descended into hell.
say, the death of Christ lies in the separation of the soul from the body, just
as in the death of other human beings. But, the divinity was so indissolubly
united to the humanity of Christ that, although body and soul were separated
from each other, nonetheless the very divinity was always perfectly present both
to the soul and the body. Therefore, the Son of God was both in the tomb with
the body and descended into hell with the soul. And thus the holy apostles
said: “he descended into hell.”
four reasons why Christ as a soul descended into hell.
To shoulder the full punishment of sin, and so expiate all of its guilt.
The punishment of sin for humanity, however, was not only the death of the body;
but also involved the soul, because sin also belonged to the soul. And thus
before the coming of Christ, the soul after death descended into hell. In order
that Christ completely shoulder the entire punishment due to sinners, he wished
not only to die, but also to descend into hell as a soul. Thus we read: “I am
labeled with those going down into the depths” (Ps. [87:5]).
Nonetheless, Christ descended into hell in one way, and the fathers of old in
another. The ancient fathers were conducted and detained there from necessity,
and as if violently, whereas Christ went down in power and on his own
initiative. And therefore the Psalm above continues: “I am made like a man
without help, yet free among the dead” [87:5-6]. The others [who were dead]
were there as slaves, but Christ was there as a free man.
So that he would completely rescue all good people [of past generations] and
his own friends [who died in his lifetime]. Christ indeed had his own friends
not only in the [upper] world, but also in the underworld. People were friends
of Christ in the world insofar as they had charity. In the underworld, however,
there were many people, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David, and other just
and virtuous men, who departed with charity and with faith in the One who was to
come. And therefore just as Christ visited his own friends in this world and
rescued them through his own death, so he wanted to visit his own who were in
hell, and to rescue them by descending to them: “I will penetrate the deepest
parts of the earth, [and I will look upon all those who have died, and I will
enlighten all those hoping in God]” and so forth (Ecclus. 24:).
That he might completely triumph over the devil. Consider that someone
perfectly triumphs over another when they not only conquer them in the open
field but also snatch from them the heart of their own kingdom and their home.
Christ, however, triumphed over the devil on the cross and he conquered him,
whence he says “Now is the judgment of the world, now is the judgment of the
prince of this world,” that is, the devil, “and he will be tossed out,” from the
world [John 12:31]. Therefore, in order to triumph completely, Christ wanted
also to capture the heart of the devil’s kingdom, and to bind him in his own
house, which was hell. Christ thus went down there and plundered all his goods;
he bound the devil and stripped from him his own spoils: “Undoing the
principalities and powers, he disgraced [them] with ease” and so forth (Col.
Similarly, since Christ already had reigned sovereign in heaven and on earth, he
wished also to assume possession over hell, as Paul says: “In the name of Jesus
every knee [should bend of those in heaven, and on earth, and in hell]” and so
forth [Phil. 2:10]. And in the last chapter of Mark we read: “[and these signs
will follow those who believe]. In my name they will cast out demons” [16:17].
That he might free the saints who were in hell. Just as Christ wished to
suffer death that he might free from death those living, so he wished to descend
into hell that he might free from hell the saints who were there: “As for you,
in the blood [of the covenant, I will set free your captives from the dry
depths]” (Zech. [9:11]). And in Hosea: “[From the hand of death I will free
them, from death I will redeem them.] I will be your death, [O death! I will
be your sting, O hell!]” and so forth [13:14]. Although Christ completely
destroyed death, nonetheless he did not all together destroy hell. Rather,
Christ stung hell, because he did not free everyone from hell, but only those
who were without mortal sin, that is, without original sin (from which they are
cleansed as individuals by circumcision) and without actual [mortal] sin. These
souls were there on account of the original sin of Adam, from which they could
not be freed by nature but only by Christ. But he sent away those who were
there in mortal sin and children who were not baptized. Therefore it is said
[in Hosea above]: “I will be your sting” and so forth.
clear therefore that Christ did descend into hell and why he did so.
these considerations we can draw four conclusions for our own instruction.
Firm hope in God. No matter how anyone may be in affliction, they should
not despair nor lose trust in the assistance of God. Nothing can be found so
dire as being in hell. If Christ freed those who were in hell, everyone ought
to trust greatly, if they are a friend of God, that they will be freed by God no
matter what may be the tribulation: “She,” that is, wisdom, “did not abandon the
just man when he was sold, but she went down [with him into the pit and freed
him from sinners]” (Wis. [10:13]). And because God helps especially God’s
servants, anyone who serves God should be quite secure: “Anyone who fears God
will not be alarmed, [and will not panic, because God is their hope]” (Wis. [Ecclus.
We should become afraid [of hell] and drive away presumption. Although
Christ suffered for sinners and did descend into hell, he nonetheless did not
free everyone, but only those who were without [mortal] sin. As it is said: but
those who died in mortal sin he sent away. Therefore, no one who dies in mortal
sin should hope for pardon, but [should expect] to be in hell just as long as
the saints are in paradise, that is to say, forever: “And those [on Christ’s
left hand] will go into eternal torment, [the just, however, into everlasting
life]” and so forth (Mt. [25:46]).
We should become careful. Christ descended as a soul into hell for our
salvation, and hence we ought frequently to descend there by considering eternal
punishment: “I said: in the middle of my days [I will go to the gates of hell]”
and so forth (Is. [38:10]). Whoever frequently goes down to hell in thought
during this life, will not go down there easily in death, because the
consideration of hell draws one away from sin. We see how people in this world
protect themselves against earthly pain from evildoers; how much more ought they
to protect themselves against the pain of hell, which is greater in duration as
well as in bitterness: “[And in all you do,] remember the end of your days, and
for eternity [you will not sin]” and so forth (Ecclus. [7:40]).
We are shown an example of love. Christ descended into hell in order to
free those who were there. Consequently, we ought to go down to that place,
that we might come to the aid of our own [friends] who are there, for they are
not able to do anything. Therefore we should support those who are in
purgatory. The man who would not come to the aid of his friend who was in
prison would be thoroughly callous. How much more unfeeling the man who does
not come to the aid of a friend who is in purgatory. “Have pity on me, [have
pity on me at least you, my friends, because the hand of God has pressed upon
me]” and so forth (Job [19:21]). And in Ecclesiasticus we read: “From the dead
you will not withdraw grace” [7:37]. And in Maccabees: “Therefore it is a holy
and beneficial [thought to pray for the dead, that they might be absolved from
their sins]” and so forth [2 Mac. 12:46].
to their assistance principally in three ways, as Augustine says: through
masses, through almsgiving, and through prayers. Gregory adds a fourth way,
through fasting. We should not wonder, because even in the world one friend can
make satisfaction for another. We should understand the same thing about those
pray [to the Lord].