Jean Calvin, Christ’s despair, and the reformation decensus ad inferos

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Jean Calvin includes the descensus ad inferos among the events in Christ’s Passion - that is, as the culmination of his agony rather than the commencement of his glorious reign - and interprets the descensus as the experience of despair. And while he is not the first to do so, Calvin intensified earlier accounts of Christ’s descent into hell to an unparalleled degree, arguing not only that Christ experienced a unique despair and abandonment reserved for the damned but also that it is this feeling that satisfies the conditions of the law. It is through Christ’s exemplary descensus, that mankind is redeemed and saved from a similar experience. Building on the work of Desiderius Erasmus, Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples, Martin Luther, and Martin Bucer, among others, Calvin controversially foregrounds the redemptive station of Christ’s affects. For Calvin, human salvation hinges not only on what Jesus wills, but also on what Jesus feels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)53-78
Number of pages26
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Religious studies


  • Affect
  • Calvinism
  • Christ's passion
  • Descensus ad inferos
  • Jean Calvin


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