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Faith/Spirituality Forum: Children's Limbo, Salvation and the Church

by Catherine Frakas 04 Feb 2001

Children's Limbo, Salvation and the Church QUESTION from A. Basto on February 21, 2003 Dear Brother,
You have recently stated that the Church never taught the doctrine of Children's Limbo, and that it was just a thesis.
Well, the Catholic Encyclopedia seems to state otherwise. (article: LIMBO, Part II: Limbus Infantium).
The Encyclopedia, after dealing extensively with the view of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and with scriptural reasons for the existence of such limbo, states that there is a teaching of Pope Innocent III about it, where the Pope stated that those who died without Baptism but without any personal sin would suffer no punishment, EXEPT SEPARATION FROM THE SIGHT OF GOD.
That is to say, they would be in a state of natural happiness sustained by God's grace, but they would not have the bliss of the beatific vision.
The teaching of Pope Innocent, contained in a letter that was later included in the Corpus Iuris Canonici, is as follows, according to the Encyclopedia:
Pope Innocent's teaching is to the effect that those dying with only original sin on their souls will suffer no other pain, whether from material fire or from the worm of conscience, except the pain of being deprived forever of the vision of God (Corp. Juris, Decret. l. III, tit. xlii, c. iii -- Majores).
How are we to reconcile that teaching with the following teaching contained in Pope Paul VI's Creed of the People of God: We believe that the Church IS NECESSARY FOR SALVATION, BECAUSE CHRIST WHO IS THE SOLE MEDIATOR AND WAY OF SALVATION, RENDERS HIMSELF PRESENT FOR US IN HIS BODY WHICH IS THE CHURCH. But the divine design of salvation embraces all men; and those WHO WITHOUT FAULT ON THEIR PART DO NOT KNOW THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST AND HIS CHURCH, BUT SEEK GOD SINCERELY, AND UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF GRACE ENDEAVOR TO DO HIS WILL AS RECOGNIZED THROUGH THE PROMPTINGS OF THEIR CONSCIENCE, they, in a number known only to God, can obtain salvation.?
Wouldn't you agree that the two teachings can be reconciled, and that we can understand admission into the children's limbo as a form of salvation?
Thus, it seems to me that it could be said that those who die only with original sin obtain salvation (from the pains of Hell - since they are not abandoned to the Devil and his demons), that they obtain eternal life (since they exist for the whole eternity in a state of natural happiness instituted for them by God), and that they can even be said to be in the Kingdom of God (since they are in God's dominions, safe from damnation and already receiving the eternal prize thanks to their Redemption, obtained by Christ on the Cross).
One should note that, even in the Bible, the terms salvation, paradise, heaven, Kingdom of God, Abraham's bosom, are used sometimes in a manner that is not absolutely thecnical. For example the statement about Christ descent to Hell. In fact, Our Lord descended to the Limbus Patrum, the home of the just ones of the old law, and not to the hell in the strict sense (the bottomless pit of the Devil).
So it would seem that, because they do not posess Baptism, which is necessary for the eternal reward, those in the Children's Limbo are in a state of salvation, but not enjoy the prize of the sight of God.
But I might be wrong also, and perhaps it would be wiser to follow the spirit of the warning made to the bishops by the Council of Trent, that they should exclude from their preaching difficult and subtle questions which tend not to edification, and from the discussion of which there is no increase either in piety or devotion (Sess. XXV, De Purgatorio).
What are your views on the Limbo of Infants, given the content of the Encyclopedia's article?
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on April 9, 2003 Dear Mr. Basto:
The description from the Pope you quote is NOT a definition of Limbo officially.
The article on Limbo in the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia located on New Advent's website DOES NOT state that the Limbo of the Infants is an official teaching. Rather it outlines the controversy of opinions from theologians on the issue.
The actual teaching is reflected accuratedly in the article on Limbo in the Sunday Visitor Catholic Encyclopedia:

The word (Limbo) comes from a Latin word meaning 'border' or 'edge'. It is the state or place, according to some theologians, reserved for the dead who deserved neither the beatific vision nor eternal punishment... ...This belief was held by many throughout the Middle Ages and into the twentieth century. It should be noted, however, THAT NO OFFICIAL TEACHING EVER ADVOCATED THIS NOTION. (em emphasis)

Because some idea is commonly held and even commonly taught in Catechism class, does NOT mean that it is automatically an OFFICIAL teaching.
The famous Baltimore Catechism (#3) makes this distinction when it says in answer to Question 632: but it is COMMON BELIEF (my emphasis) that they (unbaptized infants) will go to some place SIMILAR (my emphasis) to Limbo....
The Baltimore Catechism does NOT say they will go to Limbo, but some place LIKE Limbo. This is referring to the Limbo of the Old Testament -- Abraham's Bosum -- in which the rightious dead of the Old Testament remained until Jesus brought them into heaven in the three days between his death and ressurrection.
The notion of an infant's Limbo is a medieval notion, not one that dates back to the Apostles; however, the Limbo of the Old Testament saints does have Scriptural evidence. The Baltimore Catechism merely acknowledges the theological theory that unbaptized infant may go to a place similar to the OT Limbo.
In any event, while it was a popular notion and commonly believed, it was never an official teaching.
The official teaching is this (from the Official Catechism of the Catholic Church):

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. Back to Index Page

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