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52. The Descent Into Hell

1. The name hell stands for an evil of penalty, as well as foran evil of guilt. At the time of our Lord, the souls who were heldfromheaven (since heaven was still closed to mankind) for thepenalty due to original sin, and, in some cases at least,for penalty for their own sins which were not so grave asto demand eternal punishment, were in a place and state that iscalled hell. This was not the hell of the souls who hadwillfully rejected God by mortal sin and were suffering everlastingpenalty. This was a place and state of those who were waiting forthe redemption; this place and state is called, in scripturallanguage, by the name of hell; to this hell, the soul of our Lordwent or "descended" when it departed from the body uponthe cross.

2. Therefore, our Lord did not descend locally into thehell of lost souls and demons. But he spread his power there to putthe reprobates to shame for their belief and wickedness. And to thehell which we rather call limbo, he brought the hope andpromise of glory. On those souls in Limbo who were detained theresolely for original sin, he shed the glory of his Godhead.

3. Since, during the hours of our Lord's being dead,neither his soul nor his body was separated from the divine Personof the Son, we must say that wherever his soul or his body was,there was the whole Christ.

4. It seems that our Lord's soul was in limbo (orhell, as it is called) from the moment of his death on the cross tothe moment of the Resurrection.

5. Christ descended into limbo, and released from itspenalty the adult persons whose only reason for being detained wasoriginal sin. These he glorified by his Godhead. Thus the holyfathers were delivered from hell.

6. Christ's descent into the hell of limbo means nodeliverance of any soul from the hell of the lost. For the souls inthe hell of the lost either had no faith in Christ, or, if they hadfaith, they had no conformity of charity in his Passion. The lostare confirmed in evil, unchangeably unrepentant; there is nocleansing them from sin, for their will is fixed in sin.

7. The infants held in limbo by reason of original sinwere not released by our Lord's descent, for they had not theuse of reason and could not be united to Christ's Passion byfaith and charity. The infants were not, of course, in any distressor pain.

8. Christ's descent into limbo did not liberate soulsfrom purgatory, except, perhaps, in such cases as could have,through the descent, a personal application to them of satisfactionfor their personal faults. The descent itself was not to makesatisfaction, but to bring release "to them that weresanctified," that is, the holy fathers whoweresanctified by faith and charity, and were detained onlyby original sin, and not their personal sins.

"God commands not impossibilities, but by commanding he suggests to you to do what you can, to ask for what is beyond your strength; and he helps you, that you may be able."
St Augustine

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"Spiritual persons ought to be equally ready to experience sweetness and consolation in the things of God, or to suffer and keep their ground in drynesses of spirit and devotion, and for as long as God pleases, without their making any complaint about it."
St Philip Neri

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"The supreme perfection of man in this life is to be so united to God that all his soul with all its faculties and powers are so gathered into the Lord God that he becomes one spirit with him, and remembers nothing except God, is aware of and recognises nothing but God, but with all his desires unified by the joy of love, he rests contentedly in the enjoyment of his Maker alone."
St Albert the Great

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