Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Purgatory, By The Rev. M. Canty, P.P., Part 20.



IV. In the Symbol or Creed, composed by the Apostles, it is said 'that Christ "descended into hell." ("Descendit ad inferos ")

1. By this descent into hell, we cannot, it is evident, understand the ascent, or as it is generally termed the.Ascension of Christ into heaven. The word descent is never used to express ascent, or approach to any place that is above. It is never said of a man, when describing his going up on a mountain, or any elevated place, that he descended on it. Neither by Christ descending into hell, is meant his descent into the sepulchre. In the immediately preceding article of the Creed, it is recorded that Christ was " dead and 'buried''' There fore, his descent into hell was something different from his descent into the grave. The latter article cannot be an exposition or repetition of the former one. The first article is clearer than the second; to explain it by the latter, would be to explain what is known by what is unknown. Add to this, that the Creed is a compendium—a very short and concise one—of faith. Hence, to repeat any portion of it, or anything in it, even in different words, would.be a great defect.

2. It would be a bad way of expressing it, to say that Christ "descended into hell," or to the inferior, or lower parts of the earth, if by such language was intended his sepulture. You do not hear such language, nor the like of it, adopted to express the burial, or descent into the grave, of any one. The argument becomes more forcible, when it is observed, that the sepulchre or grave, in which the sacred body of Christ was placed, was not in the inferior, or lower parts of the earth, but in a cave in the upper surface or superficies of the ground. Therefore the article has no relation to his burial.

3. The Fathers, with unanimous consent, receive the article as expressing the descent of Christ into Limbo. They all coincide with this sentence of St. Ignatius the Martyr:(Epist, ad Trail) "He descended into hell alone, he returned with a multitude." St. Jerome ( In cap. 4 Ephes.) thus expresses his sentiment: "He descended into the lower parts of the earth, that as a victor he would lead away with him to heaven the souls of the saints which were kept inclosed there."

4. The councils of the Church also believe that the article comprehends the descent of Christ into the Limbo of the Fathers, and nothing else. The fourth Council of Lateran,(Ch. I.) convoked and presided over, by Innocent III., thus expresses its mind : " He descended into hell; he arose from the dead, He ascended into heaven ; but he descended in soul, He arose in flesh, He ascended alike in both." Observe how, when the council states, that He descended into hell, it explains the clause by saying, that He descended in soul. Then it is as clear as the noon-day sun over its head, and clearer, that the Council of Lateran held the article to describe the descent of Christ into Limbo, and not the burial of His body in the grave. The fourth Council of Toledo, celebrated in 531, viewed it in the same light. In the very first chapter of its acts, it says : " He descended into hell, that He would bring forth the souls which were held there." Souls are not held in the grave. This council then took the "descent of Christ into hell," as a phrase identical with his descent into the Limbo of the Fathers.