I’ve read about Limbo from the Inferno Canto/Divine Comedy, and I’ve heard it tossed around in conversation before. Can I get some more information on this? It seems to be a topic that likes to stay under the radar.
Here is the Vatican’s International Theological Commissions reflections on the subject of infant salvation and the need for Limbo:
Not gonna lie, that wasn’t exactly the easiest thing to read and understand.
But basically, it’s more of a theory and isn’t mentioned in scripture?
Basically. It’s a “theological opinion,” which was proposed as a means to resolve the problems that some saw with the question of what happens to babies who die without being baptized. It was never Church doctrine or dogma.
In the past, some theologians thought that baptism was the only way to salvation, and therefore, if a baby died before being baptized, they couldn’t go to heaven.
Limbo can refer to two distinct places.
“Limbo of the Fathers” - the place where the righteous dead went before Christ died and opened the gates of heaven for them. This is in the Bible - see 1 Peter 3:19. This Limbo surely exists.
“Limbo of infants” - the place where unbaptized babies go. This isn’t explicitly mentioned in Scripture (but neither is the Trinity) but can be inferred from the doctrine that all must be baptized to go to heaven (see John 3:3).
This second Limbo is still a valid theological opinion. The Church has never formally defined it not formally repudiated it. The closest she has ever gotten was Pius VI in Auctorem Fidei where he called out the Jansenists for teaching children to out and out deny the existence of limbo (Pius uses the word). The Jansenists were teaching Augustine’s theory that the unbaptized were in Hell. Note, Pius doesn’t declare limbo exists, he simply rebukes the Jansenists for teaching that limbo doesn’t exist, Pius is leaving the door open.
Some of the greatest minds in Church History have taught it, including St. Thomas Aquinas the greatest doctor in the history of the Church (see HERE), and various Church Fathers including St. Gregory Nazianzen , Tertullian, and St. Ambrose. St. Augustine didn’t teach limbo, instead he taught that unbaptized infants would go to Hell, but have the mildest of all punishments.
More recently, in the twentieth century (even before V2), theologians began contemplating the idea that the unbaptized go to heaven. The Church has never officially endorsed this position. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (then called simply the Holy Office) issued a statement in 1958 urging parents to baptize their children ASAP, noting that the state of the unbaptized after death is unknown,
“The practice has arisen in some places of delaying the conferring of Baptism for so-called reasons of convenience or of a liturgical nature” a practice favored by some opinions, lacking solid foundation, concerning the eternal salvation of infants who die without Baptism. Therefore this Supreme Congregation, with the approval of the Holy Father, warns the faithful that infants are to be baptized as soon as possible…"
The Catechism of the Catholic Church likewise leaves the door open stating, in paragraph 1261:
“As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus” tenderness toward children which caused him to say, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism"
Most Catholics today think Limbo has been rejected in favor of the idea that all unbaptized babies are saved (which dovetails with an increasing tendency toward universalism in the minds of many Catholics). This simply isn’t the teaching of the Church. The fact is, we really don’t know what will happen to them and Catholics are free to decide for themselves between Augustine’s theory (they go to hell), Aquinas’ (they go to limbo), and simply trusting in God’s mercy (they go to heaven) - but Catholics are not free to teach any of these as absolutely certain.
Hope that helps.
Thank you, gentlemen.
Pietro, I was with you until you said the view of Augustine remains a valid option!
I have trouble seeing how that could be the case.
I always go back to what Pius IX said when he said " “God… in His supreme goodness and clemency, by no means allows anyone to be punished with eternal punishments who does not have the guilt of voluntary fault.”
Well, but hold on a second: since unbaptized babies have no personal sin, then it holds to reason that “all unbaptized babies” share the same fate. (Whether or not some equate that with universalism is irrelevant, of course). So, if the Church teaches that there are “serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptised infants who die will be saved and enjoy the Beatific Vision,” because “there is much that simply has not been revealed to us,” which puts us in a position of “prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge,” then it would seem that this is what “Catholics are free to teach as absolutely certain”…
Yes, Catholics are free to teach as absolutely certain that we may hope that unbaptized babies are save if it so be the will of God.
I should have more clearly stated that Catholics are not to teach that unbaptized babies are surely saved, surely damned, or surely in the limbo of the infants (which might not even exist).
I don’t believe the Church has ever formally and absolutely condemned Augustine’s opinion, although (as I mentioned above) Pius VI in Auctorem Fidei condemned teaching this as certain. Surely, Pius IX’s quote verges on that and perhaps eliminates Augustine’s solution (which I know of no Catholic theologian holding today anyhow).
You wrote, "“Limbo of infants” - the place where unbaptized babies go. This isn’t explicitly mentioned in Scripture (but neither is the Trinity) but can be inferred from the doctrine that all must be baptized to go to heaven (see John 3:3).
The word “Trinity” might not be mentioned in Scripture but the Trinity is mentioned quite a few places, two of which are at Jesus’s Baptism and when Jesus said to baptise “In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”.
And as far as where “unbaptized babies go” not being explicitly mentioned, you may or may not be right, but you are correct that some infer quite a few things from the bible and a lot of what some infer is quite disgusting.
You wrote, “Yes, Catholics are free to teach as absolutely certain that we may hope that unbaptized babies are save if it so be the will of God.”
So would you say that Catholics are free to teach as absolutely certain that we may hope that all are saved “if it so be the will of God”, as you wrote, especially since it is written, “This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all.”?
Are you implying that the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Ambrose and St. Augustine are “disgusting?”
St. Thomas Aquinas theory of limbo was about as mild as they possibly come.
I wasn’t only speaking about people’s thoughts concerning limbo when I spoke about people inferring things from the bible.
I do think that anyone who believes God “punishes” any baby for not being baptised sure has a very low opinion of God.
Off hand, I do not know what the “teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Ambrose and St. Augustine” are, so I can not say whether I find them “disgusting” or not.
However, I do find some of the things that people say concerning God quite disgusting and some of these things bring to mind a saying that I came across some time ago and it is: “God created us in God’s Image… and we have been trying to return the favor ever since”.
God isn’t “punishing” a baby for not being baptized. No one is owed the beatific vision, owed eternal blessedness with God. We all sinned in Adam, just as we all are redeemed in Christ. If you reduce heaven from a freely given gift from God, a grace, to something everyone (or for that matter anyone) is owed as a matter of justice, you begin down a road fraught with theological error culminating in Pelagianism.
I find it amazing that so many say that “we all are redeemed in Christ” and than find all kinds of ways to say that we aren’t.
If God is so “good and forgiving and merciful”, as so many say, than why would God knowingly create so many to be in a horror beyond human comprehension for ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and…?
I do not believe for an instant in the loser god that so many believe God to be and I stake absolutely everything on believing that God’s Plan is, ultimately, for ALL.
As I said in another post, many speak of God’s Justice, which by what many say in their posts seems to be no more than a petty vindictiveness, but very few speak of or even seem to think of God’s Mercy.
I am thankful that many who know God’s Name seem to know nothing else about God except for God’s Name.
It is no wonder that so few “Proclaim the Good News” as Jesus asked us to do since so few even have a clue what the “Good News” is.
You’re looking at the whole thing backwards. God’s plan is for all. But God is love, He is a suitor, not a spiritual rapist. He asks each and every soul to marry him and He respects those souls that say no. He isn’t a sick monster who chains us unwillingly to the radiator, what kind of Heaven would that even be?
We are redeemed in Christ, but we have to accept it. The Good News is like a broke man winning the lottery. It’s a free gift, but he still has to accept the check. We too have to accept the forgiveness, the mercy, won for us by Christ. We do this through repenting, believing in the Gospel, and by being Baptized into Christ. That’s all in the Bible, my friend. The “cheap grace” your extolling isn’t.
Maybe CS Lewis said it best in The Great Divorce (the whole book is worth reading):
*“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened. ” *
You wrote, even if it wasn’t yours originally, “All that are in Hell, choose it.”
This is close, but it isn’t that someone chooses “hell” because there is no hell to choose.
Hell is not some monolithic place created by God but is something that God allows us to custom build.
If one were to wake up in hell, so to speak, one will come to the realization that they built it themself and have no one but themself to blame for being there.
This is why “sheol” is a pretty good metaphor for hell since sheol was the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem and hell is the “garbage and the ramifications of the garbage of one’s life”.
Jesus took the garbage (sin, wrongdoing, whatever one wishes to call it) of everyone’s life upon Himself on the cross and in doing so “paid the price”.
Jesus did say, “It is finished” which translates as “paid in full”.
In doing this, Jesus won the keys to the netherworld (hell and death, physical and spiritual) and will use these keys in due time, God’s Time, Jesus told us what the mission of His Church is when He said, "And the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against It (His Church).
Many people underestimate God, you are not the first and probably will not be the last to underestimate God and the lengths that God has gone for humanity.
“My God, My God, why have Thou forsaken Me?”, do you or anyone else think that these are just empty words?
God’s Victory is Total, satan’s defeat is total, a tie is absolutely and utterly unacceptable, God told us about this way back in Genesis when God said to satan, “you will strike at H/his heel and H/he will crush your skull”.
God isn’t in a soul counting contest with Satan as if the two are somehow equals. Satan can’t “win” no matter how many souls end up damned. In fact, Satan himself is destined to an eternity in Hell, hardly a victory.
God offers ALL men a chance at salvation, but not all choose to embrace it. Those who opt to place something other than God at the center of their lives are choosing Hell, even if they aren’t conscious of it.
There is simply nothing in Scripture, Tradition, or the magisterium that teaches that all are saved. In fact, Jesus Himself must have believed I. That “loser god” for few have spoken so clearly on the reality of many souls ending up in Hell.
Maybe this short article could help