Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 14

¿ES CIERTO QUE EL LIMBO NO EXISTE?

Por el P. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., S.T.D. ,

Profesor de Teología Dogmática de la Universidad Pontificia Católica de


Puerto Rico

En El Visitante del 7-13 de mayo, en la columna “Quiero saber” (p. 13), el P.


Pedro Reyes ha contestado una lectora que le había preguntado sobre el por
qué del bautismo de niños, si “no hay limbo” como destino de aquellos que
mueren sin dicho sacramento.

El P. Pedro ha ofrecido en su contestación muchas citas muy apropiadas de


nuestro Código de Derecho Canónico, de la Sagrada Escritura, y de varios
documentos pertinentes del Magisterio de la Iglesia, que en su conjunto
manifiestan la voluntad muy clara de la Iglesia al efecto de que los niños
pequeños definitivamente deben ser bautizados. El Padre también nos dice,
muy correctamente, que el “principio teológico” en el que “se fundamenta” la
“necesidad de bautizar a los niños” es el siguiente: “la recepción de hecho o al
menos de deseo [del bautismo] es necesaria para la salvación”. Exactamente.
Y justamente porque los niños pequeños, a diferencia de los adultos, no son
capaces de “desear” el bautismo, la gran tradición bimilenaria de la Iglesia,
hasta hace muy poco, era prácticamente unánime en enseñar (aunque sin
llegar a una definición dogmática) que bajo la Nueva Alianza de Cristo tales
niños, por el pecado original que tienen, no se pueden salvar si mueren sin la
recepción del sacramento.

Por eso quiero suplementar la respuesta del P. Pedro sobre este tema (al cual
he dedicado investigaciones teológicas bastante extensas que se publicarán
próximamente) con unas observaciones adicionales que creo son necesarias
para una comprensión más completa y realista de la posición de la Iglesia

1
sobre este asunto.

En el tercer párrafo de su artículo, el Padre observa que “ya se nos dice que
no existe el limbo de los niños”. ¿”Se nos dice”? Pero la pregunta clave es,
“¿Quién nos lo dice?” Muchos ya creen que es la misma Santa Madre Iglesia,
pero eso no es cierto. La respuesta correcta es que muchos teólogos (en
realidad, la gran mayoría de ellos) ya no creen en el limbo, y nos están
asegurando que todo ser humano que muere antes de llegar al uso de la
razón – bautizado o no bautizado – va a alcanzar la visión beatífica, es decir,
la gloria del Cielo. En diciembre pasado, representantes de la Comisión
Internacional de Teólogos, después de un congreso en Roma sobre el tema,
hizo público su consenso sobre dicha conclusión optimista, la cual fue
ampliamente reportada en la prensa, televisión e Internet.

Sin embargo, los teólogos, como tales, no son el magisterio de la Iglesia. Sus
opiniones, aunque puedan llegar a constituir una mayoría abrumadora en un
momento dado de la historia, siempre son falibles. Tales opiniones son
especialmente cuestionables cuando nos resulta muy difícil, si no imposible,
compaginarlas con numerosas declaraciones anteriores de los Sucesores de
los Apóstolos – los papas y obispos. Pues, toda la credibilidad intelectual del
catolicismo depende radicalmente de su coherencia doctrinal diacrónica: o
sea, la ausencia de contradicción entre lo que la Iglesia eseñaba en siglos
anteriores y lo que nos enseña hoy. Pues Jesucristo prometió que el Espíritu
Santo estaría con los Apóstoles y sus sucesores “todos los días, hasta el fin
del mundo” (Mateo 28, 20).

Ahora bien, para algunos teológos (entre los cuales este servidor–y
reconozco que en este momento somos una pequeña minoría), el limbo sí
existe para los niños que mueren sin bautismo. Y lo creemos porque la
tradición constante de la Iglesia, por dieciocho siglos o más, fue unánime en
negar rotundamente la tesis planteada por el dominante liberalismo
teológico de hoy, a saber, que todos los infantes muertos, bautizados y no
bautizados, van para el Cielo. Aquí no hay espacio para citar a todo lo que

2
han afirmado los Papas y Concilios Ecuménicos para frenar tal optimismo
exagerado, pero unos ejemplos son los siguientes.

En el remoto año 417, el Papa San Inocencio I escribió a los padres del
Sínodo de Milevis, insistiendo a los católicos liberales de aquel entonces, “La
idea de que los niños puedan llegar a los premios de la vida eterna aun sin la
gracia del bautismo es totalmente necia” (latín perfatum est, cf. Denzinger-
Schoenmetzer 219).

El Concilio Ecuménico de Florencia, en su Bula Cantate Domino del 4 de


febrero de 1442, insiste enérgicamente en la gran importancia de bautizar a
los niños lo antes posible, “por el peligro de muerte, que con frecuencia
puede ocurrir, ya que no se les puede suministrar ningun otro remedio
excepto el sacramento del bautismo, mediante el cual ellos son arrebatados
del dominio del demonio y adoptados entre los hijos de Dios” (DS 1349).

Papa Sixto V, en su Constitucion Effrænatam del 29 de octubre de 1588


contra el aborto, subraya que lo lamentable de este delito no es tan sólo la
destrucción de la vida corporal de las pequeñas víctimas no nacidas, sino
también “el sacrificio indudable de [sus] almas” (animarum certa iactura),
las cuales quedan “exclu[ídas] de la beata visión de Dios” (a beata Dei visione
exclusit), justamente por haber muerto así sin bautismo. (Cf. P. Gasparri
[ed.], Codex Iuris Canonici Fontes, vol. I, p. 308.)

En el 1794, el Sumo Pontífice Pio VI condena como “falsa y temeraria” la


opinión de algunos que “califica[n] de fábula pelagiana aquel lugar, . . .
[adonde van] las almas de los que mueren con la sola culpa del pecado
original, que los fieles suelen llamar el limbo de los niños” (DS 2626). Bueno,
¿no es eso más o menos lo que están haciendo hoy la ‘ilustrada’ mayoría de
nuestros teólogos? Ellos están rechazando el limbo, calificándolo, en efecto,
de ‘fábula’, es decir, mito, leyenda, cuento – cosa que en realidad no existe.

3
Quizás alguien me dirá que el mismo Catecismo de la Iglesia Católica ya ha
descartado el limbo. Pero eso sería una exageración. Más exactamente, el
Catecismo refleja el hecho de que ya, en las décadas recientes, nuevas
preguntas han surgido sobre el tema, con mucha discusión teológica por y
contra la realidad del limbo. Por lo tanto, este reciente compendio
autoritativo de doctrina católica, reconociendo que el mismo liderato de la
Iglesia ya no está muy seguro sobre el verdadero destino de aquellos niños
no bautizados, ha optado por dejar abierta esta cuestión, por lo menos
temporalmente. En otras palabras, la Iglesia permite que la discusión pueda
continuar, por el momento, entre los que creen, y no creen, en la existencia
del limbo. La afirmación básica del Catecismo sobre tales niños es que “La
Iglesia sólo puede confiarlos a la misericordia divina, como hace en el rito de
las exequias por ellos” (art. 1261). Afirmación esencialmente ‘agnóstica’
sobre su destino eterno ¡y ciertamente muy lejos de una garantía de que
todos van para el Cielo! Pues aunque esos niños vayan al limbo, eso también
manifestará “la misericordia divina,” dado que en ese caso ellos disfrutarán
una felicidad eterna (aunque natural, no sobrenatural), incluyendo la
resurrección de sus cuerpos –ya adultos– a la inmortalidad en el día final,
cuando Dios “destruirá a la muerte para siempre” y “enjugará toda lágrima
de los ojos” (cf. Isaías 25, 8; Apoc. 21, 4).

Efectivamente, al examinar aquel “rito de las exequias”, lo encontramos muy


reservado, sin la más mínima sugerencia de que esos niños muertos sin
bautismo posiblemente puedan llegar a la gloria celestial. No hay oración
alguna por su salvación (sólo por la consolación de sus familiares en luto). Y
estoy hablando de la nueva edición oficial del Misal, publicada por el
Vaticano en 2002 (diez años después del Catecismo), en la cual no se ha
cambiado en nada el rito original de Pablo VI (Misal de 1969). De hecho, este
rito desalienta toda clase de esperanza excesiva por la salvación de aquellos
niños de parte de sus familiares. Pues, una rúbrica oficial recuerda al
sacerdote o diácono que presida las exequias: “En la catequesis, es
importante la vigilancia para que la doctrina sobre la necesidad del bautismo
no se oscurezca en la mente de los fieles”. (“In catechesi autem advigilandum
est, ne doctrina de necessitate baptismi in mentibus fidelium obscuretur”:

4
Missale Romanum, 3era. editio typica, Ciudad del Vaticano: 2002, p. 1197.)
Este testimonio de la sagrada liturgia es muy importante. Todo sacerdote y
teólogo conoce bien el refrán, lex orandi, lex credendi (“El culto [oficial de la
Iglesia] expresa confiablemente su fe”).

Un poquito más arriba en el Catecismo, en el art. 1257, se ha reafirmado,


coerentemente con el 1261, que “La Iglesia no conoce otro medio que el
Bautismo para asegurar la entrada en la bienaventuranza eterna” (énfasis
mío). ¡Palabras que deben ser grabadas en la mente de los padres católicos
para cuando nacen sus hijos! Además, debemos señalar aquí un error en la
traducción oficial del Catecismo al español. Leemos también en art. 1261 que
ciertos argumentos bíblicos “nos permiten confiar en que haya un camino de
salvación para los niños que mueren sin bautismo” (énfasis mío). Esta es una
exageración, pues el original del 1992 en francés emplea el verbo espoir, no
confier. Y la versión definitiva en latín del 1997 también usa el verbo sperare:
esperar. Este verbo, claro, es más cauteloso que confiar. Según el Diccionario
de la Real Academia Española, este último significa “esperar con firmeza y
seguridad”. Por lo tanto, la verdadera enseñanza del Catecismo es
simplemente que se puede esperar – ¡pero no dice con ‘firmeza’ ni
‘seguridad’! – que haya tal ‘camino de salvación’ para aquellos niños.

En mi humilde opinión, estamos en una situación semejante a la de los años


1966-1968, cuando una gran mayoría de los teólogos, y hasta algunos
obispos y cardenales, esparaban con mucha “firmeza y seguridad” (¡y
algunos se atrevían a predicarlo públicamente!) que el Papa Pablo VI iba a
avalar la recomendación de una Pontificia Comisión que había estudiado la
cuestión del control de natalidad, y así cambiar la bimilenaria doctrina
cristiana en contra del uso de prácticas antinaturales. Para sorpresa de casi
todos, el Santo Padre no lo hizo, sino, dándole la razón a la pequeña minoría
conservadora (¡pero correcta!), insistió nuevamente, mediante su encíclica
Humanae vitae, en la sana doctrina tradicional en contra del uso de
anticonceptivos. Asimismo, yo me atrevo a predecir que cuando el presente
Pontífice, Benedicto XVI, llegue a emitir su juicio (probablemente dentro de

5
uno o dos años) sobre las recomendaciones de la Comisión de teológos que le
están instando a ‘abolir’ el limbo, el Santo Padre sorprenderá grandemente a
todos, negándose a hacerlo.

Si algún lector tiene interés en un artículo mío más extenso sobre este tema,
lo puede encontrar [a través de este enlace.] Su título es “Could Limbo be
‘Abolished’?”

6
Can Limbo Be 'Abolished'?

Father Brian W. Harrison, O.S.

Professor of Theology, Pontifical Catholic University, Puerto Rico


(www.RemnantNewspaper.com) It seems that a report I read recently in
Spanish on the Internet, about a forthcoming Vatican statement on Limbo, was
inaccurate. The report said Pope Benedict XVI had already approved a new
document ‘opening’ Heaven to all those who die unbaptized before attaining the
use of reason. It now appears that the theologians appointed to look into this
matter by the late John Paul II, while certainly favoring the ‘abolition’ of
the limbus puerorum, have not quite finished their work. However, the question
is still highly relevant, particularly because Pope Benedict, prior to his election to
the See of Peter, had already gone on record as expressing his personal disbelief
in Limbo. (The Internet report I read was probably a garbled version of this
private – although publicly expressed – opinion of the then Cardinal Ratzinger.)
But precisely because the Holy Father is on record as being predisposed to
eliminate this point of Catholic tradition – or at the very least, to reduce its
credibility among Catholics practically to vanishing point – it would seem that if
the only theological input he receives on this issue is one-sidedly in favor of this
“final solution” for the “Limbo problem”, there is a very real possibility that such
a magisterial document may in fact be issued before too long.
Hence, I feel it important to stand by, and indeed, reinforce, the position I
expressed in a circular e-mail of December 1st, to the effect that
this potential new ‘development’ of doctrine is a matter of serious concern. I
argued, first: that it would clearly be impossible for the Pope to make
an infallible (ex cathedra) definition contradicting the Church’s bi millennial
tradition that (at least after the proclamation of the Gospel, and apart from a
rare ‘baptism of blood’ – being slain out of hatred of Christ) such infants are
eternally excluded from the beatific vision; and secondly, that in view of this
impossibility of our reaching any certainty of their eternal salvation, any (non-
infallible) magisterial document raising further hopes to that effect would be
inopportune and irresponsible. For such a document would inevitably accentuate

7
the already-existing tendency for Catholic parents to be lax and negligent about
having their children baptized promptly after birth, and would therefore run the
risk of being partially, but gravely, responsible for barring Heaven to countless
souls, in the event that Limbo does turn out to exist after all. I am firmly
persuaded that nothing more should be said about this matter than what is
already said in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. While the Catechism says
cautiously that Catholics are “allowed” (not obliged) to “hope” that there is a
way of salvation for infants who die unbaptized (#1261), it also emphasizes that
“the Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry
into eternal beatitude” (#1257, my emphasis).
In what follows I shall present a survey of recent and ancient magisterial
teaching on this difficult question.
After Pope John Paul II’s retraction, in the final and definitive version
of Evangelium Vitae #99 (cf. Acta Apostolicae Sedis, vol. 87 [1995] p. 515) of
the initial version’s statement that aborted babies “now live in the Lord” (i.e.,
are in Heaven), it appears that the only papal statement expressly mentioning
the destiny of aborted infants is that of Pope Sixtus V, whose
Constitution Effrænatam of 29 October 1588 not only abstains from raising any
hopes that they may attain the beatific vision, but positively affirms that they
do not attain it!
The main purpose of this document was to reinforce civil and canonical
sanctions against those who carry out abortions and sterilizations in the papal
states: it goes so far as to prescribe the death penalty for both these offences.
The Pope begins by affirming the need for sterner measures to be taken against
“the barbarity . . . of those who do not shrink from the most cruel slaughter of
fetuses still coming to maturity in the shelter of their mothers’ wombs”
(“. . . eorum immanitatem . . . qui immaturos foetus intra materna viscera
adhuc latentes crudelissime necare non verentur” – my English translation.)
Pope Sixtus then continues, by way of explanation (my translation and
emphasis):
For who would not detest a crime as execrable as this — a crime whose
consequence is that not just bodies, but — still worse! — even souls,
are, as it were, cast away? The soul of the unborn infant bears the
imprint of God’s image! It is a soul for whose redemption Christ our
Lord shed His precious blood, a soul capable of eternal blessedness and

8
destined for the company of angels! Who, therefore, would not condemn
and punish with the utmost severity the desecration committed by
one who has excluded such a soul from the blessed vision of
God? Such a one has done all he or she could possibly have done to
prevent this soul from reaching the place prepared for it in heaven,
and has deprived God of the service of this His own creature.

Thus, three times in the one paragraph, in different ways, the Pope affirms that
aborted babies are excluded from the beatific vision. It is obvious he is taking
for granted the broader thesis that those infants in general who die unbaptized
suffer the same deprivation. It would also be gratuitous, in view of the force of
the Pope’s language and his use of the word “eternal” (line 5 above), as well as
the whole of the previous tradition of the Church, to postulate that perhaps
Sixtus V only meant to affirm here that the “exclusion” of such infants from
Heaven is at least temporary, i.e., that he wasn’t rejecting here the possibility
that Limbo is really only a kind of Purgatory for infants. The original text of the
above paragraph is as follows: “Quis enim non detestetur, tam execrandum
facinus, per quod nedum corporum, sed quod gravius est, etiam
animarum certa iactura sequitur? Quis non gravissimis suppliciis damnet
illius impietatem, qui animam Dei imagine insignitam, pro qua redimenda
Christus Dominus noster preciosum Sanguinem fudit, aeternae capacem
Beatitudinis, et ad consortium Angelorum destinatam, a beata Dei visione
exclusit, reparationem coelestium sedium quantum in ipso fuit, impedivit, Deo
servitium suae creaturae ademit?” (ibid.). The Latin text of this Constitution
can be found in P. Gasparri (ed.), Codex Iuris Canonici Fontes, vol. I, p. 308.
These expressions certainly do not constitute an ex cathedra definition, and
indeed, the Constitution itself is primarily a legislative act — an exercise of the
Pope’s governing authority rather than his teaching authority. Nevertheless, in
view of the clarity and force of the Pontiff’s teaching, in this preamble to the
legislative norms which form the main body of the document, it would seem that
the doctrinal proposition in question — namely, that the souls of infants who die
without baptism are eternally excluded from the beatific vision — should be seen
as belonging at least to the authentic teaching of the magisterium.
This conclusion is reinforced when we consider other magisterial teachings on
unbaptized infants. As early as 385, Pope St. Siricius, writing to Bishop
Himerius, showed that he felt gravely bound in conscience, for the sake of his

9
own salvation, to warn the latter to insist on the baptism of infants as well as
adults in his diocese, “ . . . lest Our own soul be in danger if, as a result of being
denied the saving font, . . . each one of them, on leaving the world, loses both
[eternal] life and the kingdom” (“. . . ne ad nostrarum perniciem tendat
animarum, si negato . . . fonte salutari exiens unusquisque de saeculo et
regnum perdat et vitam” (DS 184, my translation, not found in earlier editions
of Denzinger).
Would not any subsequent pope be wise – in the interests of his
own salvation! – to follow St. Siricius’ vigilant example in this, if there is any
doubt whatsoever that unbaptized infants reach Heaven. The teaching of the
Ecumenical Council of Florence (the Bull Cantate Domino of February 4, 1442) is
more emphatic. It says (my emphasis):
Regarding children, indeed, because of danger of death, which can often
take place, since no help can be brought to them by another remedy
than through the sacrament of baptism, through which they are
snatched from the domination of the devil and adopted among the
sons of God, [the sacrosanct Roman Church] advises that holy baptism
ought not to be deferred for forty or eighty days, . . . but it should be
conferred as soon as it can be done conveniently (. . . ). (Denzinger 712
= DS 1349.)

The Latin original of the words emphasized above is: “. . . cum ipsis non possit
alio remedio subveniri, nisi per sacramentum baptismi, per quod eripiuntur a
diaboli dominatu et in Dei filios adoptantur”. (I have followed Roy Deferrari’s
English Denzinger version here except for the first word, cum, which is
translated there as “when” instead of “since”. “When” is misleading here,
because if, as it seems to insinuate, there can be circumstances where
some “remedy” other than baptism exists and can be “brought to” infants in
original sin, then the document would surely have to tell us what this other
mysterious “remedy” is. But neither this nor any other magisterial document in
history has ever suggested what other “remedy” could be applied by Christians
to such infants.)
Also highly pertinent is the Council of Trent’s teaching on justification – infallible
at least by virtue of the universal and ordinary magisterium. First, the Council
defines “justification” so as deliberately to include the remission of original sin in
children (as well as mortal sin in adults): justification is said to be “the transition

10
from that state in which man is born as a son of the first Adam to the state of
grace and ‘adoption as children’ of God [Rom. 8: 15]” (translatio ab eo statu, in
quo homo nascitur filius primi Adae, in statum gratiae et “adoptionis filiorum”
[Rom. 8, 15] Dei). Then, the Fathers of Trent go on immediately to assert
categorically that this justification “cannot take place without the washing of
regeneration [baptism] or the desire for it” (sine lavacro regenerationis aut eius
voto fieri non potest – D 796 = DS 1524, my translation and emphasis). How,
then, could unbaptized infants, incapable of any desire for baptism, be justified?
Are we to suppose that God miraculously ‘fast-forwards’ the mental
development of these infants (and gravely retarded persons) in the instant
before death, following this up with a special illumination so as to render them
capable of an at least implicit desire for baptism? But miracles cannot be
gratuitously postulated, so we could never be sure, in the absence of any
revealed truth in Scripture or Tradition, that this is in fact what God does. And
even supposing He does, this miracle would still not guarantee the salvation of
such infants. For on reaching the use of reason, they would also attain the use
of free will, and hence be capable, under the burden of original sin, of rejecting,
as well as accepting, the actual grace offered for their justification. Indeed, even
on the still more gratuitous hypothesis that God renders these infants capable of
such a choice after death, the same would apply. So, no matter where we look
for ‘wiggle room’, the Council of Trent prevents us from attaining
any certainty that infants dying without baptism can be saved.
And it is important to emphasize that reaching Limbo does not mean reaching
salvation. In an e-mail I mistakenly conceded to a correspondent his view that
the word limbus, literally meaning “fringe”, “hem”, “margin”, or “border”, was
adopted by the Church in order to indicate that Limbo (for unbaptized infants)
was at the “border” of Heaven. In fact, as I soon discovered with a little more
research, what was meant is that Limbo is at the “border” of Hell! This is
evident both from the teaching of two ecumenical councils (Lyons II: D 464 =
DS 858; Florence: D 693 = DS 1306); and Pope John XXII’s 1321 Epistle to the
Armenians (D 493a = DS 926). All these authorities teach that the souls of
those who die in original sin only (who could only be infants and the mentally
retarded who never reach the use of reason) “go down without delay into Hell”
(mox in infernum descend[unt]), where, however, they suffer “different
punishments” (poenis disparibus) from those who die in actual mortal sin. In
other words, if Hell is defined broadly as eternal exclusion from the beatific
vision, Limbo is actually the outer “fringe” or “border” of Hell itself. The seeming
implication of these councils and popes is that the only “punishment” of those

11
who die with souls stained by nothing worse than original sin is eternal exclusion
from the beatific vision, which is compatible, however, with a natural (as distinct
from supernatural) happiness. The “pain of sense” – or at least, a pain severe
enough to warrant being described as “the torment of hellfire” – is reserved only
for those who die in mortal sin. This is the teaching of Pope Innocent III in an
epistle of the year 1201 (see D 410 = DS 780).
That Limbo is not to be understood as a place or state on the “border” of
Heaven – or even an “intermediate” place or state in between Heaven and Hell –
was confirmed yet again by Pope Pius VI in 1794, in condemning an opinion of
the Jansenist Synod of Pistoia. To understand this condemnation, one first needs
to realize that well over a thousand years previously, the regional (non-
ecumenical) Council of Carthage (418) had condemned with ‘anathema’ the
Pelagian opinion that in John 14: 12 (“In my Father’s house are many
mansions”), Our Lord is to be understood as teaching that “in the heavenly
realms there will be some kind of intermediate condition, or some other place,
where the little ones who have departed from this life without baptism will live
happily” (“. . . in regno caelorum erit aliquis medius aut ullus alicubi locus, ubi
beati vivant parvuli, qui sine baptismo ex hac vita migrarunt”) (DS 224 = D102:
4. This canon is not found in earlier editions of Denzinger, including Roy
Deferrari’s English version.)
Now, the Pistoia Jansenists – too liberal on some issues and too severely rigorist
on other issues, including this one – had denounced the commonly accepted
Catholic thesis of Limbo as being nothing more than a “Pelagian fable”. They
claimed such a place or state would be none other than that which the Council
of Carthage had so emphatically taught does not exist. But these Jansenists, in
thus rejecting Limbo, were not doing so as liberals claiming that unbaptized
babies go to Heaven, but as rigorists following the gloomy Augustinian view that
they go to Hell in the full sense, that is, suffering the ‘pain of sense’ (albeit only
very mildly) as well as the ‘pain of loss’ (exclusion from the beatific vision).
Now, Pope Pius VI rejected this Jansenist view of Limbo as a mere “Pelagian
fable” branding it as “false, rash, and injurious to Catholic schools”. But while
thus upholding Limbo, he made it very clear that he was also upholding the
Council of Carthage’s rejection of any intermediate human destiny between
Heaven and Hell. This he did, logically, by following the teaching of the Councils
of Lyons II and Florence, that is, including Limbo as being itself a part (the
extreme ‘outer’ part) of Hell. In his own words, Pope Pius condemned
. . . the [Jansenist] doctrine which rejects as a Pelagian fable that place of

12
the lower regions [“locum illum infernorum”] (which the faithful
generally designate as the limbo of children) in which the souls of those
departing with the sole guilt of original sin are punished with the
punishments of the condemned, exclusive of the punishment of fire,
just as if, by this very fact, these who remove the punishment of fire
introduced that middle place and state free of guilt and of punishment
between the kingdom of God and eternal damnation, such as that about
which the Pelagians idly talk. (Deferrari translation, my emphasis.)

It needs to be noted, furthermore, that Pius VI’s teaching here does not go so
far as to condemn or reject as un-Catholic the Jansenists’ view that unbaptized
babies in the after-life do in fact suffer (albeit very mildly) the ‘pain of sense’.
After all, St. Augustine and various other Latin Fathers had held precisely that,
and Pope Pius was not about to condemn all these great and wise saints as
unorthodox. What he is rejecting is not their own severe view of the fate of
unbaptized infants, only their denunciation of the accepted alternate view –
Limbo – as being Pelagian and therefore unorthodox. In effect, this Pontiff was
implying that the Church allows eitherhypothesis regarding what actually
happens after death to unbaptized infants; but he taught that any Catholic who
opts for the severe, Augustinian hypothesis is not entitled to employ, amongst
his arguments for that opinion, the false and unjust calumny that Limbo is just a
‘Pelagian fable’ already condemned by the Council of Carthage.
It should be clear from the above survey of relevant Catholic magisterial
statements that those who now talk about Limbo as only ever having been a
mere “hypothesis”, rather than a doctrine, are giving a very misleading
impression of the state of the question. They are implying by this that the pre-
Vatican II Church traditionally held, or at least implicitly admitted, that an
alternate ‘hypothesis’ for unbaptized infants was their attainment of eternal
salvation – Heaven. Nothing could be further from the truth. Limbo for
unbaptized infants was indeed a theological “hypothesis”; but the only
approved alternate hypothesis was not Heaven, but very mild hellfire as well
as exclusion from the beatific vision! In short, while Limbo as distinct from very
mild hellfire was a ‘hypothetical’ destiny for unbaptized infants, their eternal
exclusion from Heaven (with or without any ‘pain of sense’) – at least after the
proclamation of the Gospel, and apart from the ‘baptism of blood’ of infants
slaughtered out of hatred for Christ – this was traditional Catholic doctrine, not

13
a mere hypothesis. No, it was never dogmatically defined. But the only question
is whether the doctrine was infallible by virtue of the universal and ordinary
magisterium, or merely “authentic”.
Recommended reading: Fr. Le Blanc’s articles, “Children’s’ Limbo: Theory or
Doctrine?”, American Ecclesiastical Review, September 1947, and “Salut des
enfants morts sans baptéme”, Ami du Clergé, January 15, 1948, pp. 33-43. (At
that time, the liberal theologians criticized by Fr. Le Blanc were beginning for the
first time in Church history to raise the possibility of Heaven for all unbaptized
infants – a totally novel hypothesis which was soon censured by the Holy Office
under Pope Pius XII as unsound and “without foundation”.)

14