St. Thomas dwells on this subject in the Supplement of the Summa
Theologica, Questions 70bis and 71 (Art.7). In the following
article, he explains that these souls do not suffer a sensible
pain since this pain is due to actual sins and, having died
before having committed any actual sin, they do not deserve
that suffering. The punishment for original sin is merely the
privation of the Beatific Vision.
the Quality of those Souls who depart this life with Original
In Two Articles -
THOSE SOULS WHICH DEPART WITH ORIGINAL SIN ALONE, SUFFER FROM
A BODILY FIRE AND ARE PUNISHED BY FIRE?
says (Enchir, xxiii) that the mildest punishment of
all will be for those who are burdened with original sin only.
But this would not be so if they were tormented with sensible
punishment because the pain of hell fire is most grievous.
Therefore, they will not suffer sensible punishment.
the grief of sensible punishment corresponds to the pleasure
of sin (Apoc. xviii.7): As much as she hath glorified herself
and lived in delicacies, so much torment and sorrow give ye
to her. But there is no pleasure in original sin, as
neither is there operation, for pleasure follows operation,
as stated in Ethic. x.4. Therefore punishment by fire is
not due to original sin.
Gregory Nazianzen, in his fortieth sermon, which is entitled
On Holy Baptism, distinguishes three classes of unbaptised
persons: those namely who refuse to be baptised, those who
through neglect, have put off being baptised until the end
of life and have been surprised by sudden death and those
who, like infants, have failed to receive it through no fault
of theirs. Of the first, he says that they will be punished,
not only for their other sins but also for their contempt
of Baptism; of the second, that they will be punished, though
less severely than the first, for having neglected it; and
of the last, he says that a just and eternal Judge will
consign them neither to heavenly glory nor to the eternal
pains of hell, for although they have not been signed with
Baptism, they are without wickedness and malice and have suffered
rather than caused their loss of Baptism. He also gives
the reason why, although they do not reach the glory of heaven,
they do not therefore suffer the eternal punishment suffered
by the damned: Because there isamean between the two, since
he who deserves not honour and glory is not for that reason
worthy of punishment and, on the other hand, he who is not
deserving of punishment is not, for that reason, worthy of
glory and honour.
answer that, Punishment should be proportionate to Fault,
according to the saying of Isaias xxvii.8, In measure
against measure, when it shall be cast off, thou shalt judge
it. Now, the defect transmitted to us through our origin
and, having the character of a sin, does not result from the
withdrawal or corruption of a good consequent upon human nature
by virtue of its principles but from the withdrawal or corruption
of something that had been super-added to nature. Nor does
this sin belong to this particular man, except insofar as
he has such a nature, that is deprived of this good which,
in the ordinary course of things, he would have had and would
have been able to keep. Wherefore, no further punishment
is due to him besides the privation of that end to which the
gift withdrawn destined him, which gift human nature is unable
of itself to obtain. Now, this is the divine vision and consequently
the loss of this vision is the proper and only punishment
of original sin after death: because, if any other sensible
punishment were inflicted after death for original sin, a
man would be punished out of proportion to his guilt, for
sensible punishment is inflicted for that which is proper
to the person, since a man undergoes sensible punishment insofar
as he suffers in his person. Hence, as his guilt did not
result from an action of his own, even so, neither should
he be punished by suffering himself but only by losing that
which his nature was unable to obtain. On the other hand,
those who are under sentence for original sin will suffer
no loss whatever in other kinds of perfection and goodness
which are consequent upon human nature by virtue of its principles.
5: After the resurrection, the bodies of children
will be either passible or impassible. If they be impassible--and
no human body can be impassible except either on account of
the gift of impassibility (as in the blessed) or by reason
of original justice (as in the state of innocence) - it follows
that the bodies of children will either have the gift of impassibility
and thus will be glorious, so that there will be no difference
between baptised and non-baptised children, which is heretical,
or else they will have original justice and thus will be without
original sin and will not be punished for original sin, which
is likewise heretical. If, on the other hand, they be passible,
since everything passible suffers of necessity in the presence
of the active, it follows that in the presence of the active
sensible bodies, they will suffer sensible punishment.
- Objection 5 - The bodies of children will be impassible,
not through their being unable in themselves to suffer but
through the lack of an external agent to act upon them because,
after the resurrection, no body will act on another, least
of all so as to induce corruption by the action of nature
but there will only be action to the effect of punishing them
by order of the divine justice. Wherefore, those bodies to
which pain of sense is not due by divine justice, will not
suffer punishment. On the other hand, the bodies of the saints
will be impassible because they will lack the capability of
suffering; hence impassibility in them will be a gift, but
not in children.
the second article, St. Thomas explains that these souls do
not suffer from the privation of the Beatific Vision which
is a supernatural happiness, therefore something which we
have no natural right to possess, just as ‘no wise man grieves
for being unable to fly like a bird.’
THESE SAME SOULS SUFFER SPIRITUAL AFFLICTIONON ACCOUNT OF
THE STATE IN WHICH THEY ARE?
proceed thus to the Second Article:
1. It would seem that the souls in question suffer
spiritual affliction on account of the state wherein they
are because, as Chrysostom says (Hom. xxiii, in Matth.),
the punishment of God, in that they will be deprived of seeing
God, will be more painful than their being burnt in hell fire.
Now these souls will be deprived of seeing God. Therefore
they will suffer spiritual affliction thereby.
3. Further, if it be said that they do not suffer,
because they know that through no fault of theirs, they are
deprived thereof, on the contrary - freedom from fault does
not lessen but increases the pain of punishment: for a man
does not grieve less for that he is disinherited or deprived
of a limb through no fault of his. Therefore these souls
likewise, albeit deprived of so great a good through no fault
of theirs, suffer none the less.
5. Further, separation from what we love cannot be
without pain. But these children will have natural knowledge
of God and for that very reason, will love Him naturally.
Therefore, since they are separated from Him for ever, seemingly
they cannot undergo this separation without pain.
the contrary,if baptised children have interior sorrow
after death, they will grieve either for their sin or for
their punishment. If for their sin, since they cannot be
further cleansed from that sin, their sorrow will lead them
to despair. Now sorrow of this kind in the damned is the
worm of conscience. Therefore these children will have the
worm of conscience and consequently, theirs would not be the
mildest punishment, as Augustine says it is. If, on the other
hand, they grieve for their punishment, it follows, since
their punishment is justly inflicted by God, that their will
opposes itself to divine justice and thus would be actually
inordinate, which is not to be granted. Therefore they will
feel no sorrow.
right reason does not allow one to be disturbed on account
of what one was unable to avoid; hence Seneca proves (Ep.
1xxxv., and De Ira ii. 6) that a wise man is not disturbed.
Now in these children, there is right reason deflected
by no actual sin. Therefore they will not be disturbed for
that they undergo this punishment which they could nowise
answer that,on this question, there are three opinions.
Some say that these children will suffer no pain because their
reason will so much in the dark that they will not know that
they lack what they have lost. It, however, seems improbable
that the soul freed from its bodily burden should ignore things
which, to say the least, reason is able to explore and many
more besides. Hence, others say that they have perfect knowledge
of things subject to natural reason and know God and that
they are deprived of seeing Him and that they feel some kind
of sorrow on this account but that their sorrow will be mitigated,
insofar as it was not by their will that they incurred the
sin for which they are condemned. Yet this again would seem
improbable, because this sorrow cannot be little for the loss
of so great a good, especially without the hope of recovery;
wherefore their punishment would not be the mildest. Moreover,
the very same reason that impugns their being punished with
pain of sense, as afflicting them from without, argues against
their feeling sorrow within, because the pain of punishment
corresponds to the pleasure of sin; wherefore, since original
sin is void of pleasure, its punishment is free of all pain.
Consequently, others say that they will know perfectly things
subject to natural knowledge and both the fact of their being
deprived of eternal life and the reason for this privation
and that nevertheless this knowledge will not cause any sorrow
in them. How this may be possible we must explore.
it must be observed that if one is guided by right reason,
one does not grieve through being deprived of what is beyond
one’s power to obtain but only through lack of that which,
in some way, one is capable of obtaining. Thus, no wise man
grieves for being unable to fly like a bird or for that he
is not a king or an emperor, since these things are not due
to him; whereas he would grieve if he lacked that to which
he had some kind of claim. I say, then, that every man who
has the use of free-will is adapted to obtain eternal life,
because he can prepare himself for grace whereby to merit
eternal life; so that if he fail in this, his grief will be
very great, since he has lost what he was able to possess.
But children were never adapted to possess eternal life, since
neither was this due to them by virtue of their natural principles,
for it surpasses the entire faculty of nature, nor could they
perform acts of their own whereby to obtain so great a good.
Hence they will nowise grieve for being deprived of the divine
vision; nay, rather will they rejoice for that they will have
a large share of God’s goodness and their own natural perfections.
Nor can it be said that they were adapted to obtain eternal
life, not indeed by their own action but by the actions of
others around them, since they could be baptised by others,
like other children of the same condition who have been baptised
and obtained eternal life: for this is of superabundant grace
that one should be rewarded without any act of one’s own.
Wherefore the lack of such a grace will not cause sorrow in
children who die without Baptism, any more than the lack of
many graces accorded to others of the same condition makes
a wise man to grieve.
- Objection 1. In those who, having the use of free-will,
are damned for actual sin, there was aptitude to obtain eternal
life but not in children, as stated above. Consequently there
is no parity between the two.
- Objection 3. Everyone has a claim to his own inheritance
or bodily members, wherefore it is not strange that he should
grieve at their loss, whether this be through his own or another’s
fault: hence it is clear that the argument is not based on
a true comparison.
- Objection 5. Although unbaptised children are separated
from God as regards the union of glory, they are not utterly
separated from Him: in fact they are united to Him by their
share of natural goods and so will also be able to rejoice
in Him by their natural knowledge and love.
having seen in the previous two articles that the souls in
Limbo do not suffer but enjoy a natural happiness, St. Thomas
examines whether we, on earth, can help them in any way, for
example can we ‘baptise’ them at a distance. etc.
Question 71 of the Supplement, the Angelic Doctor speaks of
the mode of suffrage’ (request, supplication), the only mode
by which we can help the souls of the departed. He says among
many other things, that “Charity, which is the bond uniting
the members of the Church, extends not only to the living
but also to the dead who die in charity. “Nevertheless, we
must not believe that the suffrages of the living profit them
as to change their state from unhappiness to happiness or
vice versa.” (art.2) In other words, those who departed this
world have entered eternity where there is no longer any time,
therefore where it is no longer possible to gain the state
of grace if one did not have it at the moment of death or
where it is neither possible to lose the state of grace, for
the Saints in Heaven.
71 - Seventh Article.
SUFFRAGES AVAIL THE CHILDREN WHO ARE IN LIMBO?
proceed thus to the Seventh Article:
1. It would seem that suffrages avail the children
who are in Limbo. For they are not detained there except
for another’s sin. Therefore it is most becoming that they
should be assisted by the suffrages of others.
2. Further, in the text (iv Sent. D.45), the
words of Augustine (Enchir. cx.) are quoted: The
suffrages of the Church obtain forgiveness for those who are
not very bad. Now children are not reckoned among those
who are very bad, since their punishment is very light. Therefore
the suffrages of the Church avail them.
the contrary, the text (ibid.) quotes Augustine
as saying (Serm. xxxii. De Verb Ap.) that suffrages
avail not those who have departed hence without the faith
that works by love. Now the children departed thus.
Therefore suffrages avail them not.
answer that unbaptised children are not detained in
Limbo save because they lack the state of grace. Hence, since
the state of the dead cannot be changed by the works of the
living, especially as regards the merit of the essential reward
of punishment, the suffrages of the living cannot profit the
children in Limbo.
- Objection 1. Although original sin is such that
one person can be assisted by another on its account, nevertheless
the souls of the children in Limbo are in such a state that
they cannot be assisted, because after this life there is
no time for obtaining grace.
- Objection 2. Augustine is speaking of those who
are not very bad but have been baptised. This is clear from
what precedes: Since these sacrifices, whether of the altar
or of any alms whatsoever, are offered for those who have
been baptised, etc.