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At his crucifixion Jesus told the repentant evildoer, "Today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). As that grueling day drew to a close, the legs of the two evildoers were broken to hasten their death.

Of course, when the soldiers got to Jesus they found him to be already dead, and did not break a bone in his body.

My question is: According to Catholic doctrine, if the evildoer had passed away before Jesus died, would that evildoer have been saved by the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ? Or would he have had to wait for his reward like other faithful men of old, such as David?

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I can't find a definite answer in Church teaching, which doesn't usually engage in speculation of this sort. On the one hand, as you point out, the patriarchs and prophets are considered to have been waiting in the "limbo of the fathers", sometimes also called "the bosom of Abraham"; that is, they are considered to have been waiting "outside" heaven for the fullness of salvation which was given by Christ's death.

On the other hand, we do specifically know that Mary was saved at her conception by virtue of her Son's death-to-be:

Her soul, in the first instant of its creation and in the first instant of the soul's infusion into the body, was, by a special grace and privilege of God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, her Son and the Redeemer of the human race, preserved free from all stain of original sin.

(Apostolic Constitution Sollicitudo Omnium Ecclesiarum, Alexander VII; quoted in Ineffabilis Deus. Emphasis added.)

So we know that there was one human being who was saved by Jesus' death before He actually died; but she was a very special person indeed, and it was "a special grace and privilege" that she should have been saved before the death of her Son. Thus, although I don't see any sort of commentary on the subject, I would strongly expect that any other human would have had to wait, as you put it, until the death of Jesus—even those who had been specifically told that they would be saved.

  • Does the church state that those in the bosom iof Abraham were taken into paradise with Christ on the same day Nisan 14 33ce along with the penitent thief? – Kris Feb 8 '16 at 20:51
  • @Kris Time doesn't exist in Limbo, Hell, or Heaven (at least, not in the same sense it does here); so I don't think the Church could or would specify a precise day. But certainly both the thief and the patriarchs were admitted to the presence of God by Jesus' coming among them. – Matt Gutting Feb 8 '16 at 21:03
  • So does the church believe hat on the day Nisan 14 same day the lord spoke to the thief the thief was in paradise with the lord who was dead in the grave for 3 days? – Kris Feb 9 '16 at 0:02

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