From the Apostles Creed…
I believe in God the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth:
and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried.
He descended into hell;
the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
and I Peter 3:18-22
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
What does it mean that God descended into Hell (or to the dead–less baggage)? For some of us, mostly Americans I’d guess, the image of SWAT-team Christ kicking down the gates of hell (or Sheol, or Hades or…) and rescuing the souls of those who lived before Christ. There are two theories–the first is that Christ went down to Hell-propper and proclaimed the message of salvation to the spirits in bondage, the second is that Christ did the same, only the people were in limbo. The problem of course, is that one does away with the RC doctrine of Purgatory and the tradtion of limbo, one is left only with two options: say Christ went to the dead/hell or delete the offensive line from the Apostle’s Creed that says Christ descended. Then of course, one has to skip that part of first Peter as well.
The icon above is a depiction of the harrowing of hell. It definately makes one think about stories such as Lazarus and the rich man.