Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades from an Orthodox Perspective
By Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev
Published by St Vladimir’s Seminary (SVS) press, New York, 2009
In this scholarly book, Archbishop Hilarion addresses the origins of our understanding of Christ’s descent into Hades following His death on the Cross, compiling the writings of the New Testament, Church Fathers and the various liturgical texts that refer to this topic.
“Christ the Conqueror of Hell” answers any questions an Orthodox Christian might have on this subject, drawing from teachings throughout Church history, starting with the Apostles and early Apocryphal literature, through to the eighth century Church Fathers. The book also heavily references Church poetry and hymnography, as Archbishop Hilarion writes: “To theologise…meant to glorify God rather than talk about or reflect on God.”
In their writings, the Church Fathers answered important questions on this issue: Did Christ liberate all the souls in Hades when he destroyed death, or only those of the Old Testament righteous? Should we understand this descent as metaphorical and merely symbolic of our salvation?
In the various denominations of the Christian world, Christ’s victory over Hell is understood in various ways. Among the Protestants, there is a common acceptance that Christ’s descent did not happen; that the verses that refer to this in the Scriptures are merely symbolic. Catholics, however, believe that the descent did happen, but only the righteous from the Old Testament were saved. The Orthodox Church, however, emphasises that Christ’s descent into Hell opened the way to salvation for all people, as St John Chrysostom, quoted in the book, says:
“The entire human nature which is God’s treasure, was robbed by the devil… So Christ, by his death bound the chief of robbers and the jailer, that is, the devil and death, and transferred his treasure, the entire human race, to the royal treasury.”
Despite its theological nature, “Christ the Conqueror of Hell” is a book for all Orthodox Christians. By introducing the reader to the writings that have defined Orthodox doctrine, it gives true insight about this important aspect of Orthodox theology and the salvation God has prepared for all.
Source: June-July 2015 Lychnos Edition