Saturday, 23 April 2011

The souls in prison

Holy Saturday. Our old bodies still lie in the tomb with Christ. The world goes on, the world from which we have tried to exile God. The Bible tells us something very strange in the First Letter of Peter (3:18-20). It says that Christ “went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey” at the time of the Ark. In other words, he descended into hell to preach to sinners so evil that on their account the world was all but destroyed. But did he then give them a second chance of salvation after death, which would be against the teaching of the Church? The mystery of who will be lost and who saved is tangled up with the mystery of death and time, for the “limbo” in which these souls exist lies between the “time” of creatures and the “eternity” of God. One might as well say that Christ was travelling back in time into the moment of their deaths, and showing them the truth of his love, as he will show it to us all. That is his “preaching”, and only if they reject it will they enter the sate of damnation. How many will do so? The Church has never said, and we are obliged to hope and to pray for the salvation of all, even the “workers of the eleventh hour”, even Judas who could not forgive himself. This is where my favourite theologian Balthasar got himself into hot water in the eyes of some people, by drawing partly from the mystic Adrienne von Speyr the hypothesis that all indeed might be saved. The last volume of his Theo-Drama (even more than his book Dare We Hope?) is important to read if one is not to misrepresent him. And no one who has read of Adrienne’s experiences of Holy Saturday will think that she denies the reality of hell. (By the way, there are earlier discussions of this topic in our online Forum here and here.) 

Illustration: Descent into Hell, from Chora Church, Istanbul.

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