What is taught about Limbo?

lim-bo n.

  1. Roman Catholic Theology: A region on the border of Hell or Heaven, serving as the abode after the death of unbaptized infants (Limbo of infants) and of the righteous who died before the coming of Christ (Limbo of the fathers or Limbo of the patriarchs).

beatific vision

  1. In Roman Catholic theology, the beatific vision is the eternal and direct perception of God enjoyed by those who are in Heaven, imparting supreme happiness.

While Limbo has been in Catholic theology for many centuries, belief in it is not unanimous. Pope Benedict XVI declared that belief in Limbo is not required for salvation. Without getting into profound theology, I’ll try to explain the idea of Limbo. While there is no concrete statement of Limbo in scripture, there is evidence in scripture that does imply its existence. First, we’ll show the possibility that a place like Limbo can exist by using scripture.

(1 Peter 3:18,19) For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he may lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit. In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient

In this passage, Peter alludes to a spiritual “prison.” While prison is commonly used by scripture when referring to Purgatory, this passage shows evidence of a spiritual place, which is neither Heaven nor Hell.

(Revelation 5:3) Then I saw a mighty angel who proclaimed in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” But no one in Heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll to examine it.

This passage in Revelation mentions “under the earth,” meaning the dead. Hell is not mentioned because Hell is void of the presence of God and, therefore, no one in Hell would be asked to open the scroll. Again we’re shown that there are conscious souls somewhere that are neither Heaven nor Earth. This passage gives evidence that a spiritual existence outside Heaven and Hell does exist.

Moving along, we already know that, except for a select few, no one went to Heaven before Christ’s resurrection. However, the wicked did go to Hell. So, where did the souls of the righteous go before they were allowed in Heaven? Jews referred to it as Sheol. Christians call it Limbo. Limbo comes from the Latin word “Limbus” meaning “edge” or “border.” It’s named such because it’s traditionally taught by both the Jewish and Christian churches that Limbus Patrum (called Abraham’s Bosom by the Jews) was located near the edge or border of Hell. There is no suffering in Limbo. The Church traditionally teaches that the souls in Limbo experience perfect natural happiness. Jesus’ parable supports this tradition:

(Luke 16:19-26) “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. 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. And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’ Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between you and us a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’”

The place that Jesus speaks of in the above parable is Limbus Patrum (Limbo of Fathers). It is so named because it contains the patriarchs, prophets, and the righteous believers who died before Christ’s death. It’s also sometimes referred to as Limbus Patrum or Limbus Inferni. Most Christians believe this Limbo was emptied after the death of Christ when He descended into “the lower regions” and brought the souls to Heaven with him during his ascension.

(Ephesians 4:8-9) Therefore, it says:

“He ascended on high and took prisoners captive;
he gave gifts to men.”

What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower [regions] of the earth?

The other Limbo is Limbus Puerorum (Limbo of Children), which replaced the Limbus Patrum after Christ’s ascension. Souls here who are not baptized before dying, usually children, are excluded from the beatific vision of God. Evidence of this comes from Christ’s statements about baptism.

(John 3:5) Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”

(John 13:8) Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”

Limbus Puerorum is a permanent place where unbaptized souls go who are not guilty of mortal sin — located on the “fringe” of Hell. Void of the vision of God. Through God’s mercy, souls there enjoy a state of perfect natural happiness.

The doctrine of the Catholic Church concludes from Scripture that:

“The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation…The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude…God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism…” ( Catechism of the Catholic Church , CCC 1257)

However, it gives hope:

“As regards to 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’ [Mark 10:14, cf. 1 Timothy 2:4], 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”. ( Catechism of the Catholic Church , CCC 1261)

The dogma of Limbo is one of belief in God’s mercy. We hear Jesus’ words that no one can enter Heaven unbaptized, yet we also know that God is merciful. We look at the allusions in scripture and hope that if unbaptized souls may not enter Heaven, God, in His mercy, has provided another place outside of Hell’s torment for them to go.