January 17, 2020


Centuries later, some question with this Doctrine, expressed in Sacred Scriptures, articulated in our Apostles’ Creed. Yet some Catholics or Christians are troubled with this article of Faith. We even see how in Thomas Aquinas Age wrestled with this dogma. Some now question hell’s location, as not the center of the Earth. I ask, Why couldn’t Christ enter Hell or Sheol, Purgatory (a Lower level of hell), he made them, did he not? All the Angels, as well as fallen Angels are subjected to him, are they not? This Monday, January 28 is Thomas Aquinas Feast day, so in keeping with my recent theme of posts, Purgatory, I bring you the Great “Summa Theologiae”in Question 52. “Christ’s descent into Hell”

Article 1. Whether it was fitting for Christ to descend into hell?

Objection 1. It would seem that it was not fitting for Christ to descend into hell, because Augustine says (Ep. ad Evod. cliv.): “Nor could I find anywhere in the Scriptures hell mentioned as something good.” But Christ’s soul did not descend into any evil place, for neither do the souls of the just. Therefore it does not seem fitting for Christ’s soul to descend into hell.

Objection 2. Further, it cannot belong to Christ to descend into hell according to His Divine Nature, which is altogether immovable; but only according to His assumed. But that which Christ did or suffered in His assumed nature is ordained for man’s salvation: and to secure this it does not seem necessary for Christ to descend into hell, since He delivered us from both guilt and penalty by His Passion which He endured in this world, as stated above (Q49,3). Consequently, it was not fitting that Christ should descend into hell.

Objection 3. Further, by Christ’s death His soul was separated from His body, and this was laid in the sepulcher, as stated above (Article 51). But it seems that He descended into hell, not according to His soul only, because seemingly the soul, being incorporeal, cannot be a subject of local motion; for this belongs to bodies, as is proved in [Phys. vi, text. 32]; while descent implies corporeal motion. Therefore it was not fitting for Christ to descend into hell.

CREDO, “Christ Descends into Hell”

On the contrary, It is said in the Creed: “He descended into hell,”: and the Apostle says (Eph4:9): “Now that He ascended, what is it, but because He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?” And a gloss adds: “that is—into hell.”

I answer that It was fitting for Christ to descend into hell. First of all, because He came to bear our penalty in order to free us from penalty, according to (Is53:4): “Surely He hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows.” But through sin man had incurred not only the death of the body, but also descent into hell. Consequently since it was fitting for Christ to die in order to deliver us from death, so it was fitting for Him to descend into hell, in order to deliver us also from going down into hell. Since it is written (Hos13:14) : “O death, I will be thy death; O hell, I will be thy bite.” Secondly, because it was fitting when the devil was overthrown by the Passion that Christ should deliver the captives detained in hell, according to (Zech9:11): “Thou also by the blood of Thy Testament hast sent forth Thy prisoners out of the pit.” And it is written (Col2:15): “Despoiling the principalities and powers, He hath exposed them confidently.” Thirdly, that as He showed forth His power on earth by living and dying, so also He might manifest it in hell, by visiting it and enlightening it. Accordingly it is written (Ps23:7) “Lift up your gates, O ye princes,” which the gloss thus interprets: “that is—Ye princes of hell, take away your power, whereby hitherto you held men fast in hell,”; and so “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,” not only “of them that are in heaven,” but likewise “of them that are in hell,” as is said in (Phil2:10):

Reply to Objection 1. The name of hell stands for an evil of penalty, and not for an evil of guilt. Hence it was becoming that Christ should descend into hell, not as liable to punishment Himself, but to deliver them who were. Reply to Objection 2. Christ’s Passion was a kind of universal cause of men’s salvation, both of the living and of the dead. But a general cause is applied to particular effects by means of something special. Hence, as the power of the Passion is applied to the living through the sacraments which make us like unto Christ’s Passion, so likewise it is applied to the dead through His descent into hell. On which account it is written (Zech9:11) that “He sent forth prisoners out of the pit, in the blood of His testament,” that is, by the power of His Passion. Reply to Objection 3. Christ’s soul descended into hell not by the same kind of motion as that whereby bodies are moved, but by that kind whereby the angels are moved, as was said in [Summa Q53:1]

Article 2. Whether Christ went down into the hell of the lost?

Objection 1. It would seem that Christ went down into the hell of the lost, because it is said by the mouth of Divine Wisdom (Sir24:45): “I will penetrate to all the lower parts of the earth.” But the hell of the lost is computed among the lower parts of the earth according to (Ps62:10): “They shall go into the lower parts of the earth.” Therefore Christ who is the Wisdom of God, went down even into the hell of the lost.

Objection 2. Further, Peter says (Acts2:24) that “God hath raised up Christ, having loosed the sorrows of hell, as it was impossible that He should be held by it.” But there are no sorrows in the hell of the Fathers, nor in the hell of the children, since they are not punished with sensible pain on account of any actual sin, but only with the pain of loss on account of Original Sin. Therefore Christ went down into the hell of the lost, or else into Purgatory, where men are tormented with sensible pain on account of actual sins.

Objection 3. Further, it is written (1Pet3:19) that “Christ coming in spirit preached to those spirits that were in prison, which had some time been incredulous”: and this is understood of Christ’s descent into hell, as Athanasius says (Ep. ad Epict.). For he says that “Christ’s body was laid in the sepulchre when He went to preach to those spirits who were in bondage, as Peter said.” But it is clear the unbelievers were in the hell of the lost. Therefore Christ went down into the hell of the lost.

Objection 4. Further, Augustine says (Ep. ad Evod. clxiv): “If the Sacred Scriptures had said that Christ came into Abraham’s bosom, without naming hell or its woes, I wonder whether any person would dare to assert that He descended into hell. But since evident testimonies mention hell and its sorrows, there is no reason for believing that Christ went there except to deliver men from the same woes.” But the place of woes is the hell of the lost. Therefore Christ descended into the hell of the lost.

Objection 5. Further, as Augustine says in a sermon upon the Resurrection: Christ descending into hell “set free all the just who were held in the bonds of Original sin.” But among them was Job, who says of himself (Job17:16): “All that I have shall go down into the deepest pit.” Therefore Christ descended into the deepest pit.

On the contrary, Regarding the hell of the lost it is written (Job10:21):Before I go, and return no more, to a land that is dark and covered with the mist of death.” Now there is no “fellowship of light with darkness,” according to (2Cor6:14). Therefore Christ, who is “the light,” did not descend into the of the lost.

I answer that, A thing is said to be in a place in two ways. First of all, through its effect, and in this way Christ descended into each of the hells, but in different manner. For going down into the hell of the lost He wrought this effect, that by descending thither He put them to shame for their unbelief and wickedness: but to them who were detained in Purgatory. Hope of attaining to glory: while upon the holy Fathers detained in hell solely on account of Original sin, He shed the light of glory everlasting. 2. In another way a thing is said to be in a place through its essence: and in this way Christ’s soul descended only into that part of hell wherein the just were detained. so that He visited them “in place,” according to His soul, whom He visited “interiorly by grace, ” according to His Godhead. Accordingly, while remaining in one part of hell, He wrought this effect in a measure in every part of hell, just as while suffering in one part of the earth He delivered the whole world by His Passion.

Reply to Objection 1. Christ, who is the Wisdom of God, penetrated to all the lower parts of the earth, not passing through them locally with His soul, but by spreading the effects of His power in a measure to them all: yet so that He enlightened only the just: because the text quoted continues: “And I will enlighten all that hope in the Lord.” Reply to Objection 2. Sorrow is twofold: one is the suffering of pain which men endure for actual sin, according to (Ps17:6): “The sorrows of hell encompassed me.” Another sorrow comes of hoped-for glory being deferred, according to (Prv13:12) “Hope that is deferred afflict the soul”: and such was the sorrow which the holy Fathers suffered in hell, and Augustine refers to it in a sermon on the Passion, saying that “they besought Christ with tearful entreaty.” Now by descending into hell Christ took away both sorrows, yet in different ways: for He did away with the sorrows of pains by preserving souls them, just as a physician is said to free a man from sickness by warding it off by means of physic. Likewise, He removed the sorrows caused by glory deferred, by bestowing glory. Reply to Objection 3. These words of Peter are referred by some to Christ’s descent into hell: and they explain it in this sense: “ Christ preached to them who formerly were unbelievers, and who were shut up in prison”—that is, in hell -“in spirit”—that is, by His soul. Hence Damascene says (De Fide Orth. iii): “As He evangelized them who are upon the earth, so did He those who were in hell”; not in order to convert unbelievers unto belief, but to put them to shame for their unbelief, since preaching cannot be understood otherwise than as the open manifesting of His Godhead. which was laid bare before them in the lower regions by His descending in power into hell.

Augustine, however, furnishes a better exposition of the text in his Epistle to Evodius quoted above, namely, that the preaching is not to be referred to Christ’s descent into hell, but to the operation of His Godhead, to which He gave effect from the beginning of the world. Consequently, the sense is, that “to those (spirits) that were in prison”- that is, living in the mortal body, which is, as it were, the soul’s prison-house—”by the spirit” of His Godhead “He came and preached” by internal inspirations, and from without by the admonitions spoken by the righteous: to those, I say, He preached “which had been some time incredulous,” i.e. not believing in the preaching of Noah, “when they waited for the patience of God,” whereby the chastisement of the Deluge was put off: accordingly (Peter) adds: “In the days of Noah when the Ark was being built.” Reply to Objection 4. The expression “Abraham’s bosom” may be taken in two senses. First of all, as implying that restfulness, existing there, from sensible pain; so that in this sense it cannot be called hell, nor are there any sorrows there. In another way it can be taken as implying the privation of longed-for glory: in this sense it has the character of hell and sorrow. Consequently, that rest of the blessed is now called Abraham’s bosom, yet it is not styled hell, nor are sorrows said to be now in Abraham’s bosom.

Reply to Objection 5. As Gregory says (Moral. xiii): “Even the higher regions of hell, he calls the deepest hell. For if relatively to the height of heaven this darksome air is infernal, then relatively to the height of this same air the earth lying beneath can be considered as infernal and deep. And again in comparison with the height of the same earth, those parts of hell which are higher than the other infernal mansions, may in this way be designated as the deepest hell.”

Article 3. Whether the whole Christ was in hell?

Objection 1. It would seem that the whole Christ was not in hell. For Christ’s body is one of His parts. But His body was not in hell. Therefore, the whole Christ was not in hell.

Objection 2. Further, nothing can be termed whole when its parts are severed. But the soul and body, which are the parts of human nature, were separated at His death, as stated above (IIIQ50:4), and it was after death that He descended into hell. Therefore the whole (Christ) could not be in hell

Objection 3. Further, the whole of a thing is said to be in a place when no part of it is outside such place. But there were parts of Christ outside hell; for instance, His body was in the grave, and His Godhead everywhere. Therefore the whole Christ was not in hell.

On the contrary, Augustine says (De Symbolo iii): “The whole Son is with the Father, the whole Son in heaven, on earth, in the Virgin’s womb, on the Cross, in hell, in paradise, into which He brought the robber.”

I answer that, It is evident from what was said in (I Q:31ad 4), the masculine gender is referred to the hypostasis or person, while the neuter belongs to the nature. Now in the death of Christ, although the soul was separated from the body, yet neither was separated from the Person of the son of God, as stated above (III Q50:2). Consequently, it must be affirmed that during the three days of Christ’s death the whole Christ was in the tomb, because the whole Person was there through the body united with Him, and likewise He was entirely in hell, because the whole Person of Christ was there by reason of the soul united with Him, and the whole Christ was then everywhere by reason of the Divine Nature.

Reply to Objection 1. The body which was then in the grave is not a part of the uncreated Person, but of the assumed nature. Consequently, the fact of Christ’s body not being in hell does not prevent the whole Christ from being there: but proves that not everything appertaining to human nature was there. Reply to Objection 2. The whole human nature is made up of the united soul and body; not so the Divine Person. Consequently when death severed the union of the soul with the body, the whole Christ remained, but His whole human nature did not remain. Reply to Objection 3. Christ’s Person is whole in each single place, but not wholly, because it is not circumscribed by any place: indeed, all places put together could not comprise His immensity; rather is it His immensity that embraces all things. But it happens in those things which are in a place corporeally and circumscriptively, that if a whole be in some place, then no part of it is outside that place. But this is not the case with God. Hence Augustine says (De Symbolo iii): “It is not according to times or places that we say that the whole Christ is everywhere, as if He were at one time whole in one place, at another time whole in another: but as being whole always and everywhere.”

Article 4. Whether Christ made any stay in hell?

Objection 1. It would seem that Christ did not make any stay in hell. For Christ went down into hell to deliver men from thence. But He accomplished this deliverance at once by His descent, for, according to (Sir11:23): “It is easy in the eyes of God on a sudden to make the poor man rich.” Consequently He does not seem to have tarried in hell.

Objection 2. Further, Augustine says in a sermon on the Passion (clx) that “of a sudden at our Lord and Savior’s bidding all ‘the bars of iron were burst'” (Is45:2). Hence on behalf of the angels accompanying Christ it is written (Ps23:7-9). “Lift up your gates, O ye princes.” Now Christ descended thither in order to break the bolts of hell. Therefore He did not make any stay in hell.

Objection 3. Further, it is related (Lk23:43) that our Lord while hanging on the cross said to the thief. “This day thou shalt be with Me in paradise”: from which it is evident that Christ was in paradise on that very day. But He was not there with His body. for that was in the grave. Therefore He was there with the soul which had gone down into hell: and consequently it appears that He made no stay in hell.

On the contrary, Peter says (Acts2:24): “Whom God raised up, having loosed the sorrows of hell, as it was impossible that He should be held by it.” Therefore it seems that He remained in hell until the hour of the Resurrection.

I answer that, As Christ, in order to take our penalties upon Himself, willed His body to be laid in the tomb, so likewise He willed His soul to descend into hell. But the body lay in the tomb for a day and two nights, so as to demonstrate the truth of His death. Consequently, it is to be believed that His soul was in hell, in order that it might be brought back out of hell simultaneously with His body from the tomb.

Reply to Objection 1. When Christ descended into hell. He delivered the saints who were there, not by leading them out at once from the confines of hell, but by enlightening them with the light of glory in hell itself. Nevertheless it was fitting that His soul should abide in hell as long as His body remained in the tomb. Reply to Objection 2. By the expression “bars of hell ” are understood the obstacles which kept the holy Fathers from quitting hell, through the guilt of our first parent’s sin; and these bars Christ burst asunder by the power of His Passion on descending into hell : nevertheless He chose to remain in hell for some time, for the reason stated above. Reply to Objection 3. Our Lord’s expression is not to be understood of the earthly corporeal paradise, but of a spiritual one, in which all are said to be who enjoy the Divine glory. Accordingly, the thief descended locally into hell with Christ, because it was said to him: “This day thou shalt be with Me in paradise”; still as to reward he was in paradise, because he enjoyed Christ’s Godhead just as the other saints did.

Article 5. Whether Christ descending into hell delivered the holy Fathers from thence? see PART II

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