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Did Jesus actually go to hell to save souls?


Wikipedia | Domena publiczna

Philip Kosloski - published on 04/13/24

In the Apostles' Creed we profess that Jesus "descended into hell." Why did Jesus go to hell? Aren't souls in hell separated from God for all eternity?

Our English language can be confusing at times, especially one particular line that Christians recite in the Apostles’ Creed.

The line claims Jesus “descended into hell.”

These words make it seem that Jesus went to that fiery place of eternal punishment reserved for the worst of souls who reject God.

How is that possible? Aren’t all souls in hell separated from God for all eternity?

Did Jesus actually go to hell?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church sets the record straight by explaining the spiritual “place” Jesus went after he died:

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. 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. 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”

CCC 632-633

Hell in the English language has become widely known in popular culture as the place where the devil lives and where he tortures bad souls for all eternity.

This definition of hell is not what we profess in the Apostles’ Creed. We are referring instead to this “abode of the dead” that the Catechism explains.

It is the place where all those who died before Christ’s death waited until the Redeemer came to preach the Gospel.

Jesus did not go to save those who already rejected him by living lives of sin, but to bring to Heaven the souls of the just, as the Catechism explains:

It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham’s bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell.” 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.

CCC 633

Hell in the English language

While popular culture may have turned hell into a very entertaining place, historically it did not always refer to that type of spiritual location.

The Catholic Encyclopedia gives more of the etymology behind the word:

The term hell is cognate to “hole” (cavern) and “hollow”. It is a substantive formed from the Anglo-Saxon helan or behelian, “to hide”. This verb has the same primitive as the Latin occulere and celare and the Greek kalyptein. Thus by derivation hell denotes a dark and hidden place.

Hell did not always mean a place of eternal damnation. Initially it was used to refer to this place of the dead.

Over time the usage of the word became almost exclusively associated with the “fires of hell.”

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