- limbo of the Fathers by Domenico Beccafumi
As it’s November I thought I might speculate about where various people get to go either to stay or visit after death.
We know from Scripture and Tradition that when Adam and Eve sinned and got evicted from the Garden that the gates of heaven were closed to them. Until the coming of Christ and His Salvific act we were locked out.
Before Jesus came there were plenty of very good and holy men in among the people of Israel and probably quite a few pagans who had tried to live good lives.
So where did they go?
Where did Elijah go when he was assumed in that fiery chariot? Where was Enoch taken to?
According to Tradition there was a place for the dead, the Limbo of the Fathers as it was called. This was not heaven but it was a paradise where those who had died could await the opening of heaven.
Jesus tells the story of Dives and Lazarus. When Lazarus dies he is held in what Jesus called “The bosom of Abraham.” This would seem to be the Limbo where Lazarus awaits heaven.
Jewish Tradition had it that there was heaven, Sheol and Gehenna. Now we see from Scripture and history that Gehenna was a place on earth. It was the accursed place where the evil king Manasseh, having apostasised from his Jewish faith, sacrificed his children to Molech for riches and power. In the time of Jesus it was a burning heap of rubbish, and as such was a symbol or metaphor for hell.
Apparently Sheol was thought to be a place beneath the Temple where the souls of the dead went, but as the Greek word used is Hades, it seems more like the murky land of a sort of purgatory, not the Limbo of the Fathers or Bosom of Abraham.
Jesus died for us and rose again and the gates of heaven were opened wide. On Holy Saturday we celebrate what is rather misleadingly called The Harrowing of Hell. It was Hell that was harrowed, it was this other place, Sheol and/or the Bosom of Abraham/Limbo of the Fathers. All those who had waited so long as so patiently were welcomed into heaven. In art and tradition (small t tradition) Adam and Eve are the first to be called from their graves.
So, I wonder now, do any of these places external to heaven but not hell and not purgatory still exist? Or are they part of purgatory?
And where are Enoch and Elijah?
We know that heaven is for those who are perfect and at the Resurrection will be where the perfect with their resurrected bodies will live. We know that Our Blessed Mother has her resurrected body, from the Assumption. It would also explain how her appearances to people are more “solid” for want of a better word, than those of other saints.
But neither Enoch nor Elijah have died or received their resurrected bodies yet. So are they in the Paradise – Limbo of the Fathers? How much of the Beatific Vision have they already had? I don’t suppose there are answers to these questions at this point.
Interestingly I notice that just about everyone who has received either visions or visits to purgatory or visits of people from purgatory report on the matter as though, like Dante’s epic, there are chambers and grades that souls work through. The final chamber or circle or whatever is like paradise, but not yet within the full Presence. People in this place sometimes get permission to visit those who have prayed and offered for them and say thank you. I like that 🙂
I suppose I can’t miss out dear Saint Augustine’s view that there may be a Limbo of the unbaptised. This is one of those things that has caused many of us mothers who have miscarried babies to struggle. Thankfully the Church has said that we leave our unbaptised children in the Mercy of God. Whether the Baptism of desire works from parent to child isn’t decided on I suppose.
We do know in the very end there are only death, judgement, heaven and hell. So I suppose that even if these other places do still exist for any reason that in the end, they wont – and that has to include St Augustine’s Limbo, if it’s there.