Is there a limbo where Jesus descended, when we say in the Creed, “He descended into hell”? The souls of the just of the Old Testament could not enter heaven until Christ “opened the gates of heaven” by His death, resurrection, and ascension. The so-called “descent” of the soul of Jesus, while His Body rested for three days in the tomb (1 Peter 3:18-19; Ephesians 4:9- 10), involved this reality. Until the salvation of the human race was accomplished by our Lord, the just of the pre-Christian era, who died in their belief in the coming of the Messiah and who were saved in and through Him and by His anticipated grace, nevertheless were deprived of the vision of God until the arrival of the “fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4). Some later writers gave the name “limbo” (named after the limbo for un-baptized infants who died) to this place where Jesus descended that the Creed calls “hell” (which, of course, is not the hell or inferno of the damned).
Does the Catholic Church still believe in limbo, a place for unbaptized babies to go if they die without baptism? The Catholic Church never “believed” in limbo. (Actually, this is untrue. In the 18th century a group known as the Jansenists rejected the idea of Limbo reverting to St. Augustine’s belief in favor of eternal torture of unbaptized infants, etc. In response, Pope Pius VI wrote Auctorem Fidei – 1794 – which condemned their teaching as being “false, rash, and injurious to Catholic education” because they denied the existence of a place “which the faithful generally designate by the name of limbo for children.”) The existence of limbo for unbaptized infants is not part of divine revelation, but rather was and is an educated theological “guess.” The term was coined by St. Augustine of Hippo and literally means “fringe.” This came about because God has not chosen to reveal what happens to deceased unbaptized infants. We know that baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation (John 3:5) because God revealed this. We also know that something called “baptism of desire” is possible. Since unbaptized infants seem incapable of any “desire” or act of their will, theologians have speculated throughout the ages about their destiny in this context St. Augustine thought that it would be an offense against God’s justice to suppose He would allow such creatures to suffer any pain, but that rather God places such infants in a state of “natural,” but not supernatural happiness for eternity. This he called “limbo.” Other theologians say that God’s “universal salvific will” (1 Timothy 2:4) includes
unbaptized people who do not have the use of reason when they die and that they enjoy supernatural happiness by some means we do not now know. Catholics are free to believe or disbelieve in limbo. What happens to unbaptized people who do not have the use of reason and who die in that state is an open question.
In 1905: Pope Pius X made a definitive declaration confirming the existence of Limbo. However, this was not an infallible statement by the pope: “Children who die without baptism go into limbo, where they do not enjoy God, but they do not suffer either, because having Original Sin, and only that, they do not deserve paradise, but neither hell or purgatory.”