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The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail

The defeat of death

"But the immediate context of Matthew suggests another hell—the hell of the fathers.

The chapter begins with the Pharisees and Sadducees demanding a sign of Jesus. He tells them that no sign will be forthcoming except the sign of Jonah—a reference to the three days that the prophet spent in the belly of the whale. Commentators have seen Jonah as foreshadowing the three days between the crucifixion and the Resurrection of Christ. And, in fact, Jesus himself tells the disciples of his forthcoming Passion in the next section of the chapter, starting with verse 21.

"So, where was Jesus during those three days? Catholic tradition has always held that He descended to the hell of the fathers, releasing them from their prison into heaven. (Click here to read more about Jesus’ descent into hell.) Context, then, suggests that we are dealing with the hell of the fathers. This is significant because, according to what we profess in the Apostles’ Creed, Christ has already visited this hell.

"Reading hell in this way reverses how we see the gates—the gates are not to be thought of as a monstrous opening from which hell vomits forth demonic armies upon the Church. Instead, the gates of death could be thought of as prison doors that once barred the way to heaven. According to this interpretation, Jesus is saying that the gates of hell can no longer hold back members of the Church—just as they could no longer contain the fathers in limbo."

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