A Fundamentalist friend of mine asked me the following question:
The question with limbo, though, seems one of salvation to me because if an unbaptized baby were to go to purgatory, wouldn't the family need to know that so they could be praying toward that end?
Short Answer No.
First off: People don't need to be prayed out of Purgatory. We are suppose to pray for one another and prayers are helpful in all situations but people don't need to be prayed out of purgatory. If one is in purgatory they will go to heaven.
Secondly: I don't believe babies who may be forgiven of original sin (through ordinary means meaning water baptism or extraordinary means meaning any other way God chooses) would go to purgatory. If you have no actual sins like babies don't, there is no need for purgatory. Read my whole post to hopefully get a clearer explanation.
Misconceptions on Purgatory
Purgatory is not necessarily a place. It is a state of being or more specifically the state of final purification before entering heaven if needed. Not everyone goes to Purgatory. Some go straight to Heaven. Everyone that goes to Purgatory will go to Heaven
Ex. We say the pregnant mom has gone into or is IN labor. Is labor a Place? No, it is a condition.
1 Corinthians 3:15 (New American Standard Bible) 15If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Matthew 12:32 (New American Standard Bible) 32"Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.
Christ refers to the sinner who "will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come" (Matt. 12:32), suggesting that one can be freed after death of the consequences of certain other sins, but not blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Similarly, Paul tells us that, when we are judged, each man’s work will be tried. And what happens if a righteous man’s work fails the test? "He will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire" (1 Cor 3:15). Now this loss, this penalty, can’t refer to consignment to hell, since no one is saved there; and heaven can’t be meant, since there is no suffering ("fire") there. The Catholic doctrine of purgatory explains this passage.
I have seen Baptists that use the 1 Cor 3:15 passage in support of the Once Saved Always Saved concept saying that this shows a backslidden Christian is still saved if just barely.
Hebrews 12:1 (New American Standard Bible)
1Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
Revelation 21:27 (New American Standard Bible)27and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.
If sin still clings to Christians and can entangle them (Heb 12:1), but there is no sin in heaven (Rev. 21:27), there must be a purification that takes place after one’s death and before one enters heaven. Even if it were "in the blink of an eye," this final stage of sanctification must take place, so those who die in God’s favor may be cleansed if any affection for sin remains in them.
My understanding of purgatory at present. (keeping in mind I am a new Catholic and could have this not quite right.)
If we die with unconfessed, un-repented known and in most cases probably unknown sin that are not Mortal sins (And I don't want to get into the discussion of venial and mortal sins right now) there is a need for a final purification as with fire as in 1 Cor 3:15 before entering heaven. Some may die with no un-repented unconfessed sin and go directly to heaven with no need of purgation.
This brings me back to Babies , Young children and the Mentally handicapped etc.
All are born with original sin. However I think we can agree that these very young children, mentally handicapped do not have any "actual sins". To sin takes an understanding of what sin is.
Baptism is the ordinary means of removing original sin however we know that God can work through extraordinary means to remove original sin. An example the thief on the cross. God is not confined to a box. he is Almighty and can do what he wants. Catholics also recognize a merciful loving God and teach that is is possible to have a baptism of desire such as the thief on the cross. The idea being that he desired baptism but in the situation he was in, it was not possible. Can a baby desire baptism? I don't know.
My Bottom Line:
Anyway my view is that God has known that infant in the womb he knows the heart and he can chose to remove original sin at his discretion. We have no way of knowing. So lets assume God has removed and forgiven original sin of the infant. After original sin is forgiven the infant has no actual sins so therefore would go straight to heaven. There is no need of Purgatory in that case.
Now what is Limbo:
In the Middle Ages theologians came up with the theological construct of limbo, Limbo does get around two sticking points: the absence of sanctifying grace (the removal of original sin), which implies no possibility of heaven, and the absence of personal or actual sin, which implies no hell. Unbaptized infants die with neither, so it might seem that they are destined neither for heaven nor hell. Under this older understanding, unbaptized infants who die, whether through miscarriage or abortion, enjoy complete natural happiness but do not see God face to face. They are not in heaven or hell but in a third state, limbo.
This was a theory. I don't think there is any Biblical support for it and it wasn't doctrine.
The new Catechism understanding is that unbaptized infants, the unborn, the severely mentally handicapped, the brain injured etc. might be able to achieve sanctifying grace for original sin, though how this might happen no one can say with certitude.
Likewise no one in Protestantism can say unequivocally that all unsaved infants etc go to heaven. We can have hope that God knows best and I don't believe it is something we need to worry our heads about.