Christ’s Descent into Hell

Holy Saturday

Psalm 16:10

“You will not leave my soul in hell nor permit your Holy One to see corruption.”

I see that the world now wishes to be smart in the devil’s name and master the articles of the faith according to its head and figure out everything. E.g., when the world hears that Christ descended into hell, it goes ahead and wants to figure out with its speculations how it all happened, coming up with many broad, useless questions, such as whether the soul alone descended or whether the divinity was with the soul, what he did in hell, and how he dealt with the devils. The world raises these and similar questions although it knows nothing about the matter. But we should leave alone such unnecessary questions and simply affix and tie our heart and thoughts to the words of the creed that says: “I believe in the Lord Christ, God’s Son, died, buried, and descended into hell,” that is, I believe in the whole person, God and man, with body and soul, undivided – he was born of the virgin, suffered, died, and was buried. Accordingly, I am not to divide the person here either, but believe and say that the same Christ, God and man in one person, descended into hell without remaining there, as Psalm 16:10 says, “You will not leave my soul in hell nor permit your Holy One to see corruption.” But “soul” according to the Scripture’s way of speaking, means not something distinct from the body, but the entire person, as he calls himself the Holy One of God. But how this may have happened that the man lies in the tomb while he descends into hell, this we shall and must leave alone, being unable to figure it out and understand it. For it certainly did not take place in a bodily or manifest manner, although one must paint and think of it in coarse and bodily terms, speaking about it in a simile. … Accordingly, I believe also in this article that Christ himself destroyed hell and bound the devil in person, regardless of whether the flag, gate, door, and chains were made of wood, iron, or nonexistent. It does not matter, so long as I retain that which is indicated by such images, which is the chief part, benefit, and power we derive from it: Neither hell nor the devil are able to capture or harm me and all those who believe in Christ. … For although hell remains hell in itself and keeps the unbelievers captive, just as death, sin, and all misfortune remain what they are for the unbelievers who must remain and perish in them; although hell frightens and assaults us according to the flesh and the outward man so that we must struggle and fight with it – still, in faith and spirit all this is destroyed and torn to pieces so that it no longer can harm us. All this has been brought about by this one man when our Lord Christ descended into hell. Otherwise, the world, with its powers, would not have been able to redeem anyone from the devil’s bonds or to take away the pain and power of hell over one sin, even if all the saints descended into hell for one man’s sin. Instead, all, as many as have lived on earth, would have to remain in hell, unless the holy, almighty Son of God with his one person had descended there and had mightily overcome and destroyed the same by his divine power. For no monastic clothes or holiness and no power and might of the world are able to extinguish a single spark of hellish fire. But what gets it done is that this man himself descends with his flag. Then all the devils must run and flee, since he is their death and poison. And the whole hell with its fire must extinguish, so that no Christian needs to be afraid of it. And when a Christian dies, he no long is to endure the pain of hell. In the same way, he no longer tastes death, but, through Christ, breaks through death and hell into eternal life.

 

St. Louis ed., 10:1128-1131.

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