In early October 2006, the Roman pope cast aside centuries of Roman Catholic belief by formally abolishing the concept of “limbo”.
What exactly is “limbo”, in Roman Catholic teaching? There are two aspects to it. There is limbus infantium, the place where the souls of unbaptised children supposedly go; and limbus patrum, the place where the souls of the righteous who died before Christ came in the flesh supposedly went. The Bible makes it clear that there are only two places where souls go at death: the saved go to heaven, the lost to hell. Roman Catholicism, however, has spoken officially of three: heaven, hell, purgatory – and (unofficially) of a fourth: limbo. The word itself is derived from the Latin word limbus, meaning literally “hem” or “border” or “edge”, for limbo was supposed to be a place on the border or fringe of heaven and hell. It was supposedly a place of peace and happiness for infants who died unbaptised, but not a place of perfect happiness, for God was not there. Only heaven is such a place, and only those who are baptised could go there, it was taught. Babies, it was claimed, were incapable of committing a sin that would merit hell or require reparation in purgatory; but at the same time, because of the stain of original sin, they could not go to heaven and enjoy full communion with God. Limbo was Rome’s solution to this dilemma: a place that was not hell, yet also not quite heaven.
The old Roman Catholic catechism defined limbo as a place where those who are in it “do not have the joy of God but neither do they suffer… they do not deserve Paradise, but neither do they deserve Hell or Purgatory.”
Please note that what Rome calls “baptism” is not biblical baptism at all, for that is the full immersion of adult believers and nothing else; but hereafter in this article, the word will be applied to the Roman Catholic sacrament of what it calls “baptism”, without constant qualification, to avoid tedious repetition. The reader must understand that this is the only reason we are using the word in this sense.
The doctrine was adopted in the Middle Ages, but was never officially defined by the “Church”. And for some time now, the Roman Catholic institution has been uncomfortable with the teaching, and has been examining the possibility of changing it. Back in 2004 the Roman pontiff, John Paul II, said that what the “Church” of Rome believes about the fate of babies who die without being baptised was not an “isolated theological problem”, but one that touched belief about original sin, the importance of baptism, and God’s (supposed) desire to save all people. An international Vatican commission was appointed to look into the question of the fate of unbaptised infants who die; and the president of the commission was a cardinal named Joseph Ratzinger – who would become, not long afterwards, the present pope, Benedict XVI. Even before becoming pope, he was not in favour of the concept. He said back in 1985, “Limbo was never a defined truth of faith. Personally… I would abandon it, since it was only a theological hypothesis. It formed part of a secondary thesis in support of a truth which is absolutely of first significance for faith, namely, the importance of baptism.” However, “theological hypothesis” though it was, it was nevertheless taught to Roman Catholics worldwide for centuries, and believed.
And now this international Vatican commission of theologians has concluded that all children who die do so in the expectation of “the universal salvation of God” and the “mediation of Christ”, whether baptised or not. These “findings” were approved by Benedict XVI. The commission declared that God wished all souls to be saved, and that the souls of unbaptised children were entrusted to a “merciful God” whose ways of ensuring salvation could not be known. “In effect, this means that all children who die go to heaven,” one source said.
But where does this leave Rome’s heretical doctrine of “baptismal regeneration”? For if, as Benedict XVI said back in 1985, “[The concept of limbo] formed part of a secondary thesis in support of a truth which is absolutely of first significance for faith, namely, the importance of baptism”, then it must be asked: what importance does baptism now have, according to Rome? For baptism is believed by Rome to wash away sin, and make one a child of God, fit for heaven! It is one of the seven sacraments of Rome, and as such is believed to be essential for salvation! This is the official doctrine of Rome: “Baptism…is necessary for salvation”; “By the grace of the Holy Spirit received in baptism these [children] are made children of God”; “If anyone denies that the guilt of original sin is remitted by the grace… given in baptism, let him be anathema”; “If anyone says that baptism is optional, that is, not necessary for salvation, let him be anathema”. And the Trent Catechism stated: “Infants, unless regenerated unto God through the grace of baptism… are born to eternal misery and perdition.”