The Eternal Destination of Unbaptized Prenatals

Prenatals who die in the womb can’t receive a baptism with water. So what is their eternal destination?

They cannot be sent to Hell, for no one is punished eternally, unless they have committed a deliberate sin. Personal sins are deliberate; original sin is not deliberate. Prenatals are conceived with original sin, but they have never committed any deliberate or personal sins.

“Because God knows, searches and clearly understands the minds, hearts, thoughts, and nature of all, his supreme kindness and clemency do not permit anyone at all who is not guilty of deliberate sin to suffer eternal punishments.” [Pope Pius IX, Quanto Conficiamur Moerore, n. 7.]

The limbo of Hell is the theological term for that place in Hell where those who die in a state of “original sin only” are sent. Prenatals cannot be sent to the limbo of Hell, because two Ecumenical Councils infallibly taught that all souls in Hell suffer punishment eternally.

“The souls of those who die in mortal sin or with original sin only, however, immediately descend to hell, yet to be punished with different punishments.” [Lyons II, cf. Florence].

Since they do not deserve eternal punishment, they cannot be permitted by God to die in a state of “original sin only” and be sent to the limbo of Hell. For even the limbo (“fringe”) of Hell is a place of punishment. We cannot hold that the limbo of Hell is a place of perfect natural happiness, since all souls in Hell, even in its fringe, suffer the punishment of being separated from God.

“The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God” [CCC 1035].

So prenatals who die in the womb, not having received a baptism with water, cannot possibly be sent to Hell, nor to the limbo of Hell. They do not deserve eternal punishment.

Who, then is sent to Hell for the sin of dying in “original sin only”? If any human person fails to obtain the state of grace in this life, despite ample opportunity, he is guilty of an actual mortal sin of omission, and therefore is condemned to Hell (if he dies unrepentant). He has died in a state of “original sin only”. But only adults and perhaps some teens have had sufficient opportunity; prenatals, infants, and young children have not.

Prenatals, in particular, have had no opportunity at all to enter the state of grace by a baptism of water or desire. They cannot be baptized in the womb. They lack sufficient development to know and desire baptism, even implicitly. So they are not guilty of an actual mortal sin of omission and are not among those who are sent to the limbo of Hell for dying in a state of original sin alone.

Does limbo as a third final destination, a place that is neither Heaven nor Hell, exist? The more recent teachings of the Magisterium indicate that it does not. Pope Saint John Paul II taught:

“The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all.” [Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, n. 10.]

The universal salvific will of God requires that salvation be offered to all human persons, which certainly includes innocent prenatals in the womb. Life begins at conception, when the soul is infused into the beginning of the body (the single cell called a zygote). So we cannot say that prenatals who die at any point in the womb are excluded from salvation by being sent to a place of merely natural happiness. Moreover, no one can be truly happy while separated from God.

“Human beings cannot completely fulfill themselves, they cannot be truly happy without God.” [Pope Benedict XVI, Homily]

“Without God, man cannot fully find himself, nor can he find his true happiness.” [Pope Saint John Paul II, Homily]

The Church teaches that God wills salvation for all human persons, and that human persons cannot find true happiness apart from God. Since limbo as a third final destination is proposed for souls who lack both the state of grace and the Beatific Vision of God, no one could be happy in such a hypothetical place. A human person cannot have a “perfect happiness” that is only natural. For we to be truly happy on any level we need the state of grace (God dwelling in us) and, for eternal happiness, the Beatific Vision of God.

Therefore, prenatals who die in the womb cannot be sent by God to limbo, nor to Hell. The only possibility left, then, which accords with the universal salvific will of God, is that they are given a baptism of blood, so that they enter the state of grace prior to death. Since they next die in the state of grace, they will have eternal happiness in Heaven. No other answer to the question agrees with what the Magisterium teaches on salvation.

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

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3 Responses to The Eternal Destination of Unbaptized Prenatals

  1. Anthony says:

    can I play devil’s advocate for the sake of deepening my understanding?
    “The souls of those who die in mortal sin or with original sin only, however, immediately descend to hell, yet to be punished with different punishments.” [Lyons II, cf. Florence].

    There seems to be a distinction between those dying in mortal sin and those who die “with original sin only”.

    In your example

    “If any human person fails to obtain the state of grace in this life, despite ample opportunity, he is guilty of an actual mortal sin of omission, and therefore is condemned to Hell (if he dies unrepentant). He has died in a state of “original sin only”.”

    You say he is dying “with original sin only” but also as you say he has committed a mortal sin of omission therefore he is not dying “with original sin only” but with both mortal sin and original sin?
    it seems that the person in your example would be categorised as dying in mortal sin rather than “with original sin only”

    “But only adults and perhaps some teens have had sufficient opportunity; prenatals, infants, and young children have not.”
    It would then follow that the only people who can die “with original sin only” are those who have not yet had “sufficient opportunity” the “prenatals,infants, and young children” because anyone who has had sufficient opportunity would also be guilty of an actual mortal sin?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Yes, anyone who has not had sufficient opportunity would not be guilty of actual mortal sin, so they would not go to Hell. This interpretation of “original sin alone” — that it implies a particular actual mortal sin — is consistent with the CCC, which says that souls are only sent to Hell for unrepentant mortal sin (CCC 1037). And it is consistent with what Jesus said in the Gospels (Mt 12:31) — all sins are forgiven, except the eternal sin, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (final impenitence from actual mortal sin).

  2. Anthony says:

    thank you for the reply and I do agree with you. I think I have more reading to do

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