Limbo and the Mystical Body: on the Borderlands of Dogma

In Salvation for Non-Catholics and Limbo, Dr. Jeffrey Mirus makes two arguments I would like to address. The first deals with limbo and claims that the lack of certitude that we have about the fate of unbaptized infants provides a way for us to think about the fate of non-Catholic adults. The second cites the encyclical Mystici Corporis as proof of the assertion that “the Church does officially teach a way of salvation for adults outside the visible structure of the Church.”

Regarding limbo, the argument goes like this: If unbaptized babies can be saved, then adult non-Catholics can, too, and without Faith or Baptism. Dr. Mirus does acknowledge the significant difference between adults, who can make volitional acts (both good and bad), and infants, who cannot. But, he says, the situation is “similar,” so that an argument from one can be applied, mutatis mutandis, to the other.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that the anti-limbo argument is itself wrongheaded. In other words, as Falstaff said, “[Dr. Mirus,] I deny your Maior.”

The question of limbo is often approached backwards. “Limbo was never a teaching of the Church,” its critics claim, and truly. Limbo is a theological conclusion. However, minus certain details of its packaging, it was generally considered an inescapable conclusion from the data of revelation. What is dogmatic is that unbaptized infants cannot be admitted to the Beatific Vision.

The Second Council of Lyon (1274) and the Council of Florence (1438-1445) both taught that “The souls of those who die in actual mortal sin or in original sin only immediately descend into hell, even though they suffer different penalties” (D 464, 693).

The Council of Florence (the Bull Cantate Domino of February 4, 1442): “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” (DS 1349).

In 385, Pope St. Siricius sent a letter to a Bishop Himerius, telling the bishop that both of their souls are in danger if they defer the baptism of infants or adults: “. . . lest our own souls be in danger if, as a result of our having denied the saving font to those who stand in need of it, each one of them, on leaving the world, should lose the kingdom as well as his life” (DS 184).

Pope St. Innocent I, in 417, wrote to the Synod of Milevis, that: “The idea that infants can be granted the rewards of eternal life even without the grace of baptism is utterly foolish” (DS 219).

Further, the teachings of the Council of Trent on justification, the Roman Catechism’s teaching on baptism, and Pope Pius XII’s Allocution to a Congress of the Italian Catholic Association of Midwives (October 29, 1951) all confirm the traditional teaching that unbaptized infants cannot be saved.

Johannes M. Schwarz, Ph.D., is a scholar who has surveyed the various theories of unbaptized infant salvation. In an interview by, he made some insightful remarks in favor of the traditional teaching. Here are two excerpts from that interview:

It might be true that there are no definitory statements on the questions, but there is a firm tradition in the ordinary magisterium, that cannot simply be discarded. It is insufficient to state that limbo was never defined, and therefore unbaptized children might equally be thought to be in heaven. Historically the doctrinal alternative to limbo never was infant salvation, but a stricter Augustinian interpretation assigning also pain of sense to the state of the children. That limbo was never defined had much to do with leaving room for the Augustinian theory as a study of the Jansenist controversy helps to see. The non-salvation of children was not disputed, except for very limited exceptions (Cajetan and some others).


In my study I found that limbo is not only valid as an explanation, it also has a greater probability than most other theories and, as a model of non-salvation, a longstanding tradition with authority. I do not rejoice over the fact, that such a state could be the state of unbaptized children. But then, there are many things in this world, I find hard and difficult. I often fail to understand why God permits this or that, but I do not believe in God because he conforms to my image, but simply because God is. I trust, that how he ordains things is right, just and merciful.

(Two informative articles on the subject are Limbo and the Will of God, by Robert T. Miller and Could Limbo Be ‘Abolished’?, by Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S.)

Dr. Mirus cites two authorities for the possibility of the salvation of unbaptized infants:

The current Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] does not offer the theory of limbo; instead, it sugggests [sic] that we may hope that God has a way we do not know to “let the children come to me” (see #1261; cf. Mt 19:14). Similarly, the most recent major Vatican study of the the question of salvation for unbaptized infants (the 2007 document issued by the International Theological Commission, The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized) concludes that there are good grounds for abandoning the concept of limbo.

The first of these authorities, the CCC, does not say that infants can be saved. Even if it did, this catechism did not bind us to any of its teachings that were not already authoritative, as the present Roman Pontiff has confirmed. And it certainly does not enjoy the same level of authority as the Council of Florence, cited above. And despite the grand sounding appellation Dr. Mirus gives it, the “major Vatican study” has absolutely no magisterial authority. In fact, the document he invokes is a wonderful piece of theological chicanery that totally eviscerates the concept of the ordinary magisterium. As I wrote in There Is a Hell, and It Makes Perfect Sense:

The ITC is a purely advisory body. Its documents have literally no authority. (Father Georges Cottier, O.P., General Secretary of the ITC, said that the body “does not have the role of pronouncing with the authority, which is characteristic of the Magisterium.”) This is true even though the news media are utterly oblivious to the fact, and presented “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized” as quite authoritative.

One very good thing about the ITC’s document is that its study of scriptural, patristic, and magisterial sources provides abundant proof for the conclusion that unbaptized infants do not partake of the Beatific Vision. Few defenders of the orthodox position could have put the case better. Only in its last few pages, where modern theologians suddenly took precedence over these much weightier authorities, do we find a false optimism concerning the unbaptized. It is not disrespectful to write this way of “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized,” The document, as I said, has no magisterial authority.

The second of Dr. Mirus’ arguments cites the encyclical Mystici Corporis as proof for the assertion that “the Church does officially teach a way of salvation for adults outside the visible structure of the Church.”:

Thus Pius XII, in his great encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, explained that those outside the visible structure of the Church can “have a certain relationship with the Mystical Body of the Redeemer” by means of “an unconscious desire and longing” (inscio quodam desiderio ac voto) (#103). It is this teaching that has led theologians to examine the possibility of “substantial” membership in the Church even where “formal” membership is lacking.

What Pius XII said, in context, was this:

We wish that they [non-Catholics], each and every one of them, . . . may be zealous and eager to tear themselves out of that state in which it is not possible for them to be without fear regarding their eternal salvation [… ab eo statu se eripere studeant, in quo de sempiterna cuiusque propria salute securi esse non possunt]. For, even though they may be ordained toward the mystic Body of the Redeemer by a certain unknowing desire and resolution [quandoquidem, etiamsi inscio quodam desiderio ac voto ad mysticum Redemptoris Corpus ordinentur], they still remain deprived of so many precious gifts and helps from heaven, which one can enjoy only in the Catholic Church. Let them, therefore, come back to Catholic unity, and united with us in the organic oneness of the Body of Jesus Christ may they hasten to the one Head in the society of glorious love. . . . We wait for them with open arms to return, not to a stranger’s house, but to their own, their Father’s house.

All men are ordained toward the Mystical Body of Christ (the Catholic Church), just as all men are, by nature, ordained to the Beatific Vision. Both of these truths are found in the theological corpus of St. Thomas Aquinas. But just because men “may be ordained to” (ordinentur) the Church and to Heaven does not mean that they will necessarily enter either. At any rate, Pope Pius XII did not say in this passage from Mystici Corporis that there is “a way of salvation for adults outside the visible structure of the Church,” as Dr. Mirus claims he did.

The words of Pope Pius XII should not be used to do something that Pontiff censured in Humani Generis, namely, to “reduce to a meaningless formula the necessity of belonging to the true Church in order to gain eternal salvation.”

  • Justin

    Brother Andre-

    I sure would like to see Dr. Mirus attempt to answer this.

    In that talk from audiosancto I mentioned in another comment box the priest says that the next logical conclusion that can be made after Limbo is abolished is that we are all born with “orginal grace”. I can imagine that one could take it further and say that if all men are born with original grace there is no need for a Church at all. He also comments that if the Church got something like original sin wrong for 2000 years than what else has it got wrong?

  • Thanks, Justin. Father’s conclusion about “original grace” is a good one. Some “theologians” have actually proposed it, or something like it.

  • Thomas Donnelly

    The question that perpetually fascinates me is, why are virtually all ‘modern Catholics’, both Vatican II types and self-styled Traditionalists, so afflicted with the obsessive-compulsive disease of ‘salvation for everyone’? What causes their pathological condition? What’s in it for them? Why do they hate the dogmas of the Catholic Faith? How have they been taught to hate themselves? Why must they compulsively justify themselves to the world by flagellating themselves and denigrating the Faith? Why are they so terrified of the truth?

    Are they invincible cowards? Are they invincibly stupid? Are they simply invincible heretics, who never really had the Faith to begin with?

    I’m sincerely puzzled by this, and I welcome comments from anyone who can shed some light on this peculiar pathology.

  • Jacques

    My opinion is that the Church requires us to follow the dogmas for this exact reason that made her growing for 20 centuries: Of course if everyone in the Church feels he is allowed not to agree with the EENS dogma (or any other dogma), if everyone says that people outside our Church are saved whichever is their religion, then why to proceed being a Catholic? There are other religions that are much more comfortable and easier than the catholic faith.
    The result is:
    1/If other religions can save as well as the catholic faith, the death of Jesus on the Cross had no purpose. For example, Buddhists or animists were “saved” even before Christ came in the flesh.
    2/Evangelization is useless and:
    3/The catholic faith is set to disappear within a short term.
    4/In addition the EENS dogma may be considered as offensive to other religions.

    Anyway, I think that God’s Mercy is unexhaustable and it is God’s business (not ours) to save even those who are damned according to Church’s dogmas.
    I keep this last opinion in a remote corner of my brain by fear of being heretical.

    Jacques from Cassis (France)

  • Justin

    I think many priests, bishops, and laity just flat out don’t have the theological virtue of Faith active in them anymore. Many–after seeing the virtual collapse of the Church after Vatican II–believe that the Church really is just a man made institution and that it is foolish to try to act like it isn’t ( which is what firmly holding and living as if dogmas like EENS are true.) Few are willing to die for the Faith anymore because in the back of their minds they fear that the collapse of the Church ( at least in appearance) in the last 50 or 60 years proves somehow that all they ever believed about God, Catholicism, etc. is false or at least doubtful.

    This is also ( again, in my opinion of course) why so many of those on the far liberal end of the spectrum even dare go around so shamelessly promoting things like “womaenpriests”, the “gay” agenda and a this world marxist style social Gospel while ignoring the mere mention of the difference between a life lived naturally and the supernatural life of grace. They feel that social engineering, electoral politics and community organizing–since they have seemed to work everywhere else–will ultimately topple the status qou at a Church they believe is just an ossfied bastion of “bitter clingers” trying to hold onto power. At the heart of this is a denial that the Church is from God and that “the gates of hell will not prevail against it[the Church].

    The bottom line is for a variety of reasons many have literally lost “The Faith” on both ends of the spectrum. The self styled traditionalists are closer to a right opinion and no doubt some have the Faith; the liberals are flat out heretical on practically every issue and very few are actually close to even having a right opinion. The Church needs real saints and real leaders today, real saints and leaders that have the Faith and are willing to live it and preach it in a way that makes people want to live and die for it. Heroic virtue on every level will save many souls but few are willing to do it–few are asking for the grace to do it–because few really believe it’s possible.

    I float this stuff around all day sometimes and could go into it more and on so many levels but I don’t want to hog this whole thread here so I’ll stop. Remember, these are my own opinions and I may be off the mark here.

  • Tim Butler

    Justin, Bro Andre, Thomas Donnelly and Jacques,

    I read these articles and your comments with great interest. I think within the latter there is a great diversity of opinion and wonder if you guys realize the implications of some of your comments? For instance, Mr. Donnelly asks “why are virtually all ‘modern Catholics’, both Vatican II types and self-styled Traditionalists, so afflicted with the obsessive-compulsive disease of ‘salvation for everyone’?” From the comments made concerning my opinions and questions I’ve been called a modern Catholic before, yet, I’ve always considered myself to be very “conservative” or “traditional” in my Catholic thinking. I have had great teachers like Pope Benedict XVI and John Paul II, and personally Father John Hardon and Father Stanley Jaki to name but a few. Some of these men of great intellect you probably know but even my lay teachers have been very orthodox in their teaching although you probably don’t know them. My real problem and great regret has been not enough time to learn more from saintly teachers like them. It is my great desire which is why I am interested in your website and this BBS forum.

    But I guess even as Justin refers to those who tend toward extremes we who consider ourselves more centered in the Catholic faith can also be off slightly. I consider these dialogues a good means to keep from remaining in such mindset, for long, if we find ourselves so. In reference to my for instance above, I say to Justin that I am not interested in “salvation for everyone” as he accuses when I ask “what happens to those who through no fault of their own fall outside of the ordinary means, which is our Catholic faith in all it’s orthodoxy?” It is a serious question that deserves a serious answer and not comments that belittle the character of the person who asks. When I ask such question I don’t have in mind that “we are all born with original grace” as I hear in these comments. As I’ve stated before I have in mind the distinction between Original Sin’s stain and actual sin. The dictum describing one who at death “lacking in grace is not fit for heaven but having not sinned is not deserving of hell,” describes a real state of real persons. It seems out of character for God who IS love to punish a person for something they’ve not chosen (to be outside the state of grace) and something they’ve not done (incapable of sin). So how can this be answered except by the theological idea of two degrees in heaven; natural goodness and Beatific Vision.

    Mr. Donnelly again asks “why are virtually all ‘modern Catholics’ so afflicted with the obsessive-compulsive disease of ‘salvation for everyone’?” … to which I reply why does he exaggerate? I don’t think those who choose to turn away from God should or will be saved against their will. And again “Why do they hate the dogmas of the Catholic Faith?” to which I say I question in the strict sense of wanting to know the answer to a legitimate question of how authentic dogma applies? I don’t appreciate being lumped in with other Catholics who clearly have taken a heretical stance on contraception, abortion, divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, female priests, and illegimate liturigical changes, etc… because of my question.

    Jaques states that “My opinion is that the Church requires us to follow the dogmas for this exact reason that made her growing for 20 centuries,” and I agree whole heartedly. The problem is dogma cannot be followed without understanding what it means in any given situation. From my understanding dogma is a crystalization of the constant teaching of the Church, both the oral and the written forms. Dogma makes precise what is being passed on and is unchangeable but it has to be interpreted and applied to every situation we encounter throughout our life. Enter the Catechisms and the necessity of Catholic teachers. In short it’s not fluid but still has to be understood properly in order to do. As I make these distinctions I am certainly not implying ambiguity to doctrine as Jacques does when he asks “if everyone says that people outside our Church are saved whichever is their religion.” His statement here is an extreme, an exaggeration that I am not guilty of and I reject it as a legitimate question applying to me. I say we who know better must remain and participate in the Church in order to be saved. I question the fate of those who DON’T know better through NO FAULT of their own. Furthermore I appeal to Jaques’ comment in the same context that “I think that God’s Mercy is unexhaustable and it is God’s business (not ours) to save even those who are damned according to Church’s dogmas” as admission that there is an area here of a problem with our understanding that very dogma. It’s also contradictory to say we are bound by Church dogma so we must be concerned with useful “evangelization” and then say it’s God’s business, not ours.

    In fact Justin makes my point even clearer when he recalls “ignoring the mere mention of the difference between a life lived naturally and the supernatural life of grace” is a problem for liberals within the Catholic Church. It is a problem for us also who desire to hold to authentic Catholic teaching because we need to address this distinction which is one I have continually made. The former I have said men can do but is extremely hard, almost impossible in a world torn by the effects of sin and consequences of intellectual confusion. The latter found in the Church is what gives us the edge, a certainty that those outside don’t have. Still it seems to me that God in his justice offers everyone inside and outside, grace which they may or may not accept. Now if they are outside the Church and DO accept all the acting grace offered then they will be lead in all truth to their salvation just as the Blessed Mother was. Isn’t it true that Mary’s sanctifying grace came prior to the institution of the Church? Don’t we know from the Church that Mary was “gratia plena” from the moment of her conception and from St. Maximilian kolbe that it was an integral part of her nature? Yet does this grace not come through the Church? Is God confined to work within time? Therefore isn’t the fact of Mary being sinless all her life a prescedent, contrary to all Protestant objections, that indicates we human beings have at least the possibility of attaining salvation if we accept all the grace God offers? If one lives a life moving faithfully as the Blessed Mother toward truth but does not have enough time to formally enter the Church then does that apprehension of grace and truth damn them? These are the questions I’d like answered in your comments rather than a continual referal to the character of those whom you don’t agree with. Those I might add who are on the extreme by your own admission here and of which I am not by my own admission.

    TCB (alias Ratjaws)

  • Tim Butler


    I’d like to make a correction to my last comments in this discussion. In the 2nd paragraph I inadvertently attributed Justin’s name to the quote “salvation for everyone” rather than to that of Mr. Thomas Donnelly. I apologize for any confusion.


  • Dear Ratjaws,

    Let me suggest that you keep your posts shorter. When you make a posting very verbose, you invite people to ignore most of it. (That’s not said to sneer at you, merely to point out the fact.)

    I am not an “extremist,” and we at SBC don’t adopt our positions because we want to be “more extreme than thou.” We’re interested in truth and the salvation of souls. “Right-wing,” “left-wing,” and “centrist” are terms that come from the French Revolution. ALL the members of all those factions were revolutionary. We shun all revolution. I point this out to clarify that this nomenclature is inadequate.

    So, as one non-extremist to another, I make only one point about what you just posted, beginning with a quote:

    “The dictum describing one who at death ‘lacking in grace is not fit for heaven but having not sinned is not deserving of hell,’ describes a real state of real persons.”

    That “dictum” is not Catholic, unless by “hell” you mean that part of hell where actual sin is punished. Omitting hell for those who die in original sin is Pelagian and condemned by the Church. This brings up some delicate questions about God’s justice and mercy as they relate to hell. I tried to take these up in this article:

  • Lionel Andrades

    Friday, March 30, 2012
    Jesuit priest says change in Church’s teaching on Limbo due to change in Church’s teaching on baptism and salvation A Jesuit priest Fr.Richard G. Malloy S.J says that the change in the Church’s teaching on Limbo is due to the change in the Church’s teaching on baptism and salvation. He refers to Lumen Gentium 16, Vatican Council II.He assumes that those saved in invincible ignorance are explicitly known to us and so they contradict the traditional teaching on exclusive salvation.He then says “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacrament” (CCC #1257). God has bound salvation to the Sacrament of the Baptism of water . However for the Jesuit priest there can be known exceptions. Since a person can be saved in invincible ignorance and this case would be known to us.It would have to be known to us since if it was not known it would not be an exception to the teaching on exclusive salvation. It would mean every one with no exception needs to enter the Church. Now since he and the International Theological Commission allegedly know these particular exceptions, the church’s teaching on salvation with the baptism of water and the issue of Limbo has been changed.He says that ‘in 2006, Pope Benedict formally recognized that the teaching on limbo had to be “placed in limbo” (so to speak) given the increasing awareness of the theological understanding of the relationship between salvation and baptism.’ In 2006 Pope Benedict once again acknowledged that those saved in invincible ignorance etc are explicitly known to us and so they were known exceptions to the Church teaching that the baptism of water was needed for all for salvation and there were no known exceptions.
    He has ‘updated the tradition’ based on this new doctrine of the visible baptism of desire and knowing cases in general in Heaven who are saved in invincible ignorance.-Lionel Andrades1.

  • Daniel Smith


  • Thank you, Sir.

  • Garret Kade Dupre

    Cantate Domino says everyone outside the Catholic Church goes into eternal fire. Aren’t those in original sin outside the Church? That would seem to rule out the possibility of limbo, would it not? Just trying to reconcile these two teachings.

  • No, Cantate Domino did not rule out limbo.

    The passage in question speaks of “those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart “into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels”… Such individuals are presumed to be adults. Heresy and schism are voluntary acts of a baptized person with the use of reason. Paganism and (post-Christian) Judaism are belief systems that contradict divine revelation. In all instances, what is common is a lack of assent to divine Faith or (in the case of schism), a mortal sin against Charity, which severs one from the unity of the Church.

  • Garret Kade Dupre

    Thanks for the clarification. I suppose ex cathedra statements are just like Bible verses in the sense a strictly literal interpretation isn’t always correct.

  • Daniel Smith

    I would Posit one objection to St. Thomas’ theory of natural happiness deprived of the Beatific vision, based on other commonly held theological truths:
    1. That every soul is immediately judged by God on the spot where they die.
    2. That being judged in such a manner, they cannot remain ignorant of what they have lost.
    3. Therefore, the unhappy infants who die without baptism must understand and in some sense regret having never received baptism, and yet know that as human beings it was intended for them. This MUST necessitate pain of loss. For Christ MUST say to them: “Depart from me, I never knew you.”
    4. Where will they be in the general resurrection? There is only at that time two fates: Paradise, or a lake of fire, into which Hades itself (In which the Limbo of the Infants must reside, assuming it exists, being the abode of death) is finally cast.
    5. It would therefore seem that the what St. Augustine Defended dogmatically must be true in the end, that those who do not run to the right must run to the left with the devil and share in his condemnation at LEAST in the General resurrection, AND That the teaching of Peter Abelard at LEAST must be true, that unbaptized infants suffer, not the pain of sense, but the pain of loss before the general resurrection. Revelation does not admit of degrees of Torment in one common lake of fire into which the abode of death is itself cast, i.e. Limbo and Purgatory.

    Of all the above points, that which seems practically irrefutable is that the unbaptized infant MUST of Necessity hear Christ pronounce the words: “Depart from me, I never knew you.” All else flows from that, and who could deny it without becoming a Pelagian?

  • 1.) True as a common opinion. I accept it, too. It has no bearing on the possibility of a natural happiness in Limbo.

    2.) Ditto.

    3.) Yes, they will suffer the poena damni. Nobody that I am aware of holds that the souls in Limbo do not suffer this pain. It is essential to the concept of Limbo, since, historically, what brought about this doctrine is the distinction between the poena sensus and the poena damni. Arguably, the Goats on Our Lord’s left who will have those stern words addressed to them — “Depart from me, I never knew you.” — will be those specifically mentioned in the Gospel whence comes the passage, i.e., those dying with actual sin on their souls.

    4.) This begs the question by limiting “hell” to the “lake of fire” only, i.e., a place of both the poena sensus and the poena damni. Petitio principii.

    5.) The statement that “Revelation does not admit of degrees of Torment in one common lake of fire into which the abode of death is itself cast” is completely refuted by the Magisterium, e.g., The Council of Florence: “Moreover, the souls of those who depart in actual mortal sin or in original sin only, descend immediately into Hell but to undergo punishments of different kinds” (Denz. 694).

    Here’s more…

    In 1206 Pope Innocent III wrote to the Archbishop of Lyons in response to his question concerning the fate of unbaptized babies:

    “Original sin, therefore, which is committed without consent, is remitted without consent through the power of the sacrament of Baptism; but actual sin which is contracted with consent, is not mitigated in the slightest without consent…The punishment of original sin is deprivation of the vision of God, but the punishment of actual sin is the torments of everlasting hell.” (Denz. 410)

    In 1274 the Council of Lyons taught:

    “The souls of those who die in mortal sin or in original sin only, however, immediately descend to hell, yet to be punished with different punishments.” (Denz. 464)

    In 1321 Pope John XXII wrote in a letter to the Armenians:

    “[The Roman Catholic Church] teaches…that the souls…of those who die in mortal sin, or with original sin only, descend immediately into hell; however to be punished with different penalties and in different places.” (Denz. 493a)

    In 1438 the Council of Florence said that the Church’s teaching on the Limbo of the Children had been “defined.” While this of course is not strictly true, it perhaps indicates the high theological note which this teaching enjoys:

    “It has likewise been defined…moreover the souls of those who depart in actual mortal sin or in original sin only, descend immediately into hell but undergo punishments of a different kind.” (Denz. 693)

    The rigorist Jansenists taught that unbaptized children were punished in the fires of hell, and rejected as a “Pelagian fable” the Church’s teaching on the Limbo of the Children. This error was condemned by Pope Pius VI in 1794:

    “The doctrine which rejects as a Pelagian fable that place of the lower regions (which the faithful generally designate by the name of the Limbo of Children) in which the souls of those departing with the sole guilt of original sin are punished with the punishment of the condemned, exclusive of fire, just as if, by this very fact, that those who remove the punishment of fire introduced that middle place and state, free of guilt and punishment between the kingdom of God and eternal damnation, such as that about which the Pelagians idly talk: [This proposition is] false, rash, injurious to Catholic schools.” (Denz. 1526)

    These last several paragraphs (after “Here’s more…”) were excerpted from:

  • Daniel Smith

    That’s just my point though Brother, St Thomas denied the Poena Damni. He denied it in favor of natural happiness.

    My whole point is simply that his theory doesn’t seem sound in light of the Particular judgment and especially the general judgment when all flesh will be either granted paradise or cast into the lake of fire.

    So unbaptized infants MUST suffer the pain of loss as a legitimate pain, because Christ MUST say, “Depart from me I never knew you.”

    I don’t think it’s possible for there to be a category of humanity excluded from the beatific vision who simultaneously never heard those words. As the Catechism of Trent makes clear,

    “those who are not born again are born to eternal misery and destruction.”

    To paraphrase it.

    So My only point again is natural happiness cannot be compatible with a knowledge of the loss of salvation. It must be either or. But how can there be natural happiness in light of the particular judgment bringing to light our sinfulness?

    It doesn’t seem to add up, I think St Thomas missed something there, not that I am smarter!

    What say you?

  • Daniel, when one takes into account the Magisterial teaching that the damned “undergo punishments of a different kind,” it is made clear that the Southern Baptist notion of a homogenous “lake of fire” is untenable. (And I know that “lake of fire” is a Biblical expression. But the Bible does not say that God’s punishment of the damned is homogenous.)

    Saint Thomas did not deny the pain of loss. He merely asserted that it is not incompatible with some degree of natural beatitude. Does not our very earthly existence confirm this? We are not satisfied here by vision, yet we can have happiness.

    I freely admit that Dante’s Hell is mine — not in intricate detail, but in the fact that God’s judgment is just and merciful. And by “just,” we mean proportional to the crime.

    I must say that I find immense satisfaction in St Thomas’ explanations, which can be found here:

    Brother Francis used to say that one of the reasons people easily reject the doctrine extra ecclesiam nulla salus is that there was, at Father Feeney’s time, an exaggerated notion of Hell. Brother Francis insisted that the Hell that Dante proposed was compatible with revelation.

  • Daniel Smith

    I agree that is possible. But like I said, it seems St Thonas did deny the Poena Damni, as is recounted by the 1913 Catholic Encyclipedia entry in Limbo:

    “No reason can be given—so argued the Angelic Doctor—for exempting unbaptized children from the material torments of hell (poena sensus) that does not hold good, even a fortiori, for exempting them also from internal spiritual suffering (poena damni in the subjective sense), since the latter in reality is the more grievous penalty, and is more opposed to the mitissima poena which St. Augustine was willing to admit (De Malo, V, art. iii). Hence he expressly denies that they suffer any “interior affliction”, in other words that they experience any pain of loss (nihil omnino dolebunt de carentia vision’s divine “In Sent.”, II, 33, q. ii, a. 2). At first (“In Sent.”, loc. cit.) St. Thomas held this absence of subjective suffering to be compatible with a consciousness of objective loss or privation, the resignation of such souls to the ways of God’s providence being so perfect that a knowledge of what they had lost through no fault of their own does not interfere with the full enjoyment of the natural goods they possess. Afterwards, however, he adopted the much simpler psychological explanation which denies that these souls have any knowledge of the supernatural destiny they have missed, this knowledge being itself supernatural, and as such not included in what is naturally due to the separated soul (De Malo, loc. cit.). It should be added that in St. Thomas’s view the limbus infantium is not a mere negative state of immunity from suffering and sorrow, but a state of positive happiness in which the soul is united to God by a knowledge and love of Him proportionate to nature’s capacity.”

    But see, the very reliance on the psychological explanation St Thomas adopted later is the problem: it cannot be demonstrated. On the contrary, the particular judgment of necessity and by nature precludes this state of “Blessed ignorance.” Because essentially this is what this is.

    So it seems that the best explanation as to the end of unbaptized infants lies in the dogma of Lyons and Florence themselves, that they are really and actually tormented, and this must be at least the Poena Damni of Loss, because the particular judgment precludes ignorance as does the general judgment.

    On what basis can St Thomas assert a psychological ignorance of loss without denying the Poena Damni?

    Please understand again I am not a Jansenist not smarter than the Angelic doctor. I think we both see the need to embrace dogmas as phrased without diminution or addition.

  • There is some confusion here. The most glaring thing is your assertion that “[these infants] are really and actually tormented, and this must be at least the Poena Damni of Loss.” Poena damni and the pain of loss are the same thing, so there is a redundancy there (no big deal, but it helps to clarify things about the essence of the poena damni — it is the eschatological absence of the Beatific Vision). Second the word “torment” is properly equated with the poena sensus, not the poena damni. (More on that in a bit.) So in addition to a redundancy, you have the confusion of the two distinct aspects of Hell’s punishments.

    Saint Thomas’ assertion that the pain of loss is not subjectively experienced due to ignorance of their supernatural destiny on the part of infants is highly speculative, to be sure, but then, the entire Summa is speculative theology. That is the scholastic method.

    While his teaching is by no means binding, it is defensible. “To whom more is given, more is expected.” These infants do not know of their supernatural destiny, nor do they resist God’s will by actual sin. They have not denied faith, hope, or charity. To keep them unaware of that destiny, yet allow them a natural happiness is not incommensurate with God’s justice. Still, proportioned to the beatitude of Heaven, their state is one of punishment. They have the loss of beatitude.

    Saint Thomas is correct in saying that knowledge of their supernatural destiny is a matter of supernatural revelation. Nobody could deny that without, in Modernist or Lubacian fashion confusing the natural and supernatural orders.

    You ask, “On what basis can St Thomas assert a psychological ignorance of loss without denying the Poena Damni?” I believe it was on the man’s incredibly deep appreciation of true human psychology. If one has a natural happiness far inferior to supernatural happiness, yet without understanding his privation, he is still “happy”; yet, objectively, he is still “punished” with the poena damni.

    Perhaps the basis of St. Thomas’ speculation was the teaching of Pope Innocent III, cited above. It was sent by that Pope to the Archbishop of Arles in 1206, only twenty or so years before Saint Thomas’ birth. It must have been well known at the Angelic Doctor’s time. (One might assume that the less than 500 miles between Arles and Paris could have been traversed by that time!) Here is that teaching: “The punishment [poena] of original sin is deprivation of the vision of God [carentia visionis Dei; carentia=”to be without, be free from, be destitute of”], but the punishment of actual sin is the torments of everlasting hell [gehennae perpetuae cruciatus; cruciatus=”torment; torture; cause grief, anguish; crucify; suffer torture, agony; grieve].”

    A clear distinction is made between “deprivation” and “torment.”

    I could turn the question around on you: “On what basis do you assume that there is a knowledge of their supernatural destiny on the part of these infants?” For it is an assumption on your part — that is, speculation — to advance the notion that they do indeed know what the supernatural destiny is that they have missed.

  • Daniel Smith

    To answer your last question:

    That they are judged by Jesus Christ himself and must be dismissed from his presence, and that they cannot therefore be ignorant.

  • You’re reading an awful lot into Matthew 25. It’s simply not there.

  • Daniel Smith

    You said you believed it to be true that all who depart this life are judged immediately by Jesus Christ. Does that judgment dispel ignorance in the soul? Where is Limbo? Is it not in Hell, the outermost edge? Will Christ not tell the unhappy children who die without baptism that they will never see his face? What consolation can then be expected for them?

    He MUST tell them to depart and he MUST tell them why, or it must at least be made clear in all Justice, if not in the particular judgment then at least in the General judgment.

    How then can they remain ignorant after being personally judged by Jesus Christ and actively LOSING him?

    Now, is there a category of humanity who finds itself outside of God’s presence without ever undergoing judgment, sentencing and condemnation?


    Is there a category of Humanity which can experience these things and not know the justice of the acts of God?


    Do the damned believe they are therefore damned justly?


    Therefore the Limbo of the Infants cannot consist of Natural happiness because the occupants cannot be happy having knowledge of the Justice of the judge and the fact that they dwell apart from him.

  • Are you are saying that it is ex clara scriptura that the souls of unbaptized babies will have it explicitly revealed to them that they had a supernatural destiny that they have lost, and for that reason Saint Thomas is wrong?

    By the way, I will (hopefully) be away from my computer till tomorrow. I will also be gone much of next week on pilgrimage. Please do not mistake a delayed answer with my ignoring you.

  • Daniel Smith

    I am suggesting he could be wrong for one simple reason:

    The particular judgment cannot leave on in ignorance as to his purpose, destiny, and the failure to enter into what God has intended. Neither can the general judgment. For that reason, unbaptized infants cannot exist in a state of natural happiness.

    Is there any category of the Damned which state that their damnation is unfair or unjust? No.

    Are there any who are left ignorant by Him after being judged? Not if justice is to be fulfilled.

    Where then is the room for happiness?

    There must be at least inner spiritual torment.

  • The opinions of Saint Thomas are far more cogent and intellectually satisfying to me than your speculations on the matter.

    Thank you for the interesting discussion.

  • Daniel Smith

    That’s not an answer brother.

    Is it possible for judgment to be personally rendered against a soul by Jesus Christ and have the soul remain in ignorance of its fate? That’s the core.

  • Daniel Smith

    Ah, I see my error now. St Thomas says they will not suffer because they will understand salvation was not owed them, and they cannot feel the loss of what they were not owed, essentially. Ok, I see! So they are freed from ignorance, but they understand the nature of their loss clearly, and because it is in the above sense, it does not bring them subjective pain. Makes sense.

  • Glad to be of help. :-)