March 04, 2004
Just wondering...

Ever since I did that post about Christ descending into hell I've had visitors now and then who were Googling for information on the topic. In the last week or so, though, they've been coming thick and fast. Did this subject come up in the Passion movie? Or are more people just going to church and hearing that line now that it's Lent?

Posted by Camassia at March 04, 2004 03:34 PM | TrackBack

Hi everyone, this is my first time posting.

I read through the discussion on Christ's Descent into Hell, and thought I'd add the Catholic perspective from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (par. 632-635), which provides significant Scriptural evidence for this teaching:


The frequent New Testament affirmations that Jesus was "raised from the dead" (Acts 3:15) presuppose that the crucified one sojourned in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection. 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. ("In the body he was put to death, in the spirit he was raised to life, and in the spirit he went to preach to the spirits in prison." 1 Peter 3:18-19)

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. ("But God raised [Christ] to life, freeing Him from the pangs of Hades" Acts 2:24) 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" (Luke 16:22-26): "It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham's bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell." (Roman Catechism, I, 6, 3). 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. ([After Jesus' death] "the tombs opened and the bodies of many holy people rose from the dead..." (Matthew 27:52-53)

"The gospel was preached even to the dead." (1 Peter 4:6) The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfilment. This is the last phase of Jesus' messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ's redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption.

Christ went down into the depths of death so that "the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live." (John 5:25) Jesus, "the Author of life", by dying destroyed "him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and [delivered] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage." (Heb 2:14-15) Henceforth the risen Christ holds "the keys of Death and Hades" (Rev 1:18), so that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth." (Phil 2:10)


For additional info, the Catechism link is

The Good Thief was one of those freed by Christ from Hades, just after his death. To be with Christ in His victory over death qualifies as "paradise" to me!

Posted by: Fr. Terry Donahue, CC on March 5, 2004 09:57 AM

Then, was the descent of Christ into "hell" a descent into what is called "limbo"--as opposed the "purgatory", or the place of eternal suffering that is usually referred to as "hell"?

Posted by: Rob on March 7, 2004 07:06 AM


The visitors you're getting are those screenwriters, working out material for a sequel.

Posted by: Tom T. on March 7, 2004 12:18 PM

Now, there's an idea. Passion II: To Hell and Back!

Anyway, thanks Father, welcome aboard!

Posted by: Camassia on March 8, 2004 10:21 AM


Christ descended into "hell" (Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek).

This was _not_ the "hell" of eternal punishment/suffering (Gehenna in Greek), mentioned in Matthew 18:9 "And if your eye offends you, pluck it out, and throw it away: it is better for you to enter into life with one eye, than with two eyes to be cast into hell (Gk. gehenna) fire."

Hades is sometimes referred to as the "Limbo of the Fathers", because it was the place where the souls of the just (like Father Abraham) awaited their promised deliverance. "And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom..." (Luke 16:22). The Sheol of the Old Testament (aka Limbo of the Fathers) was "emptied" by Christ on Holy Saturday.

To make things even more confusing, some theologians have speculated about yet _another_ Limbo, the "Limbo of infants", for the souls of infants who die without baptism. The existence of this "Limbo" has never been a formally defined teaching of the Catholic faith. It is not mentioned in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in the section dealing with this issue (par. 1261)

All of these are distinct from "Purgatory" which is the state of being after death in which
those who have died in Christ are purified before entering into the fullness of God's presence in Heaven. Check out 1 Cor 3:13-15 and Catholic Catechism par 1030-1032 at

Whew! Hope that answers your question.

Glad to be on board, Camassia!

In Christ,

Fr. Terry

Posted by: Fr. Terry Donahue on March 11, 2004 10:59 PM
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