The doctrine of Christ’s descent into hell has its roots in the NT esp. 1 Pet 3:18-20 and developed during the patristic period: R. Gounelle presents a dossier of patristic texts until 550 290-424. This tradition found its imaginative expression in the account of the Descent into Hell, part III of the Acts of Pilate Gospel of Nicodemus q.v.. In response to questions put to them by the Jews, Leucius and Carinus sons of Simeon Lk 2:25-28, fictitious authors of the five great apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, and among those resurrected during Christ’s passion Mt 27:52-53 recount as eye witnesses mysteries that took place in Hades after Christ’s death; both written accounts are identical, thus confirming their truth as the testimony of two witnesses.
The text recounts Christ’s descent into hell and his victory over the devil, Hades and death; Christ leads out of Hades all the OT righteous and John the Baptist. The account is theological: it shows the victory of light over darkness and the universal redemption accomplished through the mystery of the cross. Probably of Jewish Christian origin, the Descent into Hell has been perfectly inserted into the Acts of Pilate a late work, of which it is now an integral part. The text is very picturesque and expressive the dialogues and monologues are esp. vivid; it was translated or paraphrased in various languages and greatly influenced literature and painting; some of its passages have even been inserted into liturgical texts. J. Kroll, Gott in Hölle. Der Mythos des Descensuskampfe, Leipzig 1932; B. Bagatti, L’iconografia dell’Anastasis o Discesa agli inferi: Liber Annuus 32 1982 239-272; R. Gounelle, Pourquoi, selon l’Evangile de Nicodème, le Christ est descendu aux Enfers, in J.D. Kaestli – D. Marguerat eds., Le mystère apocryphe, Geneva 1995, 67-84; Id., La descente du Christ aux Enfers, institutionalisation d’une croyance, Paris 2000; Z. Izydorczyk ed., The Medieval “Gospel of Nicodemus,” Tempe 1997 influence of the Gospel of Nicodemus in the culture of various countries.
M. Starowieyski DESERT. When the anonymous translator of Athanasius’s Vita Antonii wanted to make the concepts of hvremein 49,4 andor avnacwrein 48,1 comprehensible to Latin readers, he had to use more words than the Greek text used. He thus specified that the vere secedere et in silentio esse 49,4 or quiescere 49,3 had as its content attendere sibi e vacare studio deifico 3,2, at the invitation, almost the inspiration, of God 50,1, in order to dirigere animum in conspectu Dei 55,4, without avoiding the needs of the brothers, hermits or simple people who sought out Anthony or wanted a visit from him. The eremetical ideal spread initially in the East, where the experience of solitary life included ascetics with no rule Sarabaites, Encratites, whose way of life was opposed by reforms. In the 4th c. it came to the West where, at Rome, Trier and elsewhere, the Vita Antonii was widely circulated in its two Latin versions Evagrius’s literary version and the earlier anonymous one, which was more popular.
According to Athanasius, Anthony was the first hermit to dwell in the desert. Parallel traditions point to Paul of Thebes Jerome, Vita Pauli 1,1 and Amun Vita Antonii 60 as the initiators of the eremitical life. Anchoritic life probably arose simultaneously in different places K. Heussi, Der Ursprung des Mönchtums, Tübingen 1936, 70,2. Places where monks, anchorites or cenobites, gathered were numerous from the start: Lower Egypt Anthony, Upper Egypt Pachomius, Syria, Palestine, Cappadocia, Constantinople, Greece, Persia, Ethiopia through the centuries extending to the whole Christian East. In the West: N Africa, the Iberian peninsula, Italy, Gaul, the Celtic lands, with Jerome, Columbanus, Benedict and others.