The Nestorians and their Rituals/Volume 2/Chapter 7

CHAPTER VII.

OF THE GOING DOWN OF CHRIST INTO HELL.

"As Christ died for us, and was buried, so also it is to be believed, that He went down into Hell."—Article III.

§ 1. "O Thou Living one Who descendedst to the abode of the dead, and preachedst a good hope to the souls which were detained in sheol, we pray Thee, O Lord, to have mercy upon us." From a litany appointed in the Khudhra for Easter Eve.

§ 2. "He was laid in the grave and guarded in vain. He remained three days in sheol, then arose and shook its foundations." From a psalm appointed to be read on the same Eve.

In the same service, Ps. v., vi., vii., and lxxviii., are applied to the descent of Christ into hell.

§ 3. "Blessed is the King Who descended into sheol, and hath raised us up, and Who by His resurrection hath given the promise of regeneration to the human race." From a canon in the Khudhra appointed for Easter day.

§ 4. "Let us give thanks to our King and Saviour Who came in His love to renew all men. … Who after His death descended into sheol, where for the space of three days He overcame the wicked one, cast him down, put him far off, and took possession of his kingdom. Who came forth from among the dead as a Giant, and led out thence the captivity of His people who were imprisoned in the pits of sheol, and were the food of death." From a psalm in the Khudhra appointed for Easter day.

REMARKS.

According to the Nestorian theology death passed upon all men, before the Saviour offered up His atoning sacrifice, because of the transgression of Adam, the federal head of the human race. By death, however, they do not appear to mean the bare separation of the soul from the body; but a certain power also which Satan was permitted to exercise over the after-condition of such as died. These were retained in sheol, or as S. Peter affirms ἐν φυλακῇ, a place of safe keeping, until the Saviour had satisfied the offended law of God, and expiated man's guilt upon the cross. Afterwards He went down into the place of departed spirits to preach the gospel of the Atonement, and released the souls of the righteous which were detained there, rescued the captives of death and the grave, and placed them in Paradise, that place of "many mansions," where they rest in peace, joyfully awaiting the time of their resurrection and perfection in eternal glory. Hence they appear to believe that under the old dispensation death prevailed over all men in a way in which it does not prevail over the justified since the offering up of the all-atoning sacrifice, i.e., that death was then, in a certain sense, more penal than it is now,—that then all died, as it is declared of Abraham and all the Fathers before the death of Christ, and went to a place from which Christians who do not die but "fall asleep," "sleep," and "rest,"[1] are exempted. Consequently they understand the words of our Lord, "I am the resurrection and the life, he that believeth in Me though he were dead yet shall he live, and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die," to mean that those who believed on Him before He had finished the work of redemption died after a manner in which those do not die who depart this life in the faith of His glorious Atonement; and from this, they say, we can understand what the Saviour declared of John the Baptist, when He said: "Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist; notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."

The following from the Khudhra, appointed for the Easter service, throws additional light on the extracts already quoted. "Adam in the beginning trampled upon the law at the suggestion of the wicked one, who thereupon claimed the recompense of unrighteousness from the child Adam in Paradise. Adam gave him his body in pledge, which death seized upon, took into sheol, and then made it the food of noisome insects. He was cast into sheol devoid of all help, and there he bewailed his lot; but God heard the voice of his moaning, and visited him through that Just One, the First-fruits of us, Who had created him after His own image, lest that image should continue to be despised. The Word of God descended from on high, came down to us, took our body, and went forth against sin and destroyed it, because it had been the cause of the destruction of the life of Adam."