LIMBUS (Lat. for " edge," " fringe," e.g. of a garment), a theological term denoting the border of hell, where dwell those who, while not condemned to torture, yet are deprived of the joy of heaven. The more common form in English is " limbo," which is used both in the technical theological sense and derivatively in the sense of " prison," or for the condition of being lost, deserted, obsolete. In theology there are (i) the Limbus Infantum, and (2) the Limbus Patrum.
i. The Limbus Infantum or Puerorum is the abode to which human beings dying without actual sin, but with their original sin unwashed away by baptism, were held to be consigned; the category included, not unbaptized infants merely, but also idiots, cretins and the like. The word " limbus," in the theological application, occurs first in the Summa of Thomas Aquinas; for its extensive currency it is perhaps most indebted to the Commedia of Dante (Inf. c. 4). The question as to the destiny of infants dying unbaptized presented itself to theologians at a comparatively early period. Generally speaking it may be said that the Greek fathers inclined to a cheerful and the Latin fathers to a gloomy view. Thus Gregory of Nazianzus (Oral. 40) says " that such children as die unbaptized without their own fault shall neither be glorified nor punished by the righteous Judge, as having done no wickedness, though they die unbaptized, and as rather suffering loss than being the authors of it." Similar opinions were expressed by Gregory of Nyssa, Severus of Antioch and others opinions which it is almost impossible to distinguish from the Pelagian view that children dying unbaptized might be admitted to eternal life, though not to the kingdom of God. In his recoil from Pelagian heresy, Augustine was compelled to sharpen the antithesis between the state of the saved and that of the lost, and taught that there are only two alternatives to be with Christ or with the devil, to be with Him or against Him. Following up, as he thought, his master's teaching, Fulgentius declared that it is to be believed as an indubitable truth that, " not only men who have come to the use of reason, but infants dying, whether in their mother's womb or after birth, without baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, are punished with everlasting punishment in eternal fire." Later theologians and schoolmen followed Augustine in rejecting the notion of any final position intermediate between heaven and hell, but otherwise inclined to take the mildest possible view of the destiny of the irresponsible and unbaptized. Thus the proposition of Innocent III. that " the punishment of original sin is deprivation of the vision of God " is practically repeated by Aquinas, Scotus, and all the other great theologians of the scholastic period, the only outstanding exception being that of Gregory of Rimini, who on this account was afterwards called "tortorinfantum." The first authoritative declaration of the Latin Church upon this subject was that made by the second council of Lyons (1274), and confirmed by the council of Florence (1439), with the concurrence of the representatives of the Greek Church, to the effect that " the souls of those who die in mortal sin or in original sin only forthwith descend into hell, but to be punished with unequal punishments." Perrone remarks (Prael. Theol. pt. iii. chap. 6, art. 4) that the damnation of infants and also the comparative lightness of the punishment involved in this are thus de fide; but nothing is determined as to the place which they occupy in hell, as to what constitutes the disparity of their punishment, or as to their condition after the day of judgment. In the council of Trent there was considerable difference of opinion as to what was implied in deprivation of the vision of God, and no definition was attempted, the Dominicans maintaining the severer view that the " limbus infantum " was a dark subterranean fireless chamber, while the Franciscans placed it in a region of light above the earth. Some theologians continue to maintain with Bellarmine that the infants " in limbo " are affected with some degree of sadness on account of a felt privation; others, following the Nodus praedestinalionis of Celestine Sfrondati (1640-1696), hold that they enjoy every kind of natural felicity, as regards their souls now, and as regards their bodies after the resurrection, just as if Adam had not sinned. In the condemnation (1794) of the'synod of Pistoia (1786), the twenty-sixth article declares it to be false, rash and injurious to treat as Pelagian the doctrine that those dying in original sin are not punished with fire, as if that meant that there is an intermediate place, free from fault and punishment, between the kingdom of God and everlasting damnation.
2. The Limbus Patrum, Limbus Inferni or Sinus Abrahae (" Abraham's Bosom "), is defined in Roman Catholic theology as the place in the underworld where the saints of the Old Testament were confined until liberated by Christ on his " descent into hell." Regarding the locality and its pleasantness or painfulness nothing has been taught as de fide. It is sometimes regarded as having been closed and empty since Christ's descent, but other authors do not think of it as separate in place from the limbus infantum. The whole idea, in the Latin Church, has been justly described as the mere caput mortuum of the old catholic doctrine of Hades, which was gradually superseded in the West by that of purgatory.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)