Renee, a student member of the New Saint Thomas Institute recently asked this question:
Ok, I am confused about something in regard to this subject.
As Jesus hung on the cross, one of the crucified thieves acknowledged Him as the Son of God, acknowledged Christ’s innocence, confessed his own sins, and asked to be remembered. The Bible says: (Luke 23:43) ‘Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” ‘
Since Jesus truly died, then descended into hell to preach, and then rose again on the third day, how is the construction of the sentence in Luke 23:43 possible? It makes sense to me if you move the comma like so: “Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in paradise”.
What is going on with this passage? How can the thief be with Jesus in paradise on THAT day when Jesus has descended (or will descend) into hell? Does the original Greek have a different context? Any help would be appreciated.
And here is my answer:
In Catholic tradition, we speak of Hell as “Infernum” in Latin, “Hades” in Greek, or “Sheol” in Hebrew. All three terms refer to the “grave” or the place “below” where the dead go.
The great Catholic scholastic theologians (eg, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, et al.) teach that infernum has four sections or abodes:
Gehenna (where damned people go – the lake of fire)
Purgatory (where saved people go to be purified – 1 Cor 3:15)
Limbo of the Fathers (a natural paradise where Old Testament believers waited for Christ to die – Abraham’s bosom)
Limbo of the Children (a natural paradise for children)
[Limbus in Latin means “out edge” or “hem.” It’s the place or state of being away from the fires of hell. it is described as a natural paradise.]
Catholic doctrine holds that when Christ died on the cross on Good Friday, His soul descended ad inferos “to the dead” in the Limbo of the Fathers. This is where we get “waiting in Limbo” from – since the OT believers were “waiting in Limbo” for Christ to die for their sins.
When Christ died, he went down into this natural paradise of Limbo (located inside “hell” or infernum) as a victorious champion over Satan, Hell, and death. He did not go there to suffer the pains of hell.
So Jesus met Adam, Eve, Abraham, Moses, David, Ruth, Anne, Joseph, John the Baptist, and all the saints of the OT and the thief on the cross in Limbo, which was a paradise and then he lifted this reality up to Heaven with the beatific vision.
In this way Jesus both descended ad inferos and opened Heaven to them in Heaven.
PS: Log into the New Saint Thomas Institute and follow the discussion.