Jesus pulls Adam and Eve out of their graves that lead to Hell or Limbo before he resurrects. St. Savior in Chora (Istanbul)
The Harrowing of Hell
The Harrowing of Hell is a doctrine in Christian theology referenced in the Apostles’ Creed and the Athanasian Creed (Quicumque vult), which states that Jesus “descended into Hell“. His descent to the underworld has been termed the most controversial phrase in the Apostles’ Creed.
The term “Harrowing of Hell” refers not merely to the idea that Christ descended into Hell, as in the Creed, but to the rich tradition that developed later, asserting that he triumphed over inferos, releasing Hell’s captives, particularly Adam and Eve, and the righteous men and women of Old Testament times.
“HE DESCENDED INTO HELL. ON THE THIRD DAY HE ROSE AGAIN”
(631 – 637)
631 Jesus “descended into the lower parts of the earth. He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens.”476 The Apostles’ Creed confesses in the same article Christ’s descent into hell and his Resurrection from the dead on the third day, because in his Passover it was precisely out of the depths of death that he made life spring forth:
Christ, that Morning Star, who came back from the dead, and shed his peaceful light on all mankind, your Son who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.477
632 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.478 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. But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there.479
633 Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, “hell” – Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek – because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God.480 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”:481 “It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham’s bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell.”482 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.483
634 “The gospel was preached even to the dead.”484 The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfilment. This is the last phase of Jesus’ messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ’s redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption.
635 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.”485 Jesus, “the Author of life”, by dying destroyed “him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and [delivered] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.”486 Henceforth the risen Christ holds “the keys of Death and Hades”, so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”487
Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. . . He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him – He who is both their God and the son of Eve. . . “I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. . . I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.”488
636 By the expression “He descended into hell”, the Apostles’ Creed confesses that Jesus did really die and through his death for us conquered death and the devil “who has the power of death” (Heb 2:14).
The staircase of Pilate’s house which Christ descended after his condemnation, so it was given the name of “Scala Santa” which means “Holy Staircase”. A legend related how it had been brought from Jerusalem to Rome by St Helena, mother of Constantine.
There are 28 marble steps protected by wooden boards located in the center of other four staircases, and it is the only one in Rome which is permitted to be ascend only on the knees of worshippers.
Message of March 25, 2009
“Dear children! In this time of spring, when everything is awakening from the winter sleep, you also awaken your souls with prayer so that they may be ready to receive the light of the risen Jesus. Little children, may He draw you closer to His Heart so that you may become open to eternal life. I pray for you and intercede before the Most High for your sincere conversion. Thank you for having responded to my call.”
The Harrowing of Hell, from the Barberini Exultet Roll, ca. AD 1087.
The Gospel of Matthew and its readers By Howard W. Clarke
“Passion, Death, and Resurrection”
pp. 240 – 241
In the Eastern Church the “Harrowing” is a popular subject for church wall paintings, since it illustrates Orthodoxy’s doctrine of theiosis, or deification, whereby the sinner is raised up by divine influence – and, with its vanquished Satan and joyful “saints,” it makes a more dramatic composition than the empty tomb. Visitors to Venice can see a version on the west vault of St. Mark’s central dome, where Jesus is astride a goggle-eyed Satan who lies bewildered among hell’s keys, locks, and door panels; those to Istanbul can see a mosaic (1310 – 20) in St. Savior in Chora (later the mosque of Kariye), where a white-robed Jesus literally yanks Adam and Eve out of their graves.