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St. Thomas Aquinas
Catechetical Instructions

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  • THE FIFTH ARTICLE: "He Descended into Hell."
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THE FIFTH ARTICLE: "He Descended into Hell."


The death of Christ was the separation of His soul from His body as it is

with other men. But the Divinity was so indissolubly conjoined to the Man-

Christ that although His soul and body were disunited, His Divinity was

always most perfectly united to both the soul and body. This we have seen

above. Therefore in the Sepulchre His body was together with the Son of God

who together with His soul descended into hell.1


1. "Hell here means those far-removed places in which are detained those

souls that have not been awarded the happiness of heaven. . . These places

are not of the same nature. There is that most abominable and most dark

prison where the souls of the damned, together with the unclean spirits,

are punished in eternal and unquenchable fire. This is gehenna or the

'abyss,' and is Hell, strictly so-called. There also is the fire of

Purgatory, in which the suffering souls of the just are purified for a

definite time in order that they be permitted to enter into the everlasting

Fatherland, where nothing unclean is admitted. . . The third and last place

is that in which the souls of the just before the coming of the Lord were

received; there without any pain, sustained by the blessed hope of the

redemption, they enjoyed a quiet repose. It was to these souls who waited

in the bosom of Abraham that Christ the Lord descended, and whom He

delivered" ("Roman Catechism," Fifth Article, Chapter VI, 2-3). Therefore,

"He descended into hell" means that the soul of Jesus Christ, after His

death, descended into Limbo, i.e., to the place where the souls of the just

who died before Christ were detained, and were waiting for the time of

their redemption. St. Peter writes: "He was put to death indeed in the

flesh. but enlivened in the spirit, in which also coming, He preached to

those spirits that were in prison" (I Peter, iii, 18-19).

"We profess that immediately after the death of Christ, His soul descended

into hell, and remained there as long as His body was in the sepulchre; and

we believe also that the one Person of Christ was at the same time in hell

and in the tomb" ("Roman Catechism," "loc. cit.," 1).


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