What is Limbo? Is There Such a Place as Limbo? What Happens to Babies When They Die?

By COGwriter

Having been brought up as a Roman Catholic, I was taught about a place called Limbo. I was taught that that babies (and other "sinless") who died without being baptized as Catholic were believed to go to a place known as limbus patrum that they did not suffer, but it also was a place where they did not receive the joys of being in God's presence.

Actually, it was the teaching of both the Catholics of Rome and the Protestants of America on the status of dead infants that got me to look more closely at the old Worldwide Church Of God, whose teachings are still preserved by the Philadelphia remnant of the Church of God, concerning matters such as what happens to babies when they die.

This article will briefly discuss various Roman teachings on Limbo, as well as to suggest that there is a better explanation.

Some Bishop Approved Roman Catholic Teachings

Perhaps a good place to start on this matter is to look at the old Catholic Encyclopedia on this subject. I choose it, because the current Catechism of the Catholic Church does not seem to mention it.

So, the following is from The Catholic Encyclopedia:

LIMBUS PATRUM
Though it can hardly be claimed, on the evidence of extant literature, that a definite and consistent belief in the limbus patrum of Christian tradition was universal among the Jews, it cannot on the other hand be denied that, more especially in the extra-canonical writings of the second or first centuries B.C., some such belief finds repeated expression; and New Testament references to the subject remove all doubt as to the current Jewish belief in the time of Christ Whatever name may be used in apocryphal Jewish literature to designate the abode of the departed just, the implication generally is

In the New Testament, Christ refers by various names and figures to the place or state which Catholic tradition has agreed to call the limbus patrum...

The New Testament contains no definite statement of a positive kind regarding the lot of those who die in original sin without being burdened with grievous personal guilt...On the other hand, it is clear from Scripture and Catholic tradition that the means of regeneration provided for this life do not remain available after death, so that those dying unregenerate are eternally excluded from the supernatural happiness of the beatific vision (John 9:4, Luke 12:40, 16:19 sqq., 2 Corinthians 5:10...) (Toner, Patrick J. Transcribed by Simon Parent. Limbo. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).

In Ephesians 4:8 sq., we are told that Christ conducted to heaven the patriarchs who had been in limbo (limbus patrum). (Hontheim, Joseph. "Heaven." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York. Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 4 Mar. 2011 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07170a.htm>)

Yet, while Limbo was a widespread Catholic belief, it was not even mentioned in the latest revision the Catechism of the Catholic Church that came out over 15 years ago. (It should be noted that the word "limbo" nor any similar term in in Ephesians 4:8.)

Why? 

Probably because the latest revision the Catechism of the Catholic Church was put together under the direction of Joseph Ratzinger, who is now the current Pope Benedict XVI (Catechism of the Catholic Church. Imprimatur Potest +Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Doubleday, NY 1995)--he apparently did not believe in it then (or now).

Pope Benedict XVI had a paper put out a while back that challenged the concept of Limbo and Limbo babies. Some time back, the Catholic News Service reported:

Vatican commission: Limbo reflects 'restrictive view of salvation'

CNS - April 20, 2007

In a document published April 20, the commission said the traditional concept of limbo -- as a place where unbaptized infants spend eternity but without communion with God -- seemed to reflect an "unduly restrictive view of salvation."...

But there is greater theological awareness today that God is merciful and "wants all human beings to be saved," it said. Grace has priority over sin, and the exclusion of innocent babies from heaven does not seem to reflect Christ's special love for "the little ones," it said.

"Our conclusion is that the many factors that we have considered ... give serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and enjoy the beatific vision," the document said.

"We emphasize that these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge," it added.

The 41-page document, titled "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized," was published in Origins, the documentary service of Catholic News Service.  Pope Benedict XVI authorized its publication earlier this year...

"It must be clearly acknowledged that the church does not have sure knowledge about the salvation of unbaptized infants who die," it said.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, was president of the commission and head of the doctrinal congregation when the commission began studying the question of limbo in a systematic way in 2004.

U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada now heads the commission and the doctrinal congregation. Cardinal Levada met with the pope to discuss the document Jan. 19 and, with the pope's approval, authorized its publication. http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0702216.htm

Several years ago (before the Catholics took my "Hope of Salvation" title, I wrote a paper whose main title is Hope of Salvation. While I disagree with various Catholic concepts of salvation such as heaven, I do agree that infants will have an opportunity for salvation.

Here is a quote from the Vatican paper titled The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized:

It is clear that the traditional teaching on this topic has concentrated on 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, even if 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. However, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992), the theory of limbo is not mentioned. Rather, the Catechism teaches that infants who die without baptism are entrusted by the Church to the mercy of God, as is shown in the specific funeral rite for such children...

3. The idea of Limbo, which the Church has used for many centuries to designate the destiny of infants who die without Baptism, has no clear foundation in revelation, even though it has long been used in traditional theological teaching...

24...As for the expression “Limbo of Infants”, it was forged at the turn of the 12th-13th century to name the “resting place” of such infants (the "border" of the inferior region)...

26...Together with Catholic theologians of the Augustinian school, the Jansenists vigorously opposed the theory of Limbo...Papal interventions during this period, then, protected the freedom of the Catholic schools to wrestle with this question. They did not endorse the theory of Limbo as a doctrine of faith. Limbo, however, was the common Catholic teaching until the mid-20th century...

90...A major weakness of the traditional view of Limbo is that it is unclear whether the souls there have any relationship to Christ; the Christocentricity of the doctrine seems deficient. In some accounts, the souls in Limbo seem to have a natural happiness that belongs to a different order from the supernatural order in which people choose for or against Christ...

91. Where sin abounded, grace superabounded! That is the emphatic teaching of Scripture, but the idea of Limbo seems to constrain that superabundance. (The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized. The International Theological Commission, Vatican City, April 20, 2007. at http://www.campchabad.com/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070419_un-baptised-infants_en.html#_ftn2 viewed 02/07/09)

Thus, the Vatican does not really want to teach that there is a place called Limbo, admits that it is not in the Bible, admits that it came about in Middle Ages (hence was not an original teaching of the church), and that it does not know what prophecy teaches about what will happen to babies who die without baptism.

Unlike certain of the Roman Catholics, we of the Philadelphia remnant of the Church of God believe that we do have sure knowledge about what will happen to infants as our position comes from the Bible. Notice:

We have also a more sure word of prophecy (2 Peter 1:19 KJV).

In addition, I later put together, a longer article that from a scriptural perspective has the most verses from the Bible anywhere that I have ever seen which provides additional details titled Universal Offer of Salvation: There Are Hundreds of Verses in the Bible Supporting the Doctrine of True Apocatastasis.

Didn't Anne Catherine Emmerich See Limbo in Her Visions?

On October 3, 2004 Anne Catherine Emmerich was beatified by Pope John Paul II (Wikipedia).

In the 1800s, a nun named Anne Catherine Emmerich claimed to see Limbo, a place that the current Pope Benedict XVI has indicated does not exist:

Nun Emmerich: And now the abyss opened before Him and, as is one a pathway of light, He saw a long flight of steps leading down the path to Limbo...

Just in front of Limbo, there was a bright, cheerful tract of country clothed in verdure...

The Limbo in which were the souls awaiting Redemption was encompassed by a gray, foggy atmosphere, and divided into different circles...The procession of the Lord, accompanied by the first human beings, now turned to the left, to the Limbo of the Leaders of God's people before the time of Abraham. This was a species of Purgatory...And now the soul of the Lord turned to the circle on the right to Limbo proper...

I saw too the redeemed souls in countless numbers leaving the places of their purification, leaving Limbo, and accompanying the soul of the Lord to a place of bliss below the heavenly Jerusalem...

I heard a voice proceed from Him, which he related to His Mother what He had done in Limbo...(Emmerich AC. The Life of Lord Jesus Christ and Biblical Revelations. Schmöger edition, Vol. IV. Nihil Obstat: D. Jaegher, 14 Februari 1914. Imprimatur: A.C. De Schrevel, Brugis, 14 Februari 1914. Reprint TAN Books, Rockford (IL), 2004, pp. 104, 349 ,350-351,354,362).

Also notice the following from a book on Nun Emmerich:

(Being in a state of ecstasy today, Sister Emmerich related what follows:)

The first descent of Jesus into Limbo was the fulfillment of early types, and in itself a type whose fulfillment is effected by today's releasing of the poor souls (Schmöger, p. 355).

So, someone was beatified (made a Catholic saint) who had visions of a place that the Vatican later indicated probably did not exist.

Yet, many associated with Rome are apparently fine with this. But at least the current pontiff understands that the place Limbo is not real.

What Happens to Babies When They Die?

Unlike the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches, the faithful in the Church of God teach that babies will be resurrected, live a physical life, and will be offered salvation. Salvation in the kingdom of God will be offered to all, but has not been offered to all in this age (for more information please see the article Universal Offer of Salvation: There Are Hundreds of Verses in the Bible Supporting the True Doctrine of Apocatastasis).

Those uncalled now (including babies, toddlers, nearly all idolaters and others) will be given a real opportunity for salvation. This period of time is believed to be around 100 years. Isaiah 65:20 states,

20 No more shall an infant from there live but a few days, Nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days; For the child shall die one hundred years old, But the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed.

Those who still are sinners after this period will also undergo the punishment of being cast in the lake of fire--but note that those who are infants have 100 years to fulfill their days.

And although he may not have understood it correctly, Irenaeus (circa 180 A.D.) mentioned that the Gentiles will be called as well as in this hundred year time:

Daniel also says this very thing: "And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of those under the heaven, is given to the saints of the Most High God, whose kingdom is everlasting, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him." And lest the promise named should be understood as referring to this time, it was declared to the prophet: "And come thou, and stand in thy lot at the consummation of the days."

Now, that the promises were not announced to the prophets and the fathers alone, but to the Churches united to these from the nations, whom also the Spirit terms "the islands" (both because they are established in the midst of turbulence, suffer the storm of blasphemies, exist as a harbour of safety to those in peril, and are the refuge of those who love the height [of heaven], and strive to avoid Bythus, that is, the depth of error), Jeremiah thus declares: "Hear the word of the LORD, ye nations, and declare it to the isles afar off; say ye, that the LORD will scatter Israel, He will gather him, and keep him, as one feeding his flock of sheep...

And yet again does he say the same thing: "Behold, I make Jerusalem a rejoicing, and my people [a joy]; for the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying. Also there shall not be there any immature [one], nor an old man who does not fulfil his time: for the youth shall be of a hundred years; and the sinner shall die a hundred years old, yet shall be accursed. And they shall build houses, and inhabit them themselves; and shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them themselves, and shall drink wine. And they shall not build, and others inhabit; neither shall they prepare the vineyard, and others eat. For as the days of the tree of life shall be the days of the people in thee; for the works of their hands shall endure" (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book V, Chapter 34, Verses 2-3,4. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

More on the above can be found in the article Hope of Salvation: How the Continuing Church of God Differs from Protestantism. One of the reasons that I am NOT Protestant nor Roman Catholic, but part of the Church of God is because of what the Bible teaches about what happens to babies after the die.

Other reasons for you and others to consider can be found in the following:

Where is the True Christian Church Today? This free online pdf booklet answers that question and includes 18 proofs, clues, and signs to identify the true vs. false Christian church. Plus 7 proofs, clues, and signs to help identify Laodicean churches. A related sermon is also available: Where is the True Christian Church? Here is a link to the booklet in the Spanish language: ¿Dónde está la verdadera Iglesia cristiana de hoy? Here is a link in the German language: WO IST DIE WAHRE CHRISTLICHE KIRCHE HEUTE? Here is a link in the French language: Où est la vraie Église Chrétienne aujourd’hui?

Continuing History of the Church of God This pdf booklet is a historical overview of the true Church of God and some of its main opponents from Acts 2 to the 21st century. Related sermon links include Continuing History of the Church of God: c. 31 to c. 300 A.D. and Continuing History of the Church of God: 4th-16th Centuries. The booklet is available in Spanish: Continuación de la Historia de la Iglesia de Dios, German: Kontinuierliche Geschichte der Kirche Gottes, and Ekegusii Omogano Bw’ekanisa Ya Nyasae Egendererete.

Concluding Comments on Limbo and Babies

There is no actual place such as Limbo.

Even the Church of Rome is somewhat recognizing this. It also admits that Limbo is not in the Bible, and did not happen to enter Catholicism until the Middle Ages.

The fact that one of its saints claimed to see it, does not make it so (that same "saint" also indicated that she had demonic-influence and made other statements that were in error: see Catholic Prophecies: Do They Mirror, Highlight, or Contradict Biblical Prophecies?).

Although some who profess Christ seem to believe otherwise, we in the Church of God believe:

20 Our God is the God of salvation (Psalms 68:20).

The idea behind Limbo that God is love (1 John 4:8,16) and God will not punish those who cannot see (John 9:41) is correct. It is simply that the place Limbo does not exist as God has a better plan than Limbo.

The Bible teaches that babies that die will be resurrected and will ultimately be given a chance for salvation. That is good news. And that is part of the reason that I support the genuine Church of God which does understand that since God is a God of love that He does have a plan of salvation that includes babies and others who never really had an opportunity for salvation in this age.

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Thiel B., Ph.D. What is Limbo? Is There Such a Place as Limbo? What Happens to Babies When They Die? www.cogwriter.com/limbo.htm (c) 2009/2010/2011/2012/ 2015 1105

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