In Roman Catholic theology, Limbo (Latin limbus, edge or boundary, referring to the "edge" of Hell) is a hypothesis about the afterlife condition of those who die in original sin without being assigned to the Hell of the damned (gehenna). Limbo is not an official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church or any other. Medieval theologians described the underworld ("hell", "hades", "infernum") as divided into four distinct underworlds: hell of the damned (which some call gehenna), purgatory, limbo of the fathers, and limbo of infants.
The Limbo of the Fathers (limbus patrum) was the abode of people who, before Jesus' Resurrection, had died in the friendship of God, but had to wait for Christ to open heaven's gates. This concept of Limbo affirms that one can get into heaven only through Jesus Christ but does not portray Moses, etc., as being punished eternally in Hell.
Like other religious terms such as "Trinity", the term "Limbo" does not appear in the Bible. And like other religious concepts, that of the Limbo of the Patriarchs is not spelt out in Scripture, but is seen by some as implicit in various references. speaks of the "bosom of Abraham", which both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, following early Christian writers, understand as a temporary state of souls awaiting entrance into Heaven. The end of that state is set either at the resurrection of the dead, the most common interpretation in the East, or at the Harrowing of Hell, the most common interpretation in the West, but adopted also by some in the East.
Jesus told the Good Thief that the two of them would be together "this day" in "Paradise" (see also ); but between his Resurrection and Ascension, Jesus told his followers that he had "not yet ascended to the Father" (). A possible resolution of this apparent contradiction lies in the view that Jesus' statement to the thief can be understood in two ways, depending on where you place a comma (which was not present in the original manuscripts): either "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise" or "Truly I say to you today, you shall be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43, NASB). The latter interpretation would be consistent with Jesus' subsequent statement to his followers. By this reading, the good thief waited in Limbo until the Resurrection made it possible for him to enter heaven.
Jesus is also described as preaching to "the spirits in prison" (1 Pet 3:19). Medieval drama sometimes portrayed Christ leading a dramatic assault — The Harrowing of Hell — during the three days between the Crucifixion and the resurrection. In this assault, Jesus freed the souls of the just and escorted them triumphantly into heaven. This imagery is still used in the Eastern Orthodox Church's Holy Saturday liturgy (between Good Friday and Pascha) and in Eastern Orthodox icons of the Resurrection of Jesus.
The doctrine expressed by the term "Limbo of the Fathers" was taught, for instance, by Clement of Alexandria, who maintained: "It is not right that these should be condemned without trial, and that those alone who lived after the coming (of Christ) should have the advantage of the divine righteousness.
The fundamental importance, in Roman Catholic theology, of the sacrament of water baptism gives rise to the argument that, because original sin excludes from the beatific vision enjoyed by the souls in heaven, those who have not been freed from it either by the sacrament or by baptism of desire or baptism of blood are not eligible for entry into heaven.
The Council of North African bishops, including Augustine, held at Carthage in 418 did not explicitly endorse all aspects of Augustine's stern view about the destiny of infants who die without baptism, but the Latin Fathers of the fifth and sixth centuries did adopt his position, and it became a point of reference for Latin theologians in the Middle Ages.
If heaven is a state of supernatural happiness and union with God, and hell is understood as a state of torture and separation from God then, in this view, the Limbo of Infants, although technically part of hell (the outermost part, "limbo" meaning "outer edge" or "hem") is seen as a sort of intermediate state.
Saint Thomas Aquinas described the Limbo of Infants as an eternal state of natural joy, untempered by any sense of loss at how much greater their joy might have been had they been baptized. He argued that this was a reward of natural happiness for natural virtue; a reward of supernatural happiness for merely natural virtue would be inappropriate since, due to original sin, unbaptized children lack the necessary supernatural grace. In regards to baptism of desire, St Thomas Aquinas stated that only adults were capable of this, and this view seemed to be accepted by the Council of Florence, which quotes St Thomas Aquinas in its Eleventh Session concerning baptism of infants.
The Ecumenical Council of Florence (1442) spoke of baptism as necessary even for children and required that they be baptised soon after birth. This had earlier been affirmed at the local Council of Carthage in 417. The Council of Florence also stated that those who die in original sin alone go to hell. John Wycliffe's attack on the necessity of infant baptism was condemned by another general council, the Council of Constance. The Council of Trent in 1547 explicitly stated that baptism (or desire for baptism) was the means by which one is transferred "from that state wherein man is born a child of the first Adam, to the state of grace, and of the adoption of the sons of God, through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, our Saviour.
If adults could effectively be baptised through a desire for the sacrament when prevented from actually receiving it, some speculated that perhaps sacramentally unbaptised infants too might be saved by some waterless equivalent of ordinary baptism when prevented. Cajetan, a major 16th-century theologian, suggested that infants dying in the womb before birth, and so before ordinary sacramental baptism could be administered, might be saved through their mother's wish for their baptism. Thus, there was no clear consensus that the Council of Florence had excluded salvation of infants by such extra-sacramental equivalents of baptism.
Through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries individual theologians (Bianchi in 1768, H. Klee in 1835, Caron in 1855, H. Schell in 1893) continued to formulate theories of how children who died unbaptised might still be saved. By 1952 a theologian such as Ludwig Ott could, in a widely used and well-regarded manual, openly teach the possibility that children who die unbaptised might be saved for heaven — though he still represented their going to limbo as the commonly taught opinion. In its 1980 instruction on children's baptism the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirmed that "with regard to children who die without having received baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as indeed she does in the funeral rite established for them. And in 1984, when Joseph Ratzinger, then Cardinal Prefect of that Congregation, stated that, as a private theologian, he rejected the claim that children who die unbaptised cannot attain salvation, he was speaking for many academic theologians of his background and training.
Thus in 1992, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, while affirming that "the Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude", but also stating that "God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments", stated: "As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: 'Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,' allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.
On April 22, 2007, the advisory body known as the International Theological Commission released a document, originally commissioned by Pope John Paul II, entitled "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die without Being Baptized.
After tracing the history of the various opinions that have been and are held on the eternal fate of unbaptized infants, including that connected with the theory of the Limbo of Infants, and after examining the theological arguments, the document stated its conclusion as follows:
Pope Benedict XVI authorized publication of this document, indicating that it is considered consonant with the Church's teaching, though it is not an official expression of that teaching. Media reports that by the document "the Pope closed Limbo are thus without foundation. In fact, the document explicitly states that "the theory of limbo, understood as a state which includes the souls of infants who die subject to original sin and without baptism, and who, therefore, neither merit the beatific vision, nor yet are subjected to any punishment, because they are not guilty of any personal sin. This theory, elaborated by theologians beginning in the Middle Ages, never entered into the dogmatic definitions of the Magisterium, even if that same Magisterium did at times mention the theory in its ordinary teaching up until the Second Vatican Council. It remains therefore a possible theological hypothesis" (second preliminary paragraph); and in paragraph 41 it repeats that the theory of Limbo "remains a possible theological opinion". The document thus allows the hypothesis of a limbo of infants to be held as one of the existing theories about the fate of children who die without being baptised, a question on which there is "no explicit answer" from Scripture or tradition. These theories are not official teaching of the Catholic Church, but are only opinions that the Church does not condemn, permitting them to be held by its members.
Neither the Eastern Orthodox Church nor Protestantism accept the concept of a limbo of infants; but, while not using the expression "Limbo of the Patriarchs", the Eastern Orthodox Church lays much stress on the resurrected Christ's action of liberating Adam and Eve and other righteous figures of the Old Testament, such as Abraham and David, from Hades (see Harrowing of Hell).
One of Nobel Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney's best known works is entitled "Limbo". Rich with allusions to Christian teaching, the poem describes a mother drowning her illegitimate infant and its being netted by fishermen.
Eoin Colfer's book, Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony (The 5th book in the series), contains demons who escape from Limbo and mess with the other time periods. Another book of Colfer's, The Wish List has brief moments in which Limbo is mentioned.
A "legal limbo" may occur when varying laws or court rulings leave a person without recourse. For example, a person may earn "too much" to receive public assistance from the government, but not enough to actually pay for basic necessities. Likewise, various parties in a dispute may be pointing blame at each other, rather than fixing the problem, and leaving the person or group suffering from the problem to continue to suffer in limbo.
The Amstrad PCW's bundled word processing software, LocoScript, used the term "in limbo" to refer to files which had been deleted but which could still be restored, a concept similar to that later implemented by the Trash in the Apple Macintosh and the Recycle Bin in Microsoft Windows 95. On the PCW, the files "in limbo" were marked as belonging to CP/M Plus users 8 to 15. These files were deleted automatically when the space they occupied was needed. It could therefore be dangerous to access a disk containing files created with CP/M Plus using LocoScript, since LocoScript could decide to delete anything in users 8 to 15.
In the licensing of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs), properties registered under a previous scheme, but would not be licensable under mandatory arrangements, would go into a state of limbo when they expire, until the status of any potential additional licensing scheme is fully resolved.
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