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then take place in favour of even the worst of sinners or the most strenuous of disbelievers: so, if to suppose his condemnation is sometimes allowable, not as matter of absolute assertion, but of example, to suppose his salvation is at least equally to be permitted, as an example of another kind more in unison with the principles of Chrisstiau charity (0 . Amidst the murkiness of our intellect this much can be discerned clearly, that the supreme Being must be infinitely merciful and just: we may be deceived in a thousand ways in our estimations, but his attributes cannot fail. Whatever takes place is just and merciful; and if it sometimes seems otherwise unto us, the defect is in our comprehension. On the one hand then, to prescribe any bounds to the Creator's mercy is to be guilty of a heinous enormity : and on the other, it is certain that divine justice will reward with the light and grace necessary to SaJvation every man not totally unworthy of them . But this unworthiness can be nothing but the lurking of something vicious, although perhaps entirely imperceptible to us. To say the want of belief causes woe, is then to adduce a secondary cause: for the primary one is vice ; vice is the cause of that want of belief; and the woe you commiserate is nothing
(t) E talvi-, salve, O spirto fortnnaf* ,
Monti. Bassvilliana, Canto i.
i.mro It. >
more than the ruin consequent on vice. The virtuous man on the contrary (whatever be appearances that blind us) shall somehow or other, and somewhere or other, learn to know and believe whatever is requisite to make him happy: for eternal happiness follows virtue as necessarily as misery does guilt. Here we are drawn to a point in which orthodox members of almost every creed agree; and, in spite of scholastic disputes and mutual acrimony, this fundamental principle is found to be common to them all, that vice alone is the origin of misery,and virtue of bliss; and that the virtuous shall be for ever happy, and the wicked miserable. Here must the theologians of various persuasions, however apparently at variance in their dogmas, stand together, if forced back from discursive reasonings to the source of them . How often would this be the kind end of discussions, if antagonists had patience to understand each other! But too many are more obstinate, than desirous of teaching or of being taught: some will not soften their expressions, although it would detract nothing from their meaning; and some will not candidly examine the real meaning of those exaggerated expressions. Thus words become the cause of strife; while the difference as to things is perhaps little or nothing. From what I have said it follows, that the dogmas of Dante's church did not prescribe any order for the placing of his personages either in Paradise, or in Hell; but equally prohibited his
representing them in either, as matter of fact (0; and as one of fancy, left him at liberty. That such is the orthodox theory of his Church, suffices for Dante: nor is it necessary for his commentator to endeavour to reconcile that benevolent doctrine ( which, without any Procrustean aids, may be adapted universally, and leaves every individual's fate, where it should be, in his Maker's hand) with either the language of the vulgar, or the intemperance of some of the learned; it is for themselves to do that (a). The axiom therefore of exclusive
(i) The story of S. Gregory and Trajan is told variously f Baronius ad ami. 604— N. Ales*. Vita S. Greg. Lib. a. cap. 44.); but all allow that be repiesented that Pagan Emperor in Paradise, and that the assertion was condemned ' not because it was impossible for the Prince to be there, but because it was impossible /or the Pontiff to knotv whether he was so, or not, without a direct revelation from above—to which his Holiness pretended not:' this as to Paradise. As to Hell: * when, not manv years ago, the holy preacher Lionardo da Porto Manrizio was under process of Canonization , the advocate of the devil ( such is the quaint title of one of the Canonical lawers — I'avvocato del di.nolo ) stopped all proceedings by accusing the candidate of the rasli judgment of hiving pronounced the damnation of his neighbour. A most hardened and sacrilegious murderer ( he had slain a priest at the altar with circumstances of marvellous atrocity and the premeditation of many months ) had been just turned off from the gallows with an atheistical ciy of vengeance in his month, when Lionardo, getting up to preach to the already shocked multitude, exclaimed that the miserable impenitent was dropping into hell. The accusation was held good by the ecclesiastical court, because it was impossible to know what change might have been wrought in the culprit in the interval between the tightening of the rope and the utter departure of his soul, without a dirrct revelation from above, the onus probandi of which lay with the advocates fur canonization. ' Can Lett. p. a.
fV No religion ran be absolved from persecuting bigotry if held responsible for the sentiments of its members however illustrious , or even of large assemblies of such. Hume, Hist. Vol. 8. p. »67. AuoQirro ir.
salvation, when theologically considered and reduced to its accurate meaning, does not in the least interfere with the personages of the Divine Comedy; and, however terrible to the inattentive hearer, and however often abused by the ambitious and malignant, is, in itself, a harmless, abstract, general rule with so many tacit exceptions of which we cannot judge, that, in spite of all the ingenuity of speculation, we cannot employ it to condemn a single human being without great absurdity us well as guilt (0. Church dogmas then did they meddle with the affair at all, would not have regulated Dante's awards, but would have prohibited his making any on ground so decepliousas appearances: if a poet were not permitted to do so, be
ifti5. — Dante Indeed pays small attention to Individual Doctors, but his Muse records every one of those paramount tenets universally taught by the Roman Catholics.
(i) Even the Council of Trent notwithstanding the violence of its debates, and the religious virulence that then raged everv-where, was obliged, when it came to propound an actual decree, to lessen its asperity in order to preserve its orthodoxy; aud the consequence was, that it left the matter of exclusive salvation as undecided as it had found it. For as to the universal acclamation of " anathema to all heretics ancient and modern, * it was indeed a sound full of fury and too capable of being converted at that unhappy season to direful purposes j hut, however badly timed or wickedly intended by wicked inviduals, it was in truth ndthing more than a repetition of the theological maxim we have been discussing. Being likely to be most uncharitably explained, it was most uncharitable to repeat it gratuitously: but if explained with the mildness of an impartial looker on and with reference not to angry dcclaimers, but the letter of the Catholic recorded Articles of faith, it would have never authorized the condemnation of one single individual alive or dead, as 1 hope I have proved , Sarpi, Storia del Con. Trid. 1. 8. p. i.iS.
cause it is only from them he can cull examples, which he gives not as serious decisions, but as specious reveries. The only rule that bound him was to abstain from supposing any thing impossible to be true; and however improbable it be that his Pagans etc. are as he has placed them, it is a theological verity that they possibly may be so. This being the case, the question is no longer one of Divinity, but of poetical justice: it is not whether he observed an orthodox rule ( for I have shown he had none, except with regard to a few canonized saints, and the still fewer Biblical characters), but whether he applied morally the licence conceded to his fancy for a very moral purpose? This M. Meriau has partly answered by saying,' his punishments are in general proportioned to his crimes:' but, since there is little about punishments in this Canto, does he present us with rewards proportioned to merits (0?
To reward a good action by realizing the hopes that induced the actor to perform it is a first principle of equity among men . The nature and proceedings of eternal justice lie far beyond our comprehension : but, in our ignorance of them, we may safely apply to the tribunal of a future world the rules which are acknowledged to be just in this. Now a Christian is taught to look forward to a Paradise of ineffable bliss; while the Pagans
(i) Promia marina Mint meunnranda . ftlgnaicuia, Lib. a. p. $a.