Apostles’ Creed 5 | Dancing the Dead out of Death

Originally written for the Book of Common Thought. Here adapted and ameliorated.

4. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.
“No I don’t want to battle from beginning to end, I don’t want to cycle or recycle revenge, I don’t want to follow death and all of his friends.” – Coldplay
Holy Saturday or Resurrection Sunday?

Creston Davis, in his introduction to The Monstrosity of Christ, uses the above subtitle. The Monstrosity of Christ recounts a debate between Slavoj Žižek and John Milbank. Holy Saturday and Resurrection Sunday is also focal question of the 5th article of the Apostles’ Creed. What happened to Jesus after his death? The creed frames these two events in one movement. Nobody should read descend without resurrection. However, for the moment, we’ll side with Holy Saturday for a few reasons.

First, I assumed in the original post that my interlocutors would focus more on the Resurrection Sunday. Second, I rather like Saturday’s silent, hidden uncertainty. Also, Saturday seems more like the limbo of the post-axial world we inherited. I think Holy Saturday speaks better of the deadlocks faced today. Besides, I like Coldplay’s Death and All His Friends.

But before dancing with death and selling goods to the devil a quick theo-historical comment.

Bad Spelling Will be the Death of Us: Inferna vs Inferos

As a friend often point out, I’m not the best speller. Sometimes I blame English being my second language. Other times I think it’s the laziness of not bothering to reread. Whatever the reason, to spelling and grammar errors are not modern phenomena by any means.

When dancing with death, though, you should be sure to have your spell checker nearby. Somewhere in the Fourth century CE, (a) scribe(s) copying the Apostles’ Creed made a minor mistake with major consequences. Some manuscripts used inferna meaning “hell” and others inferos meaning “lower world”. These two words, also, created an interpretive split of the fifth article over the ages. Some preferred inferna, like Luther and the Reformers, focussing on Jesus’ destruction of hell. Others, like Irenaeus and Tertullian, preferred inferos. Their focus was on Jesus’ descent into the underworld.

Of course, such interpretations fit with larger theological drives. Tertullian and Irenaeus felt compelled to explain how Jesus could save the faithful who had already dead. While Luther and the Reformers took the first steps to release us from the fear of supernatural forces. Of course, there were those, like Aquinas, who uses both inferna and inferos. For Aquinas the former was a reminder of the sacrament of the living, the Eucharist, which protects humans from hell. The latter was the sacrament for the dead; i.e., Jesus’ infinite mercy stretching even into death. Okay, enough Latin, it will be the death of me. Back to Coldplay.

Death and All His Friends

Coldplay uses Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People as cover for the standard edition of their album Viva la Vida or Death and All of His Friends. What Coldplay wants to communicate is unclear. The blurring of everyday life and carnival excess are typical of the anthem-rock genre. Indeed, such blurring is fundamental to many a pop-genre. Often the message is: you can have it all, and all the time. Such promises are patent contradictions supported by the liturgies of advertising. Inculcated into the broader culture this contradiction begets constant unrequited longing turning into numbness.

A numbness which deadens. It seems we are waiting for resurrection and hoping for revolution. No renewal can come, however, before descending into inferos to save dead, lost thoughts. Curtailing the recycling of revenge means showing inferna as powerless, already destroyed. Those who cry the wolf of revolutionary resurrection should heed the following warning. Salvation begins by facing your fetishized desire for resurrection without going through the dead. The only way to resurrection is dancing the dead out of death.