Thursday, November 7, 2013


The theory of limbo is not ruled out, says a member of the International Theological Commission, commenting on a study from the panel.

Sister Sara Butler, a Missionary Servant of the Most Blessed Trinity, has served on the commission since 2004. The commission is an advisory body comprised of 30 theologians chosen by the Pope. Its documents are not considered official expressions of the magisterium, but the commission does help the Holy See to examine important doctrinal issues.

On April 20, (2005)the commission released a document, commissioned under Pope John Paul II, called "The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized." Benedict XVI approved it for publication.

In an interview with Inside the Vatican magazine, Sister Butler, who teaches dogmatic theology at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, New York, says "the report concludes that limbo remains a 'possible theological opinion.' Anyone who wants to defend it is free to do so. This document, however, tries to give a theological rationale for hoping that unbaptized infants may be saved." 

"The [International Theological Commission] wants to give more weight to God's universal salvific will and to solidarity in Christ than to the necessity of baptism, which is not absolute but is qualified in certain ways," she said.

Principles of faith

Sister Butler cited No. 41 of the document: "[B]esides the theory of limbo — which remains a possible theological option — there can be other ways to integrate and safeguard the principles of faith outlined in Scripture." 

She added: "The commission is trying to say what the Catechism of the Catholic Church — Nos. 1260, 1261, 1283 — has already said: that we have a right to hope that God will find a way to offer the grace of Christ to infants who have no opportunity for making a personal choice with regard to their salvation."

The document "is trying to provide a theological rationale for what has already been proposed in several magisterial documents since the council," Sister Butler said. "Generally, the [commission] documents offer a point of reference for bishops and theology professors in seminaries, for example, to offer an explanation for the development of doctrine.

"But I doubt whether this would lead to a further statement from the magisterium, because it says no more than what has already been said in the [Catechism], in the funeral rites for infants who have died without baptism in the 1970 Roman Missal, and in 'Pastoralis Actio' — the document from 1980 from the [Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith] on the baptism of infants.

"It says nothing new; it is simply trying to make explicit the theological grounding for this hope. 'Gaudium et Spes,' 22, and 'Lumen Gentium,' 14 and 16, at the Second Vatican Council, opened the way for this development. Actually, some wanted the teaching on limbo formally defined at the council, but the topic was excluded from the agenda."

Extra-sacramental gift

The theological commission's document, she said, "just indicates that given our understanding of God's mercy and the plan of salvation which includes Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit in the Church, we dare to hope that these infants will be saved by some extra-sacramental gift of Christ."

"We do not know what the destiny of these children is," she said, "but we have grounds for hope."

Sister Butler spoke of the plight of aborted babies.

"I'm sure we never considered suggesting that these infants be declared martyrs," she said. "We were, of course, aware that in many places Catholics remember the unborn babies who have been aborted on the feast of the Holy Innocents. We didn't propose a solution."

She added: "In this particular instance, death is the way these children might be united with Christ: Through the violent circumstances of their deaths, they may be united to his paschal mystery.

"The Council explicitly taught that God provides a way of salvation for those who are invincibly ignorant of the Gospel and therefore have no access to sacramental baptism.

"The [commission] report extends the logic of this teaching to infants. We suggest that the Holy Spirit offers to them, in a way known to God, the possibility of being made partakers in the paschal mystery."

Sister Butler nevertheless warned that "the ordinary means of salvation is baptism, and that infants should be baptized; Catholic parents have a serious obligation."

"God is not bound to the sacraments," she said, "and therefore, just as we understand there are other possible ways for adults who are in invincible ignorance of the Gospel to achieve salvation, so we presume there are other ways, known to God, open to infants who unfortunately die without baptism." ZE07050301


Anonymous said...

Did I open a can of worms?

George said...

Our Merciful and Just God can always be counted on to bring all things to a just resolution. Were not the righteous people of the Old Testament,though unbaptized, saved through the merits of Christ's redemptive suffering and death? The Good Lord
does not impose obligations on those who are, through no fault of their own, denied the means to grace.

St Therese of Lisieux:

“In this world ,it is rare to find souls that do not measure God’s omnipotence by their own
narrow thoughts. The world is always ready to admit exceptions. Only God is denied that

Gene said...

As the Sister said, God is not limited by either the Sacraments or the Doctrines of the Church. We see through a glass darkly.

qwikness said...

We should consider babies Baptised by Intention. What about Limbo though, isn't it what the Easterns call Hades? Its my understanding this Abode of the Dead closed after Jesus freed the prisoners. So did Purgatory open up when Limbo was closed? Or is Purgatory a sanctification stage within Limbo?

Gene said...

qwikness, You sure ask a lot of questions…LOL!

Pater Ignotus said...

Purgatory is that moment when, at death, we stand before the perfection of God and recall and become painfully aware of the imperfection (sins) of our lives on earth.

In that moment we become joyfully aware of the saving grace of Jesus which washes us of any stain of sin and frees us from any attachment to or desire for sin.

At that moment we are filled with the perfect love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and take our place at the banquet table of heaven.

Henry said...

Limbo is a part of Hell, in that those there have no hope of Heaven.

Purgatory is the opposite, veritably an anteroom of Heaven, in that those there have the promise and indeed the certainty of Heaven.

In short, limbo and purgatory have nothing whatever to do with each other.

Gene said...

I thought Florida was Heaven's waiting room...

qwikness said...

My understanding is that there is a Limbo of the Infants and Limbo of the Patriarchs. The Limbo for Patriarchs was closed when Jesus conquered Death. Purgatory is a Sanctifying state, but not a place, which ultimately leads to Heaven. The "anteroom of Heaven." But if its a state and outside of Heaven and not in Hell, can this be called Limbo or Hades or Abraham's Bosom?

Gene said...

Limbo is theologically unnecessary, plus it confuses the faithful and raises false questions. Let's leave it as a ridiculous sixties dance craze...

Jacob said...

Glad you brough this up Father. Here at my FSSP parish, Limbo is taught to the CCD classes and preached by the priests. It is believed by the parishioners and it is why we are so very much against abortion because the children are murdered without baptism and deprived of heaven.

qwikness said...

I think it maybe ecumenically helpful. If Limbo as a place is translated to non-catholics as Abraham's bosom or Hades or the Abode. Then what takes place there such as a foretaste or purging may be better understood as the final stage of Sanctification or Final Theosis.

Gene said...

Protestants already laugh at Purgatory and Limbo. There is no appeal for prots in either concept. As hundreds of protestant sermons are entitled, "Heaven or Hell, Which Will It Be?" That's All Folks!"

Pater Ignotus said...

If an FSSP priest, or anyone for that matter, presents Limbo as more than a possible theological opinion or as a part of the Church's Traditional magisterium, then that person is in error.

Again, it is as important to know what the Church does not teach as to know what the Church does teach.

Gene said...

Ignotus is correct. Limbo is not dogma. It is merely speculation. To teach it as a part of the Magisterium opens the door to all kinds of error.