A Christian Perspective

A site to muse on Christian Spirituality, Church History, and other things of interest to me.

M.A. Completed

Posted by James Bennett (jimb) on 4/20/11

Well, I have successfully defended my thesis (160pp) and passed both the written and oral comprehensive examinations. I’ll be posting the complete thesis here at another time (once I complete the stylistic edits the Graduate College requested).

I guess it is only appropriate that I want to begin writing about the descensus Christi again since Resurrection Day is approaching. As I wrote before, we are going to explore questions such as: Did Aphrahat see the resurrection of the dead as a resurrection of the righteous with Him and the rest of the dead at a single later point in time? Some of the righteous with Him and the other righteous at a single later point in time? Some of the righteous with Him and a continuous resurrection of the remaining dead (or maybe just the remaining righteous dead) until the end of times when those still remaining would be resurrected. Was Death a personage or is this an extended metaphor (I'll have to bring in other references to help sort that one out)? Where Death and Satan the same personage (Again, I'll have to bring in other texts)? Who were the "powers of his darkness," the ones who mourned the passing of Death's power (yet more texts will need to be brought in for this question)?

But, before we go further let me retell the myth of the descensus Christi as Aphrahat understood the motif. This is retold from many brief references to the descensus Christi and two or three extended passages in the Demonstrations.

Sheol is the abode of Death, who may also be the same entity as Satan. Sheol is also an imprisoning pit and a place of darkness. Gates, or doors, with bars that can be used to seal them, guarded Sheol. Upon his death, Christ descended to Sheol, but Death, being frightened of him, closed the gates against him. Christ then breached the threshold and opened the gates of Sheol so violently that he smashed and broke the gates and the bars that sealed them. Christ then entered into Sheol and was a light against the darkness of Sheol and the promise of life in contrast to Death. Christ was saved from destruction, for Death had no authority over him. Christ fought Death and defeated him. The powers and hosts attending Death mourned because the authority of Christ triumphed over Death. Christ is the Slayer of Death because he not only defeated Death; he destroyed Death and his powers and hosts. With Christ’s triumph Death has been killed. However, this death is slow rather than quick, for it is the life of Christ that is devouring Death, and the life of Christ is a slow acting poison for Death. During his victory over Death, Christ freed the captives of Death who were in Sheol. He prepared a path for his believers, and then Death ejected from him from Sheol. Christ then ascended from Sheol and was resurrected. Some of the dead ascended with Christ and the rest will arise when Christ returns. Yet this resurrection of the dead is not a universal salvation, for a judgment still awaits all the dead. From the time of his descent to the time of his ascent, Christ was in Sheol for three days.

I’ll blog again in the next day or two and will provide some background information about how Aphrahat wrote, and how he used his sources. This will be of help when extrapolating what Aphrahat might have meant or what he may have believed from what he actually wrote. This will also help to identify the places within the Demonstrations that may hold data for answering the questions I listed above.