“He descended into hell.” So we confess in the ancient creed. On this day the Bible tells us that Jesus descended into hell, in the Spirit, and preached to the dead. Debate and controversy over this reference stretch back to the early church. One current, popular theologian has suggested removing the line from the creed.
I prefer to think of this day as wrapped up in the mystery of Christ, crucified, died and buried.
The orthodox Christian tradition recognizes this day as the occasion of a great battle fought in hell with Christ being the victor. Part of their liturgy expresses hell’s defeat in these terms;
“My power had been trampled on; the Shepherd has been crucified, and Adam He raised up. I have been deprived of those, over whom I ruled; and all those, I had the power to swallow, I have disgorged. He, Who was crucified has cleared the tombs. The dominion of Death is no more.”
Glory O Lord, to your Cross and Your Resurrection.
All theological hair splitting aside, the victory expressed here resounds with the note of victory and hope and reminds the Christian that Christ’s victory reaches into the deepest realms of sin and death.