Descent into Hell

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Descent into Hell

Harrowing of Hell

As the early Christians pondered the meaning of the Gospel accounts of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, some began to wonder about the time that elapsed between these two events (for more on crucifixion, see Cross). What had happened to Jesus during the time that he was dead? (See also Holy Saturday.) Christian scripture gives no definite answers, but hints that he "descended into the lower parts of the earth" (Ephesians 4:9). It also asks, "'who will descend into the abyss?' (to bring Christ up from the dead)" (Romans 10:7). Some commentators interpreted these texts to mean that during the time that he was dead, Christ descended to the abode of dead souls, deep under the earth. Belief in such a place was already widespread in the ancient world. The Jews called it Sheol, the Greeks called it Hades, and English speakers eventually came to call it Hell. By the second or third century a document known as the Gospel according to Nicodemus circulated among Christians, offering a detailed account of Jesus' deeds among the departed. According to this document Jesus descended to the netherworld, where the dead were kept captive by Satan and a figure personifying death. As Jesus approached, the dead perceived a great light coming towards them. Biblical prophets like Isaiah and John the Baptist rejoiced and announced the coming of the Savior. Christ entered the underworld, defeated Satan, and lifted the dead up to paradise. This story not only provided an answer to the question of what Jesus did during the time that he was dead, but also answered the question of what became of the souls who had died before Christ entered the world with his offer of salvation.

This story, called the Harrowing of Hell, gained in popularity throughout the Middle Ages, reaching the height of its appeal in the last several centuries of that era. "Harrow" is an old-fashioned word meaning to agitate, to harass, or to plunder. It is associated with an old farm instrument known as a harrow, a kind of sturdy rake used to break up the ground. This sequence of events is also known as the Descent into Hell. The idea that Jesus descended into Hell before his resurrection became a firmly established teaching of the Church in the eighth century, when it was formally incorporated into the Apostles' Creed, a brief outline of the fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith. The Harrowing of Hell was depicted in many paintings and sculptures and dramatized in medieval mystery and morality plays, folk plays centered on religious themes. The image of Christ liberating the dead fills an especially important role in Orthodox Christianity, where it serves as the foremost representation of the Resurrection.

Further Reading

Every, George. Christian Legends. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1987. MacCulloch, J. A. The Harrowing of Hell. Edinburgh, Scotland: T. and T. Clark, 1930. Metford, J. C. J. "Descent of Christ into Hell." In his Dictionary of Christian Lore and Legend. London, England: Thames and Hudson, 1983. Monti, James. The Week of Salvation. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publications, 1993. Quinn, J. D., J. H. Rohling, and P. Verdier. "Descent of Christ into Hell." In New Catholic Encyclopedia. Volume 4. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967. Scott, Miriam Van. Encyclopedia of Hell. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. Turner, Alice K. The History of Hell. New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1993.
References in periodicals archive ?
Hence, not only the descent into hell but every redemptive act of Christ is truly a window into the trinitarian relations, as "the entire Trinity" has willed to be affected by the events of the economic order.
Other commentators have also puzzled over her influence, especially over her understanding of Christ's descent into hell.
Ex-para turned carer Mike (Chris Connel), a comedic bully, is on hand to demonstrate his policy of terror so effectively that Andy begins a descent into hell.
For example, when discussing Ransom's killing of the Un-man, Hilder writes this: Nancy-Lou "Patterson makes the important observation that Weston's descent into hell through demonic possession may not be final.
The visuals on Giovanni's descent into Hell were spectacular, but many others were murky and diffuse.
As with every descent into hell, the period represents, simultaneously, both destruction and regeneration'.
Families Filth BRUCE Robertson's descent into hell is punctuated with some cheery Christmas tunes but that's about as close to a PG moment as you're gonna get here.
Much as you would wish to escape their claustrophobic descent into hell, you simply cannot take your eyes from them.
But with a storm rolling in the dive is about to become a descent into hell.
In late July, a Vatican spokesman said the country is experiencing a "slow descent into hell," but also called the prospect of an armed international response "very worrying.
Now the choice is clear: either work collectively to unwind the conflict, or continue the descent into hell and live with the consequences.