- Harrowing of Hell
The Harrowing of Hell (Latin Descensus Christi ad Inferos "the descent of Christ into hell") is a doctrine in Christian theology referenced in the Apostles' Creed and the Athanasian Creed (Quicumque vult) that states that Jesus Christ "descended into Hell". The lack of explicit scriptural references to Christ's descent to the underworld has given rise to controversy and differing interpretations. As an image in Christian art, the harrowing is also known as the Anastasis (a Greek word for "resurrection"), considered a creation of Byzantine culture and first appearing in the West in the early 8th century.
- 1 Terminology
- 2 Sources
- 3 Conceptions of the afterlife
- 4 Interpretations of the doctrine
- 5 Christian mortalism
- 6 In art, music and literature
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Bibliography
- 10 External links
The Greek wording in the Apostles' Creed is κατελθόντα εἰς τὰ κατώτατα, ("katelthonta eis ta katôtata"), and in Latin descendit ad inferos. The Greek τὰ κατώτατα ("the lowest") and the Latin inferos ("those below") may also be translated as "underworld", "netherworld", or as "abode of the dead." Modern versions of the Apostles' Creed often translate this more literally as "he descended to the dead".
The word "harrow" comes from the Old English hergian meaning to harry or despoil and is seen in the homilies of Aelfric, ca. 1000. The term Harrowing of Hell refers not merely to the idea that Christ descended into Hell, as in the Creed, but to the rich tradition that developed later, asserting that he triumphed over inferos, releasing Hell's captives, particularly Adam and Eve, and the righteous men and women of Old Testament times.
- draws a comparison between Jonah being swallowed by a huge fish, and Christ being three days in the earth.
- Hades could not hold the crucified Christ. and declare in effect that
- Two passages of 1 Peter principally have been used as a basis for the ancient doctrine.
-  says that Jesus "went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah…."
- εἰς τοῦτο γὰρ καὶ νεκροῖς εὐηγγελίσθη… ") says that the gospel was "proclaimed even to the dead…" (NRSV). ("
- who?]to suggest a Harrowing of Hell doctrine: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men." has also been understood by others[
- διὸ λέγει, ἀναβὰς εἰς ὕψος ᾐχμαλώτευσεν αἰχμαλωσίαν, ἔδωκεν δόματα τοῖς ἀνθρώποις. τὸ δὲ ἀνέβη τί ἐστιν εἰ μὴ ὅτι καὶ κατέβη εἰς τὰ κατώτερα [μέρη] τῆς γῆς; ὁ καταβὰς αὐτός ἐστιν καὶ ὁ ἀναβὰς ὑπεράνω πάντων τῶν οὐρανῶν, ἵνα πληρώσῃ τὰ πάντα.
- This is a truncated paraphrase adapting Lord God, might dwell there." (NIV) The parenthetical verses 9–10 of Ephesians are widely read as an exegetical gloss on the text. The word for "lower parts" (the comparative form: τὰ κατώτερα) is similar to the word used for "Hell" in the Greek version of the Apostles Creed (the superlative form: τὰ κατώτατα, English: "lowest [places]"). Frank Stagg identifies three views of this passage from Ephesians:
, with a changed point of view: "When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train; you received gifts from men, even from the rebellious—that you, O
- Jesus' burial, or
- His descent into the underworld or Hell, or
- His Incarnation as an act of deep humility. (see Philippians 2)
- refers to prisoners in a waterless pit. "As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water." The verses' reference to captives has been presented as a reflection of Yahweh's captives of the enemy in Psalm 68:17–18: "God's chariots were myriad, thousands upon thousands; from Sinai the Lord entered the holy place. You went up to its lofty height; you took captives, received slaves as tribute. No rebels can live in the presence of God."
- Lord shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth. And they shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited." also refers to spirits in prison, reminiscent of Peter's account of a visitation to spirits in prison: "And it shall come to pass in that day, that the
Early Christian teaching
The Harrowing of Hell was taught by theologians of the early church: St Melito of Sardis (died c 180) Homily on the Passion; Tertullian (A Treatise on the Soul, 55), Hippolytus (Treatise on Christ and Anti-Christ) Origen (Against Celsus, 2:43), and, later, St Ambrose (died 397) all wrote of the Harrowing of Hell.
The Gospel of Matthew relates that immediately after Christ died, the earth shook, the veil in the Temple was torn in two, and many people rose from the dead and walked about in Jerusalem and were seen by many people there. According to the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, the Harrowing of Hell was foreshadowed by Christ's raising of Lazarus from the dead prior to his own crucifixion. The hymns proper to the weekend suggest that John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus in Hell by prophesying to those held there that Christ would soon release them, just as he prepared the way for Jesus on Earth.
In the Acts of Pilate—usually incorporated with the widely-read medieval Gospel of Nicodemus—texts built around an original that might have been as old as the 3rd century A.D. with many improvements and embroidered interpolations, chapters 17 to 27 are called the Decensus Christi ad Inferos. They contain a dramatic dialogue between Hades and prince Satan, and the entry of the King of Glory, imagined as from within Tartarus (see link below). The richest, most circumstantial accounts of the Harrowing of Hell are found in medieval dramatic literature, such as the four great cycles of English mystery plays which each devote a separate scene to depict it, or in passing references in Dante's Inferno. The subject is found also in the Cornish mystery plays and the York and Wakefield cycles. These medieval versions of the story do not derive from the bare suggestion made in the Epistle ascribed to Peter, but come from the Gospel of Nicodemus. See "The Apocryphal New Testament" edited by Prof JK Elliott 1993 ISBN 0198261829 pp164
Conceptions of the afterlife
The Old Testament view of the afterlife was that all people, whether righteous or unrighteous, all went to Sheol when they died. No Hebrew figure ever descended into Sheol and returned, although an apparition of the recently deceased Samuel briefly appeared to Saul when summoned by the Witch of Endor. Several works from the Second Temple period elaborate the concept of Sheol, dividing it into sections based on the righteousness or unrighteousness of those who have died.
The New Testament maintains a distinction between Sheol, the common "place of the dead", and the eternal destiny of those condemned at the Final Judgment, variously described as Gehenna, "the outer darkness," or a lake of eternal fire. Modern English translations of the Bible maintain this distinction (e.g. by translating Sheol as "the Pit" and Gehenna as "Hell"), but the influential King James Version used the word "hell" to translate both concepts.
The Hellenistic views of heroic descent into the Underworld and successful return follow traditions that are far older than the mystery religions popular at the time of Christ. The Epic of Gilgamesh includes such a scene, and it appears also in Odyssey XI. Writing shortly before the birth of Jesus, Vergil included it in the Aeneid. What little we know of the worship in mystery religions such as the Eleusinian Mysteries and Mithraism suggests that a ritual death and rebirth of the initiate was an important part of their liturgy. Again, this has earlier parallels, in particular with the worship of Osiris. The ancient homily on The Lord's Descent into Hell may mirror these traditions by referring to baptism as a symbolic death and rebirth. (cf. ) Or, these traditions of Mithraism may be drawn from early Christian homilies.
Interpretations of the doctrine
There is an ancient homily on the subject, of unknown authorship, usually entitled The Lord's Descent into Hell that is the second reading at Office of Readings on Holy Saturday in the Roman Catholic Church.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "By the expression 'He descended into Hell', the Apostles' Creed confesses that Jesus did really die and through his death for us conquered death and the devil 'who has the power of death' ( ). In his human soul united to his divine person, the dead Christ went down to the realm of the dead. He opened Heaven's gates for the just who had gone before him."
As the Catechism says, the word "Hell"—from the Norse, Hel; in Latin, infernus, infernum, inferi; in Greek, ᾍδης (Hades); in Hebrew, שאול (Sheol)—is used in Scripture and the Apostles' Creed to refer to the abode of all the dead, whether righteous or evil, unless or until they are admitted to Heaven (CCC 633). This abode of the dead is the "Hell" into which the Creed says Christ descended. His death freed from exclusion from Heaven the just who had gone before him: "It is precisely these holy souls who awaited their Savior in Abraham's bosom whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into Hell", the Catechism states (CCC 633), echoing the words of the Roman Catechism, 1,6,3. His death was of no avail to the damned.
Conceptualization of the abode of the dead as a place, though possible and customary, is not obligatory (Church documents, such as catechisms, speak of a "state or place"). Some maintain that Christ did not go to the place of the damned, which is what is generally understood today by the word "Hell". For instance, Thomas Aquinas taught that Christ did not descend into the "Hell of the lost" in his essence, but only by the effect of his death, through which "he put them to shame for their unbelief and wickedness: but to them who were detained in Purgatory he gave hope of attaining to glory: while upon the holy Fathers detained in Hell solely on account of original sin, he shed the light of glory everlasting."
While some maintain that Christ merely descended into the "limbo of the fathers", others, notably theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar (inspired by the visions of Adrienne von Speyr), maintain that it was more than this and that the descent involved suffering by Jesus. Since both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have lauded the theology of Balthasar, and because some do not see a precise doctrinal position of the Church on this point, some maintain that this is a matter on which differences and theological speculation are permissible without transgressing the limits of orthodoxy.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Harrowing of Hades is celebrated annually on Holy and Great Saturday, during the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil. At the beginning of the service, the hangings in the church and the vestments worn by the clergy are all somber Lenten colours (usually purple or black). Then, just before the Gospel reading, the liturgical colors are changed white and the deacon performs a censing, and the priest strews laurel leaves around the church, in celebration of the harrowing of Hades then taking place, and in anticipation of Christ's imminent resurrection.
The Harrowing of Hades is generally more common and prominent in Orthodox iconography compared to the Western tradition. It is the traditional icon for Holy Saturday, and is used during the Paschal season and on Sundays throughout the year.
The traditional Eastern Orthodox icon of the Resurrection of Jesus does not depict simply the physical act of Jesus' coming out of the Tomb, but rather it depicts what Orthodox Christians believe to be the spiritual reality of what his Death and Resurrection accomplished.
The icon shows Jesus, vested in white and gold to symbolize his divine majesty, standing on the brazen gates of Hades (also called the "Doors of Death"), which are broken and have fallen in the form of a cross, illustrating the belief that by his death on the cross, Jesus trampled down death (see Paschal troparion). He is holding Adam and Eve and pulling them up out of Hades. Traditionally, he is not shown holding them by the hands, but by their wrists, to illustrate the theological teaching that mankind could not pull himself out of his ancestral sin, but that it could come about only by the work (energia) of God. Jesus is surrounded by various righteous figures from the Old Testament (Abraham, David, etc.); the bottom of the icon depicts Hades as a chasm of darkness, often with various pieces of broken locks and chains strewn about. Quite frequently, one or two figures are shown in the darkness, bound in chains, who are generally identified as personifications of Death and/or the Devil.
Martin Luther, in a sermon delivered in Torgau in 1533, stated that Christ descended into Hell.
The Formula of Concord (a Lutheran confession) states, "we believe simply that the entire person, God and human being, descended to Hell after his burial, conquered the devil, destroyed the power of Hell, and took from the devil all his power." (Solid Declaration, Art. IX)
Many attempts were made following Luther's death to systematize his theology of the descensus, whether Christ descended in victory or humiliation. For Luther, however, the defeat or "humiliation" of Christ is never fully separable from His victorious glorification. Some argued that Christ's suffering was completed with His words from the cross, "It is finished", but this would obviously make His subsequent death and burial completely superfluous, while also obviating the need to suffer the penalty promised sinful man (death) as a substitute (the "substitutionary atonement" being a chief principle of Lutheran soteriology). Luther himself, when pressed to elaborate on the question of whether Christ descended to Hell in humiliation or victory responded, "It is enough to preach the article to the laypeople as they have learned to know it in the past from the stained glass and other sources."
The Calvinist position is that if Christ had descended into Hell (place of eternal suffering), he would have had to bear God's Curse. John Calvin expressed his concern that many Christians "have never earnestly considered what it is or means that we have been redeemed from God's judgment. Yet this is our wisdom: duly to feel how much our salvation cost the Son of God." Calvin's conclusion is that "Christ's descent into Hell was necessary for Christians' atonement, because Christ did in fact endure the penalty for the sins of the redeemed." On the cross, Christ suffered hell, being separated from His Father and enduring God's wrath for the sins of humanity, but after He died He went to Paradise (Heaven), just as He told the criminal next to Him.
The Harrowing of Hell has been a unique and important doctrine among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since its founding in 1830 by Joseph Smith, although members of the church ("Mormons") usually call it by other terms, such as "Christ's visit to the spirit world." Like Christian exegetes distinguishing between Sheol and Gehenna, Latter-day Saints distinguish between the realm of departed spirits (the "spirit world") and the portion (or state) of the wicked ("spirit prison"). The portion or state of the righteous is often referred to as "paradise".
Perhaps the most notable aspect of Latter-day Saint beliefs regarding the Harrowing of Hell is their view on the purpose of it, both for the just and the wicked. Joseph F. Smith, the sixth president of the Church, explained in what is now a canonized revelation, that when Christ died, "there were gathered together in one place an innumerable company of the spirits of the just, . . . rejoicing together because the day of their deliverance was at hand. They were assembled awaiting the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world, to declare their redemption from the bands of death" (D&C 138:12, 15-16).
In the LDS view, while Christ announced freedom from physical death to the just, he had another purpose in descending to Hell regarding the wicked. "The Lord went not in person among the wicked and the disobedient who had rejected the truth, to teach them; but behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces…and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead . . . to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets" (D&C 138:29-30, 32). From the Latter-day Saint viewpoint, the rescue of spirits was not a one-time event but an ongoing process that still continues. (D&C 138).
The above views share the traditional majority Christian belief in the immortality of the soul. Clearly the minority mortalist view of the intermediate state requires an alternative view of the and , taking a view of the New Testament use of Hell as equivalent to use of Hades in the Septuagint and therefore to Sheol in the Old Testament. William Tyndale and Martin Bucer of Strassburg argued that Hades in Acts 2 was merely a metaphor for the grave. Other reformers Christopher Carlisle and Walter Deloenus in London, argued for the article to be dropped from the creed. The Harrowing of Hell was a major scene in traditional depictions of Christ's life avoided by John Milton due to his mortalist views. Mortalist interpretations of the Acts 2 statements of Christ being in Hades are also found among later Anglicans such as E. W. Bullinger.
While those holding mortalist views on the soul would agree on the "harrowing of hell" concerning souls, that there were no conscious dead for Christ to literally visit, the question of whether Christ himself was also dead, unconscious, brings different answers:
- to most Protestant advocates of "soul sleep" such as Martin Luther, Christ himself was not in the same condition as the dead, and while his body was in Hades, Christ, as second person of the Trinity, was conscious in heaven.
- to Christian mortalists who are also non-Trinitarian, such as Socinians and Christadelphians the maxim "the dead know nothing" includes also Christ during the three days.
Of the three days, Christ says "I was dead" (Greek egenomen nekros ἐγενόμην νεκρὸς, Latin fui mortuus) (Revelation 1:18).
In art, music and literature
- The earliest surviving Christian drama probably intended to be performed is the Harrowing of Hell found in the eighth-century Book of Cerne.
- In Dante's Inferno the Harrowing of Hell is mentioned in Canto IV by the pilgrim's guide Virgil. Virgil was in Hell in the first place because he was not exposed to Christianity in his lifetime, and therefore he actually describes in generic terms Christ as a 'mighty one' who rescued the Hebrew forefathers of Christianity, but left him behind in the very same circle. It is not clear that he fully understands the significance of the event.
- Although the Orfeo legend has its origin in pagan antiquity, the Medieval romance of Sir Orfeo has often been intrepreted as drawing parallels between the Greek hero and Jesus freeing souls from Hell, with the explication of Orpheus's descent and return from the underworld as an allegory for Christ's as early as the Ovide Moralisé (1340).
- In Stephen Lawhead's novel Byzantium (1997), a young Irish monk is asked to explain Jesus' life to a group of Vikings, who are particularly impressed with Jesus' "Helreið".
- Parallels also exist in Jewish literature, but referencing legends of Enoch and Abraham's harrowings of the underworld, not related to Christian themes. These have been updated in Isaac Leib Peretz's short story Neilah in Gehenna, a Jewish hazzan descends to Hell and uses his unique voice to bring about the repentance and liberation of the souls imprisoned there.
- ^ D. Bruce Lockerbie, The Apostle's Creed: Do You Really Believe It ( Victor Books, Wheaton, IL) 1977:53-54, on-line text.
- ^ Leslie Ross, entry on "Anastasis", Medieval Art: A Topical Dictionary (Greenwood, 1996), pp. 10–11 online.
- ^ Harrow is a by-form of harry, a military term meaning to "make predatory raids or incursions"OED
- ^ Ross, entry on "Anastasis", Medieval Art, p. 10. Ross cites Matthew 12:40 and Acts 2:24, 27, 31.
- ^ New Revised Standard Version. In the original Greek: "ἐν ᾧ καὶ τοῖς ἐν φυλακῇ πνεύμασιν πορευθεὶς ἐκήρυξεν, ἀπειθήσασίν ποτε ὅτε ἀπεξεδέχετο ἡ τοῦ θεοῦ μακροθυμία ἐν ἡμέραις Νῶε… ."
- ^ Stagg, Frank. New Testament Theology. Nashville: Broadman, p. 311.
- ^ The Lord's descent into hell
- ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church 636–7
- ^ Summa Theologica, III, 52, art. 2
- ^ Reno, R.R. Was Balthasar a Heretic? First Things, October 13, 2008
- ^ Reno, R.R. Was Balthasar a Heretic? First Things, October 13, 2008
- ^ Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics
- ^ Norman T. Burns Christian mortalism from Tyndale to Milton 1972 p 180
- ^ Descent into Hell in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: A-D ed. and article Geoffrey W. Bromiley pp926-927
- ^ William Bridges Hunter Milton's English poetry: being entries from A Milton encyclopedia p.151
- ^ E. W. Bullinger "Hell" in A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament pp.367-369
- ^ Kenneth Hagen A theology of Testament in the young Luther: the lectures on Hebrews 1974 p95 "For Luther it refers to God's abandonment of Christ during the three days of his death:"
- ^ Whittaker H.A. Studies in the Gospels
- ^ Elisabeth Henry, Orpheus with His Lute: Poetry and the Renewal of Life (Bristol Classical Press, 1992), pp. 38, 50–53, 81 et passim; Elaine Treharne, "Speaking of the Medieval", in The Oxford Handbook of Medieval Literature in English (Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 10.
- ^ John Block Friedman, Orpheus in the Middle Ages (Syracuse University Press, 2000), pp. 125–126.
- ^ recording and essay with Il Giudizio Finale; Te Deum. dir Alberto Turco, Bongiovanni
- Trumbower, J. A., "Jesus' Descent to the Underworld," in Idem, Rescue for the Dead: The Posthumous Salvation of Non-Christians in Early Christianity (Oxford, 2001) (Oxford Studies in Historical Theology), 91-108.
- Brinkman, Martien E., "The Descent into Hell and the Phenomenon of Exorcism in the Early Church," in Jerald D. Gort, Henry Jansen and Hendrik M. Vroom (eds), Probing the Depths of Evil and Good: Multireligious Views and Case Studies (Amsterdam/New York, NY, 2007) (Currents of Encounter - Studies on the Contact between Christianity and Other Religions, Beliefs, and Cultures, 33).
- Alyssa Lyra Pitstick, Light in Darkness: Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Catholic Doctrine of Christ's Descent into Hell (Grand Rapids (MI), Eerdmanns, 2007).
- Gavin D'Costa, "Part IV: Christ’s Descent into Hell," in Idem, Christianity and World Religions: Disputed Questions in the Theology of Religions (Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009),
- Georgia Frank, "Christ’s Descent to the Underworld in Ancient Ritual and Legend," in Robert J. Daly (ed), Apocalyptic Thought in Early Christianity (Grand Rapids (MI), Baker Academic, 2009) (Holy Cross Studies in Patristic Theology and History), 211-226.
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Harrowing of Hell
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Harrowing of Hell
- Gospel of Nicodemus: Descensus Christ ad inferos
- The Gospel of Nicodemus including the Descent into Hell
- Harrowing of Hell in the Chester Cycle
- Le Harrowing of Hell dans les Cycles de York, Towneley et Chester, by Alexandra Costache-Babcinschi (ebook, French)
- Lord's Descent into Hell, The
- Russian Orthodox iconography of the Harrowing of Hell
- Summa Theologica: Christ's descent into hell
Early Lutheran Controversies Name of controversy
Article of FoC resolving itPersons, parties, documents, and topics pertaining to the controversy
Adiaphoristic (1548–55) | X. Majoristic (1551–62) | VI. Synergistic (1555–60) | II. Flacian (1560–75) | I.Matthias Flacius · Simon Musaeus · Victorinus Strigel Osiandrian-Stancarian (1549–66) | III. Antinomian (1527–56) | V. · VI. Crypto-Calvinist (1560–75) | VII. Descent into Hell (15??–53) | IX.Johannes Aepinus · Descent into Hell Predestination (1561–63) | XI.Johannes Marbach · Hieronymus Zanchi · Predestination
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