John Piper on “Correcting” the Apostles Creed

Apr 9th, 2012 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Sadly, leading Protestants such as John Piper and Wayne Grudem are ready to bring scissors to the Apostles Creed:

On Good Friday, Jesus told the Good Thief crucified alongside him that “today you will be with me in paradise,” according to Luke’s Gospel. “That’s the only clue we have as to what Jesus was doing between death and resurrection,” John Piper, a prominent evangelical author and pastor from Minnesota, has said. “I don’t think the thief went to hell and that hell is called paradise.”

Wayne Grudem, a former president of the Evangelical Theological Society, says the confusion and arguments could be ended by correcting the Apostles’ Creed “once and for all” and excising the line about the descent.

“The single argument in its favor seems to be that it has been around so long,” Grudem, a professor at Phoenix Seminary in Arizona, writes in his “Systematic Theology,” a popular textbook in evangelical colleges. “But an old mistake is still a mistake.”

Grudem, like Piper, has said that he skips the phrase about Jesus’ descent when reciting the Apostles’ Creed. (source)

Descent of Christ to Limbo (1365-68)
Andrea da Firenze
Cappella Spagnuolo, Santa Maria Novella, Florence

Not surprisingly, both men derive from the Anabaptistic tradition which has historically been opposed to Creeds in the first place. Essentially, this terrible error is the fruit of heretical Christology. Let me explain.

There are potentially a number of errors here. One is that Christ Himself did not have a human soul. Many Protestants, without knowing it, do not believe that Christ has a human soul. They instead believe that Christ has a human body but that His deity serves as the animating principle of His body. Hence, when Christ died, His deity was naturally in Heaven. The conclusion is that He would have skipped Hell entirely.

On the other end of the spectrum is the heretical doctrine of Calvin that states that Christ literally descended into the Gehenna of the damned in order to receive the full punishment of sin. This is contrary to Scripture, contrary to the Fathers, and contrary to orthodox Christology. {Read: Calvin’s Worst Heresy: That Christ Suffered in Hell}.

Another problem with Piper and Grudem’s teaching is that it does not appreciate the historic doctrine of the Beatific Vision. Christianity teaches that the blessed receive the Beatific Vision in Heaven and that this consists in the blessed soul seeing the Divine Essence of God. Catholicism teaches that Christ always experienced the Beatific Vision – even in the womb of His Immaculate Mother. In this sense, Christ was always experiencing Heaven…even on the cross. In the higher part of His soul, He always enjoyed the Beatific Vision; however, in the lower parts of His human soul, He experienced sorrows and agony.

By positing the proper relationship in Christ with regard to His body, blood, soul, and divinity, we come to see that the Apostles’ Creed is entirely correct. Christ descended into Hell to deliver the Old Testament saints from Abraham’s Bosom, or as it is called in Catholic theology, the Limbo of the Fathers.

According to Thomas Aquinas, Hell consists of four abodes:

  1. Limbo of the Fathers or Abraham’s Bosom (a subterranean paradise)
  2. Limbo of the Children (a subterranean paradise for uncircumcised/unbaptized children)
  3. Purgatory (for those needing further sanctification)
  4. Gehenna (eternal and fiery torments of the damned)

Christ descended in order to deliver souls from Abraham’s Bosom and to announced His victory over the reprobates in Gehenna. The other day at my blog Canterbury Tales I posted 8 Bible Verses on the Descent into Hell. Here they are:

  1. Saint Paul teaches us in Ephesians 4:9 that Christ our Lord descended into Hell after He offered His life on the cross. “Now that He ascended, what is it, but because He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?” Note here that Hell is described as having “parts,” that is the four parts of Hell.
  2. Saint Peter preached in Acts 2:24 that “God hath raised up Christ, having loosed the sorrows of hell, as it was impossible that He should be holden by it.” Christ loosed the Old Testament saints from hell.
  3. Saint Peter also wrote in 1 Peter 3:19 that “Christ coming in spirit preached to those spirits that were in prison, which had some time been incredulous.” On this verse, Saint Athanasius 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.” (Ep. ad Epict.)
  4. The prophet Hosea foretold the descent of Christ into Hell in Hosea 13:14 by placing these words into the mouth of the Messiah: “O death, I will be thy death; O hell, I will be thy bite.”
  5. Zechariah foretells the redemption of those in the Limbo of the Fathers in Zech 9:11: “Thou also by the blood of Thy Testament hast sent forth Thy prisoners out of the pit.” What could this mean except that the Messiah would free people from the underworld?
  6. Colossians 2:15: “Despoiling the principalities and powers, He hath exposed them confidently.” This refers to Christ’s victory over the condemned angels who are the demons of Hell.
  7. Psalm 23:7: “Lift up your gates, O ye princes,” which the medieval Gloss interprets: “that is–Ye princes of hell, take away your power, whereby hitherto you held men fast in hell”.
  8. In Ecclesiasticus 24:45, Siracides prophesied concerning Christ: “I will penetrate to all the lower parts of the earth.”

How then do we respond to John Piper? He’s simply not biblical. He fundamentally does not understand what Christ means by “paradise” and its relationship in the Jewish mind to Sheol or the Underworld. In my book The Crucified Rabbi – Judaism and the Origins of Catholic Christianity, I dedicate an entire chapter to this topic. Chapter 13 is titled Jewish Afterlife and Catholic Afterlife. It focuses on the Jewish traditions of the afterlife and how Catholicism incorporated these ancient and correct doctrines. The reader learns why Orthodox Jews still pray for the dead. Why do Catholics and Jews pray for the dead? They share the same worldview! This is all news to Protestants who lack knowledge of Second Temple Judaism and Church History.

If I were able to dialogue directly with John Piper, I would challenge him directly on this point. Why does a first century book like Enoch (quoted in the New Testament) depict Sheol or Hades in a way that conforms to Catholic theology, but is in open contradiction to Piper’s Baptist theology? Why is it that Catholicism has continuity with the Judaism of Jesus Christ, but Anabaptistic theology has no continuity whatsoever-either theologically or chronologically?

To be truly Jewish is to be truly Catholic.

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

Taylor R. Marshall, Ph.D.

PS: It is Catholic tradition that the 12 Apostles wrote the Apostles Creed. There are 12 lines in the Apostles Creed and each Apostle contributed a line. It was Saint Philip, according to pious tradition who added “He descended into Hell.”

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  1. Taylor,

    Thanks for this article. Since reading John Piper’s article Saturday I have been wondering, why would one choose to edit the creed? Something I don’t understand about Reformed Theology is where the Apostle’s Creed fits in to shaping their theology? I would more expect someone to reject the Creed in its entirety, instead of calling for an edit. To edit it, I assume, means that it still holds significant meaning, thus the desire to keep the rest of the Creed.

    Could someone clarify?


  2. Interestingly, before I became Catholic, my Baptist youth pastor taught us that Paradise and Abraham’s Bosom were one and the same and that it was important for us to know that Christ was actually doing something important and victorious after the Crucifixion and prior to the Resurrection.I never forgot that.

  3. “This is all news to Protestants who lack knowledge of Second Temple Judaism and Church History.”

    Krister Stendahl, J.D.G. Dunn, N.T Wright, Mark Seifrid, Peter O’Brien, Seeyon Kim, etc,.

    Guess what all these guys who have written on STJ (from varying perspectives) have in common?

    Christ descended into Hell to deliver the Old Testament saints from Abraham’s Bosom, or as it is called in Catholic theology, the Limbo of the Fathers.

    I understand you believe this is what the creed teaches, but what evidence do you have to substantiate this? Then you say,

    How then do we respond to John Piper? He’s simply not biblical. He fundamentally does not understand what Christ means by “paradise” and its relationship in the Jewish mind to Sheol or the Underworld.

    None of the passages you have quoted require the interpretation you present. Many Catholic scholars would disagree. For example, William Dalton, SJ, has written the definitive treatment of 1 Peter 3:18-22 and disagrees that this in anyway refers to the descensus.

    Finally, you say,

    Why is it that Catholicism has continuity with the Judaism of Jesus Christ, but Anabaptistic theology has no continuity whatsoever-either theologically or chronologically?

    You don’t treat Piper’s primary text in Luke, you assert that Jesus couldn’t mean what Piper says. There is no compelling reason to accept your argument. Lexically, Louw and Nida say, “this word [is] generally equated with ouvrano, or ‘heaven.'” παραδείσῳ typically means Garden and in the NT is used with reference to the kingdom of God (harkening back to the Garden of Eden). From the biblical and apocryphal literature you do not find the distinctions you are making regarding παραδείσῳ.

  4. Adrienne,

    Taylor did not mention this for some reason but the reason to “edit” the Creed is because there is discussion about the originality of the phrase in the creed. There is widespread doubt in the academic community regarding the authenticity of the “descensus” view. That does not mean that it was not there, but there are some (and there are Catholics among their number) who believe that it was added to the Creed at a later date.

    Popular articles are available here:

    This quote from Britannica, “This phrase was probably the last to be added to the creed. Its principal source in the New Testament was the description in I Pet. 3:18–20 of Christ’s preaching to the spirits in prison. ”

    Here is an article in favor of the position which relates some of the historical ambiguity (and mentions Grudem):

  5. What I find so interesting about the people that want to refute the “harrowing of hell” or “his descent among the dead” or whatever you want to call is that these are the same people who have a very high, even central, doctrine of God’s Sovereignty. By Calvinist notions, God can do anything He wants and we cannot question him because of His sovereignty. If God is so critically sovereign, why would Jesus (being God) not descend to the dead after the crucifixion if he wanted to? Sounds to me like they are challenging God’s sovereignty, which is their core doctrine.

  6. A.T.,

    In the Protestant paradigm, a creed is inherently fallible. Therefore, all creeds (anabaptists might call them “statements of faith”) are open for revision in light of the perspicuous Scriptures. So, when a particularly perspicuous reading of Scripture enlightens a certain Protestant tradition, they will then edit whatever creed is in question in relationship to the newly perspicuous (to their minds) meaning of the Holy Text. Or, at least, they will have warrant to do so. Sometimes this leads to church splits.

    In this case, editing the Apostles Creed but leaving the rest intact is tantamount to saying, “I agree with everything but this line, so it’s cool if we just keep the rest.” We keep the rest not out of some pious regard for the infallible nature of the creed as gift through the Church. No, the creed is merely a fallible invention of men thinking as best as they can about the eternal truths found uniquely and solely in the infallible scriptures (this is what I was taught and believed as a Protestant).



  7. One more question.

    In Reformed theology, if after Christ died He did not ascend to the dead to save the Old Testament souls, how/when did those souls ascend to Heaven?

  8. I think Piper is mistaken to want to edit the creed in this way, but the refutation presented here is rather poor.

    In Reformed theology, the specific nature of Hell is a matter of speculation. There isn’t much scriptural evidence about its exact nature. Thus while it might be interesting to speculate upon its parts or divisions, we have no way of actually knowing whether or how it is divided. Perhaps Thomas is correct about his four divisions; perhaps he is not. Perhaps the Eastern opinion is correct, that Hell and Heaven are not different spacial locations, but that they represent the different ways in which the redeemed and the damned experience God’s presence; perhaps it is not.

    Either way, any argument that depends for its force upon positing a certain division of Hell is quite unpersuasive. The Reformed position is that one ought to refrain from excessive speculation and resist the tendency to dogmatize based on inconclusive opinions.

    Therefore, while I do believe that Christ descended into Hell (I think Piper and Grudem are mistaken), I do not hold beliefs about how specifically it happened, nor what specifically He did there, aside from what 1 Peter and other scriptural passages describe.

    The main thing is, if you’re going to try to refute Piper’s viewpoint, you ought to try to do so in a way that might be persuasive to Reformed Christians, not just to those who already accept Catholic doctrines.

  9. RefProt,

    Thank you for your reply, I appreciate you taking the time. While I understand that there is (and always will be) debate over the historicity of the Creed, I still fail to understand why it is worth editing and keeping the rest instead of ignoring it in its entirety? Of what value is it in the Reformed tradition?

    For instance, Catholics would never edit nor get rid of the creed because our position is to always be taught by our forefathers (more specifically the Catholic Church, individual “Catholic” scholars may deviate, but they carry no weight in the Church). If we arrive at a different conclusion than our Fathers, then we take the position it is ourselves who are wrong and instead defer to their teaching. However, I see in certain circles of Protestantism (exemplified in the original John Piper article), that when a protestant scholar’s intense studies usher him to a different conclusion than the ancient church, the scholar takes the position that he is correct (perhaps because he is more intelligent, understands the ancient languages and traditions better, spent more time in study, or is less corrupted by ancient beliefs) and he casts aside the teaching of the father as incorrect or deems it unBiblical. For a protestant scholar with less (or even little) regard for the teaching of those of the ancient church, why would he care about a creed at all? Is it needed to prove anything? Is it needed for unity to an ancient church, even when the position is that that early church was incorrect about many things?


  10. One thing that struck me a while ago is that after the final judgment only Heaven and Hell will remain.
    * All those in the Limbo of the Fathers will go to Heaven
    * All those in Purgatory will go to Heaven
    * All those in Gehenna will go to Hell

    But what will happen to this in:
    * Limbo of the Children
    * Limbo of the Virtuous Pagan

    I haven’t found an answer in either Aquinas or the Catechism of Trent or in my readings of the Church Fathers. The new catechism avoids the issue and just gives “hope” that those in limbo will go to Heaven, but I really don’t see a foundation for that hope.

  11. Anil Wang,

    There is no “Limbo of the Virtuous Pagan.”

    In the Limbo of the Children, they will remain in Limbo as taught by the Council of Florence. No one by nature can ascend to the beatific vision – even if he is sinless. The BV is beyond our natural capacities.

    ad Jesum per Mariam,

  12. […] Taylor Marshall thinks this attempt to “correct” the Creed is improper, and says so in his article at Called to Communion. In fact, he states that it is “the fruit of heretical Christology.” Among the errors […]

  13. Taylor or anyone,

    Can you help me out with the doctrine of purgator(ies) from early tradition( and I’ll let you or the CC determine what is “early”) or from sacred scripture?

    What does it mean that there is a place for children? What children are you speaking of?

    I’ve noticed that we all, whatever philosophical or religious beliefs derive a corresponding comfort from those held commitments, and in turn we also respond to others based on those beliefs. I would greatly appreciate a further support when, as a Protestant, I am struggling to assimilate so many things that are new and abberant to my understanding. Remember, you all were once exactly where we are now.

    Also, I would like to hear how you now think about your family members, most especially your children and their eternal destiny. I am a mother, I’d love to hear from some Catholic moms.

  14. This strikes me as amusing – the pot calling the kettle black much? or have we forgotten the filioque?

    The Apostles creed was never agreed on at an Ecumenical Council, so changing it doesn’t technically violate an agreed upon statement of the catholic (universal) church.

    The phrase ‘descended into hell’ does not exist in the earliest versions of the creed – St. Philip didn’t add those words. Instead it reads ‘descended to the dead’.
    The phrase ‘ad inferium’ (into hell) was originally a part of a commentary written by Rufinus on the Apostles creed. Apparently the 4th century church thought it added more ‘punch’ than ‘to the dead’, and replaced the original words. Jesus I know, and the apostles I know – but who is Rufinus?

    For that matter, who is Aquinas… that his view on Limbo ought to be held above Pipers and the reading of the Bible? Piper may be wrong in removing the line, but isn’t the RCC just as wrong for modifying it?

    Ethan C – you make excellent points, with much more grace than I can muster.

  15. Further, doesn’t “sinlessness” imply perfection and perfection the attainment of man’s end of becoming fully human? Why would not a sinless creature attain the Beatific Vision since he could not have been sinless without grace in the first place? Or how is one to know if he is a perfect pagan or a progressing saint?

  16. Adrienne,

    The reason to have the Creed removed is not at its core theologically motivated, rather it is historically motivated. Don’t get me wrong, there is a theological concern that it is not the most felicitous way to describe Jesus time in the grace, but many Protestants have no problem accepting the claim either. They certainly do not agree with Taylor’s claim, but an any unbiased reader would recognize that the Creed does not require Taylor’s interpretation.

    Fundamentally this is a question of originality in the Creed. If there is no record of the Descensus in the Creed for the 1st 3 1/2 centuries then perhaps it should be dropped because it was not part of the creed. I am ignorant on the official standing of the Creed in the Church but I imagine that they could acknowledge that the descensus was not part of the original Creed but that it is still binding because it is part of the Apostolic Deposit, which is why it was later added.

    This may not answer your questions directly, but I think it is much more complicated than Taylor presents it.

  17. Alicia,

    I don’t know how much I can help, but there is evidence for the doctrine of purgatory in the epistles of St. Cyprian no. 55, in St. Augustine, De Civitatis Dei XXI, 24, as well as in St. Gregory the Great’s epistle IV, 39.

    Scriptural proof generally comes from Matt. 5:26, 12:32 and I Cor. 3:12.

    In order for one to attain to the Beatific Vision much more than sinlessness is required. Since the BV is something that exceeds man’s natural end, it is necessary that he receive grace. Thus, to die without grace is to die without the BV. The limbo of the infants is one possible explanation for what happens to unbaptized children when they die. They are not punished for sins that they did not commit since that would be unjust, yet they do not participate in the divine life since they have been deprived of grace through their inheritance original sin (which needs to be distinguished from actual sins). One can perhaps liken their state to what man might have experienced without the invitation of grace into the divine life. Hypothetically, man could have been sinless without grace–but this would not mean that he would thereby inherit the kingdom since that requires more than natural sinlessness.

    Hope that is somewhat helpful.

  18. Hello Bob B,

    I just wanted to quickly reply to your comment “This strikes me as amusing – the pot calling the kettle black much? or have we forgotten the filioque?”

    I think the difference is that the filioque was a clarification of the creed, and what John Piper is calling for is taking something out of the creed. There seems to be a pretty big difference. You wrote “Piper may be wrong in removing the line, but isn’t the RCC just as wrong for modifying it?
    ” It may be necessary to clarify the creed by adding to it, but taking away from it is something very different. Our understanding of the deposit of faith once and for all delivered to the Saints may develope over time but no part of the deposit of faith can be taken away.

    As to your comment “For that matter, who is Aquinas… that his view on Limbo ought to be held above Pipers and the reading of the Bible?” Aquinas is one of the greatest Theological geniuses of all time, Piper is not. Aquinas is one of the most famous people in church history, Piper is not. I don’t think we can even compare the two. Plus, I don’t think anyone is suggesting that Aquinas’s view should be held OVER the Bible. The question is: whose interpretation of the Bible is correct?

  19. RE: Limbo of the unbaptized infants

    Pope John Paul II Speaks to Women
    who have had Abortions

    Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), #99

    I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life.

    This comment by Pope John Paul II about aborted infants “living in the Lord” stirred up considerable amount of controversy. Pope John Paul II responded to this controversy by appointing the International Theological Commission to study the question of the degree of theological certainty that should be attributed to the doctrine of infant limbo as an everlasting state of being. Pope John Paul II died before the ITC issued its final report.

    The final ITC document can be read here:



    The International Theological Commission has studied the question of the fate of un-baptised infants, bearing in mind the principle of the “hierarchy of truths” and the other theological principles of the universal salvific will of God, the unicity and insuperability of the mediation of Christ, the sacramentality of the Church in the order of salvation, and the reality of Original Sin. In the contemporary context of cultural relativism and religious pluralism the number of non-baptized infants has grown considerably, and therefore the reflection on the possibility of salvation for these infants has become urgent. The Church is conscious that this salvation is attainable only in Christ through the Spirit. But the Church, as mother and teacher, cannot fail to reflect upon the fate of all men, created in the image of God, and in a more particular way on the fate of the weakest members of the human family and those who are not yet able to use their reason and freedom.

    It is clear that the traditional teaching on this topic has concentrated on the theory of limbo, understood as a state which includes the souls of infants who die subject to original sin and without baptism, and who, therefore, neither merit the beatific vision, nor yet are subjected to any punishment, because they are not guilty of any personal sin. This theory, elaborated by theologians beginning in the Middle Ages, never entered into the dogmatic definitions of the Magisterium, even if that same Magisterium did at times mention the theory in its ordinary teaching up until the Second Vatican Council. It remains therefore a possible theological hypothesis.

    The ITC speaks about the teaching of the Council of Florence mention by Taylor Marshall in his post # 11:

    28. In the preparatory phase of Vatican II, there was a desire on the part of some that the Council affirm the common doctrine that unbaptised infants cannot attain the Beatific Vision, and thereby close the question. The Central Preparatory Commission, which was aware of many arguments against the traditional doctrine and of the need to propose a solution in better accordance with the developing sensus fidelium, opposed this move. Because it was thought that theological reflection on the issue was not mature enough, the question was not included in the Council’s agenda; it did not enter into the Council’s deliberations and was left open for further investigation.[56] The question raised a number of problems whose outcome was debated among theologians, in particular: the status of the Church’s traditional teaching concerning children who die without Baptism; the absence of an explicit indication in Holy Scripture on the subject; the connection between the natural order and the supernatural vocation of human beings; original sin and the universal saving will of God; and the “substitutions” for sacramental Baptism that can be invoked for young children.

    29. The Catholic Church’s belief that Baptism is necessary for salvation was powerfully expressed in the Decree for the Jacobites at the Council of Florence in 1442: “There is no other way to come to the aid [of little children] than the sacrament of Baptism by which they are snatched from the power of the devil and adopted as children of God”.[57] This teaching implies a very vivid perception of the divine favour displayed in the sacramental economy instituted by Christ; the Church does not know of any other means which would certainly give little children access to eternal life. However, the Church has also traditionally recognized some substitutions for Baptism of water (which is the sacramental incorporation into the mystery of Christ dead and risen), namely, Baptism of blood (incorporation into Christ by witness of martyrdom for Christ) and Baptism of desire (incorporation into Christ by the desire or longing for sacramental Baptism). During the 20th century, some theologians, developing certain more ancient theological theses, proposed to recognize for little children either some kind of Baptism of blood (by taking into consideration the suffering and death of these infants), or some kind of Baptism of desire (by invoking an “unconscious desire” for Baptism in these infants oriented toward justification, or the desire of the Church).[58] The proposals invoking some kind of Baptism of desire or Baptism of blood, however, involved certain difficulties. …

    30. It is equally necessary to note, among the debated questions with a bearing on this matter, that of the gratuity of the supernatural order. Before the Second Vatican Council, in other circumstances and regarding other questions, Pius XII had vigorously brought this to the consciousness of the Church by explaining that one destroys the gratuity of the supernatural order if one asserts that God could not create intelligent beings without ordaining and calling them to the Beatific Vision.[60] The goodness and justice of God do not imply that grace is necessarily or “automatically” given. Among theologians, then, reflection on the destiny of unbaptised infants involved from that time onwards a renewed consideration of the absolute gratuity of grace, and of the ordination of all human beings to Christ and to the redemption that he won for us.

    31. Without responding directly to the question of the destiny of unbaptised infants, the Second Vatican Council marked out many paths to guide theological reflection. The Council recalled many times the universality of God’s saving will which extends to all people (1 Tim 2:4).[61] All “share a common destiny, namely God. …

    The ITC concludes this about the degree of theological certainty regarding the doctrine of infant limbo as an everlasting state of being:

    40. In summary: the affirmation that infants who die without Baptism suffer the privation of the beatific vision has long been the common doctrine of the Church, which must be distinguished from the faith of the Church. As for the theory that the privation of the beatific vision is their sole punishment, to the exclusion of any other pain, this is a theological opinion, despite its long acceptance in the West. The particular theological thesis concerning a “natural happiness” sometimes ascribed to these infants likewise constitutes a theological opinion.

    I think that the bottom line is this, a Catholic is free to believe that unbaptized infants will never see heaven, that their everlasting fate would be a place in Hades where they would enjoy a state of being of everlasting “natural happiness”. That is a theological opinion that one if free to hold, not a de fide dogma of the faith that must be held upon pain of excommunication. A Catholic is also free to not believe this particular theological opinion – i.e. he or she is free to believe that there is indeed reason to hope that unbaptized infants may obtain the beatific vision through the mediation of the Church. Which is why the CCC teaches this:

    1283 With respect to children who have died without Baptism, the liturgy of the Church invites us to trust in God’s mercy and to pray for their salvation.

  20. Taylor Marshal,

    That’s some very interesting theologizing, but once again Protestants would generally view it as pure speculation.

    Since we have virtually no information about the operation of grace in the afterlife, we should not presume to think that we know what happens to dead infants. Perhaps they “attain the Beatific Vision” through some operation that is beyond our present understanding. Perhaps they dwell in the presence of God in some other way that we are incapable of describing. Perhaps they do indeed occupy some sort of “limbo” state, not as a spacial location but as a mode of relation to God; or perhaps they behold God in exactly the same way that adult believers do.

    We just don’t know, and we shouldn’t presume that we can reason it out.

    And that goes double for their state after the Resurrection of the Dead and the Final Judgment. Just about the only things we know about the Age to Come is that it will be good and just, and apart from that we have been assured that it is beyond our comprehension. It seems to me that we can be content with that.

  21. Thank you, Josh, it was helpful.

    I would like to know how one knows whether or not he has been given grace. I am living with unwanted scepticism and I don’t understand if my will is what is fighting against my doubt or if my intellect is trying to hold onto what is by necessity( the existence of God) true.

  22. Bob B. (re:#14),

    You asked:

    For that matter, who is Aquinas… that his view on Limbo ought to be held above Pipers and the reading of the Bible? Piper may be wrong in removing the line, but isn’t the RCC just as wrong for modifying it?

    Given that I was a strongly anti-Catholic Reformed Baptist for years, I can answer your questions with a unique perspective.

    St. Thomas Aquinas is one of the greatest Christian theologians in the 2,ooo-year history of the Faith and the Church. John Piper is a late-20th-early-21st-century Reformed Baptist preacher whom Calvin would not have even considered to be a Christian for Piper’s Anabaptist views on baptism and the Eucharist. (I should note that I *do not* agree with John Calvin there. As a Catholic convert/revert, I love John Piper as my brother in Christ, though I no longer agree with nearly as much of his ecclesiastical and theological thinking as I once did. I loved to read him as a Reformed Baptist.)

    For the apostolic teaching authority of the Catholic Church, see here, as a start:

  23. Taylor Marshall,

    I have heard repeatedly that after the final judgment, only Heaven and Hell will remain, so its unclear what happens to limbo.

    Re-reading Dante, I realize that he placed virtuous pagans and unbaptized infants in limbo, so I would guess that’s the Limbo of Infants. He also places Limbo in the top level of Hell, so he resolved the final judgment issue this way. I don’t know what the unofficial consensus is on this, since I would rather it be the bottom level of heaven but simply deprived of the Beatific Vision. The difference between the “top of Hell” or “the bottom of Heaven” is extremely significant, since people in Heaven should be able to visit those “in the bottom level of Heaven” but wouldn’t be able to visit “the top of Hell”.

    From what I understand, 1 Peter 3:18-20 and the Roman Catechism (of Trent) ARTICLE V both state that virtuous pagans were freed from limbo, although nothing is said of virtuous pagans who died after the Harrowing of Hell. But there is effectively no difference between a pagan dying one minute before the harrowing and one minute after the harrowing, so if the former were true, one would have to wonder about why one would be dammed and the other would be saved.

    The only thing that makes sense for me is that Limbo really is the lowest level of Heaven which is deprived of the Beatific Vision. Since heaven has many levels, according to Dante and private revelation of some saints (who stated that they would have given anything to come back and achieve a greater holiness in this life so they could have had a greater Beatific Vision), it would fill in a lot of gaps, and give both reasons for hope of the unbaptized and virtuous pagans, but also add an urgency to baptize infants and preach the Gospel since no-one should be deprived of the Beatific Vision.

    But this is just my semi-informed speculation. I’m hoping someone more familiar with the Fathers and Church teachings would know.

  24. I’m familiar with Aquinas… I’m just asking ‘who is he’ in the ‘by what authority’ sense of the question. Aquinas may be an excellent theologian, but (off the top of my head) I think he was out to lunch on his views of 1. limbo and 2. the treatment of heretics.

    I have a soft spot for Piper – I attended grade school with his son. I suspect that he would not be a Baptist if it wasn’t for beginning his (very blessed) ministry in the Baptist tradition. Reformed thinking tends to lead to pedo-baptism, but his brand developed outside that… and it is difficult for one to abandon that brand.

  25. Alicia (#15)

    Why would not a sinless creature attain the Beatific Vision since he could not have been sinless without grace in the first place?

    Excellent question! The problem is that we hear the words “Beatific Vision” and we may imagine ‘vision’ to refer to something like seeing a beautiful natural object – only vastly more beautiful.

    What the Beatific Vision means is something infinitely far above that. It is – in St John’s words – seeing Him as He is.

    I puzzled over this as a Protestant, because it seemed obvious to me that to see – which I think is ‘seeing’ in a far deeper sense than merely something to do with light and our eyes – it is a direct, intuitive knowledge – to see God as He is I would have to be God. I would at least have to have something about me that was capable of receiving the knowledge of the Infinite. But, clearly, no matter how much I learn about God, there will be infinitely more. I can never exhaust Him. People used to tell me that we would understand that Trinity, for instance, in Heaven. ‘How,’ I wondered, ‘could that be?’

    I think my misgiving was well-founded. There is no way that created nature can whilst remaining simply that created nature see God as He is.

    Grace is required – and grace, not merely, as some Protestants think grace to be, as a change in God’s attitude towards me – treating me as righteous – but what is called ‘infused grace.’ Something analogous to God’s own nature has to be united to my natural human nature in order for me to see God as He is. This is our hope. This is what John means when he says that we are now the children of God; it remains for us to know what we will be – for then, we will truly be able to see God as He is.

    It is easy enough to understand, I think, though impossible now to take in its fulness. I can show you a photo of my wife and you can see it – because your human nature enables you to do that. I can show that photo to a stone but the stone is not going to see anything. Its stony nature is not capable of it. I can show it to my cat and the cat will see something – but it will be unable to know that it is my wife; I suspect it will not even be able to know that it is a photo of that person who sometimes feeds and pets it – who is, in fact, my wife. Its nature does not enable it to make that abstraction of the entity “John’s wife” and see that both its seeing her and seeing the photo represent the same thing.

    A sinless creature cannot see God as He is without something being added to it. A human being who had never sinned – but who only had his human nature – would be incapable of that. Indeed, such a human being would not long remain sinless, without that infused grace – which is in us now in germ, by the new birth. Adam and Eve needed that same grace in order to control their human nature. Their human nature was not intended to be perfect without grace. Somewhere on CtoC there is a whole post about this, I think. Maybe one of the admins could point Alicia to it.


  26. PS to my #19 – when I think of the Beatific Vision, I think of the terrible words from the Old Testament: no man can see God and live. I do not think this means simply ‘no sinful man’ – and, indeed, I think the ‘live’ doesn’t merely mean you would be zapped or something. I think that, indeed, no man qua man, can see God – and that in order to see God, I will have to die – but that by His grace, when I die, I will see Him – as He is. That is both terrible and wonderful. Fear God, indeed! Therein is both my death and my eternal life.


  27. I just came across this passage in St. Irenaeus’s AGAINST HERESIES. The said article of the creed is part of the tradition delivered to the successors of the Apostles.

    “The Lord descended into the regions beneath the earth, announcing there the good news of His coming and of the remission of sins conferred upon those who believe in Him.” (Jurgens, Vol. 1, p.96)

    Nick T.

  28. Changing a creed is no big deal if you reject the notion that the creed contains authoritative patristic teaching. However, since Piper, Grudem, et. al also hold to no real doctrine of ecclesiology, there is no mechanism by which that change could be enforced on other protestant bodies. Even the Evangelical Theological Society, set up as a weak attempt at doctrinal unity, has no authority whatever to enforce a protestant-wide acceptance of the revised creed. So protestants, in this instance, would be left with nothing different than they’ve had all along: namely, a few dudes who like to hear themselves talk and slapping a Jesus sticker on their own brand of religion. These sorts of “revisions” are natural to people who accept no authority other than their own private interpretation of Scripture.

    Having said that, I do appreciate your attempt to show from Scripture that the creed is perfect as it has been for centuries.

  29. Chris,

    You bring up a very good point! Even if Piper and Grudem started saying the creed differently, since most Evanglical churches are autonomous, how could they enforce this decision? They do not have an authoritative magisterium to implement the changes, and as a result their efforts would be in vain. This is one of the biggest problems with Protestantism in my eyes.

  30. Chris (re:#28),

    I agree, with Michael Lofton in #29, that you make a good point about the inability of the Evangelical Theological Society to bring unity even among their fellow Protestants.

    However, as a Catholic “revert” (and a former “Reformed Baptist” Protestant Christian) who is here to help Protestants understand Catholic Christianity, I am compelled to say, in charity, here, that it is very important, in dialogue (which is the purpose of this site) to not *caricature* our separated brothers and sisters in Christ with our words.

    You wrote:

    Even the Evangelical Theological Society, set up as a weak attempt at doctrinal unity, has no authority whatever to enforce a protestant-wide acceptance of the revised creed. So protestants, in this instance, would be left with nothing different than they’ve had all along: namely, a few dudes who like to hear themselves talk and slapping a Jesus sticker on their own brand of religion.

    As I mentioned above, your first point is true and quite valid. Your second *statement,* though, is most uncharitable, and not at all the way in which Pope Benedict XVI speaks and writes about Protestants. Perhaps you are a Catholic convert (or revert) and a former Protestant yourself, and you are simply zealous for the fullness of the Christian faith with which the Catholic Church is blessed, by virtue of Whom founded her, and to Whom she belongs– Christ.

    In any event, I can say, myself, as a former Protestant of many years, that my Protestant friends, and the theologians and preachers whom they read and listen to, were and are *extremely serious* about understanding God’s written Word, the Bible, *and* about following Christ Himself in often *radically* sacrificial ways.

    Chris, to say that Protestants, whether those in the Evangelical Theological Society or elsewhere, are ultimately left with “a few dudes who like to hear themselves talk and slapping a Jesus sticker on their own brand of religion” is deeply offensive to me, as a Catholic “revert,” and a former Protestant. I can only imagine how those words must sound to committed, serious, Bible-loving Protestants who are perusing this site.

    It was, not entirely, but to a very important degree, study of the *Bible* which helped to bring me back to the Catholic Church, from years in Protestantism. Moreover, I am not sure if, without the serious habits of Biblical study that I learned *as a Protestant*, I would have ever even *returned* to the Catholic Church. In that light, it is simply not accurate or fair to characterize Protestants or Protestantism as you did.

    I would have brought this matter to you privately (as Scripture admonishes us to do, normatively, with fellow Christians), but you posted your words here publicly, and as I have no way to reach you privately, I am responding publicly. Again, I write this comment in charity for you, as a fellow Catholic brother in Christ, and out of concern for how aspects of your comment might affect Protestants reading here.

  31. Bob B. (re:#24),

    You write that you question, Biblically, certain of Aquinas’s teachings, asking, “who is he,” in the “by what authority?” sense. As I wrote to you in my last comment, I can understand this questioning on your part. For many years, I was a *deeply* convinced and committed Protestant who held that Scripture is our only final *infallible* authority for faith and practice– although not our only *authority*, period. This was the position of the Reformers, and it was my position as a Protestant.

    In practice, in my life as a Protestant, that position translated to “I must ultimately follow my best understanding and interpretation of Scripture, after I have studied, prayed, studied more, compared Scripture with Scripture, consulted commentaries, and reached what I honestly believe to be the correct interpretation of Scripture as my sole *infallible* authority.”

    This position was emphatically *not* the one held by the Church Fathers (the Christian Biblical exegetes of their time) for the first 1, 500 years of the Church. From 198 A.D., in his five-volume opus, “Against Heresies,” often cited by Protestants to make their *own* points about heresy, St. Irenaeus writes:

    “It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known to us throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors down to our own times, men who neither knew nor taught anything like what these heretics rave about” (Against Heresies 3:3:1 [A.D. 189]).

    and, further:

    “But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul—that church which has the tradition and the faith with which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world. And it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition” (ibid., 3:3:2).


    St. Irenaeus states, very specifically, how and where one is to find the true apostolic faith and tradition (mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:15). He states that we find it through the succession of bishops, from the original apostles, and that the church which guards it, with which *all* churches, everywhere, must agree, is at *Rome*. He taught this in 189 A.D. The Catholic Church still teaches it today.

    There is a reason for this continuity. The Church of 189 A.D., to which Irenaeus belonged, was the Catholic Church, and she still is that Church– “Catholic,” universal, whole, complete, holding the totality of the apostolic faith and tradition, to which all Christians are called.

    In light of the fact that, for 1,500 years, the Church Fathers (again, the Christian Biblical exegetes of their time) did not hold to “Sola Scriptura,” in belief or in practice, by what authority do we now judge that St. Thomas Aquinas’s thinking on certain questions is Biblically “out to lunch”– especially when his position on the authority of Scripture in the Church *is* that of the first 1, 500 years of the Church Fathers?

  32. Brilliant. NOT. By the year 400 AD both the New Testament canon and the Apostle’s Creed were clearly and universally accepted by Christians of orthodoxy. So the Church was right about one but wrong about the other? This is sloppy scholarship by men who should know better.

    Piper is starting to act like a combination of Rob Bell (whose theology he has rightly and roundly criticized for doing this exact kind of thing by the way) and Jimmy Carter (who basically suffers from what I call the “Grumpy Old Be-My-Own-Pope” syndrome). To be sure, John Piper has written many, many wonderful doctrinal treatises and helped many people to come much closer to God over the years, but does not even realize when he is missing the mark by messing with the very ancient Traditions which gave him the Bible he knows and preaches so well.

    Both of these men are some of the best evangelical Protestant scholars in the world, but separating Sacred Tradition from Sacred Scripture insidiously destroys its own continuity no matter how well studied one is. Been there.

  33. This is good news in a way. By that I mean that Piper and friends are being more honest by suggesting removal rather than radical misinterpretation. So many sects will interpret the creeds in bizare ways and even fully admit that their interpretation is not what the fathers who made the creed had in mind. This is particularly the case for “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins”, and the marks ofthe Church in the Nicene creed, changing “apostolic” to mean doctrine separated from actual succession. I have met Dispensationalists who do not baptize with water and claim they hold to the creeds.
    So hey, at least Piper is being honest. He is carrying Sola Scriptura to it’s logical conclusion. If the creeds are merely the works of men and are merely a helpful tool that can potentially be revised, then Piper is bringing those facts to light by bringing the scissors to bear on the creed.
    Finally, I think the situation is bizare in a way as well: Who will do the changing? Who will discuss it? Who will approve it? Where will the council be held? Who will be invited? Even high Church protestants with a slightly more cohesive ecclesiology don’t come close to answering these questions, but Piper is part of the Baptist General Conference. There is literally zero mechanism for any change to the creed to take place in his world.

  34. Iron-sharpening-iron post:

    Correcting Taylor Marshall

  35. Taylor,

    1. Both Piper and Grudem are not opposed to Creeds. I think this is a misrepresentation. Both have good historical arguments for rejecting the phrase “he descended in hell”.
    2. The phrase “he descended in hell” is not found in the early versions of the Creed used in Rome, Italy and Africa. It only appeared in two versions from Rufinus in A.D. 390. Rufinus interpreted the term “hell” as “grave”.
    3. It was not included again in the creed until A.D. 650.

    P.S. Please check your facts well before using loaded terms as “heretical christology”.

    As for your question: Why is it that Catholicism has continuity with the Judaism of Jesus Christ, but Anabaptistic theology has no continuity whatsoever-either theologically or chronologically?

    “Judaism of Jesus Christ”? Let me ask you Taylor, Where did Christ command us to pray for the dead or taught us 4 abodes of Hell. And why talk about the book of Enoch if this is not “theopneustos”? Do we now get our mandate from “divine revelations” of the Second Temple Judaism literature? Catholicism should conform to the actual teachings of Christ and not go beyond what Christ has revealed and taught.


  36. IMO, the problem with Grudem and Piper is essentially terminological: they are just understanding the term “hell” in its common English meaning of “gehenna”. It is the same case in Spanish, with the translation of the Apostles’ Creed saying that Jesus “descendió a los infiernos”, with “infierno” commonly meaning the “place”/condition of the damned.

    The key is to keep in mind that the term in the original greek text of the Apostle’s Creed was “Hades”, equivalent to Hebrew “sheol”, and that Hades/Sheol was comprised of Abraham’s bosom, the Limbo of the Children, Purgatory, and Gehenna, as quoted from St Thomas in the article.

    And BTW, I remember reading in the visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, which obviously are NOT official doctrine of the Church, that, in his descent to Sheol, Jesus entered in triumph and to bring joy to each of its compartments: a dark spot for Adam and Eve (kind of “personalized purgatory”), a purgatory for pre-Abrahamic patriarchs, Abraham’s bosom, to which the good thief was being carried by angels, and a purgatory for good pagans. He also in triumph made a brief foray into gehenna, not to suffer or bring joy but to compel its dwellers to adore Him, and then He liberated the souls from Abraham’s bosom and some from the purgatories and led them into Heaven. (*) The point is that I have just realized that Blessed Emmerich did not mention the Limbo of the Children among Hades’ compartments.

    (*) In my limited knowledge of Catholic doctrine, I express that in more precise terms by saying that Jesus breathed on those souls the Holy Spirit, Who infused sanctifying grace on them, making them sharers in divine life and thus able to enjoy the Beatific Vision. I’d appreciate if the more informed contributors of CtC can confirm or correct this statement.

  37. I’m actually thinking it is a good idea to change the English version from “hell” to “Hades” because it would both avoid scandal and pique interest to learn more. Keeping it as “hell” is like remaining with a bad ICEL mass translation.

  38. Christopher Lake,

    Thank you for pointing out that (most) Protestant churches do not have an ecclesiology like the Roman Catholic Church’s, and so are not especially interested in the question of how to “enforce” a change in doctrine across all of Protestantism.

    Protestant ecclesiology is much more individualistic, and we tend to concern ourselves far more with what individuals believe than with what enforcement measures our governing bodies may use to maintain doctrinal unity within their organizations.

    This is not to say that Protestant bodies don’t care at all about maintaining institutional doctrinal unity; some do care very much, including the PCA to which I currently belong. But it’s a matter of secondary priority to individual Christian formation. And it often seems that the Roman Catholic focus is the opposite, concerning itself mostly with official institutional purity at the expense of the individual formation of its members.

  39. Ethan,

    You stated, “Protestant ecclesiology is much more individualistic, and we tend to concern ourselves far more with what individuals believe than with what enforcement measures our governing bodies may use to maintain doctrinal unity within their organizations.”

    Can you imagine Paul, Ignatius of Antioch, or Clement of Rome (any Apostle or Church Father) making a similar claim? If so, please provide an historical example from their letters.

    Nick T.

  40. One point which Grudem and Piper fail to account for is John 20:17, where Jesus says on Easter Sunday, “I have not yet ascended to the Father.” In fact, we know from Acts 1:1-11 that Jesus did not ascend to the Father for a period of 40 days. Yet he promised the repentant thief that he would be with him that day in Paradise (Lk. 23:43). Obviously then, Paradise is not “heaven” (Acts 2:34), if by heaven we mean the place of God’s throne and Jesus’ present rule at God’s right hand (Heb. 1:3), from whence he makes intercession for us (Rom. 8:34).

    This means we must distinguish between Paradise and Heaven (or the highest heaven) at least. In Luke 16:19ff. we have a description of the Bosom of Abraham where Lazarus went after his death. While this could be the “paradise” Jesus spoke of, the term Paradise is not used in Luke 16, and the imagery employed there does not echo the Garden of Eden. Furthermore, Paul identifies “Paradise” with the Third Heaven (2 Cor. 12:2-3). If Paul is using the term Paradise to speak of the same place Jesus spoke of on the cross, then it would appear that Paradise is a lower realm of heaven, not the place of Christ’s enthronement.

    The term Hades is broadly equivalent to “the realm of dead spirits,” and is an appropriate term for describing the abode of all souls beneath the highest heavens (Eph. 1:20-21), such as where Jesus accompanied the thief after he died, as well as the “lower regions” where Christ set free the captives (Eph. 4:8-9) and visited the spirits in prison (1 Pet. 3:19) during the 40 days between his resurrection and his ascension.

  41. Christopher Lake (31)

    Apostolic succession is not unique to the Roman Church. In fact, of all the churches set up by the apostles with patriarchal primates, the only one that deems communion with Rome as necessary to retain catholicity is Rome.

    We can quote the church fathers all day at each other as there were cheer-leaders on all sides of this question. On the greater topic of church unity, we end at a cross roads. Either the RCC is ‘right’, in which case all other churches must repent and fall back in line, or the RCC is ‘wrong’ – in which case it must repent.

    The RCC seems unwilling (and is doctrinally incapable) to admit any error when it comes to faith or morals, so any repentance from that corner is impossible (can’t repent if incapable of sin). What I’m talking about is abandoning the post 1054 innovations and rejoining with the rest of the Apostolic church.

    When Peter joined with the Judiazers, should the other 12 have followed him – since he was Peter? Likewise, when Rome succumbs to the trappings and temptations of power, should the rest of the Apostolic churches join in? Or should they stand firm and rebuke Rome? If Peter himself was fallible in his exercise of faith an morals, how can his successors claim infallibility? Infallibility didn’t exist for Peter, how can he possibly pass it on?

  42. Aquinas wrote some interesting things about this topic:

  43. Ethan #38

    I am quite sure I am misunderstanding the point you are trying to make, so forgive me if this question is the result of misreading you.

    Doctrinal unity isn’t desired simply for unity’s sake. It is desired because there is one deposit of faith revealed to us by God and proper “Christian formation” cannot be achieved without a correct understanding of that faith. I am positive that you know this, but your comment appears to separate in some way doctrine and Christian formation when you say:

    This is not to say that Protestant bodies don’t care at all about maintaining institutional doctrinal unity; some do care very much, including the PCA to which I currently belong. But it’s a matter of secondary priority to individual Christian formation.

    Can you please elaborate how doctrine is a secondary priority to individual Christian formation?

  44. Johannes, you write:

    IMO, the problem with Grudem and Piper is essentially terminological: they are just understanding the term “hell” in its common English meaning of “gehenna”. It is the same case in Spanish, with the translation of the Apostles’ Creed saying that Jesus “descendió a los infiernos”, with “infierno” commonly meaning the “place”/condition of the damned.

    The key is to keep in mind that the term in the original greek text of the Apostle’s Creed was “Hades”, equivalent to Hebrew “sheol” …

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes to pains to make the same point that you made about “Hell” being a translation of Hades / Sheol:

    Christ Descended into Hell

    632 The frequent New Testament affirmations that Jesus was “raised from the dead” presuppose that the crucified one sojourned in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection.[478] This was the first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ’s descent into hell: that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead. But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there.[479]

    633 Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, “hell” – Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek – because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God.[480] Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into “Abraham’s bosom”:[481] “It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham’s bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell.”[482] Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.[483]


    479 Cf. 1 Pet 3:18-19.

    480 Cf. Phil 2:10; Acts 2:24; Rev 1:18; Eph 4:9; Pss 6:6; 88:11-13.

    481 Cf. Ps 89:49; 1 Sam 28:19; Ezek 32:17-32; Lk 16:22-26.

    482 Roman Catechism I, 6, 3.

    483 Cf. Council of Rome (745): DS 587; Benedict XII, Cum dudum (1341): DS 1011; Clement VI, Super quibusdam (1351): DS 1077; Council of Toledo IV (625): DS 485; Mt 27:52-53.

    The CCC gives numerous scriptural references to support the doctrine that Christ descended to the abode of the dead, from both NT and OT. For example”

    What is man, that he should live and not see death?
    Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?
    Psalm 89:49

    Johannes you write:

    And BTW, I remember reading in the visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, which obviously are NOT official doctrine of the Church, that, in his descent to Sheol, Jesus entered in triumph and to bring joy to each of its compartments….

    Clemens Bretano wrote this account of Christ’s decent to the dead based on his notes from the visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich, which can be read here:




    A Detached Account of the Descent into Hell LIX

    Johannes, as you note, writings based on these visions are not the official doctrine of the Catholic Church – and yet, they are not contradictory of the Church’s official doctrine either, at least in the opinion of the men who gave this book the Nihil Obstat and the Imprimatur.

    Your point, and the CCC’s point about Hell being a translation of Hades, is exactly why I chose to use the word Hades in my post #19, i.e. “…a Catholic is free to believe that unbaptized infants will never see heaven, that their everlasting fate would be a place in Hades where they would enjoy a state of being of everlasting “natural happiness”. That is a theological opinion that one if free to hold, not a de fide definita dogma of the faith that must be held upon pain of excommunication …”

    Nick, you write:

    I’m actually thinking it is a good idea to change the English version from “hell” to “Hades” because it would both avoid scandal and pique interest to learn more.

    I am not unsympathetic to that idea, perhaps a translation of “descended to the dead” would work too. This footnote on the new translation of the Apostles Creed clarifies the meaning of “descended into Hell” in the Apostles Creed:

    A quick mention should be made about the statement, “…descended into hell.” This statement calls reference to the Sheol, or the place of the dead. Here the Church Fathers as well as early Christian iconography depict the Lord Jesus preaching salvation to those who died before his incarnation. It should not be thought of as the place occupied by the devil and his minions – as if Jesus would have been subjected to him.

    Ref. Diocese of Covington Kentucky

    The Apostles’ Creed

    This article is one in a weekly series offering insight to the theology of the Mass and the new translation of the Roman Missal.

    Taylor Marshall writes:

    Christianity teaches that the blessed receive the Beatific Vision in Heaven and that this consists in the blessed soul seeing the Divine Essence of God.

    I think it is safe to say that seeing the beatific vision is the same thing as being in Heaven. Anil Wang makes the point that after the Final Judgment, men will dwell in either of two realms, Heaven or Hell:

    I have heard repeatedly that after the final judgment, only Heaven and Hell will remain, so its unclear what happens to limbo.

    Anil Wang, that is a good question, a question that I believe has two parts. One, is there an “infant limbo” where deceased infants go that have not received the Sacrament of Baptism? It seems to me, that if the CCC encourages us to pray for children who have not received baptism so that they may be saved, then these children do not go straight to Heaven. The next part of your question would be whether infant limbo can exist after the final Judgement. On this point, the Church has not given us a de fide dogma that settles this question once and for all. (See my post # 19). If Infant Limbo can exist as a realm after the Final Judgement, then the infants in this realm will never enter Heaven (which is the beholding of the Beatific Vision). This question is more that just a matter of theological speculation – it raises important pastoral problems – how does a minister bring healing to a woman that has had an abortion, or to a man that has been involved with an abortion? If there is no hope for aborted children to be saved, then the healing of women and men that have been involved in abortion becomes much more difficult. Project Rachel is all about healing the effects of abortion, and part of that healing process is giving hope to adults, a hope that that their sins don’t necessarily entail a permanent loss of Heaven to the children that are the innocent victims of abortion.

    … In the contemporary context of cultural relativism and religious pluralism the number of non-baptized infants has grown considerably, and therefore the reflection on the possibility of salvation for these infants has become urgent.

    … This Document, from the point of view of speculative theology as well as from the practical and pastoral perspective, constitutes for a useful and timely mean for deepening our understanding this problem, which is not only a matter of doctrine, but also of pastoral priority in the modern era.



  45. Ethan C. (re:#38),

    Thank you for the reply, brother. I’m well aware that most Protestant denominations, and their local ecclesial communities, don’t have an ecclesiology similar to that of the Catholic Church. In 2010, I was formally disciplined *out* of a Calvinistic “non-denominational church,” to which I belonged at the time, for the “apostasy” of returning to the Catholic Church.

    I had previously belonged to a more “confessional church,” (albeit “Reformed Baptist,” we did subscribe to an historic church confession!) before the non-denominational one, but a geographical move made finding a new ecclesial home necessary– thus, the Calvinistic non-denominational body, which was kind of a cross, ecclesiatically and theologically speaking, between Capitol Hill Baptist Church in D.C. (pastored by Mark Dever, who actually had been my previous pastor) and Grace Community Church (pastored by John MacArthur.)

    So, there is some of my ecclesial history, and I share it here only to say this: I am well aware that serious Calvinist, and/or “Calvinistic,” communities are concerned about church discipline. My former pastor, Mark Dever, has written extensively on the subject. One of the former elders who served under him, Thabiti Anayabwile, has written an entire book on church purity and discipline. I respect, love, and, I must say, miss, both men. I am fairly certain, knowing what they believe about church discipline, that they are deeply worried for the state of my eternal soul.

    I wish that some Catholic priests and bishops would be so concerned for the eternal souls of the persons for whom they care, as pastors. It is in this light that Pope John Paul II once said to a particular group of bishops, “Your first duty as pastors is not projects and organizations, but to lead your people to a deep intimacy with the Trinity.” To be clear, this is not to say that I want the Catholic Church to adopt the exact same measures and methods of church discipline as does Capitol Hill Baptist Church.

    For reasons both ecclesiological and theological, the Catholic Church’s forms of discipline are obviously different from those of Protestant bodies. However, those Catholic forms of Church discipline *do* exist, and they still are enforced to this day, *not* always with the forcefulness and quickness that some Catholics, including me, might wish– but *I* do not have the final say-so, as a Catholic, unlike when I was a Reformed Baptist, and I am *glad* that I don’t have the final say-so! That is not how Christ intended the Church to operate. For some thinking from this site on truth, opinion, and church discipline in the Catholic Church, see here:

    The bigger question here, in reply to your comment, is, how do we determine heresy, orthodoxy, and apostasy? Protestant ecclesial bodies, *and* Protestant individuals, even if they are strongly “confessional” ones, finally determine these matters based upon their (differing) interpretation(s) of Scripture. If one is a Methodist in a Methodist church, and, based on personal interpretation of Scripture, one reaches five-point-Calvinist conclusions, in order to be an honest, consistent Protestant, one would basically need to leave that Methodist body and find one which which teaches five-point-Calvinism. Is this how Christ intended His people to operate? Is this how God wants us to determine truth?

    In the first and second centuries, the Church certainly did not operate in this way. For anyone who doubts this, please consider the evidence here at this link (which is only *part* of the evidence, to be sure, but believe me, as a former Protestant… actually, no, don’t believe me, please do your own research!– the deeper and longer that one looks into historic Christianity, the less historic Christianity looks like Protestantism, whether “historic” or contemporary Protestantism):

  46. Christopher Lake,

    Thanks for the reply.

    I didn’t mean to sidetrack the conversation into a discussion of comparative church disciplinary practices. Let me return to my original point:

    An apologetic based upon a presumption of Catholic ecclesiological tradition is not going to be effective in convincing Protestants of the wrongness of Piper’s position. But it’s quite possible to object to Piper’s views on the creed from a Protestant ecclesiological perspective, which indicates to me that objections need not be rooted in any one particular set of ecclesiological assumptions.

    Such a neutral response would be far more effective that Taylor Marshal’s original argument. As it is, Marshal’s commentary is only likely to appeal to Roman Catholics, who would presumably already have little regard for Piper’s opinions. So Marshal is preaching to the choir, as the saying goes.

  47. Regarding dead unbaptized infants and Limbo:

    Is it not correct to say that while we, given our awareness of the sacraments offered by God, are bound to make use of them in the fashion that God intended us to make use of them, God, in His own power, is not bound to use only the sacraments to convey grace?

    In particular, is it not correct to say that…

    (a.) while we human beings are bound to accept baptism in order to be adopted as children of God and receive the spirit of Sonship, and cannot be so adopted if, having never been baptized, we reject baptism even as adults;

    (b.) nevertheless, God can and does and has adopted persons as children of God prior to baptism, as exhibited by the Gentiles who received the Holy Spirit prior to water baptism, having only had at most a baptism of desire up to that point; and,

    (c.) there is reason to suspect that God could offer some other channel of grace to souls for whom water baptism cannot even be desired; e.g., the souls of the unbaptized infants who, living non-corporeally, have no access at all to such corporeal items as water, chrism, and the Eucharist?

    It seems to me that allotting a channel of grace for unbaptized infants is very much in the merciful and loving character of God — which I realize is the kind of flaky-sounding remark that people sometimes use to justify their rejection of some Church teaching which places uncomfortable obligations on them, but in this case, I see no obligation at stake and certainly no contradiction of the Church’s teachings. So I see no reason not to trust in God’s character to have an extraordinary way to offer grace to the infants (since the ordinary, sacramental way is not a possibility through no fault of their own).

  48. Oh, by the way….

    I don’t see any reason why Aquinas’ four part division of Hell/Hades and the Eastern tradition about them being different modes of experiencing the presence of God are incompatible. They seem to answer different questions. The Eastern view, I presume, says something like: God is everywhere; one can’t get away from Him; but whether one likes or dislikes the experience of being unable to get away from Him says more about oneself than about Him. The four parts would then be seen as descriptions of the persons in each: Those who want to get away from Him but cannot (Gehenna), those who long to be with Him but who find the remaining impurities within themselves being progressively burned away by the refiners’ fire of His Love as they experience His presence (Purgatory), the Old Testament saints who awaited Christ’s redemptive act in joyful hope of one day having their spiritual eyes opened to behold the Beatific Vision but who remained unable to receive that Vision until Christ’s victory (Abraham’s Bosom), and those who never received baptism but are unstained by personal sin and (in theory) to whom God has for some reason granted no other means of divine grace by which their spiritual eyes could be opened to the Beatific Vision.

    Anyway, if there is anything like space-time in the afterlife (a dubious proposition since these are intrinsic to the physical universe and in some ways identified with the physical universe, and thus are created things which didn’t exist “until” they were created along with the rest of creation), …anyway, even if there is such a thing as “place” or “duration” in the afterlife, these four “abodes” could exist all in the same “place” while still retaining the distinctions between them which were the focus of Aquinas’ thoughts on the topic. It’s not as if Aquinas was concerned with saying where the four abodes were in geographical relation to one another. That wasn’t his point at all!

  49. I’m a Protestant who is having a real good look at Orthodoxy. The doctrine of Christ’s descent into Hades, or the harrowing of hell, is, I think, understood a little differently than in the West. Hades, Sheol are words that mean “the grave” – i.e. the abode or realm of the dead. They do not mean a place of torment and punishment – I think Aquinas, being a scholastic, has overreached in trying to interpret this doctrine. Christ’s descent into Hades means that he has defeated the power of sin and death by himself entering into it, and has set us and those who have passed before us free from the fear of death (e.g. Acts 2). St John Chrysostom, in his paschal homily, refers to a text in Isaiah saying “Hades was embittered when it encountered Thee in the lower regions”. He then goes on to say that it was “abolished”, “mocked”, “despoiled”, “purged” and “bound in chains”. He is not talking about the eternal suffering of the wicked at the end and, in Western theology – whether RC or Protestant – there has been a conflation of distinct biblical categories of “Hades” and “eternal torment”/”Gehenna”. Chrysostom is talking about the defeat of sin, death and the devil. This is the harrowing of hell/Hades. This is what the scriptures mean when they talk about the gospel being preached to the dead and the “spirits in prison”. The eternal suffering of the wicked, as CS Lewis and, interestingly enough, RC priest Father Robert Barron state is the corollary of God’s love and our free will. If we reject Christ, we are tormented by his love. “The doors to hell are locked from the inside” said CS Lewis. This is quite a different thing than Christ’s descent into Hades to defeat the powers of death and the devil. It appears that Aquinas’ thinking, shaped by medieval Islamic philosophies, is not, in fact, in line with the Fathers – at least the Eastern Fathers. They simply don’t try to put concrete descriptions on hell and which parts of it Christ descended into.

    But I agree with you about Piper and Grudem. If you want to accept the Creeds, you shouldn’t go about changing them. (as an aside, isn’t this what the West has done with the Nicene Creed and the “filioque” ?)

  50. I am an Anabaptist, and have no problem with “he descended into hell”. What is a problem for us is the comma between “born of the Virgin Mary” (comma) “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” Saint Peter supplies what the comma covers about Jesus’ ministry in his sermon (Acts 10:34-43) to Cornelius’ household “preaching good news of peace by Jesus Christ…who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.” And we wish that that Peter’s words had been included in the creed, and we do include them as a parenthetical augment to the rule of faith we share with you, the Apostle’s Creed. Not all Anabaptists are non-creedal! Very few are, in fact. It’s in our Hymnal, a Worshp Book (published 1992)

  51. Your statement about Calvin’s “Heresy” is in correct. Read his institutes. He does not believe this.

    Also, I would suggest that you do a little research project on the history of the baptists. Piper and the like do not come for the Anabaptists. In fact, the Baptists do not come for the Anabaptists. The Baptists rejected the anabaptists as “fringe” and went to great lengths to separate themselves from this group. Baptists are more likely a product of the Reformation. They emerged and then split into two camps. The larger “camp” was called the Particular Baptists…the smaller “General Baptists.” The split was concerning the efficacy or scope of the atonement.

    There’s a lot I could say about the Creed but it’s better said by others above. However, these two items of concern needed some clarification.

  52. Dear Dr. Marshall,
    There are so many replies here that I cannot read them all, so I apologize in advance if I am repeating something which has already been said. You refer to Piper and Grudem as coming out of Annabaptist Roots. That isn’t accurate. The Annabaptists are (in part) the predecessors of the Free Will Baptists (usually associated with the names Smyth and Helwys) who came from the Netherlands to England at the latter part of the 16th Century. They are sometimes called “the Wetlanders”. Piper and Grudem come (ideologically) of different stock. They are from the line of thought associated with the English Baptists of the mid to late 17th Century who had no relationship with the Wetlanders. At the same time that the Congregationalists were getting established in England as Cromwell grew in power, there was a small faction of their number who seceded from that group in 1633. They held to all the Congregationalist particulars, except they held that baptism was for believers. They became known as “Particular Baptists”, which linguistically denoted their belief in God’s election or foreordination of certain people to come to faith in Christ. What they were was rebaptizing (or “believer baptizing) Congregationalists. Their confessions (the 1644 London Confession and the 1689 London Baptist Confession) demonstrate that they held to al of the same doctrinal understandings as the signers of the Westminster documents (Presbyterians, Anglicans, Separatists or Congregationalists, and Reformed all drafted these documents together – only the Lutherans were “absent” amongst the Protestants)

    Neither of these gentleman is noncredal or anticredal. The debate about the inclusion of the idea of Christ’s descent into hell (Is there truly a descensus passage? – candidates being 1 peter 3:18-20 and Acts 2:22-31) is an old debate because of the minimalism of those passages and their unusual usage of some terms. Specifically, what does “kerusso” mean in 1 Peter 3? Is the idea to “Preach the Gospel” as St. Robert Bellarmine seemed to believe (which gives us the difficult concept of postmortem conversions), or is it too proclaim victory over the “spirits in prison”, which is especially well argued by Father William Jospeh Dalton, S.J. in his Christ’s Proclamation to the Spirits?

    Both Piper and Grudem revere and teach and preach from all of the Ecumenical Creeds. Their discomfort with the phrase “descended into hell” is not a Baptist thing at all. Numerous Christians of all traditions have struggled to better understand that passage. As well, Calvin did not teach what you have attributed to him, rather, he taught that it was a figurative descent which describes His agonies on the cross, whilst Luther taught the body and soul descent of Christ in order to “Harrow” hell or deliver its captives and break its power.


    William Johnson, Ph.D.

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