Heaven, Hell, Hades, Purgatory

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  • Where was Jesus during the three days between his death on the cross and his resurrection?
  • Where did old Testament saints go when they died?
  • Where did people go when they died before Jesus died on the cross and opened the gates of heaven?
  • Where did John the Baptist go when he died?
  • Where do people go when they die now?

Next things to do on this page:

  • Go through Story arc, add in supporting church father quotes for each interpretation, as well as links to modern day sources that disagree with that interpretation [currently on Origen]
  • Add in Luther, Calvin, Grudem, etc to church history bit
  • Make an appendix on Apostle's Creed, Grudem, and response
  • Make an appendix on purgatory, possible confusion with Hades/paradise, note time/place bit from pope, etc

Jesus once said: "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah." How sad is it that 2000 years later, much of Christianity still doesn't even recognize this sign of Jonah?

Contents

Notes to parse

Early Church

Martin Luther, in a sermon delivered in Torgau in 1533, stated that Christ descended into Hell.

The Formula of Concord (a Lutheran confession) states, "we believe simply that the entire person, God and human being, descended to Hell after his burial, conquered the devil, destroyed the power of Hell, and took from the devil all his power." (Solid Declaration, Art. IX)


Calvin's conclusion is that "If any persons have scruples about admitting this article into the Creed, it will soon be made plain how important it is to the sum of our redemption: if it is left out, much of the benefit of Christ’s death will be lost."[19] Calvin strongly opposed the notion that Christ freed prisoners, as opposed to traveling to Hell as part of completing his sufferings (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 2, chapter 16, sections 8-10),

The Reformed interpret the phrase "he descended into Hell" as referring to Christ's pain and humiliation prior to his death, and that this humiliation had a spiritual dimension as part of God's judgement upon the sin which he bore on behalf of Christians. The doctrine of Christ's humiliation is also meant to assure believers that Christ has redeemed them from the pain and suffering of God's judgment on sin.[20] [1]

A number of Christians reject the doctrine of the "harrowing of hell", claiming that "there is scant scriptural evidence for [it], and that Jesus's own words contradict it".[22] John Piper, for example, says "there is no textual [i.e. Biblical] basis for believing that Christ descended into hell", and, therefore, Piper does not recite the "he descended into hell" phrase when saying the Apostles' Creed.[23] Wayne Grudem also skips the phrase when reciting the Creed; he says that the "single argument in ... favor [of the "harrowing of hell" clause in the Creed] seems to be that it has been around so long. ... But an old mistake is still a mistake".[22] In his book Raised with Christ, Pentecostal Adrian Warnock agrees with Grudem, commenting, "Despite some translations of an ancient creed [i.e. the Apostles' Creed], which suggest that Jesus ... 'descended into hell', there is no biblical evidence to suggest that he actually did so."[24]

Augustine (354–430) argued that 1 Peter 3:19–20, the chief passage used to support the doctrine of the "harrowing of hell", is "more allegory than history".[22] [2]

---

For fifteen hundred years all Christians believed this. But in the sixteenth century John Calvin rejected this understanding of this article of the Creeds, calling it “childish.” He offered an innovation, proposing that the “descent into hell” meant that during the three hours on the cross, Christ’s soul descended into the hell of damnation, and was subjected to torments there from the wrath of God, the fear of eternal damnation, and the devil’s power. Last September Taylor posted about this here, provoking a fascinating discussion. This past Wednesday Professor Lawrence Feingold of the Institute for Pastoral Studies at Ave Maria University, gave an excellent lecture to the Association of Hebrew Catholics titled “The Harrowing of Hell,” in which he addressed this subject, defending the traditional position both from Scripture and the Fathers. What are implications of this doctrine? What are the implications of rejecting it? Listen to the lecture and the Q&A below. http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/04/the-harrowing-of-hell/

Links

Purgatory / Prayer for Dead

Biblical Story Arc

Jesus prophesies that he, like Jonah, will spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Hades) | Jonah 1:17,2:1-2,6-7, Matthew 12:38-45

Jonah 1:17,2:1-2,6-7
And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish, and he said, "I called out of my distress to the Lord, And He answered me. I cried for help from the belly of Sheol; You heard my voice." [...]

I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever, But You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God. When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.
Matthew 12:38-45
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, "Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you." But he answered them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.

Early Church Fathers

Irenaeus (180 AD), in his Against Heresies (Book V, Chapter 31, 1-2)
For they do not choose to understand, that if these things are as they say, the Lord Himself, in whom they profess to believe, did not rise again upon the third day; but immediately upon His expiring on the cross, undoubtedly departed on high, leaving His body to the earth. But the case was, that for three days He dwelt in the place where the dead were, as the prophet says concerning Him: And the Lord remembered His dead saints who slept formerly in the land of sepulture; and He descended to them, to rescue and save them. And the Lord Himself says, As Jonas remained three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of man be in the heart of the earth. Then also the apostle says, But when He ascended, what is it but that He also descended into the lower parts of the earth? This, too, David says when prophesying of Him, And you have delivered my soul from the nethermost hell; and on His rising again the third day, He said to Mary, who was the first to see and to worship Him, Touch Me not, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to the disciples, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and unto your Father.

If, then, the Lord observed the law of the dead, that He might become the first-begotten from the dead, and tarried until the third day in the lower parts of the earth; then afterwards rising in the flesh, so that He even showed the print of the nails to His disciples, He thus ascended to the Father;— [if all these things occurred, I say], how must these men not be put to confusion, who allege that the lower parts refer to this world of ours, but that their inner man, leaving the body here, ascends into the super-celestial place? For as the Lord went away in the midst of the shadow of death, where the souls of the dead were, yet afterwards arose in the body, and after the resurrection was taken up [into heaven], it is manifest that the souls of His disciples also, upon whose account the Lord underwent these things, shall go away into the invisible place allotted to them by God, and there remain until the resurrection, awaiting that event; then receiving their bodies, and rising in their entirety, that is bodily, just as the Lord arose, they shall come thus into the presence of God.

Hades had multiple sections separated by a chasm, on one side a place of torment (Tartarus), and on the other was Abraham's bosom (Paradise, Elysium) | Luke 16:19-31, 2 Peter 2:4

Luke 16:19-31
"Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.' And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father's house - for I have five brothers - in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.' But he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!' But he said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.'"
2 Peter 2:4
God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into Tartarus and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment
Luke 8:31 (Note: Seems Tartarus may have been what these demons feared?]
And they [the demons] begged him [Jesus] not to command them to depart into the abyss.

Ancient/Classical Sources

Ancient/Classical Sources agree, noting that Hades has one section called Tartarus for the damned, and another section called Elysium (Paradise) for the blessed:

Homer, Odyssey (4.560–565)
to the Elysian plain... where life is easiest for men. No snow is there, nor heavy storm, nor ever rain, but ever does Ocean send up blasts of the shrill-blowing West Wind that they may give cooling to men.
Virgil, Aeneid (6.539)
Night speeds by, And we, Aeneas, lose it in lamenting. Here comes the place where cleaves our way in twain. Thy road, the right, toward Pluto's dwelling goes, And leads us to Elysium. But the left Speeds sinful souls to doom, and is their path To Tartarus th' accurst.
Dante, Divina Commedia (Par Canto XV Line 25–27)
With such affection did Anchises' shade reach out, if our greatest muse is owed belief, when in Elysium he knew his son.
1 Enoch 20:2-3 (~400-200 BC)
Uriel, one of the holy angels, who is over the world and over Tartarus.
Septuagint Job 40:20
And when he has gone up to a steep mountain, he causes joy to the quadrupeds in the deep (ταρτάρῳ, Tartarus). 
Septuagint Job 41:24
[He regards] the lowest part of the deep (τάρταρον, Tartarus) as a captive: he reckons the deep as [his] range.

As Jesus was crucified, he told the thief that today they would be together in Paradise (part of Hades) | Luke 23:32-33,39-43

Luke 23:32-33,39-43
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left...

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise."

Protestant: GotQuestions

https://www.gotquestions.org/today-paradise.html After Christ died, it was His body that was buried in the tomb. However, Jesus’ spirit/soul was not in the tomb. Jesus’ spirit was in the Father’s presence (Luke 23:46; Ephesians 4:8)... The thief’s sins were washed away, and his death that day was his entrance to paradise.

More here, need to parse: https://www.gotquestions.org/did-Jesus-go-to-hell.html

Christ descended into Hades - but he was not abandoned! God raised him up, and Christ conquered Death and Hades | Ephesians 4:9-10, Acts 2:27, Heb 2:14, Mark 3:27, Revelations 1:17-18

Ephesians 4:9-10
In saying, "He ascended," what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.
Acts 2:27
Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.
Heb 2:14
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil
Mark 3:27
No man can enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house.
Revelations 1:17-18
I am the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.

Early Church Fathers

Melito (170 AD) in his Homily On the Passover, verse 102
I, he says, am the Christ. I am the one who destroyed death, and triumphed over the enemy, and trampled Hades under foot, and bound the strong one, and carried off man to the heights of heaven, I, he says, am the Christ.
Tertullian (200 AD), in A Treatise on the Soul: Chapter 7
But what is that which is removed to Hades after the separation of the body; which is there detained; which is reserved until the day of judgment; to which Christ also, on dying, descended?
Origen (246 AD), in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 5:10, mentioned here.
First therefore he bound him at the cross, and thus he has entered his house, that is, Hades, and from there "ascending on high, he led captivity captive," those certainly who with himself are co-resurrected and have entered the holy city, heavenly Jerusalem.
Eusebius (~324 AD), in his Church History (Book I), Chapter 13, Paragraph 19
[Jesus] humbled himself, and died and debased his divinity and was crucified, and descended into Hades, and burst the bars which from eternity had not been broken, and raised the dead; for he descended alone, but rose with many, and thus ascended to his Father.

In Hades, Christ went to Tartarus and proclaimed his victory to the fallen angels, imprisoned during the time of Noah | Genesis 6:1-4, Jude 5-7, 2 Peter 2:4, 1 Peter 3:18-20, Colossians 2:15

Genesis 6:1-4
When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, "My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years." The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.
Jude 5-7
Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day - just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
2 Peter 2:4
God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into Tartarus and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment
1 Peter 3:18-20
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation (ἐκήρυξεν: to publish, proclaim openly, to herald) to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water... [Jesus Christ], who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.
Colossians 2:15
When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them in it [the cross].

https://www.gotquestions.org/spirits-in-prison.html

In Hades, Christ then went to Paradise (Abraham's bosom) and preached the good news to the saints who had died before him. He led them on high, out of Hades, with some stopping by Jerusalem on the way to Heaven | 1 Peter 4:6, Ephesians 4:7-10, Psalm 68:18, Zechariah 9:11, Matthew 27:50-53

1 Peter 4:6
For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
Ephesians 4:7-10
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says, "When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men." (In saying, "He ascended," what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)
Psalm 68:18
Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them.
Zechariah 9:11
As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.
Matthew 27:50-53
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

Missing verse in Jeremiah

According to Justin Martyr (~160 AD), and Irenaeus (~180 AD), there was another passage in Jeremiah along these lines, but the Jews cut it out because it pointed to Christ.

Justin Martyr (~160 AD), in his Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 72
And again, from the sayings of the same Jeremiah these have been cut out: 'The Lord God remembered His dead people of Israel who lay in the graves; and He descended to preach to them His own salvation.'
Irenaeus (~180 AD), in his Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter 22, Section 1
As Jeremiah declares, "The holy Lord remembered His dead Israel, who slept in the land of sepulture; and He descended to them to make known to them His salvation, that they might be saved."

Curiously, Irenaeus quotes this again but this time attributes it to Isaiah instead of Jeremiah.

Irenaeus (~180 AD), in his Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 20, Section 4
And that it was not a mere man who died for us, Isaiah says: "And the holy Lord remembered His dead Israel, who had slept in the land of sepulture; and He came down to preach His salvation to them, that He might save them."

Early Church Fathers

Ignatius of Antioch (107 AD), in his The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chapter 9
If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord's Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death - whom some deny, by which mystery we have obtained faith, and therefore endure, that we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Master— how shall we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in the Spirit did wait for Him as their Teacher? And therefore He whom they rightly waited for, having come, raised them from the dead.
Melito (170 AD) in his Homily On the Passover, verse 102
I, he says, am the Christ. I am the one who destroyed death, and triumphed over the enemy, and trampled Hades under foot, and bound the strong one, and carried off man to the heights of heaven, I, he says, am the Christ.
Irenaeus (180 AD), in his Against Heresies (Book IV, Chapter 22, 1-2)
He also descended into the lower parts of the earth, to behold with His eyes the state of those who were resting from their labours, in reference to whom He did also declare to the disciples: Many prophets and righteous men have desired to see and hear what you see and hear.

For it was not merely for those who believed on Him in the time of Tiberius Cæsar that Christ came, nor did the Father exercise His providence for the men only who are now alive, but for all men altogether, who from the beginning, according to their capacity, in their generation have both feared and loved God, and practised justice and piety towards their neighbours, and have earnestly desired to see Christ, and to hear His voice.
Irenaeus (180 AD), in his Against Heresies (Book V, Chapter 31, 1-2)
For they do not choose to understand, that if these things are as they say, the Lord Himself, in whom they profess to believe, did not rise again upon the third day; but immediately upon His expiring on the cross, undoubtedly departed on high, leaving His body to the earth. But the case was, that for three days He dwelt in the place where the dead were, as the prophet says concerning Him: And the Lord remembered His dead saints who slept formerly in the land of sepulture; and He descended to them, to rescue and save them. And the Lord Himself says, As Jonas remained three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of man be in the heart of the earth. Then also the apostle says, But when He ascended, what is it but that He also descended into the lower parts of the earth? This, too, David says when prophesying of Him, And you have delivered my soul from the nethermost hell; and on His rising again the third day, He said to Mary, who was the first to see and to worship Him, Touch Me not, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to the disciples, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and unto your Father.

If, then, the Lord observed the law of the dead, that He might become the first-begotten from the dead, and tarried until the third day in the lower parts of the earth; then afterwards rising in the flesh, so that He even showed the print of the nails to His disciples, He thus ascended to the Father;— [if all these things occurred, I say], how must these men not be put to confusion, who allege that the lower parts refer to this world of ours, but that their inner man, leaving the body here, ascends into the super-celestial place? For as the Lord went away in the midst of the shadow of death, where the souls of the dead were, yet afterwards arose in the body, and after the resurrection was taken up [into heaven], it is manifest that the souls of His disciples also, upon whose account the Lord underwent these things, shall go away into the invisible place allotted to them by God, and there remain until the resurrection, awaiting that event; then receiving their bodies, and rising in their entirety, that is bodily, just as the Lord arose, they shall come thus into the presence of God.
Clement of Alexandria (~200 AD), in his The Stromata (Book VI), Chapter 6
And, as I think, the Saviour also exerts His might because it is His work to save; which accordingly He also did by drawing to salvation those who became willing, by the preaching [of the Gospel], to believe in Him, wherever they were. If, then, the Lord descended to Hades for no other end but to preach the Gospel, as He did descend; it was either to preach the Gospel to all or to the Hebrews only. If, accordingly, to all, then all who believe shall be saved, although they may be of the Gentiles, on making their profession there; since God's punishments are saving and disciplinary, leading to conversion, and choosing rather the repentance them the death of a sinner; and especially since souls, although darkened by passions, when released from their bodies, are able to perceive more clearly, because of their being no longer obstructed by the paltry flesh.

If, then, He preached only to the Jews, who wanted the knowledge and faith of the Saviour, it is plain that, since God is no respecter of persons, the apostles also, as here, so there preached the Gospel to those of the heathen who were ready for conversion. And it is well said by the Shepherd, "They went down with them therefore into the water, and again ascended. But these descended alive, and again ascended alive. But those who had fallen asleep, descended dead, but ascended alive." Further the Gospel [Matthew 27:52] says, "that many bodies of those that slept arose," - plainly as having been translated to a better state. There took place, then, a universal movement and translation through the economy of the Saviour.

[...]

What then? Did not the same dispensation obtain in Hades, so that even there, all the souls, on hearing the proclamation, might either exhibit repentance, or confess that their punishment was just, because they believed not? And it were the exercise of no ordinary arbitrariness, for those who had departed before the advent of the Lord (not having the Gospel preached to them, and having afforded no ground from themselves, in consequence of believing or not) to obtain either salvation or punishment. For it is not right that these should be condemned without trial, and that those alone who lived after the advent should have the advantage of the divine righteousness. But to all rational souls it was said from above, "Whatever one of you has done in ignorance, without clearly knowing God, if, on becoming conscious, he repent, all his sins will be forgiven him." "For, behold," it is said, "I have set before your face death and life, that you may choose life." God says that He set, not that He made both, in order to the comparison of choice. And in another Scripture He says, "If you hear Me, and be willing, you shall eat the good of the land. But if you hear Me not, and are not willing, the sword shall devour you: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken these things." [Isaiah 1:19-20]

Again, David expressly (or rather the Lord in the person of the saint, and the same from the foundation of the world is each one who at different periods is saved, and shall be saved by faith) says, "My heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced, and my flesh shall still rest in hope. For You shall not leave my soul in hell, nor will You give Your holy one to see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life, You will make me full of joy in Your presence."

[...]

If, then, He preached the Gospel to those in the flesh that they might not be condemned unjustly, how is it conceivable that He did not for the same cause preach the Gospel to those who had departed this life before His advent?
Tertullian (200 AD), in A Treatise on the Soul: Chapter 55
By ourselves the lower regions (of Hades) are not supposed to be a bare cavity, nor some subterranean sewer of the world, but a vast deep space in the interior of the earth, and a concealed recess in its very bowels; inasmuch as we read that Christ in His death spent three days in the heart of the earth, that is, in the secret inner recess which is hidden in the earth, and enclosed by the earth, and superimposed on the abysmal depths which lie still lower down. Now although Christ is God, yet, being also man, He died according to the Scriptures, and according to the same Scriptures was buried. With the same law of His being He fully complied, by remaining in Hades in the form and condition of a dead man; nor did He ascend into the heights of heaven before descending into the lower parts of the earth, that He might there make the patriarchs and prophets partakers of Himself.
Hippolytus (205 AD), in his On Christ and Antichrist, 26 & 45
He showed all power given by the Father to the Son, who is ordained Lord of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, and Judge of all: of things in heaven, because He was born, the Word of God, before all (ages); and of things on earth, because He became man in the midst of men, to re-create our Adam through Himself; and of things under the earth, because He was also reckoned among the dead, preaching the Gospel to the souls of the saints, (and) by death overcoming death.

[...]

He [John the Baptist] also first preached to those in Hades, becoming a forerunner there when he was put to death by Herod, that there too he might intimate that the Saviour would descend to ransom the souls of the saints from the hand of death.
Origen (246 AD), in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 5:10, mentioned here.
First therefore he bound him at the cross, and thus he has entered his house, that is, Hades, and from there "ascending on high, he led captivity captive," those certainly who with himself are co-resurrected and have entered the holy city, heavenly Jerusalem.

After Jesus conquered Hades, Paradise (the abode of the righteous who died) was moved to Heaven, and Hades itself will be thrown into Hell in the last days | 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, Revelation 20:14

2 Corinthians 12:2-4 [Paul speaking]
I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
2 Corinthians 5:6-8
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
Revelation 20:14
Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.

Catechism

The Catechism states:

632 The frequent New Testament affirmations that Jesus was "raised from the dead" presuppose that the crucified one sojourned in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection (Acts 3:15; Rom 8:11; 1 Cor 15:20; Heb 13:20). This was the first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ's descent into hell: that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead. But he descended there as Saviour, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there (1 Pt 3:18-19).

633 Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, "hell" - Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek - because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God (Phil 2:10; Acts 2:24; Rev 1:18; Eph 4:9; Pss 6:6, 88:11-13). Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into "Abraham's bosom" (Ps 89:49; 1 Sam 28:19; Ezek 32:17-32; Lk 16:22-26): "It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Saviour in Abraham's bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell." Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him (Mt 27:52-53).

634 "The gospel was preached even to the dead." (1 Pt 4:6) The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfilment. This is the last phase of Jesus' messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ's redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption.

635 Christ went down into the depths of death so that "the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live." (Jn 5:25; Mt 12:40; Rom 10:7; Eph 4:9) Jesus, "the Author of life", by dying destroyed "him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and [delivered] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage." (Heb 2:14-15; Acts 3:15) Henceforth the risen Christ holds "the keys of Death and Hades", so that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth." (Rev 1:18; Phil 2:10)


In the Catechism infallible? (e.g. on proclaiming good news to the spirits imprisoned as interpretation of 1 Peter 3:18-19)

The Catechism itself has the level of authority of the Ordinary non-infallible Magisterium, however, many of its doctrines are infallible, not merely because they are in the Catechism, but because they fall under one or another of the three ways that the Magisterium teaches infallibly...

Now, someone will say “What about previous catechisms and limbo?”

This proves the point. The catechism represents the teaching of the time. Some things like limbo, which are only theories, may get included, but they are not a part of the deposit of faith. Just theological speculations on that which God has not explicitly told us.

- Source

Homily (~300 AD)

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “and with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying : “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth , all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

- Quoted in the Catechism, here, here, and here

Early Church on Christ's descent into Hell

(107 AD) Ignatius of Antioch

The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians, Chapter 9
If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord's Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death - whom some deny, by which mystery we have obtained faith, and therefore endure, that we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Master— how shall we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in the Spirit did wait for Him as their Teacher? And therefore He whom they rightly waited for, having come, raised them from the dead.

(~125 AD) Polycarp

Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians (Wikipedia).
[...]brings forth fruit to our Lord Jesus Christ, who for our sins suffered even unto death, [but] whom God raised from the dead, having loosed the bands of the grave.
  • Composed between 110 to 140 AD.
  • This book (Chapter 1, page 2, note 6) contains the original Greek of the letter, and gives a more direct translation for "loosed the bands of the grave" as "loosed the pains of Hades". The note further mentions that this phrase is a direct quote from Acts 2:24 of the so-called "Western" texts, and essentially assumes a belief in a descent. Most other manuscripts translate Acts 2:24 in a different way with no assumption one way or the other about the descent.


(~150 AD) Shepherd of Hermas

The Shepherd of Hermas (Book III), Similitude 9, Chapter 16
They were obliged, he answered, to ascend through water in order that they might be made alive; for, unless they laid aside the deadness of their life, they could not in any other way enter into the kingdom of God. Accordingly, those also who fell asleep received the seal of the Son of God. For, he continued, before a man bears the name of the Son of God he is dead; but when he receives the seal he lays aside his deadness, and obtains life. The seal, then, is the water: they descend into the water dead, and they arise alive. And to them, accordingly, was this seal preached, and they made use of it that they might enter into the kingdom of God. Why, sir, I asked, did the forty stones also ascend with them out of the pit, having already received the seal? Because, he said, these apostles and teachers who preached the name of the Son of God, after falling asleep in the power and faith of the Son of God, preached it not only to those who were asleep, but themselves also gave them the seal of the preaching. Accordingly they descended with them into the water, and again ascended. [But these descended alive and rose up again alive; whereas they who had previously fallen asleep descended dead, but rose up again alive. ] By these, then, were they quickened and made to know the name of the Son of God. For this reason also did they ascend with them, and were fitted along with them into the building of the tower, and, untouched by the chisel, were built in along with them. For they slept in righteousness and in great purity, but only they had not this seal. You have accordingly the explanation of these also.
  • Could have been written as early as 85 AD
  • Speaks of the rescue of the dead from hades.

(160 AD) Justin Martyr

Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 72
And again, from the sayings of the same Jeremiah these have been cut out: 'The Lord God remembered His dead people of Israel who lay in the graves; and He descended to preach to them His own salvation.'
  • Especially noteworthy, as in this example Justin Martyr quotes from a passage in Jeremiah that he says the Jews have cut out, as this passage (along with several others) point to Jesus as the Christ
  • This passage in Jeremiah is missing in our Scriptures, however it was quoted twice by Irenaeus (once as being in Jeremiah, and once as being in Isaiah):
Irenaeus, in his Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter 22, Section 1
As Jeremiah declares, "The holy Lord remembered His dead Israel, who slept in the land of sepulture; and He descended to them to make known to them His salvation, that they might be saved."
Irenaeus, in his Against Heresies, Book III, Chapter 20, Section 4
And that it was not a mere man who died for us, Isaiah says: "And the holy Lord remembered His dead Israel, who had slept in the land of sepulture; and He came down to preach His salvation to them, that He might save them."

(170 AD) Melito of Sardis

New Fragment III.5, lines 24-36
by the cross death is destroyed, and by the cross salvation shines; by the cross the gates of hell are burst, and by the cross the gates of paradise are opened. 
Homily On the Passover, verse 102
I, he says, am the Christ. I am the one who destroyed death, and triumphed over the enemy, and trampled Hades under foot, and bound the strong one, and carried off man to the heights of heaven, I, he says, am the Christ.

(180 AD) Irenaeus

Against Heresies (Book IV, Chapter 22, 1-2)
He also descended into the lower parts of the earth, to behold with His eyes the state of those who were resting from their labours, in reference to whom He did also declare to the disciples: Many prophets and righteous men have desired to see and hear what you see and hear.

For it was not merely for those who believed on Him in the time of Tiberius Cæsar that Christ came, nor did the Father exercise His providence for the men only who are now alive, but for all men altogether, who from the beginning, according to their capacity, in their generation have both feared and loved God, and practised justice and piety towards their neighbours, and have earnestly desired to see Christ, and to hear His voice.
Against Heresies (Book IV, Chapter 33, 1)
He became a man subject to stripes, and knowing what it is to bear infirmity, and sat upon the foal of an ass, and was a stone rejected by the builders, and was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and by the stretching forth of His hands destroyed Amalek; while He gathered from the ends of the earth into His Father’s fold the children who were scattered abroad, and remembered His own dead ones who had formerly fallen asleep, and came down to them that He might deliver them
Against Heresies (Book V, Chapter 31, 1-2)
For they do not choose to understand, that if these things are as they say, the Lord Himself, in whom they profess to believe, did not rise again upon the third day; but immediately upon His expiring on the cross, undoubtedly departed on high, leaving His body to the earth. But the case was, that for three days He dwelt in the place where the dead were, as the prophet says concerning Him: And the Lord remembered His dead saints who slept formerly in the land of sepulture; and He descended to them, to rescue and save them. And the Lord Himself says, As Jonas remained three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of man be in the heart of the earth. Then also the apostle says, But when He ascended, what is it but that He also descended into the lower parts of the earth? This, too, David says when prophesying of Him, And you have delivered my soul from the nethermost hell; and on His rising again the third day, He said to Mary, who was the first to see and to worship Him, Touch Me not, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to the disciples, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and unto your Father.

If, then, the Lord observed the law of the dead, that He might become the first-begotten from the dead, and tarried until the third day in the lower parts of the earth; then afterwards rising in the flesh, so that He even showed the print of the nails to His disciples, He thus ascended to the Father;— [if all these things occurred, I say], how must these men not be put to confusion, who allege that the lower parts refer to this world of ours, but that their inner man, leaving the body here, ascends into the super-celestial place? For as the Lord went away in the midst of the shadow of death, where the souls of the dead were, yet afterwards arose in the body, and after the resurrection was taken up [into heaven], it is manifest that the souls of His disciples also, upon whose account the Lord underwent these things, shall go away into the invisible place allotted to them by God, and there remain until the resurrection, awaiting that event; then receiving their bodies, and rising in their entirety, that is bodily, just as the Lord arose, they shall come thus into the presence of God.

(~200 AD) Clement of Alexandria

The Stromata (Book VI), Chapter 6
Wherefore the Lord preached the Gospel to those in Hades. Accordingly the Scripture says, Hades says to Destruction, We have not seen His form, but we have heard His voice. It is not plainly the place, which, the words above say, heard the voice, but those who have been put in Hades, and have abandoned themselves to destruction, as persons who have thrown themselves voluntarily from a ship into the sea. They, then, are those that hear the divine power and voice. For who in his senses can suppose the souls of the righteous and those of sinners in the same condemnation, charging Providence with injustice?

But how? Do not [the Scriptures] show that the Lord preached the Gospel to those that perished in the flood, or rather had been chained, and to those kept "in ward and guard"? [1 Peter 3:19-20] And it has been shown also, in the second book of the Stromata, that the apostles, following the Lord, preached the Gospel to those in Hades. For it was requisite, in my opinion, that as here, so also there, the best of the disciples should be imitators of the Master; so that He should bring to repentance those belonging to the Hebrews, and they the Gentiles; that is, those who had lived in righteousness according to the Law and Philosophy, who had ended life not perfectly, but sinfully. For it was suitable to the divine administration, that those possessed of greater worth in righteousness, and whose life had been pre-eminent, on repenting of their transgressions, though found in another place, yet being confessedly of the number of the people of God Almighty, should be saved, each one according to his individual knowledge.

And, as I think, the Saviour also exerts His might because it is His work to save; which accordingly He also did by drawing to salvation those who became willing, by the preaching [of the Gospel], to believe in Him, wherever they were. If, then, the Lord descended to Hades for no other end but to preach the Gospel, as He did descend; it was either to preach the Gospel to all or to the Hebrews only. If, accordingly, to all, then all who believe shall be saved, although they may be of the Gentiles, on making their profession there; since God's punishments are saving and disciplinary, leading to conversion, and choosing rather the repentance them the death of a sinner; and especially since souls, although darkened by passions, when released from their bodies, are able to perceive more clearly, because of their being no longer obstructed by the paltry flesh.

If, then, He preached only to the Jews, who wanted the knowledge and faith of the Saviour, it is plain that, since God is no respecter of persons, the apostles also, as here, so there preached the Gospel to those of the heathen who were ready for conversion. And it is well said by the Shepherd, "They went down with them therefore into the water, and again ascended. But these descended alive, and again ascended alive. But those who had fallen asleep, descended dead, but ascended alive." Further the Gospel [Matthew 27:52] says, "that many bodies of those that slept arose," - plainly as having been translated to a better state. There took place, then, a universal movement and translation through the economy of the Saviour.

[...]

What then? Did not the same dispensation obtain in Hades, so that even there, all the souls, on hearing the proclamation, might either exhibit repentance, or confess that their punishment was just, because they believed not? And it were the exercise of no ordinary arbitrariness, for those who had departed before the advent of the Lord (not having the Gospel preached to them, and having afforded no ground from themselves, in consequence of believing or not) to obtain either salvation or punishment. For it is not right that these should be condemned without trial, and that those alone who lived after the advent should have the advantage of the divine righteousness. But to all rational souls it was said from above, "Whatever one of you has done in ignorance, without clearly knowing God, if, on becoming conscious, he repent, all his sins will be forgiven him." "For, behold," it is said, "I have set before your face death and life, that you may choose life." God says that He set, not that He made both, in order to the comparison of choice. And in another Scripture He says, "If you hear Me, and be willing, you shall eat the good of the land. But if you hear Me not, and are not willing, the sword shall devour you: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken these things." [Isaiah 1:19-20]

Again, David expressly (or rather the Lord in the person of the saint, and the same from the foundation of the world is each one who at different periods is saved, and shall be saved by faith) says, "My heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced, and my flesh shall still rest in hope. For You shall not leave my soul in hell, nor will You give Your holy one to see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life, You will make me full of joy in Your presence."

[...]

If, then, He preached the Gospel to those in the flesh that they might not be condemned unjustly, how is it conceivable that He did not for the same cause preach the Gospel to those who had departed this life before His advent?

(200 AD) Tertullian

A Treatise on the Soul: Chapter 7
But what is that which is removed to Hades after the separation of the body; which is there detained; which is reserved until the day of judgment; to which Christ also, on dying, descended?
A Treatise on the Soul: Chapter 55
By ourselves the lower regions (of Hades) are not supposed to be a bare cavity, nor some subterranean sewer of the world, but a vast deep space in the interior of the earth, and a concealed recess in its very bowels; inasmuch as we read that Christ in His death spent three days in the heart of the earth, that is, in the secret inner recess which is hidden in the earth, and enclosed by the earth, and superimposed on the abysmal depths which lie still lower down. Now although Christ is God, yet, being also man, He died according to the Scriptures, and according to the same Scriptures was buried. With the same law of His being He fully complied, by remaining in Hades in the form and condition of a dead man; nor did He ascend into the heights of heaven before descending into the lower parts of the earth, that He might there make the patriarchs and prophets partakers of Himself.

(205 AD) Hippolytus

On Christ and Antichrist, 26
He showed all power given by the Father to the Son, who is ordained Lord of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, and Judge of all: of things in heaven, because He was born, the Word of God, before all (ages); and of things on earth, because He became man in the midst of men, to re-create our Adam through Himself; and of things under the earth, because He was also reckoned among the dead, preaching the Gospel to the souls of the saints, (and) by death overcoming death.
On Christ and Antichrist, 45
He [John the Baptist] also first preached to those in Hades, becoming a forerunner there when he was put to death by Herod, that there too he might intimate that the Saviour would descend to ransom the souls of the saints from the hand of death.

(246 AD) Origen

Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 5:10, mentioned here.
First therefore he bound him at the cross, and thus he has entered his house, that is, Hades, and from there "ascending on high, he led captivity captive," those certainly who with himself are co-resurrected and have entered the holy city, heavenly Jerusalem.
Against Celsus, 2:43
Celsus next addresses to us the following remark: "You will not, I suppose, say of him, that, after failing to gain over those who were in this world, he went to Hades to gain over those who were there." But whether he like it or not, we assert that not only while Jesus was in the body did He win over not a few persons merely, but so great a number, that a conspiracy was formed against Him on account of the multitude of His followers; but also, that when He became a soul, without the covering of the body, He dwelt among those souls which were without bodily covering, converting such of them as were willing to Himself, or those whom He saw, for reasons known to Him alone, to be better adapted to such a course.

(~250 AD) Acts of Pilate, in the Gospel of Nicodemus

Acts of Pilate, Chapters 17-27
And Joseph arose and said unto Annas and Caiaphas: Truly and of right do ye marvel because ye have heard that Jesus hath been seen alive after death, and that he hath ascended into heaven. Nevertheless it is more marvelous that he rose not alone from the dead, but did raise up alive many other dead out of their sepulchres, and they have been seen of many in Jerusalem. And now hearken unto me; for we all know the blessed Simeon, the high priest which received the child Jesus in his hands in the temple. And this Simeon had two sons, brothers in blood and we all were at their falling asleep and at their burial. Go therefore and look upon their sepulchres: for they are open, because they have risen, and behold they are in the city of Arimathaea dwelling together in prayer. And indeed men hear them crying out, yet they speak with no man, but are silent as dead men. But come, let us go unto them and with all honour and gentleness bring them unto us, and if we adjure them, perchance they will tell us concerning the mystery of their rising again.

When they heard these things, they all rejoiced. And Annas and Caiaphas, Nicodemus and Joseph and Gamaliel went and found them not in their sepulchre, but they went unto the city of Arimathaea, and found them there, kneeling on their knees and giving themselves unto prayer. And they kissed them, and with all reverence and in the fear of God they brought them to Jerusalem into the synagogue. And they shut the doors and took the law of the Lord and put it into their hands, and adjured them by the God Adonai and the God of Israel which spake unto our fathers by the prophets, saying: Believe ye that it is Jesus which raised you from the dead? Tell us how ye have arisen from the dead.

And when Karinus and Leucius heard this adjuration, they trembled in their body and groaned, being troubled in heart. And looking up together unto heaven they made the seal of the cross with their fingers upon their tongues, and forthwith they spake both of them, saying: Give us each a volume of paper, and let us write that which we have seen and heard. And they gave them unto them, and each of them sat down and wrote, saying:

O Lord Jesu Christ, the life and resurrection of the dead (al. resurrection of the dead and the life of the living), suffer us to speak of the mysteries of thy majesty which thou didst perform after thy death upon the cross, inasmuch as we have been adjured by thy Name. For thou didst command us thy servants to tell no man the secrets of thy divine majesty which thou wroughtest in hell.

Now when we were set together with all our fathers in the deep, in obscurity of darkness, on a sudden there came a golden heat of the sun and a purple and royal light shining upon us. And immediately the father of the whole race of men, together with all the patriarchs and prophets, rejoiced, saying: This light is the beginning (author) of everlasting light which did promise to send unto us his co-eternal light. And Esaias cried out and said: This is the light of the Father, even the Son of God, according as I prophesied when I lived upon the earth: The land of Zabulon and the land of Nephthalim beyond Jordan, of Galilee of the Gentiles, the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light, and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them did the light shine. And now hath it come and shone upon us that sit in death.

And as we all rejoiced in the light which shined upon us, there came unto us our father Simeon, and he rejoicing said unto us: Glorify ye the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God; for I received him in my hands in the temple when he was born a child, and being moved of the Holy Ghost I made confession and said unto him: Now have mine eyes seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel. And when they heard these things, the whole multitude of the saints rejoiced yet more.

And after that there came one as it were a dweller in the wilderness, and he was inquired of by all: Who art thou? And he answered them and said: I am John, the voice and the prophet of the most High, which came before the face of his advent to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation unto his people, for the remission of their sins. And when I saw him coming unto me, being moved of the Holy Ghost, I said: Behold the Lamb of God, behold him that taketh away the sins of the world. And I baptized him in the river of Jordan, and saw the Holy Ghost descending upon him in the likeness of a dove, and heard a voice out of heaven saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And now have I come before his face, and come down to declare unto you that he is at hand to visit us, even the day spring, the Son of God, coming from on high unto us that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

And when father Adam that was first created heard this, even that Jesus was baptized in Jordan, he cried out to Seth his son, saying: Declare unto thy sons the patriarchs and the prophets all that thou didst hear from Michael the archangel, when I sent thee unto the gates of paradise that thou mightest entreat God to send thee his angel to give thee the oil of the tree of mercy to anoint my body when I was sick. Then Seth drew near unto the holy patriarchs and prophets, and said: When I, Seth, was praying at the gates of paradise, behold Michael the angel of the Lord appeared unto me, saying: I am sent unto thee from the Lord: it is I that am set over the body of man. And I say unto thee, Seth, vex not thyself with tears, praying and entreating for the oil of the tree of mercy, that thou mayest anoint thy father Adam for the pain of his body: for thou wilt not be able to receive it save in the last days and times, save when five thousand and five hundred (al. 5,952) years are accomplished: then shall the most beloved Son of God come upon the earth to raise up the body of Adam and the bodies of the dead, and he shall come and be baptized in Jordan. And when he is come forth of the water of Jordan, then shall he anoint with the oil of mercy all that believe on him, and that oil of mercy shall be unto all generations of them that shall be born of water and of the Holy Ghost, unto life eternal. Then shall the most beloved Son of God, even Christ Jesus, come down upon the earth and shall bring in our father Adam into paradise unto the tree of mercy.

And when they heard all these things of Seth, all the patriarchs and prophets rejoiced with a great rejoicing.
[...]
The passage continues and is fairly length, you can continue reading it at its original source, linked above.

(~300 AD) Odes of Solomon

Ode 42 (Wikipedia)
Sheol saw me and was shattered / and Death ejected me and many with me.

(~324 AD) Eusebius

Church History (Book I), Chapter 13, Paragraph 19
[Jesus] humbled himself, and died and debased his divinity and was crucified, and descended into Hades, and burst the bars which from eternity had not been broken, and raised the dead; for he descended alone, but rose with many, and thus ascended to his Father.

(~350 AD) Cyril of Jerusalem

Catechetical Lecture 4, Paragraph 11
He was truly laid as Man in a tomb of rock; but rocks were rent asunder by terror because of Him. He went down into the regions beneath the earth, that thence also He might redeem the righteous. For, tell me, could thou wish the living only to enjoy His grace, and that, though most of them are unholy; and not wish those who from Adam had for a long while been imprisoned to have now gained their liberty? Esaias the Prophet proclaimed with loud voice so many things concerning Him; would you not wish that the King should go down and redeem His herald? David was there, and Samuel, and all the Prophets , John himself also, who by his messengers said, Are you He that should come, or look we for another (Matthew 11:3)? Would you not wish that He should descend and redeem such as these?
Catechetical Lecture 13, Paragraph 34
The Sun was darkened, because of the Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2). Rocks were rent, because of the spiritual Rock. Tombs were opened, and the dead arose, because of Him who was free among the dead ; He sent forth His prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water (Zechariah 9:11).

(~350 AD) Athanasius

Thomas Aquinas (~1200 AD) in his Summa, quoting Athanasius
Further, it is written (1 Pet. 3:19) that "Christ coming in spirit preached to those spirits that were in prison, which had some time been incredulous": and this is understood of Christ's descent into hell, as Athanasius says (Ep. ad Epict.). For he says that "Christ's body was laid in the sepulchre when He went to preach to those spirits who were in bondage, as Peter said." But it is clear the unbelievers were in the hell of the lost. Therefore Christ went down into the hell of the lost.
Athanasius's Letter 59 that Aquinas was quoting above
This Body it was that was laid in a grave, when the Word had left it, yet was not parted from it, to preach, as Peter says, also to the spirits in prison
Athanasius's De Synodis, Part 1. History of the Councils, Section 8
We know that He, the Only-begotten Son of God, at the Father's bidding came from the heavens for the abolishment of sin, and was born of the Virgin Mary, and conversed with the disciples, and fulfilled the Economy according to the Father's will, and was crucified, and died and descended into the parts beneath the earth, and regulated the things there, Whom the gate-keepers of hell saw Job 38:17 and shuddered; and He rose from the dead the third day...

(~360 AD) Gregory of Nyssa

The Homily on the Three-Day Period, p. 452 (as specified here)
As the ruler of darkness could not approach the presence of the Light unimpeded, had he not seen in him something of flesh, then, as soon as he saw the God-bearing flesh and saw the miracle performed through it by the Deity, he hoped that if he came to take hold of the flesh through death, then he would take hold of all the power contained in it. Therefore, having swallowed the bait of the flesh, he was pierced by the hook of the Deity and thus the dragon was transfixed by the hook.
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(380 AD) Ambrose

Quote from Aurora Lucis Rutilat, and english translation by John Williams available here.
A hymn:

Heaven with rosy morn is glowing, songs of triumph fill the air, strains of praise from earth are flowing, Hell is writhing in despair.

Earth’s great king, in glory springing from the deep sepulchral night, while loud anthems round are ringing, leads his saints to life and light.

Praise the Father, earth and heaven, praise the Son, who rose this day, to the Spirit praise be given— three in one, and one in three.

(~400 AD) John Chrysostom

Homily 11 on Ephesians
When you hear these words, think not of a mere removal from one place to another; for what Paul establishes in the Epistle to the Philippians Philippians 2:5-8, that very argument is he also insisting upon here. In the same way as there, when exhorting them concerning lowliness, he brings forward Christ as an example, so does he here also, saying, He descended into the lower parts of the earth. For were not this so, this expression which he uses, He became obedient even unto death Philippians 2:8-9, were superfluous; whereas from His ascending, he implies His descent, and by the lower parts of the earth, he means death, according to the notions of men; as Jacob also said, Then shall you bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave. Genesis 32:48 And again as it is in the Psalm, Lest I become like them that go down into the pit Psalm 143:7, that is like the dead. Why does he descant upon this region here? And of what captivity does he speak? Of that of the devil; for He took the tyrant captive, the devil, I mean, and death, and the curse, and sin. Behold His spoils and His trophies.

(414 AD) Augustine of Hippo: "Who, therefore, except an infidel, will deny that Christ was in hell?"

Letter 64, paragraph 2
It is established beyond question that the Lord, after He had been put to death in the flesh, descended into hell; for it is impossible to gainsay either that utterance of prophecy, You will not leave my soul in hell, — an utterance which Peter himself expounds in the Acts of the Apostles, lest any one should venture to put upon it another interpretation—or the words of the same apostle, in which he affirms that the Lord loosed the pains of hell, in which it was not possible for Him to be holden. Who, therefore, except an infidel, will deny that Christ was in hell?

(~439 AD) Socrates Scholasticus

Church History (Book II), Chapter 10, Paragraph 2
'We believe in one only and true God, the Father Almighty, the Creator and Framer of all things: and in one only-begotten Son of God, before all ages, before all beginning, before all conceivable time, and before all comprehensible thought, begotten without passion: by whom the ages were framed, and all things made: who was begotten as the only-begotten of the Father, only of only, God of God, like to the Father who begot him, according to the Scriptures: whose generation no one knows, but the Father only who begot him. We know that this his only-begotten Son came down from the heavens by his Father's consent for the putting away of sin, was born of the Virgin Mary, conversed with his disciples, and fulfilled every dispensation according to the Father's will: was crucified and died, and descended into the lower parts of the earth, and disposed matters there; at the sight of whom the (door-keepers of Hades trembled ): having arisen on the third day, he again conversed with his disciples, and after forty days were completed he ascended into the heavens, and is seated at the Father's right hand; and at the last day he will come in his Father's glory to render to every one according to his works.

(~440 AD) Cyril of Alexandria

Comm. Lk. 9:18-22 (Serm. 49), quoted here
"For that he utterly abolished death, and effaced destruction, and despoiled Hades, and overthrew the tyranny of the enemy, and took away the sin of the world, and opened the gates above to the dwellers upon earth, and united earth to heaven: these things proved him to be, as I said, in truth God."

(~440 AD) Pope Leo I

Letter 15, Section 18, Paragraph 1
Furthermore in the matter which you placed last in your confidential letter, I am surprised that any intelligent Christian should be in difficulty as to whether when Christ descended to the realms below, his flesh rested in the tomb: for as it truly died and was buried, so it was truly raised the third day. For this the Lord Himself also had announced, saying to the Jews, destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up John 2:19 . Where the evangelist adds this comment: but this He spoke of the temple of His body. The truth of which the prophet David also had predicted, speaking in the person of the Lord and Saviour, and saying: Moreover my flesh also shall rest in hope; because You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor give Your Holy One to see corruption. From these words surely it is clear that the Lord's flesh being buried, both truly rested and did not undergo corruption: because it was quickly revived by the return of the soul, and rose again. Not to believe this is blasphemous enough, and is undoubtedly of a piece with the doctrine of Manichæus and Priscillian, who with their blasphemous conceptions pretend to confess Christ, but only in such a way as to destroy the reality of His incarnation, and death, and resurrection.
  • He was born 400 AD and died in 461 AD. The year of this letter is unknown to me, but it would be between those two dates.

(~600 AD) Pope Gregory I

Book VII, Letter 15, Paragraph 2
Moreover, after your departure I learned from information given me by my most beloved sons the deacons that your Love had said that our Almighty Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, when He descended into hell, saved all who there acknowledged Him as God, and delivered them from the pains due to them. With regard to this subject I desire that your Charity should think very differently. For, when He descended into hell, He delivered through His grace those only who both believed that He should come and observed His precepts in their lives.

(~600 AD) John of Damascus

An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, BOOK III CHAPTER XXIX
The soul when it was deified descended into Hades, in order that, just as the Sun of Righteousness rose for those upon the earth, so likewise He might bring light to those who sit under the earth in darkness and shadow of death: in order that just as He brought the message of peace to those upon the earth, and of release to the prisoners, and of sight to the blind, and became to those who believed the Author of everlasting salvation and to those who did not believe a reproach of their unbelief, so He might become the same to those in Hades: That every knee should bow to Him, of things in heaven, and things in earth and things under the earth. And thus after He had freed those who had been bound for ages, straightway He rose again from the dead, shewing us the way of resurrection.