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To George, Presbyter.
Mindful of your goodness and charity, I greatly blame myself, that I gave you leave to return so soon: but, since I saw you pressing me importunately once and again for leave to go, I considered that it might be a serious matter for your Love to tarry with us longer. But, after I had learned that you had lingered so long on your journey owing to the winter season, I confess that I was sorry that you had been sent away so soon. For, if your Love was unable to accomplish your intended journey, it had been better that you had lingered with me than away from me.
Moreover, after your departure I learned from information given me by my most beloved sons the deacons that your Love had said that our Almighty Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, when He descended into hell, saved all who there acknowledged Him as God, and delivered them from the pains due to them. With regard to this subject I desire that your Charity should think very differently. For, when He descended into hell, He delivered through His grace those only who both believed that He should come and observed His precepts in their lives. For it is evident that after the incarnation of the Lord no one can be saved, even of those who hold His faith, who have not the life of faith; since it is written, They acknowledge that they know God, but in deeds they deny Him Titus 1:16. And John says, He that says that he knows Him, and keeps not His commandments, is a liar 1 John 2:4. James also, the brother of the Lord, writes saying, Faith without works is dead James 2:20. If, then, believers now are not saved without good works, while the unbelieving and reprobate without good action were saved by our Lord descending into hell, then the lot of those who never saw the incarnation of the Lord was better than that of these who have been born after the mystery of His incarnation. But what fatuity it argues to say or think this the Lord Himself testifies to His disciples, when He says, Many kings and prophets have desired to see the things which you see, and have not seen them Matthew 13:17; Luke 10:24. But, that I may not detain your Love with argument of my own, learn what Philaster, in the book which he wrote about heresies, says about this heresy. His words are these;
They are heretics who say that the Lord descended into hell, and announced himself after death to all who were already there, so that in acknowledging Him there they might be saved; seeing that this is contrary to the prophet David where he says, But in hell who shall acknowledge you Psalm 6:6? And to the Apostle; As many as have sinned without law shall perish without law Romans 2:12. And with his words the blessed Augustine also agrees in the book which he wrote about heresies.
Considering, therefore, all these things, hold nothing but what the true faith teaches through the Catholic Church: namely, that the Lord in descending into hell rescued from infernal durance those only whom while living in the flesh He preserved through His grace in faith and good conduct. For in that which He says in the Gospel, When I shall be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all to myself John 12:32, He means all that are elect. For one could not be drawn to God after death who had separated himself from God by evil living. May Almighty God keep you under His protection, that, wherever you are, you may feel in soul and body the aid of His grace.
Source. Translated by James Barmby. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 12. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1895.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/360207015.htm>.
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