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Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Friday, April 06, 2007

The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail

That's the title of an article written by Ralph C Wood, Baylor University Professor of Theology and Literature, that mentions two very different views of Holy Saturday's Jesus - one being Hans Urs von Balthasar's, the other a Luther/Calvanist perspective. Here's some of the article below ........

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No serious consideration of hell should omit one of the church's most ancient claims in the Apostles Creed—that Christ was not only "crucified, dead, and buried," but also that he "descended into hell" ... The single slender thread of "evidence" is found in 1 Peter 3:19-20 and 4:6, where we learn that the crucified Christ "went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the day of Noah," so that "the gospel was preached even to the dead" .....

Hell is not a temporal but an eternal realm, the horrible spiritual state of God's utter absence. Since Christ plunges into hell and preaches to the spirits of the dead, winnowing some of them from hell, it follows that others who have never been given the Good News can still be released from the post-earthly prison of death and damnation. For Christ's victory is not confined to this present life alone. He is also the Judge and Lord over hell. Thus does the doctrine of the Harrowing of Hell enable us to affirm, with Paul in Romans 8:38-39, that absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus—neither death nor demonic powers nor even the abyss of hell.

No one has stated this Pauline hope more clearly than the great Roman Catholic theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar. Exactly in his descent into hell, writes von Balthasar, Christ "disturbs the absolute loneliness striven for by the sinner: the sinner, who wants to be 'damned' apart from God, finds God again in his loneliness, but God in the absolute weakness of love … enters into solidarity with those damning themselves."

A radically different interpretation of Christ's descent into hell has been offered recently by the Presbyterian theologian Alan E. Lewis in a remarkable book, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday. He maintains that, if we take seriously the doctrine that Christ assumed our full humanity, then we must retrieve Luther and Calvin's insistence that Christ endured the unfathomable suffering that comes from total abandonment by God in death. Lewis rightly fears that we cheapen Easter if we do not attend to the hellish Sabbath in which God himself lay in the godforsakenness of the grave .....

Whether we read Christ's descent into hell as a triumph or a defeat, it remains a crucial concern for all Christians. With his usual crispness and clarity, G. K. Chesterton sums up the enormous significance of the doctrine: "Christ descended into hell; Satan fell into it. One wanted to go up and went down; the other wanted to go down and went up. A god can be humble, a devil can only be humbled."

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An interesting article, but I'm still having trouble just grasping the idea of Jesus dead at all ... given what I've read lately, and given the contemplations, I've realized my unexamined assumptions about Jesus on Holy Saturday have had little to do with the reality.


- The Mourning of Christ by Giotto


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