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.