Limbo to go

From our man in the Vatican – This week sees the final deliberations of the International Theological Commission on the inquiry into the existence or otherwise of Limbo.

The RCC has no intention of insulting the intelligence of members and readers by restating that Limbo is not and never has been doctrine, nor engaging with people who will claim this as a “U-turn”.

The Pope has opposed the theory publicly and otherwise for many years, seeing it as logically unsound and the instruction of the ITC to come up with a definitive ruling is, according to sources, something of a forgone conclusion.

“Basically” said one source, “unbaptized children have always doctrinally been entrusted to the mercy of God. It’s logically indefensible to believe in a merciful God and expect Him to eternally separate Himself from young or even unborn children. It’s just a non sequiter.”

Limbus infantium seems almost guaranteed to go on the simple application of Divine mercy, limbus patrum seems unlikely to hang around in the same way either.

“When you get Christ talking about Lazerus resting in the bosom of Abraham in Heaven, it would be one hell of a mixed signal if Abraham was stuck in Limbo wouldn’t it?” our man said.

“I mean really, imagine if unborn children went to a circle of hell – assuming God creates all life knowing how it will end, then every miscarriage or abortion would mean a soul created to go to hell, literally with no hope of salvation, that’s double predestination, we’re not bloody Calvinists for God sake!” 

“What they (the ITC) seem to be thinking is; in the case of pre-Resurrection ‘just pagans’, they wouldn’t have gone to Heaven straight away, but presumably they would be in Heaven following the Resurrection. Its not so much that limbus paternum never existed as, ‘Who could go there now?’

“Nowadays, its pretty black and white, you either accept Christ or you don’t, for the tiny minority who never hear the Gospel, its far better for the Church to speak of what she knows: the mercy and love of God, not existential speculation.”

Many have expressed wonder at the scrapping of centuries of tradition that surround a belief, if not a doctrine, of Limbo. A belief which stems from St Augustine’s arguments before the 13 century Council of Carthage in which the Palagian heresies were anathematised. 

Pelegius, with his wacky notions, was cast out for claiming there was somewhere “in between” Heaven and Hell, but mostly for denying the need for Grace to conquer sin.

When asked about Augustine’s insistence that unborn children went to Hell, our source said “And Thomas Aquinas thought all women were deformed men, these people are great theologians, but the Church doesn’t sign up to everything they ever thought.”

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8 thoughts on “Limbo to go

  1. Not to denigrate this whole article, but ‘our man’ (whoever he is) seems to be a little confused about the Limbus Patrem. This was most certainly a real place, where the likes of Abraham and Moses (but not Enoch or Elijah mind) used to hang out, waiting for Christ to come and lead them into Heaven. They were the ones whom St Paul, in his Hebraic simplicity, described as being ‘in the lower parts of the Earth’. The souls ‘in Prison’ whom St Peter tells us Christ himself went to announce His Passover to. For more info, ‘our man’ might take a look at the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday.

  2. It is one thing to say that God will not eternally separate himself from unbaptised babies because to do so would count against the love and mercy of God, but it needs to be made clear where original sin fits in to all this. Limbo was only ever one way of explaining the conundrum that we all deserve to be separated from God’s presence, that baptism frees us from inevitably going there, but that it doesn’t seem fair for unbaptised babies to share the same fate as an adult who rejects God. It’s fine to say that Limbo doesn’t actually exist – that it was only ever a convenient invention to get out of a fix – but surely it begs the question of what does happen to these babies? If the Church teaches that they automatically go to heaven, a whole lot of other doctrines seem to unravel slightly and a whole host of questions arise. The conundrum certainly isn’t solved.

    And if babies automatically go to heaven, why would one bother with infant baptism before the one to be baptised has reached the age of reason (usually considered to be 7). It would make no difference, apparently. In fact, there might be an argument that it would even make the situation worse.

    Another question is, of course, that of limbus partum. There is no suggestion that the Pope will reject this as a similarly invented solution to a theological problem, but surely the same criteria apply?

    The Church really shouldn’t think aloud on important and emotive issues like this. It really does more harm than good. Why can’t we just keep to what the Catechism says – that we simply entrust unbaptised souls to the love and mercy of God.

  3. I think most of the confusion arises from falling into the trap of thinking limbo is a place unto itself, a halfway house – anathamatised at Carthage remember.
    As the Church considers(ed) it, limbo is(was) part of Hell, a nicer part ok, but Hell nonetheless.
    Now if a child or other innocent dies without the chance of salvation, it follows they die in Original Sin, it also follows God would not condemn them for something they had no chance to repent. This doesn’t mean they ‘automatically’ go to Heaven, but isn’t this why there is Purgatory?
    Limbo doesn’t and never did address any of these issues really. Its a wholly superfluous construct, the truth of who’s in and who’s out, when and why can be far more simply addressed if we stop talking about ‘Limbo’ and start talking about ‘Hell’. that would clear up most of the muddle.
    The Fathers needed to be in Hell for their sins, personal and Original, until Christ went to go and get them – my Creed says He decended into Hell by the way, not Limbo.
    Its too bizarre to assume the unborn or innocent go to Hell with no chance to repent, God is mercifull.
    In the end, all this Limbo business is nonsense, one is either in Hell or one is not.

  4. I take your points. I’m just uneasy about the Church thinking aloud on these sort of issues when, at the end of the day, it cannot say definitively what happens. It doesn’t know, but simply trusts to God’s love and mercy. It certainly can’t say that all unbaptised babies are in heaven – effectively canonising them.

    As for Limbo being in hell, it’s worth making the point that the Angelic Doctor, Saint Thomas Aquinas, described the limbo of children as an eternal state of natural joy, untempered by any sense of loss at how much greater their joy might have been — a supernatural joy — had they been baptised.

    In his encyclical Aeterni Patris of 4 August 1879, Pope Leo XIII stated that St Thomas’ theology was a definitive exposition of Catholic doctrine. Thus, he directed the clergy to take the teachings of Aquinas as the basis of their theological positions. Also, Leo XIII decreed that all Catholic seminaries and universities must teach Aquinas’s doctrines, and where Aquinas did not speak on a topic, the teachers were ‘urged to teach conclusions that were reconcilable with his thinking.’

  5. 1. I think the point here is not to we should debate whether or not the concept of a limbus infantum is a viable solution to this problem, but to get a better understanding of what does and does not concern the Church Militant.

    The Church on Earth exists to ‘make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name… etc.’ Having this mission, there is nothing we can do about babies who haven’t had the chance to be baptised, so why concern ourselves with the matter?

    Put it this way: I work in one department of an organisation, and I know a lot about what I do, why I do it and how. What benefit would it be if I started spending my time trying to find out what happens in another office at the other end of the corridor? Surely I should just get on with my own job? If I know that the whole organisation is run perfectly, I don’t need to know what they do at the other end of the corridor; I just trust that it’s done well and in accordance with the overall plan (which I also don’t need to know everything about).

    2. To be precise, the creed of all Roman Catholics says that Christ descended into ‘inferos’. This does not translate into English as ‘Hell’ (the Latin for Hell is Inferna – similar but not the same). ‘The dead’ is more accurate.

    3. If by ‘definitive’ is meant final, exhaustive, binding etc. (I can’t see what else it would mean), I do not see that Leo XIII made this claim on behalf of St Thomas. He certainly thought, as many learned people did and still do, that St Thomas was the greatest Catholic philosopher and that his system is superior to any other, but sure;y that isn’t the same as it being ‘definitive’?

  6. Agreed. I believe St. Paul specifically says not to concern ourselves with the fate of the non-baptised, as they are for God to worry about.

    I shall hunt for the referance.

  7. Yes, agreed of course, but the issue is relevant to some extent – specifically, whether one should pray to, for or simply in memory of an unborn baby one has lost through miscarriage, abortion or early infant death before baptism. This is a directly relevant question to many people. If the Church can’t possibly know the answer, then it should say so.

  8. Need all unbaptised babies be considered as one class? Perhaps an alternative way to look at the problem would be to consider the intentions of their parents. If the parents intended to have the child baptised then arguably the child could benefit from baptism of desire (the possibility of desiring baptism belonging to the parents since the child is below the age of reason).

    If, however, the parents of the child did not intend to have the child baptised, then clearly he wouldn’t benefit from baptism of desire. But doesn’t that child posseses invincible ignorance? If so he would presumably be treated as any other individual with invincible ignorance. If any person with invincible ignorance can be saved, surely such a child would qualify since he has no personal sin.

    So either way, I reckon an unbaptised child would end up in heaven …

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