Skip to comments.The Apostles' Creed in Public and Private Worship
Posted on 06/03/2006 6:01:39 AM PDT by NYer
He descended to the dead versus He descended into hell. This may be one controversy that has escaped your attention. If so, you are fortunate, because the two phrases are causing a lot of unnecessary contention.
Fr. William Saunders, writing for the Arlington Catholic Herald in an article reprinted on Catholic Exchange (see below) said, one should not tamper with the wording of the Creed. In some circles there is a call for those who have thus tampered to be subject to discipline under Canon Law. It is true that unauthorized changes to the liturgy are a violation of Canon Law and certainly the existence of rampant liturgical abuses has heightened sensitivity to the accuracy of words. But lets see who is doing the changing here and find out what are the official words of the prayer, the Apostles' Creed. How Are We Being Understood? No Creed Police
If we look in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, which was officially promulgated in 1988 for use in the United States, the portion of the Apostles Creed in question is written as: He descended to the dead. This is the official ritual which is used in the Easter Vigil liturgy and any rites of initiation. Therefore when a pastor brings someone into the Church, he must follow this formula for public worship. The RCIA candidates are given a copy of the Apostles Creed with this official wording. We who are in unity with the Church, obedient to our bishops, should always use this formula when we gather together to pray the Apostles Creed at such events as the childrens liturgy of the Word. The pastor is not trying to play games or change the words to be a self-expressing priest, but instead he is following the official language of the Church as he obediently must or else he would be subject discipline under Canon Law for making an unauthorized change in the words of the liturgy.
So there has been an official change in the words, but as Father Saunders's article said, Despite the difference in wording, there is no difference in meaning. There is no difference in what we mean when we say the Creed either way, however, there may be a big difference in how our hearers interpret the words. The word hell has a very specific meaning for the people of today. It is popularly believed to be a place or state of eternal damnation, where the souls of the damned are perfectly and permanently separated from the beatific vision (the vision of God). It is a place or state of no hope. This is why the Church decided, for catechetical purposes, that it would be better to say the place of the dead during public worship. The place of the dead was the place for the souls of the just before the gates of heaven were opened for them. All the great figures of the Old Testament had to await the Savior, and that place was a place of the dead not the damned.
The Catechism explains:
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. 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": "It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham's bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when He descended into hell." 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. (no. 633)The word Sheol in Hebrew or the word Hades in Greek was translated into the word hell. Once hell took on the particular meaning of a place for those damned who are eternally excluded from the beatific vision, it became an obstacle to clear Church teaching about just where Jesus descended to. People are confused, reasoning that since the damned are damned and cannot be saved, why should Jesus have gone to hell? My CCD students ask this question often and it is a good question, but why should the Church spend so much time and energy teaching what is meant by this phrase rather than adjusting the phrase so it can better serve the Church community?
The fact is that the English language is an evolving language and occasional changes in the text of prayers, liturgy and Scripture will be needed to keep the language vernacular. Take for example St. Pauls words in 1 Corinthians 10:25. Both the King James Version and the Douay-Rheims, almost contemporaneous, use the same wording: Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. What is a shambles to you? Almost any modern speaker of English understands shambles to mean a mess. Your bedroom is a shambles, a mother says to her teenager. She surely doesnt mean what St. Paul meant, as the Revised Standard Catholic Edition put it: Eat whatever is found in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. The factors that drove this change were the evolution of the English language and the desire of the translators to keep the words of Scripture understandable to readers.
So does that mean that if you regularly say the Apostles' Creed and use He descended into hell when, for instance, you pray the rosary, you are wrong? Emphatically no. After all, as we saw above, that is the wording used in the Catechism. Either phrase is perfectly fine for you to use, but it is a question of what words we use for public worship versus what words we may use for private prayer. If you are at home praying your rosary or the Divine Mercy Chaplet you are more than welcome to use the words: He descended into hell, as long as you understand the proper meaning of the phrase and you are not doing it to be obstinate in some vain desire to be more correct than the Church herself. (In that case you would need confession for the sin of pride.)
On occasion, when the Church sees a need to change words for clarity or because of poor translations, pastors and priests are misunderstood and labeled as bad guys when in fact they are just creating uniform proper public worship as directed by the Church. We must have unity in our public worship or we will have people using all kinds of self-expressing phrases and in the long run the worship would be damaged. Although certain phrases may be nice and endearing to people, they would detract from the catechetical purpose of the creed or change the theological meaning of a prayer.
With the bishops voting on the new translation for the holy liturgy in June we should be open and understanding about any changes that may be made. I find it insulting when priests claim they cant change the words of the liturgy because the people have been saying it that way for 30 years or more. Just because we have said it a particular way for a long time doesnt mean we have been doing it the best way and it is the Church, our Holy Mother taking care of the needs of her children, that discerns the need for change. Lets respect her actions and support her priests during these next few years when some wordings most probably will change. If we keep informed and gently point out to one another the whats and whys of the changes, we will be a much more joyful Church, rather than one so quick to condemn because we dont understand. There are no Creed police that will break down your door and drag you off for praying as you have always prayed, however our pastors are many times gossiped about and slandered for using the official language of the Church because we dont know. Why not simply ask: Father why do we pray the words He descended to the dead now when I was taught He descended to hell? Simple questions can stop much of the misunderstanding we have within our parishes. It may even be that at some point the Church decides that He descended into hell is preferable and is the phrase that should be used in the liturgy. As an obedient Catholic, I am ready and willing to teach accordingly as the Church decides. Wont you join me in this attitude?
How Are We Being Understood?
No Creed Police
||In our rosary group after Mass, one of the leaders, when reciting the Apostles' Creed, will say, He descended among the dead instead of He descended into hell. Is there a difference? Actually, what do we mean when we say that Jesus descended into hell?
Some of the new versions of the Apostles' Creed have made the change mentioned in the question: Jesus descended among the dead instead of descended into hell. I have never heard of any official change being made to the text, and, furthermore, one should not tamper with the wording of the Creed.
The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and He has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began.... He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, He has gone to free from sorrow the captives of Adam and Eve, He who is both God and the Son of Eve.... "I am your God, Who for your sake have become your Son.... I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead."
Care to comment? (Ping to other Orthodox, please.)
The harrowing of Hell was described very graphically in Dante's Inferno.
Much as I hate change (specifically done for the sake of change), I'm all for clarity and precision. I would accept the Hebrew Sheol as it would be more precise and offer an opportunity for understanding. Of course it would also open it up for abuse. (i.e.There is no such thing as Hell.)
Well, here's a snip, in English, from the Paschal Sermon of +John Chrysostomos which is proclaimed at every Pasha Liturgy. I think it explains the Icon of the Descent into Hades (otherwise the Resurrection Icon)
"Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?
Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!"
The problem here is not with any theological point, but rather with what the English word "Hell" has come to mean. I don't know when the "hell fire and brimstone" image arose in the West. Certainly Dante gave it a certain currency. The idea of The Place of the Dead long precedes Christianity but at least in the East didn't carry with it the idea of devils with pitchforks and firey furnaces. In my opinion saying descended to the dead is more descriptive of what happened given the "modern" understanding of the word "hell" and the mistaken, or at least confused, theological implications which likely stem from its use in this context.
The image the West has about Hell arose from Sacred Scripture and from Jesus' own words:
"And if thy eye scandalize thee, pluck it out. It is better for thee with one eye to enter into the kingdom of God, than having two eyes to be cast into the hell of fire:
Where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not extinguished." St. Mark 9:46-47
"Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels." St. Matthew 25:41
The firey place referred to in scripture is where the damned, the Evil One and his minions will go after the Final Judgment. Christ descended to the Place of the Dead, not that firey place. My comment was meant to show that I didn't know when or why the West confused the two. That confusion is what can lead to the theological misunderstandings which this change in the wording of the Apostles Creed is designed to correct. Of course, rather than changing the wording, I suppose the Latin Church could simply catechize the laity, and probably a good portion of the clergy, properly in this matter.
It looks as though Christ was saying that we also can be cast into the fire.
"Because Christ also died once for our sins, the just for the unjust: that he might offer us to God, being put to death indeed in the flesh, but enlivened in the spirit, In which also coming he preached to those spirits that were in prison: Which had been some time incredulous, when they waited for the patience of God in the days of Noe, when the ark was a building: wherein a few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water." 1 Peter 3:18-20
One of the strange (awe-ful) things about Jesus is that he talked about hell and devils than anybody else in Scripture. Somebody told me that in the Gospel of Mark (the shortest gospel) there are more references to devils and hellfire than in the whole Old Testament.
Maybe we can't comprehend the Good News until we clearly see --- feel --- the reality of the Bad News. Til we clearly see Sin for what a hideous horror it is. Til we see what He has overcome.
"It looks as though Christ was saying that we also can be cast into the fire."
Oh, indeed we can, at the Final Judgment as its icon rather graphically demonstrates.
You are very welcome, dear lady!
Actually, according to Fr. Anthony J. Salim (from the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon), ....
"Just what the exact nature of the punishment of hell is, has never been specifically defined by the Church, despite a long tradition of the image of burning flames. The Anamnesis prayer of the Anaphora of St. Peter refers to it this way:
... On that fearsome and awesome day,
when you will separate the just from sinners,
do not hand us over to the burning flame
that causes weeping and mourning, affliction and torment,
because of our sins and the evil we have done;
rather, have mercy on us, O Lord, and forgive us ...
The image of flames is not to be taken literally: fire was once feared as ultimate destruction. What is clear, however, is that hell is the total absence of God and divine love and mercy, a burning pain far worse than fire. It is the result of an intentional choice to reject God. The destruction of ourselves due to rejection of God is far more intense.
(excerpted from Fr. Anthony Salim's book Captivated By Your Teachings).
Oh, okay. Your previous post seemed to imply that there wasn't a fiery place at all. Glad we cleared that up, LOL!
As far as being catechized properly in this matter, please read this and I think you will see that we are:
Hopefully, this will show that we aren't that far apart.
"As far as being catechized properly in this matter, please read this and I think you will see that we are:
The Profession of the Faith
Hopefully, this will show that we aren't that far apart."
Sounds about right!
"Just what the exact nature of the punishment of hell is, has never been specifically defined by the Church, despite a long tradition of the image of burning flames.
Hmm.. I am going to have to strongly disagree with the good Father here and go with the majority of Early Church Fathers:
It also seems that if you enter the words hell, hellfire, eternal punishment, etc.. into the search at this Greek Orthodox site, they don't agree with him either.
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