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Limbo

Catholic statements about the fate of unbaptized
newborns, infants, etc.,
during the 21st Century

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Recent developments about Limbo:

bulletCirca 2004: In an article on 2005-NOV-30, the Scotsman newspaper states that Pope John Paul II had written:

"The Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God. In fact the great mercy of God, who wants all men to be saved, and the tenderness of Jesus towards children allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who die without baptism." 1

bulletWeek of 2005-NOV-27: An international commission of Catholic theologians met in the Vatican to discuss the Church's stance on Limbo and on the fate of unbaptized infants. They were expected to recommend to the pope that Limbo should be definitively abandoned by the Church, in favor of the belief that pre-embryos, embryos, fetuses, and unbaptized babies who die will go directly to heaven. 1

bullet2005-NOV-29: John Haldane is a professor of philosophy at St Andrews University in Scotland. He is also a consulter to the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Culture. According to the Scotsman newspaper:

"He said that the issue of limbo was 'something of a medieval curiosity' that no longer preoccupies people. He said that the reason the Catholic Church was clarifying its position was that people still wrongly perceived heaven as a place and not as a state of being.

"The idea of limbo conjures up the image of God as some kind of government bureaucrat who says to people, not just babies, 'Sorry, you don't have your passport stamped with baptism, you'll have to wait over there'."

"Instead, God's powers are such that He can overcome the issue of Original Sin as He chooses, according to special circumstances." 1

Judging from the numbers of distressed parents and family members who send us Emails concerning the state of their deceased infants, the issue of limbo is far more than a "medieval curiosity" among the Catholic laity. The lack of a clear statement by the church appears to have caused incredible levels of anxiety among devout Catholic parents for millennia without any resolution.

bullet2007-APR-19: The Church's International Theological Commission finally issued its long-awaited report on the status of embryos, fetuses and newborns who die without having been baptized. The 41 page document is titled: "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised." It says that the study was made in part because of "the pressing pastoral needs" caused by the increase in the numbers of abortions and the growing number of children who die before being baptized." Pope Benedict XVI has approved the report. The Rev. Luis Ladaria, a Jesuit who is the secretary-general of the Commission said "We can say we have many reasons to hope that there is salvation for these babies." He said that we cannot know their fate with any certainty because Scripture is largely silent on the matter.

The report itself stated that there were:

"... serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and brought into eternal happiness [with God in Heaven]. ...these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge."

The report noted that:

"People find it increasingly difficult to accept that God is just and merciful if he excludes infants, who have no personal sins, from eternal happiness, whether they are Christian or non-Christian."

It stressed that its conclusions should not be interpreted as questioning original sin, or "used to negate the necessity of baptism or delay the conferral of the sacrament." It urges that parents should have their children baptized because this sacrament is the way that salvation is revealed. 4,5

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Protestant belief about Limbo

To our knowledge, no Protestant or Eastern Orthodox denomination accepts the concept of Limbo. None even offers it as a possibility. They believe that the souls of babies who die before baptism, and some others, are immediately translated to the presence of God.

At the time of the Reformation, John Calvin (1509 - 1564) rejected Limbo. He based his beliefs on the principle of Predestination. He believed that God decides in advance which individuals will be eternally saved and which will be eternally lost. This would be true not only for adults but also for infants and children who had died before reaching the age of accountability: some would go to be eternally tortured in Hell while others would go to Heaven.

Ulrich Zwingli (1484 - 1531) disagreed. He was opposed to the concept of the "necessity of baptism to infant salvation." With unusual generosity, he taught that "all elect children who die in infancy are saved whether they are baptized or not, whether pagan or Christian."

The Westminster Confession (Chapter X, Section 3) states "Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ." 2 This seems to imply that there are elect infants who go to Heaven and unelect who go to Hell. The Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. cleared up this confusion among its members by issuing a Declaratory Statement in 1903 which stated, in part,: "We believe that all dying in infancy are included in the election of grace, and are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who works when and where and how He pleases."

Other Protestant leaders agree with the Presbyterian position:

bulletPresbyterian Charles Hodge, 19th century preacher and author of Systematic Theology : "The common doctrine of evangelical Protestants is...all who die in infancy are saved."
 
bulletPresbyterian Lewis Chafer: "It may be definitely asserted...that infants who die before accountability begins are saved."

bulletBaptist William L. Pettingill: "I am convinced that unaccountable children are saved by the blood of Christ"

bulletBrethrenite Harry Ironside: "Little ones who die go to be with Christ."

bulletIndependent M. R. DeHaan: "Little children who die in infancy are [never] lost." 3

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Site navigation:

 Home > Christianity > History, beliefs... > Specific beliefs > Afterlife > Limbo > here

Home > Christianity > Bible > Contents > Afterlife > Limbo > here

Home > Christianity > Christian groups > Sorting groups > Meta groups > Catholic > Limbo > here

Home > Christianity > Christian groups > Sorting groups > Denominations > Catholic > Limbo > here

or Home > Christianity > Christian groups > Sorting groups > Families > Catholic  here

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References used:

  1. Stephen McGinty, "Pope to abandon idea of unbaptised babies forever in limbo," The Scotsman, 2005-NOV-30, at: http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/
  2. Fr. W.P. Saunders, "Whatever append to Limbo?," at: http://www.stmarynewlondon.org/wwwboard
  3. Jerry Priest, "Did my baby go to heaven?," at: http://www.bju.edu/faith/vol4num5/baby.html
  4. Nichole Winfield," Pope revised doctrine on limbo," Associated Press, 2007-APR-21, at: http://www.thestar.com/
  5. "Catholic Church buries limbo after centuries," Reuters, 2007-APR-20, at: http://www.religionnewsblog.com/

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Copyright 1999 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-DEC-19
Latest update: 2010-DEC-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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