In the classic Bible story, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead after Lazarus was dead for 4 days. Where (if they do at all) does the Catholic Church teach his soul was? If there isn’t a specific doctrine, is there a commonly held belief in the church?

  • Your title is a different question than your post. I answered you title's question. Which are you asking?
    – Geremia
    Jan 31, 2022 at 2:21
  • 2
    Is it not obvious? I literally clarify in the body text that I’m speaking in terms of Lazarus’s soul.
    – Luke Hill
    Jan 31, 2022 at 2:45

2 Answers 2


Does the Catholic Church teach where Lazarus’ soul was before being resurrected?

I guess the most classic answer according to Catholicism was that he was in the Limbo of the Fathers.

Jesus knew Lazarus was dead, but in God’s eyes death is like a deep sleep. Many scriptures liken death to sleep from which God has the power to awaken people. By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been dead for four days.

Lazarus’ resurrection (shortly before Christ’s Passion), like those who rose from the grave after the Death of Jesus makes sense only if their souls were separated from their bodies and were in what the Church teaches as the Limbo of the Fathers

52 And the graves were opened: and many bodies of the saints that had slept arose,

53 And coming out of the tombs after his resurrection, came into the holy city, and appeared to many. Matthew 27:52-53

The Church actually does not promote any other possible alternative answer thean what she professes where the souls of the just went prior to Christ’s Resurrection.

Limbus patrum

Though it can hardly be claimed, on the evidence of extant literature, that a definite and consistent belief in the limbus patrum of Christian tradition was universal among the Jews, it cannot on the other hand be denied that, more especially in the extra-canonical writings of the second or first centuries B.C., some such belief finds repeated expression; and New Testament references to the subject remove all doubt as to the current Jewish belief in the time of Christ. Whatever name may be used in apocryphal Jewish literature to designate the abode of the departed just, the implication generally is

  • that their condition is one of happiness,
  • that it is temporary, and
  • that it is to be replaced by a condition of final and permanent bliss when the Messianic Kingdom is established.

In the New Testament, Christ refers by various names and figures to the place or state which Catholic tradition has agreed to call the limbus patrum. In Matthew 8:11, it is spoken of under the figure of a banquet "with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of Heaven" (cf. Luke 8:29; 14:15), and in Matthew 25:10 under the figure of a marriage feast to which the prudent virgins are admitted, while in the parable of Lazarus and Dives it is called "Abraham's bosom" (Luke 16:22) and in Christ's words to the penitent thief on Calvary the name paradise is used (Luke 23:43). St. Paul teaches (Ephesians 4:9) that before ascending into Heaven Christ "also descended first into the lower parts of the earth," and St. Peter still more explicitly teaches that "being put to death indeed, in the flesh, but enlivened in the spirit," Christ went and "preached to those souls that were in prison, which had been some time incredulous, when they waited for the patience of God in the days of Noah" (1 Peter 3:18-20).

It is principally on the strength of these Scriptural texts, harmonized with the general doctrine of the Fall and Redemption of mankind, that Catholic tradition has defended the existence of the limbus patrum as a temporary state or place of happiness distinct from Purgatory. As a result of the Fall, Heaven was closed against men. Actual possession of the beatific vision was postponed, even for those already purified from sin, until the Redemption should have been historically completed by Christ's visible ascendancy into Heaven. Consequently, the just who had lived under the Old Dispensation, and who, either at death or after a course of purgatorial discipline, had attained the perfect holiness required for entrance into glory, were obliged to await the coming of the Incarnate Son of God and the full accomplishment of His visible earthly mission. Meanwhile they were "in prison," as St. Peter says; but, as Christ's own words to the penitent thief and in the parable of Lazarus clearly imply, their condition was one of happiness, notwithstanding the postponement of the higher bliss to which they looked forward. And this, substantially, is all that Catholic tradition teaches regarding the limbus patrum.

It seems St. Augustine favours this opinion also.

Further, Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. xii): "I do not see how we can believe that the rest which Lazarus received was in hell." Now the soul of Lazarus went down into limbo. Therefore limbo is not the same as hell.

I answer that: The abodes of souls after death may be distinguished in two ways; either as to their situation, or as to the quality of the places, inasmuch as souls are punished or rewarded in certain places. Accordingly if we consider the limbo of the Fathers and hell in respect of the aforesaid quality of the places, there is no doubt that they are distinct, both because in hell there is sensible punishment, which was not in the limbo of the Fathers, and because in hell there is eternal punishment, whereas the saints were detained but temporally in the limbo of the Fathers. On the other hand, if we consider them as to the situation of the place, it is probable that hell and limbo are the same place, or that they are continuous as it were yet so that some higher part of hell be called the limbo of the Fathers. For those who are in hell receive diverse punishments according to the diversity of their guilt, so that those who are condemned are consigned to darker and deeper parts of hell according as they have been guilty of graver sins, and consequently the holy Fathers in whom there was the least amount of sin were consigned to a higher and less darksome part than all those who were condemned to punishment. - Matters concerning the resurrection, and first of the place where souls are after death Summa Theologiae: Question 69


John 12:17:

The multitude therefore gave testimony, which was with him, when he called Lazarus out of the grave (μνημείου, monumento) and raised him from the dead.

Commentating on John 11:11-14, St. Augustine wrote (quoted in St. Thomas Aquinas's Catena Aurea on John 11):

It was really true that He was sleeping. To our Lord, he was sleeping; to men who could not raise him again, he was dead. Our Lord awoke him with as much ease from his grave, as you awake a sleeper from his bed.

So, it seems Lazarus soul was still united to his body, maybe that he was in a sort of coma.

  • Jesus was only using a Euphemism when he said Lazarus was sleeping" , which is corroborated by his later statement that Lazarus was indeed dead. There might have been, in biblical times, a separate phrase for coma' in which the breath and pulse of the person , through faint, could be felt. History has many instances of people getting buried alive (mostly the victims of deadly contagious diseases ) , simply because their kith and kin had taken them for dead . Feb 1, 2022 at 6:05

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