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St. Thomas Aquinas
Catechetical Instructions

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  • THE FIFTH ARTICLE: "He Descended into Hell."
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(1) A firm hope in God. No matter how much one is afflicted, one ought

always hope in the assistance of God and have trust in Him. There is

nothing so serious as to be in hell. If, therefore, Christ delivered those

who were in hell, what great confidence ought every friend of God have that

he will be delivered from all his troubles! "She [that is, wisdom] forsook

not the just when he was sold, but delivered him from sinners. She went

down with him into the pit. And in bonds she left him not."14 God helps in

a special manner those who serve Him, and hence the servant of God should

feel secure in Him: "He that feareth the Lord shall tremble at nothing and

shall not be afraid; for He is his hope."15


(2) We ought to conceive a fear of God and avoid all presumption. We have

already seen that Christ suffered for sinners and descended into hell for

them. However, He did not deliver all sinners, but only those who were free

from mortal sin. He left there those who departed this life in mortal sin.

Hence, anyone who descends into hell in mortal sin has no hope of

deliverance; and he will remain in hell as long as the holy fathers remain

in paradise, that is, for all eternity: "And these shall go into

everlasting punishment; but the just, into life everlasting."16


(3) We ought to arouse in ourselves a mental anxiety. Since Christ

descended into hell for our salvation, we ought in all care go down there

in spirit by considering, for instance, its punishments as did that holy

man, Ezechias: "I said: In the midst of my days I shall go to the gates of

hell.17 Indeed, he who during this life frequently descends into hell by

thinking of it, will not easily fall into hell at death; for such

meditation keeps one from sin, and draws one out of it. We see how men of

this world guard themselves against wrongdoing because of the temporal

punishment; but with how much more care ought they avoid the punishment of

hell which far exceeds all else in its duration, its severity, and its

varied nature! "In all thy works remember thy last end, and thou shalt

never sin."18


(4) There comes to us in this an example of love. Christ descended into

hell in order to deliver His own; and so we should go down there to rescue

our own. They cannot help themselves. Therefore, let us deliver those who

are in purgatory. He would be very hard-hearted who does not come to the

aid of a relative who is detained in an earthly prison; but much more cruel

is he who will not assist a friend who is in purgatory, for there is no

comparison between the pains of this world and of that: "Have pity on me,

have pity on me, at least you my friends, because the hand of the Lord hath

touched me."19 "It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for

the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins."20 We may assist these

souls in three ways as St. Augustine tells us, viz., through Masses,

prayers, and almsgiving. St. Gregory adds a fourth, that is, fasting. All

this is not so amazing, for even in this world a friend can pay a debt for

his friend; but this applies only to those who are in purgatory.




14. Wis., 13-14.


15. Ecclus., xxxiv. 16.


16. Matt., xxv. 46.


17. Isa., xxxviii. 10.


18. Ecclus., vii. 40.


19. Job, xix. 21.


20. II Mach., xii. 46.

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