A medieval Harrowing of Hell, with Hellmouth, engraving by Michael Burghers (1647/8–1727). In Christian theology, the Harrowing of Hell (also often referred to, even today, as the Descensus Christi ad Inferos) is understood as the triumphant descent of Christ into Hell (or, even better, into Hades, which is quite different). This descent, Tradition claims, happened between the time of his death in the Cross and his Resurrection, and it implies the bringing of salvation to the righteous who had died since the beginning of the world, but before the arrival of the Messiah. After his death, the soul of Jesus descended into the realm of the dead, referred to as “Hell,” according to an old English usage of the Apostle’s Creed.
This clause is indeed, the core of the issue: in the original Greek (κατελθόντα εις τα κατώτατα), the word “κατώτατα” simply translates “the lower,” the “inferior” (precisely what inferos, “Hell,” means also in Latin), the “underworld”. According to some traditions and interpretations, this underworld is not Hell but, instead, Abraham’s Bosom (sometimes known as the Limbo of the Patriarchs) –a place where the righteous awaited for the plenitude of Redemption to arrive. It is not be confused with Gehenna, a definitive place in which one is deprived of God’s presence. In fact, a 3rd-century old Syrian Creed says of Jesus that he “was crucified under Pontius Pilate and departed in peace, in order to preach to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the saints concerning the end of the world and the resurrection of the dead.”