« PreviousContinue »
old tradition, much believed amongst the Papists, that the soul of Christ walked down into hell, somewhere below the earth—that he was, indeed, in the place of torments, and preached the Gospel to the souls there confined — and that, by his preaching, the souls of many believed, were set at liberty, and went to heaven.
In the Gospel of Nicomedus, a forgery of the second century, it is asserted that Jesus having collected all the souls of the just, which were kept prisoners in hell till he went to preach to them, baptized them all in the holy river Jordan, as a necessary purification before they could enter into Paradise.
Theodore Albucara, a writer of the ninth century, holding that no one could be saved without baptism, and inquiring “how the dead, whom
“ Jesus delivered from the prison of hell,” could have been baptized, supposes that the water which flowed from the Saviour's side on the cross being resolved into its primary elements, baptized the elect Saints, who were waiting in prison the arrival of Christ, and that the state of their bodies was fitted for such a baptism.*
Now, these testimonies are sufficient to prove the existence of the tradition; so that, knowing the origin of the Creed, and how it has been built up by superstitious men, we can readily perceive that “the descent into hell” is a tra. dition of purgatory. We need not, with this very plain interpretation, now wonder at the perplexity of our Protestant Episcopalians, who, finding the Creed on their hands, are bound to support it; though, sooner than make confession of purgatory, they would naturally give the clause any other interpretation, or, if no interpretation can be found, leave it in such doubt as if it could not be explained at all.
* See Cotelerius, and Fabricius, B. G. ix. 176.
The third of the Thirty-nine Articles has riveted another chain to this dark clause, as if the founders of the Church of England had been fearful lest, peradventure, their favourite should slip out of their hands; for, not content with the assurance of the Creed, the article selects this clause out of all the others, and gives it a double validity, "As Christ died for us and was buried, so also is it to be believed that he went down into hell.”—Having propounded the riddle, and left it as a legacy to the Church of England for ever, they very prudently abstain from offering any explanation ; and we may be quite sure that, to the end of time, no explanation ever will be agreed upon by Protestants, till they admit that the doctrine of purgatory is intended in this clause, in which case they must either renounce their religion or give up the Prayer Book.
Now, we must remember, that whether the disputed clause is taken as superstitious or as unintelligible, yet, such as it is, it forms a part of the daily service of the Church of England that sick and dying persons are questioned if they unfeignedly believe the Creed,* that it is taught children in the Catechism, and that all clergymen have given their “unfeigned assent and consent" to it, though neither dying man por woman, neither Bishop nor child, neither Priest nor Deacon, can clearly explain what they believe when they come to this clause! Thus, without inquiry, do we follow the traditions which we have received from our fathers.
The opinion now generally entertained amongst the clergy is, that “Hell” in the clause means Hades, which, as it makes obscurity more obscure, is gladly embraced by them. Hades, they say,
. is the place of departed spirits, the unseen world ; or they sometimes decline giving any definition, assuring us merely that Hades is Hades. If we inquire what “the unseen world” is, or where it is, or how it is described in Scripture, or on what authority we are called on to believe in any place for spirits but Hell or Heaven, we can receive no information, and there the matter must rest. Some, however, think that · Hades means Paradise, and, if that be true, then are we come to this strange discovery, that Hell and Paradise are the
* “ Here the Minister shall rehearse the articles of the faith, saying thus, Dost thou believe in God the Father Almighty,' &c. &c. [going through the whole Creed.] The sick person shall answer, 'ALL THIS I STEDFASTLY
'-Visitation of the Sick.
same thing, for the clause in question says, “He descended into Hell,” which we are told is Paradise! Supposing, then, that Hell means Paradise, how did the compilers of the prayer discover that the way to Paradise is downwards, when the Apostle says he was caught up into Paradise ? Let the clergy extricate themselves out of these absurdities as they can.
The attachment to this clause is nevertheless very great ; for in the year 1785, the representatives of the American Episcopal Church being desirous to have some elect Bishops consecrated by those who were supposed to be the legitimate successors of the Apostles, applied to the dignitaries of the Establishment for that purpose. The English Bishops complained that the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds were excluded from the American Prayer Books ; and the descent into hell from the Apostles' Creed. This remonstrance was so far attended to by the American Clergy, that the Nicene Creed was restored, and the descent was by a considerable majority readmitted into its former situation, but the Athanasian Creed was permanently rejected.
The Athanasian Creed, which the Episcopalians of America could not digest, is now a great favourite in certain quarters, and for this reason apparently, that it is written in a wrathful, dictatorial, and disputatious style; exactly suited to the clerical mind, which loves to dogmatise and
threaten in the same breath. “ Whoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic faith; which faith, except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly." What swelling and contumelious words! What blustering and bullying of a petulant controversialist! This threat, however, might have been expressed more briefly thus :-“Whoever does not belong to the Athanasian party shall be damned.”
I must observe here that Pearson, Usher, Hammond, L'Estrange, Cave, Pagi, Du Pin, and others, are all agreed that Athanasius was not the author of this Creed ; it was composed at the close of the fifth century, and the first person
who called it Athanasian was Theodulphus Aurelianensis, A.D. 794. The Council of Autun ordered it to be read A.D. 670.
It is, therefore, a production of dark and superstitious times, when all was confusion and violence in the Church, and when faction and party spirit drowned with their clamour the mild but persuasive voice of Gospel truth.
This ferocious Creed never once makes an appeal to the word of God—the Scriptures are contemptible in its eyes-it spins its spider web out of its own bowels. How different is the language and spirit of the Scriptures :-“Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.” Where can we find the least resemblance