The Doctrine of the Descent into Hades in the New Testament and its development in patristic literature

Cook, David L (1962) The Doctrine of the Descent into Hades in the New Testament and its development in patristic literature. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

The Descent into Hades does not occupy a prominent place in the New Testament. Indeed, it is nowhere introduced for its own sake. Some passages, at times adduced as evidence for the New Testament doctrine of the Descent, are seen on close scrutiny to be quite irrelevant to the subject. Nevertheless, there is a variety of contexts which include the Descent either in plain statement or by implication. The doctrine of the Descent in the New Testament is meagre - if it can be said to exist at all. The New Testament, I submit, does not teach that souls were delivered from Hades by the descending Christ nor encourage its readers to believe that the Saviour preached the Gospel to the departed. The teaching may be reduced the three points: (1) The Descent in contrast to the Ascent emphasises the humanity and humility of Jesus. (2) The Descent is not, however, that of the vanquished; the lowest point of seeming defeat is the place of brilliant victory - Christus Patiens is Christus Victor. (3) The Descent serves to stress the reality of the Resurrection. In these ways the Descent-theme underscores the uniqueness of the Person of Christ. Extra-biblical testimonies to the belief in the Descent are before the time of Irenaeus very diverse, as is only the expected. Certain features, however, recur and begin to emerge as constant characteristics, viz., the conquest of Hades, the liberation of souls, and the preaching. (The beneficiaries are the righteous or some of the righteous.) These are taken up by Irenaeus and given definite, explicit mention as comprising the purpose and significant of the Descent. By the third century the Descent holds an undisputed place in the Church's doctrine. In the West, in fact, the teaching is beginning to show a kind of fixity, under the influence in particular of Tertullian and Hippolytus. The scope of its purpose and achievement is kept within traditionally prescribed limits. In the East, on the other hand, a more liberal spirit prevails and the doctrine is expanded to its widest extent, by Clement and Origen, who mentions the Descent more frequently than any of the Fathers. Speculative theology exploits the possibilities of the belief and finds in it a key to some acute soteriological and eschatological problems. In Nicene and Post-Nicene writings the doctrine becomes quite stereotyped. The tendency of Easterns as well as of Westerns is to limit the benefit of the saving mission of the Descent to the righteous dead. The limited view wins the day in both fields. There is this differences the West makes the more dogmatic, uncompromising pronouncements of this position all through. A survey of the teaching of these early centuries of the Church's history to show that the doctrine of the Dement into Hades developed from a very simple belief to a more elaborate form. The pattern of development reveals three frequently intertwining strands, the defeat of Hades, the preaching in Hades, the liberation of souls from Hades. The first of these is to be found in every type of author and con-text and may be said to be the common orthodox doctrine of the Descant. It receives increasingly elaborate and dramatic representation. The second, in spite of the lack of biblical authority, arises early in the development of the doctrine and is taught by a wide variety of authors. The third is the earliest attempt to state the value of the Descent. It appears in every kind of writing and is at no period absent from Christian teaching. The scope of the deliverance is variously stated. It is probably because the Descent thus developed into a common doctrine of the Church, that it found its way into the Creed. This seemesa more likely explanation of its introduction into the formulary than the supposition that the motive is purely anti-heretical - though it will have been used to combat heresies. (Abstract shortened by ProQuest.).

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Adviser: William Barclay
Keywords: Biblical studies
Date of Award: 1962
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1962-73318
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 Jun 2019 08:56
Last Modified: 14 Jun 2019 08:56
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/73318

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