Submitted to the Cumberland Times-News Thursday, February 19, 2009.
(Update: Published in Times-News Letters Wednesday, February 25, 2009.)
Limbo “has no clear foundation in revelation” and “never entered into the (magisterium's) dogmatic definitions.” -- from a Jan. 19, 2007 document of the International Theological Commission
Pope Benedict XVI recalls the view of his predecessors, Pius XII and John Paul II -- "that there is no opposition between faith's understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences." -- from Oct. 31, 2008 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences
Bradley Wood (“Evolution, Christianity cannot be compatible,” Feb. 18) misrepresents Catholic teaching on concepts of limbo and evolution.
Though part of Catholic tradition since the Middle Ages, the theory of limbo (as stated in a Jan. 19, 2007 document of the International Theological Commission) “has no clear foundation in revelation” and “never entered into the (magisterium’s) dogmatic definitions.”
In fact, the ITC document notes, liturgy includes a feast day for the Holy Innocents (instituted sometime before the year 485) and a funeral Mass for unbaptized infants (instituted in 1970). Both recognize the sacredness of the souls of unbaptized infants.
Clarification of limbo has been sought since the first Vatican Council (1868). In recent years, the ITC notes, it has become urgent, because “the number of infants who die unbaptized is growing greatly” -- due in part to parents’ lack of practice, as well as to in vitro fertilization and abortion.
Baptism in the Holy Spirit is the sacrament left to us by Jesus Christ to draw us into God’s plan of salvation; and Catholics are obliged to have their children baptized. In any case, though, it is understood that God’s mercy pours out to each of us; therefore, “[t]he Church entrusts to God’s mercy those infants who die unbaptized.”
Regarding evolution, in his Oct. 31, 2008 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences as they began an assembly on "Scientific Insight Into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life," Pope Benedict XVI recalls the view of his predecessors, Pius XII and John Paul II -- "that there is no opposition between faith's understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences."
Pope Benedict explains that God’s design for “foundation of the cosmos and its developments” does not stop “with the beginning of the history of the world and of life.” Rather, “the Creator founds these developments and supports them, underpins them and sustains them continuously.”
Pope Benedict illustrates: “To ‘evolve’ literally means ‘to unroll a scroll,’ that is, to read a book. (Nature) is a book whose history, whose evolution, whose ‘writing’ and meaning, we ‘read’ according to the different approaches of the sciences, while all the time presupposing the foundational presence of the author who has wished to reveal himself therein.”
The pope summarizes: “Experimental and philosophical inquiry gradually discovers these (organic, animal and spiritual) orders; it perceives them working to maintain themselves in being, defending themselves against imbalances, and overcoming obstacles. And thanks to the natural sciences we have greatly increased our understanding of the uniqueness of humanity’s place in the cosmos.”
To further explore the complementarity of faith and science, a March 3-7, 2009 international conference in Rome on "Biological Evolution, Facts and Theories” will be hosted by academics from South Bend’s Notre Dame University, Rome's Gregorian University and the Pontifical Council for Culture. The event marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his "Origin of the Species."
The conference web site states that “this issue of biological evolution deserves a careful and serious reconsideration from a scientific point of view as well as in a philosophical and theological perspective.... [W]ithin the complex and multifaceted issue of the Science-Faith relationship, this event focuses on the possibility to reconcile in the same philosophical position the ‘Creation’ thinking and the ‘Evolution’ thinking, without the first pretending to be a scientific theory nor the second being reduced to a dogma.”
by Nancy E. Thoerig 02.19.09