He descended into Hell question

Was this actually Limbo or Purgatory? Did He spend all three days there? What was He doing during those three days?

St. Peter tells us that after Jesus died, “he went and preached to the spirits in prison” (1 Pet 3:19). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) explains that “he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there” (CCC 632).

Prior to Christ’s resurrection, all who died went to “hell” however, the just went to a place in hell referred to as “Abraham’s bosom” where they would be comforted until the gates of heaven were opened. The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) indicates that there were two parts of hell. Both Lazarus and the rich man died and went to hell, but Lazarus was comforted in Abraham’s bosom while the rich man was in a place of torment. A great chasm separated the two parts. Christ opened the gates of heaven for those in Abraham’s bosom when he descended into hell after his death.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 633) explains, “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.”

The word we translate as hell was really Greek Hades, the place of human death.

This included what we would call Limbo and Purgatory.

Scripture does not fully say what He did there, except that He preached to “spirits in prison”. (1 Peter). While we imagine these were dead human beings, Scripture does not fully describe them.

It’s outside of what we know as time, so to speak of three days is meaningless. In His other form, He did not “live” through the three days His human body spent dead.


“Hell” in that usage is generally understood to mean “the place of the dead,” called Sheol in Hebrew, Hades in Greek, and the Limbo of the Fathers by Catholic writers. It’s where everyone who died before Jesus went and waited for Him.

Jesus is generally pictured as preaching the Good News about Himself to the souls there, and eventually leading those that were willing to believe in Him (such as the famous figures of the Old Testament and, according to some Christian writers, virtuous pagans like Socrates who had understood the Logos in a dim and vague way in their own time) to Heaven upon His own Resurrection.


It was the Limbo of the Fathers, not the Limbo of Infants (if the latter exists) and not Purgatory.

He proclaimed the Gospel to the faithful souls there and liberated them from Hell.

Limbo can be believed or disbelieved as you wish, it is not a doctrinal teaching of the Church, but a hypothesis by theologians to explain the fate of the unbaptized.

The Apostles Creed, which had been in use since Vatican II says “he descended to the dead” The more traditional version says “he descended into hell.” I was wondering, with the New Mass that has been effective for the past year, did the Church go back to saying “he descended into Hell”?

Yes, indeed they did make this change.

I am glad someone asked this question because I never understood that line of the apostles creed, but was too embarrassed to ask :blush:.

Everyones post so far has been so helpful! Thanks CAFers :thumbsup:

Actually, is there a reliable place to go where the Apostles Creed is explained line by line?

That would be fantastic for putting the whole thing in context.

God bless,

I agree. The Our Father has been done this way. Could use a little remedial on the Creed myself. For some reason at Mass this morning, while saying the Creed, I thought…why 3I days? What was He doing then? I know time in only on earth, but I still had to ask.

This is the accurate translation. The Greek word for “hell” (tartaroo, or tartarus) only appears one time in the NT and Jesus never says it.

Three days was the time to prove death. I.e., HE made sure everybody knew HE had died and come out of it.

It also meant that His human body “kept the Sabbath”, and connected the new faith age to a renewal of creation on the 1st day.


Aha! I did not know that. That is absolutely amazing!

By the way, thank you all for not thinking this was a stupid question. There is always something to learn. You’ve all given me great food fort thought and I appreciate it!

Incorrect. The Latin text of this part of the Creed is ‘descendit ad inferos’ which is related to Ephesians 4:9, “κατέβη εἰς τὰ κατώτερα μέρη τῆς γῆς” (“he descended into the lower, earthly regions”). Since the Apostles’ Creed is translated from a Latin original, and not directly from the Holy Scriptures, then “Hell” is the correct translation of “inferos” according to Liturgiam Authenticam.

For your edification, here are some links to articles about this passage:
Catholic Encyclopedia: Harrowing of Hell
[Wikipedia: Harrowing of Hell](“Harrowing of Hell”)

That means “justified by faith only” didn’t work in Hell; only those with “works” have got the faith in Jesus, otherwise all of them would have been out.

I believe the Catechism explains it line by line. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Catholic Answers might have a flyer or tract which might explain it too.

I was speaking of Scripture and was correct. Jesus never says “hell” in the Gospels and Paul only uses it once. Scripture is written in Greek, the Jews who spoke Greek and wrote the Scripture, conceived of Sheol as being under the earth. Almost all cultures did, including the Greco-Roman culture from whom the Greek language used in Scripture came.

Inferos has come to mean “hell” just as “hades” has, these are mistranslations. We need to translate from the Latin and bring the understanding of the original writers. In that case, we must return to the roots of the writing.

Inferos means “underworld,” or “lower” or “under.” The Greek word from Scripture that it translates ONLY means lower.

This is the question in the OP:

Was this actually Limbo or Purgatory? Did He spend all three days there? What was He doing during those three days?

The Apostles Creed is only one place to look for information related to the question. And, it’s not the statement of Faith, the Nicene Creed is.

He went to hell. It is the age old tradition of the Church. Christ liberated all those who lived before his time on earth. They were incapable of entering heaven so Christ liberated them when he opened the gates of heaven. No one knows exactly how long Christ spent there. It is in the spiritual world so their concept of time is different from ours, but Christ preached the Gospel to them. He spent the time between his death on the cross and his resurrection on the 3rd day in hell.

There was a Protestant “evangelist” named Kenneth Hagin who preached that Jesus engaged the devil in hand to hand combat during the 3 days in the tomb.

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