A theology class 100 years from now

A: And that’s my main problem with the Church of a hundred years ago: it’s irrational and lacks all courage of its convictions.

B: You’re talking about the “entrust them to the mercy of God” clause in the catechism of 1993?

A: Exactly. The Church never has the courage of conviction. As soon as there’s the slightest hint of some scary outcome they flee to irrationalism and hand-wringing.

B: But can’t God save whoever he wants, unbaptized babies included?

A: Sure, but what does that have to do with teaching the faith? The whole point is to lay out the system you need to follow. How strongly does anyone believe in a system that they’re willing to abandon as soon as it threatens the happiness of a baby? (sarcastically) “Oh no, some baby isn’t in heaven! Quick, forget everything I said about needing to be baptized! I didn’t really mean it!”

B: Put yourself in their shoes though, in the the late 20th Century mind. I know you’ll just say this sounds like Menges, but compassion is important.

A: Right. Tell that to the 13 million Poles in radiation fields. How is the Church any different? Have Menges come along and they’ll drop their system as soon as someone convinces them it’s not compassionate. Forget the Sacraments! Theoretical babies are crying!

B: Okay okay! Enough of the reductio ad Mengesem. That always comes up.

A: How can it not? You try to save one theoretical baby and give up 13 million live persons. How does that make sense? You don’t see that anywhere in Dante or Augustine or any of the real theologians.

B: You keep calling them “theoretical babies” but don’t you understand the desire to mute the claim that babies go to Hell?

A: Why, because it’s scary and bad?

B: Yeah.

A: No, I don’t get it at all. Sure, babies in Hell is a horrible thing. If you think this is a deal-breaker, then give up on your system. If you don’t think it is a deal-breaker then have the courage to accept what you believe. But either have the courage to leave your system or the courage to stand by it.

B: Well, they did live in a very comfortable time. They’d fight in wars and demand to still eat all the same food.

A: No way!

B: Seriously, they would. They wouldn’t even go to war – they just flew a missile with a camera into a guy’s house and killed everyone there rather than fighting.

A: (eyeroll of contempt)




  1. Captain Peabody said,

    September 15, 2016 at 8:15 am

    The basic question here seems to be the status of “system” viz a vis theology and the Church.

    On the issue of baptism, people have been looking for exceptions to the rule since the early church (the earliest being the idea of “baptism of blood”), and the medieval “tortures infantorum” controversies are only an extension of that. The break between the Medieval solution (limbo) and the modern one does tell us something, though; when the system led to “scary” results, the Medievals were inclined to posit highly theoretical structures (theological epicycles, as it were), whereas the modern Church prefers to leave things vague and appeal to the mercy of God. I’m not sure why the former is necessarily more courageous than the latter.

    • September 15, 2016 at 10:07 am

      I’m not sure why the former is necessarily more courageous than the latter.

      Right. This post was a daydream I had after hearing a colleague struggle to explain Dante’s Limbo to a group of unsympathetic students. Under what condition, so the daydream went, might the students be more scandalized by the attempts to avoid Limbo? Everyone has noticed it’s absence from the CCC (which is really the Catechism of Vatican II. It would clarify a great deal to just call it that, but, as you note, the modern Church sees clarity as a part of a larger system of values).

  2. Janet said,

    September 15, 2016 at 7:46 pm

    Actually, “the whole point of faith” is NOT to have a system to follow, as your “A” would have it– the purpose of teaching the faith is to follow a Person, not a system! All of the moral teachings of the Church are derivatives of that first, fundamental fact.

    We’re not teaching a philosophical system, or a set of mathematical theorems, or a moral computational method. We’re talking about a crazy love affair with Infinite Love Himself. And, we also need to be very humble about what we know about the Infinite, and how very shallow our logic is compared to the reality we’re experiencing. We know a few things, with tenacious and total certainty; and those few things imply that we can rule out a number of other things. But beyond that… it’s a wonderful, miraculous mystery. Systems be damned (literally).

    So: we know, with total certainty, that God desires the damnation of NO ONE who ever has, or ever will, live. This means necessarily that “double predestination” is a vicious lie, contrary to reality; ergo, no one is necessarily damned. We know that the Gospel spoken to us tells us that to be saved, we must repent and be baptized, and that we are bound to pass this Gospel on to anyone who can hear it. Rejecting baptism, refusing to enter or remain in the Church, if we know what the Church is, is the same thing as rejecting salvation. BUT, this tells us nothing about those who can’t hear the Gospel preached, such as the babies discussed here! We don’t know how God’s plan will work out for them, we have no hint of a soteriology for them… but we, and they, don’t need a soteriology. They are in the hands of a loving and merciful God, and we, the adults, don’t have any direct role in whatever God’s plan is.

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