The Controversial Concept of Limbo in Christian Theology

Limbo as stated in Catholicism is a place for those who died deserving neither the nor the punishment of hell. These souls include the righteous before the coming of Christ, unbaptized babies, and some children who are held be victims of original but not guilty of actual sins committed themselves.

There are indications that the theological concept of Limbo, a place of perfect happiness, was put forth by the Roman Catholic Church mainly to soften the harshness of St. Augustine’s pronouncement that dying unbaptized infants went to hell (see Great Myth: Original Sin). Over centuries this concept has raised much controversy among the church doctors and scholars.

Although the Jews made no direct reference to Limbo there are reference to an abode for the dead particularly in the Catholic tradition such as the banquet of AbrahamIsaac (Matt. 8:11), and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (cf. Luke 8:29; 14:15), the marriage feast where the prudent virgins were admitted (Matt. 25:10), and Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22).

An objective observer might quickly point out that such designations resemble Hades, sometimes described as a dreary place for the dead. Paul said that before ascending into heaven Christ visited lower parts, or regions, of the earth. Peter was more explicit when saying that Christ visited souls in prison, which some interpret as meaning waiting on God. These latter two inferences also suggest pre-Christian references to abodes for the dead.

Although there is no clear Biblical statement regarding righteous souls residing in a state of perfect happiness the Church has referred to Peter’s mentioning of Christ’s words to the good thief on the cross and to the parable of Lazarus, implying their condition was one of happiness.

This too is the similar Catholic theological position concerning the righteous dying before Christ, they too waited his ascension. Also an unbaptized infant does not deserve punishment just he is afflicted by original sin, but neither does he deserve the honor of being a child of God and seeing the Beatific vision which baptism gives him.

The Church adopted the opinion that those dying with only original sin on their souls would suffer no torment but would be deprived forever of the vision of God, which implied a spiritual torment. Thomas Aquinas disagreed with this saying that original sin removed none of the human facilities, only spiritual ones, therefore, those dying only with it upon their souls should experience only natural happiness, no torment.

Augustine continued arguing that there was no justification for this, unbaptized infants deserved hell because of original sin and had no right to stay in a state of natural happiness. Many authorities sided with him, particularly those who believed original sin as effecting more than spiritual facilities, but natural ones as well.

But more like Thomas Aquinas, took a milder approach. It was thought one, and an important, reason for Augustine’s hard line approach was his battle against Pelagianism with its teaching that good men could saved themselves without baptism and the grace of Christ, the latter just help men toward salvation. Although Augustine had a fair share of followers even some in the Reformation including the Calvanists and the Jansenists.

In the prevailing centuries this dispute had prevailed. Currently the theological concept of limbo, or more exactly a child’s limbo, is held. It is said those dying with original sin upon their souls descend into hell, but this merely means they are forever excluded from the vision of God, being condemned for not reaching their supernatural destiny.

This definition was reached at the Council of Florence (1431) and met the dogmatic requirement. It does not deny the possibility of the souls experiencing subjective happiness. Some thought that no harsher view could be reconciled in consideration of God’s justice and other attributes.

An objective viewer would at first say such a prospective of Limbo is only considered from God’s viewpoint, but upon reexamining the prospective he realizes that this is not true since it conflicts with other Biblical and theological statements.

The soul is thought to empower animation of the body. The idea of the soul coming from God is derived from Judaism when God is said to have breathed soul into Adam, and after death it would leave the body until finally being reunited at resurrection, this refers to resurrection of the body in regards to eternal life. At this point Judaism specifies nothing concerning salvation.

The Kabbalists taught that the soul was a divine entity evolving downward to enter the body. Its origins were of divine emanations with its final objective to return to the world of the Sephiroth.

Christianity also regards the soul as the animation of the body, a soulless body being lifeless. A soulless body is like a knife inanimately in a drawer, its cutting potential is only invoked when the human hand moves it.

Likewise, the potential of the soulless body is invoked when God inserts the soul. Biblical, theological, or not, most Christians and others believe the soul comes from God, a part or an attribute of him as being the author of life. It is only Christians that say God will not receive back that soul unless it has been baptized, sprinkled or dunked. The soul supposedly is a divine attribute, part of God, given by him, and not wanted back?

In an about face, Christians seem to say that God wants many souls back, even the righteous dying before Christ went is why he supposedly went down into the lower parts of the earth to free them. If this be true, then why were there other gods such as ReZeus, and Jupiter that their followers worshipped?

Why not the God Jehovah, the Judeo-Christian God who told his people thou shall not have other gods before me because I am a selfish God (Exodus 34:14)? It seems absolutely unlikely that such a selfish God who supposedly created all peoples would have previously allowed peoples to adore other gods. This is mystifying to say the least.

When one thinks of Jesus, supposedly the son of God, one frequently thinks of the scene which many find incomprehensible when thinking of the child’s limbo. This is when Jesus tells his disciples to let the little children come unto him.

He blesses the children and says, Whoever shall not receive the kingdom as a little child, he shall not enter it (Mark 10:13-16). He does not demand the little child must be baptized. One is led to wonder, is baptism a divine or human requirement for a child’s heavenly salvation?

Such a question would be extremely agonizing to a mother of a stillborn infant or an infant dying before being baptized. She thinks, God does not to see my child.

As Augustine is to have said, unfortunate but it happens. What of the mother’s love, what of her hurt and sorrow over the lost of her infant, what of the consolation which her religion is suppose to give her to keep her faith steadfast? Such questions beg to be answered. It seems in Christianity God dictates; humans, his creatures or servants, obey.

In a belief system such as neo-Paganism or Witchcraft such questions do not occur because there is no belief of hell or limbo, only birth, death, and rebirth. What is called the soul in man, woman and child is thought of a spark of energy or divine from the God/Goddess; it comes from the Goddess and returns to Her.

An example of this may be seen in the view of abortion. Abortion is just as seriously considered in neo-Paganism being a fertility religion as it is in Christianity. Abortions are not generally accepted and appreciated but in instances such as an unmarried woman who could not properly care for a child, or even a married woman unable to cope with another child.

Here the quality of life of the child is considered before the quantity of life. The soul is thought to return to the Goddess to be sent again to someone that will properly care for it. A young woman once asked Alexander Sanders to help her with an abortion she was without means. He did, but first meditated for the soul to return to the Divine.

As another Witch expressed it not every fetus deserves to be brought to term, but every child born is required to be loved. Damnation is unthinkable. A.G.H.


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