Credo in Iesum Christum qui descendit ad inferos.

After Adam’s sin, it is said that Adam’s expulsion from the Temple Garden of God was ever descent; every step forward was a step downward from the heights and away from closeness with God, with whom he had walked in the cool of the day. Downward Adam went, more enmeshed with the toils of the world, more estranged from God, his Creator, his Beloved. Adam, young once when he was created from the clay of the fresh earth, became the Old Adam, toiling, laboring, sacrificing, doing penance, yearning after the Oath that God had made to him, yet ever bound and bowed to his sin that would always torment him, always distract his gaze from the Most High towards things most low. In long years of grief, his time was spent, until spent like grass withered in the afternoon heat, his long life was cut short, being taken away from him as a weaver cuts from a loom. And still, Adam’s steps were ever downward, for that which had been the bright image of God faltered and crumbled to dust, and his soul continued to descend into the dark places where all is but gloom; where all is but night and the only light is the hope one bears within one’s soul.

Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (detail), Thomas Cole, 1828

How far did Adam’s soul fall into the netherworld before it, at last, found a resting place? Was it as far as the Gates of Tartarus to sit and witness those of his lineage who had abandoned hope in the ancient Oath of God, refused to do penance, refused to amend their ways, had fallen further than he, and so cross under that terrible arch? Such suffering it would have been to have seen what his sin brought to the very flesh of his flesh; his marred images all bearing and embracing the visage of the Old Adam, all fully rejecting the Image of God that the Young Adam had born. Grief and penance, for long years, yet not without hope, until at last It is finished. What was finished was not Adam’s penance, as if the waters of the abyss between God and man might be drunk up by a  Sisyphean endeavor.  What was finished was what God did, and Adam’s penance ended not because it achieved its goal but because God said Enough! and tore up that ancient debt.

How far Adam fell was not as far as Christ came down. The Word by which all creation came into being, the true Icon of the Father, His Only Begotten One, condescended to become Incarnate. He who transcends time entered time and became permanently united in the Incarnation to man and took on the image of the Old Adam, yet without sin. Upon Himself, He took all of Adam’s disobedience, all of that of his descendants, and offered to the Father the perfect sacrifice, that which Adam lost the right to give and could no longer give, that of the human heart upon which God would dwell. In Christ, all penance is completed, save that which is lacking (the individual’s joining of his to His), and a once-and-for-all sacrifice is offered to the Father in propitiation for sins. Still, Christ is not finished lowering Himself. At this point, He could have chosen to return to the Father, but this is not the Oath, this is not His Father’s will.

Christ’s Descent into Limbo, Andrea Mantegna, 1470–75

To the dark places Christ goes in search of the very first lost sheep. For it is to Adam that the Oath was made, and it was for Adam that Christ came down from Heaven to break the bonds of sin and to put an end to death and man’s estrangement from God. As all who descend from the lost Adam and bear the mark of the Old Adam, so then does Christ also come in search of as their shepherd. And if Adam is restored because he hoped, then all who are of the Old Adam and retained hope shall likewise be sought and found. If all are bound to Adam, then all likewise may be bound to Adam’s Son, who through the Cross became the New Adam, and may bear His mark, His image, and put off the old.

When Christ died upon the Cross, His very human body was very dead, and His soul went in search of Adam’s soul.  The connection between Christ’s human body and His soul was not utterly severed, but the faintest of connections remained and Christ’s divine person continued hypostatically united to the fullness of His humanity. This represents the depths of the Son’s condescension.  When It is finished, He did not simply return to being only the Son of God but remained the God-Man. He went in search of Adam not strictly as the Only Begotten Son of the Father but as the Word of the Father, the Incarnate Son of the Father, Jesus of Nazareth, Son of the Virgin, the Christ of God, the Son of Adam. When Adam looked up from his gloom he beheld not just his Creator, but flesh of his flesh – the most sublime of all mysteries, that God so loved Adam that He became Adam’s son permanently, eternally, so that all gulf and distance between God and Adam, not just due to sin, but due to the disparity between God and man is closed. In Christ’s very person, the gap, the yawning abyss, is closed eternally. The hypostatic union is God’s pledge that God will always be with Adam, that there is no depth to which Adam fell, and to which Adam’s offspring might descend, that Christ cannot go, for He has become one of them and will go and find them if they but hope and have faith in His Oath.

Icon of the Resurrection, Gregory Kroug, 20th c.

The Son became man that He might find Adam, that He might stay with Adam, and, not to restore Adam to an Edenic state, but to take Adam with Him to the Father.  As the Son put on Adam to find Adam, Adam, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, can put on Christ and ascend to the Father. The image of the Old Adam was left behind in the gloom and dust, and one can, as Adam did, because the New Adam did, be raised from the dead and ascend to the Father.