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55380.  Sat Feb 25, 2006 7:14 am Reply with quote

The Catholic Church is on the point of abolishing Limbo.

In the 5th century, St Augustine declared that every unbaptised soul, by definition, was condemned to Hell. They are born with original sin - the sin of Adam - and that sin can only be washed away by baptism, therefore (and you can’t fault his logic) those who die before baptism are sinners.

This was a new and somewhat shocking idea, and to take the sting out of it a touch, Augustine said that the unbaptised would not suffer the full torments inflicted on sinners; instead, they would only be subject to a mitissima poena - a small pain. Aaah! He’d do anything for the kiddies, old Gus would.

The French theologian Abelard (1079-1142) felt even this was too harsh (political correctness gone mad, surely?) and announced that the only punishment the dirty dead would receive was the loss of the Beatific Vision - that is, the sight of God his own self in all his glory. This Vision is available only in heaven (exclusive outlet, you might say), so the unbaptised were sent to a place where there was no pain, but no joy either. Not BBC1, but “Limbo,” from the Latin “limbus,” or edge. Limbo is a place on the edge of happiness, but never quite there.

It wasn’t only babies who went to Limbo, so they had their own quarters: Limbus Infantium. Down the corridor a bit was Limbus Patrum, where were housed those Jewish prophets who had made the cardinal error of dying before the birth of Jesus, and who therefore fell into the “not bad but a bit unclean” category.

The man in power at the time - former lawyer, Pope Innocent III - was very keen on this “Limbo” of Abelard’s and promptly decreed it into existence (you can begin to see the Reformation’s point, can’t you?). In Limbo, said Innocent, the inhabitants would suffer from “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.”

In the 13th century, St Thomas Aquinas said that not only was Limbo completely painless - because babies can’t miss what they have never known, and would therefore be unaware that they were deprived of the sight of God - but that it was in fact a place of positive happiness, because it was so close to Heaven.

The Church of England abolished Limbo in the 16th century; Edward VI declared it non-existent. Over the centuries, even the Catholics have gradually downgraded the whole idea, and in the last half century Limbo has been allowed to quietly fade away. Limbo has no basis whatever in scripture; the current pope has said that it was only ever a “theological hypothesis,” not an article of faith.

Sources: The Freethinker, January 2006.,,13509-1897480,00.html

Picture researchers: The Freethinker, January 2006, page 2 has a photo of the Archbishop of York, Rt Rev John Sentamu, in full regalia banging with his staff of office on the door of the cathedral. It looks very much as if he is engaged in a limbo dance ... (in fact, the Freethinker caption expresses the Archbishop's delight at hearing that Limbo is to be abolished, because “You have no idea how hard it is to dance under a stick wearing this silly hat.”)

55388.  Sat Feb 25, 2006 8:25 am Reply with quote

Good, good. The link into limbo dancing is irresistible.

How does limbo relate to Purgatory?

55389.  Sat Feb 25, 2006 8:30 am Reply with quote

What do I look like? A priest?

*sigh* .... I'll try and find out.

55390.  Sat Feb 25, 2006 8:32 am Reply with quote

Incidentally, the Times source above gives other translations of limbus: "a hem, edge or boundary."

55396.  Sat Feb 25, 2006 9:04 am Reply with quote

Right: purgatory. Nothing to do with prunes, it turns out.

Bearing in mind that even people who were raised in all this find it hard to explain let alone understand (at least, all those I’ve asked do), as far as I can make out you go to purgatory if, although you die in God’s grace (and therefore fail to win a place in Hell), you also die with sins on your conscience which have not been fully forgiven yet (and thus you are not condemned to Heaven). As the word suggests, it’s a place where you get cleansed: it’s a soul-laundry.

Limbo, on the other hand, is full of people who for technical, legalistic reasons do not qualify for Heaven, but have not actually themselves committed a sin.


Something interesting: on the proposed Limbo abolition, you find commentators celebrating the fact that the souls in Limbo will now ascend to Heaven.

There are, surely, two obvious problems with this.
1) Why will they ascend to Heaven? Why not descend to Hell?
2) The church presumably claims to be abolishing its own error in inventing the concept of Limbo, which it has now decided doesn't exist - not abolishing Limbo itself, which presumably would be God’s job, not the cardinals’. So Limbo isn't being abolished; rather, the fact that it never existed is being acknowledged. So all those souls who, their relatives have always been told, where in Limbo, weren’t: they were actually either Up or Down all along (unless they were in Purgatory, of course ...)

55408.  Sat Feb 25, 2006 11:28 am Reply with quote

Yes, God's going to have some explaining to do when Abraham turns up. Won't have happened yet, of course, because limbo hasn't been officially abolished, but I don't imagine he's looking forward to it.

55419.  Sat Feb 25, 2006 12:08 pm Reply with quote

The only real winners will be the bloody lawyers, as usual.

55446.  Sat Feb 25, 2006 1:56 pm Reply with quote

Limbo is a novelty dance that originated on the island of Trinidad. The dancer moves to a Caribbean rhythm, then leans backward and dances under a horizontal stick without touching it. When several dancers compete, the stick is gradually lowered until only one dancer - who has not touched the stick or the floor - remains.

The name is said to be derived from the original purpose of the dance, which was to help a dead loved one's soul escape the state of Limbo. It is performed for one week after a funeral. It is also possible that the name comes directly from the English of Trinidad; Merriam-Webster lists the etymology as "English of Trinidad & Barbados; akin to Jamaican English limba to bend, from English limber".


55500.  Sat Feb 25, 2006 8:18 pm Reply with quote

Limbo was also the name of an anti-submarine mortar weapon carried on Royal Naval ships until the 80s.

Frederick The Monk
55519.  Sun Feb 26, 2006 5:05 am Reply with quote

The 'Limbo of the Children' is a kindergarten on the edge of Hell reserved for unbaptised infants.


The'Limbo of the Fathers' is where the souls of the just who died before Christ awaited their admission to heaven; for in the meantime heaven was closed against them in punishment for the sin of Adam.


Last edited by Frederick The Monk on Sun Feb 26, 2006 5:11 am; edited 1 time in total

Frederick The Monk
55521.  Sun Feb 26, 2006 5:06 am Reply with quote

'Gumbo-limbo' is a tropical American tree yielding a reddish resin used in cements and varnishes.


56857.  Sat Mar 04, 2006 7:44 am Reply with quote

Following the attack on Limbo, it seems, nothing is sacred. The head of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Science is leading a campaign to “rehabilitate” Judas Iscariot; he is supported by intellectuals close to the current and previous popes.

They see the traditional reading of the Judas story - that he was an evil traitor - as creating a “problem of an apparent lack of mercy by Jesus toward one of his closest collaborators.” They argue that Judas was merely “fulfilling his part in God’s plan,” and that reviling him has been one of the historic cornerstones of Catholic anti-Semitism.

Other scholars, however, are worried that to “muddy the Gospel accounts” might “create confusion in believers.”

Source: The Freethinker, February 2006.

56888.  Sat Mar 04, 2006 9:56 am Reply with quote

Other scholars, however, are worried that to “muddy the Gospel accounts” might “create confusion in believers.”

Yes, that is a worry, isn't it. :-D

Frederick The Monk
56989.  Sat Mar 04, 2006 5:25 pm Reply with quote

Rehabilitate Judas! Time to wheel out the Prophecy of St Malachy I feel...... The end is nigh I tell ye!

56993.  Sat Mar 04, 2006 6:05 pm Reply with quote

If we went with something like "Why is the Pope bending over backwards to help the unbaptised?" would that be a question that was just too pleased with itself to work, do we think? I suspect it might be, but I'll bring it to the meeting and we can see.


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