Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Is Religious Education Stuck in Limbo?

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Is Religious Education Stuck in Limbo?

Article excerpt

It has been a while since I sat in a classroom at St. Jerome School and learned from Sister Mary Davidis, B.V.M. the rudiments of Catholic catechism and was taught by Christian Brother Malachy at St. George High School a somewhat more sophisticated version of those teachings. In the interim, the Second Vatican Council, among other developments in the church, ensued.

Still, the rudiments remain, I think. It is hard for a catechetical layperson to know what is unchanged and what has changed. Obviously a lot of emphases have shifted. The drastically diminished numbers of teaching religious and priests have greatly enhanced, not altogether unhappily, the responsibility of the we-are-the-church gang. But what to teach? There's the rub.

Take last things - heaven, hell, purgatory, and limbo - for example. In the days spoken of earlier these were always matters of faith to be accepted unquestionably. However, the idea of limbo was a serious puzzlement - especially the thought of all those unbaptized infants parked somewhere, happy enough, but lacking only comity with God. (A sardonic friend suggested jokingly writing a thesis titled, "Do kids have fun in limbo?")

Ironically it wasn't until recently that I, a product of 18 years of Catholic education, learned the truth about limbo from Father John Dietzen's perspicacious column in the Northwest Indiana Catholic. It seems that Pope Pius VI in 1974, rejecting a Jansenist heresy, taught that one may believe in limbo, a "middle state" of happiness that is not in heaven with God, and still be a Catholic. The Jansenist had taught that all infants dying without baptism are condemned to the fires of hell! "That remains the only significant mention of limbo in any Catholic document," Dietzen writes. "Obviously," he goes on, "it's a long way from saying that limbo belongs anywhere in official Catholic teaching."

Limbo is hardly a subject of discussion among Catholics today. Most younger Catholics are unlikely even to have heard of it. But why weren't we older Catholics not told when we were growing up that limbo, to put it crudely, was a crock? The baleful influence of Jansenism among Irish and other Catholics is one explanation. The limbo saga is cited as a reminder that there have been only two doctrines enunciated by a pope as infallible (ex cathedra) in the last two centuries and those two doctrines are not exactly integral parts of the average Catholic's daily experience. …

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