Did The Church Change It's Teaching On Limbo?

I recently heard someone say that the Church had abolished the teaching of Limbo (place where unbaptized people who had no personal sin go when they die). Is this true? And if so, does that now mean that the souls of unbaptized infants go to Heaven? I always thought that baptism: whether it be by water, blood, or desire, was 100% essential for salvation. Isn’t that the infallible dogmatic teaching of the Catholic Church?

The plain fact of the matter is that we simply don’t know what happens to unbaptized babies that die. The Bible offers no concrete evidence one way or the other. Centuries ago, the idea of Limbo developed as a logical hypothesis of what might happen to unbaptized babies. For many years, it was taken almost as doctrine. However, the church has rightly pointed out that Limbo at it’s core is simply a theological speculation. The church has now clarified that this is simply a theory, and if God wants to save unbaptized babies, it is, of course, possible for Him to do so. If he does, however, it would likely be in a way that has not been specifically revealed to us. As such, the church now preaches the position that unbaptized babies are simply entrusted to the mercy of God. We can speculate as to what happens to them, and we are certainly free to believe either in Limbo or not. We are also free to hope for their salvation.

It was taught as a theory. It was never infallibly defined doctrine.

We don’t know what happens to unbaptized babies when they die. All we can really do is entrust them to the mercy of God.

I am in firm agreement with Post # 2 and Post # 3. This is what I hold true as the latest teaching about Limbo.

Go to the source. The Vatican site has a report by the international theological commission on "THE HOPE OF SALVATION FOR INFANTS WHO DIE WITHOUT BEING BAPTISED*


Thank you

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I made a post to explore this doctrine, in which I cited,

Catholics are still free to believe in Limbo (and many do), so the teaching has not changed so much as it has been abandoned. But that is a TYPE of change. When the Church, at the highest levels (Doctors, Saints, Popes, Councils - the only higher authority is Jesus himself) consistently teaches a message about the fate of unbaptized babies for some fifteen centuries, and then abruptly ceases teaching this (and teaches something else in its place which is too vague to be called a “doctrine” of any kind) - THAT is a change.

You can probably predict the responses my post generated. Those responses were largely made by people who do not realize that Catholic Doctrine CAN be wrong (whereas Dogma cannot be wrong). My opponents in this thread were largely unaware that the claim that “Doctrine equals Dogma” is heresy.

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But I heard that St.Augostine belived that unbatized babies when die, can’t be saved and it confirmed in Cartagge synod.

Isn’t it true?

I look at the issue in a fairly simplistic manner. The legalists would look at an baby unbaptised by water who died as having missed the boat. Thus the development of Limbo, a nice enough place but without the view.
However I look at my relationship with God and have been taught He is a loving Father, a shepherd who will search the desert for one lost sheep. The Father of the prodigal who leaves His house to travel closer to the returning wastrel so he can bedeck him in the signs of his heritage… No this God does not leave anyone behind. A little baby sees his Father and creator upon their death and rushes forward in their desire to get the first hug. Baptism by desire seems to answer the fate of those babies not baptised by water. They both rush to each other in their common desire to be together; the Creator with the created; the created with their Creator. Lovers - one. Legalists - Nil.

Yes, according to the lengthy article on “Limbo” in the Catholic Encyclopedia, St. Augustine, in his later writings, taught that unbaptized babies who died went to the hell of the damned.

Council of Carthage(418) Confirmed it and so we may think that it was Catholic formal view, in that age.

Show me some proof, I have never heard of that before! According to Fr. John Hardon S.J.'s Modern Catholic Dictionary, they both mean the same thing. His cause for Canonization is in the process so I doubt very much anyone can call him a Heretic!! God Bless, Memaw

No one goes to the “Hell of the damned” except those that have serious unrepented sins and have turned their back on God. They send themselves there. Babies are sinless and never go to Hell. The Church has never taught they do. God Bless, Memaw

Augustine wasn’t infallible.

I remember reading about Limbo in “Angela’s Ashes.” The concept upset me. I would like to think that God does not penalise innocent children for things that aren’t their fault. :frowning:

Limbo for infants was only ever a theological hypothesis.
It was NEVER an infallible teaching NOR a non-infallible teaching. The Church has not changed nor abandoned a teaching on limbo for infants because it was not a teaching in the first place.
Teachings bind Catholics. We have never been bound by the limbo hypothesis. We are FREE to believe in limbo for infants or not now as before.

I didn’t say he was infallible, But this was a formal teaching in church which confimed in Council of Carthage(418).

So we must accept that Church did change it’s teaching on Limbo,

You didn’t read Carthage carefully. The part I bolded is the teaching. The part I underlined is not a teaching. Its a hypothesis.

Canon 110. (Greek cxii. bis)

**That infants are baptized for the remission of sins

Likewise it seemed good that whosoever denies that infants newly from their mother’s wombs should be baptized, or says that baptism is for remission of sins, but that they derive from Adam no original sin, which needs to be removed by the laver of regeneration, from whence the conclusion follows, that in them the form of baptism for the remission of sins, is to be understood as false and not true, let him be anathema.**

For no otherwise can be understood what the Apostle says, By one man sin has come into the world, and death through sin, and so death passed upon all men in that all have sinned, than the Catholic Church everywhere diffused has always understood it. For on account of this rule of faith (regulam fidei) even infants, who could have committed as yet no sin themselves, therefore are truly baptized for the remission of sins, in order that what in them is the result of generation may be cleansed by regeneration.

The following, says Surius, is found in this place in a very ancient codex. It does not occur in the Greek, nor in Dionysius. Bruns relegates it to a foot-note.

[Also it seemed good, that if anyone should say that the saying of the Lord, In my Father’s house are many mansions is to be understood as meaning that in the kingdom of heaven there will be a certain middle place, or some place somewhere, in which infants live in happiness who have gone forth from this life without baptism, without which they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, which is eternal life, let him be anathema. For after our Lord has said: Unless a man be born again of water and of the Holy Spirit he shall not enter the kingdom of heaven, what Catholic can doubt that he who has not merited to be coheir with Christ shall become a sharer with the devil: for he who fails of the right hand without doubt shall receive the left hand portion.]

For those of you who haven’t gone to the Vatican site, here’s the conclusion reached by the vatican appointed theological commission. It trumps anything said before this, including the writings of Augustine, who is a saint, but not infallible. Limbo is not, and has never been dogma.

*The conclusion of this study is that there are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness, even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in Revelation. However, none of the considerations proposed in this text to motivate a new approach to the question may be used to negate the necessity of baptism, nor to delay the conferral of the sacrament. Rather, there are reasons to hope that God will save these infants precisely because it was not possible to do for them that what would have been most desirable— to baptize them in the faith of the Church and incorporate them visibly into the Body of Christ.

Finally, an observation on the methodology of the text is necessary. The treatment of this theme must be placed within the historical development of the faith. According to Dei Verbum 8, the factors that contribute to this development are the reflection and the study of the faithful, the experience of spiritual things, and the teaching of the Magisterium. When the question of infants who die without baptism was first taken up in the history of Christian thought, it is possible that the doctrinal nature of the question or its implications were not fully understood. Only when seen in light of the historical development of theology over the course of time until Vatican II does this specific question find its proper context within Catholic doctrine. Only in this way - and observing the principle of the hierarchy of truths mentioned in the Decree of the Second Vatican Council Unitatis redintegratio (#11) – the topic can be reconsidered explicitly under the global horizon of the faith of the Church. This Document, from the point of view of speculative theology as well as from the practical and pastoral perspective, constitutes for a useful and timely mean for deepening our understanding this problem, which is not only a matter of doctrine, but also of pastoral priority in the modern era.*

Difference between doctrine and dogma:

In general, doctrine is all Church teaching in matters of faith and morals. Dogma is more narrowly defined as that part of doctrine which has been divinely revealed and which the Church has formally defined and declared to be believed as revealed.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains,

The Church’s magisterium exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging the Christian people to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these. (CCC 88)


Catholic.com is a good source of information for all types of religious questions.:slight_smile:

Did Church ever have a formal teaching on unbaptized babies who died? Did Council of Carthage(418) show a formal view?

There is no formal teaching. There have been various ideas over the centuries as Carholic thinkers tried different ways of balancing the teaching on Original Sin with what we know of God’s mercy.

It is a formal teaching that one cannot go to Heaven without sanctifying grace, that humans are ordinarily born without sanctifying grace as a result of Original Sin, and that Baptism is the only means that has been revealed to us for imparting sanctifying grace initially.

The question thus arose of the fate of those who have no personal sin but die without Baptism, infants who die very young being the most obvious case.

Some, like St. Augustine, applied the “rules” strictly and believed that even an unbaptized infant would go to Hell like any other sinner.

Later thinkers could not see a way around that basic principle, but felt that a merciful God would make some distinction between a soul that had died unrepentant of personal sins and a soul that had merely died in the condition of Original Sin before its own moral capacities even developed.

At least one council (Florence or Lyons, I think) emphasized that there are different levels of punishment in Hell, such that those who died in Original Sin only would suffer less (presumably far less) than those who had died in mortal sin.

In time the notion of “suffering less” became “not suffering at all” and even “having as much happiness as one can have outside of Heaven.” This afterlife was envisioned as taking place on the outer borders of Hell, and thus the region became known as Limbo (from the word for a border or fringe). That led to the strange circumstance of a part of Hell whose inhabitants were happier than anyone on Earth.

Meanwhile, the Church has always speculated that some unbaptized adults can actually make it to Heaven, not merely Limbo. Those who suffer martyrdom for Christ before formal Baptism are said to have undergone the “baptism of blood.” Catechumens who die for other reasons before their baptism are presumed to receive the fruits of the sacrament by virtue of their sincere desire for it. More recently we have extended the idea of “baptism of desire” to those who are “invincibly ignorant” of the necessity of the Christian faith – those who would be baptized if they but knew it was required, but who lack that knowledge. As Catholics who prefer a stricter interpretation of the necessity of baptism are quick to remind us, none of these are formal teachings either. God has not revealed to us what becomes of any of the unbaptized, no matter how close they came to the sacrament. Like Limbo, they are theological speculations based on the reasonable notion that God wants all souls in Heaven and is not going to condemn a soul on a technicality.

The latest thinking on the fate of unbaptized infants is completely in line with this trend toward a greater appreciation of God’s mercy. It’s not a sudden about-face. As illustrated by the notions of baptism of blood and desire, we have long understood that God does not require a human to perform the sacrament of Baptism before He can save someone. Thus, rather than stopping at the point of condemning unbaptized infants to even the nice part of Hell, the magisterium has decided that it makes the most sense to draw no firm conclusion but trust in God’s mercy to supply what His followers sometimes cannot.


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