Descent into Hell
Bernard Confer, OP: The original meaning was that Jesus had really and truly died, as we do. We shouldn't take "hell" too literally as "the state of complete alienation from God," which is, of course, impossible for God the Son Incarnate. The Son is eternally with the Father by divine nature, for the Father, Son, and Spirit are "consubstantial" (homoousios, one-in-being with each other).
632 The frequent New Testament affirmations that Jesus was "raised from the dead" presuppose 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. But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there.
633 Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, "hell" - Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek - because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into "Abraham's bosom": "It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham's bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell." Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.
634 "The gospel was preached even to the dead." The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfillment. This is the last phase of Jesus' messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ's redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption.
635 Christ went down into the depths of death so that "the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live." Jesus, "the Author of life", by dying destroyed "him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and [delivered] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage." Henceforth the risen Christ holds "the keys of Death and Hades", so that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth."
- Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. . . He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him - He who is both their God and the son of Eve. . . "I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. . . I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead."
- In brief
636 By the expression "He descended into hell", the Apostles' Creed confesses that Jesus did really die and through his death for us conquered death and the devil "who has the power of death" (Heb 2:14).
637 In his human soul united to his divine person, the dead Christ went down to the realm of the dead. He opened heaven's gates for the just who had gone before him.
- Acts 3:15; Rom 8:11; 1 Cor 15:20; cf. Heb 13:20.
- Cf. 1 Pet 3:18-19.
- Cf. Phil 2:10; Acts 2:24; Rev 1:18; Eph 4:9; Pss 6:6; 88:11-13.
- Cf. Ps 89:49; 1 Sam 28:19; Ezek 32:17-32; Lk 16:22-26.
- Roman Catechism I, 6, 3.
- Cf. Council of Rome (745): DS 587; Benedict XII, Cum dudum (1341): DS 1011; Clement VI, Super quibusdam (1351): DS 1077; Council of Toledo IV (625): DS 485; Mt 27:52-53.
- 1 Pet 4:6.
- Jn 5:25; cf. Mt 12:40; Rom 10:7; Eph 4:9.
- Heb 2:14-15; cf. Acts 3:15.
- Rev 1:18; Phil 2:10.
- Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday: PG 43, 440A, 452C; LH, Holy Saturday, OR.
Scriptures referenced in the Catechism
|Acts 3:15||The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.|
|Rom 8:11||If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.|
|1 Cor 15:20||But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.|
|Heb 13:20-21||May the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep by the blood of the eternal covenant, Jesus our Lord, furnish you with all that is good, that you may do his will.|
|1 Pet 3:18-19||For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit.|
|Phil 2:10||... that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth ...|
|Acts 2:24||But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it.|
|Rev 1:18||Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I hold the keys to death and the netherworld.|
|Eph 4:9||What does â€œhe ascendedâ€ mean except that he also descended into the lower [regions] of the earth?|
|Ps 6:6||For in death there is no remembrance of you. Who praises you in Sheol?|
|Ps 88:11-13||Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the shades arise and praise you?|
|Ps 89:49||What is man, that he should live and not see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?|
|1 Sam 28:19||Moreover, the LORD will deliver Israel, and you as well, into the hands of the Philistines. By tomorrow you and your sons will be with me, and the LORD will have delivered the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.|
|Ezek 32:17-32||This is a long text. The repeated theme is given in v. 18: "Son of man, wail over the hordes of Egyptâ€”you and the women of mighty nationsâ€”Send them down to the underworld,with those who go down into the pit."|
22 When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried,
23 and from the netherworld,* where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.
24 And he cried out, â€˜Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.â€™
25 Abraham replied, â€˜My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.
26 Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.â€™
|1 Pet 4:6||For this is why the gospel was preached even to the dead that, though condemned in the flesh in human estimation, they might live in the spirit in the estimation of God.|
Notes on the Scriptures
- Some ancient manuscripts say "died" instead of "suffered."
- Every knee should bendâ€¦every tongue confess: into this language of Is 45:23 there has been inserted a reference to the three levels in the universe, according to ancient thought, heaven, earth, under the earth.
- A motive for God to preserve the psalmist from death: in the shadowy world of the dead no one offers you praise. Sheol is the biblical term for the underworld where the insubstantial souls of dead human beings dwelt. It was similar to the Hades of Greek and Latin literature. In the second century B.C., biblical books begin to speak positively of life with God after death (Dn 12:1â€“3; Wis 3).
- The psalmist seeks to persuade God to act out of concern for divine honor: the shades give you no worship, so keep me alive to offer you praise.
- The dead: these may be the sinners of the flood generation who are possibly referred to in 1 Pt 3:19. But many scholars think that there is no connection between these two verses, and that the dead here are Christians who have died since hearing the preaching of the gospel.