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Limbo vs. Purgatory: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Updated on November 3, 2023
Limbo is a state of uncertainty or a place for souls unbaptized and innocent, while Purgatory is a temporary place of purification for souls destined for Heaven.

Key Differences

Limbo, originating from theological beliefs, primarily represents two concepts in Roman Catholic doctrine. The first is the "Limbo of the Patriarchs," a temporary state for those who died in God's favor but before Christ's Resurrection. The second is the "Limbo of Infants," where unbaptized babies, though free from personal sin, are believed to reside. Purgatory, on the other hand, is an intermediate state after death where souls undergo purification to achieve the sanctity necessary to enter Heaven.
The notion of Limbo, especially the "Limbo of Infants," has been a topic of debate and isn't a dogma of the Church. Many theologians and believers hold that unbaptized infants, while not having attained baptismal sanctification, are granted God's mercy. Purgatory's existence, however, is a firmly held belief in Roman Catholicism, emphasizing that even righteous people might need final purification from minor faults before entering Heaven.
In more general terms, Limbo is often used metaphorically to describe a state of uncertainty or being neither here nor there. Purgatory, while having theological roots, is sometimes used in literature and culture to depict a place or state of temporary suffering or purification.
In essence, while both Limbo and Purgatory relate to states of the afterlife in Christian belief, they serve distinct purposes. Limbo offers an answer to the fate of righteous individuals or innocent souls before the Resurrection or without baptism, while Purgatory is a process of purification for those already on their path to Heaven.

Comparison Chart


A state/place for souls unbaptized and innocent or a state of uncertainty.
An intermediate place where souls undergo purification for Heaven.


Roman Catholic theology
Roman Catholic theology


Houses righteous souls before Christ or unbaptized infants.
Purifies souls destined for Heaven.

General Usage

Often describes a state of uncertainty or indecision.
Can describe a state of temporary suffering or purification.

Dogma Status

Not a dogma of the Church; subject to debate.
Firmly established belief in Roman Catholicism.

Limbo and Purgatory Definitions


A dance in which participants bend backward to pass under a bar.
At the party, guests enjoyed a fun round of limbo.


A state of suffering or temporary punishment.
The difficult hike felt like purgatory to the unprepared climbers.


A theological concept describing a state or place for righteous souls before Christ.
Ancient prophets were believed to reside in the Limbo of the Patriarchs.


An intermediate state between Heaven and Hell.
Souls in Purgatory are destined for Heaven after their purification.


A situation in which no progress seems possible.
The negotiations were in limbo due to disagreements.


A process of purification or temporary punishment.
He viewed his challenging job as a kind of purgatory before retirement.


A state of uncertainty or indecision.
She felt in limbo as she awaited the test results.


A place in Roman Catholic belief where souls undergo purification for Heaven.
Many pray for souls in Purgatory to aid their journey to Heaven.


A place for the souls of unbaptized infants in Christian belief.
The Limbo of Infants is where unbaptized babies are traditionally believed to reside.


Roman Catholic Church A state in which the souls of those who have died in grace must expiate their sins.


Often Limbo Roman Catholic Church The abode of unbaptized but innocent or righteous souls, as those of infants or virtuous individuals who lived before the coming of Christ.


A place or condition of suffering, expiation, or remorse
A purgatory of drug abuse.


A condition of prolonged uncertainty or neglect
Management kept her promotion in limbo for months.


Tending to cleanse or purge.


A West Indian dance in which the dancers repeatedly bend over backward and pass under a pole that is lowered slightly with each pass.


(Christianity) Purgatory


To place (someone or something) in an in-between place, or condition or state, of neglect or oblivion which results in deadlock, delay, or some other unresolved status.


Any situation where suffering is endured, particularly as part of a process of redemption.


(dances) To dance the limbo (etymology 2, dance).


Tending to cleanse; expiatory.


(by extension) Often followed by under: to pass under something while bending backwards.


Tending to cleanse; cleansing; expiatory.


The place, thought to be on the edge of the bottomless pit of Hell, where the souls of innocent deceased people exist temporarily until they can enter heaven, specifically those of the saints who died before the advent of Jesus Christ (who occupy the limbo patrum or limbo of the patriarchs or fathers) and those of unbaptized infants (who occupy the limbo infantum or limbo of the infants); (countable) the place where each category of souls exists, regarded separately.


A state or place of purification after death; according to the Roman Catholic creed, a place, or a state believed to exist after death, in which the souls of persons are purified by expiating such offenses committed in this life as do not merit eternal damnation, or in which they fully satisfy the justice of God for sins that have been forgiven. After this purgation from the impurities of sin, the souls are believed to be received into heaven.


(by extension)


A temporary condition of torment or suffering;
A purgatory of drug abuse


Chiefly preceded by in: any in-between place, or condition or state, of neglect or oblivion which results in deadlock, delay, or some other unresolved status.
My passport application has been stuck in bureaucratic limbo for two weeks.


(theology) in Roman Catholic theology the place where those who have died in a state of grace undergo limited torment to expiate their sins


Jail, prison; (countable) a jail cell or lockup.


An experience or place of suffering or discomfort.
The crowded waiting room felt like purgatory.


Synonym of Hadesor Hell


Synonym of pawn


A type of antisubmarine mortar installed on naval vessels.


A competitive dance originating from Trinidad and Tobago in which dancers take turns to cross under a horizontal bar while bending backwards. The bar is lowered with each round, and the competition is won by the dancer who passes under the bar in the lowest position without dislodging it or falling down.


An spiritual region where certain classes of souls were supposed to await the last judgment.
As far from help as Limbo is from bliss.
A Limbo large and broad, since calledThe Paradise of fools.


Hence: Any real or imaginary place of restraint or confinement; a prison; as, to put a man in limbo.


A state of waiting, or uncertainty, in which final judgment concerning the outcome of a decision is postponed, perhaps indefinitely; neglect for an indefinite time; as, the proposal was left in limbo while opponents and proponents refused to compromise.


A border or margin; as, the limbus of the cornea.


A West Indian dance contest, in which participants must dance under a pole which is lowered successively until only one participant can successfully pass under, without falling. It is often performed at celebrations, such as weddings.


The state of being disregarded or forgotten


An imaginary place for lost or neglected things


(theology) in Roman Catholicism, the place of unbaptized but innocent or righteous souls (such as infants and virtuous individuals)


Are Limbo and Purgatory the same?

No, Limbo is about unbaptized infants or pre-Resurrection righteous, while Purgatory is about soul purification for Heaven.

Can souls in Purgatory communicate with the living?

Traditional Catholic belief holds that souls in Purgatory cannot communicate directly, but the living can pray for them.

Is the concept of Limbo universally accepted in Christianity?

No, Limbo, especially regarding unbaptized infants, has been debated and isn't a dogma in the Catholic Church.

What is Limbo in religious context?

Limbo refers to a state or place for souls, especially unbaptized infants or righteous individuals before Christ.

Is Purgatory mentioned in the Bible?

While the term "Purgatory" isn't directly mentioned, Catholic theology finds scriptural support for its existence in passages about purification and salvation.

Why do souls enter Purgatory?

Souls enter Purgatory for final purification from venial sins or temporal punishment before Heaven.

How long do souls remain in Purgatory?

The duration varies per soul, based on the purification needed before entering Heaven.

Is Limbo a permanent state?

Theological views vary, but traditionally, Limbo was seen as a permanent state, especially for unbaptized infants.

How is Limbo different from Hell?

Limbo is a state/place of natural happiness, while Hell is eternal separation from God and suffering.

Are there prayers for souls in Purgatory?

Yes, Catholics often pray for souls in Purgatory, especially during All Souls' Day.

Can one avoid Purgatory?

In Catholic belief, living a righteous life, receiving sacraments, and gaining indulgences can reduce or eliminate time in Purgatory.

Why was Purgatory established in Catholic belief?

Purgatory offers an explanation for how souls not entirely pure can still attain Heaven after necessary purification.

Are there references to Purgatory in popular culture?

Yes, Purgatory has been referenced in literature, films, and TV, often symbolizing a place of waiting or purification.

Do all Christian denominations believe in Purgatory?

No, Purgatory is primarily a Roman Catholic belief, with some other denominations rejecting it.

Do all souls in Limbo eventually move to Heaven or Hell?

Traditional views saw Limbo as a final state, especially for unbaptized infants, but beliefs and interpretations vary.

Is the idea of Limbo present in other religions?

The specific concept of Limbo is unique to Christianity, but other religions have intermediate states or places in the afterlife.

What's the origin of the word "Purgatory"?

"Purgatory" comes from the Latin "purgare," meaning "to purify."

Can Limbo refer to something outside of religious context?

Yes, in general terms, "limbo" can refer to a state of uncertainty or indecision.

What are the visual depictions of Limbo in art?

In art, Limbo is often depicted as an edge or boundary of Hell, sometimes with green fields and innocent souls.

Is Limbo still taught in the Catholic Church?

The concept is not dogmatic, and while it's been discussed historically, recent teachings emphasize God's mercy towards unbaptized infants.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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