Popes have taken Four Contrary Positions on the Fate of Unbaptized Infants
[This is only a brief overview of what popes have said about Limbo. For a fuller discussion of the history of the Limbo heresy, see Unbaptized Infants Suffer Fire and Limbo is a Heretical Pelagian Fable.]
Popes of the Roman Catholic Church have taken four contrary positions regarding the fate of infants who die without baptism.
The lot assigned by popes to the infants has gradually changed from including hell fire, through involving the pain of loss only and then no pain at all, to full beatitude in heaven.
1. Popes of the patristic era infallibly defined the doctrine of Augustine that unbaptized infants have the eternal torments of the damned in the fires of hell with the devil. We cite Pope Gregory the Great, Pope Zosimus and Pope Innocent I amongst others who taught this.
3. Pope Pius X was the first pope to teach that unbaptized infants have no sufferings in his 1905 Catechism.
4. Recent popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, have given us to “hope” that all unbaptized infants, and indeed all of humanity, will go to heaven.
First papal position
The XVI Council of
The Council taught the Catholic doctrine that infants go into the fire to be eternally punished with the devil, being on the left hand at the judgement.
The teaching of
“It has been decided likewise that if anyone says that for this reason the Lord said: “In my house there are many mansions”: that it might be understood that in the kingdom of heaven there will be some middle place or some place anywhere where happy infants live who departed from this life without baptism, without which they cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven, which is life eternal, let him be anathema. For when the Lord says: “Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he shall not enter into the kingdom of God” [John 3:5], what Catholic will doubt that he will be a partner of the devil who has not deserved to be a coheir of Christ? For he who lacks the right part will without doubt run into the left [cf. Matt. 25:41,46].”
“Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels... And these shall go away into everlasting punishment.” ( Matthew 25:41, 46)
This remained the teaching of the Church for
several centuries. Indeed any contrary doctrine has been heretical ever since
the popes made the teaching of
Pope Gregory the Great (-604) taught the eternal torment of infants in his Moralia on the Book of Job.
Gregory the Great: “For there be some that
are withdrawn from the present light, before they attain to shew forth the
good or evil deserts of an active life. And whereas the Sacraments of
salvation do not free them from the sin of their birth, at the same time that
here they never did aright by their own act; there they are brought to
torment. And these have one wound, viz. to be born in corruption, and
another, to die in the flesh. But forasmuch as after death there also
follows, death eternal, by a secret and righteous judgment ‘wounds are
multiplied to them without cause.’ For they even receive everlasting torments,
who never sinned by their own will. And hence it is written, Even the infant
of a single day is not pure in His sight upon earth. Hence ‘Truth’ says
by His own lips, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he
cannot enter into the
Second papal position
According to Pope Innocent, infants suffer the pain of knowing that they have lost the vision of God but they do not have the pain of fire.
“Pope Innocent’s teaching is to the effect that those dying with only original sin on their souls will suffer ‘no other pain, whether from material fire or from the worm of conscience, except the pain of being deprived forever of the vision of God.’ It should be noted, however, that this poena damni incurred for original sin implied, with Abelard and most of the early Scholastics, a certain degree of spiritual torment.” (Toner, Catholic Encyclopedia 1910, Limbo)
Third papal position
Aquinas was the first major theologian to teach
that the infants have no pain whatsoever, even a pain of loss. In fact he
taught that they have a state of natural happiness. Yes, this is sounding
more and more like the happy Limbo of the Pelagians, condemned by the Church
But no pope taught the doctrine that the
unbaptized infants do not suffer in eternity until it was incorporated into
the 1905 Catechism of Pope Pius X,
most of which he wrote himself and the use of which he imposed on the diocese
“Babies dead without baptism go to Limbo, where they do not enjoy God, but neither do they suffer, because, having original sin alone, they do not deserve paradise, but neither do they merit hell or purgatory.”
Fourth papal position
Recent popes have quite outdone their predecessors. They now give us to “hope” that unbaptized infants will be included in the universal salvation of all people.
Cardinal Ratzinger wrote as follows about the efforts of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.
“This state people called limbo. In the course of our century, that has gradually come to seem problematic to us. This was one way in which people sought to justify the necessity of baptizing infants as early as possible, but the solution is itself questionable. Finally, the pope made a decisive turn in the encyclical Evangelium Vitae, a change already anticipated by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, when he expressed the simple hope that God is powerful enough to draw to himself all those who were unable to receive the sacrament.” (God and the World, Ignatius Press, 2002, p. 401)
The new Catechism, published by John Paul in 1992, encourages us to hope that unbaptized infants go to heaven.
“As regards children who have died without baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1261)
Indeed, we are given to hope that all people will be saved.
“The Church prays that no one should be lost: ‘Lord, let me never be parted from you.’ If it is true that no one can save himself, it is also true that God ‘desires all men to be saved’ (1 Tim 2:4), and that for him ‘all things are possible’ (Mt 19:26).” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1058)
“In hope, the Church prays for ‘all men to be saved.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1821)
Pope John Paul II wrote more assertively in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, telling women who have had an abortion, “you will be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord.”
In October 2004 John Paul asked the International Theological Commission to consider the question of the fate of unbaptized infants in the light of the “universal salvific will of God”. Its work has continued under Pope Benedict XVI and The Times recently reported as follows.
“Vatican sources said yesterday that the commission would recommend that Limbo be replaced by the more “compassionate” doctrine that all children who die do so “in the hope of eternal salvation.”” (Times, November 30, 2005)
John Paul seemed quite certain that all people will be saved. He was given to speak of Jesus as follows.
“Christ, Redeemer of man, now for ever ‘clad in a robe dipped in blood’, the everlasting, invincible guarantee of universal salvation.” (Message to the Abbess General of the Order of the Most Holy Saviour of St Bridget)
Update! Non-existent quote from Catechism of Pope Pius X
It has become clear that the passage maintaining the Limbo heresy is not in the early editions of the Catechism of Pius X. Thus the truth is that no pope has ever taught the version of the Limbo heresy that says that unbaptized infants go to a middle place where they do not suffer even the pain of loss. And yet almost all Catholics think that is what the Church has always taught on this matter! This well illustrates the necessity of looking to the ancient Fathers to see what the true Faith is.
Richard Ibranyi recently revealed as follows.
“I believe that my mistake in this case was providential because it proves a very important fact that I mention time and time again; that is, heretics misquote imprimatured books to defend their heresies. That is aside from the fact that many imprimatured books do contain heresy. I trusted the many sources that use the supposed following quote from the Hagan edition of the Catechism of Pope Pius X Catechism to defend the Limbo Heresy that dead unbaptized infants are not in hell.
“A Compendium of Catechetical Instruction (Also known as the Catechism of Pope Pius X), Monsignor John Hagan, 1910, English edition translated from a French version: ‘Babies dead without baptism go to Limbo, where they do not enjoy God, but neither do they suffer, because, having original sin alone, they do not deserve paradise, but neither do they merit hell or purgatory.’
“I knew that the Hagan edition of the Catechism of Pope Pius X contains the Salvation Heresy, so I assumed that it contained this Limbo Heresy that many said it contained. I should have checked the catechism to verify the quote before I used it in this section of my book. Upon investigation, I discovered that this Limbo Heresy is not in the Hagan edition of the Catechism of Pope Pius X. Therefore, beware of those who use this quote to defend their Limbo Heresy. This is just another example of obstinate heretics lying to defend their heresies, hoping their readers do not catch them lying.” (Damned Infants)