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t state wherein man is born a child of the first Adam, to the state of grace, and of the adoption of the sons of God, through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, our Saviour.[25]

If adults could effectively be baptised through a desire for the sacrament when prevented from actually receiving it, some speculated that perhaps sacramentally unbaptised infants too might be saved by some waterless equivalent of ordinary baptism when prevented. Thomas Cajetan, a major 16th-century theologian, suggested that infants dying in the womb before birth, and so before ordinary sacramental baptism could be administered, might be saved through their mother's wish for their baptism. Thus, there was no clear consensus that the Council of Florence had excluded salvation of infants by such extra-sacramental equivalents of baptism.

Through the 18th and 19th centuries, individual theologians (Bianchi in 1768, H. Klee in 1835, Caron in 1855, H. Schell in 1893) continued to formulate theories of how children who died unbaptised might still be saved. By 1952 a theologian such as Ludwig Ott could, in a widely used and well-regarded manual, openly teach the possibility that children who die unbaptised might be saved for heaven[26]—though he still represented their going to limbo as the commonly taught opinion. In its 1980 instruction on children's baptism the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that "with regard to children who die without having received baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as indeed she does in the funeral rite established for them," leaving all theories as to their fate, including Limbo, as viable options.[27] And in 1984, when Joseph Ratzinger, then Cardinal Prefect of that Congregation, stated that he rejected the claim that children who die unbaptised cannot attain salvation, he was speaking for many academic theologians of his training and background.

The Church's teaching expressed in the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church is that "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." It adds that "God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments". It recalls that, apart from the sacrament, "baptism of blood" (as in the case of the martyrs) and in the case of catechumens who die before receiving the sacrament, explicit desire for baptism, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, ensures salvation. It states that, since Christ died for all and all are called to the same divine destiny, "every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved", seeing that, if they had known of the necessity of baptism, they would have desired it explicitly.[28]

It then states: "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,'[29] 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."[30] Merely stating that one can "hope" in a way of salvation other than baptism, the Church thus urgently reiterates its appeal to baptize infants, the only certain means to "not prevent" their "coming to Christ" for salvation.

On April 22, 2007, the advisory body known as the International Theological Commission released a document, originally commissioned by Pope John Paul II, entitled "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die without Being Baptized."[9] After tracing the history of the various opinions that have been and are held on the eternal fate of unbaptized infants, including that connected with the theory of the Limbo of Infants, and after examining the theological arguments, the document stated its conclusion as follows:

Our conclusion is that the many factors that we have considered above give serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and enjoy the beatific vision. We emphasize that these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge. There is much that simply has not been revealed to us.[31] We live by faith and hope in the God of mercy and love who has been revealed to us in Christ, and the Spirit moves us to pray in constant thankfulness and joy.[32]
What has been revealed to us is that the ordinary way of salvation is by the sacrament of baptism. None of the above considerations should be taken as qualifying the necessity of baptism or justifying delay in administering the sacrament. Rather, as we want to reaffirm in conclusion, they provide strong grounds for hope that God will save infants when we have not been able to do for them what we would have wished to do, namely, to baptize them into the faith and life of the Church.

Pope Benedict XVI authorized publication of this document, indicating that he considers it consistent with the Church's teaching, though it is not an official expression of that teaching.[33] Media reports that by the document "the Pope closed Limbo"[34] are thus without foundation. In fact, the document explicitly states that "the theory of limbo, understood as a state which includes the souls of infants who die subject to original sin and without baptism, and who, therefore, neither merit the beatific vision, nor yet are subjected to any punishment, because they are not guilty of any personal sin. This theory, elaborated by theologians beginning in the Middle Ages, never entered into the dogmatic definitions of the Magisterium. Still, 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" (second preliminary paragraph); and in paragraph 41 it repeats that the theory of Limbo "remains a possible theological opinion". The document thus allows the hypothesis of a limbo of infants to be held as one of the existing theories about the fate of children who die without being baptised, a question on which there is "no explicit answer" from Scripture or tradition.[33] It ought also to be mentioned here that the traditional theological alternative to Limbo was not Heaven, but rather some degree of suffering in Hell. At any rate, these theories are not the official teaching of the Catholic Church, but are only opinions that the Church does not condemn, permitting them to be held by its members, just as is the theory of possible salvation for infants dying without baptism.

In other denominations and religions

The Old Testament righteous follow Christ from Hades to Heaven (Russian icon)

Neither the Eastern Orthodox Church nor Protestantism accepts the concept of a limbo of infants;[35] but, while not using the expression "Limbo of the Patriarchs", the Eastern Orthodox Church lays much stress on the resurrected Christ's action of liberating Adam and Eve and other righteous figures of the Old Testament, such as Abraham and David, from Hades (see Harrowing of Hell).

Some Protestants have a similar understanding of those who died as believers prior to the crucifixion of Jesus residing in a place that is not Heaven, but not Hell. The doctrine holds that Hades has two "compartments", one an unnamed place of torment, the other named Abraham's Bosom. Luke 16:19–26 speaks of a chasm fixed between the two which cannot be crossed. Those in the unnamed "compartment" have no hope, and will ultimately be consigned to hell. Those in Abraham's bosom are those of whom it is written of Jesus, "When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives..." (Eph. 4:8, quoting Psa. 68:18). These individuals, the captives, now reside with God in Heaven. Both "Compartments" still exist, but Abraham's Bosom is now empty, while the other chamber is not, according to this doctrine.

Mormons teach that "all who have died without a knowledge of [the] gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God."[36] Jehovah's Witnesses, Christadelphians, and others have taught that the dead are unconscious (or even nonexistent), awaiting their destiny on Judgment Day.

The Zoroastrian concept of hamistagan is similar to limbo. Hamistagan is a neutral state in which a soul that was neither good nor evil awaits Judgment Day.

In Islam, which denies the existence of original sin in totality, the concept of Limbo exists as Barzakh, the state that exists after death, prior to the day of resurrection. During this period sinners are punished and the faithful rest in comfort. The concept of underage children is that they go exempt of sin and that they are classed as Muslims and after death they go to Heaven, where they are cared for by Abraham.[37]

Cultural references

  • In the Divine Comedy poem Inferno, Dante depicts Limbo as the first circle of Hell. The virtuous pagans of classical history and mythology inhabit a brightly lit and beautiful—but somber—castle which is seemingly a medieval version of Elysium. They include Hector, Julius Caesar, Virgil, Electra, and Orpheus. Virtuous non-Christians, such as the Muslim Saladin, were also described as among its residents.
  • One of Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney's best known works is titled Limbo.
  • In the Artemis Fowl series, "Limbo" is the timeless plane of existence where the demon fairies are trapped until The Lost Colony.
  • In the film Inception, Limbo is a deep subconscious level, far beyond false awakening, and a state in which the characters may be trapped indefinitely.
  • In The Monster Squad, a 1987 comedy/horror film written by Shane Black and Fred the aim to defeat the Monsters is to open a hole in the universe and cast the monsters into Limbo.
  • In The Matrix Revolutions, third and last installment of The Matrix series, Neo gets trapped in a train station named Mobil Ave. He learns that the station (located "nowhere") is a sort of borderworld, passage between the "Matrix" and the "Machine" (the place where the Machines reside in the real) world. Mobil is an anagram of Limbo.
  • In the final episode of the BBC time travel/cop show Ashes to Ashes (Series 3, Episode 8), it is revealed that the world that Alex Drake awoke to after being shot, which Sam Tyler described and that other major characters inhabit, is a kind of Limbo, one seemingly specifically for members of the police force, who had died in violent or sudden ways.
  • In the indie game Limbo, a boy walks through a black and white world searching for his sister.[38]
  • In DmC: Devil May Cry, Limbo is the name of a city that drags its victims into a demonic version of its human world counterpart.
  • In Marvel Comics, Limbo is a section outside time, ruled over by a future version of Kang the Conqueror called Immortus.
  • "In Limbo" is the 11th track on Genesis' debut album "From Genesis to Revelation".
  • "In Limbo" is the 7th track on Radiohead's 2000 album "Kid A".
  • In the BBC CW TV series The Vampire Diaries, a form of limbo called "The Other Side" is created by a powerful witch named Qetsiyah, creating it as a Purgatory for all supernatural (vampires, witches, werewolves, doppelgängers, hybrids, etc.) beings go in death, it prevents any supernatural being from reaching a form of Heaven called "Peace".

Non-religious usages

Differing slightly from the original meaning, in colloquial speech, "limbo" is any status where a person or project is held up, and nothing can be done until another action happens. For example, a construction project might be described as "in limbo" if political considerations delay its permit.

A "legal limbo" may occur when varying laws or court rulings leave a person without recourse. For example, a person may earn "too much" to receive public assistance from the government, but not enough to actually pay for basic necessities. Likewise, various parties in a dispute may be pointing blame at each other, rather than fixing the problem, and leaving the person or group suffering from the problem to continue to suffer in limbo.

The Amstrad PCW's bundled word processing software, LocoScript, used the term "in limbo" to refer to files which had been deleted but which could still be restored, a concept similar to that later implemented by the Trash in the Apple Macintosh and the Recycle Bin in Microsoft Windows 95.

In the licensing of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs), properties registered under a previous scheme, but would not be licensable under mandatory arrangements, would go into a state of limbo when they expire, until the status of any potential additional licensing scheme is fully resolved.

See also



  1. ^
  2. ^ "Christ's soul descended only into that part of hell wherein the just were detained." Thomas Aquinas,
  3. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 633
  4. ^ See Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: Christ the Conqueror of Hell
  5. ^ François Xavier Schouppe (2010). Abridged course of religious instruction, apologetic, dogmatic, and moral: for the use of Catholic colleges and schools. Burns & Oates. p. 248. 
  6. ^ Anne Clark Bartlett, Thomas Howard Bestul (1999). Cultures of Piety: Medieval English Devotional Literature in Translation. Cornell University Press. p. 100.  
  7. ^ Timothy Radcliffe (2004). Seven Last Words. Burns & Oates. p. 25.  
  8. ^ Stromata, book VI, chapter VI
  9. ^ a b The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die without Being Baptised, ITC, April 22, 2007.
  10. ^ Study by International Theological Commission, 22 April 2007, 32–40
  11. ^ , 1261Catechism of the Catholic Church
  12. ^ On Merit and the Forgiveness of Sins, and the Baptism of Infants, ; cf. Study by the International Theological Commission, 22 April 2007], 15–18]
  13. ^ Study by the International Theological Commission, 22 April 2007, footnote 41]
  14. ^ a b Canon 110 of the Code of Canons of the African Church
  15. ^ Study by the International Theological Commission, 22 April 2007, 19]
  16. ^ Study by the International Theological Commission, 22 April 2007, 20
  17. ^ Study by the International Theological Commission, 22 April 2007, 21–25]
  18. ^ Summa Theologiae, Supplement to the Third Part, EDITOR'S NOTE
  19. ^ Summa Theologica, Supplement 1 to the Third Part, article 2
  20. ^ Feingold, Lawrence. The Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas and His Interpreters. 2nd edition. Ave Maria: Sapientia Press of Ave Maria University. 2010.
  21. ^ The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized, 23
  22. ^ ):Cantate DominoCouncil of Florence Session 11 (Bull "With regard to children, since the danger of death is often present and the only remedy available to them is the sacrament of baptism by which they are snatched away from the dominion of the devil and adopted as children of God, it admonishes that sacred baptism is not to be deferred for forty or eighty days or any other period of time..."
  23. ^ Council of Florence Session 6 "..the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go down straightaway to hell to be punished, but with unequal pains."
  24. ^ Session 15, 6 July 1415
  25. ^ Council of Trent, Session 6
  26. ^ "Other emergency means of baptism for children dying without sacramental baptism, such as prayer and the desire of the parents or the Church (vicarious baptism of desire—Cajetan), or the attainment of the use of reason in the moment of death, so that the dying child can decide for or against God (baptism of desire—H. Klee), or suffering and death of the child as quasi-Sacrament (baptism of suffering—H. Schell), are indeed possible, but their actuality cannot be proved from Revelation. Cf. Denzinger 712." Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Book 2, Section 2, § 25 (p. 114 of the 1963 edition)
  27. ^ , 13Pastoralis Actio
  28. ^ , 1257-1260Catechism of the Catholic Church
  29. ^ ; cf.
  30. ^ , 1261Catechism of the Catholic Church
  31. ^ cf.
  32. ^ cf.
  33. ^ a b Catholic News Service (April 20, 2007). "Vatican commission: Limbo reflects 'restrictive view of salvation'". Retrieved 2007-04-20.
  34. ^ New York Times (April 21, 2007) "Vatican City: Pope Closes Limbo"
  35. ^ Limbo: Recent statements by the Catholic church, and Protestant views at
  36. ^ D&C 137:7 See Baptism for the Dead
  37. ^ Al-Bukhary, Volume 9, Book 87, Number 171
  38. ^ Interview with Leight Alexander

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