Friday, October 06, 2006

The Question of Limbo...

Is there such a place?

News today is that the Holy Father has made no pronouncement of any new understanding of limbo, the place, or state, unbaptised infants go to. Here is the traditional teaching on it:

"Persons, such as infants, who have not committed actual sin and who, through no fault of theirs, die without baptism, cannot enter heaven; but it is the common belief they will go to some place similar to Limbo, where they will be free from suffering, though deprived of the happiness of heaven." - Baltimore Catechism

The Catholic Church's official catechism, issued in 1992 after decades of work, dropped the concept of limbo and says: "As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God … " CCC

It has never been a defined dogma of the Church, albeit the traditional belief. The concept of limbo was one I was taught in school. Some saints held that it is actually a place on the "outskirts" of hell, while others have described it as a paradise separate from the beatific vision. An uber-Catholic I work with seems to prefer the place in hell concept, which fits in well with his fire and brimstone spirituality.

In the part of the creed wherein we profess "He descended into hell" it is commonly believed that it refers to Christ's descent into limbo to free our first parents and the saints of the old testament. Some theologians, such as Hans Urs Von Balthazar believe Christ really did descend into actual hell - I can't remember in which of his writings wherein he discusses that. I believe many Orthodox Catholics accept the same belief, as did the early Christians - although I could be mistaken. Nevertheless, it remains a matter of speculation to some degree.

Press reports claim that the Commission studying the subject, as well as the Holy Father will abolish the belief. I doubt that. You just don't undo tradition to assuage the modern human sentiment that everyone must be saved, do you? Then what does, "He descended into hell" really mean? Of course some Orthodox legends have it that in the end, the Blessed Virgin will obtain the release of all the souls in hell as well, such mystical fantasies have never been taught in the Latin Church and are contrary to the faith.

As Cardinal Ratzinger, the Pope has said he believed the concept of limbo could possibly be set aside because it is "only a theological concept" and "never a defined truth of faith." Nevertheless, this is a vastly different statement than saying it does not exist.

One ought not to depend upon the media for papal teachings.

Update: Gerald has a post from Asia News on the same subject.


  1. The Orthodox are heretics and schismatic to boot. Hell is forever and there is no getting out.

    As far as the unborn/unbaptised children go there are many who fall into false ideas here.
    I shall try and clarify:
    One, they are not members of the mystical body of Christ, that is the Catholic Church. One needs baptism to obtain that. Since an unborn child cannot accept a baptism of desire (since it cannot desire the sacrament) that does not apply. Can a child get to Heaven via baptism of blood? Who knows if a child murdered in the womb dies for Christ? No, aborted children are not martyrs since they are not dying for the faith. Can God grant them some special grace in order to obtain Heaven? Sure. Do we know He does this? No. Ergo, we go with what has always been taught. The best explanation I've ever heard came from St. Robert Bellermine or St. Alphonsus. They explained it like this: Salvation is a gift. No one is entitled to Heaven, even children. God indeed desires the salvation of all men but in His providence, He knows many will not be. Those children who die without baptism and have committed no sin (say if the child is of the age of reason) we must hold do not enter Heaven. Why? Because Christ says "Unless you be born again of water and the spirit..." However by being sinless they do not merit damnation either. So a place of natural happiness seems to be the best way for us to understand. People think this position is mean and harsh but really it's not. Of course I want all people esp. children to go to Heaven and be with God. But my wanting it and thinking God is just so great doesn't make it happen. God IS great and merciful but He does have rules and standards. Can God do as He whom He chooses. Sure. Can we choose to dispense with what our faith teaches us because of the exception to the rule? No. We may not. We must hold firmly to the teaching that outside the church, no salvation and that we as Catholics can not have GOOD hope for those who die outside of her.

  2. The Jurist3:55 PM

    “Since an unborn child cannot accept a baptism of desire (since it cannot desire the sacrament) that does not apply.”

    How can one say a 3 month old child desires to be baptized? In short it seems that there is no difference between an unborn child’s desire for baptism and a 3 month old. A 3 month old can’t accept a baptism by desire, but we say they are baptized too. So what’s the difference?

    “Can God grant them some special grace in order to obtain Heaven? Sure. Do we know He does this? No. Ergo, we go with what has always been taught.”

    I would err on the side of God’s mercy and grace, which has also been taught. Such a draconian way of looking at baptism practically denies God’s mercy and generosity. For if God were infinitely merciful and generous with his love, which he obviously is, I do not see how babies in the womb cannot be given the gift of the beatific vision.

    People who are anabaptized go to heaven all the time through invincible ignorance…so why can’t an unborn, completely innocent anabaptized baby

  3. I think when we get to heaven we will be very surprised as to who is there. As for babies lost through abortion, miscarriage and so on, I'm convinced they will enjoy the beatific vision. As the old saying goes, "God takes care of babies and fools."

    Aside from that, the Church has never made a jugement as to who is in hell, except the demons and Lucifer.

  4. Jurist: I specifically said that God can give them a grace to accept baptism but that we don't know that that happens. Draconian? Interesting. What..because I don't just write everyone into the roll of Heaven that makes me severe and harsh? Christ himself said that the way to perdition is wide and many are on that road. Was that just too severe for you too?

    God's mercy and goodness will not contradict what He has said. He is free to do as He chooses we are not and He has revealed to us that "Unless you be born again of water and the spirit..." If you don't like Jesus' words take it up with Him. Commend them to God's mercy but that does not mean that we can bank on them being in Heaven just like we cannot have good hope for those who die outside of the Catholic Church. We pray, offer sacrifices, do pennace etc..beyond that we don't know. The only ones we know are in Heaven are those that the Church declares so.

  5. I think when we get to heaven we will be very surprised as to who is there.

    TN: It's not a matter of who is there it's about what we must believe as Catholics. It's not charity to give someone false hope that their loved ones are saved even children. We sympathzie with them, we love them, we try and serve them, pray with them and for them but..we must not compromise the integrity of the faith to save someones feelings. Sometimes the truth hurts and it should hurt sometimes to bring us to a deeper commitment to speading the Gospel and true faith of Jesus Christ. Amen brother? Amen! (:


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