Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles – Article III

Article III.

Of the going down of Christ into Hell.

As Christ died for us, and was buried; so also it is to be believed that He went down into Hell.

De descensu Christi ad Inferos.

QUEMADMODUM Christus pro nobis mortuus est, et sepultus, ita est etiam credendus ad inferos descendisse.

TO the understanding of this Article it seems desirable to investigate, historically and from Scripture, FIRST, What is meant by “Hell;” SECONDLY, What is meant by Christ’s descending into hell; THIRDLY, What was the purpose or object of that descent.

I propose, therefore, to depart from the arrangement adopted in the two former Articles, and to examine the meaning of the word “Hell,” first historically, and then scripturally, — and next to proceed in the same manner with the doctrine of our Lord’s descent into hell; and thirdly, with the reason or object of his going thither.

FIRST. The word “Hell,” as used in the Article, is plainly borrowed from the Apostles’ Creed; for it appears that the first five Articles of the Church are little more than an amplification of the Articles of the Creed, intended to set forth, that the Church of England continued truly Catholic in its doctrines, whilst it was constrained to protest against the corruptions of some branches of the Church. In the Latin, the word used is either “inferi” or “inferna.” The Greek corresponding to this was either τὰ κατώτατα or ᾅδης; the former referring to Eph. iv. 9, the latter to Acts ii. 27. It has, however, generally been admitted, and may fairly be assumed, that the Greek word ᾅδης is the word of Scripture, which both the Creed and the Article render inferi and hell; and it has been observed, that, according to their derivations, these words answer to one another. ᾍδης is something unseen, from and εἶδον. Inferi is the Latin from the Greek word ἔνεροι or ἔν ϝεροι, i. e. those beneath the earth, the Manes or Spirits of the dead.[1] Hell is from the same root as hole and hellier (i. e. a roofer, a coverer), and signifies the covered or hidden place, the Saxon root being helan, to cover.

There is indeed another word in the new Testament often rendered in the English by hell. That word is γέεννα; and some confusion arises from this indiscriminate translation. As, however, neither the Creeds nor the Church have been wont to use γέεννα, to express the place to which our Lord went after His death, we may lay aside the consideration of the word at present; merely observing that it is the proper term in the new Testament for the state or place of damned souls and apostate spirits.

As regards, then, the signification of the word Hades, it will be well to consider the subject: —

I. Historically. II. Scripturally.

I. The history may be divided into

(1) The use of the word among the Greeks; (2) among the Jews; (3) among the Christians.

1. It may be true that the Greeks sometimes used Hades to signify no more than the Grave; but if so, it was by an improper and less common use of the word. According to them, Hades, or the abode of Hades, was that place to which the Ghosts or Manes of the dead went after their burial. The unburied were detained on this side the Styx; the buried passed over, and mingled with the souls of men, which were there detained apart from the bodies they had left (εἴδωλα καμόντων). Hades himself was the deity who presided over these lower realms. In the abode of these disembodied souls were placed, on the one hand the happy fields of Elysium, on the other the gloomy realms of Tartarus. In the former, the souls of the virtuous enjoyed themselves, not however without regret for the loss of the body and the light of day. In the latter, the wicked, such as Ixion, Tantalus, the Danaids, and others, were tormented with various sorrows. This is known to every one who has read the Odyssey and the Æneid.[2]

2. The Jews in like manner believed in a state of being after death, in which the soul existed previously to the final Resurrection, apart from the body, yet in a state of consciousness, either of happiness or of misery. This state or place they called in Hebrew, Sheol (שְׁאוֹל), in Greek, Hades (ᾅδης). Its position, according to their notions and language, was underground. Thus Josephus says that the soul of Samuel, when he appeared to Saul, came up (ἐξ ᾅδου) from Hades.[3] He tells us that the Sadducees “took away the rewards and punishments of the Soul in Hades.”[4] Whereas he says of the Pharisees, that “they held the immortality of the Soul, and that men were punished or rewarded under the earth, according to their practice of virtue or wickedness in life.”[5] Lightfoot has shown that the Jewish schools dispose of the souls of the righteous till the Resurrection, under the threefold phrase: (1) “the Garden of Eden,” answering to the “Paradise” of the new Testament (Luke xxiii. 43). (2) “Under the throne of glory,” being nearly parallel with the expression (in Rev. vi. 9) of souls crying “under the altar;” for the Jews conceived the altar to be the throne of the Divine Majesty. (3) “In Abraham’s bosom,” which is the expression adopted by our Lord in the parable of Dives and Lazarus (Luke xvi. 22).[6] He shows that the abode of the wicked before the Judgment is placed by the same Rabbins within sight of the abode of the just, and so that the one can converse with the other, as Dives is by our Lord represented as conversing with Abraham.[7] From these, and similar authorities, we may conclude that the Jews, like the heathens, looked for a state immediately after death, which in their popular language was said to be under ground, and in their ordinary phraseology was called Sheol, Hades, Hell; that in this state were both the just and the unjust: the latter in a state of misery, the former in blissful enjoyment, called sometimes “Paradise, the Garden of Eden,” sometimes “beneath the throne of glory,” sometimes “in Abraham’s bosom.”

3. It is well known that the early Christians believed in an intermediate state of the soul between death and Judgment; and this intermediate state they, too, like the Jews, called “Hades.” Justin Martyr, speaking against some of the Gnostics who denied the Resurrection, and by consequence the intermediate state of the soul, says, “those who say that there is no Resurrection, but that immediately after death their souls are taken up to Heaven, these are not to be accounted either Christians or Jews.”[8] He himself distinctly asserts that “no souls die (that would be a Godsend to the wicked); but the souls of good men remain in a better, of bad men in a worse place, awaiting the time of the Judgment.”[9] Tertullian distinctly states his belief, that the souls of all men go to Hades (inferi) until the Resurrection, the souls of the just being in that part of Hades called the bosom of Abraham, or Paradise.[10] Irenæus says, that the souls of Christ’s disciples “go into the invisible place prepared for them, and there remain awaiting the Resurrection; after which they shall receive their bodies again, and rise complete, that is, in the body, as the Lord arose, and so shall come to the vision of God.”[11]

Origen declares his belief, that “not even the Apostles have received their perfect bliss; for the saints at their departure out of this life do not attain the full rewards of their labors; but are awaiting us, who still remain on earth, loitering though we be, and slack.”[12]

Lactantius is very express upon the same point. “Let no one,” says he, “think that souls are judged immediately after death; for they are all detained in the same common place of keeping, until the time come when the Supreme Judge shall inquire into their good or evil deeds.”[13]

Hilary says, that it is the “law of human necessity, that bodies should be buried, and souls descend to hell or Hades.” And again, that “the faithful, who depart out of the body, are reserved in the safe keeping of the Lord for an entrance to the kingdom of Heaven, being in the mean time placed in Abraham’s bosom, whither the wicked cannot enter on account of the great gulf fixed between them, until the time comes when they shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven.”[14]

Ambrose still more fully says, that, “while the fulness of time is expected, the souls await the reward which is in store for them. Some pain awaits, others glory. But in the mean time the former are not without trouble, nor are the latter without enjoyment.”[15]

Augustine writes, “The time between death and final resurrection holds the souls in hidden receptacles, according as each soul is meet for rest or punishment.”[16]

II. We have now to consider what we learn from Scripture of the state of the departed, and of the meaning of Hades.

1. The soul, after it has left the body, is not represented as passing directly to its final reward. This will appear from the following considerations: —

Our Lord distinctly assures us, that “no one hath ascended up to Heaven but He that came down from Heaven, even the Son of Man which is in Heaven” (John iii. 13). If then no one had then ascended up to Heaven, except the Lord Jesus, the saints departed could not have gone to their place of final and eternal bliss, which is always called Heaven.

Again, our Lord promised the thief on the cross “that he should be with Him that day in Paradise” (Luke xxiii. 43). Now Christ did not go from the cross to Heaven, but, as will appear hereafter, He went to hell or Hades, and did not go to Heaven till after His resurrection. Therefore Paradise, to which the thief went with Him that very day, was not Heaven.[17]

Again, in the Revelation (vi. 9), “the souls of them that were slain for the word of God” are not represented as in Heaven, but they cry from under the altar; and, though white robes are given them, they are bid “to rest for a little season, till their fellow-servants and their brethren should be fulfilled.”

Again, our Lord and His Apostles never comfort the Church concerning those who are asleep with the assurance that their souls are in Heaven, nor do they alarm the wicked with the fear that at the instant of death their souls will pass into a state of final punishment. It is ever to the Resurrection of the dead and the Judgment of the great day that the hopes of the pious and the fears of the ungodly are directed. This may be seen most plainly by referring to such passages as the following: Matt. xiii. 40; xvi. 27; xxv. 31‒33. Mark viii. 38. Luke xiv. 14. John v. 28, 29. Acts xvii. 31. 1 Cor. xv. passim. 2 Cor. iv. 14; v. 10, 11. Phil. iii. 20, 21. Col. iii. 4. 1 Thess. iv. 13‒17; v. 2, 3, 23. 2 Thess. i. 6‒10. 2 Tim. iv. 1, 8. Heb. ix. 27, 28. Jas. v. 7, 8. 1 Pet. iv. 5; v. 4. 2 Pet. iii. 10‒12. Rev. xx. 13‒15.

2. But though the soul does not receive its final reward until the Resurrection and the Judgment, when it shall be united to the body, and receive the sentence of the Judge; yet the soul does not die with the body, nor sleep in unconsciousness between death and Judgment.[18] This appears from the following.

The soul of Samuel returned to earth after his body was in the grave (1 Sam. xxviii. 11, 14). This took place four years after Samuel’s death. In the parable or history in Luke xvi., both Lazarus and Dives are represented as alive, one in torments and the other in Abraham’s bosom; and that all this took place before the Resurrection and the Judgment appears from this, that in vv. 27, 28, the brothers of the rich man were then alive on earth and in their state of probation, and Dives wished that Lazarus should be sent to them to bring them to repent. It is therefore quite clear that the present world was still in existence, and therefore Judgment yet future. The same observations apply in all particulars to the account given of the souls beneath the altar, so often referred to in Rev. vi. 9‒11. The promise also to the thief upon the cross, that he should be that day with Christ in Paradise (Luke xxiii. 43), must show that his soul would not be in a state of insensibility, but of bliss.

The same may be inferred from the words of our Lord, “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul” (Matt. x. 28). If death be, not only corruption of the body, but insensibility of the soul, then men can kill the soul, as much as they can kill the body; for they cannot kill the body eternally, nor prevent its rising again. They can kill the body and reduce it to corruption now; but the soul they cannot kill, neither now, nor ever.

Again, the language used by our Lord and St. Stephen at the instant of death shows that the spirit would live: “Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit,” said Christ (xxiii. 46). “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” said Stephen (Acts vii. 59).

St. Paul speaks of the Church as, among other companies, having in it “the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb. xii. 23); where the whole context shows that he refers to the present, not to the future state of Christian privilege and blessing. He declares of himself that he is in a strait between two, “having a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better.” But if death be annihilation, until the Resurrection wakes both body and soul, he could hardly have called death better than life, nor have spoken of it as “being with Christ” (Phil. i. 23). And again, the same Apostle, speaking of death, and calling the body a tabernacle of the soul (2 Cor. v. 1, 2), says, “Whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord;” and then adds, “we are willing rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” (vv. 6‒8).

From all this we must conclude that the spirit still lives, when it has left the body, and that, though it loses the benefit of having a bodily tabernacle, yet, in the case of pious men, it is very vastly a gainer by death, inasmuch as, though absent from the body, it enjoys the presence of Christ.

3. Having thus seen that the disembodied soul neither sleeps nor enters into its final reward, we have only farther to show that the soul is in an intermediate state, called Sheol or Hades; and that that state is a state of partial and expectant bliss to the righteous, of partial and expectant misery to the wicked, preparatory to the final consummation of bliss or misery, to be assigned to each at the resurrection of the last day.

It has been seen that this was the opinion of the Jews, and also that our Lord and the Apostles use the very expressions which Lightfoot has shown that the Jews used concerning the state of the departed, namely, “Paradise,” “Abraham’s bosom,” and “beneath the altar,” answering to “beneath the throne of glory.” This would of itself imply that our Lord and His Apostles sanctioned the sentiments of the Jews upon the subject. The same has appeared concerning the Jewish use of the term Hades, which is a term frequently adopted by the writers of the new Testament.

The various passages of Scripture already referred to fully confirm this view of the case. For example, the souls beneath the altar (in Rev. vi.) are clothed in white robes, and comforted with hope, but plainly not in perfect consummation and bliss. St. Paul (in 2 Cor. v. 1‒8), when looking forward to the hope of resurrection, distinctly describes the state of the disembodied soul as imperfect; and though he says, it is “better to be absent from the body, and present with the Lord” (ver. 8), he still says, that our earnest desire is for the resurrection of the body, which he calls being “clothed upon” (ver. 4). Again (Rom. viii. 19‒23), he represents the whole creation as longing to be delivered from bondage, and waiting for the redemption of the body. In Heb. xi. 40 he represents the saints departed as not “made perfect,” until those who should succeed them were added to the number of the redeemed.

To these passages we must add the promise to the thief upon the cross, that he should be in Paradise, a place evidently of bliss, yet, as has already been seen, not the same as Heaven. Lazarus is spoken of as comforted in Abraham’s bosom; an expression by no means answering to the glowing descriptions of the eternal Kingdom of God, though corresponding with the Jewish and early Christian ideas of the state of intermediate bliss. Dives, too, is represented as being in the same place with Lazarus, though separated by a great gulf from him, and, unlike him, suffering torment; and that place is expressly called Hades (Luke xvi. 23). In correspondence with all this, we find, in the old Testament, that Jacob expected “to go down to Sheol (i. e. Hades) unto his son” (Gen. xxxvii. 35). Korah, Dathan, and Abiram are said to go down “quick into Sheol” (Num. xvi. 30); and when the king of Babylon’s fate is foretold by Isaiah, it is said that “Hades (or Sheol) from beneath shall be moved to meet him;” which is explained by what follows, that the “mighty dead shall be stirred up” at his approach (Isai. xiv.) I think it hardly necessary to add more to show that on this point the opinion of the ancients is more correct than that of the modern popular creeds; and that the Roman Catholic notions of purgatory, the common opinion that the soul at once passes to its final reward, and the belief that the soul sleeps from death to Judgment, are all without support from the Scriptures of God. Those Scriptures plainly speak of the final reward to be attained only at the Resurrection; yet they show, too, that the soul is in a state of consciousness between death and Judgment. That state of consciousness is evidently a happy, though not a perfect state to the good, a suffering, though not a fully miserable state to the wicked. This state also is called at times by various names; but its general designation, whether as regards the just or the unjust, is in the Hebrew Sheol, in the Greek Hades, and both these words (as well as others of a different signification) are generally rendered by our English translators hell.

Our SECOND consideration is, What is meant by our Lord’s descent to hell, — and what authority there is for the doctrine.

I. Historically.

The article, “He descended into hell,” was not very anciently in the Creeds. The first place we find it used in, was the church of Aquileia,[19] about A. D. 400. Yet it is contained in a sort of exposition of the Christian faith given by Eusebius, which he translated from the Syriac, and which he states to have been given by Thaddæus, the brother of the Apostle Thomas, to the people of Edessa.[20] It is not, however, in the Creeds of Irenæus, Origen, Tertullian, Cyprian, in the Creed of the Council of Nice, nor in the more ancient draughts of the Roman or Apostles’ Creed. Still there can be no question of its very general acceptance, as an article of faith, by all the earlier fathers of the Church. Ignatius, Hermas, Justin M., Irenæus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Cyprian, have all spoken clearly on this subject; besides later fathers, such as Cyril, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Chrysostom. It will be necessary to refer more particularly to the sentiments of some of these fathers, when we come to our THIRD division, concerning the object of Christ’s descent. At present let it suffice to quote a few of the more striking, as well as the best-known passages, from some of the earliest Christian writers. Irenæus says, that “our Lord was in the middle of the shadow of death, where are the souls of the dead, and after that rose again with His body.”[21] Tertullian, in a chapter before quoted, says that “Christ, who is God, yet being man too, died according to the Scriptures, was buried, and went through the form of human death in Hades; nor did He ascend into Heaven till He had gone down to the lower parts of the earth.”[22] Cyprian shows that our Lord “was not to be overcome by death, nor to remain in hell.”[23] Lord King says that in sundry places Athanasius shows,[24] “that, whilst Christ’s Body lay buried in the grave, His Soul went into hell, to perform in that place those several actions, and operations, which were necessary for the complete redemption and salvation of mankind; that He performed after His death different actions by His two essential parts: by His Body He lay in the grave, by His Soul He went into hell and vanquished death.”

One principal reason why the fathers laid great stress on the belief in Christ’s descent to Hades was this. The Arians and Apollinarians denied the existence of a natural human soul in Jesus Christ.[25] Now the true doctrine of our Lord’s humanity, namely, that “He was perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting,” was most strongly maintained by asserting the Article of His descent to Hades. For whereas His Body was laid in the grave, and His Soul went down to Hades, He must have had both Body and Soul.[26] Accordingly, the fathers with one consent maintain the descent of Christ’s Soul to Hell.

II. The Scriptural proof of our Lord’s descent to Hades rests chiefly on three passages. One is the difficult verse, 1 Pet iii. 19, which was generally esteemed by the fathers to apply to this subject, and was thought conclusive by the reformers of the reign of Edward VI. Yet, as many of our most learned divines have denied its application, I shall defer the consideration of the question till we come to speak of the object of Christ’s descent.

Another passage is Eph. iv. 9: “Now that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?”

It is undoubted, that both Jews and Greeks placed Hades, according to their popular notions, beneath the earth, or in the lower parts of the earth; and it is not improbable that the Apostle may have used this popular language to express our Lord’s descent or passage to the place of disembodied souls. It is undoubted, too, that some of the fathers and creeds adopted these words, or words similar to them (τὰ κατώτερα),[27] to express the doctrine of the descent to Hades. And Bishop Pearson has truly observed, that this exposition of the passage “must be confessed so probable that there can be no argument to disprove it.” Yet there is also no question, that the Apostle’s language might be used to express merely the fact of the incarnation, or of the burial of Christ. The “lower parts of the earth” may mean only the place beneath, i. e. the earth itself, in contradistinction to the heights of Heaven.

Although, then, both these passages may, and we may not be far wrong in saying that they both very probably do, refer to our Lord’s descent to the place or state of departed souls; yet, seeing this application is open to doubt, it may be well to rest the doctrine on a passage the force of which can hardly be evaded. The passage is Acts ii. 27‒31. St. Peter there quotes the sixteenth Psalm, “Thou wilt not leave my soul in Hades (εἰς ᾅδου), neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption;” and he explains it, that the Psalmist “spake of the resurrection of Christ, that His Soul was not left in Hades, neither His Flesh did see corruption.”[28] In which explanation by the Apostle it is plain that the soul is in antithesis to the flesh, and Hades to corruption; so that the miracle of our Lord’s resurrection was the consequence of His Flesh not being suffered to be corrupted in the grave, and His Soul not being suffered to remain in Hades. That is to say, our Lord had a human nature like our own. When human beings die, the soul leaves the body; the latter is laid in the grave, the former passes to the intermediate state of souls. With ordinary men, the body sees corruption, the soul is left in Hades till the Judgment. But with Christ, though He fully passed into the state of death, yet death did not retain dominion over Him. Although, therefore, His Body was laid in the sepulchre, it saw not corruption; although His Soul went to Hades, where other souls go, yet God did not leave it there, but it was on the third day reunited to the Body, and so the Body was raised from the grave.

If it be necessary to add anything to this passage, we may further remark, that, as it has already been shown that Paradise is the state of the departed souls of the redeemed, so our Lord’s promise to the thief upon the cross, that he should be with Him that day in Paradise, proves clearly that our Lord, and with Him the repentant thief, passed from the cross into the state of the souls of the dead, which, as has been shown, is called Hades or hell. It was, indeed, into the happy division of Hades called Paradise, or Abraham’s bosom; but still it was to part of Hades.[29]

We now come to the THIRD division of our subject, to consider what was the object of our Lord’s descent to Hades.

I. Historically, we must consider this subject as briefly as we can.

1. It has already been seen, that many of the fathers looked on the belief in our Lord’s passage to Hades as necessary for the acknowledgment of the verity of His manhood and of His death. This indeed appears to have been the universal sentiment of the primitive Church; and, accordingly, the descent to Hades was urged by the fathers against the Apollinarian heresy.[30]

2. But, though this may be said to have been the universal sentiment of the early Christians, there were also various opinions current among them, as to what our Lord did during His stay among the souls of the dead.

Almost universal appears to have been the belief, that the Spirit or Soul of Christ preached the Gospel to the souls of the dead.[31] Hermas, who is reckoned apostolical, has set forth the doctrine, that not only Christ preached to the spirits in Hades, but that the Apostles too preached, to those who had died before them, the name of the Son of God.[32] In this he is followed and quoted by Clement of Alexandria.[33]

Irenæus, again, says that he heard from a certain presbyter, who heard it from those who had seen the Apostles, that our Lord descended to the places beneath the earth, and preached His Gospel to those who were there; and all believed in Him who had foretold His advent, — the just, the prophets, the patriarchs; whose sins He forgave, as He does ours.[34]

The passage of Scripture on which this general belief of the early Christians was founded is 1 Pet. iii. 19. Justin Martyr and Irenæus also quote a passage from Isaiah or Jeremiah, which is not extant in any copies of the Bible. The passage is this, “The Lord God remembered His dead, who slept in the sepulchral earth, and descended to them to preach His salvation.”[35] Justin charges the Jews with having erased it from the LXX. Of the spuriousness of the text there can be no doubt; but it sufficiently shows the judgment of those fathers who quoted it, concerning the doctrine which it was adduced to prove.

Thus far then the early Christians appear almost unanimous. On the purpose or end of Christ’s preaching, however, there existed no small difference.

(1) The earlier fathers seem generally to have held, that no change took place in the condition of souls after our Lord’s descent among them, and in consequence of His preaching to them. Justin Martyr held, that all souls still remain in Hades: the just in a happy, the unjust in a wretched place, and so shall remain to the Judgment.[36] Irenæus and Tertullian are clearly of the same opinion. The former says,[37] that “no disciple is above his master,” and thence infers that, as our Lord went to Hades, so all His servants shall go thither. Tertullian asserts that “Heaven is not open until the end of the world,”[38] and that all men are in Hades, either comforted or tormented.[39] Accordingly, he says that our Lord’s descent to Hades was, that the patriarchs might be made partakers of Him.[40]

(2) But, on the other hand, many of the early Christians were of opinion that our Lord, when He descended to Hades, delivered some who were there, and carried them thence to some better place.

Some thought that the prophets and patriarchs were in Hades till the coming of Christ, and that after that they were translated to a better place, called Paradise; whilst others again believed that our Lord preached His Gospel to the souls of the dead, and that those who believed in Him were saved and delivered from Hades, those who rejected Him were condemned.

There seem traces of this opinion in the above-noticed passage of Hermas, commonly called an apostolical father, and in Clement of Alexandria, who followed him. Origen, however, appears to be the first who distinctly propounded the opinion, that, after the coming of Christ, the souls of the just, instead of going to Hades, pass at once to some better place, called Paradise.[41]

Accordingly, the later fathers generally adopted the notion, that, till Christ’s death, the patriarchs and prophets were in Hades, but afterwards (from the time that Christ promised to the thief on the cross that he should be with Him in Paradise) they passed into Paradise, which therefore they distinguished from Hades.[42] Hades indeed they looked on as a place of rest to the just, but Paradise as far better.[43]

Here, of course, we begin to perceive the germ of the doctrine of the Limbus Patrum. Yet that the notion entertained by the fathers was vastly different from that of the mediæval Church, will be sufficiently apparent to any one who will read the passages which have been thrown into the notes.

Another opinion, however, grew up also in the early ages, namely, that Christ not only translated the pious from Hades to more joyous abodes, but that even some of those who in old times had been disobedient, yet, on hearing Christ’s preaching, believed, and so were saved and delivered from torment and hell.[44] This appears to have been the opinion of Augustine. He was evidently puzzled as to the meaning of the word Hades, and doubted whether it ever meant a place of rest and happiness (although at times he appears to have admitted that it did); and thinking it a place of torment, he thought Christ went thither to save some souls, which were in torment, from thence.[45] Some indeed went so far as to think that hell was cleared of all the souls that were there in torment, and that all were taken up with Christ, when He arose from the dead, and ascended into Heaven. But this was reckoned as a heresy.[46]

Such were the principal varieties of opinion in early ages touching the end of Christ’s descent to hell.[47]

In more modern times, many other sentiments have been adopted. Among the rest, the opinion held by Calvin[48] appears to have been, that our Lord’s descent to hell means not His going to the place of spirits, but His suffering upon earth, in Gethsemane and on the cross, all the torments of hell, and the sufferings of damned souls. Dr. Hey thinks that the growing popularity of Calvin’s views induced the reformers of Elizabeth’s reign to omit the latter part of the Third Article as put forth in Edward’s reign, because it was not acceptable to those who followed Calvin on this head.

Others again have supposed that our Lord went down to hell, (taking hell in the sense of Gehenna, the place of the damned,) and that He went there in order to meet and confront Satan in his own abode, and as He had conquered him on earth, so finally to subdue him in hell.[49]

II. To pass from the Historical to the Scriptural consideration of the end of Christ’s descent to Hades, we may observe : —

1. That it is plain He went thither that He might fulfil the conditions of death proper to human nature. When man dies, the spirit leaves the body, the body is buried, the spirit goes to the abode of the departed, where the souls of men await the Resurrection of the dead. Christ fulfilled this twofold condition. His Body was buried, and His Soul passed into Hades or Paradise. This it is unnecessary to dwell upon, as it seems evident, that, as our Lord was perfect man, so it was His will, and the will of His Father, that He should undergo all the conditions of human nature, and especially that He should truly suffer death. Now death cannot be truly suffered, unless the soul leaves the body, and goes to the abode of departed spirits.

2. But it becomes necessary here to consider, whether the text 1 Pet. iii. 18, 19, (which was so applied by all the fathers, and by the English reformers of the reign of Edward the Sixth,) gives us any farther account of the end and object of Christ’s descent to Hades. Many divines of the English Church deny altogether its applicability to this question. Writers of no less name than Hammond, Pearson, Barrow, &c. contend that the only meaning of St. Peter’s words is, that our Lord by His Holy Spirit, inspiring Noah, preached to the disobedient antediluvians, who are now for their disobedience imprisoned in hell.[50]

This interpretation of the passage depends on the accuracy of the English version. That version reads in the eighteenth verse “quickened by the Spirit.” It is to be noted, however, that all the ancient versions except one (the Ethiopic) seem to have understood it “quickened in spirit;” and it is scarcely possible, upon any correct principles of interpretation, to give any other translation to the words.[51] If, therefore, we follow the original, in preference to the English version, we mast read the passage thus: “Christ suffered for us, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God; being put to death in the flesh, but quick in His Spirit; by which (or in which) He went and preached (or proclaimed) to the spirits in safe keeping,” &c. There is, it will be observed, a marked antithesis between “flesh” and “spirit.” In Christ’s Flesh or Body He was put to death. Men were “able to kill the body,” but they could not kill His soul. He was therefore alive in His Soul,[52] and in or by that He went to the souls who were in safe custody (ἐν ϕυλακῇ); His Body was dead, but His Spirit, or Soul, went to their spirits or souls. This is the natural interpretation of the passage; and if it ended here, it would contain no difficulty, and its sense would never have been doubted. It would have contained a simple assertion of our Lord’s descent to the spirits of the dead.[53]

But it is added, that He not only went to the spirits in safe keeping, but that He went and preached to them. Hence it has been inferred, that, if He preached, they had need of, and He offered to them, repentance. Hence the passage has appeared to savour of false doctrine, and hence its force has been explained away. But the word “preached,” or “proclaimed,” by no means necessarily infers that He preached either faith or repentance. Christ had just finished the work of salvation, had made an end of sin, and conquered hell. Even the angels seem not to be fully enlightened as to all the work of grace which God performs for man. It is not likely, then, that the souls of the departed patriarchs should have fully understood or known all that Christ had just accomplished for them. They indeed may have known, and no doubt did know, the great truth, that redemption was to be wrought for all men by the sufferings and death of the Messiah. But before the accomplishment of this great work, neither angels nor devils seem fully to have understood the mystery of it. If this be true, when the blessed Soul of our crucified Redeemer went among the souls of those whom He had just redeemed, what can be more probable than that He should have “proclaimed” (ἐκήρυξεν) to them, that their redemption had been fully effected, that Satan had been conquered, that the great sacrifice had been offered up? If angels joy over one sinner that repenteth, may we not suppose Paradise filled with rapture when the Soul of Jesus came among the souls of His redeemed, Himself the herald (κήρυξ) of His own victory?

This is the view propounded by Bp. Horsley in his admirable sermon on this text.[54] It is perfectly unnecessary to suppose that the consequence of Christ’s preaching in Hades, or Paradise, was similar to His or His Apostles’ preaching on earth. Both indeed were preachings of glad tidings. But in this was the difference. Preaching on earth is to men, who need repentance, and whose repentance is acceptable. Preaching to the souls of the departed was a mere proclaiming of blessedness to men who had already repented when on earth, and had no need of repentance after death, when it never comes, and could not avail, even if it did come.

The only difficulty in this interpretation of this difficult passage is in the fact that the preaching is specially said to have been addressed to those “who had once been disobedient in the days of Noah.” That many who died in the flood may yet have been saved from final damnation seems highly probable, and has been the opinion of many learned divines. The flood was a great temporal judgment, and it follows not that “all who perished in the flood are to perish everlastingly in the lake of fire.” But the real difficulty consists in the fact that the proclamation of the finishing of the great work of salvation is represented by St. Peter as having been addressed to these antediluvian penitents, and no mention is made of the penitents of later ages, who are equally interested in the tidings.

It must be confessed that this is a knot which cannot easily be untied. Yet should not this induce us to reject the literal and grammatical interpretation of the passage, and to fall back upon those forced glosses which have been devised in order to avoid, instead of fairly meeting and endeavouring to solve, an acknowledged difficulty. Bishop Horsley says that he thinks he has “observed, in some parts of Scripture, an anxiety, if the expression may be allowed, of the sacred writers, to convey distinct intimations that the antediluvian race is not uninterested in the redemption and the final retribution.” It may be conceived, too, he thinks, that those who perished in the most awful of God’s temporal judgments would, more than any, need and look for the comfort of Christ’s presence, and that consolation which His preaching in the regions of the departed would afford “to those prisoners of hope.” Whether or not such ideas give any clue to the solution of this difficulty it may be hard to say. But in the same author’s words, “Is any difficulty that may present itself to the human mind, upon the circumstances of that preaching, of sufficient weight to make the thing unfit to be believed upon the word of the Apostle? — or are we justified, if, for such difficulties, we abandon the plain sense of the Apostle’s words, and impose upon them another meaning, not easily adapted to the words, though more proportioned to the capacity of our own understanding, especially when it is confirmed by other Scriptures that He went to that place? In that place He could not but find the souls that are in it in safe keeping; and in some way or other, it cannot but be supposed, He would hold conference with them; and a particular conference with one class might be the means, and certainly could be no obstruction to a general communication with all. If the clear assertions of Holy Writ are to be discredited, on account of difficulties which may seem to the human mind to arise out of them, little will remain to be believed in revealed or even in what is called natural religion: we must immediately part with the doctrine of atonement,— of gratuitous redemption,— of justification by faith without the works of the law, — of sanctification by the influence of the Holy Spirit; and we must part at once with the hope of the Resurrection.”[55]


  1. This seems a doubtful derivation. Infer, Infra, Inferus, Inferior, are obviously all connected. Though this connection does not make the derivation given in the text impossible. The Greek ἔρα is the same as the Hebrew אֶרֶץ, in Chaldee and Syriac אַרְעָא, in Arabic [could not transcribe]. The latter is the same as the German Erde, English earth. The Chaldee and Syriac אַרִעָא is, in sound as well as in its radical letters, the same as the Greek ἔρα. And it is remarkable that it is used as as preposition to designate below, אֲרַע, Infra. So אֲרַע מִנָּךְ, Infra te. This may account for the force of the preposition infra, on the hypothesis that the derivation given in the text is correct.
  2. See Hom. Od. XI. Virg. Æn. VI. The latter describes the two sides of Hades thus: — Hic locus est partes ubi se via findit in ambas: Dextera, quæ Ditis magni sub mœnia tendit; Hac iter Elyisum nobis: at læva malorum Exercet pœnas, et ad impia Tartara mittit. Æn. VI. 540‒543.
  3. Joseph. Ant. Lib. VI. c. XV. See Pearson, On the Creed, Art. v. p. 239.
  4. De Bell. Jud. Lib. II. c. vii. Ψυχῆς τε τὴν διαμονὴν καὶ τὰς καθ’ ᾅδου τιμωρίας καὶ τιμὰς ἀναιροῦσι. — Pearson, as above; King, On the Creed, p. 189.
  5. Ant. Lib. XVIII. c. ii. Ἀθάνατόν τε ἰσχὺν ταῖς ψυχαῖς πίστις αὐτοῖς εἶναι, καὶ ὑπὸ χθονὸς δικαιώσεις τε καὶ τιμὰς οἷς ἀρετῆς ἢ κακίας ἐπιτήδευσις ἐν τῷ βίῳ γέγονε. — See Pearson and King, as above.
  6. See Lightfoot, Horæ Hebraicæ on Luke xvi. 22; and Luke xxiii. 43.
  7. Horæ Hebr. on Luke xvi. 23, 26. See also Bp. Bull, Works, I. Disc. III. p. 59. Bp. Bull, p. 61, quotes from the Chaldee Paraphrast on Cant. iv. 12. who, speaking of the Garden of Eden (that is Paradise), says that “thereinto no man hath the power of entering but the just, whose souls are carried thither by the hands of angels.” “If this,” adds the learned writer, “had been an erroneous opinion of the Jews, doubtless our Saviour would never have given any the least countenance to it, much less would He have plainly confirmed it, by teaching the same thing in the parable of Dives and Lazarus.”
  8. Οἳ καὶ λέγουσι μὴ εἶναι νεκρῶν ἀνάστασιν, ἀλλὰ ἅμα τῷ ἀποθνήσκειν τὰς ψυχὰς αὐτῶν ἀναλαμβάνεσθαι εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν, μὴ ὑπολάβητε αὐτοὺς Χριστιανούς · ὥσπερ οὐδὲουδαίους. — Dial. p. 307. Paris, 1615. That the still earlier apostolical fathers held the same sentiments concerning an intermediate state may be seen from Clem. 1 Corinth. c. 50. Herm. III. Simil. IX. 16. On the former passage see Bull, Works, I. Serm. III. p. 63. Both his Sermons on this subject are deserving of all attention.
  9. λλὰ μὴν οὐδὲ ἀποθνήσκειν ϕημὶ πάσας τὰς ψυχὰς ἐγώ · ἕρμαιον γὰρ ἦν ὡς ἀληθῶς τοῖς κακοῖς. Ἀλλὰ τί; τὰς μὲν τῶν εὐσεβῶν ἐν κρειττονί ποι χώρῳ μένειν, τὰς δὲ ἀδίκους καὶ πονηρὰς ἐν χείρονι, τὸν τῆς κρίσεως ἐκδεχομένας χρόνον τότε. — Dialog. p. 222.
  10. “Nobis inferi non nuda cavositas, nec subdivalis aliqua mundi sentina creduntur; sed in fossa terræ, et in alto vastitas, et in ipsis visceribus ejus abstrusa profunditas.” He then says, Christ went there, and his servants must not expect to be above their Lord, but will have to wait in Abraham’s bosom for the resurrection. “Nulli patet cœlum, terra adhuc salva, ne dixerim clausa. Cum transactione enim mundi reserabuntur regna cœlorum. . . . Habes etiam de Paradiso a nobis libellum, quo constituimus omnem animam apud inferos sequestrari in diem Domini.” — Tertull. De Anima, cap. 55.
  11. Αἱ ψυχαὶ ἀπέρχονται εἰς τὸν [ἀόρατον] τόπον τὸν ὡρισμένον αὐταῖς ἀπὸ τοῦ Θεοῦ, κἀκεῖ μέχρι τῆς ἀναστάσεως ϕοιτῶσι, περιμένουσαι τὴν ἀνάστασιν · ἔπειτα ἀπολαβοῦσαι τὰ σώματα, καὶ ὁλοκλήρως ἀναστᾶσαι, τουτέστι σωματικῶς, καθὼς καὶ ὁ Κύριος ἀνέστη, οὕτως ἐλεύσονται εἰς τὴν ὄψιν τοῦ Θεοῦ. — Irenæ. v. 31. See also Beaven’s Account of Irenæus, ch. XVIII.
  12. “Nondum receperunt lætitiam suam ne Apostoli quidem, sed et ipsi exspectant, ut et ego lætitiæ eorum particeps fiam. Neque enim decedentes hinc sancti continuo integra meritorum suorum præmia consequuntur, sed exspectant etiam nos, licet morantes, licet desides.” — Origen. Hom. VII. in Lev. num. ii.; Ussher’s Answer to a Jesuit, ch. VII.
  13. “Nec tamen quisquam putet animas post mortem protinus judicari: omnes in una communique custodia detinentur, donec tempus adveniat quo maximus Judex meritorum faciat examen.” — Lactant. Institut. Divin. Lib. VII. c. 21; Ussher, as above; King, p. 202.
  14. “Humanæ ista lex necessitatis est, ut consepultis corporibus ad inferos animæ descendant.” — Hilar. In Ps. cxxxviii. Edit. Benedict. col. 514. “Futuri boni exspectatio est, cùm exeuntes de corpore ad introitum illum regni cœlestis per custodiam Domini fideles omnes reservabuntur, in sinu scilicet interim Abrahæ collocati, quò adire impios interjectum chaos inhibet, quò usque introeundi rursum in regnum cœlorum tempus adveniat.” — Hilar. In Ps. cxx. Edit. Benedict. col. 383. See Ussher, and King, as above.
  15. “Ergo dum exspectatur plenitudo temporis, exspectant animæ remunerationem debitam. Alias manet pœna, alias gloria: et tamen nec illæ interim sine injuria, nec istæ sine fructu sunt.” — Ambros. De Bono Mortis, c. x. Ussher, as above.
  16. “Tempus, quod inter hominis mortem et ultimam resurrectionem interpositum est, animas abditis receptaculis continet, sicut unaquæque digna est vel requie vel ærumna.” — Augustin. Enchirid. ad Laurent. c. CIX. Tom. VI. p. 236.
  17. “Si ergo secundum hominem quem Verbum Deus suscepit, putamus dictum esse, Hodie mecum eris in paradiso, non ex his verbis in cœlo existimandus est esse paradisus: neque enim ipso die in cœlo futurus erat homo Christus Jesus; sed in inferno secundum animam, in sepulchro autem secundum carnem.” — August. Epist. LVII. ad Dardanum. Edit. Benedict. Ep. CLXXXVII. Tom. II. p. 679.
  18. The reformers of the Church of England were so strongly of this opinion that they put forth the following in the reign of Edward VI., as one of the Articles of the Church: it is the 40th of the 42 Articles of 1552: — “The souls of them that depart this life do neither die with the bodies nor sleep idly. “They which say that the souls of such as depart hence do sleep, being without all sense, feeling, or perceiving, until the day of Judgment, or affirm that the souls die with the bodies, and at the last day shall be raised up with the same, do utterly dissent from the right belief declared to us in Holy Scripture.”
  19. Pearson, p. 225.
  20. Euseb. I. 13; Bingham, x. 4, 18; Hey, Bk. IV. Art. III. § 1; Hammond’s Pract. Catech. Bk. v. § 2.
  21. Irenæ. v. 31. “Cum enim Dominus in medio umbræ mortis abierit, ubi animæ mortuorum erant, post deinde corporaliter resurrexit.” — See Pearson, p. 237; and Beaven’s Account of Irenæus, ch. XVIII.
  22. De Anima, c. LV. “Quod si Christus Deus, quia et homo, mortuus secundum Scripturas, et sepultus secundum easdem, hic quoque legi satisfecit, forma humanæ mortis apud inferos functus, nec ante ascendit in sublimiora cœlorum, quam descendit in inferiora terrarum,” &c.
  23. “Quod a morte non vinceretur, nec apud inferos remansurus esset.” — Cyp. Test. adv. Judæ. lib. 2. c. 24.
  24. King, p. 179. The words are Lord King’s, not Athanasius’s. Nevertheless, Athanasius’s language may justify Lord King’s statement: . . . μήτε τῆς θεότητος τοῦ σώματος ἐν τῷ τάϕῳ ἀπολιμπανομένης, μήτε τῆς ψυχῆς ἐν τῷ ᾅδῃ χωριζομένης. Τοῦτο γὰρ ἔτι τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ τῶν προϕητῶν · Οὐκ ἐγκαταλείψεις τὴν ψυχήν μου εἰς ᾅδην, οὐδὲ δώσεις τὸν ὅσιόν σου ἰδεῖν διαϕθοράν. . . . Διὰ τοῦτο ἐν μὲν ψυχῆ Θεοῦ ἡ κράτησις τοῦ θανάτου ἐλύετο, καὶ ἐξ ᾅδου ἀνάστασις ἐγίνετο, καὶ ταῖς ψυχαῖς εὐηγγελίζετο · ἐν δὲ σώματι Χριστοῦ ἡ ϕθορὰ κατηργεῖτο, κ. τ. λ. — Athanas. De Salut. Advent. Jes. Christ. et adv. Apollinarium. Tom. I. p. 645.
  25. See an account of their doctrines under Art. II. § 1.
  26. Most pertinent is the passage of Fulgentius, Ad Trasimund. Lib. III. c. 34, quoted by Pearson, p. 238: “Humanitas vera Filii Dei nec tota in sepulchro fuit, nec tota in inferno; sed in sepulchro secundum veram carnem Christus mortuus jacuit, et secundum animam ad infernum Christus descendit: . . . secundum divinitatem vero suam, quæ nec loco tenetur, nec fine concluditur, totus fuit in sepulchro cum carne, totus in inferno cum anima; ac per hoc plenus fuit ubique Christus, quia non est Deus ab humanitate quam susceperat separatus,” &c. So Hilary, In Ps. cxxxviii. “Quam descensionem Dominus ad consummationem veri hominis non recusavit.”
  27. See Pearson, pp. 226, 228. Irenæus, Origen, Athanasius, Jerome, all quote this passage to prove or express the descent into hell.
  28. “Et Dominum quidem carne mortificatum venisse in infernum satis constat. Neque enim contradici potest vel prophetiæ quæ dixit, Quoniam non derelinques animam meam in inferno; quod ne aliter quisquam sapere auderet, in Actibus Apostolorum idem Petrus exponit.” — Augustin. Epist. CLXIV. Tom. II. p. 574.
  29. So the author of the Homily on Dives and Lazarus, attributed to Chrysostom: “Dicat mihi aliquis, in inferno est Paradisus? Ego hoc dico, quia sinus Abrahæ Paradisi veritas est; sed et sanctissimum Paradisum fateor.” — Homil. in Luc. xvi. De Divite. Tom. II. Oper. Chrysost. Latin. Ussher, Answer to a Jesuit, ch. VIII.
  30. See under the second division of this Article passages from Irenæus, Tertullian, Athanasius, Fulgentius. See also Pearson, p. 238.
  31. Καθικόμενος ἐν τοῖς κατωτάτοις τοῦ ᾅδου μυχοῖς, καὶ διακηρύξας τοῖς ἐκεῖσε πνεύμασιν. — Cyril. Alex. Hom. Paschal. XX. Ussher, Answer to a Jesuit, ch. VIII.
  32. Lib. III. Simil. IX. c. XVI. Coteler. I. p. 117.
  33. Stromat. VI. Potter, pp. 763, 764. See Bp. Kaye’s Clement of Alexandria, p. 189.
  34. Iren. Lib. IV. c. 45.
  35. Justin. M. Dial. § 72, p. 398. Iren. III. 23. IV. 39. v. 31.
  36. See the passages quoted in the note under the FIRST head, I. 3. p. 87, note 1.
  37. “Nunc autem [Dominus] tribus diebus conversatus est ubi erant mortui. . . Cum enim Dominus in medio umbræ mortis abierit, ubi animæ mortuorum erant, . . . manifestum est quia et discipulorum ejus, propter quos et hæc operatus est Dominus, αἱ ψυχαὶ ἀπέρχονται εἰς τὸν [ἀόρατον] τόπον τὸν ὡρισμένον αὐταῖς. . . . Nemo enim est discipulus super magistrum: perfectus autem omnis erit sicut magister ejus. Quomodo ergo magister noster non statim evolans abiit, sed sustinens definitum a Patre resurrectionis suæ tempus, . . . post triduum resurgens assumptus est; sic et nos sustinere debemus definitum a Deo resurrectionis nostræ tempus, prænuntiatum a prophetis, et sic resurgentes assumi.” — Irenæ. v. 31.
  38. De Anima, c. LV., quoted above.
  39. De Anima, c. LVIII.
  40. “Descendit in inferiora terrarum, ut illic patriarchas et prophetas compotes sui faceret.” — De Anima, c. LV. See also Adv. Marcion. Lib. IV. c. XXXIV. Also Bp. Kaye’s Tertullian, p. 262.
  41. This is apparent, as the opinion of Origen, in the whole of the 2d Homily on the 1st Book of Kings, known as the Homily De Engastrimytho. There he argues that the soul of Samuel, which was called up by the witch of Endor, was in Hades; so were the souls of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets; none of them could pass the flaming sword, till Christ came to set them free. Therefore it was that Lazarus, though in Abraham’s bosom, could see Dives, who was in torments. But after Christ is come, Christians can pass the flaming sword into Paradise without harm. Paradise, however, was not in Heaven, according to Origen, but still an intermediate state, though better than Hades. This appears from the following, if Rufinus has rightly translated him: “Puto enim quod sancti quique discedentes de hac vita permanebunt in loco aliquo in terra posito, quem Paradisum dicit Scriptura divina, velut in quodam eruditionis loco, et, ut ita dixerim, auditorio vel schola animarum, in quo de omnibus his quæ in terris viderant doceantur, indicia quoque quædam accipiant etiam de consequentibus et futuris,” &c. — De Principiis, Lib. II. cap. XI. num. 6. Bp. Beveridge, on this Article, quotes a passage from Ignatius, which should show that that ancient father took the same view as Origen and others after him. The passage, however, is from an interpolated Epistle, and therefore proves nothing. Ad Trall. IX. Coteler. II. p. 64.
  42. “Dominus resurrectionis suæ pignore vincula solvit inferni, et piorum animas elevavit.” — Ambros. De Fide ad Gratian. Lib. IV. c. 1. “Ante adventum Christi omnia ad inferos pariter ducerentur. Unde et Jacob ad inferos descensurum se dicit. Et Job pios et impios in inferno queritur retentari. Et Evangelium, chaos magnum interpositum apud inferos, et Abraham cum Lazaro, et divitem in suppliciis, esse testatur. Et revera antequam flammeam illam rotam, et igneam romphæam, et Paradisi fores Christus cum latrone reseraret, clausa erant cœlestia.” — Hieron. Com. in Eccles. c. III. Tom. II. col. 736. Edit. Bened. Quoted in part by King, p. 209. See also Pearson, p. 250.
  43. “Si enim non absurde credi videtur, antiquos etiam sanctos, qui venturi Christi tenuerunt fidem, locis quidem a tormentis impiorum remotissimis, sed apud inferos fuisse, donec eos inde sanguis Christi et ad ea loca descensus erueret, profecto deinceps boni fideles effuso illo pretio jam redempti, prorsus inferos nesciunt, donec etiam receptis corporibus, bona recepiant quæ merentur.” — August. De Civit. Dei, Lib. XX. c. XV. Tom. VII. p. 593. Quoted in part by King, p. 212. See also Epist. CLXIV. Tom. II. p. 575; Epist. CLXXXVII. p. 679.
  44. “Expers peccati Christus, cum ad Tartari ima descenderet, seras inferni januasque confringens, vinctas peccato animas, mortis dominatione destructa, e diaboli faucibus revocavit ad vitam.” — Ambros. De Mysterio Paschæ, c. 4. “Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum, qui ad fornacem descendit inferni, in quo clausæ et peccatorum et justorum animæ tenebantur, ut absque exustione et noxa sui eos, qui tenebantur inclusi, mortis vinculis liberaret.” — Hieron. In Daniel. c. iii. Tom. III. col. 1086. “Invocavit ergo redemptor noster nomen Domini de lacu novissimo, cum in virtute divinitatis descendit ad inferos, et destructis claustris Tartari, suos quos ibi reperit eruens, victor ad superos ascendit.” — Id. Lib. II. In Lamentat. c. iii. Tom. v. col. 829. The genuineness of this commentary is doubtful. “Nec ipsam tamen rerum partem noster salvator mortuus pro nobis visitare contempsit, ut inde solveret quos esse solvendos secundum divinam secretamque justitiam ignorare non potuit.” — Augustin. De Genesi ad literam. Lib. XII. c. 66. Tom. III. p. 322. Κατελθὼν γὰρ εἰς ᾅδου, καὶ τοῖς ἐκεῖσε διακηρύξας πνεύμασιν, ἀνείς τε τοῖς κάτω τὰς κεκλεισμένας πύλας, καὶ τὸν ἄπληστον τοῦ θανάτου κενώσας μυχὸν, ἀνεβίω τριήμερος. — Cyril. Alex. Hom. Paschal. XI. σεσύλητο τῶν πνευμάτων ὁ ᾅδης . — Id. Hom. VI. See most of these and some other passages referred to in Ussher’s Answer to a Jesuit, ch. VIII.
  45. See Augustin. Epist. CLXIV. Tom. II. p. 573. Pearson, p. 241, refers to it as Epist. XCIX. Concerning Augustine’s doubts on the nature of Hades, see Pearson, p. 239; King, p. 210; and the places referred to supra note 3, pp. 124, 5.
  46. Augustine, in his book De Hæresibus, reckons this as the seventy-ninth heresy. “Alia, descendente ad inferos Christo, credidisse incredulos, et omnes exinde existimat liberatos.” — Tom. VIII. p. 23. See Pearson, p. 241, note.
  47. Tertullian mentions, but does not approve of, an opinion in his day, that Christ went to Hades that we should not go thither: “Sed in hoc, inquiunt, Christus inferos adiit, ne nos adiremus.” — De Anima, c. 55.
  48. See Calvin, Institut. Lib. II. c. 16, § 10: quoted by Pearson, p. 230, where see Pearson’s own observations on this notion.
  49. On the other hand, Mede (Disc. IV. Works, p. 23, Lond. 1677) has made it most probable, if not certain, that Satan is not yet cast into hell, but that evil spirits are allowed to walk to and fro on the earth. So Satan is called the prince of the powers of the air, and it is not till the Judgment that he is to be cast into hell. This, like most of J. Mede’s learned discourses, is well worth reading. See also this view of the end and character of our Lord’s descent into hell considered and disproved by Bp. Pearson, p. 248.
  50. A question as to whether this might be the meaning of the passage had been proposed by St. Jerome and St. Augustine. Hieron. Lib. xv. In Esai. cap. liv. August. Epist. CLXIV. See Ussher’s Answer to a Jesuit, ch. VIII.
  51. The words in the Greek are θανατωθεὶς μὲν σαρκὶ, ζωοποιηθεὶς δὲ τῷ πνεύματι. The article τῷ before πνεύματι is of so little authority that Wetstein, Griesbach, and Matthäi have rejected it from the text. Bishop Middleton has observed, that in order to admit of the rendering of the English version, or to allow us to understand by “spirit” here the Holy Spirit of God, it would be absolutely necessary that there should be not only an article, but a preposition also before πνεύματι. If the article be not authentic we must render “dead carnally, but alive spiritually.” If we admit the article, we must then translate, “dead in body, but alive in His Spirit,” i. e. in His soul. The ancient versions support this rendering, and Michaelis and Rosenmüller give a similar interpretation. Bp. Middleton refers with full approbation to Bp. Horsley’s Sermon mentioned below. See Middleton, On the Article, in loc.
  52. ζωοποιηθείς corresponds with the Hiphil of חָיָה, which means “to keep alive,” as much as “to make alive.”
  53. The expression ἐν ϕυλακῇ by no means necessarily signifies a place of punishment. It may mean a place of protection. It is simply in ward, in guardianship. The rendering of the Syriac, which from its antiquity is so important, is [could not transcribe], in Hades. The following is its rendering of the whole passage: “He was dead in body, but alive in spirit: and he preached to those souls which were kept in Hades.”
  54. Vol. 1. Serm. XX.
  55. P. 436. The whole Sermon deserves careful attention, and should be compared with Bishop Middleton, on 1 Pet. iii. 18. It is to be lamented that Bishop Pearson, in his most learned and elaborate article on the Descent into Hell, should have written less lucidly than is his wont. In more passages than one, unless I greatly misunderstand him, he has contradicted himself. At one time he defines hell as the place of departed spirits, and makes our Lord’s descent thither no more than a passing state of the dead. At another time he argues as if hell meant the place of torment, and says that Christ went there to save us from going thither, for which he quotes Tertullian, who, however, mentions the opinion only to condemn it. See especially p. 251. [See also Bishop Hobart, On the State of the Departed; and Bishop Seabury’s Sermon, The Descent of Christ into Hell. — J. W.]


E. Harold Browne

(Edward) Harold Browne was an English bishop, born at Aylesbury and educated at Eton and Cambridge. He was ordained in 1836, and two years later was elected senior tutor of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. From 1843 to 1849 he was vice-principal of St David’s College, Lampeter, and in 1854 was appointed Norrisian professor of divinity at Cambridge. His best-known book is the Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles (vol. i., Cambridge, 1850; vol. ii., London, 1853), which remained for many years a standard work on the subject and is still beloved today. In 1864 he was consecrated bishop of Ely.

'Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles – Article III' has 1 comment

  1. January 26, 2022 @ 4:05 pm Christian Cate

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