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The Catechism of St. Thomas Aquinas THE FIFTH ARTICLE: "He Descended into Hell."
Nazareth Resource Library ^ | 1274 | St. Thomas Aquinas

Posted on 01/27/2009 9:00:20 PM PST by GonzoII

The Catechism of St. Thomas Aquinas

THE FIFTH ARTICLE: "He Descended into Hell."

The death of Christ was the separation of His soul from His body as it is with other men. But the Divinity was so indissolubly conjoined to the Man Christ that although His soul and body were disunited, His Divinity was always most perfectly united to both the soul and body. This we have seen above. Therefore in the Sepulchre His body was together with the Son of God who together with His soul descended into hell.[1]


There are four reasons why Christ together with His soul descended into hell. First, He wished to take upon Himself the entire punishment for our sin, and thus atone for its entire guilt. The punishment for the sin of man was not alone death of the body, but there was also a punishment of the soul, since the soul had its share in sin; and it was punished by being deprived of the beatific vision; and as yet no atonement had been offered whereby this punishment would be taken away. Therefore, before the coming of Christ all men, even the holy fathers after their death, descended into hell. Accordingly in order to take upon Himself most perfectly the punishment due to sinners, Christ not only suffered death, but also His soul descended into hell.[2] He, however, descended for a different cause than did the fathers; for they did so out of necessity and were of necessity taken there and detained, but Christ descended there of His own power and free will: "I am counted among them that go down to the pit; I am become as a man without help, free among the dead."[3] The others were there as captives, but Christ was freely there.

The second reason is that He might perfectly deliver all His friends. Christ had His friends both in the world and in hell. The former were His friends in that they possessed charity; and the latter were they who departed this life with charity and faith in the future Redeemer, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and other just and good men. Therefore, since Christ had dwelt among His friends in this world and had delivered them by His death, so He wished to visit His friends who were detained in hell and deliver them also: "I will penetrate to all the lower parts of the earth, and will behold all that hope in the Lord."[4]

The third reason is that He would completely triumph over the devil. Now, a person is perfectly vanquished when he is not only overcome in conflict, but also when the assault is carried into his very home, and the seat of his kingdom is taken away from him. Thus Christ triumphed over the devil,[5] and on the Cross He completely vanquished him: "Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world (that is, the devil) be cast out."[6] To make this triumph complete, Christ wished to deprive the devil of the seat of his kingdom and to imprison him in his own house--which is hell. Christ, therefore, descended there, and despoiled the devil of everything and bound him, taking away his prey:[7] "And despoiling the principalities and powers, He hath exposed them confidently in open show, triumphing over them in Himself."[8] Likewise, Christ who had received the power and possession of heaven and earth, desired too the possession of hell, as says the Apostle: "That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth."[9] "In My name they shall cast out devils."[10]

The fourth and final reason is that Christ might free the just who were in hell [or Limbo]. For as Christ wished to suffer death to deliver the living from death, so also He would descend into hell to deliver those who were there: "Thou also by the blood of Thy testament, hast sent forth Thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water."[11] And again: "O death, I will be thy death; O hell, I will be thy bite."[12] Although Christ wholly overcame death, yet not so completely did He destroy hell, but, as it were, He bit it. He did not free all from hell, but those only who were without mortal sin. He likewise liberated those without original sin, from which they, as individuals, were freed by circumcision; or before [the institution of] circumcision, they who had been saved through their parents' faith (which refers to those who died before having the use of reason); or by the sacrifices, and by their faith in the future coming of Christ (which refers to adults)."[13] The reason they were there in hell [i.e., Limbo] is original sin which they had contracted from Adam, and from which as members of the human race they could not be delivered except by Christ. Therefore, Christ left there those who had descended there with mortal sin, and the non-circumcised children. Thus, it is seen that Christ descended into hell, and for what reasons. Now we may gather four considerations from this for our own instruction.


(1) A firm hope in God. No matter how much one is afflicted, one ought always hope in the assistance of God and have trust in Him. There is nothing so serious as to be in hell. If, therefore, Christ delivered those who were in hell, what great confidence ought every friend of God have that he will be delivered from all his troubles! "She [that is, wisdom] forsook not the just when he was sold, but delivered him from sinners. She went down with him into the pit. And in bonds she left him not."[14] God helps in a special manner those who serve Him, and hence the servant of God should feel secure in Him: "He that feareth the Lord shall tremble at nothing and shall not be afraid; for He is his hope."[15]

(2) We ought to conceive a fear of God and avoid all presumption. We have already seen that Christ suffered for sinners and descended into hell for them. However, He did not deliver all sinners, but only those who were free from mortal sin. He left there those who departed this life in mortal sin. Hence, anyone who descends into hell in mortal sin has no hope of deliverance; and he will remain in hell as long as the holy fathers remain in paradise, that is, for all eternity: "And these shall go into everlasting punishment; but the just, into life everlasting."[16]

(3) We ought to arouse in ourselves a mental anxiety. Since Christ descended into hell for our salvation, we ought in all care go down there in spirit by considering, for instance, its punishments as did that holy man, Ezechias: "I said: In the midst of my days I shall go to the gates of hell.[17] Indeed, he who during this life frequently descends into hell by thinking of it, will not easily fall into hell at death; for such meditation keeps one from sin, and draws one out of it. We see how men of this world guard themselves against wrongdoing because of the temporal punishment; but with how much more care ought they avoid the punishment of hell which far exceeds all else in its duration, its severity, and its varied nature! "In all thy works remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin."[18]

(4) There comes to us in this an example of love. Christ descended into hell in order to deliver His own; and so we should go down there to rescue our own. They cannot help themselves. Therefore, let us deliver those who are in purgatory. He would be very hard-hearted who does not come to the aid of a relative who is detained in an earthly prison; but much more cruel is he who will not assist a friend who is in purgatory, for there is no comparison between the pains of this world and of that: "Have pity on me, have pity on me, at least you my friends, because the hand of the Lord hath touched me."[19] "It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins."[20] We may assist these souls in three ways as St. Augustine tells us, viz., through Masses, prayers, and almsgiving. St. Gregory adds a fourth, that is, fasting. All this is not so amazing, for even in this world a friend can pay a debt for his friend; but this applies only to those who are in purgatory.

(For "Questions for Discussions" see pp. 181-194.)


1. "Hell here means those far-removed places in which are detained those souls that have not been awarded the happiness of heaven. . . These places are not of the same nature. There is that most abominable and most dark prison where the souls of the damned, together with the unclean spirits, are punished in eternal and unquenchable fire. This is gehenna or the 'abyss,' and is Hell, strictly so-called. There also is the fire of Purgatory, in which the suffering souls of the just are purified for a definite time in order that they be permitted to enter into the everlasting Fatherland, where nothing unclean is admitted. . . The third and last place is that in which the souls of the just before the coming of the Lord were received; there without any pain, sustained by the blessed hope of the redemption, they enjoyed a quiet repose. It was to these souls who waited in the bosom of Abraham that Christ the Lord descended, and whom He delivered" ("Roman Catechism," Fifth Article, Chapter VI, 2-3). Therefore, "He descended into hell" means that the soul of Jesus Christ, after His death, descended into Limbo, i.e., to the place where the souls of the just who died before Christ were detained, and were waiting for the time of their redemption. St. Peter writes: "He was 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" (I Peter, iii, 18-19). "We profess that immediately after the death of Christ, His soul descended into hell, and remained there as long as His body was in the sepulchre; and we believe also that the one Person of Christ was at the same time in hell and in the tomb" ("Roman Catechism," "loc. cit.," 1).

2. See last footnote. This place is also called Limbo.

3. Ps. lxxxvii. 5. "They descended as captives; He as free and victorious amongst the dead, to overcome those devils by whom, in consequence of their guilt, they were held in captivity" ("Roman Catechism," "loc. cit.," 5).

4. Ecclus., xxiv. 45.

5. This refers to the temptation of Our Lord in the desert.

6. John, xii. 31.

7. St. Thomas says that the soul of Christ descended to the hell of the just or to Limbo "per suam essentiam," but to the hell of the damned only "per suum effectum" ("Summa Theol.," III, Q. lii, Art. 2).

8. Col., ii. 15.

9. Phil., ii. Io

10. Mark, xvi. 17.

11. Zach.. ix. 11.

12. Osee, xiii. 14.

13. Italics added.

14. Wis., 13-14.

15. Ecclus., xxxiv. 16.

16. Matt., xxv. 46.

17. Isa., xxxviii. 10.

18. Ecclus., vii. 40.

19. Job, xix. 21.

20. II Mach., xii. 46.

TOPICS: Apologetics; History; Ministry/Outreach; Theology
KEYWORDS: aquinas; catechismofaquinas; catholic; hedescendedintohell; hell; holysaturday; jesus; stthomasaquinas; thomasaquinas

1 posted on 01/27/2009 9:00:20 PM PST by GonzoII
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To: GonzoII

Having just finished a round of Church History in my seminary training, I found this posting to be of some significant interest. Thomas was an interesting fellow...A Dominican monk who’s life-long endeavor was to reconcile or synthesize the natural philosophy of Aristotle (had reemerged as a popular philosophical line) with Christian teachings in the Church.

I would equate this with today’s “post-modern” blend of humanism with Christianity that some call “emergent” church.

He is also know for rationalizing and promoting the Catholic Church’s selling of indulgences.

And then this bit from the posted article just finishes it off for me:

“The fourth and final reason is that Christ might free the just who were in hell”

The Bible is clear that Hell is for the unjust. So how could Christ have a need to literally rescue “just” people from Hell?

2 posted on 01/27/2009 10:27:43 PM PST by TheBattman (Pray for our country....)
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To: TheBattman

read the endnotes ?

3 posted on 01/27/2009 10:47:25 PM PST by catroina54
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To: catroina54

Yep, I did. Context is a wonderful thing.

4 posted on 01/27/2009 11:38:05 PM PST by TheBattman (Pray for our country....)
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To: GonzoII
Your Gonzoness, Happy St. Dumb Ox day!

Today in our pro-chapter of Lay Dominicans (the, ahem, St. Thomas Aquinas pro-chapter) about 8 people will be making life-promises.

Let the dancing in the streets (and the slipping on the ice, which is whut we got here) begin!

5 posted on 01/28/2009 2:37:04 AM PST by Mad Dawg (Oh Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.)
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To: TheBattman
Is your question answered?

One nice thing about reading one's Breviary is that one gets just about all the psalms every month. And certainly one theme that shows up there is the (on the one hand) notion that when we croak we descend into, well into some place that is not full of whoopee, and (on the other hand) an unquenched hope.

I wouldn't say that Aquinas sought to synthesize Aristotle with Xty. It's more like Aristotle supplied him with a manner of thinking that enabled him to articulate Xtian doctrines in a systematic way. Aristotle supplied tools which which Thomas sought to carve out an explanation and exposition.

I guess I think this is an important difference. There is not a merging of "Athens and Jerusalem." The end product of THAT would be a kind of adulteration of Christianity. There is something more like the application of a hermeneutic, or like an architect (Jerusalem) engaging a contractor (Athens) to bring into discourse what the architect designed.

Okay, that analogy is lame ....

6 posted on 01/28/2009 2:48:53 AM PST by Mad Dawg (Oh Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.)
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To: TheBattman
The Bible is clear that Hell is for the unjust.

The "hell" of the Apostles' Creed is Sheol, the abode of the righteous dead before Christ's coming. It's not the hell of the damned and the fallen angels.

The Latin -- the Apostles' Creed is originally the Roman baptismal creed -- makes this clear. It says that Christ descended ad infernum -- "to the depths" or "to the lower regions". No implication that he went to save the damned.

Aquinas had nothing to do with the "selling" of indulgences.

There's no Protestant seminary on earth that will give you a fair and unbiased view of Catholicism, just like there's no GM dealership that will give you a fair and unbiased view of Fords or Toyotas.

7 posted on 01/28/2009 7:48:05 AM PST by Campion
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To: Mad Dawg
"Happy St. Dumb Ox day!"

I thank you kindly, your Madness, best wishes to you all; maybe you should celebrate with skates. LOL.

8 posted on 01/28/2009 9:17:18 AM PST by GonzoII ("That they may be one...Father")
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To: Campion

Aquinas did, in fact, endorse the selling of indulgences. IN fact, his own writings (look them up - they are available fairly easily) demonstrate not only an endorsement of the practice, but expended the doctrine to recognize indulgences as effective not only for the living, but for the dead...

So, by his dogma, you could actually “buy” indulgences for your dead father or brother - and shorten their time in Purgatory...

Catholic historians have done much to rewrite history. This isn’t just from a “Protestant” view. A simple study of the remaining writings of early church fathers through current day will demonstrate an historical record (official from the Church) that does not necessarily reflect the reality.

Please read for yourself. Taking Catholic (or Baptist, or Methodist, or Lutheran, or any other for that matter) history or teachings without going to the source is asking to be lead astray.

As a Pastor, I strongly encourage my congregation to not just take what I preach as the “Gospel Truth”, but to go back and read and pray on sermons themselves. This is a huge part of why the Roman Church was so adamantly against common-language translations for centuries (and why early translators were excommunicated and some even burned at the stake). But Catholic History conveniently disregards that chapter in church history as well.

And don’t get me wrong - while I am “Baptist” in my faith and practice, I do not take everything I read and hear about Baptist history or any other teachings without digging in other sources. I am after truth.

9 posted on 01/28/2009 12:48:55 PM PST by TheBattman (Pray for our country....)
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To: TheBattman
Aquinas was born around 1225 and died March 7, 1274.

Pope St. Pius V, also a Dominican decreed in 1567 that indulgences could not be given for alms-giving. Trent (I don't know when) said pretty much the same.

I have spent about an hour on the search and I couldn't find Aquinas condoning granting indulgences in response to alms-giving. I also couldn't find when the alms/indulgence relationship started up. There's no question that Aquinas is in favor of indulgences generally and discusses them in some detail.

And of course there are still indulgences. My favorite (I don't know if it's still in effect) was the one for giving up smoking. I've given up smoking so many times I'm just going to zip right through Purgatory. (yeah. right.)

I know saying the Rosary in a group is "indulgenced," as they say. It's not a plenary indulgence though.

I am told the whole "so many days/months/years" originally was something along the lines of something like "say X Rosaries in choir and that's as good as fasting for Y days." But later on it sounds like people were thinking seriously in terms of the purgatorial experience as being measurable in days. I really doubt that anyone could find something making that sort of thought de fide. Certainly I have read good Catholic authors who have said that the relationship between purgation and time is highly uncertain.

It is major in MY thinking to remember that the souls in Purgatory are forgiven. Purgatory is as much "therapeutic" as it is retributive. It is a gift to the saved, not a prerequisite for salvation.

I mean, if you're my friend and you break my window, because you're my friend, forgiveness as far as the relationship goes is pretty much assured.

But you yourself will have a need to do what you can to make it up to me, not for the relationship but because you want to repair the damage AND because you want to work on that part of you which leads you to the occasional swinging of baseball bats near other people's windows. Doing the glazing yourself might be wonderful. But if you're as ham-handed as I, you'd better just hire a glazier, and forgo Starbucks for a month ...

I undertake penances not to buy or deserve God's favor, not at all. In fact I think it is a sign of his Love that I sometimes get a notion (and follow through on it) to do something penitential. I trust Him to give me the inestimable, almost inconceivable, favor of somehow incorporating the ridiculously trivial things I do into His saving work, as he may somehow fold our prayers into the gifts he gives us and others.

10 posted on 01/28/2009 8:07:50 PM PST by Mad Dawg (Oh Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.)
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To: GonzoII


11 posted on 04/28/2015 9:57:58 AM PDT by Coleus (For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.)
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