August 15, 2013

He Descended Into Hell

Catechism Paragraphs 624 – 658

(The long absence since my last post here was the result of my mother’s death and burial.)

“By the grace of God, Jesus tasted death for everyone.  In his plan of salvation, God ordained that his Son should not only die for our sins, but should also ‘taste death’. 624   God (the Son) did not impede death from separating his soul from his body according to the necessary order of nature, but has reunited them to one another in the Resurrection, so that he himself might be, in his person, the meeting point for death and life. 625   Christ’s death was a real death in that it put an end to his earthly human existence.  But because of the union his body retained with the person of the Son, his was not a mortal corpse like others, for divine power preserved Christ’s body from corruption.  Both of these statements can be said of Christ:  ‘He was cut off out of the land of the living,’ and ‘My flesh will dwell in hope.  For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor let your Holy One see corruption.’  627   Baptism, the original and full sign of which is immersion, efficaciously signifies the descent into the tomb by the Christian who dies to sin with Christ in order to live a new life.”  628

“The frequent New Testament affirmations that Jesus was raised from the dead presuppose that the crucified one sojourned in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection.  This was the first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ’s descent into hell: that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead.  632   Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, ‘hell’ because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God.  Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into ‘Abraham’s bosom:’  it is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham’s bosom whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell.  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. 633   ‘The gospel was preached even to the dead.’ (1 Pet 4:6)  The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfillment.  This is the last phase of Jesus’ messianic mission.  634  Christ went down into the depths of death so that ‘the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.’” (Jn 5:25) 635 

“The empty tomb was an essential sign for all.  Its discovery by the disciples was the first step toward recognizing the very fact of the Resurrection.  The disciple ‘whom Jesus loved’ affirmed that when he entered the empty tomb and discovered ‘the linen cloths lying there,’ he saw and believed. 640   Mary Magdalene and the holy women who came to finish anointing the body of Jesus, which had been buried in haste because the Sabbath began on the evening of Good Friday, were the first to encounter the Risen One.  … next to whom Jesus appears: first Peter, then the Twelve.  Peter had been called to strengthen the faith of his brothers, and so sees the Risen One before them; it is on the basis of his testimony that the community exclaims: ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!’” (Lk 24:34,36) 641   (Very often in the Gospels people address Jesus as ‘Lord.’  This title testifies to the respect and trust of those who approach him for help and healing.  At the prompting of the Holy Spirit, ‘Lord’ expresses the recognition of the divine mystery of Jesus. 448 )  Peter and the Twelve are the primary witnesses to the resurrection, but they are not the only ones – Paul speaks clearly of more than five hundred persons to whom Jesus appeared on a single occasion and also of James and of all the apostles.” 642  

“Given all these testimonies, Christ’s Resurrection cannot be interpreted as something outside the physical order, and it is impossible not to acknowledge it as an historical fact.  It is clear from the facts that the disciples’ faith was drastically put to the test by the master’s Passion and death on the cross, which he had foretold.  The shock provoked by the Passion was so great that at least some of the disciples did not at once believe in the news of the Resurrection.  Far from showing us a community seized by a mystical exaltation, the Gospels present us with disciples demoralized (looking sad) and frightened.  For they had not believed the holy women returning from the tomb and had regarded their words as an ‘idle tale.’  When Jesus reveals himself to the Eleven on Easter evening, he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. (Mk 16:14) 643   Therefore the hypothesis that the Resurrection was produced by the apostles’ faith (for credulity) will not hold up.  On the contrary their faith in the Resurrection was born, under the action of divine grace, from their direct experience of the reality of the risen Jesus.” 644  

“Christ’s Resurrection was not a return to earthly life, as was the case with the raisings from the dead that he had performed before Easter: Jairus’ daughter, the young man of Naim, Lazarus.  These actions were miraculous events, but the persons miraculously raised returned by Jesus’ power to ordinary earthly life.  Christ’s Resurrection is essentially different.  In his risen body he passes from the state of death to another life beyond time and space.  At Jesus’ Resurrection his body is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit: he shares the divine life in his glorious state, so that St. Paul can say that Christ is ‘the man of heaven.’” 646  

Through his Resurrection, did Jesus return to the physical, corporeal state that he had during his earthly life?   The risen Christ, who bore the wounds of the Crucified, was no longer bound by space and time.  He could enter through locked doors and appear to his disciples in various places in the form in which they did not recognize him immediately.  Christ’s Resurrection was, therefore, not a return to a normal earthly life, but rather his entrance into a new way of being: ‘For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” (Rom 6:9) YOUCAT Q107 

“But no one was an eyewitness to Christ’s Resurrection and no evangelist describes it.  No one can say how it came about physically.  Still less was its innermost essence, his passing over to another life, perceptible to the senses.  Although the Resurrection was an historical event that could be verified by the sign of the empty tomb and by the reality of the apostles’ encounters with the risen Christ, still it remains at the very heart of the mystery of faith as something that transcends and surpasses history.  This is why the risen Christ does not reveal himself to the world, but to his disciples.  647   Christ’s Resurrection is an object of faith in that it is a transcendent intervention of God himself in creation and history.  In it the three divine persons act together as one, and manifest their own proper characteristics. The Father’s power ‘raised up’ Christ his Son and by doing so perfectly introduced his Son’s humanity, including his body, into the Trinity.  Jesus is conclusively revealed as ‘Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his Resurrection from the dead.’ (Rom 1:3-4)  St. Paul insists on the manifestation of God’s power through the working of the Spirit who gave life to Jesus’ dead humanity and called it to the glorious state of Lordship. 648   As for the Son, he effects his own Resurrection by virtue of his divine power.  Jesus announces that the Son of man will have to suffer much, die, and then rise.  Elsewhere he affirms explicitly: ‘I lay down my life, that I may take it again … I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.’  We believe that Jesus died and rose again.”  649  

“The Fathers contemplate the Resurrection from the perspective of the divine person of Christ who remained united to his soul and body, even when these were separated from each other by death: ‘By the unity of the divine nature, which remains present in each of the two components of man, these are reunited.  For as death is produced by the separation of the human components, so Resurrection is achieved by the union of the two. 650  ‘If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.’ (1 Cor 15:14) 651   The truth of Jesus’ divinity is confirmed by his Resurrection." 653  

Can you be a Christian without believing in the Resurrection of Christ?  No.  If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.  YOUCAT Q104   

“The Paschal mystery has two aspects: by his death, Christ liberates us from sin; by his Resurrection, he opens for us the way to a new life.  This new life is above all justification that reinstates us in God’s grace, ‘so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.’ (Rom 6:4)  Justification consists in both victory over the death caused by sin and a new participation in grace.  It brings about filial adoption so that men become Christ’s brethren, as Jesus himself called his disciples after his Resurrection: ‘Go and tell my brethren.’ 654   Finally, Christ’s Resurrection --- and the risen Christ himself --- is the principle and source of our future resurrection: ‘Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep … For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.’ (1Cor 15:20-22)  The risen Christ lives in the hearts of his faithful while they await that fulfillment.  In Christ, Christians have tasted … the powers of the age to come and their lives are swept up by Christ into the heart of divine life, so that they may ‘no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.’” (2Cor 5:15) 655

What changed in the world as a result of the Resurrection?  Because death is now no longer the end of everything, joy and hope came into the world.  Now that death no longer has dominion over Jesus, it has no more power over us, either, who belong to Jesus.  YOUCAT Q108

Next time (hopefully very soon) we shall be looking at catechism paragraphs 659 – 682, covering the Creed’s acknowledgement that Christ ascended into heaven and will come again to judge the living and the dead.    

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