Thursday, August 23, 2007


Limbo refers to the permanent place or state of those unbaptized children who, even though they committed no personal mortal sin, are excluded from the presence of God after death because of original sin. They were not damned and they lived in a state of happiness, but they were not in the direct presence of God, which is the essence of heaven.

For centuries, Catholic theologians based the existence of infant Limbo on two scriptural passages:

(1) John 3:5 -- "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
(2) Romans 5:12 -- “. . . by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”

But in the spring of 2007, Pope Benedict XVI virtually repealed Limbo, saying that there is hope that these infants do enjoy the Beatific Vision after all. Last one out turn off the lights.

My interest is in the word itself. In Latin, limbus meant a hem or a fringe. Limbo was the ablative singular form, translated as "on the fringe." So Limbo was a suburb between hell and heaven, so near yet so far.

By extension, in secular use, it came to mean a place of confinement, sort of a junkyard for the outworn or useless. To be in limbo is to be out of the mainstream, on permanent hold, up in the air.

Selected headlines make it clear that it is a very popular metaphor:

• Court leaves status of Miss. executions in limbo [MSNBC, August 8, 2007]
• Case in limbo against bounty hunter [USA Today, July 27, 2007]
• Culpepper signs with Raiders; Russell still in limbo [ESPN, August 1, 2007]
• Law library still in limbo [Florida Today, August 6, 2007]
• Transplant patients in limbo as doctors quit [ABC News, August 6, 2007]
• Budget standoff: Budget vote left senator in limbo [Sacramento Bee, August 3, 2007]
• Child Health Money in Limbo [WKSU, August 8, 2007]
• OMB nomination in limbo [Tick Marks blog, August 2, 2007]
• Rove's Time in Limbo Near End in CIA Leak Case [Washington Post, May 8, 2006]
• Philly Park Casino Plans Remain in Limbo [, August 14, 2007]

SIDEBAR: Radiohead, In Limbo

SIDEBAR: limbo music (the dance)

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