In the theology of the Catholic Church, Limbo (Latin limbus, edge or boundary, referring to the "edge" of Hell) is a speculative idea about the afterlife condition of those who die in original sin without being assigned to the Hell of the Damned. Medieval theologians of western Europe described the underworld ("hell", "hades", "infernum") as divided into four distinct parts: Hell of the Damned (which some call Gehenna), Purgatory, Limbo of the Fathers or Patriarchs, and Limbo of the Infants. However, Limbo of the Infants is not an official doctrine of the Catholic Church.
The "Limbo of the Patriarchs" or "Limbo of the Fathers" (Latin limbus patrum) is seen as the temporary state of those who, despite the sins they may have committed, died in the friendship of God but could not enter Heaven until redemption by Jesus Christ made it possible. The term "Limbo of the Fathers" was a medieval name for the part of the underworld (Hades) where the patriarchs of the Old Testament were believed to be kept until Christ's soul descended into it by his death through crucifixion and freed them (see Harrowing of Hell). The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes Christ's descent into hell as meaning primarily that "the crucified one sojourned in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection. This was the first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ's descent into hell: that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead." It adds: "But he descended there as Saviour, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there." It does not use the word "Limbo". This concept of Limbo affirms that admittance to Heaven is only possible through the intervention of Jesus Christ, but does not portray Moses, etc. as being punished eternally in Hell. The term "Limbo" does not appear in the Bible. The concept of Limbo of the Patriarchs is not spelled out in Scripture, but is seen by some as implicit in various references. Luke 16:22 speaks of the "bosom of Abraham", which both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, following early Christian writers, understand as a temporary state of souls awaiting entrance into Heaven. The end of that state is set either at the Resurrection of the Dead, the most common interpretation in the East, or at the Harrowing of Hell, the most common interpretation in the West, but adopted also by some in the East. Jesus told the Good Thief that the two of them would be together "this day" in "Paradise" (Luke 23:43; see also Matthew 27:38); but between on the Sunday of his resurrection he said that he had "not yet ascended to the Father" (John 20:17). Some say that the descent of Jesus to the abode of the dead, his presence among them, turned it into a paradise. Others understand the text to mean not "I say to you, This day you will be with me in paradise", but "I say to you this day, You will be with me in paradise". Timothy Radcliffe explained the "today" as a reference to the "Today of eternity". Jesus is also described as preaching to "the spirits in prison" (1 Pet 3:19). Medieval drama sometimes portrayed Christ leading a dramatic assault—The Harrowing of Hell—during the three days between the Crucifixion and the resurrection. In this assault, Jesus freed the souls of the just and escorted them triumphantly into heaven. This imagery is still used in the Eastern Orthodox Church's Holy Saturday liturgy (between Good Friday and Pascha) and in Eastern Orthodox icons of the Resurrection of Jesus. The doctrine expressed by the term "Limbo of the Fathers" was taught, for instance, by Clement of Alexandria, who maintained: "It is not right that these should be condemned without trial, and that those alone who lived after the coming (of Christ) should have the advantage of the divine righteousness