Do unbaptized babies spend eternity in limbo

Sr. Louise Zdunich


July 27, 2015

Question A friend and I were talking about Baptism for infants. Many Protestant churches do not baptize infants. We discussed the Catholic concept of limbo and having infant Baptism to avoid having a baby or child go to limbo. She wanted to know if there are any biblical references to limbo. Are there any?

AnswerScripture says Baptism is necessary for salvation: "I solemnly assure you that no one can enter God's kingdom without being born again of water and the Spirit (John 3.5).

When Nicodemus questions him, Jesus responds, "We are talking about what we know and have seen" (John 3.11). However, there is no mention of limbo or anything like it in Scripture.

What effect does the theory of limbo have on the Baptism of infants? It seems to me that there is not a lot of emphasis on limbo from ordinary people. Most have probably never heard of it. Their decision to baptize their infant as soon as possible likely has nothing to do with concern about the baby dying and going to limbo.

Likely, the theory of limbo has nothing to do with infants being baptized earlier than they otherwise would be.

They have not sinned but neither have they received the grace necessary for salvation.

For many centuries, the Church talked about limbo as the place for these unbaptized infants since they don't belong in heaven or hell. It was called limbo which means outer edge or border.

What happens to those who die without Baptism?

Theologian Peter Abelard in the 12th century believed that these infants suffer no punishment or material torment other than the pain of being deprived of the beatific vision. They enjoy a state of natural, not supernatural, happiness.


This idea probably developed in the Middle Ages but was never defined as Church dogma.

There is no reference to limbo in the Catechism of the Catholic Church issued in 1992. However, the catechism says, "Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament."

The catechism explains that God has tied salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but God is not bound by the sacraments.

In its 1980 instruction on children's Baptism, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith stated that with regard to children who die without receiving Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God.

Limbo is a concept which has a long history because of the concern about the fate of those babies when hazardous situations exist which may impair the health and life of an infant prior to or after birth. Therefore, it became urgent to baptize infants who died at birth or were in danger of death.

Nurses, doctors and ordinary Christians were instructed to baptize these infants even in the womb to ensure their entrance into heaven.


St. Thomas Aquinas himself did not address this issue in his famous treatise Summa Theologica. It is dealt with in an Appendix to the Supplement, added after Aquinas' death.

There, limbo is described as an eternal state of natural joy untempered by any sense of loss at how much greater the person's joy might have been had they been baptized.

An International Theological Commission document indicates that these unbaptized children below the age of reason feel no pain at all or even enjoy a full natural happiness through their mediated union with God.

(Other questions? Email: