Harrowing

Why do we profess Jesus descending to the dead in the Apostle’s Creed? When I was a boy, I confess this seemed a bit strange. I didn’t give it much thought, though. The Bible gives a few hints (1 Peter 4:6 and Ephesians 4:9) but it’s not explicitly spelled out. At least it wasn’t until ancient and early medieval stories began spreading.

Today, it seems part of Jesus’ boundless mercy.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Harrowing

  1. Liam says:

    Well, there’s one dimension of this that is too obvious because it’s right in front of our noses: it’s avers dogmatically that Our Lord truly *died* in all senses that human beings die. There was resistance to this in some Christian circles – not only seen in the residue that came into Islam (where there was a sense that Jesus did not fully and truly die) and into our own day among fashioners of modern Christian-inspired belief systems that seek to downplay the Paschal Mystery in favor of understanding Jesus and the Jesus Movement as primarily an ethical school and system. The Cross still scandalized. The Resurrection still scandalizes.

    That’s part of why “He descended into hell [ad inferos]” retains its ability to scandalize. The Victor tramples down Death by death. It’s the frame of reference for that revolutionary verse that opens the Gospel of St Mark: “The beginning of the gospel [euangeliou] of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” – an euangeliou was the news of a great conqueror’s victory – news of the victories of Alexander the Great’s successors and their successors would be spread in that literary form. The Jesus of that Gospel comes with great force to tear open a mandorla that joins heaven and earth – at his baptism and at his crucifixion, a special bookending feature of Mark’s gospel account – and wrestles with the force of Death and evil in between and smites Death by his own death.

    That’s the good news.

  2. Devin Rice says:

    FYI: a great summation of the Patristic and early liturgical tradition surrounding the Harrowing of Hell can be found in Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev’s book, “Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades”. It provides abundant and relatively lengthy patristic and liturgical quotations.

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