The Harrowing of Hell

Apr 9th, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

One week ago we celebrated Holy Saturday, the day between the death of Christ and His resurrection. What happened to the soul of Christ during that time? The Tradition answers this question in the line of the Apostles Creed: “He descended to hell,” referring there not to the hell of the damned, but to what is called Abraham’s bosom or limbus patrum. According to the consensus of the Church Fathers, Christ went there to liberate those souls who had died in a state of grace, but were not yet able to enter heaven, because Christ had not opened the gates of heaven by His Passion and death.


Unknown Russian Icon Painter (1500s)
Ikonen-Museum, Recklinghausen

For fifteen hundred years all Christians believed this. But in the sixteenth century John Calvin rejected this understanding of this article of the Creeds, calling it “childish.” He offered an innovation, proposing that the “descent into hell” meant that during the three hours on the cross, Christ’s soul descended into the hell of damnation, and was subjected to torments there from the wrath of God, the fear of eternal damnation, and the devil’s power. Last September Taylor posted about this here, provoking a fascinating discussion. This past Wednesday Professor Lawrence Feingold of the Institute for Pastoral Studies at Ave Maria University, gave an excellent lecture to the Association of Hebrew Catholics titled “The Harrowing of Hell,” in which he addressed this subject, defending the traditional position both from Scripture and the Fathers. What are implications of this doctrine? What are the implications of rejecting it? Listen to the lecture and the Q&A below.

“The Harrowing of Hell”
 

Q&A
 

Download the mp3s here: “Harrowing of Hell” and Q&A.

Patristic evidence:

St. Ignatius of Antioch: (c. AD 107)

how shall we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in the Spirit did wait for Him as their Teacher? And therefore He whom they rightly waited for, having come, raised them from the dead. (Mag. 9)

St. Justine Martyr: (c. AD 160)

The Lord God remembered His dead people of Israel who lay in the graves; and He descended to preach to them His own salvation. (Dia. 72)

St. Melito of Sardis: (c. AD 170)

by the cross death is destroyed,
and by the cross salvation shines;
by the cross the gates of hell are burst,
and by the cross the gates of paradise are opened.” (New Fragment III.5, lines 24-36)

I am He who destroyed death
and triumphed over the enemy
and tread down Hades
and bound the strong one
and bore man away to the heights of heaven. (PP 102, II. 760-64)

St. Irenaeus: (c. AD 180)

He also descended into the lower parts of the earth, to behold with His eyes the state of those who were resting from their labours, in reference to whom He did also declare to the disciples: Many prophets and righteous men have desired to see and hear what you see and hear.

For it was not merely for those who believed on Him in the time of Tiberius Cæsar that Christ came, nor did the Father exercise His providence for the men only who are now alive, but for all men altogether, who from the beginning, according to their capacity, in their generation have both feared and loved God, and practised justice and piety towards their neighbours, and have earnestly desired to see Christ, and to hear His voice.(Ad. Haer. IV.22.1-2)

He became a man subject to stripes, and knowing what it is to bear infirmity, and sat upon the foal of an ass, and was a stone rejected by the builders, and was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and by the stretching forth of His hands destroyed Amalek; while He gathered from the ends of the earth into His Father’s fold the children who were scattered abroad, and remembered His own dead ones who had formerly fallen asleep, and came down to them that He might deliver them (Ad. Haer. IV.33.1)

For they do not choose to understand, that if these things are as they say, the Lord Himself, in whom they profess to believe, did not rise again upon the third day; but immediately upon His expiring on the cross, undoubtedly departed on high, leaving His body to the earth. But the case was, that for three days He dwelt in the place where the dead were, as the prophet says concerning Him: And the Lord remembered His dead saints who slept formerly in the land of sepulture; and He descended to them, to rescue and save them. And the Lord Himself says, As Jonas remained three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of man be in the heart of the earth. Then also the apostle says, But when He ascended, what is it but that He also descended into the lower parts of the earth? This, too, David says when prophesying of Him, And you have delivered my soul from the nethermost hell; and on His rising again the third day, He said to Mary, who was the first to see and to worship Him, Touch Me not, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to the disciples, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and unto your Father.

If, then, the Lord observed the law of the dead, that He might become the first-begotten from the dead, and tarried until the third day in the lower parts of the earth; then afterwards rising in the flesh, so that He even showed the print of the nails to His disciples, He thus ascended to the Father;— [if all these things occurred, I say], how must these men not be put to confusion, who allege that the lower parts refer to this world of ours, but that their inner man, leaving the body here, ascends into the super-celestial place? For as the Lord went away in the midst of the shadow of death, where the souls of the dead were, yet afterwards arose in the body, and after the resurrection was taken up [into heaven], it is manifest that the souls of His disciples also, upon whose account the Lord underwent these things, shall go away into the invisible place allotted to them by God, and there remain until the resurrection, awaiting that event; then receiving their bodies, and rising in their entirety, that is bodily, just as the Lord arose, they shall come thus into the presence of God. (Ad Haer. V.31.1.)

Tertullian: (c. AD 200)

But what is that which is removed to Hades after the separation of the body; which is there detained; which is reserved until the day of judgment; to which Christ also, on dying, descended? (On the Soul, 7)

By ourselves the lower regions (of Hades) are not supposed to be a bare cavity, nor some subterranean sewer of the world, but a vast deep space in the interior of the earth, and a concealed recess in its very bowels; inasmuch as we read that Christ in His death spent three days in the heart of the earth, that is, in the secret inner recess which is hidden in the earth, and enclosed by the earth, and superimposed on the abysmal depths which lie still lower down. Now although Christ is God, yet, being also man, He died according to the Scriptures, and according to the same Scriptures was buried. With the same law of His being He fully complied, by remaining in Hades in the form and condition of a dead man; nor did He ascend into the heights of heaven before descending into the lower parts of the earth, that He might there make the patriarchs and prophets partakers of Himself. (On the Soul, 55)

St. Hippolytus: (c. AD 205)

He showed all power given by the Father to the Son, who is ordained Lord of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, and Judge of all: of things in heaven, because He was born, the Word of God, before all (ages); and of things on earth, because He became man in the midst of men, to re-create our Adam through Himself; and of things under the earth, because He was also reckoned among the dead, preaching the Gospel to the souls of the saints, (and) by death overcoming death. (On the Antichrist, 26)

He also first preached to those in Hades, becoming a forerunner there when he was put to death by Herod, that there too he might intimate that the Saviour would descend to ransom the souls of the saints from the hand of death. (On the Antichrist, 45)

Origen: (AD 246)

“First therefore he bound him at the cross, and thus he has entered his house, that is, Hades, and from there “ascending on high, he led captivity captive,” those certainly who with himself are co-resurrected and have entered the holy city, heavenly Jerusalem. (Commentary on Romans 5:10)

Rufinus: (c. AD 400)

That He descended into hell is also evidently foretold in the Psalms, where it is said, You have brought Me also into the dust of the death. And again, What profit is there in my blood, when I shall have descended into corruption? And again, I descended into the deep mire, where there is no bottom. Moreover, John says, Are You He that shall come (into hell, without doubt), or do we look for another? Whence also Peter says that Christ being put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the Spirit which dwells in Him, descended to the spirits who were shut up in prison, who in the days of Noah believed not, to preach unto them; where also what He did in hell is declared. Moreover, the Lord says by the Prophet, as though speaking of the future,You will not leave my soul in hell, neither will You suffer Your Holy One to see corruption. Which again, in prophetic language he speaks of as actually fulfilled, O Lord, You have brought my soul out of hell: You have saved me from them that go down into the pit.” (Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed)

St. Augustine: (AD 414)

It is established beyond question that the Lord, after He had been put to death in the flesh, descended into hell; for it is impossible to gainsay either that utterance of prophecy, You will not leave my soul in hell, — an utterance which Peter himself expounds in the Acts of the Apostles, lest any one should venture to put upon it another interpretation—or the words of the same apostle, in which he affirms that the Lord loosed the pains of hell, in which it was not possible for Him to be holden. Who, therefore, except an infidel, will deny that Christ was in hell? (Letter 164.2)

St. Gregory the Great: 6th century

Moreover, after your departure I learned from information given me by my most beloved sons the deacons that your Love had said that our Almighty Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, when He descended into hell, saved all who there acknowledged Him as God, and delivered them from the pains due to them. With regard to this subject I desire that your Charity should think very differently. For, when He descended into hell, He delivered through His grace those only who both believed that He should come and observed His precepts in their lives. (Book VII, Letter XV)

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19 comments
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  1. Once again Dr. Feingold’s teaching is making me feel like I’m reading the Scriptures for the 1st time! thank you for this link. I am curious about the reference Dr. Feingold made to the individual whom the Devil was frustrating by moving his bed, etc. Any background knowledge would be appreciated anyone has to offer would be appreciated. thank you.

  2. Thanks Herbert. The reference was to the Cure D’Ars (St. John Vianney). I recommend this book.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  3. So there are (at least) 3 views:
    1. The traditional Catholic view
    2. Calvin’s view (3 hours of hell on the cross)
    3. von Balthasar’s view (37 hours of hell from death to resurrection)

    The third view was argued against by Professor Alyssa Pitstick a few years ago. An account can be found at:
    http://whosoeverdesires.wordpress.com/2009/09/22/ratzinger-on-christs-descent-into-hell/
    On this issue, the incorrectness of Balthasar’s view can be easily perceived, as I stated in the two last (and late) comments to the above post.

    Regarding Calvin’s view, the traditional Catholic teaching is that, in the redeeming love that always united Him to the Father, Jesus assumed us in the state of our waywardness of sin, to the point that He could say in our name from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #603). This view is not exclusive with that of the cry expressing what Jesus was feeling in Himself (in his human nature, of course), as explained in John Paul II’s catechesis on November 30, 1988 at:
    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/audiences/alpha/data/aud19881130en.html

    And on this issue, and differing a little bit from the above JP_II’s catechesis (which for Catholics is clearly not definitive magisterium), I would like to offer to your consideration a couple of theologoumena that recently came to my mind. First let’s recall that it is generally accepted Catholic doctrine that the human soul of Jesus was endowed with the beatific vision: “For hardly was He conceived in the womb of the Mother of God when He began to enjoy the Beatific Vision” (Pius XII, Encyclical Letter Mystici Corporis, 75). With that background, my theologumena are:

    1) that the beatific vision was in general not 24 x 7, and, more important and pertinent to this issue,

    2) that He was specifically deprived of the beatific vision during his Passion, which is what his abandonment consisted of.

    I base my opinion 1) on human limitations, specifically the limitations inherent to the finite nature of the human soul in its earthly state, not the miseries derived from original sin. We know that the needs to eat, drink and sleep are intrinsic limitations of the human nature and not consequences of original sin – the Gospels attest that Jesus experienced hunger (the fig tree), thirst (the Samaritan woman) and sleep (on the boat during the storm). And the Catechism says in #472 that the “human soul that the Son of God assumed is endowed with a true human knowledge. As such, this knowledge could not in itself be unlimited”. Therefore it is safe to assume that, as with any human being, his soul’s capability regarding the number and intensity of stimuli He could process at the same time was limited. And I view the enjoyment of the beatific vision as an experience intense enough to prevent focusing on a task demanding concentration at the same time. So, in my view Jesus would not have been enjoying the beatific vision while He was building furniture, but He could while He was taking a rest, and of course He would while He was praying.

    Quoting now from the above JP_II’s catechesis:

    “Jesus had the clear vision of God and the certainty of his union with the Father dominant in his mind. But in the sphere bordering on the senses, and therefore more subject to the impressions, emotions and influences of the internal and external experiences of pain, Jesus’ human soul was reduced to a wasteland. He no longer felt the presence of the Father, but he underwent the tragic experience of the most complete desolation.

    In the sphere of feelings and affection this sense of the absence and abandonment by God was the most acute pain for the soul of Jesus who drew his strength and joy from union with the Father. This pain rendered all the other sufferings more intense. That lack of interior consolation was Jesus’ greatest agony.” (End of quote)

    Frankly, I cannot reconcile the experience of the beatific vision (“clear vision of God”) at THAT moment with “not feeling the presence of the Father” and “lack of interior consolation”. My opinion 2), then, is that at THAT moment Jesus was not experiencing the beatific vision. He surely DID have “the certainty of his union with the Father dominant in his mind” as a result of all those hours He had experienced the beatific vision along his life. But at that moment He was not seeing the Father, and had to trust Him. “But the Father was silent,” and “that silence of God weighed on the dying Jesus as the heaviest pain of all.”

    In my opinion, then, the abandonment of Jesus during the three hours on the cross consisted in his being deprived of the beatific vision during that time.

  4. Johannes,

    Thanks for your comment. I addressed this briefly in comment #84 of the “Does the Bible Teach Sola Fide?” post last year.

    I was fortunate enough to hear a talk given by Prof. Feingold on this very topic, at the American Maritain Association meeting in Boston in 2008, and my reply is informed by what he said there. Also, just a few weeks ago he gave a talk on this general subject of Christ’s sufferings, and in it he addressed the question of how to understand Christ’s statement “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” You can find that talk here.

    Dr. Lawrence Feingold: The Suffering of Christ in His Passion

    He starts addressing the question of Christ’s interior suffering around 29 minutes into the talk.

    First, I should point out that the nearly unanimous consensus of theologians from the beginning of the thirteenth century up until Pius XII held that Christ in His human soul possessed the Beatific Vision from conception, and has never been without it. So your proposal goes against a long theological tradition, and that should at least make you hesitant and cautious about it. You wrote:

    With that background, my theologumena are:

    1) that the beatific vision was in general not 24 x 7, and, more important and pertinent to this issue,

    2) that He was specifically deprived of the beatific vision during his Passion, which is what his abandonment consisted of.

    I base my opinion 1) on human limitations, specifically the limitations inherent to the finite nature of the human soul in its earthly state, not the miseries derived from original sin. We know that the needs to eat, drink and sleep are intrinsic limitations of the human nature and not consequences of original sin – the Gospels attest that Jesus experienced hunger (the fig tree), thirst (the Samaritan woman) and sleep (on the boat during the storm). And the Catechism says in #472 that the “human soul that the Son of God assumed is endowed with a true human knowledge. As such, this knowledge could not in itself be unlimited”. Therefore it is safe to assume that, as with any human being, his soul’s capability regarding the number and intensity of stimuli He could process at the same time was limited. And I view the enjoyment of the beatific vision as an experience intense enough to prevent focusing on a task demanding concentration at the same time. So, in my view Jesus would not have been enjoying the beatific vision while He was building furniture, but He could while He was taking a rest, and of course He would while He was praying.

    The problematic premise in your argument is that the Beatific Vision is “an experience intense enough to prevent focusing on a task demanding concentration at the same time.” Such a notion is a Protestant either/or notion, as though grace destroys nature. Grace never destroys nature, but perfects it. It would imply that the saints in heaven must turn away from the Beatific Vision in order to hear prayers directed to them. In actuality, it is only through the Beatific Vision that they know of our prayer requests to them, as I explained here.

    The infused knowledge [distinct from natural knowledge had by the senses, and the knowledge had by the Beatific Vision] had by the prophets and by Christ Himself did not detract from His naturally acquired knowledge or distract Him, as though He could only focus on one way of knowing at a time. His infused knowledge did not nullify His capacity to grow in wisdom (Luke 2:52). So likewise the Beatific Vision never detracted from His knowledge acquired through His human senses, or distracted from His attention to what He knew through His human senses. On the contrary, it enhanced it. Jesus always saw more clearly and poignantly through His human senses, because He always enjoyed (through His human intellect) the vision of God and thus in God the relation of all things around Him to God. (See Summa Theologica III Q.11 a.5 ad 1)

    Next you wrote:

    Frankly, I cannot reconcile the experience of the beatific vision (“clear vision of God”) at THAT moment with “not feeling the presence of the Father” and “lack of interior consolation”. My opinion 2), then, is that at THAT moment Jesus was not experiencing the beatific vision. He surely DID have “the certainty of his union with the Father dominant in his mind” as a result of all those hours He had experienced the beatific vision along his life. But at that moment He was not seeing the Father, and had to trust Him. “But the Father was silent,” and “that silence of God weighed on the dying Jesus as the heaviest pain of all.”

    If Christ lost the Beatific Vision during His three hours on the cross, then He did not consciously die for your sins and mine, but only for sins in the abstract, because by the natural power of His human intellect He could not have known all at once all the persons of the world and all our sins. Nor could He therefore have suffered for all our sins, interiorly. Only if He knew all our sins particularly and individually, could He grieve with the pain of contrition in solidarity with us, for each of our sins. And therefore only if He retained the Beatific Vision could He make atonement for each of our sins by His internal suffering. In the year 2000 Pope John Paul II wrote of this in his Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte:

    26. Jesus’ cry on the Cross, dear Brothers and Sisters, is not the cry of anguish of a man without hope, but the prayer of the Son who offers his life to the Father in love, for the salvation of all. At the very moment when he identifies with our sin, “abandoned” by the Father, he “abandons” himself into the hands of the Father. His eyes remain fixed on the Father. Precisely because of the knowledge and experience of the Father which he alone has, even at this moment of darkness he sees clearly the gravity of sin and suffers because of it. He alone, who sees the Father and rejoices fully in him, can understand completely what it means to resist the Father’s love by sin. More than an experience of physical pain, his Passion is an agonizing suffering of the soul. Theological tradition has not failed to ask how Jesus could possibly experience at one and the same time his profound unity with the Father, by its very nature a source of joy and happiness, and an agony that goes all the way to his final cry of abandonment. The simultaneous presence of these two seemingly irreconcilable aspects is rooted in the fathomless depths of the hypostatic union. (emphasis mine)

    Pope John Paul II teaches here that it was precisely because Christ retained the Beatific Vision that He could (and did) see the full gravity of all human sins and therefore suffer for all of them in all of their offensiveness to God whom we should love above all things. How could He suffer more than anyone has ever suffered, while at the same time holding on to the joy of the Beatific Vision? Pope John Paul II says that this is a mystery, and thus we should not try to explain it away by eliminating either Christ’s Beatific Vision or His suffering. Pope John Paul II goes on in the next paragraph to say:

    27. Faced with this mystery, we are greatly helped not only by theological investigation but also by that great heritage which is the “lived theology” of the saints. The saints offer us precious insights which enable us to understand more easily the intuition of faith, thanks to the special enlightenment which some of them have received from the Holy Spirit, or even through their personal experience of those terrible states of trial which the mystical tradition describes as the “dark night”. Not infrequently the saints have undergone something akin to Jesus’ experience on the Cross in the paradoxical blending of bliss and pain. In the Dialogue of Divine Providence, God the Father shows Catherine of Siena how joy and suffering can be present together in holy souls: “Thus the soul is blissful and afflicted: afflicted on account of the sins of its neighbour, blissful on account of the union and the affection of charity which it has inwardly received. These souls imitate the spotless Lamb, my Only-begotten Son, who on the Cross was both blissful and afflicted”. In the same way, Thérèse of Lisieux lived her agony in communion with the agony of Jesus, “experiencing” in herself the very paradox of Jesus’s own bliss and anguish: “In the Garden of Olives our Lord was blessed with all the joys of the Trinity, yet his dying was no less harsh. It is a mystery, but I assure you that, on the basis of what I myself am feeling, I can understand something of it”. What an illuminating testimony! Moreover, the accounts given by the Evangelists themselves provide a basis for this intuition on the part of the Church of Christ’s consciousness when they record that, even in the depths of his pain, he died imploring forgiveness for his executioners (cf. Lk 23:34) and expressing to the Father his ultimate filial abandonment: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46).

    Here he points out how the great saints have a taste of this mystery in their own lives, in that they simultaneously in different but interrelated respects experience the joy of hope and charity to be fulfilled in the life to come, and the suffering and pain caused by the sins of one’s neighbor (and even of oneself) and by all the present woes due to the not-yet-ness of the culmination of all things in Heaven. On the cross Jesus in His human intellect didn’t lose sight of the loving face of His Father, but simultaneously He experienced in His body and soul the full measure of the desolation, disorder, madness and suffering of this world under the curse of sin. That’s what He is expressing in His “Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani?, His full and total immersion into the God-forsakeness of this fallen world of fallen man in its cursed condition in this present life. This is what it means that He bore the curse, namely, that He entered into the fallenness of this world, even unto death.

    UPDATE: One of the best refutations I’ve seen online, of Balthasar’s claim that Christ did not have the beatific vision, is Unam Sanctum Catholicam‘s “Balthasar, Christ and the Beatific Vision.”

    Also, the CDF’s 2006 “Notification on the works of Father Jon Sobrino” reaffirms the Church’s teaching on Christ’s possession of the beatific vision:

    Considering the whole of the New Testament it is not possible to sustain that Jesus was “a believer like ourselves”. The Gospel of John speaks of Jesus’ “vision” of the Father: “Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father”. This unique and singular intimacy between Jesus and the Father is equally evident in the Synoptic Gospels.

    The filial and messianic consciousness of Jesus is the direct consequence of his ontology as Son of God made man. If Jesus were a believer like ourselves, albeit in an exemplary manner, he would not be able to be the true Revealer showing us the face of the Father. This point has an evident connection both with what is said above in number IV concerning the relationship between Jesus and the Kingdom, and what will be said in VI below concerning the salvific value that Jesus attributed to his death. For Father Sobrino, in fact, the unique character of the mediation and revelation of Jesus disappears: he is thus reduced to the condition of “revealer” that we can attribute to the prophets and mystics.

    Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, enjoys an intimate and immediate knowledge of his Father, a “vision” that certainly goes beyond the vision of faith. The hypostatic union and Jesus’ mission of revelation and redemption require the vision of the Father and the knowledge of his plan of salvation. This is what is indicated in the Gospel texts cited above.

    Various recent magisterial texts have expressed this doctrine: “But the knowledge and love of our Divine Redeemer, of which we were the object from the first moment of His Incarnation, exceed all that the human intellect can hope to grasp. For hardly was He conceived in the womb of the Mother of God when He began to enjoy the Beatific Vision”.[Pius XII, Encyclical Letter Mystici Corporis, 75]

    Though in somewhat different terminology, Pope John Paul II insists on this vision of the Father: “His [Jesus’] eyes remain fixed on the Father. Precisely because of the knowledge and experience of the Father which he alone has, even at this moment of darkness he sees clearly the gravity of sin and suffers because of it. He alone, who sees the Father and rejoices fully in him, can understand completely what it means to resist the Father’s love by sin”.[John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte]

    Likewise, the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the immediate knowledge which Jesus has of the Father: “Such is first of all the case with the intimate and immediate knowledge that the Son of God made man has of his Father”.[CCC 473] “By its union to the divine wisdom in the person of the Word incarnate, Christ enjoyed in his human knowledge the fullness of understanding of the eternal plans he had come to reveal”.[CCC 474]

    The relationship between Jesus and God is not correctly expressed by saying Jesus was a believer like us. On the contrary, it is precisely the intimacy and the direct and immediate knowledge which he has of the Father that allows Jesus to reveal to men the mystery of divine love. Only in this way can Jesus bring us into divine love.

    See also Simon Francis Gaine’s Did the Saviour See the Father?”: Christ, Salvation, and the Vision of God, (Bloomsbury, 2015).

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  5. Thank you Bryan for your thorough response. BTW, my opinions are of a purely speculative nature, like “Could it be that…?”, are formulated as part of a learning process, and are mentioned only for the sake of discussion conducive to learning. I am not going to nail them to the door of any church!

    Just a couple of comments on your response.

    “I should point out that the nearly unanimous consensus of theologians from the beginning of the thirteenth century up until Pius XII held that Christ in His human soul possessed the Beatific Vision from conception, and has never been without it.”

    Notice that I had quoted (and agreed with) “For hardly was He conceived in the womb of the Mother of God when He began to enjoy the Beatific Vision” (Pius XII, Encyclical Letter Mystici Corporis, 75).
    Notice also that Pius XII did not say that the enjoyment of the Beatific Vision was 24 x 7.

    “The problematic premise in your argument is that the Beatific Vision is “an experience intense enough to prevent focusing on a task demanding concentration at the same time.” Such a notion is a Protestant either/or notion, as though grace destroys nature. Grace never destroys nature, but perfects it. It would imply that the saints in heaven must turn away from the Beatific Vision in order to hear prayers directed to them.”

    But the souls of the saints in heaven are not burdened by a body! And in the case of St Mary, her body is glorified, so it does not burden her soul either. Thus it is obvious that they do not need to turn away from the Beatific Vision in order to hear our prayers, just as our guardian angels do not need to turn away from the Beatific Vision in order to look after us. Contrast that situation with Wisdom 9:15:

    “For the corruptible body burdens the soul and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns.”

    Now, I am not sure whether this refers exclusively to the human situation after original sin (let’s call it “misery”), or also to the human situation before original sin (let’s call it “limitation”). My point is that it is possible (again, I am speculating) that a soul constrained by a material (i.e. non-glorified) body cannot handle beatific vision and a task demanding concentration at the same time, unless given a special privilege by God (such as the bilocation granted to a few saints). IF this is so, and IF it is a “limitation” (i.e. not a consequence of original sin”), THEN it would have applied to Jesus UNLESS He was enjoying a “reprieve” from that limitation, which could have perfectly been the case.

    “The infused knowledge [distinct from natural knowledge had by the senses, and the knowledge had by the Beatific Vision] had by the prophets and by Christ Himself did not detract from His naturally acquired knowledge or distract Him, as though He could only focus on one way of knowing at a time. His infused knowledge did not nullify His capacity to grow in wisdom (Luke 2:52). So likewise the Beatific Vision never detracted from His knowledge acquired through His human senses, or distracted from His attention to what He knew through His human senses.”

    But that was not my point. Sure those kinds of knowledge could coexist in Jesus’ human intelligence, just as knowledge from Revelation, philosophy and science can coexist in ordinary people. But I was referring to the simultaneity of acquisition of those kinds of knowledge. Lots of people know how to surf and play chess, and the two knowledges do not interfere with each other. But can they acquire both at the same time? Could Jesus experience the beatific vision while simultaneously paying attention to St Joseph’s teaching Him the carpenter’s craft? Obviously He certainly could if granted a special privilege. And it COULD perfectly be the case that no special privilege was needed because the enjoyment of the beatific vision does not burden the central nervous system (Jesus’ or anyone’s) in the slightest, so that its capabilities are fully available for performing other activites. But it is not evident to me at this point this IS the case.

    “If Christ lost the Beatific Vision during His three hours on the cross, then He did not consciously die for your sins and mine, but only for sins in the abstract, because by the natural power of His human intellect He could not have known all at once all the persons of the world and all our sins.”

    I did not know that it was necessary (and therefore the factual case) that Jesus knew (in his human intelligence) specifically each person and each sin at the time of his sacrifice. Of course I believed that Jesus consciously offered his life to the Father in reparation for ALL sins of ALL people, but I thought He did that “in general”, whithout specifically knowing (humanly) each person, much less each sin of each person. Thus, I had interpreted St Paul’s statement in Gal 2:20 about “the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me” in the sense that Jesus has loved us all and given Himself up for all, and that, as each person is included in that “all”, each person can say that Jesus “has loved me and given himself up for me”.

    On the other hand, it is clear that the only way for Jesus to “have known all at once all the persons of the world and all our sins” while in his mortal state was through the beatific vision. And I find support for your position in Catechism #616 which says that Jesus “knew and loved us all when he offered his life.” Though the “loved us all” can admit an interpretation “in general”, the “knew us all” makes it implausible.

    Again, thank you for helping me learn!

  6. Yesterday, Pope Benedict answered seven questions on Italian television. One of the questions was about Christ’s descent into hell:

    Q. Holy Father, the next question is on the theme of Jesus’ death and resurrection and comes from Italy. I will read it to you: “Your Holiness, what is Jesus doing in the time between His death and resurrection? Seeing that in reciting the Creed it says that Jesus, after His death, descended into Hell, should we think that that will also happen to us, after death, before going to heaven?”

    A. First of all, this descent of Jesus’ soul should not be imagined as a geographical or a spatial trip, from one continent to another. It is the soul’s journey. We have to remember that Jesus’ soul always touches the Father, it is always in contact with the Father but, at the same time, this human soul extends to the very borders of the human being. In this sense it goes into the depths, into the lost places, to where all who do not arrive at their life’s goal go, thus transcending the continents of the past.

    This word about the Lord’s descent into Hell mainly means that Jesus reaches even the past, that the effectiveness of the Redemption does not begin in the year 0 or 30, but also goes to the past, embraces the past, all men and women of all time. The Church Fathers say, with a very beautiful image, that Jesus takes Adam and Eve, that is, humanity, by the hand and guides them forward, guides them on high. He thus creates access to God because humanity, on its own cannot arrive at God’s level. He himself, being man, can take humanity by the hand and open the access. To what? To the reality we call Heaven. So this descent into Hell, that is, into the depth of the human being, into humanity’s past, is an essential part of Jesus’ mission, of His mission as Redeemer, and does not apply to us. Our lives are different. We are already redeemed by the Lord and we arrive before the Judge, after our death, under Jesus’ gaze. On one hand, this gaze will be purifying: I think that all of us, in greater or lesser measure, are in need of purification. Jesus’ gaze purifies us, thus making us capable of living with God, of living with the Saints, and above all of living in communion with those dear to us who have preceded us.

    (source)

  7. From an ancient (c. fourth century) homily on Holy Saturday

    Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps 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. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

    He has gone to search for our first parent, 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 the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “and with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying : “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

    I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth , all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

    For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

    See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

    I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

    Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

  8. Bryan,

    Beautiful. Who wrote/preached it!

  9. Michael,

    It is an ancient homily, whose author is unknown.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  10. From the Catechism of the Council of Trent

    First Part of this Article: “He Descended into Hell”

    In the first part of this Article, then, we profess that immediately after the death of Christ His soul descended into hell, and dwelt there as long as His body remained in the tomb; and also that the one Person of Christ was at the same time in hell and in the sepulchre. Nor should this excite surprise; for, as we have already frequently said, although His soul was separated from His body, His Divinity was never parted from either His soul or His body.

    “Hell”

    As the pastor, by explaining the meaning of the word hell in this place may throw considerable light on the exposition of this Article, it is to be observed that by the word hell is not here meant the sepulchre, as some have not less impiously than ignorantly imagined; for in the preceding Article we learned that Christ the Lord was buried, and there was no reason why the Apostles, in delivering an Article of faith, should repeat the same thing in other and more obscure terms.

    Hell, then, here signifies those secret abodes in which are detained the souls that have not obtained the happiness of heaven. In this sense the word is frequently used in Scripture. Thus the Apostle says: At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and in hell; and in the Acts of the Apostles St. Peter says that Christ the Lord is again risen, having loosed the sorrows of hell.

    Different Abodes Called Hell”

    These abodes are not all of the same nature, for among them is that most loathsome and dark prison in which the souls of the damned are tormented with the unclean spirits in eternal and inextinguishable fire. This place is called gehenna, the bottomless pit, and is hell strictly so­ called.

    Among them is also the fire of purgatory, in which the souls of just men are cleansed by a temporary punishment, in order to be admitted into their eternal country, into which nothing defiled entereth. The truth of this doctrine, founded, as holy Councils declare,’ on Scripture, and confirmed by Apostolic tradition, demands exposition from the pastor, all the more diligent and frequent, because we live in times when men endure not sound doctrine.

    Lastly, the third kind of abode is that into which the souls of the just before the coming of Christ the Lord, were received, and where, without experiencing any sort of pain, but supported by the blessed hope of redemption, they enjoyed peaceful repose. To liberate these holy souls, who, in the bosom of Abraham were expecting the Saviour, Christ the Lord descended into hell.

    “He Descended”

    We are not to imagine that His power and virtue only, and not also His soul, descended into hell; but we are firmly to believe that His soul itself, really and substantially, descended thither, according to this conclusive testimony of David: Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell.

    But although Christ descended into hell, His supreme power was in no degree lessened, nor was the splendour of His sanctity obscured by any blemish. His descent served rather to prove that whatever had been foretold of His sanctity was true; and that, as He had previously demonstrated by so many miracles, He was truly the Son of God.

    This we shall easily understand by comparing the causes of the descent of Christ with those of other men. They descended as captives; He as free and victorious among the dead, to subdue those demons by whom, in consequence of guilt, they were held in captivity. Furthermore all others descended, either to endure the most acute torments, or, if exempt from other pain, to be deprived of the vision of God, and to be tortured by the delay of the glory and happiness for which they yearned; Christ the Lord descended, on the contrary, not to suffer, but to liberate the holy and the just from their painful captivity, and to impart to them the fruit of His Passion. His supreme dignity and power, therefore, suffered no diminution by His descent into hell.

    Why He Descended into Hell
    To Liberate The Just

    Having explained these things, the pastor should next proceed to teach that Christ the Lord descended into hell, in order that having despoiled the demons, He might liberate from prison those holy Fathers and the other just souls, and might bring them into heaven with Himself. This He accomplished in an admirable and most glorious manner; for His august presence at once shed a celestial lustre upon the captives and filled them with inconceivable joy and delight. He also imparted to them that supreme happiness which consists in the vision of God, thus verifying His promise to the thief on the cross: This day thou shalt be with me in paradise.

    This deliverance of the just was long before predicted by Osee in these words: O death, I will be thy death; O hell, I will be thy bite; ‘ and also by the Prophet Zachary: Thou also by the blood of thy testament hast sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit, wherein is no water; and lastly, the same is expressed by the Apostle in these words: Despoiling the principalities and powers, he hath exposed them confidently in open show, triumphing over them in himself.

    But the better to understand the efficacy of this mystery we should frequently call to mind that not only the just who were born after the coming of our Lord, but also those who preceded Him from the days of Adam, or who shall be born until the end of time, obtain their salvation through the benefit of His Passion. Wherefore before His death and Resurrection heaven was closed against every child of Adam. The souls of the just, on their departure from this life, were either borne to the bosom of Abraham; or, as is still the case with those who have something to be washed away or satisfied for, were purified in the fire of purgatory.

    To Proclaim His Power

    Another reason why Christ the Lord descended into hell is that there, as well as in heaven and on earth, He might proclaim His power and authority, and that every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.

    And here, who is not filled with admiration and astonishment when he contemplates the infinite love of God for man! Not satisfied with having undergone for our sake a most cruel death, He penetrates the inmost recesses of the earth to transport into bliss the souls whom He so dearly loved and whose liberation from thence He had achieved.

  11. From the poem Miracles:
    For three days heaven patiently waited while earth debated.
    The disciples were afraid and locked themselves indoors day and night.
    The devils were afraid and were commanded to lock the gates of hell tight.
    Then down through the dark corridors of death, walked the long lean legs of the Crucified Lamb and stood as a lion before the doors of the devil’s domain.
    His face shone bright and His voice reverberated with might, that caused Satan to fall off his makeshift throne. He came to set the captives free and take them home.
    Then the Lord said with a commanding and thunderous voice, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates and be ye lift up ye everlasting doors, the King of glory shall come in!”. Who is this King of glory? (cried the demons within) The response was immediate,” the Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle! ”
    Just then a host of fallen spirits surrounded the gates as reinforcements, the tension escalates, souls are at stake, whosoever wins this war, will take the keys of death and hell’s door!
    Then, suddenly, the Spirit of prophesy presented Himself, and quoted the prophetic words of Jesus, “On this rock I shall build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail!”
    At that moment, like a crash, the gates were lifted off their rusty hinges, the chains were broken, and the Light of the world stepped in. The demons fell back, horrible creatures, fled for fear, and Satan on his knees, bowed his head and gave up the keys….Resurrexit sicut dixit! Alleluia


  12. “Descent to Hell” (1308-11)
    Duccio di Buoninsegna

    Pope Benedict XVI, Homily on Holy Saturday, 2007:

    Let us return once more to the night of Holy Saturday. In the Creed we say about Christ’s journey that he “descended into hell.” What happened then? Since we have no knowledge of the world of death, we can only imagine his triumph over death with the help of images which remain very inadequate. Yet, inadequate as they are, they can help us to understand something of the mystery. The liturgy applies to Jesus’ descent into the night of death the words of Psalm 23[24]: “Lift up your heads, O gates; be lifted up, O ancient doors!” The gates of death are closed, no one can return from there. There is no key for those iron doors. But Christ has the key. His Cross opens wide the gates of death, the stern doors. They are barred no longer. His Cross, his radical love, is the key that opens them. The love of the One who, though God, became man in order to die – this love has the power to open those doors. This love is stronger than death. The Easter icons of the Oriental Church show how Christ enters the world of the dead. He is clothed with light, for God is light. “The night is bright as the day, the darkness is as light” (cf. Ps 138[139]12). Entering the world of the dead, Jesus bears the stigmata, the signs of his passion: his wounds, his suffering, have become power: they are love that conquers death. He meets Adam and all the men and women waiting in the night of death. As we look at them, we can hear an echo of the prayer of Jonah: “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice” (Jn 2:2). In the incarnation, the Son of God became one with human beings – with Adam. But only at this moment, when he accomplishes the supreme act of love by descending into the night of death, does he bring the journey of the incarnation to its completion. By his death he now clasps the hand of Adam, of every man and woman who awaits him, and brings them to the light.

    But we may ask: what is the meaning of all this imagery? What was truly new in what happened on account of Christ? The human soul was created immortal – what exactly did Christ bring that was new? The soul is indeed immortal, because man in a unique way remains in God’s memory and love, even after his fall. But his own powers are insufficient to lift him up to God. We lack the wings needed to carry us to those heights. And yet, nothing else can satisfy man eternally, except being with God. An eternity without this union with God would be a punishment. Man cannot attain those heights on his own, yet he yearns for them. “Out of the depths I cry to you…” Only the Risen Christ can bring us to complete union with God, to the place where our own powers are unable to bring us. Truly Christ puts the lost sheep upon his shoulders and carries it home. Clinging to his Body we have life, and in communion with his Body we reach the very heart of God. Only thus is death conquered, we are set free and our life is hope.

    This is the joy of the Easter Vigil: we are free. In the resurrection of Jesus, love has been shown to be stronger than death, stronger than evil. Love made Christ descend, and love is also the power by which he ascends. The power by which he brings us with him. In union with his love, borne aloft on the wings of love, as persons of love, let us descend with him into the world’s darkness, knowing that in this way we will also rise up with him. On this night, then, let us pray: Lord, show us that love is stronger than hatred, that love is stronger than death. Descend into the darkness and the abyss of our modern age, and take by the hand those who await you. Bring them to the light! In my own dark nights, be with me to bring me forth! Help me, help all of us, to descend with you into the darkness of all those people who are still waiting for you, who out of the depths cry unto you! Help us to bring them your light! Help us to say the “yes” of love, the love that makes us descend with you and, in so doing, also to rise with you. Amen!

  13. Bryan (re:#4),

    The infused knowledge [distinct from natural knowledge had by the senses, and the knowledge had by the Beatific Vision] had by the prophets and by Christ Himself did not detract from His naturally acquired knowledge or distract Him, as though He could only focus on one way of knowing at a time. His infused knowledge did not nullify His capacity to grow in wisdom (Luke 2:52). So likewise the Beatific Vision never detracted from His knowledge acquired through His human senses, or distracted from His attention to what He knew through His human senses. On the contrary, it enhanced it. Jesus always saw more clearly and poignantly through His human senses, because He always enjoyed (through His human intellect) the vision of God and thus in God the relation of all things around Him to God. (See Summa Theologica III Q.11 a.5 ad 1)

    I am curious how these ideas/distinctions might relate to Jesus’s statement in Matthew 24:36.

    Matthew 24:36: But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.

    Those who assert Jesus is not fully God point to this verse in defense of their claim viz. if Jesus is God than He is omniscient and would know the day and hour. A common Christian response to this is that Jesus was speaking according to His humanity, which is limited, and so the objection doesn’t go through. But, given they way you’ve explained things, if Jesus possessed infused knowledge and the beatific vision in His humanity, then wouldn’t He know the day and the hour in His humanity? It appears your analysis closes the door on this common explanation. And if that’s the case, I’m curious how you would answer those adducing Matthew 24:36 as evidence that Jesus is not God.

    Peace,
    John D.

  14. JohnD (re: #13)

    As is typically the case, interpreting this verse properly requires the Tradition. Otherwise, if you took “Father only” in an unqualified way, you would give the Trinity three intellects, by positing that neither the Second nor the Third Persons of the Trinity knew the day of Christ’s return. But in the patristics we see that the meaning is that what Christ is said to “know” is what the Father has given Him to reveal. Hence He clarifies after the resurrection, when the Apostles once more ask him (Acts 1:6) “will You at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” And He replies by explaining that it is not for them to know the times. In other words, it is not part of His mission [at His first coming] to reveal this. That is the meaning of the earlier times He said “not even the Son.” St. Chrysostom explains this in his second homily on the Acts of the Apostles.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  15. Bryan (re:#14),

    Thanks for the reply. This is not exactly on-topic for this thread so it will be my last question/comment on this verse.

    As is typically the case, interpreting this verse properly requires the Tradition.

    Yes, I have noticed this theme when you are asked to offer exegesis, and it is certainly a consistently-Catholic approach!

    But in the patristics we see that the meaning is that what Christ is said to “know” is what the Father has given Him to reveal.

    Ok, but the verse also mentions the fact that the angels of heaven do not “know” so it seems the interpretation you describe implies that (1) the angels were likewise not given this information to reveal or (2) “know” is applied to angels in a different sense than the Son. Would you say either is a better interpretation of the angels clause or are both acceptable?

    Peace,
    John D.

  16. JohnD (re: #15),

    The time of Christ’s return was not given to the angels to reveal. This does not entail that the Son and the angels are in the same epistemic condition regarding the time of Christ’s return.

    But this question is far removed from the topic of this post. Please exercise self-restraint; I would prefer not to have to delete comments.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  17. In the fourth century, St. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote:

    He was truly laid as Man in a tomb of rock; but rocks were rent asunder by terror because of Him. He went down into the regions beneath the earth, that thence also He might redeem the righteous. For, tell me, could thou wish the living only to enjoy His grace, and that, though most of them are unholy; and not wish those who from Adam had for a long while been imprisoned to have now gained their liberty? Esaias the Prophet proclaimed with loud voice so many things concerning Him; would you not wish that the King should go down and redeem His herald? David was there, and Samuel, and all the Prophets , John himself also, who by his messengers said, Are you He that should come, or look we for another (Matthew 11:3)? Would you not wish that He should descend and redeem such as these? (Catechetical Lecture, 4.11.)

    This is precisely the way all the Church Fathers understood Christ’s descent into hell; this is the Tradition on this subject. On the relevance of this topic to Catholic-Reformed dialogue, see Taylor Marshall’s “John Calvin’s Worst Heresy: That Christ Suffered in Hell.”

  18. Also relevant here is Pope John Paul II’s General Audience titled “He descended into hell” given on January 11, 1989.

  19. Fr. Thomas Joseph White, OP: “The Descent Of Christ into Hell” (March 2016)

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