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We see Jesus telling in Mtt 12:40:

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth.

The Creed of the Apostles says that Jesus descended into hell after his death before he would rise again on the third day.

We also read in I Pet 3:18-20:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits - to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

The mention of after being made alive by St. Peter in his epistle, prompts one to wonder whether Jesus'visit to the dead as mentioned in the Creed is the same as mentioned by Peter, and if it is, whether Jesus visited the ‘dead' in his living body, before his resurrection in front of the ‘living'?

My question therefore is: According to Catholic scholars, did Jesus descend into hell in his living body?

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  • It's a mistranslation of the Creed to say "hell". It should probably really just be translated "grave".
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Apr 27, 2022 at 8:00
  • But the Creed has ' he died and was buried ' stated already, which makes another mention of the grave redundant. Of course, there are other schools of thought on what is meant by `hell', with some opining opining that it refers to . purgatory. . Commented Apr 27, 2022 at 9:24
  • If Jesus didn't die, what would the point of his resurrection be? If teleporting Himself to Hell and back would have been sufficient to accomplish His purposes, why would He have allowed the Romans to torture Him like that?
    – nick012000
    Commented Apr 27, 2022 at 13:09
  • I would be the last one to say that Jesus did not die ! The scriptures do not state the exact time when he rose again . As per Jewish time-tags, Sunday would start at 6.00 in the morning . Was it not possible that he rose again early in the morning of Sunday and descended into the `hell' . Remember that God's way of reckoning time is not as per human standards . When he appeared to Mary in garden, he had already resurrected and completed his mission to the hell. Peter would prove right that after being made alive,Jesus made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits ( 1 Pet 3: 18-20) Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 4:38
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    @KadalikattJosephSibichan The sign of Jonah (Matt 12:39-40) should be a guide to interpret when exactly Jesus (the human nature) was resurrected. Another key verse is 1 Thess 4:16 (Christ will rise first) in conjunction with Matt 27:2 (tombs broke open and the saints inside were resurrected). Commented Apr 29, 2022 at 12:19

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Did Jesus descend into hell in his living body?

The short answer is no.

Some Creeds say ”Christ descended to the dead” (Descensus Christi ad Inferos) without interpreting the words meaning.

Christ, in his human soul united to his divine person, went down to the realm of the dead. He opened Heaven's gates for the just who had gone before him.

Jesus did not actually go into Hell as what the word generally means. The word Hell in Latin is infernus, infernum, or inferni and simply means the lower regions. The term in Hebrew is Sheol and in Greek, Hades.

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. 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": "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.

There is an ancient homily on the subject, of unknown authorship, usually entitled The Lord's Descent into Hell that is the second reading at the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday in the Catholic Church.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "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'. In his human soul united to his divine person, the dead Christ went down to the realm of the dead. He opened Heaven's gates for the just who had gone before him."

This is clearly expressed by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae:

Whether Christ went down into the hell of the lost?

A thing is said to be in a place in two ways. First of all, through its effect, and in this way Christ descended into each of the hells, but in different manner. For going down into the hell of the lost He wrought this effect, that by descending thither He put them to shame for their unbelief and wickedness: but to them who were detained in Purgatory He gave hope of attaining to glory: while upon the holy Fathers detained in hell solely on account of original sin, He shed the light of glory everlasting.

In another way a thing is said to be in a place through its essence: and in this way Christ's soul descended only into that part of hell wherein the just were detained. So that He visited them "in place," according to His soul, whom He visited "interiorly by grace," according to His Godhead. Accordingly, while remaining in one part of hell, He wrought this effect in a measure in every part of hell, just as while suffering in one part of the earth He delivered the whole world by His Passion.

As for 1 Peter 3:18-20, the Douay-Rheims clearly implies that Christ visited in the Spirit and not in the flesh. Translation is the key to this:

18 It was thus that Christ died as a ransom, paid once for all, on behalf of our sins, he the innocent for us the guilty, so as to present us in God’s sight. In his mortal nature he was done to death, but endowed with fresh life in his spirit, 19 and it was in his spirit that he went and preached to the spirits who lay in prison. 20 Long before, they had refused belief, hoping that God would be patient with them, in the days of Noe. That ark which Noe was then building, in which a few souls, eight in all, found refuge as they passed through the waves.

18 Quia et Christus semel pro peccatis nostris mortuus est, justus pro injustis, ut nos offerret Deo, mortificatus quidem carne, vivificatus autem spiritu. 19 In quo et his, qui in carcere erant, spiritibus veniens prædicavit: 20 qui increduli fuerant aliquando, quando exspectabant Dei patientiam in diebus Noë, cum fabricaretur arca: in qua pauci, id est octo animæ, salvæ factæ sunt per aquam.

18 ὅτι καὶ Χριστὸς ἅπαξ περὶ ἁμαρτιῶν ἔπαθεν δίκαιος ὑπὲρ ἀδίκων, ἵνα ὑμᾶς προσαγάγῃ τῷ θεῷ, θανατωθεὶς μὲν σαρκὶ ζῳοποιηθεὶς δὲ πνεύματι: 19 ἐν ᾧ καὶ τοῖς ἐν φυλακῇ πνεύμασιν πορευθεὶς ἐκήρυξεν, 20 ἀπειθήσασίν ποτε ὅτε ἀπεξεδέχετο ἡ τοῦ θεοῦ μακροθυμία ἐν ἡμέραις Νῶε κατασκευαζομένης κιβωτοῦ, εἰς ἣν ὀλίγοι, τοῦτ' ἔστιν ὀκτὼ ψυχαί, διεσώθησαν δι' ὕδατος.

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  • Seems there are 2 questions here. Did Jesus descend into hell? Yes if = Sheol/Hades, no if = place of eternal damnation. Did Jesus' 'living body' descend into Sheol? The quote you have suggests only his soul descended, not his 'living body', but I'm not sure. Commented Apr 27, 2022 at 22:24
  • Yes, OGF. The focus of my question is on 1 Pet 3:18-20 where St Peter says that after being made alive, Jesus went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits. Commented Apr 28, 2022 at 4:42
  • 1 Pet 3: 18 is presented in different ways in different versions, for instance in NRSVCE : He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in KJV : being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit (note the use of Capital C in Spirit ) . Moreover, if spirit' refers to soul, no one dies in spirit with his/her physical death, so why the mention of being made alive in spirit ' ? In case spirit 'refers to earthly biological life, how could the revived Lord ' stay without a body ? Commented Apr 29, 2022 at 5:59
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It is significant that Jesus referred to himself as "the Son of man" in the Jonah statement (Matthew 12:40). He was speaking of a matter to do with his humanity, whereas his activity after death had to do with him being the Son of God - his deity. Notice how the opening of the letter to the Romans speaks of the Son of God:

"...who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God, by his resurrection from the dead; Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 1:3-4)

But the Son of God is the eternal Son, without beginning and without end (Hebrews 6:19 - 7:28). When the body of Jesus, the Son of man, was crucified, he truly died in the flesh. Care is needed when thinking of his reference to Jonah, as the Islamic faith teaches that this proves Jesus no more actually died, as did Jonah when in the belly of the great sea creature. The truly dead body of Jesus was in the belly of the earth, yet the Son of God was alive, preaching to the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:19). When his body died, it was hidden from sight in the tomb. His corpse was no more seen. It was a glorified, resurrected body that was later seen.

So, the answer appears to be "No, it was not his living body that went anywhere after the crucifixion, apart from into the tomb, and as a totally dead corpse." Once Jesus' body died, it became a corpse, until it was resurrected as a glorified, living body. What happened in the interim happened with regard to the Son of God. Yet seeing how those two factors are inextricably concerned with what happened after the crucifixion proves the Islamic interpretation of Matthew 12:40 to be wrong because they do not recognise Jesus as the Son of God. Christians do, and it was as the eternal Son of God that Jesus was active until united with his glorified, resurrection body.

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  • Thanks, Anne. The only thing which needed explanation is Peter's statement: "After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits ". I believe Ken Graham has been able to explain it. Commented May 2, 2022 at 7:46

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