Mark Shea’s faulty Catholic Religion Quiz

In part I of the Quiz, Mark Shea makes a mess of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. See my explanation here: Did the Immaculate Conception preserve Mary from all sin? Shea is teaching grave errors to his readers, without correction or remorse.

Now in the second part of his “Catholic Religion Quiz” he teaches another error, this time on salvation theology. Question 13 says:

“13. Limbo is

A) a dogma the Church discontinued at Vatican II due to popular demand
B) a theological theory that is currently in eclipse among most Catholic theologians
C) a doctrine all true Catholics are bound to hold
D) an invention of Dante Alighieri that illiterate medieval Catholics came to believe because they don’t know anything about the Bible.”

Now “A” and “D” are obviously false. But whether the correct answer is “B” or “C” depends on which version of Limbo is under consideration. Shea’s first mistake is not to distinguish the different types of Limbo.

The various ideas about limbo reach well beyond the question of unbaptized infants.

First, limbo of the Fathers is implied by the teaching of Pope Benedict XII in On the Beatific Vision of God. Persons who died before Christ, in a state of grace, awaited His death, Resurrection, and Ascension so that they could enter Heaven. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the “bosom of Abraham” (Lk 16) is the limbo of the Fathers (though the word ‘limbo’ is not used). And Pope Saint John Paul II taught: “The triumphal scene, described by the Psalm in the third poetic picture, has been applied by the Christian liturgy of the East and of the West to the victorious Descent of Christ to the Limbo of the fathers, spoken of in the First Letter of Peter (cf. 1 Peter 3:19)….” [General Audience of 20 June 2001.]

So the limbo of the Fathers is a teaching of the Magisterium.

Second, two Ecumenical Councils [Lyons II; Florence] infallibly taught that those persons who die in a state of original sin alone are sent to Hell to be punished, but with lesser punishments than the other souls in Hell. They did not use the term “limbo”, but magisterial teachings are never dependent on terminology. The Councils taught this distinction in Hell, where there are no active torments, but only the punishment of deprivation. And that concept is commonly called the limbo of Hell.

However, no Council has taught that unbaptized infants go to the limbo of Hell. My theological opinion is that all little children who die without formal baptism are given a non-formal baptism of blood (prior to death), so that they are not sent to the limbo of Hell. Those souls only die in a state of original sin alone who die unrepentant from the actual mortal sin of omission of never having found sanctifying grace in this life despite ample opportunity.

So the limbo of Hell is a teaching of the Magisterium.

The idea of limbo as a third final destination, which is neither heaven, nor hell, nor purgatory, is found in the Catechism of Pope Saint Pius X:

“Infants who die without Baptism go to Limbo where they do not enjoy the sight of God, but also do not suffer. This is because having original sin, and it alone, they do not merit heaven, but neither do they merit purgatory or hell.” [Catechism of Pope Saint Pius X, Question 100.]

The Baltimore Catechism taught similarly:

“Q. 632. Where will persons go who — such as infants — have not committed actual sin and who, through no fault of theirs, die without baptism?

A. Persons, such as infants, who have not committed actual sin and who, through no fault of theirs, die without baptism, cannot enter heaven; but it is the common belief they will go to some place similar to Limbo, where they will be free from suffering, though deprived of the happiness of heaven.”

You could argue that these Catechisms are merely presenting the common theological opinion. But I think that this idea was also taught by many Bishops for a time, so perhaps it should be considered a non-infallible teaching. In any case, the idea has fallen out of favor with the recent Popes and the body of Bishops; it is not found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nor in any recent magisterial documents. Non-infallible teachings are reformable; they can and do change, to some extent over time.

Mark Shea claims the following:

“Limbo is basically a theory that attempts to wrestle with the question of what becomes of unbaptized babies who die, never having committed an actual sin, but without having received the sacrament of Baptism. It has never been a doctrine of the Church, but neither has it ever been condemned. So Catholics can speculate about it if they like, though most theologians (including Benedict XVI) are skeptical about it.”

That explanation is not accurate. It ignores the teaching of the Church on the limbo of Purgatory and the limbo of Hell. Limbo as a third final destination has fallen out of favor as a theological opinion; it is no longer the “common belief”. But the idea may well have been a non-infallible teaching.

Much more in my booklet: Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, Limbo and in my book: Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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