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Here’s Thomas’ text for this week:
There are four reasons why Christ together with His soul descended to the underworld. First, He wished to take upon Himself the entire punishment for our sin, and thus atone for its entire guilt. The punishment for the sin of man was not alone death of the body, but there was also a punishment of the soul, since the soul had its share in sin; and it was punished by being deprived of the beatific vision; and as yet no atonement had been offered whereby this punishment would be taken away. Therefore, before the coming of Christ all men, even the holy fathers after their death, descended into the underworld. Accordingly in order to take upon Himself most perfectly the punishment due to sinners, Christ not only suffered death, but also His soul descended to the underworld. He, however, descended for a different cause than did the fathers; for they did so out of necessity and were of necessity taken there and detained, but Christ descended there of His own power and free will: “I am counted among them that go down to the pit; I am become as a man without help, free among the dead” [Ps 87:5–Vulgate]. The others were there as captives, but Christ was freely there.
The second reason is that He might perfectly deliver all His friends. Christ had His friends both in the world and in the underworld. The former were His friends in that they possessed charity; and the latter were they who departed this life with charity and faith in the future Redeemer, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and other just and good men. Therefore, since Christ had dwelt among His friends in this world and had delivered them by His death, so He wished to visit His friends who were detained in the underworld and deliver them also: “I will penetrate all the lower parts of the earth, and will behold all that hope in the Lord” [Sir 24:45].
The third reason is that He would completely triumph over the devil. Now, a person is perfectly vanquished when he is not only overcome in conflict, but also when the assault is carried into his very home, and the seat of his kingdom is taken away from him. Thus Christ triumphed over the devil, and on the Cross He completely vanquished him: “Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world (that is, the devil) be cast out” [Jn 12:31]. To make this triumph complete, Christ wished to deprive the devil of the seat of his kingdom and to imprison him in his own house—which is the underworld. Christ, therefore, descended there, and despoiled the devil of everything and bound him, taking away his prey: “And despoiling the principalities and powers, He hath exposed them confidently in open show, triumphing over them in Himself” [Col 2:15]. Likewise, Christ who had received the power and possession of heaven and earth, desired too the possession of the underworld, as says the Apostle: “That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth” [Phil 2:10]. “In My name they shall cast out devils” [Mk 16:17].
The fourth and final reason is that Christ might free the just who were in the underworld. For as Christ wished to suffer death to deliver the living from death, so also He would descend into the underworld to deliver those who were there: “You also by the blood of your testament, sent forth your prisoners out of the pit where there is no water” [Zech 9:11]. And again: “O death, I will be your death; O hell, I will be your bite” [Hosea 13:14]. Although Christ wholly overcame death, yet not so completely did He destroy the underworld, but, as it were, He bit it. He did not free all from the underworld, but those only who were without mortal sin. He likewise liberated those without original sin, from which they, as individuals, were freed by circumcision; or before [the institution of]. circumcision, they who had been saved through their parents’ faith (which refers to those who died before having the use of reason); or by the sacrifices, and by their faith in the future coming of Christ (which refers to adults)”. The reason they were there in the underworld is original sin which they had contracted from Adam, and from which as members of the human race they could not be delivered except by Christ. Therefore, Christ left there those who had descended there with mortal sin, and the non-circumcised children. Thus, it is seen that Christ descended into the underworld, and for what reasons. Now we may gather four considerations from this for our own instruction.