Tuesday, April 30, 2002


Someone sent me this comment and question:

"I have enjoyed reading your articles over the past few days, re. life after death, purgatory etc. Am I correct in thinking that Catholics believe that the unbaptized soul remains in Limbo, which is a place of oblivion and that no manner or amount of indulgences will have any effect as to the destination of the unbaptized soul - that they will remain in a state of oblivion for an eternity?"


Doctrines concerning LIMBO (= ablative form of limbus, border; thus border of Hades) do not belong to Catholic dogma but to theological opinion and this means that the faithful are not required to believe them but may do so if they so choose.

The full beatitude of heaven is to see the glory and beauty of the Blessed, Holy and Undivided Trinity of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost --- the beatific vision. This is reserved in Catholic teaching to the baptized faithful who are forgiven and sanctified by grace.

Limbo is not oblivion but neither is it the beatific vision. It is an everlasting but imperfect state of existence.

It is the abode of souls excluded from the full blessedness of the beatific vision but not suffering any other punishment. They enjoy the happiness that would have been human destiny had human beings not been elevated in Christ Jesus to a supernatural destiny.

One form of Limbo (Limbus patrum) is no more. It existed from the creation of man until the Exaltation of Jesus Christ and was made up of the true believers in the LORD GOD of pre-Christian times - Jewish saints. They waited for the creation of heaven for believers by the ascended Lord Jesus Christ and then embraced by Him left their Limbo to enter his abode.

The other form of Limbo (Limbus infantium) has been the more controversial theological opinion. Here it is said are those - infants -- who have died in original sin ( because unbaptized) but with no personal guilt.

Since it is an article of the Roman Catholic Faith that no one can enter heaven without being baptized (or having baptism supplied by an alternative means - e.g., martyrdom, the baptism in blood) for baptism is the sacrament of then new birth, Catholic theologians have had to deal with the special case of infants who have not committed personal sins but who have not been baptized before their untimely death. The majority of theologians and Popes have taught that these infants know and love God intensely by the use of their natural powers and thus they enjoy full natural happiness - but do not enjoy the higher blessedness of the beatific vision.

I can find no discussion of Limbo in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and it is given very little if any space in modern theological dictionaries. I suspect that little is said about it in the modern Catholic Church and that Catholic people are taught to trust in the mercy of God and believe that he will take care of unbaptized infants who die, and especially if those infants are the children of Christian believers. Nowadays, especially in the West and North, very few infants die and even fewer die unbaptized. It is more of an urgent question in the catholic countries of the third world.

For myself I believe that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is large enough to cover the original sin of infants and that they will be raised to heaven where they will be also given in their resurrection body the maturity of what they would have been as a 30 year old (even as is Christ in his humanity).

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon
Minister of Christ Church, Biddulph Moor,
England & Vice-President and Emissary-at-Large
of The Prayer Book Society of America

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