Harrowing Hell part 2:

John Chrysostom, in his Easter homily of 400 a.d. quotes Isaiah  “You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below” (Chrysostom) and Melito of Sardis, in the 2nd century celebrated Christ’s resurrection with these words:

Who is my opponent? I, he says, am the Christ. I am the one who destroyed death, and triumphed over the enemy, and trampled Hades under foot, and bound the strong one, and carried off man to the heights of heaven, I, he says, am the Christ (On the Passover, part 102).

One clarification we must make in our understanding of the language is that hell may not have meant the lake of fire that many of us think of today. The Greek word Hades, and the Hebrew word Sheol referred to the place of the dead. Later wordings of the creed reflect this by saying “Christ descended to the dead” (A Christian Presence in Every Community). However, that is not to say that Christ descended into some limbo of nothingness.  The catechism of the Catholic Church states that

“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” (Catechism, 180).

McGrath, writing on “the harrowing of hell” states “According to this, after dying on the cross, Christ descended to hell, and broke down its gates in order that the imprisoned souls might go free” (McGrath, 335). So, the idea of the Harrowing of Hell is more complex than one may initially think it is.

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