An Easter Reading from the Golden Legend

From Volume One of The Golden Legend (Aurea Legenda) of the blessed Jacobus de Varagine 1275.  Englished by William Caxton 1483.

Here Beginneth the Resurrection 

Of how Jesu Christ drew the holy fathers out of hell, and what he made there, the Evangelist telleth not clearly.

Nevertheless Saint Austin in a sermon, and Nicodemus in his gospels, show it somewhat.

And Saint Austin saith:

Anon as Jesu Christ had rendered the spirit, the soul that was united to his Godhead was quick and living in the deepness of hell descended.

And when he was at deepest of the darkness, like as a robber shining and terrible to the tyrants of hell, they beheld him and began to demand and enquire: Who is he that is so strong, so terrible, so clear and so shining ? The world, which is to us subject, sent to us never such one dead, ne he sent to us never such gifts into hell. Who is he then that is so constant that is entered into the furthest end of our parts, and he doubteth not only of our torments, but yet he hath unbound them of their bonds whom we held and kept? And they that were wont to wail and weep under our torments, assail us now by their health. And now not only they fear us, but now threaten and menace us.

And they said to their prince: What prince art thou? All thy gladness is perished and all thy joys be converted into weepings. When thou hangedst him in the cross thou knewest not what damage thou shouldst suffer in hell.

After these cruel words of them of hell, at the commandment of our Lord all the locks, all the bars and shuttings been broken, and to-frushed.

And lo! the people of saints that come kneeling tofore him in crying with piteous voice, saying: Our Redeemer! Thou art come for to redeem the world, we have abided thee every day; thou art descended into hell for us, and leave us not, but that we be with thee when thou shalt return to thy brethren. Lord sweet God, show that thou hast despoiled hell, and bind the author of death with his bonds, render to the world now gladness, and quench the pains; and for thy pity unbind the caitiffs from servitude whiles thou art here, and assoil the sinners when thou descendest into hell, them of thy party.

This said Saint Austin.

And it is read in the gospel of Nicodemus that Carinus and Leucius, sons of old Simeon, arose with Jesu Christ. And they were adjured and sworn of Ananias, of Caiaphas, of Nicodemus, of Joseph, and of Gamaliel, that they should tell and say what Jesus did in hell. And they rehearsed and said:

When we were with our fathers in the place of obscurity and darkness, suddenly it was all so light and clear as the colour of the sun, like purple, gold, and light royal, which illumined all the habitation upon us.

And anon Adam the father of the human lineage began to enjoy, saying: This light is the light of the creator of the light sempiternal, which promised to send to us his light perpetual.

And Isaiah cried: This is the light of God the Father, like as I said living in the earth: The people that were in darkness saw a great light.

Then came our Father Simeon, and in joying said: Glorify ye our Lord, for I received Christ, a child born in the world, in to mine hands in the Temple, and I was constrained by the Holy Ghost to say, Nunc viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum: I have now seen with mine eyen thine health which bringeth and hath made it ready before the face of all thy people.

After, came one which seemed to be an hermit, and when we demanded him what he was, he answered that he was John that baptized Christ, and he that am gone before him for to make ready his way, and showed him with my finger when I said: Ecce agnus Dei, and am descended for to show to you that he cometh soon to visit you.

Then said Seth: When I came to the gate of Paradise for to pray our Lord to send me his angel, and that he would give to me of the oil of mercy for to anoint the body of Adam my father, which was sick, the angel Michael appeared to me and said: Labour not in praying by weeping for the things here, anon they were transfigured and were no more seen.

And hereof speaketh Gregory Nyssen and S. Austin, like as is found in some books:

Anon as Jesu Christ descended into hell, the night began to wax clear. And anon the porter black and horrible among them in silence began to murmur, saying: Who is he that is so terrible and of clearness so shining? Our master received never none such into hell, ne the world cast never none such into our cavern. This is an assailer, and not debtor, a breaker and destroyer, and no sinner but a despoiler, we see him a judge but no beseecher, he comes for to fight and not to be overcome, a caster out and not here a dweller.