Whatever Happened to Limbo?

Domenico_Beccafumi_018Contrary to what you might have heard, limbo is not dead.

The confusion stems from a 41-page report the International Theological Commission issued in 2007, exploring the theological and liturgical grounds for having hope that unbaptized infants who die are saved. The report was immediately hailed in secular media as a death knell to traditional Catholic belief that unbaptized infants go to limbo. One headline in Reuters summed up the slant of the secular media—“Catholic Church buries limbo after centuries.”

Except the commission, which does not have the authority of the magisterium, did no such thing. Instead, it declared the following, right at the outset of the report:

It is clear that the traditional teaching on this topic has concentrated on the theory of Limbo. … This theory, elaborated by theologians beginning in the Middle Ages, never entered into the dogmatic definitions of the Magisterium, even if that same Magisterium did at times mention the theory in its ordinary teaching up until the Second Vatican Council. It remains therefore a possible theological hypothesis.

This was no dismissal or demotion of limbo: it had always been a valid opinion and that’s exactly where the commission left it. And today, despite the compelling case for the alternative scenario made by the commission, limbo itself remains an opinion worth holding and defending.

Limbo is a simple solution to a thorny theological problem: the question of where infants go who have been deprived of the sanctifying grace of baptism and yet have committed no personal sins. The dogmas of original sin and the necessity of baptism would seem to close the doors of heaven to them. Yet it seems inconsistent with everything we know about a loving and merciful God that these infants would suffer the usual punishments of hell, especially since they have committed no sins of their own. The only way medieval theologians could reconcile these truths was to posit the existence a third eternal destination for the unbaptized infants: limbo.

Limbo is in the Bible

It is commonly said that limbo is not in the Bible. But this only holds true for one type of limbo.

Technically, there are two limbos: the limbo of infants and the limbo of the fathers of the Old Testament, who died believing in a savior whom they had never met or known. (The limbo of the fathers was closed after Christ descended to hell and released its denizens, after accomplishing His redemptive work on the cross.) The limbo of infants is indeed not mentioned in Scripture, but the limbo of the fathers is—in both the Old and New Testaments.

In fact, the Old Testament is rife with references to the limbo of the fathers. The operative word in Hebrew is sheol, which appears 64 times in the Old Testament (often left untranslated in English editions as sheol). Sheol has the generic meaning of the underworld where souls go after death. But, over time, the Church has understood it to refer to the limbo of the fathers—in contrast with the other Old Testament word gehenna, which is a clear reference to the hell of the damned.

Technically, both sheol and gehenna are parts of hell, if we understand hell to be simply a state of separation from God. In that context, we could speak of the hell of the damned (gehenna) and the hell of the fathers (or sheol, or the limbo of the fathers). This is why limbo is such a fitting word for this area of the underworld. It comes from the Latin word limbus, meaning edge or border. Where else in hell would the holy fathers of the Old Testament await Christ but its very edges?

The narrower definition of sheol is supported by how it’s used in a number of Old Testament verses. For example, in Job 14:13-14 we read: “Oh, that you would hide me in Sheol, shelter me till your wrath is past, fix a time to remember me! If a man were to die, and live again, all the days of my drudgery I would wait for my relief to come.” Hiding the righteous man in sheol, sheltering him until the judgment of the human race has passed, and offering him relief after a man has “died and lived again”—what else could this be referring to but the death, descent into hell, and resurrection of Christ? (This is exactly the interpretation offered in the Haydock Bible Commentary.)

Another verse seen as a prophecy of Christ’s descent into hell is Psalm 16:10, which proclaims, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, nor let your devout one see the pit.” Again, here’s Psalm 139:8, “If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, there you are.” In some of the prophetic books, sheol is depicted as ultimately powerless to hold souls back from God. In Hosea 13:14 we read, “Where are your plagues, O death! where is your sting, Sheol!” In Jonah 2:3 it says, “From the womb of Sheol I cried for help, and you heard my voice” (New American Bible, Revised Edition).

The New Testament also refers to the limbo of the fathers. In Luke 16:22-23, Christ calls the limbo of the fathers “Abraham’s bosom,” clearly distinguishing it from the hell of the damned:

When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.

In Matthew 27, many saints rose from the grave at the death of Jesus—presumably, their souls had been waiting in limbo. And 1 Peter 3 tells us that Christ preached to the “spirits in prison.” The prison is traditionally seen as limbo—the ‘preaching’ was the announcement of their release.

This biblical evidence for the limbo of the fathers must lend some weight to the belief in a limbo for infants. Certainly if limbo existed once, it does not seem like such a leap to posit a second limbo for unbaptized babies. Indeed, even St. Thomas Aquinas says the two are very closely related: “The limbo of the Fathers and the limbo of children, without any doubt, differ as to the quality of punishment or reward. For children have no hope of the blessed life, as the Fathers in limbo had, in whom, moreover, shone forth the light of faith and grace. But as regards their situation, there is reason to believe that the place of both is the same.” Likewise, in Dante’s Divine Comedy, the two limbos are depicted as the same place: the Fathers were freed from it, while the infants must stay behind.

Early Fathers hinted at limbo too

Once we pass over from the New Testament era into Church history, we don’t have to wait for the Middle Ages for a discussion of limbo. Seeds of the idea are already present in the writings of some early Church Fathers even if they don’t mention limbo by name. St. Augustine offers only the slightest hint of it, concluding in a treatise on forgiveness of sins and baptism that the unbaptized infants will be excluded from the heavenly kingdom of God but will suffer the “mildest condemnation of all” in hell.

In the 4th Century, Gregory of Nazianzus briefly touched on the issue in his Oration on Holy Baptism, writing that unbaptized infants as occupying some middle status between hell and heaven in the afterlife. Such infants will “neither glorified nor punished by the righteous Judge,” he wrote.

Around the same time, Gregory of Nyssa probed the agonizing question on the fate of unbaptized infants at length in his essay, On Infants’ Early Deaths:

What wisdom, then, can we trace in the following? A human being enters on the scene of life, draws in the air, beginning the process of living with a cry of pain, pays the tribute of a tear to Nature, just tastes life’s sorrows, before any of its sweets have been his, before his feelings have gained any strength; still loose in all his joints, tender, pulpy, unset; in a word, before he is even human (if the gift of reason is man’s peculiarity, and he has never had it in him), such an one, with no advantage over the embryo in the womb except that he has seen the air, so short-lived, dies and goes to pieces again; being either exposed or suffocated, or else of his own accord ceasing to live from weakness. What are we to think about him?

His answer:

The premature deaths of infants have nothing in them to suggest the thought that one who so terminates his life is subject to some grievous misfortune, any more than they are to be put on a level with the deaths of those who have purified themselves in this life by every kind of virtue.

In other words, we can’t expect that infants suffer the normal punishments of the damned in hell. Nor can we assume that they share the same lot as the virtuous. Their destination must be somewhere else. But where? Neither Augustine nor the Greek fathers quoted above say it, but the medieval scholastics took their thinking to its logical conclusion: those infants could only end up on the edge of hell—in limbo.

Limbo as compassionate

Medieval theologian Peter Abelard, writing in the 1100s, is credited with first developing the explicit theory of limbo. Abelard argued that the only punishment the unbaptized infants have is the loss of the beatific vision of God, due to their original sin. Pope Innocent III endorsed this theory, as did two ecumenical councils—the Second Council of Lyons in 1274 and the Council of Florence in the mid-1400s. Neither pope nor council made a dogmatic definition and the councils did not even mention limbo by name, but limbo had become the common, albeit undefined, belief of Christians—as it should be today.

Over the ensuring centuries, speculation has continued to swirl over exactly what those infants experience in limbo. In the Summa Theologica, Aquinas, taking a page from Augustine, says their punishment is the “most lenient.” But otherwise, the trend among theologians and others has been to emphasize the extent to which these unbaptized infants have a pain-free existence.

St. Bonaventure, a contemporary of Aquinas, envisioned limbo as being similar to the state of pure nature in which he said Adam and Even had existed for a fleeting moment in time, before they received sanctifying grace in the Garden of Eden (see “Bonaventure on Nature before Grace: A Historical Moment Reconsidered,” by Christopher Cullen, S.J., in the winter 2011 edition of the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly.) Bonaventure believed that these infants did not experience any sadness because they could not be aware of what they were missing out on. Instead, they were in a state of perpetual tranquility.

In The Divine Comedy Dante says those in limbo are aware of what they are missing, but he goes at lengths to depict their experience as painless. Dante only hears the “sounds of sighs of untormented grief.” His guide, the ancient Latin poet Virgil, explains that those there suffer only because they are cut off from hope. Otherwise, they “live on in desire.” (Inferno, Canto IV.)

Some took the emphasis on the painlessness of limbo even further, arguing that the unbaptized infants in limbo experienced some kind of happiness. In the sixteenth century, Dominican theologian Ambrosius Catharinus said that those infants enjoyed the maximum happiness that is possible by being in a state of pure nature, absent from grace. A Jesuit theologian, Francisco Suárez, continued this line of thought, teaching that “that unbaptized children will not only enjoy perfect natural happiness, but that they will rise with immortal bodies at the last day and have the renovated earth for their happy abode,” according to the Catholic Encyclopedia. By the time of the Counter-Reformation, limbo had indeed come far from its earliest inception in the writings of Augustine and the Greek Fathers.

Some think it’s cruel to exclude infants who never sinned from heaven. But the traditional teaching of limbo emphasizes its compassionate side: not only are those infants spared the pains of hell, they experience tranquility—perhaps even natural happiness (as distinguished from the supernatural happiness of the beatific vision of God in heaven). Truly, the limbo of infants is one of the most beautiful teachings of the Church, a moving testament to the Catholic insistence on both the necessity of salvation through Christ and a loving God’s infinite capacity for mercy.

 

Stephen Beale

By

Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at GoLocalProv.com and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on MSNBC.com and ABCNews.com. A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints. He welcomes tips, suggestions, and any other feedback at bealenews at gmail dot com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/StephenBeale1

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  • waynergf

    But…but…help me out here, Stephen. Doesn’t the Church teach that when adults who never learned of Jesus die (and thus were not baptized), we cannot know what their fate is – we cannot know the mind of God?

    Why wouldn’t that also be the case for infants who die before being baptized? Why all the “twisted pretzel” reasoning to arrive at something so indefinite?

  • Guest

    I think this is a strange article. I highly doubt that we are going to see many Catholics trying to defend limbo let alone proclaiming it praiseworthy to do so. We need to understand the Patristic literature within the context of historical theology. The analysis in this article is very weak.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church appears to distance itself from limbo quite a bit 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,”64 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.”

    I am not sure if other readers noticed, but the author makes no reference to the Catechism. The reason for this, in my opinion, is that it portrays a very different tone and perspective from what has been presented in this article. The Catechism is much more hopeful than your seemingly Jansenist-like position of the author.

  • Guest

    I think this is a strange article. I highly doubt that we are going to see many Catholics trying to defend limbo let alone proclaiming it praiseworthy to do so. We need to understand the Patristic literature within the context of historical theology. The analysis in this article is very weak.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church appears to distance itself from limbo quite a bit 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.”

    I am not sure if other readers noticed, but the author makes no reference to the Catechism. The reason for this, in my opinion, is that it portrays a very different tone and perspective from what has been presented in this article. The Catechism is much more hopeful than your seemingly Jansenist-like position of the author.

  • http://jeremykritt.com/ Jeremy M. Kritt

    I think this is a strange article. I highly doubt that we are going to see many Catholics trying to defend limbo let alone proclaiming it praiseworthy to do so. We need to understand the Patristic literature within the context of historical theology. The analysis in this article is very weak.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church appears to distance itself from limbo quite a bit 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.”

    I am not sure if other readers noticed, but the author makes no reference to the Catechism. The reason for this, in my opinion, is that it portrays a very different tone and perspective from what has been presented in this article. The Catechism is much more hopeful than the seemingly Jansenist-like position of the author.

  • Stephen Beale

    Dear Wayne (or waynergf), I don’t think limbo is as speculative as you make it out to be. As explained in the article, Scripture says a limbo existed for the Fathers. Also, limbo, in a sense, is just another word for the outer edges of hell. As for the teaching of invincible ignorance regarding adults, certainly many make similar arguments on behalf of children. In my article I am just presenting the case for the alternative (limbo).

    Sincerely,
    Stephen

  • Stephen Beale

    Dear Mr. Kritt,

    Respectfully, you are wrong. The Jansenists rejected the limbo of scholastic theologians – the limbo I discuss in the article. The catechism emphasizes the reasons we have to hope for the salvation of infants, the same position as the commission I quote in the article. While I believe there are compelling reasons for having this hope, it is not something we can believe as a matter of faith. But we can believe in limbo.

    Sincerely,
    Stephen

  • http://jeremykritt.com/ Jeremy M. Kritt

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to my comment. Allow me to clarify my comments in charity. I did not intend to communicate that you were presenting a Jansenist theological position in the literal sense, and you are correct about the Jansenist rejection of limbo. That is actually explicitly mentioned in paragraph 26 of the The International Theological Commission’s (ITC) document titled “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised” (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070419_un-baptised-infants_en.html). I did not use the correct expression to convey my intended meaning in my first post.

    My use of the word “Jansenist-like” was meant as a way to communicate my view that your enthusiasm for limbo is not as generous and hopeful as the Church’s current presentation of these issues from the perspective of the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I think that if you remove “Jansenist-like” sentence from my original post, you would get the point I was trying to make. That sentence was not the main idea of my post, and it should have been omitted.

    You seem to imply in your reply (above) that there is greater reason to believe in the theological hypothesis of limbo than hope in God’s merciful salvation of infants who die without baptism. That seems pessimistic and out of step with the current theological and pastoral vision of the Church as presented in recent official magisterial documents.

    There are many points you don’t mention which I think gives a fuller picture than your presentation. This is what I was alluding to when I wrote about your deficient analysis. You don’t provide the compelling evidence against limbo. For example, an excerpt from paragraph 5 of the ITC’s document points out something quite interesting:

    “…taking account of the principle lex orandi lex credendi, the Christian community notes that there is no mention of Limbo in the liturgy. In fact, the liturgy contains a feast of the Holy Innocents, who are venerated as martyrs, even though they were not baptised, because they were killed “on account of Christ”. There has even been an important liturgical development through the introduction of funerals for infants who died without Baptism.”

    That is only one example.

    The ITC wrote their document primarily out of pastoral concern. Let me ask you a question. Would you tell a family who lost a child in a car accident while going to the baptism ritual at their local parish,”Don’t worry. We think there is hope that your child might be with God in His full presence, but there is this theory called limbo that you should know about too. Not to worry. She won’t know what she is missing out on. There is a compelling reason to believe in your baby’s salvation in heaven, but limbo is something we can really believe in.”? Do you really believe that? Is that the direction you want to go in?

    You mention in your article that there was no demotion of limbo; however, the document seems point to new directions in our understanding. The discourse of the entire document, at least to me, strongly suggests that the Church should emphasize hope of salvation as greater than the possibility of limbo. In fact, this is seen in changes of Church’s liturgy and pastoral practice since Vatican II on this issue.

    Could it be that you are overstating how beautiful limbo is?

    Nevertheless, I am in complete agreement with you regarding the media’s frequent misrepresentation of the Church’s teachings.

  • JMC

    Mr. Kritt, you brought up the topic of the Holy Innocents, which I hope I can clarify. They can be regarded as having received the baptism of blood…that which applies to unbaptized believers who die for the sake of Christ before they can receive the baptism of water. Yes, the key word here is “believers.” According to St. Mary of Agreda in “The Mystical City of God,” Our Lady told her that the Holy Innocents were given the gift of reason by God so they could offer their suffering to Him, and sactified by Him so they could enter Heaven.

  • http://JamesTPereira.com/ James T Pereira

    This is exactly what I was thinking. In fact just last month, Pope Francis said that even atheists can go to heaven, provided they have lived according to God’s laws.

    The same reasoning should apply to infants who die before baptism or died in the womb, right?

  • Annamarie

    Gee whiz, Stephen, I don’t understand why so many of these “learned” folks seem to be determined to beat up on you and your explanation of the Church’s theory of limbo. Personally, I have never read an article which explained this subject more clearly to me! Frankly, it is a topic I have wrestled with ever since my own conversion to Catholicism (from the Southern Baptist Church) as a freshman in college. Especially when I was a new mother of two sons, it ate at me to think if my babies had died, they would have been in a kind of hell. Because both my pregnancies were so high risk, this was a very serious concern to me. Now I think, for the first time, I get it. For one thing, no one had explained to me before, the difference between a dogma and an opinion regarding this topic. I am ever more impressed with the wisdom Our Savior gave to Holy Mother Church, to expound upon and to continue to learn the nuances of our Faith. Thank you again, for a fine article, and something to continue to ponder!

  • http://jeremykritt.com/ Jeremy M. Kritt

    My example was chosen from the ITC document mainly for its point that limbo is not found anywhere in the Church’s liturgy. It was the lex orandi lex credendi part that.

    Furthermore, Gaudium et Spes no. 22 discusses ms

  • http://jeremykritt.com/ Jeremy M. Kritt

    I was not trying to beat up on the author. I think that it was a well written article, but it lacked some counterpoints to limbo that have been part of the reason that the Church has taken the direction of emphasizing hope for the eternal salvation in heaven for unbaptized babies. That emphasis is seen in magisterial documents, liturgy, and pastoral practice.

    Criticism is not beating up. I was entering into critical dialogue. That is the beauty of the Internet. We can now discuss things directly with the author.

  • http://jeremykritt.com/ Jeremy M. Kritt

    Pope Francis was only repeating what Vatican II proclaimed in Gaudium et Spes no. 22.

  • Leslie D

    Thank you for writing this piece. I am a faithfully practicing Catholic: daily Mass, frequent confession, fidelity to her teachings. For me, the most important section is toward the beginning, “It is clear that the traditional teaching on this topic has concentrated on the theory of Limbo. … This theory, elaborated by theologians beginning in the Middle Ages, never entered into the dogmatic definitions of the Magisterium, even if that same Magisterium did at times mention the theory in its ordinary teaching up until the Second Vatican Council. It remains therefore a possible theological hypothesis.”

    “Theory” jumps out several times and says it all. The fact that it’s a theory means one does not have to believe it. It’s a possible explanation and that’s all. That’s a relief, because it’s a teaching I don’t understand.

    Jeremy Kritt quoted the Catechism in a previous post: “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.”

    Perhaps there is a special place for unbaptized children, but I find it hard to believe it is on the outskirts of hell, as the explanations by theologians suggest. It is completely understandable that such an explanation was theorized by early Church theologians. And that it was accepted by those seeking an answer to a baffling, heart-wrenching question. But hundreds of years of theological study have passed since the theory of limbo was first proposed. Our understanding of the beginning of life has greatly expanded.

    As referenced above: “In Matthew 27, many saints rose from the grave at the death of Jesus—presumably, their souls had been waiting in limbo.” If unbaptized souls were released from “the limbo of the fathers,” why then would unbaptized, innocent children be relegated to a lesser place than the fullness of heaven? Limbo, if it exists, would surely be closer to the heart of our merciful God than the outskirts of hell.

    After reading this piece, I am convinced more than ever that limbo was, and remains, a human explanation for a theological dilemma, but that God’s place for these innocents is infinitely better.

  • gratiaplena

    Very insightful and thought-provoking article, Stephen! Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said that unbaptized infants live forever in the state of perfect natural happiness, but because of the lack of Sanctifying Grace, are necessarily deprived of the Beatific Vision.

    While this is comforting, it still breaks my heart that the 55 million innocent babies slaughtered by abortion in the U.S. alone since 1973 have not only been deprived of life, but eternally deprived of the supernatural vision of their Creator.

  • Lauretta Sesock

    This is what then Cardinal Ratzinger had to say about it in The Ratzinger Report:

    “Limbo was never a defined truth of faith. Personally–and here I am speaking more as a theologian and not as Prefect of the Congregation–I would abandon it since it was only a theological hypothesis. It formed part of a secondary thesis in support of a truth which is absolutely of first significance for faith, namely, the importance of baptism. To put it in the words of Jesus to Nicodemus: ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God’(Jn 3:5) One should not hesitate to give up the idea of ‘limbo’ if need be (and it is worth noting that the very theologians who proposed ‘limbo’ also said that parents could spare the child limbo by desiring its baptism and through prayer); but the concern behind it must not be surrendered. Baptism has never been a side issue for faith; it is not now, nor will it ever be.”

  • pbecke

    Excellent points, Lauretta. While sharing the Benedict’s reservations and fears concerning a devaluing of the requirement for baptism, I can’t share the view that anything less than sharing heaven with (hopefully) their parents would be dreadful.

    This, above all, since our God and his providence are so family-oriented. Protestants, other than Episcopalians, don’t seem to realise that when we pray to our Lady and the saints, half the time, we ask our Father to arrange it for us through Jesus Christ his Son…!

    Praying for us seems to be a real family affair. Not so much, ‘Come on down!’ as the compere of a games show in the UK used to say, as ‘Come on board!”

    I aways enjoy Stephen Beale’s articles though, as he wears his considerable learning so naturally.

  • http://jeremykritt.com/ Jeremy M. Kritt

    Leslie, I just want to make sure you represent my point correctly. My position is that of the ITC, Vatican II, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church which distances itself from limbo a great deal. In my opinion, the concept of limbo should be completely abandoned.

    The fourth paragraph of your post seems like you were saying that I think unbaptized babies are on the outskirts of hell. I most certainly do not think that, and my posts definitely reflect that. I believe that God is most merciful, and place all my hope that Our Lord Jesus Christ extends his salvation to unbaptized infants.

  • http://jeremykritt.com/ Jeremy M. Kritt

    I posted this in a comment below, but I also wanted to share it as its own post.

    Paragraph 1257 of the Catechism states, “The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are “reborn of water and the Spirit.” God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.”

    More reason to have greater hope in the salvation of the unborn and infants.

  • Lauretta Sesock

    Exactly, Jeremy, God is not bound by the sacraments. He can and does operate outside of them. But for us humans, they are the place that we know He will act and therefore that is the ordinary manner in which we receive grace.

  • Leslie D

    Jeremy, sorry if my post seems to conflict at all with what you have written. I found your posts to be on target, and I must say, informed beyond my own education on the subject. I simply borrowed your quote from the Catechism to highlight the fact that the “Church appears to distance itself from limbo” as you stated. We are in agreement.

    When I wrote, “Perhaps there is a special place for unbaptized children, but I find it hard to believe it is on the outskirts of hell, as the explanations by theologians suggest,” it was in reference to what was written in the original commentary. Again, sorry for the confusion.

  • Guest
  • Stephen Beale

    Dear Mr. Kritt, I’ll respond with the additional points, in no particular order:

    1. I’m not a pastor (obviously) and not involved in any ministry, so I can’t say what I’d say to those grieving parents. I’m not sure the concept of limbo as elaborated by theologians like Suarez is not as discouraging as you consider it. If heaven is indeed closed to these infants, limbo becomes vastly preferable to the alternative. Anyway, this is beyond the scope of the article. This is not addressed to grieving parents specifically, but to Catholic readers in general.

    2. You seem to imply that I’m ignoring the strong arguments for the hope of salvation for unbaptized infants. Indeed there are strong and compelling arguments for this hope. My purpose merely in this piece was to provide a dissenting perspective – to remind folks that there still is a compelling case to be made by limbo (in my opinion, at least). It was not the purpose of this article to lay out the pros and cons of limbo versus hope of salvation and draw a conclusion as to which is the correct position. Such a lengthy analysis is a better fit for a long magazine article, perhaps, but it’s a bit beyond the scope of an online article. And, it is not necessary, given that the theological commission lays out the case very well. I link to it at the very beginning of the article and I certainly would invite readers to read it together with my article – such is the convenience of the Internet.

    3. My piece is not necessarily saying we have greater reason to believe in limbo than to hope in God’s mercy. I’m a bit uncomfortable pitting the two against each other. As I wrote in an earlier response, we can hope for the salvation of these infants, but we can’t believe in that – it’s not an article of faith, it’s something we can hope in. We can believe in limbo. It may be possible to believe in one and hope for the other. In other words, I don’t think you can even compare the two. One is a possible article of faith. The other is an “article of hope,” if you will.

    Obviously we just have different perspectives on the beauty and optimism of the traditional belief in limbo. I welcome the feedback.

    Sincerely,
    Stephen

  • Stephen Beale

    Forgive the typo in my first point where I wrote: “I’m not sure the concept of limbo as elaborated by theologians like Suarez is not as discouraging as you consider it.” I meant to say that I’m not sure the Suarez concept of limbo is as discouraging to grieving parents as you think it is. Sorry for any confusion.
    - Stephen

  • http://jeremykritt.com/ Jeremy M. Kritt

    I appreciate how you have taken the time to respond to my comments. These discussions are healthy and good.

    Please define what you mean by an article of faith. This is not a question in which I am trying to clarify theology for myself. I want to know your construal of that term. I want to know if we are understanding this term in the same way. It is very interesting that to read your use of that term.

    Do you mean Articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae?
    Do you mean De fide definita?
    Do you mean it in a Thomistic sense that refers to dogmatic reality?
    What are you talking about?

    Limbo is not an article of faith in the way that Catholic theology traditionally uses that term. I think this why I find your views problematic on this issue.

  • Stephen Beale

    My terminology may not have been the most precise possible. I propose no changes to the traditional understanding of the term “article of faith.” I said “possible article of faith.” That may not have been the best term though. If you’re going to insist on precise terms, I would accept the hierarchy of truths used by Ludwig Ott. And I’m certainly not confused about how the Church has traditionally viewed limbo. Limbo is at the lowest level, opinio tolerata, which is why I called it a “theological hypothesis” in my article. All the truths listed in Ott’s hierarchy of truths, from the highest ranking (de fide) to the lowest are put forth as propositions that we must (de fide) or may (opinio tolerata) believe (or have faith) in. Reading through the commission report, this is not the way they talk about the salvation of unbaptized infants. They do not even suggest it is an opinio tolerata. They do not say it’s something we should consider believing. They talk about it as something we can hope for. It seems to me that believing in something carries a higher degree of epistemological certainty than hoping for it.

    Stephen

  • Guest

    As I read this article, my thought was, “This is certainly someone who’s never lost a baby through miscarriage.” I never had a problem with the idea of limbo until I had my first miscarriage and then the idea was not only discouraging but distressing.

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