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The Apostles’ Creed, the Righteous Dead & Hell

limbo

Bob brings up an interesting inquiry regarding the Apostles’ Creed.  He writes:

“During the celebration of the Mass and reciting the Creed we say, ‘He descended into hell.’ The classroom posters for the children say, ‘He descended unto the dead.’ Now I was taught that our Lord Jesus descended into hell to show Satan and his followers that he is the Light of the World and that he has the power over sin and death; but based on research, professors of theology are using the Greek word “Hades” meaning place of the dead and as I remember it was similar to purgatory. Please give your thoughts on this.”

Sorry to say, it sounds like Bob and others were taught wrong. The current translation of the Creed at Mass uses the word HELL. The poster has the previous liturgical translation of the Creed, UNTO THE DEAD. It changed with the newer and corrected translation of the Roman Missal. A translation that was popular in Anglican circles rendered it as UNTO THE QUICK. Hell is a more literal translation; unfortunately, it can also be misunderstood. It refers not to the hell of the damned but to the more generic abode of the dead, what the Church termed as THE LIMBO OF THE FATHERS. Such a place no longer exists. Sin had breached humanity from God; the gates of heaven were closed with the sin of Adam and Eve. None could enter true heaven until the coming of the Christ. The righteous dead (Jews and Gentiles) awaited their Savior. Jesus descends into hell or unto the dead or into the limbo of the fathers so that they might now be translated into heaven. The Eastern churches have an icon where Jesus flies from the flames carrying Adam and Eve out by the hair. Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life. There is no way to the Father except through him. He is the bridge or “pontifex.” His saving Cross makes possible our passage. We have been redeemed by the Lord. He pays the price for our entry. It is an affirmation that none are saved apart from Christ. As I said, the limbo of the fathers is not hell of the damned, not heaven of the saints and not purgatory. Those three realities still exist. However, at the final consummation and judgment, purgatory will also cease to be. The poor souls would have completed their passage to the heavenly shore.  Then there will be two realities, heaven (the victory of love) and hell (the frustration of hatred and the wrong kind of loving).

One Response

  1. Aside from the vision of Hell shown to the 3 children at Fatima by the Virgin Mary, other accounts of Hell come from Teresa of Avila (ca. 1560) and Sister Faustina, ca. 1932. (There are many others by saints and mystics.)

    FATHER JOE: Many saints have purportedly had visions of hell. However, the unique details of what they witness technically belong to private revelation, not to the public deposit of faith. The deposit was fixed with the death of the last apostle. There is an organic growth, through deepening understanding (doctrinal development), but nothing new is added. All we can say is that there is nothing contrary to the faith.

    In the years of her apparitions at Medjugorje, since 1981, the Virgin offered each visionary a tour of heaven, hell, and purgatory. Both domains appear just as they’ve always been portrayed.

    FATHER JOE: I have no doubt about the existence of heaven, hell and purgatory. The doctrine about the “hell” or the “limbo of the fathers” is a separate case in Catholic teaching. The same word is employed for different realities. For instance, the word “limbo” was also used in the theory of a “limbo of the innocents.” Traditionalists might insist that the omission of the “limbo” of natural happiness is a testimony against Medjugorje. I would not cite Medjugorje in doctrinal discussions given that a negative verdict is apparently pending from the Holy See.

    Purgatory seems to be a continuum between Heaven and Hell; its worst parts are hellish, and its best parts are easier to bear, except for the isolation from God and the sense of being on the outside, looking in. Like Tom Petty sings, “The waiting is the hardest part.”

    FATHER JOE: Actually, the fire that purges may be the love of God itself. In that case, it is not simply the absence that pains but the transformative presence. Pope Benedict XVI wrote about this. The purgation is in their approach to God. When the encounter is consummated in heaven, the saints are perfected.

    In certain accounts of near-death experiences, sinners went to hell, and have written about it in the years following their resuscitation.

    FATHER JOE: Near death experiences have no real standing in Catholicism. The person is not really dead. God may give them a certain vision of what to expect but when the soul truly leaves the body, there is a corpse left behind. Except for resurrection, there is no coming back. Resuscitation is like jump-starting the car. True resurrection is like restoring the same car brand new after a head-on collision with a concrete wall at 100 miles an hour. When you’re dead… you’re really dead.

    The Bio.com channel series, “I Survived…To Hell and Back,” featured 2 or 3 such accounts.

    FATHER JOE: Beware of the television religion programs. Many smack of the occult and new age sensationalism. There is more of PROFIT in their motives than PROPHET.

    Another book, and video, by cardiologist and former agnostic Dr. Maurice Rawlings is based on the experiences of his cardiac patients. Its title is “to Hell and Back.”

    FATHER JOE: I will believe it if someone should return to tell the tale after suffering death and physical putrefaction. Otherwise, the testimony of the Church is sufficient for me.

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