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The Catechism Of The Council Of Trent


How the First Part of this Article is to be understood

To know the glory of the burial of our Lord Jesus Christ, of which we have just treated, is indeed highly important; but still more important it is to the faithful people, to know the splendid triumphs which he achieved, by having subdued the devil, and despoiled the depths of hell. On these subjects we are now about to speak; and, although the latter might with propriety be treated under a separate and distinct head, yet, following the authority of the holy fathers, we have deemed it fitting to unite it with his descent into hell.

In the first part [of this article], then, we profess that, immediately Christ was dead, his soul descended into hell, and dwelt there as long as his body remained in the grave. But, in these words we at the same time confess, that the same person of Christ was, at the same time, in hell and in the sepulchre. Nor should any one be surprised at this; for we have already repeatedly taught that, although his soul departed from his body, his divinity was never separated either from soul or body.

Meaning of the Word “Hell” in this Article

But, as the pastor, by first teaching what is here meant by the word hell, may throw considerable light on the exposition of this article, it is to be observed, that by the word hell is not here meant the grave, as some have not less impiously than ignorantly imagined; for in the preceding article we learned that Christ the Lord was buried; nor was there any reason why the apostles, in delivering the faith, should repeat the same thing in other and more obscure terms. But, hell here signifies those hidden abodes, in which are detained the souls that have not obtained heavenly bliss; and in this sense the word is used in many passages of Scripture. Thus, in the apostle we read, that, at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of things in heaven, in earth, and under the earth; and in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Peter says, that Christ the Lord was again risen, having loosed the sorrows of hell.

How many are the Places in which Souls, placed out of the Reach of Bliss, are detained after Death

These abodes, however, are not all of one and the same kind, for amongst them is that most loathsome and dark prison, in which the souls of the damned together with the unclean spirits are tortured in eternal and inextinguishable fire. This place is also called Gehenna, the bottomless pit, and in its literal signification, hell. There is also the fire of purgatory, in which the souls of the just are purified by punishment for a stated time, to the end that they may be admitted into their eternal country, into which nothing defiled enterethi. And of the truth of this doctrine, which holy Councils declare to be confirmed by the testimonies of Scripture, and by apostolical tradition, the pastor will have occasion to treat more diligently and frequently, as we are fallen on those times, wherein men endure not sound doctrine. Lastly, a third sort of receptacle is that in which were received the souls of the saints who died before the coming of Christ our Lord; and where, without any sense of pain, sustained by the blessed hope of redemption, they enjoyed a tranquil abode. The souls, then, of these pious men, who in the bosom of Abraham were expecting the Saviour, Christ the Lord liberated, descending into hell.

The Soul of Christ really, not potentially only, descended into Hell

Nor must we suppose that he descended into hell in such wise, that his power and virtue only, and not also his soul, went thither; but must fully believe, that his soul itself really and substantially descended into hell; concerning which there is that most certain testimony of David: Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell.

Nothing was taken from the Dignity of Christ by his Descent into Hell

But, although Christ descended into hell, his supreme power was nought diminished; nor was the splendour of his holiness denied by any blemish. Nay, this fact served rather to prove most clearly, that whatever had been proclaimed touching his holiness was true; and that, as he had previously declared by so many miracles, he was truly the Son of God. This we shall easily understand, if we compare the causes why Christ, and why other men, have descended into those places. They all descended as captives; but He, free and victorious amongst the dead, descended to subdue those demons by whom, in consequence of sin, they were held in captivity. All others who descended, some did endure the most acute torments, others, though exempt from other pain, yet deprived of the sight of God, were tortured with suspense by the hope deferred of the blessed glory which they expected; whereas Christ the Lord descended, not to suffer aught, but to liberate from the miserable wearisomeness of that captivity the holy and the just, and to impart to them the fruit of his passion. By his descent into hell, therefore, no diminution was made from his supreme dignity and power.

Why Christ wished to descend into Hell

These things being explained, [the pastor] must next teach, that Christ the Lord descended into hell, in order that, having seized the spoils of the devil, he might conduct into heaven those holy fathers, and the other just souls liberated from prison. This he accomplished in an admirable and most glorious manner. For his august presence at once brought a glorious lustre upon the captives, and filled their souls with boundless joy and gladness. Unto them he also imparted that supreme happiness, which consists in the vision of God, in which he verified his promise to the [dying] thief: Amen, I say unto thee, this day shalt thou be with me in Paradise. This deliverance of the just was, long before, predicted by Osea, as follows: O Death! I will be thy death. O Hell! I will be thy bite; and it was also signified by the prophet Zachary, when he said: Thou, also, by the blood of thy covenant, hast sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit, wherein is no water; and, lastly, the same is expressed by the apostle in these words: Having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them, confidently, openly triumphing over them in himself.

To comprehend, however, still better the efficacy of this mystery, we should frequently call to mind, that not only the just, who were born after the coming of the Saviour, but, also, those who preceded that event from the days of Adam, or who shall succeed it up to the end of the world, attained salvation through the benefit of the passion of Christ. Wherefore, until he died and rose again, heaven was closed against every child of Adam; and the souls of the just, on their departure from this life, were borne to the bosom of Abraham; or, as is still the case with those who have something to be expiated, and die indebted [to the divine justice], were purified in the fire of purgatory.

There is another reason, also, why Christ the Lord descended into hell, that there, too, as well as in heaven and on earth, he might declare his power and authority; and that every knee of things in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, should, indiscriminately, bend at his name. And here, who is not filled with admiration and astonishment at the infinite goodness of God to the human race! Not satisfied with having undergone, for our sake, a most cruel death, he penetrates into the inmost recesses of the earth, that he might transport into bliss the souls most dear to him, whose deliverance from thence he had achieved.

The Meaning of the Second Part of the Article

The second part of the article follows; and how earnestly the pastor should strive in its exposition, these words of the apostle declare: Remember that the Lord Jesus Christ was raised from the dead; a precept, no doubt, addressed not only to Timothy, but to all who have care of souls. The meaning of the article is this, that, after Christ the Lord had yielded up the ghost on the cross, on the sixth day and ninth hour, and was buried on the evening of the same day by his disciples, who, by permission of the governor Pilate, laid the body of the Lord, when taken down from the cross, in a new monument, in a garden near at hand, his soul was reunited to his body, very early on the morning of the third day after his death, which was the Lord’s day; and thus he, who was dead during those three days, returned, and rose again.

Christ rose again not by another Power, but by his own

But, by the word resurrection we must not merely understand that Christ was raised from the dead, which was common with him to many others; but that he rose by his own power and virtue, which was peculiar to him alone. For it is incompatible with nature, nor was it ever granted to man to be able to raise himself, by his own power, from death unto life. This was reserved exclusively for the supreme power of God, as these words of the Apostle give us to understand: Although he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. This divine power, never having been separated either from the body of Christ whilst in the grave, or from his soul when he descended into hell, there existed a divine force as well in the body, by which it might be again united to the soul, as in the soul, by which it might again return to the body; and by which he, by his own power, might return to life, and rise again from the dead. This David foretold, when, filled with the Spirit of God, he prophesied in these words: His right hand and his holy arm hath wrought for him salvation. This is also confirmed by testimony of the divine lips of our Lord himself: I lay down my life, says he, that I might take it again; and I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. To the Jews he also said, in confirmation of the truth of his doctrine: Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Although the Jews understood him to have spoken this of that temple magnificently built of stones; yet, as the Scripture testifieth in the same place, he spake of the temple of his body. We sometimes, however, read in the Scriptures, that Christ the Lord was raised by the Father; but this must refer to him as man; as those passages, which, on the other hand, signify that he rose by his own power, relate to him as God.

How Christ is called “the First Begotten of the Dead,” when others before him are known to have been raised

But that he himself should have been the first who enjoyed this divine gift of rising from the dead, is also the especial privilege of Christ; for he is called in the Scriptures, the first-born from the dead, and, the first-begotten of the dead; and, as it is in the Apostle, Christ is risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep; for by man came death, and by man the resurrection of the dead; and, as in Adam all die even so in Christ shall all be made alive; but every one in his own order; the first fruits Christ, then they that are of Christ. These words of the Apostle are to be explained of a perfect resurrection, by which we are resuscitated to eternal life, all necessity of dying being utterly removed; and in this manner [of resurrection] Christ the Lord holds the first place. For, if we speak of resurrection, that is, of a return to life subject to the necessity of again dying, many were raised from the dead before Christ, all of whom, however, were restored to life so that they must die again; but Christ the Lord, having subdued and conquered death, rose again as no longer capable of dying, as is confirmed by this very evident testimony of the Apostle: Christ rising again from the dead, dieth now no more: death hath no more dominion over him.

How, and for what Reason, Christ deferred his Resurrection till the Third Day

These additional words of the article, the third day, the pastor will explain, lest the faithful should suppose that Christ had been in the grave, during the entire of these three days; but, as he lay in the sepulchre during an entire natural day, and during part of the preceding and part of the following day, he is most truly said to have lain in the grave three days, and, on the third, to have risen again from the dead. To declare his divinity, he was unwilling to defer his resurrection to the end of the world; whilst, at the same time, to convince us of the reality of his humanity and death, he rose not immediately after his death, but on the third day, a space of time, that seemed sufficient to prove his real death.

Why the Fathers of the Synod of Constantinople added the Words “according to the Scriptures” to the Creed

To this place the Fathers of the first Synod of Constantinople added the words: According to the Scriptures, an addition which, taken from the apostle, they transferred to the creed, because the same apostle taught the absolute necessity of the mystery of the resurrection, when he says: If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain; and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain, for ye are yet in your sins. Hence, admiring our belief of this article, St. Augustine says: It is nothing great to believe that Christ died; this the Pagans, and Jews, and all the wicked believe; all believe that he died. The resurrection of Christ is the belief of Christians: to believe that he rose again, this we deem something great. Hence it is, that our Lord very frequently spoke of his resurrection; and scarcely ever conversed with his disciples respecting his passion, without mentioning his resurrection. Thus, when he said, The Son of Man shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and scourged, and spit upon; and after they have scourged him, they will put him to death, he concluded by saying, and the third day he shall rise again. And when the Jews called upon him to give a proof of the truth of his doctrine by some sign and miracle, he replied: There shall no sign be given them but the sign of the prophet Jonas; for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

To understand better the force and meaning of this article, there are three things to be inquired into and known by us; first, how necessary was the resurrection of Christ; secondly, its end and object; thirdly, the blessings and advantages of which it is the source to us.

Of the Reason for the Necessity of the Resurrection of Christ

With regard, then, to the first, it was necessary that he should rise again, in order that the justice of God might be manifested; for it was most fitting that he, who, through obedience to God, was degraded, and afflicted with every kind of ignominy, should by him be exalted. This is a reason assigned by the apostle, when he says to the Philippians: He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death; even unto the death of the cross; wherefore God, also, hath exalted him. [He rose], also, in order that our faith, which is necessary to justification, might be confirmed; for the resurrection of Christ from the dead, by his own power, should be the greatest proof of his divinity. Furthermore, it was necessary that our hope should be nurtured and sustained, for, as Christ rose again, we rest on an assured hope, that we too shall rise again, for the members must necessarily participate in the condition of their head. This is the conclusion that S. Paul seems to draw, when he writes to the Corinthians and Thessalonians; and Peter, the prince of the Apostles, says: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to his great mercy, hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto an inheritance incorruptible. Finally, [the pastor] must teach, that the resurrection of our Lord was necessary, to complete the mystery of our salvation and redemption: for by his death Christ liberated us from our sins, and by his resurrection he restored to us the principal benefits, which we had forfeited by sin. Hence it is said by the Apostle: He was delivered up for our sins, and was raised again for our justification. That nothing, therefore, may be wanting to our salvation, it was meet that, as he died, he should also rise again from the dead.

What Advantages result to Men from the Resurrection of Christ

From what has been hitherto said, we can perceive how great advantage the resurrection of Christ the Lord has brought to the faithful; for in the resurrection we acknowledge God to be immortal, full of glory, the conqueror of death and the devil; and this we must firmly believe and confess of Christ Jesus.

Again, the resurrection of Christ has also brought forth unto us our resurrection, both as being its efficient cause, and because we ought all to rise again, after the example of our Lord. For with regard to the resurrection of the body, the apostle beareth this testimony: By man came death, and by man the resurrection of the dead. For whatever God wrought in accomplishing the mystery of our redemption, in all its parts, he made use of the humanity of Christ as its efficient instrument; and hence, his resurrection was in some sort the instrument of accomplishing ours. It may also be called the model, seeing that the resurrection of Christ our Lord is the most perfect of all; and as the body of Christ again rising unto immortal glory was changed, so shall our bodies also, which were before frail and mortal, be restored, adorned with glory and immortality. For as the apostle teacheth: We wait for the Saviour our Lord Jesus Christ, who will reform the body of our lowliness, fashioned like unto the body of his glory.

The same may be said of a soul dead in sin; and how the resurrection of Christ is proposed to such a soul as the model of her resurrection, the same apostle teacheth, when he says: As Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life; for if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also [in that] of his resurrection; and a little after: Knowing that Christ, being raised from the dead, dieth no more: death hath no more dominion over him; for in that he died to sin, he died once; but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus.

What Examples must be taken from the Resurrection of Christ

From the resurrection of Christ, therefore, two lessons of imitation should be derived; the one that, after we have washed away the stains of sin, we should begin a new kind of life, in which moral integrity, innocence, holiness, modesty, justice, beneficence, humility, may shine forth; the other, that we should so persevere in that newness of life, as never more, with God assisting, to stray from the path of righteousness, on which we have once entered. Nor do the words of the apostle prove only that the resurrection of Christ is proposed as the model of our resurrection; but they also declare that it gives us power to rise again; and imparts to us strength and spirit to persevere in holiness and righteousness, and in keeping the commandments of God. For as from his death we not only derive an example how to die, but also strength, so that we may die unto sin; so also, his resurrection invigorates us to attain righteousness; that thenceforward worshipping God piously and holily, we may walk in the newness of life, to which we rise; for this the Redeemer achieved principally by his resurrection, that we, who had before died with him unto sin and unto this world, might rise also with him again to a new discipline and manner of life.

From what Evidences we infer that any one, with Christ, hath risen according to the Spirit

The principal indications of this resurrection from sin, which demand our observation, are pointed out by the apostle: If ye be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Here he distinctly shows that they who desire to possess life, honours, ease, riches, there chiefly where Christ dwells, have truly risen with him; but when he adds: Mind the things that are above, not the things that are on the earth, this he gives as another mark, as it were, by which we may discern whether we have truly risen with Christ. For as the appetite is wont to indicate the health and state of the body, so if any one relish whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are modest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are holy, and he perceive the pleasantness of heavenly things with the inmost senses of his mind, this may be considered as the strongest proof that he who is thus disposed has risen with Christ Jesus to a new and spiritual life.

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