UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The descent into Hell : an Elizabethan controversy Stewart, Patricia Weightman


The Protestant schism with Rome involved a rejection of Catholic beliefs about the nature of hell. As a result it was imperative that Protestants reinterpret)? a central article of Christian belief. This article was Christ's descent into hell which had long been accepted in the Apostles' Creed as having followed the death and burial of Christ. Debate about the meaning and purpose of Christ's descent grew in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The Protestant emphasis on the Word as the all important foundation of faith meant that the Scriptures and the Church Fathers were consulted to establish the meaning of the article. Original Greek and Hebrew texts of the Scriptures were analysed. Calvin had propounded a radically different interpretation of the article which some Englishmen accepted. Others employed "reason" to "prove" the validity of one interpretation or another. These different methods employed to ascertain the true interpretation of the article produced widely divergent results. The authorities of the Church of England were faced with disagreement and dissention which they were unable to subdue. As a result, by 1607 the Church was retreating from maintaining authority over the content of belief in this article. The theological inclination of Church authorities on this issue contradicts the views which some modern historians hold about the beliefs and motivations of these men. The debate also undermines the impression sometimes given of a solid, theologically stable, "Calvinist" Church in England.

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