To Catholics of generations past, baptism wasn't something to be deferred until a convenient time, because the souls of infants who died without it were thought to be consigned to something other than heaven. Limbo.I'm not sure that is a big deal for the Catholic tradition, although any time they choose to override Augustine it will create some waves.
Not quite heaven, not nearly hell, it was regarded as a place of eternal happiness that fell just short of paradise, reserved for unbaptized children and righteous souls who lived before Christ.
It was a widespread and influential teaching for centuries. But Pope Benedict XVI is expected today to reject the concept, endorsing the conclusions of a theological commission that said unbaptized children who die before reaching the age of reason go to heaven.
St. Augustine, an influential church father, theorized the existence of limbo in the fifth century, when entry to heaven was thought to be restricted to baptized Christians. Nobody wanted to believe God would send innocent souls to hell, so the saint theorized the existence of limbo.
"I call it `Paradise Park,'" said Larry Chapp, a professor of theology at DeSales University in Center Valley, evoking a kind of gilded Disneyland as he described the concept of a haven on the fringe of heaven.
The Catholic understanding of salvation has broadened since Augustine's day, but many still regard water baptism as essential to salvation.
Some confuse limbo with purgatory, where souls that have been saved but still must atone for their sins are cleansed before entering heaven. Unlike purgatory, which Catholics say is rooted in Scripture, limbo has no scriptural basis, Chapp said.
The interesting thing here is that this possibly sets a precedent for all those incapable of reason to not be excluded from heaven if they have not been baptized, such as the developmentally disabled, the mentally ill, and the senile. I'm sure the Church will stick with a strict age deliniation, but I wonder how that will work with the parents of an autistic child who is not functioning at the same level as another child of her/his age.
Or what about those who were once baptized and later, under the influence of schizophrenia, clinical depression, or the profound derangement of loss reject the teachings of the Church and the idea of God altogether.
I, for example, fall into this last group. I was baptized and confirmed. Then my father died when I was 13, and I rejected God, the Church, and the whole idea of God during the days following that loss. Was I outside the boundaries of reason that might be considered normal when I made that choice? Having lived nearly 27 years with that decision, I am lost and subject to purgatory? Or hell?
I think this will open up some interesting discussions for theology geeks, and that's always a lot of fun.