique opportunity for shedding
extra time of Purgatorial agony. For a limited time only, to coincide
with the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary
14-year-old Bernadette Soubirsous claimed she saw outside the
village of Lourdes in France in 1858, the Supreme Pontiff Benedict
XVI has decided to specially concede the gift of Plenary Indulgence
to the faithful.
to qualify for the Plenary, which wipes out a whole lifetime of
sins in one fell swoop, Catholics have until December 8, 2008
to go on pilgrimage to Lourdes, visit all the officially sanctified
shrines - birthplace, registery office, grotto, et cetera, and
"on each occasion pause for an appropriate length of time in prayer
and with pious meditations, concluding with the recital of the
Our Father, the Profession of Faith, the jubilee prayer or other
Marian invocation." Following this formula will ensure the cleansing
of the soul by the indulgence. Try to be good afterwards, however,
as new sins have a habit of ticking up.
To get to
Lourdes, naturally, you'll try to make use of the recently inaugurated
'Vatican Airlines', with its official slogan, "I'm Searching for
Your Face, Lord," imprinted on headrest covers throughout the
plane. The cabin crew is "specialized in voyages of a sacred nature"
and instead of standard movies, the in-flight entertainment system
plays religious videos. The shrine of Fatima in Portugal where
the three little shepherd children claimed similar sightings of
the BVM (Blessed Virgin Mary) in 1917 is another hot destination.
the Pope can do away with Limbo after all these years with
the stroke of his pen, maybe he could do the same to Purgatory?
And if Purgatory is abolished, what is to become of Heaven
you can't get to Lourdes, don't worry. There's still a way of
getting your plenary indulgence, but you only have 10 days to
earn it. In the Vatican's Plan B for salvation, "if between February
2 and February 11, 2008, during the Feast of the Blessed Virgin
Mary of Lourdes and 150th anniversary of the apparition, you visit,
in any church, grotto or decorous place, the blessed image of
that same Virgin of Lourdes, solemnly exposed for public veneration,
and before the image participate in a pious exercise of Marian
devotion, or at least pause for an appropriate space of time in
prayer" you will be exempt from the pain of Purgatory.
Bernadette was disappointed when she saw the statue of the lady
in white with the blue sash, designed for the sacred grotto after
Lourdes took off as a place of pilgrimage and a money-spinner
for the Catholic Church. She said the virgin was too old. The
apparition she'd spoken to had been that of a 12-year-old girl.
on a second. Does anybody remember 'Limbo'? That was the place
where the souls of unbaptised babies and those unfortunate enough
to have been born before Jesus, used to go - a kind of Purgatory
but without the pain. Not a bad place, but not good either, because
there was no chance of gazing on the radiant face of God.
year, after 800 years of official existence, Limbo was officially
abolished by Pope Benedick. He said that it was time to let the
idea of limbo drop "since it has always been only a theological
hypothesis, and never a definitive truth of the faith."
So, if the
Pope can do away with Limbo after all these years with the stroke
of his pen, maybe he could do the same to Purgatory?
And if Purgatory
is abolished, what is to become of Heaven and Hell?
all the people, living for today?... "
Michael Dickinson is an English teacher working in Istanbul, Turkey.
Dickinson did the cover art for two of CounterPunch's books, Dime's
Worth of Difference and Serpents in the Garden, as well as Jeffrey
St. Clair's Grand Theft Pentagon. He can be contacted via his
or at email@example.com.
Also visit Saatchi
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The Catholicization Of Tony
Incident At Westminster Abbey
The King's New Clothes
Arrested In Istanbul
Censoring The Carnival Of Chaos
Listening To Lennon In Istanbul
The Madness Of Money