According to St Birgitta (Bridget) of Sweden:

By reason of my tender love, I show mercy even to the children of pagans.  If any of them die before reaching the age of discretion, given that they cannot come to know me face to face, they go instead to a place that it is not permitted for you to know, but where they will live without suffering (‘Liber Caelestis’, Book II, chapter 1).

Aelianus once suggested to me that the principal difference between the elves and the men in Tolkien is not their nature but their end: the elves are directed by God to a merely natural end, whereas the men are directed to a supernatural end. This is why the elves are destined to remain in Arda, that is, on earth, since they can find there all that is necessary for them to achieve their goal, whereas men by ‘the gift of Iluvatar’, that is, by death, go elsewhere, the elves know not whither.

Savonarola suggested – though Bellarmine didn’t like it – that the inhabitants of Limbo would after the resurrection have dealings with the saints, sharing at least some of the same space and speaking to them.

Since those in Limbo have the same nature as the saints, but only attain a natural end, they would be after the resurrection rather similar to Tolkien’s elves. It is true that those in Limbo had a supernatural end insofar as they are members of the human race, but they were never personally proportioned to the beatific vision by receiving any actual grace, and so they would not experience any longing for it, or have any sense that their natural fulfilment was insufficient for them.

(Garrigou-Lagrange claims in various places that those in Limbo have a will that is averted from God as their supernatural end, and that by this fact that their will is also averted from God as their natural end. If this were true then their lot would seem to be very unpleasant, but I don’t know why he says it. Original sin implies an absence of charity in the will, but not a state of ‘having turned away from God’ in it.)

We can be tempted to imagine the inhabitants of Limbo after the resurrection as being like over-grown children, or like the adults on earth who have Down’s syndrome. But this would be quite wrong. Their intellects would function excellently, and their wills would love God with a natural love, and each other with noble friendship, and their emotions would be in complete harmony with reason. God might even give them certain natural gifts that the saints would not possess, such as the gift of writing beautiful poetry or singing beautiful songs in honour of creation. Or even if the saints could do the same, their would surely be a style of speech and song unique to those who live by nature alone, in a natural purity of heart, yet without desire of friendship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost; just as the saints  have no desire, for example, to be higher in glory than they are, or to have been the redeemer of the world.

If we put, then, Aelianus’s and Savonarola’s suggestion together, we come up with the question of this post: shall we see elves?

It is repeated ad nauseam by Modernists and their useful idiots that the existence of Limbo is ‘only a theological opinion’. In a sense this is true. The Council of Florence defines (Laetentur Caeli) that those who die in original sin only go immediately to Hell though their punishment differs from those who die in actual mortal sin. The Council of Florence also defines (Cantate Domino) that parents must not delay baptism for their children because infants have ‘no other remedy’ for original sin than the sacrament of baptism. Now these two definitions may still allow for Cajetan’s view that parents who do not delay the baptism of their children but whose child dies before he or she can be baptized, either because the death is in the womb or quite unforeseen and immediately after birth, may obtain the grace of justification for their child through their explicit desire for the baptism of their child in a vicarious baptism of desire. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explicitly teaches that:

1257 The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. 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 Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are “reborn of water and the Spirit.” God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.

1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,”64 allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.

There is here a frank confession of ignorance as to whether there is another way by which such infants might be saved: “can only entrust them to the mercy of God”, “allow us to hope that there is a way” and “the Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude”. Yet the supreme authority of an Ecumenical Council defines that parents must not delay baptism because there is no other remedy. If we seek to conform the doctrine of the Catechism to the higher authority of Florence it would seem we reach the conclusion that Cajetan’s opinion, but nothing more than that opinion, is possible and whether it is actual or not cannot be known by the Church because revelation does not tell us. This alone would make sense of the words “all the more urgent” at the end of CCC1261. How could the call to baptize infants be more urgent on account of the ‘hope’ of another way unless that hope is dependent upon the parents not delaying the baptism of their child?

Yet this still means that the majority of the human race die in original sin only because most men are not Christians, and therefore do not desire baptism for their children, and most men die before the age of reason (in the womb or in infancy). The word ‘Limbo’ means border or edge. That is, it refers to the border of Hell. It refers to the least state of punishment that one can endure after death. Famously, there is a difference of opinion between St Augustine and St Thomas on this point. St Augustine holds that infants who die before baptism suffer punishment but the “mildest of all” while St Thomas hold that their is no interior pain experienced by the infants in Limbo who suffer only the punishment of loss. St Gregory the Great goes so far as to attribute torments (‘tormenta’) to deceased unbaptised infants but this statement should be read in the light of his comment in the Dialogues that this world itself is “the upper Hell”. Consequently, a state far more felicitous than this life, which an ordinary person would consider an earthly paradise, would still contain torment insofar as it fell short of Eden.

The upshot of which is that to describe Limbo as a theological opinion because there is some wiggle room between two theological positions (Augustinian and Thomist) which nonetheless approach each other asymptotically is about as accurate as describing the Assumption as a theological opinion because the words of Pius XII’s definition do not decide between dormitionists and immortalists. That is, it is not accurate at all.  Hell is a dogma of the Catholic Church. Some people imagine that one might hold that Hell exists but is empty. They delude themselves. Nevertheless, the point of that distinction – ‘exists but is empty’ – is to assert that denying that anyone ends up dying in actual mortal sin does not mean one denies that if they did they would go to Hell and therefore does not involve a denial that Hell exists. It is not within the boundaries of Catholic orthodoxy to assert that no one dies in original sin only (because this would be to deny that baptism is the only remedy for it) but even if it were it would not entail the denial that if someone died with original sin only they would “go immediately to Hell though with diverse punishments” from those who die in actual mortal sin. Therefore it is not to deny the existence of Limbo.

If therefore one says that Limbo means a state/place in which there is no pain of sense but only pain of loss endured without torment then Limbo is theological opinion (albeit the only orthodox alternative is the more severe Augustinian position). If however, (more accurately) one defines Limbo as the state/place of least possible suffering for the damned endured by those who die in original sin only (remaining agnostic between Thomas and Augustine) then Limbo is a dogma of the Catholic Church.

It was suggested to me recently by a Dominican Father that one reason why there is so much opposition to the doctrine of Limbo (the limbo of unbaptised souls of persons dying before the age of reason) is not so much the idea that people might fail to reach the beatific vision without any personal fault but simply the fact of the separation it implies between (say) parents and children. In part this objection probably arises from  too naturalistic a conception of heaven, as if the main point of the life to come was to have a re-union of all the people we have known on earth. But maybe there is something more to it. The blessed and those in limbo (Limbonians?) after all share the same nature, even though for the blessed this nature is divinised, and members of each group voluntarily direct themselves to the same Common Good, God loved above all else, even though the love by which the blessed love God infinitely surpasses that of the others. So is it conceivable that these two groups might share some kind of common life? Could there be some kind of communication between them? Maritain in his essay Idees Eschatologiques speculates on angels visiting those in limbo and telling them things about heaven and Jesus. Maybe the saints could do the same.