There are two truths of faith affirmed in this article of
the Creed. The first is that after Christ died, His soul separated from the
body visited the souls of the faithful departed in what has come to be called
the Limbo of the Fathers. The second truth is the Resurrection of Christ from
the grave on Easter Sunday. While the Resurrection of Christ is far more
significant, His descent into hell deserves to be better known.
The Descent of Christ
It is not difficult to trace the origins of the statement
that, after He died, Jesus descended into hell. Pre- Christian Judaism is
clear on the point. By whatever name it was called, Jewish believers by the
time of Christ held that there was an abode of the departed just. It was
assumed to be a place or state of happiness, temporary, and was to be replaced
by a condition of final or permanent bliss when the Messiah came to establish
On the strength of this tradition, the Apostles Creed
affirms the existence of a limbo distinct from hell and purgatory for the
just who had died before Christs ascension into heaven. Because of the Fall,
heaven was closed to human beings. In other words, actual possession of the beatific
vision was postponed even for those who were purified of all sin. They would
enjoy the vision of God only after the Redemption was historically completed by
Christs visible ascension into heaven. This was implied in the Saviors
promise to the penitent thief on Calvary. This day, he was assured, you will
be with me in Paradise (Luke 24:43).
The reason for Christs visit to the faithful departed seems
evident from the circumstances. He wished to reassure these justified souls
that they were, indeed, redeemed and their entrance into heaven was near at
Christianity as the religion of history and Christ as the
living God made man depend on His resurrection from the dead.
We shall therefore examine the Resurrection in a series of
questions: What is the Resurrection? Why did Jesus Christ rise from the grave?
And how are we to make the Resurrection more meaningful in our lives?
What is the Resurrection? The
Resurrection is the historic event of Christ reuniting His human body and soul,
which had been separated by His death on Calvary.
Christ had a true human nature, like ours except for sin.
Since he had no sin, He need not have died. He chose to die. But by the same
free will by which He chose death, He also chose to conquer death and return to
the human life He possessed before the first Good Friday.
It was the same Jesus Christ who rose on Easter Sunday. It
was the same Divine Person united with His human nature. St. Luke describes the
scene on Easter Sunday when the Lord appeared to the eleven disciples as they
huddled together in the upper chamber in Jerusalem. They were listening to the
two disciples who had just been with Jesus on their way to Emmaus:
Now while they were talking of these things, Jesus stood in their midst, and said
to them, Peace to you! It is I, do not be afraid. But they were startled and
panic-stricken, and thought they saw a spirit. And He said to them, Why are
you disturbed, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and feet,
that it is I myself. Feel me and see; for a spirit does not have flesh and
bones, as you see I have. And having said this, He showed them His hands and
feet. But as they still disbelieved and marvelled for joy, He said, Have you
anything here to eat? And they offered Him a piece of broiled fish and a
honeycomb. And when He had eaten in their presence He took what remained and
gave it to them (Luke 24:36-43).
The apostles were absolutely certain about Christ's bodily resurrection
from the dead. This became the foundation of all their preaching. On
Pentecost Sunday, Peter told the Jews that the Jesus whom they had
crucified had come back to life. And he rested the credibility of the
Christian faith on this historical fact.
Why the Resurrection? Christ
rose from the dead as the crowning miracle of His visible stay on earth. He
worked many miracles during His three years of public ministry: paralytics
began to use their limbs, the blind were restored their sight, deaf-mutes could
hear and speak; Christ calmed the storm at sea with a single command, He walked
on water and gave Peter the power to do the same; the dead were raised from the
grave. And not long before His Passion, He called the dead Lazarus out of the
On this level, His own resurrection was only the culmination
of a series of wonders that made Christs astounding doctrine acceptable by the
Moreover, by rising from the dead, He proved that He had
overcome sin, which was the original cause of death.
Finally, Christs resurrection is the promise and prelude of
our own final resurrection on the last day. He is, as St. Paul tells us, the
first fruits of those who sleep. The mystery of death, which we all naturally
fear, is balanced by the confident hope that we, too, will rise from the grave.
Our souls are
naturally immortal. When they leave the body they remain alive, to enter an
eternity whose happiness or misery depends on how well we have served God
during our mortal life on earth.
Our bodies will decay and return to the dust from which they
come. But only for awhile. In Gods own time, provided we have been faithful to
the divine will before death, these dead bodies will walk and speak and hear
and see again. They will be glorified. This means they will be immortal, never
to die again. They will be resplendent with beauty, never again endure pain,
and will be able to move through space and matter, not unlike the risen body of
The Risen Christ Is Alive. Having become man, the
Son of god will always remain man.
The expression, Jesus Christ, yesterday, today, and forever has been
literally verified until now and is prophesied into the endless reaches of
In the next article of the Creed, we profess to believe in
Christs ascension into heaven. But there would have been no ascension unless
there had first been a true bodily resurrection. So, too, when we reflect on
the Holy Eucharist, the key to understanding the Real Presence is the fact that
God became man, died, and rose from the dead. Why is this the key? Because the
Eucharist is the Risen Christ living in our midst in the Blessed Sacrament.
Copyright © 2002 Inter Mirifica
Pocket Catholic Catechism