Monday, January 29 is Thomas Aquinas Feast day, so in his Honor, I bring you his SUMMA Question 52.
Article 5. Whether Christ descending into hell delivered the holy Fathers from thence?
Objection 1. It would seem that Christ descending into hell did not deliver the holy Fathers from thence. For Augustine Evod. clxiv) says: “I have not yet discovered what Christ descending into hell bestowed upon those righteous ones who were in Abraham’s bosom, from whom I fail to see that He ever departed according to the beatific presence of His Godhead.” But had He delivered them, He would have bestowed much upon them. Therefore it does not appear that Christ delivered the holy Fathers from hell.
Objection 2. Further, no one is detained in hell except on account of sin. But during life the holy Fathers were justified from sin through faith in Christ. Consequently they did not need to be delivered from hell on Christ descent thither.
Objection 3. Further, if you remove the cause, you remove the effect. But that Christ went down into hell was due to sin which was taken away by the Passion, as stated above (III Q49:1). Consequently, the holy Fathers were not delivered on Christ descent into hell.
On the contrary, Augustine says in the sermon on the Passion already quoted that when Christ descended into hell. “He broke down the gate and ‘iron bars’ of hell, setting at liberty all the righteous who were held fast through Original sin.”
I answer that, As stated above (Article 4, Reply to Objection2), when Christ descended into hell, He worked through the power of His Passion. But through Christ’s Passion the human race was delivered not only from sin, but also from the debt of its penalty, as stated above (III Q49:3). Now men were held fast by the debt of punishment in two ways: first of all for actual sin which each had committed personally: secondly, for the sin of the whole human race, which each one in his origin contracts from our first parent, as stated in Rom5 of which sin the penalty is the death of the body as well as exclusion from glory, as is evident from (Gen2&3): because God cast out man from paradise after sin, having beforehand threatened him with death should he sin. Consequently, when Christ descended into hell, by the power of His Passion He delivered the saints from the penalty whereby they were excluded from the life of glory, so as to be unable to see God in His Essence, wherein man’s beatitude lies, as stated in the (I-II:3:8). But the holy Fathers were detained in hell for the reason, that, owing to our first parent’s sin, the approach to the life of glory was not opened. And so when Christ descended into hell He delivered the holy Fathers from thence. And this is what is written (Zech9:11): “Thou also by the blood of Thy testament hast sent forth Thy prisoners out of the pit, wherein is no water.” And (Col2:5) it is written that “despoiling the principalities and powers,” i.e. “of hell, by taking out Isaac and Jacob, and the other just souls,” “He led them,” i.e. “He brought them far from this kingdom of darkness into heaven,” as the gloss explains.
Reply to Objection 1. Augustine is speaking there against such as maintained that the righteous of old were subject to penal sufferings before Christ’s descent into hell. Hence shortly before the passage quoted he says: “Some add that this benefit was also bestowed upon the saints of old, that on the Lord’s coming into hell they were freed from their sufferings. But I fail to see how Abraham, into whose bosom the poor man was received, was ever in such sufferings.” Consequently, when he afterwards adds that “he had not yet discovered what Christ’s descent into hell had brought to the righteous of old,” this must be understood as to their being freed from penal sufferings. Yet Christ bestowed something upon them as to their attaining glory: and in consequence He dispelled the suffering which they endured through their glory being delayed: still they had great joy from the very hope thereof, according to (Jn8:56): “Abraham your father rejoiced that he might see my day.” And therefore he adds: “I fail to see that He ever departed, according to the beatific presence of His Godhead,” that is, inasmuch as even before Christ’s coming they were happy in hope, although not yet fully happy in fact.
Reply to Objection 2. The holy Fathers while yet living were delivered from original as well as actual sin through faith in Christ; also from the penalty of actual sins, but not from the penalty of original sin, whereby they were excluded from glory, since the price of man’s redemption was not yet paid: just as the faithful are now delivered by baptism from the penalty of actual sins, and from the penalty of Original sin as to exclusion from glory, yet still remain bound by the penalty of Original sin as to the necessity of dying in the body because they are renewed in the spirit, but not yet in the flesh, according to (Rom8:10) “The body indeed is dead, because of sin; but the spirit live, because of justification.”
Reply to Objection 3. Directly Christ died His soul went down into hell, and bestowed the fruits of His Passion on the saints detained there; although they did not go out as long as Christ remained in hell, because His presence was part of the fullness of their glory.
Article 6. Whether Christ delivered any of the lost from hell?
Objection 1. It would seem that Christ did deliver some of the lost from hell, hell, because it is written (Is24:22): “And they shall be gathered together as in the gathering of one bundle into the pit, end they shall be shut up there in prison and after many days they shall be visited.“ But there he is speaking of the lost, who “had adored the host of heaven,” according to Jerome’s commentary. Consequently it seems that even the lost were visited at Christ’s descent into hell; and this seems to imply their deliverance.
Objection 2. Further, on (Zech9:11): “Thou also by the blood of Thy testament hast sent forth Thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water,” the gloss observes: “Thou hast delivered them who were held bound in prisons, where no mercy refreshed them, which that rich man payed for.” But only the lost are shut up in merciless prisons. Therefore Christ did deliver some from the hell, of the lost.
Objection 3. Further, Christ power was not less in hell, than in this world, because He worked in every place by the power of His Godhead. But in this world He delivered some persons of every state. Therefore, in hell, also, He delivered some from the state of the lost.
On the contrary, It is written (Hos13:14): “O death, I will be thy death; O hell, I will be thy bite”: upon which the gloss says: “By leading forth the elect and leaving there the reprobate.” But only the reprobate are in the hell, of the lost. Therefore, by Christ descent into hell, none were delivered from the hell, of the lost.
I answer that, As stated above (Article5), when Christ descended into hell, He worked by the power of His Passion. Consequently, His descent into hell, brought the fruits of deliverance to them only who were united to His Passion through faith quickened by charity, whereby sins are taken away. Now those detained in the hell, of the lost either had no faith in Christ’s Passion, as infidels; or if they had faith, they had no conformity with the charity of the suffering Christ: hence they could not be cleansed from their sins. And on this account Christ’s descent into hell, brought them no deliverance from the debt of punishment in hell.
Reply to Objection 1. When Christ descended into hell, all who were in any part of hell, were visited in some respect: some to their consolation and deliverance, others, namely, the lost, to their shame and confusion. Accordingly the passage continues: “And the moon shall blush, and the sun be put to shame,” etc. This can also be referred to the visitation which will come upon them in the Day of Judgment, not for their deliverance, but for their yet greater confusion, according to (Zeph1:12): “I will visit upon the men that are settled on their lees.” Reply to Objection 2. When the gloss says “where no mercy refreshed them,” this is to be understood of the refreshing of full deliverance, because the holy Fathers could not be delivered from this prison of hell before Christ’s coming. Reply to Objection 3. It was not due to any lack of power on Christ’s part that some were not delivered from every state in hell, as out of every state among men in this world; but it was owing to the very different condition of each state. For, so long as men live here below, they can be converted to faith and charity, because in this life men are not confirmed either in good or in evil, as they are after quitting this life.
Article 7. Whether the children who died in original sin were delivered by Christ?
Objection 1. It would seem that the children who died in original sin were delivered from hell, by Christ’s descending thither. For, like the holy Fathers, the children were kept in hell, simply because of original sin. But the holy Fathers were delivered from hell, as stated above (Article.#5). Therefore the children were similarly delivered from hell, by Christ.
Objection 2. Further, the Apostle says (Rom5:15): “If by the offense of one, many died; much more the grace of God and the gift, by the grace of one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.” But the children who die with none but original sin are detained in hell, owing to their first parent’s sin. Therefore, much more were they delivered from hell, through the grace of Christ.
Objection 3. Further, as Baptism works in virtue of Christ’s Passion, so also does Christ’s descent into hell, as is clear from what has been said [4, ad 2,5,6]. But through Baptism children are delivered from Original sin and hell. Therefore, they were similarly delivered by Christ’s descent into hell,
On the contrary, The Apostle says (Rom3:24): God hath proposed Christ to be a propitiation, through faith in His blood.” But the children who had died with only Original sin were in no wise sharers of faith in Christ. Therefore, they did not receive the fruits of Christ’s propitiation, so as to be delivered by Him from hell.
I answer that, As stated above [Article 6], Christ descent into hell had its effect of deliverance on them only who through faith and charity were united to Christ Passion, in virtue whereof Christ descent into hell was one of deliverance. But the children who had died in Original sin were in no way united to Christ’s Passion by faith and love: for, not having the use of free will they could have no faith of their own; nor were they cleansed from Original sin either by their parents’ faith or by any sacrament of faith. Consequently, Christ descent into hell did not deliver the children from thence. And furthermore, the holy Fathers were delivered from hell by being admitted to the glory of the vision of God, to which no one can come except through grace; according to (Rom6:23) “The grace of God is life everlasting.” Therefore, since children dying in Original sin had no grace, they were not delivered from hell.
Reply to Objection 1. The holy Fathers, although still held bound by the debt of Original sin, in so far as it touches human nature, were nevertheless delivered from all stain of sin by faith in Christ: consequently, they were capable of that deliverance which Christ brought by descending into hell. But the same cannot be said of the children, as is evident from what was said above.
Reply to Objection 2. When the Apostle says that the grace of God”hath abounded unto many,” the word “many” [The Vulgate reads ‘plures,’ i.e. ‘many more’] is to be taken, not comparatively, as if more were saved by Christ’s grace than lost by Adam’s sin: but absolutely, as if he said that the grace of the one Christ abounded unto many, just as Adam’s sin was contracted by many. But as Adam’s sin was contracted by those only who descended seminally from him according to the flesh, so Christ’s grace reached those only who became His members by spiritual regeneration: which does not apply to children dying in Original sin.
Reply to Objection 3. Baptism is applied to men in this life, in which man’s state can be changed from sin into grace: but Christ’s descent into hell was vouchsafed to the souls after this life when they are no longer capable of the said change. And consequently by baptism children are delivered from Original sin and from hell, but not by Christ’s descent into hell.
Article 8. Whether Christ by His descent into hell delivered souls from purgatory?
Objection 1. It would seem that Christ by His descent into hell delivered souls from Purgatory -for Augustine says (Ep. ad Evod. clxiv): “Because evident testimonies speak of hell and its pains, there is no reason for that the Savior came thither except to rescue men from those same pains: but I still wish to know whether it was all whom He found there, or some whom He deemed worthy of such a benefit. Yet I do not doubt that Christ went into hell, and granted this favor to them who were suffering from its pains.” But, as stated above [Article 6], He did not confer the benefit of deliverance upon the lost: and there are no others in a state of penal suffering except those in Purgatory. Consequently Christ delivered souls from Purgatory.
Objection 2. Further, the very presence of Christ’s soul had no less effect than His sacraments have. But souls are delivered from Purgatory by the sacraments, especially by the sacrament of the Eucharist, as shall be shown later [Summa Q71:9]. Therefore much more were souls delivered from Purgatory by the presence of Christ descending into hell.
Objection 3. Further, as Augustine says (De Poenit. ix), those whom Christ healed in this life He healed completely. Also, our Lord says (Jn7:23): “I have healed the whole man on the sabbath-day” But Christ delivered them who were in Purgatory from the punishment of the pain of loss, whereby they were excluded from glory. Therefore, He also delivered them from the punishment of Purgatory.
On the contrary, Gregory says (Moral. xiii): “Since our Creator and Redeemer, penetrating the bars of hell, brought out from thence the souls of the elect, He does not permit us to go thither, from whence He has already by descending set others free.” But He permits us to go to Purgatory. Therefore, by descending into hell, He did not deliver souls from Purgatory.
I answer that, As we have stated more than once [4, ad 2, 5, 6,7], Christ’s descent into hell was one of deliverance in virtue of His Passion. Now Christ Passion had a virtue which was neither temporal nor transitory, but everlasting, according to (Heb10:14): “For by one oblation He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified.” And so it is evident that Christ’s Passion had no greater efficacy then than it has now. Consequently, they who were such as those who are now in Purgatory, were not set free from Purgatory by Christ descent into hell. But if any were found such as are now set free from Purgatory by virtue of Christ’s Passion then there was nothing to hinder them from being delivered from Purgatory by Christ descent into hell.
Reply to Objection 1. From this passage of Augustine it cannot be concluded that all who were in Purgatory were delivered from it, but that such a benefit was bestowed upon some persons, that is to say, upon such as were already cleansed sufficiently, or who in life, by their faith and devotion towards Christ so merited, so that when He descended, they were delivered from the temporal punishment of Purgatory.
Reply to Objection 2. Christ’s power operates in the sacraments by way of healing and expiation. Consequently, the sacrament of the Eucharist delivers men from Purgatory inasmuch as it is a satisfactory sacrifice for sin. But Christ’s descent into hell was not satisfactory; yet it operated in virtue of the Passion, which was satisfactory, as stated above [III q48:2], but satisfactory in general, since its virtue had to be applied to each individual by something specially personal [49, 1, ad 4,5]. Consequently, it does not follow of necessity that all were delivered from Purgatory by Christ’s descent into hell.
Reply to Objection 3. Those defects from which Christ altogether delivered men in this world were purely personal, and concerned the individual; whereas exclusion from God’s glory was a general defect and common to all human nature. Consequently, there was nothing to prevent those detained in Purgatory being delivered by Christ from their privation of glory, but not from the debt of punishment in Purgatory which pertains to personal defect. Just as on the other hand, the holy Fathers before Christ’s coming were delivered from their personal defects, but not from the common defect, as was stated above [Article 7, Reply to Objection 1; III:49:5 ad1].
The Summa Theologiæ of St.
Second and Revised Edition, 1920
Literally translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province