medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

Dear Marjorie,

I take it that it is doctrinal views rather than literary or popular or 
iconographic traditions  of the Harrowing of Hell what you or your friend 
are interested in. In this case, I think that the following might be of 
help (although I am not sure how far MacCulloch's study extends to the 
middle ages, and to which extent Bell's dissertation includes doctrinal texts):

    The Harrowing of Hell: A Comparative Study of Early
    Christian Doctrine, Edinburgh: Clark, 1930; Repr. New York
    1983, xiii+352 pp.
BELL A. Robert
    The Harrowing of Hell: A Study of Its Reception and Artistic
    Interpretation in Early Mediaeval European Literature. Diss.
    University of Maryland, 1971 [Diss. Order N 72-600], 333 p.
    [cf. Dissertation Abstracts International A 32,6, 1971,

Also, you might try Turner's article and Smith's additions (the latter 
adding especially references regarding the idea of an 'eucharistic 
descensus' in Rupert of Deutz and others):

    'Descendit ad inferos': Medieval Views on Christ's Descent
    into Hell and the Salvation of the Ancient Just. In: Journal
    of the History of Ideas 27 (1966), 173-194

SMITH Constance I.
    Descendit ad Inferos - Again. In: Journal of the History of
    Ideas 28 (1967), 87-88

If you read German, you could also try:

    Gott und Ho"lle. Der Mythos vom Descensuskampfe. Leipzig /
    Berlin 1932 (= Studien der Bibliothek Warburg, XX), repr.
    Darmstadt 1963
    Die Vorstellung von der Ho"llenfahrt Jesu Christi. Beitra"ge
    zur Entstehungsgeschichte der Vorstellung vom sogenannten
    Descensus ad inferos. Zu"rich: Zwingli-Velag, 1949
    (= Abhandlungen zur Theologie des Alten und Neuen Testa-
    ments, 19), 237 pp.
MAAS Wilhelm
    Gott und Hoelle. Studien zum Descensus Christi. Einsiedeln:
    Johannes Verlag, 1979 (= Sammlung Horizonte, N.F. 14),
    339 pp.

Summarizing briefly what I believe to know about the medieval period (in 
the West): the descensus was taken as a fact (part of the creed), it was 
believed to have extended to the entire hell, not only the limbo, but the 
souls saved in Christ's descent were only the just souls expecting him in 
the limbo (i.e. in the Abraham's bosom as depicted in Lc 16,19ss.), and did 
not include the lost souls eternally damned to the lower region of Hell. 
Whereas there was no similarly uniform view regarding the question whether 
only saints of the Old Testament or also just pagans (with a 'natural' 
insight) had been among the saved.

Best wishes,


Dr. Otfried Lieberknecht
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D-80337 Muenchen, Lindwurmstr. 127
phone +49 (0)89 76775703, mobile +49 (0)1706771396

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