Do Unbaptized Babies Go To Limbo?

St. Augustine of Canterbury

Limbo is a theory developed by Medieval theologians as the place where unbaptized persons go when they die. Limbo is not an official doctrine of the Catholic Church nor has it been rejected by the Church.

The quandary goes something like this. If we are born with original sin and an infant dies before baptism, will he or she go to hell?

This is an interesting quandary. We know that we are born with original sin. We also know that baptism is necessary for salvation. Through baptism the stain of original sin is removed and we are made children of God. Yet, if an infant with original sin dies, does he or she go to hell? Normally a person who dies with sin does not enter heaven. However, infants have no culpability in their sin; they have not committed personal sin. Original sin is inherited, it is not a choice made by the infant to turn away from God. Infants do not have the capability to choose to sin. Is it possible that God would send these innocent children to hell?

History of Limbo

In response to Pelagius (d. 425), who taught that the heresy that baptism is not necessary for salvation (called Pelagianism), St. Augustine (d. 430) contended that unbaptized children who die are condemned to hell, though they do not suffer all its pains because they are not guilty of personal sin.

Later theologians, in the Middle Ages, posited the existence of limbo as a way to soften the harshness of St. Augustine’s position. Unlike the state of quasi-hell posited by St. Augustine, these theologians defined limbo as a quasi-heaven, a place or state of where unbaptized persons enjoy a natural state of happiness yet remain excluded from the Beatific Vision. Some incorrectly identify this limbo with the hell of the Apostle’s Creed where, according to tradition, Christ spent the interval between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Limbo’s theological foundations are shaky at best. The Catholic Church teaches that God wants all people to be saved; God wills for all people to join him in heaven. We also know that God is merciful and that people can get to heaven who have not known Jesus through no fault of their own. Therefore, that souls who are denied the beatific vision and sent to a place that’s not quite heaven and not quite hell is incongruous with God’s universal salvific will and mercy.

While the church neither accepts nor condemns the teaching of limbo, it plays no role in contemporary Catholic theology. Modern theology and church practice stress the fundamental solidarity of redeemed humanity and God’s will that all are saved.

Comments

  1. Varon Cook says

    It’s a pity that hard hearted men would lay such claims at the feet of our benevolent God. Would a God of loving-kindness and tender mercies, towards sinful men who had no merit to deserve such grace, ever send an infant, or any child, to so foul a place as hell, which was reserved first for the angels who rebelled against God’s kingdom, and then for the men and women who rejected His Christ? It not only defies reason, but the heart of compassion rebels against it, and the Holy Spirit bears witness against it.

    Recall that Jesus said, “suffer the little children to come to me.”

    Christ’s ransom upon the cross paid for your sins, and for my sins, and the sins for all the world — but those who willfully refuse Christ are fit for only one destination — hell.

    Those who receive Christ, though we have sinned and been rebels at times, we are born again, made new creatures in Christ, a part of a holy priesthood, joint-heirs to the kingdom of God. The blood of Christ has covered our sins, and we are in Christ, and Christ in us.

    Little children occupy a special place in God’s heart. Recall that we are told that if we would see the kingdom of heaven we must become, how? We must become as little children! They don’t need to become as we are… sinners saved by grace, but we need to become as they are — the beloved and blameless children of God, who know only heaven as their future home.

  2. Danielmary Ridan says

    Sir Jon, I have read your articles concerning limbo and purgatory. Please I dont know if it pleases you for me to do an extract in the article and put them into writting, all my own is to see that i take the church to the highest level. Am By name bro. Daniel of age 16. Please looking forward for your reply sir

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