This part of hell was also called “the Bosom of Abraham,” and epithet taken from the parable in Luke 16 in which a rich man who dies suffers torments in Hades, while impoverished Lazarus is taken by angels to a special part of the underworld to be embraced in Abraham’s bosom.


The reference is to Genesis 3, in which Adam and Eve eat from the tree of knowledge. God expels them from Eden so that they cannot eat from the tree of life and gain immortality.


When they arrive in heaven, they are greeted by Enoch and Elijah—the two earlier righteous spirits who ascended directly into heaven without passing through Limbo. See article by Birger Pearson, “Parallel Paths to Heaven: Enoch and Jesus,” BR 19:02 and the accompanying sidebar on Elijah.


Dante’s Limbo, however, contained not only the unbaptized children and Old Testament saints, but also the righteous pagans.



On the Apostles’ Creed, see Liuwe H. Westra, “The Apostles’ Creed: Origin, History, and Some Early Commentaries,” Ph.D. dissertation (Utrecht, The Netherlands: Catholic Theological University, 2002).


On this subject in art, see T.F. Worthen, “The Harrowing of Hell in the Art of the Italian Renaissance,” Ph.D. dissertation (University of Iowa, 1981).


Ignatius, To the Magnesians 9.2.


The claim here is similar to that found in Colossians, where Jesus Christ is depicted as having “disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him” (2:15).


On the distinction between these two verses, see W.J. Dalton, Christ’s Proclamation to the Spirits: A Study of 1 Peter 3:18–4:6, Analecta Biblica 23 (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1989); also John Elliott, 1 Peter, Anchor Bible series 37B (New York: Doubleday, 2000), pp. 648–665, 730–742.


Ignatius, To the Magnesians 9.2.


The Odes of Solomon 42:15–18.


Melito of Sardis, On the Pasch 102.


For a discussion of the theme in the writings of the early church, see J.M. McCulloch, The Harrowing of Hell: A Comparative Study of an Early Christian Doctrine (Edinburgh, 1930), pp. 83–130; see also Gertrud Schiller, Ikonographie der Christlichen Kunst, vol. 3, Die Auferstehung und Erhöhung Christi (Gerd Mohn: Gutersloher, 1971), pp. 41–66. Given the widespread popularity of the descent in the literature of the early and medieval church, the view that the Gospel of Nicodemus was the undisputed direct literary source or even the immediate inspiration of much of the visual depictions of the descent into Hell is probably overstated; see Anna D. Kartsonis, Anastasis: The Making of an Image (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1986), p. 30. On the history of Hell in general, see Herbert Vorgrimler, Geschichte der Hölle (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1993).


Gospel of Nicodemus, Descensus ad Infernos, 8–9. translated by J.K. Elliott, The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993).


Pseudo-Bonaventure, Mediations on the Life of Christ, Meditation 85, trans. Isa Ragusa and Rosalie B. Green (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1961), pp. 350–351.


Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 3a.52.2.


Aquinas, Summa 3a.52.4, 3a.57.6.


Catechismus Romanus 1.6.1.


John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. H. Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), 2.16.440–443.


Martin Luther, “First Lectures on the Psalms (Psalm 86)” in Luther’s Works II (Saint Louis: Concordia, 1976), p. 175.


Martin Luther, Formula of Concord, epit. ix, in Werke (Weimar, 1910), 37:62–67.


On the Harrowing of Hell in English literature, see George L. Scheper, “Harrowing of Hell,” in A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature, ed. David Lyle Jeffrey (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), pp. 332–334.