Harrowing of Hell 2011

In September 2009 I was contacted by Fr. Simon Mackenzie, the incumbent of St. Matthew’s, Perry Beeches, Birmingham, on behalf of his Churchwarden, Mr. David Gadd, and his wife, who wished to commission a slate plaque in memory of dear friends and fellow parishioners.

Harrowing of Hell by Gabriel Hummerstoe of Hummerstone MonumentalI modelled for this image and all Christians are called to do so: Harrowing Hell is at the heart of our vocation. Christ is our model & not only is it only through His work, His “liturgy”, as the One True Holy & Immaculate Victim & Sacrifice, that we and the whole world are redeemed, but also, in an upside-down & inside-out world, the world and the evil threof, only exist to be redeemed.

Anthropology & Psychology can help us to see half of the picture, even with the eyes of disbelief: Christianity is the cult oif the willing & knowing victim. We are called, whether we are able to hear or not, to be willing victims & sacrifices to redeem our world.

The news of the world is always of Hell on Earth & is only made sane by the possibility, the necessity & the inevitability of its redemption -already accomplished, in the process of accomplishment & yet to be accomplished.

The news of the world is inevitably and necessarily of spiritual, social, environmental & ecomomic disaster. The “Bad News of the World” is of “Hell on Earth”. The protagonists, we are urged to see are Men of Power (presidents, generals, politicians & experts) striving to “contain” Men who Disempower (evil dictators, criminals, murderers & threats to our safety).

Men of The World seem to struggle heroically to “neutralise” disruptive elements & the unimaginably worse: unconscious agents of evil: The Good News of The Gospel, of “Heaven on Earth” is only possible because of this need & necessity for the World’s Redemption.

It is the final act of Christ’s Passion, His Descent into Hell & His freeing of the damned souls that speaks peculiarly to our age of natural & man-made disaster. We Christians & believers in the true Gospel are the yeast that leavens the loaf. We are necessarily a tiny minority, we are called to dare all & to lose all, & to enter Hell, ostensibly on behalf of others, but truly to fulfil our own vocation: to redeem the world from the evil thereof, armed only with Love. Without the fight & the ensuing willing defeat there can be no unearthly victory.

We are called to sever the physical laws of cause & effect, to break the chain of action & reaction, & to senselessly destroy the madness of the logic of our world by stepping beyond & outside it.

The Harrowing of Hell is the last act of the play, an act of which we can know nothing, almost a lacuna in The Gospel, that changes tragedy into divine comedy. Only by exceeding the tragic brief can this be achieved: only by being armed with the utterly unrealistic aim & impossible aspiration of being perfect, of following in Our Lord’s footsteps & of failing can we begin to hope to win the day. It is only through defeat & failure that we may hope to turn the world upsidedown to bring Heaven down to Earth & redeem it from Evil.

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