VATICAN CITY, OCT. 7, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II asked some well-known Catholic theologians to study further a question that has stood for centuries: What is the fate of children who die without baptism?
The Pope entrusted this task today to members of the International Theological Commission, an institution of the Holy See headed the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Although it was never defined as a dogma, the existence of limbo was posed as a possibility by some theologians wrestling with the question. Limbo was suggested as an intermediary place between heaven and hell, which spared the innocent who died without baptism from the punishments of hell.
After the Second Vatican Council, Catholic theology has sought answers that are in accord with the mercy of God the Father.
When John Paul II received the participants in the plenary assembly of the International Theological Commission, he said: “It is not simply an isolated theological problem.”
“Many other fundamental topics are closely related to it: the universal salvific will of God; the unique and universal mediation of Jesus Christ; the role of the Church, universal sacrament of salvation; the theology of the sacraments; the meaning of the doctrine on original sin,” the Holy Father said.
“It corresponds to you to scrutinize the nexus among all these mysteries to offer a theological synthesis that might serve as an aid for a more consistent and enlightened pastoral practice,” he said.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church does not speak of children’s limbo. No. 1261 explains that “as regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them.”
“Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children, which caused him to say: ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,’ allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism,” it adds.
“All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism,” the Catechism concludes.
The purpose of the International Theological Commission, established 35 years ago by Paul VI, is to examine the most important doctrinal questions. In general, the commission’s reflections take the form of study documents.