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It is not what everyone wants to be reading about the church in the run up to Christmas. Which is why it is a timely post.

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Being indifferent to the importance of baptism is also an extreme, which is common today.

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A poignant article about a cillini, where poor theology and poorer compassion held that those buried children's souls were lost. The reflection was introduced by a pilgrim who also appeared to some to be lost (without the benefit of smartphone nor satnav) but clearly, based on the beauty of this article, was where he should be. "Not all those who wander are lost", as JRRT wrote and as Paul has winsomely revealed.

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It gets even worse. It is a little known fact that having an illegitimate child was such a heinous crime in the late 19th century in Ireland, that young women were kept out of the public eye or sent away to family elsewhere so that no none would know there was an illegitimate child. When the child was born it was secretly killed and buried. Then the misfortunate mother could return home. Women had to be perfectly pure. Like the Virgin Mary, so to speak. The number of such killings of babies was frighteningly large.

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I will never forget a priest, friend of mine, explaining once during mass how that belief on Limbo had finally changed, and then bursting into tears and asking God and parents for forgiveness

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There are also unmarked burial grounds in the North West of Scotland where unbaptised infants were interred. Though it did not last as long as in Ireland (dying out in the 19th century) the practice continued well after the Protestant Reformation., and for much longer than in Lowland, English speaking Scotland. In the 1800s those areas were strictly Presbyterian, and the idea of Limbo was regarded as a superstitious heresy, but still old practices survived. Those areas were Gaelic speaking until not so long ago, sharing much Celtic heritage with Ireland. Another hold over from pre-Reformation times was the treatment of the bodies of still born infants. In some areas of the Scottish Highlands they were buried separately and at night, and this continued into the early 20th century. Drowned bodies washed up on the shore were treated with fear into the mid 1800s. Burial of a suicide was surrounded by strong taboos into the 20th century. It is interesting how long some of these beliefs survived, despite the changes in the formal religion and the "banishing" of superstition.

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'The holy lande of Irelande' (Anon) is not a far-off place. Takes me back to when BBC radio in the early 1950s got interested in folk song other than the bowdlerised versions we were used to in primary school. I managed to corner the family 'wireless' enough to listen in another room. I suppose it must have been early Alan Lomax, Peggy Seeger, Euan McColl and the producer whose name escapes me. Field sound recording had come on apace in the war and this early series was mostly field recording across the British Isles. They told us that the recording team had found themselves beside this song by accident and had debated their intrusion on privacy and the ethics of broadcasting it. A young woman was keening her sorrow for her dead baby to the waves alone beside the Atlantic. It is very faint now but I can still hear her.

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founding

Thank you for teaching me about the difference between Limbo and Purgatory, Paul.

You've hit on a subject this Sunday morning that is one of the hardest ones to deal with in our perception of Christianity and sin.

Ironically enough, one of the most perspicacious explorations of sin, inherited sin, comes from "Oedipus Turannos", well before the Gospels were written. (I probably have a reading of Sophocles which has been deeply influenced by Christianity in that I believe that Laïos, Oedipus's father, was guilty of a terrible breach of the antique laws of hospitality when he seduced the young son of one of his hosts, with the consequence that the young man committed suicide, and... the (pagan) gods were not at all happy that their unwritten laws had been transgressed.)

Sophocles' play explores the FACT that the sins of the fathers have consequences on their... innocent children, even their unborn children. This is a... fact, I believe, and the Bible holds this to be true also. And it caracterizes the fallen world, where acts continually have consequences that go way beyond the moment when they are committed. We may not like to recognize this... fact, and the modern world definitely does not want to recognize it at all, but missing the mark, or taking a wrong turn (sinistra ?) does have effects that go beyond the time frame of the individual. The modern world, where heredity has become a concept that is firmly attached to the realm of biology, resorts to the concept of illness to take away the idea of responsibility. But taking away responsibility also takes away the power to change... oneself, the world. If only getting rid of guilt and responsibility did not entail losing so much power...and don't try to tell me that popping pills and seeing doctors gives us a sense of power over our lives. (I am not against having a sense of power in one's life. We are not supposed to be.. worms to avoid hubris. That's leaving Scylla to embark for Charybdis.)

When we recognize and accept this, what do we, can we do with it ?

What can Oedipus do with it, Oedipus who has a certain personal responsibility in his fate, but has inherited a place, an origin that can not allow him to be upright in the world ?

When Oedipus is cast out of Thebes, and condemned to wander as an impure man, is he in limbo, purgatory... exile ? hell ?

At the end of his journey, he has become a monument, (not a well, and the place where he disappears is not a place of pilgrimage, either), and his legacy is supposed to protect the City. His personal fate is tragic, but he is transformed to protect the City. His legendary anger is a positive force that the City needs to protect it.

Reading people with mystic bents at your place reminds me, Paul, that in the fallen world, love is not an absolute good, because there are no absolute "goods" in the fallen world. In mine, at least. And what is "love" ? Can too much of a "good" thing make it evil, and turn it into something that makes you miss the mark, or the way ? That is the way I understand the fallen world, in any case.

And I am not sure that I would want to live in an unfallen world, despite all the modern enthusiasm for ersatzes of paradise here and now, no... waiting, and on credit.

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Dec 3, 2023·edited Dec 3, 2023

I'm glad you tackled the issue of the Killeen's Paul. You are right, they are dotted all around Ireland. For me, they are a reminder of how dark and unforgiving the Church I was brought up in could be. You are I suspect right, the phenomenally rapid collapse in the moral authority and "hold" the RC Church had on the people of Ireland is I suspect a form of "payback" for this, and I'm sorry to add, numerous other mean and unloving aspects of Roman Catholic hegemony in Ireland.

What is remarkable to me is that this change has occurred within my life time. As a child in the 1960s, staying the long summer holidays in rural Kerry at my Grandparents small farm, I remember that most of the Irish people I knew, were in thrall psychologically and emotionally to the Roman Catholic priesthood. This vanished like "snow off a dyke on a sunny morning" from the late 1980s onwards.

I have returned "home" to Ireland for the past 24 years, and in that time the RC Church has taken such a collective kicking from the new high priests of secularism in Irish cultural and political life who now determine Irish mores, that it has brought to mind the image of an aging gang boss being kicked to a pulp by a squad of tough young usurpers. Repeatedly receiving kicks to the head long after he had expired. The assailants continuing their booting and wounding of the ousted dead leader to extend the humiliation, and to emphasise to all of us watching, the fate that awaits anyone who thinks to challenge them.

For me, that's how it feels, we have a new "priesthood" here in Ireland, they pervade our media, cultural, and political life, and they possess every bit of the arrogance and rectitude of the Roman Catholic hierarchs of the 1930s or 1950s.

In the same way that poor old insecure and self doubting Ireland strove to be the most Catholic of all the Catholic nations of the earth, so too does Ireland in the 21st century take a strange pride in its "progressive" and "woke" credentials internationally, as ever, seeking verification and affirmation from those they consider to be the arbiters of all that is creditable and worthy.

Ireland in the 21st century looks to me like a nation that has "thrown the baby out with the bath water", an old and pungent saying, which is appropriate to a sense of absence and loss, which sadly has made Ireland increasingly similar in many ways to all the other cookie cutter small to medium sized secular liberal EU nations, with all the attendant dominant

'liberal values' which render them incapable of even perceiving, far less preventing, their eventual disappearance as distinct and vibrant nations.

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Regarding the root of the word 'sin', I don't know the details but I gather that there's also an argument that it could mean 'debt'. In which case, there's an argument to be made that Jesus was an early monetary reformer. After all, he did get angry at the money-lenders....

I'm not being flippant here. Being a promoter of the forgiveness of debt has many connotations, but even if you look at it from a purely practical level, such an attitude shows great compassion and care. And of course it's the opposite of the traditional notion of being burdened with personal guilt just for the sin of being born, as if we are automatically born into emotional debt, as well as these days often being born into financial debt and wage slavery.

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Beautifully written, highly informative. I didn't know the different theories about Original Sin before! It's clear that Original Sin allowed Rome to maintain a kind of extortionate power over the people, a protection racket. The church threatened certain death unless you followed orders and paid the fees.

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Somebody DID write a book about getting lost! Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost. I haven't read that one, but Solnit is a wonderful essayist and I love her book Wanderlust, which is about...walking one of my favorite things.

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I wouldn’t write anything that I had no documented evidence of. I will certainly get it for you.

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And just yesterday I saw one of those horrid electronic billboards, on the highway by the local mall, that reads, "Pray for the souls in purgatory." Somebody paid a bunch of money to broadcast that message. My cellphone may be Satanic, but I use it to read your Substack - and at least I can choose when to pull it out of my pocket and look at it, or not. That billboard, with its gaudy lights assaulting the eyeballs amid the beauty of the Appalachian hills, feels like the greater sin.

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There is a church near where I live in southern Germany where they discovered the remains of so-called "Traufenkinder", lit. "eaves children" - babies who died before they could be baptised, and who were buried not in the graveyard, but where rainwater would drip down from the church eaves. This water was believed to have been sanctified by contact with the church roof and thus blessed the unbaptised children lying below. An attempt by the anguished families to provide a kind of posthumous baptism.

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It is not slander. The Irish were being drawn away from their own ancient Coptic Christianity that was melded with pagan spirituality, toRoman Catholicism. The Roman Catholic Church was harsh in its efforts to convert the Irish to Roman Catholicism. The idea of purity was so demanding of the women that they killed their babies rather than suffer the consequences from the church. Of course they would have spent their lives on the Magdalen laundries as well, until they died. They were treated as hoors and the family’s name was blackened for generations.

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