Jack Be Limbo, Jack Be Quick…

So I just can’t help thinking about the topic of limbo without humming that catchy tune…and now it is stuck in my head…so here is a link.[1]  May it haunt you the way it haunts me!  In fact, I think it should be required listening in the background when reading this post!  hahaha

But on a more serious note, if we are going to talk about Jack and the state of his immortal soul, we first have to figure out when Jack lived and (generally) how old he was.  Wait…huh?  You thought limbo was just for unbaptized babies didn’t you!  Well, the answer is both yes and no.

First of all, there is no “official” church teaching about limbo.  The concept has arisen and has been passed down based on theological speculation.  For that reason, you can choose to believe in limbo or choose to believe[2] that limbo does not exist, well at least the limbo relating to infants.[3]

Back to the idea at hand, the concept of limbo swirls around the question of what happens to people that die in original sin but, apart from that, die without any personal sin.  The people that die in this condition are typically categorized into two groups: (1) the fathers of the faith that died before Jesus made redemption possible and (2) unbaptized babies.

The limbo of the fathers (also called Limbus Patrum) is a name coined by medieval theologians when speaking about a certain outer portion of hell.  Typically, those theologians agreed that the limbo of the fathers was a temporary place that allowed the souls present therein to be in a generally happy condition, but not in the eternal bliss of Heaven.  The limbo of the fathers is also thought to be replaced by a condition of final and permanent bliss after a Messianic Kingdom is established.[4]

In the New Testament, the limbo of the fathers is described  in many different ways.  For example, it is described as a banquet[5], a marriage feast[6], the bosom of Abraham[7], paradise[8], the lowers parts of the earth[9], and even as prison[10]. In addition, this idea was taught by Clement of Alexandria.[11]

So if Jack died a long time ago…and did so without any serious sin…then maybe he is still in Abraham’s stomach…or bosom…or whatever that word means…or maybe he is sitting at a table at an eternal wedding feast.  Oh goodness…if that’s true, I hope that silly limbo song is not playing over, and over, and over….Maybe prison would be better than that!  Maybe not.*

Ok, so back to Jack…what if Jack was a baby?  The limbo of infants (i.e., unbaptized babies) is also called Limbus Infantium.  This concept is, in essence, a hypothesis about what happens to unbaptized babies who do not have any personal sin but who were not yet freed from original sin. There is no definite statement about this type of limbo made in the New Testament.  However, if we look to John 3:5, we see that Jesus says we must be born again of water and the Holy Spirit.  In addition, in Romans 5:12, St. Paul teaches that men are born into the world in a state of sin (and thus would then need baptism and rebirth).  Similarly, Scripture and Tradition teach that the methods of rebirth and regeneration are not available after death such that those people who are not reborn are forever excluded from the beatific vision.[12]

In olden times, the Council of Florence stated that baptism was necessary even for children[13], which basically affirmed the previous teachings of the Council of Carthage that took place in the year 417.  In addition, the Council of Florence stated that those people who die in the state of original sin go to hell.

However, over time, Catholic opinion has clearly developed that unbaptized children are not sent to a place of suffering.[14]  To that end, some theologians hypothesize that the limbo of infants is a place of maximum natural happiness.  Other theologians hypothesize that this limbo is a place of least possible punishment.

In fact, in 1980, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated that we must entrust unbaptized babies to the mercy of God.[15]  Then, in 1992, the Catechism affirmed that while the Church does not know of any means other than Baptism to assure salvation, God is not bound by the sacraments.[16]  Even more recently, in a document entitled “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized” the International Theological Commission opines that Heaven may be possible for unbaptized babies.[17]

So all that said, maybe it doesn’t really matter how old Jack is/was or when he lived.  We can be fairly certain (if we want to believe) that Jack is experiencing eternal happiness.

So the next time you see a limbo stick or hear that….song….maybe you will think of Jack and wonder just where he went…


[2] Mind you, this is not the same as the doctrinal teaching of Purgatory.  Yes, as Catholics, we must believe that Purgatory exists.

[3] Limbo of the fathers is explicitly mentioned in Scripture  and, for that reasons, Catholics must at least believe in this type of limbo

[5] Matthew 8:11

[6] Matthew 25:10

[7] Luke 16:22

[8] Luke 23:43

[9] Ephesians 4:9

[10] 1 Pt 3: 18-20

[11] Stromata, book VI, chapter VI

[16] CCC 1257

[17] http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=7529&CFID=989855&CFTOKEN=78518706

* If you want a truly obscure reference, maybe Jack is sitting at the Salt and Pepper Diner and instead of Tom Jones, its Limbo all the time! But ear-plug some of the language…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rqQujx9vk0

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