This post is a continuation of my series attempting to answer what happens to unbaptized babies when they die.
My hope is that upon learning the truth of the answer, we will understand the urgency of the pro-life movement.
My most-recent post gave a succinct explanation of the limbo of the children. After all, what happens to unbaptized babies when they die is that they go to limbo.
I explained in that recent post that the word ‘limbo’ comes from the Latin word limbus, meaning ‘edge’ or ‘border.’ Children who go are deprived the beatific vision, since they are not baptized and forgiven original sin, go to this place of limbo, on the edge of hell. However, there they do not suffer the torments of hellfire, since they did not willfully sin against our Lord. They live on in perpetual, perfect, natural happiness.
In the prior post I also quoted two ecumenical Church councils who declared infallibly that those who die in original sin go to hell. Yet, they receive a different punishment than those who die in mortal sin, for the latter will burn forever in hellfire.
INFALLIBLE TEACHING OF THE CHURCH
Below are three quotes from Denzinger’s Sources of Catholic Dogma, a compilation of the inerrant truths of the Catholic Church. Among these remains the existence of limbo of the children.
The first two quotes are from two ecumenical Church councils. These alone should shut the door on any debate whether the limbo of the children exists and if God sends souls there.
Pope Gregory X:
“The souls of those who die in mortal sin or with original sin only… immediately descend into Hell, yet to be punished with different punishments” (a declaration at the Second Council of Lyon, Profession of Faith for Michael Paleologus, 1274) (Denzinger 464).
Pope Eugene IV:
“Moreover, the souls of those who depart in actual mortal sin or in original sin only, descend immediately into hell but to undergo punishments of different kinds” (his decree from the Ecumenical Council of Florence, Laetentur Caeli [Decree for the Greeks], July 6, 1439) (Denzinger 693).
We see here souls do go to hell, who die unbaptized and before the age of reason. These souls die in original sin only. These would include children who die from surgical abortion, abortifacient contraception, miscarriage, stillbirths, infant mortality, and who die before the age of reason (generally seven years old).
It is true these pronouncements do not say the word ‘limbo,’ but this does not deny the truth in their statements. The word ‘Trinity’ is not in Scripture, but we know its truthfulness nonetheless.
Here are more quotes from Denzinger:
Pope St. John XXII:
“The Roman Church teaches… that souls of those who depart in mortal sin or with only original sin descend immediately to hell, nevertheless to be punished with different punishments and in disparate locations” (Nequaquam sine dolore [Letter to the Armenians], November 21, 1321) (Denzinger 493a).
Pope Pius VI:
“The doctrine which rejects as a Pelagian fable that place of the lower regions (which the faithful generally designate by the name of limbo of the children) in which the souls of those departing with the sole guilt of original sin are punished with the punishment of the condemned, exclusive of the punishment of fire… is false, rash, injurious to Catholic schools” (Auctorem Fidei, August 28, 1794) (Denzinger 1526).
(In other words, Pope Pius VI condemned the belief that the teaching of the limbo of the children was mere myth.)
(Another quote from Denzinger is found below, by Pope Innocent III.)
MORE SAINTS WHO TAUGHT THE LIMBO OF THE CHILDREN
What happens to unbaptized babies when they die? According to no less than these saints, including Doctors of the Church and popes, they go to limbo.
St. Augustine of Hippo, Father and Doctor of the Church:
“Likewise, 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’ [Romans 5:18]. That infants are born under the guilt of this offense is believed by the whole Church” (A Treatise on the Origin of the Human Soul, Addressed to Jerome, Ch 7, #21).
“If you want to be a Catholic, do not believe, do not say, and do not teach that infants carried off by death before they are baptized can attain the remission of original sin.” (On the Soul and its Origin Book II, AD 419).
“Even an infant, therefore, must be imbued with the sacrament of regeneration, lest without it his would be an unhappy exit out of this life; and this baptism is not administered except for the remission of sins. And so much does Christ show us in this very passage; for when asked, How could such things be? He reminded His questioner of what Moses did when he lifted up the serpent. Inasmuch, then, as infants are by the sacrament of baptism conformed to the death of Christ, it must be admitted that they are also freed from the serpent’s poisonous bite, unless we wilfully wander from the rule of the Christian faith. This bite, however, they did not receive in their own actual life, but in him on whom the wound was primarily inflicted” (De peccatorum meritis [On the Merits and the Forgiveness of Sins, and the Baptism of Infants] (Book II), Ch 43, XXVII).
“Because even renewed parents beget children, not out of the first-fruits of their renewed condition, but carnally out of the remains of the old nature; and the children who are thus the offspring of their parents’ remaining old nature, and are born in sinful flesh, escape from the condemnation which is due to the old man by the sacrament of spiritual regeneration and renewal” (De peccatorum meritis [On the Merits and the Forgiveness of Sins, and the Baptism of Infants] (Book II), Ch 44, XXVII).
St. Augustine believed, although these infants are punished in hell, they will suffer only the “mildest condemnation” (“mitissima poena”)
(Enchiridion ad Laurentium 93 (PL 40, 275); cf. De pecc. mer. 1.16.21 (CSEL 60, 20f.)).
Other citations of Augustine teaching that limbo does exist: Cf. De pecc. mer. 1.16.21 (CSEL 60, 20f.); Contra Iulianum 5.11.44 (PL 44, 809).
“Why are little children brought to the baptismal font, especially infants in danger of death, if not to assure them entrance into the Kingdom of God? Why are they subjected to exorcisms and exsufflations if they do not have to be delivered from the devil? Why are they born again if they do not need to be made new?… ‘Why did Christ die for them if they are not guilty?’” (De pecc. mer. 1.34.63 (CSEL 60, 63f.) and the quote: “Cur ergo pro illis Christus mortuus est si non sunt rei?” in De nupt. et conc. 2:33.56 (CSEL 42, 513)).
There is no “middle ground” between heaven and hell. “There is no middle place left, where you can put babies” (Sermo 294.3 (PL 38, 1337)).
As well, the Latin Fathers, St. Jerome, St. Fulgentius, St. Avitus of Vienne, and St. Gregory the Great all adopted St. Augustine’s opinion.
Popes Paul III, Benedict XIV, and Clement XIII
They all defended St. Augustine’s opinion, as well (cf. Paul III: “Alias cum felicitate” (23 September 1535), in Jo. Laurentii Florentini, Opus de theologicis disciplinis, Venetiis: Ex Typographia Remondiniana, 1760, vol. V, 36; Paul III, “Cum alias quorumdam” (11 March 1538), in ibid., vol. I, 167-68; Benedict XIV: “Dum praeterito mense” (31 July 1748), “Non sine magno” (30 December 1750), “Sotto il 15 di luglio” (12 May 1751), in Benedicti XIV Acta sive nondum sive sparsim edita nunc autem primum collecta cura Raphaelis de Martinis, Neapoli, Ex Typogr. Puerorum Artificium, 1894, vol. I, 554-57; vol. II, 74, 412-413. For other texts and references, see G.J. Dyer, The Denial of Limbo and the Jansenist Controversy, Mundelein, IL: Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary, 1955, 139-59; see especially on pp, 139-142, the account of the discussions under Clement XIII in 1758 – 1759, according to the manuscript 1485 of the Biblioteca Corsiniana, Rome, classification mark 41.C.15 (“Cause trattate nella S. C. del Sant`Uffizio di Roma dal 1733 al 1761”).
St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church:
“I answer that, Unbaptized children are not detained in limbo save because they lack the state of grace” (STh Supp, q 71, A7, co.).
“I answer that, The limbo of the Fathers and the limbo of children, without any doubt, differ as to the quality of punishment or reward. For children have no hope of the blessed life, as the Fathers in limbo had, in whom, moreover, shone forth the light of faith and grace. But as regards their situation, there is reason to believe that the place of both is the same; except that the limbo of the Fathers is placed higher than the limbo of children, just as we have stated in reference to limbo and hell” (STh Supp, q 69, A6, co.).
“On the other hand, in children there is an obstacle both on the part of the person and on the part of nature: and for this reason different abodes are appointed to the Fathers and to children” (STh Supp, q 69, A6, a1).
“I answer that, In this matter we must make a distinction and see whether those who are to be baptized are children or adults. For if they be children, Baptism should not be deferred. First, because in them we do not look for better instruction or fuller conversion. Secondly, because of the danger of death, for no other remedy is available for them besides the sacrament of Baptism” (STh III, q 68, A 3, co.).
“By Baptism a man is ordained to the Eucharist, and therefore from the fact of children being baptized, they are destined by the Church to the Eucharist; and just as they believe through the Church’s faith, so they desire the Eucharist through the Church’s intention, and, as a result, receive its reality. But they are not disposed for Baptism by any previous sacrament, and consequently before receiving Baptism, in no way have they Baptism in desire; but adults alone have: consequently, they cannot have the reality of the sacrament without receiving the sacrament itself” (STh III, q 73 A 3, co.).
Children in limbo suffer no pain in limbo, since they committed no personal offense against God (II Sent., dist. 33, q. 2, a. 2; De malo, q. 5, a. 3).
Pope Pius XII:
“All that we have said about the protection and care of natural life is with even greater reason true of the supernatural life, which the newborn child receives with baptism. In the present dispensation there is no other means of communicating this life to the child, who has not yet the use of reason. And yet the state of grace is absolutely necessary for salvation: without it supernatural happiness, the beatific vision of God, cannot be attained. In an adult an act of love may suffice to obtain him sanctifying grace and so supply for the lack of baptism; to the child still unborn, or newly born, this way is not open. If therefore we remember that charity towards our neighbor obliges us to assist him in case of necessity; that this obligation is graver and more urgent according to the greatness of the good to be procured or the evil to be avoided, and according to the inability of the needy one to help himself; then it is easy to understand the importance of providing for the baptism of a child, devoid of the use of reason and in grave danger or even certainty of death” (Congress of the Italian Catholic Association of Midwives, October 29, 1951).
“…an act of love can suffice for an adult to acquire sanctifying grace and supply for the lack of baptism; to the unborn or newly born infant, this way is not open” (Acta Apostolicae Sedis, XLIII, 84).
Pope Martin V:
“Condemning the articles of John Wyclif – Proposition 6: ‘Those who claim that the children of the faithful dying without sacramental baptism will not be saved, are stupid and presumptuous in saying this.’ – Condemned” (at the Council of Constance (Session 15, July 6, 1415)).
(In other words, Pope Martin V condemned the statement made by John Wyclif that those who believed in limbo are ‘stupid and presumptuous.’)
“Who will not detest such an abhorrent and evil act, by which are lost not only the bodies but also the souls?” (Apostolic Constitution Effraenatam (against abortionists), October 29, 1588).
St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church:
“The common teaching of the scholastic theologians is that within the earth there are four inner chambers: one for the damned, another for those being purged of sin, a third for those infants who have died without receiving Baptism, and a fourth which is now empty but once held those just men who died before the passion of Christ” (Controv. De Amissione Gratia et Statu Peccati, vi, 1).
He also agreed with St. Augustine’s view on the pain experienced by the children in limbo (De amissione gratiae VI, c.2 and c.6, in Opera, vol. 5, Paris: Vivès, 1873, 458, 470).
St. Gregory of Nazianzus:
“It will happen, I believe… that those last mentioned [infants dying without Baptism] will neither be admitted by the just judge to the glory of Heaven nor condemned to suffer punishment, since, though unsealed [by Baptism], they are not wicked… For from the fact that one does not merit punishment it does not follow that one is worthy to be honored, any more than it follows that one who is not worthy of a certain honor deserves on that account to be punished” (Oration on Holy Baptism, 40:23).
St. Anselm of Canterbury:
He taught little children who die without Baptism are damned on account of original sin and in keeping with God’s justice (Cf. De conceptu virginali et de originali peccato, F.S. SCHMITT (ed.), t. II, cap. 28, 170-171).
“Children in limbo, he said, enjoy a perfect balance between their knowledge and their desires, thanks to the good offices of their Creator. Since grief would imply a lack of balance, it can have no part in the lives of these children. These children stand midway between the blessed and the damned, and so they share something of each state of life. Like the damned they are exiles from heaven; like the blessed, they know no grief” (George J. Dyer, STD, Limbo: Unsettled Question, II Sent., d. 33, a. 3, q. 2).
“Duns Scotus, another remarkable Franciscan, was a bit more subtle in his approach to the problem. Children, he said, die in a state of personal innocence; by divine decree they will remain so for eternity. Were they to grieve over their loss of heaven, they would lose their innocence either by murmuring against God or by sinking into despair. This is clearly impossible. Since they died without personal fault they will remain so for eternity. Therefore there can be no unhappiness among them over what they are or what they have lost” (George J. Dyer, STD, Limbo: Unsettled Question, II Sent., d. 33, q. 1, cf. Lectura II, dist. 33, q. un.; Ordinatio II, dist. 33, q. un.).
Pope St. Innocent I
“But that which Your Fraternity asserts the Pelagians preach, that even without the grace of Baptism infants are able to be endowed with the rewards of eternal life, is quite idiotic… But those who defend this for them without rebirth seem to me to want to quash Baptism itself, when they preach that infants already have what is believed to be conferred on them only through Baptism” (Synod of Milevis, 417).
Pope Innocent III:
“Those dying with only Original Sin on their souls will suffer ‘no other pain, whether from material fire or from the worm of conscience, except the pain of being deprived forever of the vision of God’ (Corp. Juris, Decret. l. III, tit. xlii, c. iii — Majores).
“The punishment of original sin is deprivation of the vision of God, but the punishment of actual sin is the torments of everlasting hell…” (From the letter “Ex parte tua” to Andrew, the Archbishop of Lyons, Jan. 12, 1206) (Denzinger 410).
Pope Gregory the Great:
In his Moralia on the Book of Job, he taught infants are subject to the pains of hell: “For there be some that are withdrawn from the present light, before they attain to shew forth the good or evil deserts of an active life. And whereas the Sacraments of salvation do not free them from the sin of their birth, at the same time that here they never did aright by their own act; there they are brought to torment. And these have one wound, viz. to be born in corruption, and another, to die in the flesh… As if reviewing the woes of mankind he said in plain words; With what sort of visitation does the strict Judge mercilessly slay those, whom the guilt of their own deeds condemns, if He smites for all eternity even those, whom the guilt of deliberate choice does not impeach?” (Moralia 9).
St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church:
“We see sometimes twins, of whom one is born alive and receives Baptism, the other in his birth loses his temporal life, before being regenerated to the eternal, and consequently the one is heir of heaven, the other is deprived of the inheritance” (Ch 7, Book IV of Treatise on the Love of God).
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church:
“Woe also, though in a less terrible degree, to those who, having been born children of wrath, have not awaited the obtaining of the New Birth by grace. For having died in the same state in which they were born, children of wrath they shall remain. I say ‘of wrath,’ not ‘of fierce anger,’ because it is most piously believed, and the hopes and sympathies of humanity lead us to expect, that their penalties are of a far milder kind, since the infection of nature in them comes wholly from others” (Sermon LXIX of Sermons on the Song of Songs).
“Baptism is given for the remission of sins; and according to the usage of the Church, Baptism is given even to infants. And indeed, if there were nothing in infants that required the remission of sins and nothing in them pertinent to forgiveness, the grace of Baptism would be superfluous” (Homily on Leviticus 8:3).
To me, I don’t see how anyone can argue anything other than to affirm the infallible teaching of the limbo of the children.
You have two Church Councils affirming it. Doctors of the Church teaching it as well, including Sts. Thomas Aquinas and Augustine. Open and shut case, as far as I am concerned.
That said, I intend for my next post to be a rebuttal of common counterarguments to the infallible teaching of limbo.
Were you aware the Church has taught so definitively as to what happens to unbaptized babies when they die?
Feel free to leave a comment below, if you desire.