Limbo (theology)

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Alonso Cano : Christ's descent into the underworld : after Adam, Eve and Abel, Christ frees souls from Limbus patrum

Limbus ( Latin for “edge”, “hem”, “boundary”), colloquially also “limbo” , in Catholic theology denotes a place (popularly also known as “vestibule” or “outermost circle of hell”) who are souls who through no fault of their own are or were excluded from heaven and the eternal view of God .

In theology, a distinction is made between the limbus of the fathers (Limbus patrum) , which ended with the death and resurrection of Christ , and the limbus of children (Limbus infantium or Limbus puerorum) , which was traditionally regarded as the place for the souls of unbaptized children .

Limbus patrum and Limbus puerorum

One distinguishes

  1. the limbus patrum . This was considered to be the place for the souls of the dead righteous (or the "pious") of the old covenant from the time before the birth of Jesus Christ . During his descent into the underworld , he freed the first parents Adam and Eve , the patriarchs, the prophets and all those who died in faith in God without knowing Christ, which is why no one was left in limbo .
  2. the Limbus puerorum (also Limbus infantium ). This is the place for the souls of children who died unbaptized and of others who did not gain the use of reason and thus could not commit any sin, i.e. were only subject to the consequences of original sin at the time of death . But this only in the case that there is no other way of salvation for them, which only God knows and which has not been revealed to the church.

The limbus infantium is a theological speculation that results from the dogmas of the church on topics such as sin, original sin , redemption and baptism and was "general Catholic teaching until the middle of the 20th century".

Neither the limbus patrum nor the limbus infantium have a biblical foundation. Their conception arose from the question of the necessity of the redeeming death of Christ and the requirement of baptism for the salvation of souls. As such, the concept of limbo as a place was never dogma , but merely part of theological speculation in which the concept of limbo was represented as a theory.

Historically, there were also different ideas about what limbo meant:

  1. Loss of the vision of God, the Visio beatifica , mental derangement and sadness, mild punishment for the senses
  2. Loss of the vision of God, mental derangement and sadness, but no sensory punishment
  3. Only loss of the divine vision (without further statements)
  4. Loss of the vision of God, but at the same time a purely natural bliss

Theological discussion of the limbus puerorum

Ever since the doctor of the church Augustine of Hippo formulated the doctrine of original sin , theology saw baptism as indispensable for salvation and thus redemption . Augustine thought it impossible for unbaptized children to enter Paradise or even any other place of bliss (see unbaptized children ). The Synod of Carthage in 418 consolidated this doctrine and with it the view that infants who die unbaptized go to hell.

In the Middle Ages this teaching was toned down again: According to her, the place for the souls excluded from heaven through no personal fault was a place on the edge or edge of hell, called limbus (“thin layer”). Petrus Abelardus (1079–1142) taught that such children did not suffer any sensory punishment, only the loss of the vision of God. In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas described Limbus puerorum as a place of eternal natural bliss. The Dominican Hugo Ripelin of Strasbourg stated in his Compendium theologicae veritatis (1268) that this place was above the hell of the damned.

The Council of Ferrara / Florence (1431 to 1445) confirmed the teaching of the Synod of Carthage that baptism is indispensable and that people who die in the sole state of original sin go to hell.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, individual theologians (Bianchi 1768, H. Klee 1835, Caron 1855, H. Schell 1893) formulated theses on how children who died unbaptized could still be saved. In 1952, the theologian Ludwig Ott was able to implement this as a possibility in his outline of Catholic dogmatics , although he nevertheless presented limbo as the conventional, established view.

In the 1992 world catechism , the term limbo is no longer found. There it says:

“As for children who have died without baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in the appropriate funeral rite. The great mercy of God who wants all people to be saved 'and the tender love of Jesus for the children, which makes him say:' Let the children come to me; don't stop them! ' (Mk 10:14), entitle us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism. The Church urges parents not to prevent their children from coming to Christ through the gift of holy baptism. "

What this path of salvation looks like is not known, as there was no revelation about it.

Since November 2005 the Papal International Theological Commission has dealt with the subject. On April 20, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI approved . the results of the International Theological Commission and enabled the evaluation of the teaching of limbus puerorum as an older theological opinion not supported by the church teaching office . The Archbishop of Dijon, Roland Minnerath , explained the decision: The theologians of the commission had come to the conclusion that the souls of unbaptized, deceased young children would go straight to Paradise . However, the document of the International Theological Commission also states (in paragraph 41) that limbo " remains a possible theological opinion". The Limbus not part of the doctrine of the Catholic Church, but it remains a theory that does not condemn the church and the faithful zubillige. Benedict XVI. I had this in mind before the election as Pope. The British daily Times quotes his report on the state of faith from 1985: "Personally, I would give it up because it was always just a hypothesis." Gerhard Ludwig Müller says:

“In relation to these less binding statements, the more recent conception of Vatican II regarding the possibility of salvation for the non-baptized must be observed. This means that all limbo theories are outdated. "

Limbo in literature

  • In Dante Alighieri's (1265–1321) Divine Comedy , poets, philosophers and scientists from pre- and non-Christian cultures find themselves in the limbo , which is in front of hell.

See also


  • Jacques Gélis: Les enfants des limbes. Mort-nés et parents dans l'Europe chrétienne . Audibert, Paris 2006, ISBN 2-84749-068-X (Main cultural and historical account, by the leading French specialist in the history of childhood).
  • Elke Pahud de Mortanges: The blocked sky. The phenomenon of the sanctuaires à répit from a theological-historical perspective . In: Swiss journal for religious and cultural history . Volume 98, 2004, ISSN  0044-3484 , pp. 31-48.
  • Johannes Maria Schwarz: Between Limbo and God Seeing. The Fate of Infants who die unbaptized in the theological discussion of the twentieth century. A panorama of theological history . Fe-Medienverlag, Kisslegg 2006, ISBN 3-939684-01-5 (also dissertation at the Facoltà di Teologia Lugano 2006).

Web links

Commons : Limbus  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Toner, Patrick: Limbo , in: The Catholic Encyclopedia . Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910 (English).
  2. a b “The papal statements during this period defended the freedom of the Catholic schools to wrestle with this question. They did not set the limbo theory as a doctrine of faith. Limbo was the general Catholic doctrine until the middle of the 20th century. ” International Theological Commission: The Hope of Salvation for Children Who Dying Without Baptism (2007) p. 31 (PDF; 298 kB).
  3. “It is known that traditional teaching on this subject has used the theory of limbo, understood as a state in which the souls of children who die without baptism do not deserve the reward of the blissful vision of God due to original sin, but are not subject to any punishment because they have committed no sins . This theory, which was developed by theologians since the Middle Ages, has never been to the dogmatic definitions of the Magisterium found their way, even if that same Magisterium has it mentioned in its ordinary teaching up until the Second Vatican Council ". International Theological Commission: the hope of salvation for Children who die unbaptized (2007) p. 3 f. (PDF; 297.84 kB).
  4. "In refuting Pelagius arrived Augustine noting without baptism deceased children were destined for hell." International Theological Commission: the hope of salvation for unbaptized infants who die (2007) page 22 (PDF, 297.84 kB) .
  5. The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized (English)
  6. ^ Churches: Vatican abolishes limbo
  7. Pope declares "Limbo" to be obsolete ( Memento from May 9, 2009 in the Internet Archive )
  8. Pope abolishes limbo
  9. ^ Gerhard Ludwig Müller : Catholic dogmatics: for study and practice of theology. - 2nd edition - Freiburg i. Br., Basel, Vienna, Herder 1995, ISBN 3-451-23334-7 , p. 520.