I admit it. I stand corrected on the definition of limbo.
This is me saying mea culpa.
I am eating a slice of humble pie.
I overstepped and misunderstood.
As so many tried to set me straight, I finally realized the error I made.
In my ignorance I got sloppy and failed to be precise in my language.
WHAT I GOT WRONG ABOUT THE DEFINITION OF LIMBO
Back on March 28, 2016 I published a blog post titled, “Where Do the Souls of Aborted Babies Go? The Answer Will Likely Surprise You.”
Within there, I made the mistake of claiming the Church has put forward the definition of limbo. In fact, I put in bold, capital letters “THE LIMBO OF THE CHILDREN IS A DOGMATIC TEACHING OF THE CHURCH.”
I admit now that was an error on my part.
Why was I wrong to say that? Well, quite simply, because it is not true, technically. Again, mea culpa. Please forgive me.
WHY WAS I WRONG?
What I misunderstood before but now better understand is the classification of doctrinal truths by their known certainty. Click here for a good explanation of the different levels by the blog, Ite Ad Thomam (‘Go to Thomas’).
I overstepped the certainty by which the actual, literal term “limbo” can be considered, at this time, to be certain.
WHAT I SHOULD HAVE SAID WAS “THE LIMBO OF THE CHILDREN IS AN INFALLIBLE TEACHING OF THE CHURCH”
What is the difference?
The definition of limbo has never been set in stone by the Church. I thought it has been, and again, I was wrong.
But that does not mean that we are free to believe unbaptized infants who die go to Heaven.
The extraordinary Magisterium of the Church defined infallibly the following: “Now, the souls of those who depart in mortal sin, or only with original sin, immediately descend into hell, but to be punished differently” (Pope Gregory X, 2nd Council of Lyons [Denzinger 464, cf. 858]).
What’s more, the Magisterium spoke again, infallibly defining and affirming this same teaching at the Council of Florence (Pope Eugenius IV [Denzinger 693, cf. 1306]).
As well, the Council of Trent infallibly taught “If anyone says that baptism is optional, that is, not necessary for salvation, let him be anathema” (Denzinger 861, cf. 1618).
Since babies who die by abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, etc. are not baptized, they die in original sin only. Therefore, they are not able to live in Heaven; they are left missing the Beatific Vision.
But these souls have never committed an actual sin against God. Thus, they do not merit being punished in the same way as souls do who have offended God in this way. Thus, they do not receive the same fate as those who burn in Gehenna, the hottest, worst part of hell, as Popes Gregory X and Eugenius IV defined.
There must be a separate, final resting place for these children outside of Heaven and outside Gehenna. We call this area the limbo of the children.
THE DEFINITION OF LIMBO HAS YET TO BE GIVEN
The Church has yet to formally provide the definition of limbo.
Still, there has been a historical consensus by the extraordinary Magisterium of the Church, the ordinary Magisterium of the Church, the Church Fathers, the theologians, and the faithful that some place like limbo must exist. And babies really do go there, out of God’s mercy.
I had the mistaken notion that because the Church defined infallibly that those who die in original sin only are sent to hell that was the equivalent to limbo having been defined.
It is a two-step process. Yes, it has been infallibly defined that those who die in original sin only go to hell, but suffer different punishments than those guilty of actual sin against God. But no, it is not infallibly defined as to what these persons experience.
WHY HAS THE DEFINITION OF LIMBO NOT BEEN GIVEN?
Historically, whether these souls go to hell has not been disputed. The dispute has remained focused on what these souls experience in this alternate place in hell.
Some (such as St. Augustine) held these souls suffered a pain of the senses. (I have heard he backed off that stance toward the end of his life.) While others (such as St. Thomas Aquinas) held that these souls did not suffer such pain.
What, if anything, these souls suffer remains in the realm of debatable topics. Thus, while limbo remains an infallible doctrine, it is not a defined doctrine.
I will let St. Augustine, a Doctor of the Church, wrap up this article for me with a powerful quote. I am choosing this for two reasons.
One, even after reading this, some will still claim Catholics are free to disbelieve that babies are surely saved to Heaven, who die without being baptized. And two, some out there have claimed the early Church had nothing to say about the fate of unbaptized, deceased children. Notice St. Augustine ties this teaching back to the apostles themselves.
“Whosoever says that those children who depart out of this life without partaking of that sacrament shall be made alive in Christ, certainly contradicts the apostolic declaration, and condemns the universal Church, in which it is the practice to lose no time and run in haste to administer baptism to infant children, because it is believed, as an indubitable truth, that otherwise they cannot be made alive in Christ.
“Now he that is not made alive in Christ must necessarily remain under the condemnation, of which the apostle says, that ‘by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation. That infants are born under the guilt of this offense is believed by the whole Church’” –St. Augustine (Letter 166.7/21, emphasis added).
Okay, I imagine people will want to weigh in on this once again.
Do you understand the mistake I made in thinking on the definition of limbo?
Feel free to leave a charitable comment below.