Imagens das páginas

tf4Bio nr.

emulate the glories of the Thebaid,it is wonderful they could have supported one of advanced age like Celestine. Even there his relentless pursuers discovered him; so, flying, he embarked to cross the Adriatic, but being driven back by a storm, fell into the hands of his enemies at Viesti, at the foot of mount Garganus. Thence he was dragged («) lo a fortress in Campania and consigned to the most rigorous, solitary imprisonment. No one was ever permitted to speak to him; and his dungeon was so confined, that he could not lie down in it without pillowing his head on the same stone step on which he stood during the day to celebrate mass. He had asked for two friars of his order to be permitted to say office with him ; but they soon fell victims to the fetid atmosphere emitted hy his dungeon. Thirty-six men guarded him day and night; and at last, whether dispatched by some quicker poison , or by that no less sure one of the noxious vapours in which he dwelt, Celestine V closed his eyes about twenty two months after his elevation to a throne. But his persecutions did not end even wilh death. The relentless Pontiff

(i) He was made to travel by night: in order to prevent bis exciting too much compassion . Yet, though he here failed to liberate himself miraculously, he was in the highest repute for miracles. Some said he ms born in the habit of a monk, others that the figure of Christ descended from a crucifix to sing psalms with him, and others that a harmonious, celestial bell was rung in his ear by Angels every night at the hour of prayer to awake him . Sismondi, Hist. d«» Repub. Ital. vol. iv. p. 7S.

cm To ili.

had his lifeless remains ignominously flung into a hole within a sorry chapel on one of the bastions; no funeral rites were performed over them; and the grave was made of the extraordinary depth of thirty yards, in order that they might never be found or removed into a more honorable place (0. But his individual fate was of slender importance to the world in comparison with the succession of his rival: and, as to Dante, it was his utter ruin, for Boniface was his implacable enemy . Their enmity was indeed reciprocal and natural; being both men of great talents, and of principles as opposite as vice and virtue. The former's exile was , if not caused,at least rivetted by his clerical antagonist; who, in his turn, besides being consigned by verse to an immortality of infamy, probably experienced its fatal effects even during his mortal career; for the invectives so published against him might very well have been, at least in

part, cause of his misfortunes: misfortunes,

which ( as I before observed (•>)) surpassed even the most vindicative desires of the exasperated bard; whose heart could not but relent at seeing a highminded Pope exposed to indignities in a prison which his spirit could ill brook; so that after his liberation the very memory of them set him mad, and he foamed and gnawed himself to death (3).

(i) Gio. Villani. Lib. vin. cap. 5. (t) Hell, Comment, Canto ii. p. -3. (i) Gio. Villani. Lib. fin. cap. 43. I:UTO lit.

All these, and innumerable other evils, brought about by Celestine's abdication, there is no denying it was in itself an unfortunate and bad act: the guilt of the actor however depends upon his motives; and whether Dante in attributing them to 'baseness of spirit,' is borne out by historical facts, as I have fairly narrated them, every reader can judge for himself. The insertion of Celestine V as a Saint in the Roman calendar argues no error in Dante as a Catholic; for, in Boccaccio's words, 'Celestine was not canonized until the Pontificate of John XXII; so that up to that day it was licit for every one to believe what he pleased about him (0. ' It is moreover certain that Celestine's canonization was never intended as a panegyrick on his conduct as a Pope (in which light Dante criticises him here ); but on his mildness

and piety as a hermit a position from which

Dante dissented not, as is evident from his joy at his elevation: but it is quite unjust in a late commentator (2) to accuse the poet of being inconsistent; as if he praises Celestine in Canto XIX. of this same Canticle where we on the contrary shall find he does not utter a syllable about him. Having here blamed him so severely, he is never guilty of the inconsistency of praising him anywhere: and

(i) Comento. vol. c. p. i49. This Canticle, Hell, was at latest puhlished in i308 ( Hell, Comment, Canto i. p. 45) and John's election only took place August the aevenlh, i3i6. Priorista Fiorentino p. 78.

(a) Poggiali. Ed. Livorno, i807. vol. i. p. 4$.

tHHTO iii.

if we shall not see him suffering among the wicked Popes, it is because he Avas not wicked; although his 'baseness of spirit' was perhaps still more injurious to mankind than wickedness would have been, and because he had on that account been already exhibited in this ignominious vestibule. Petrarch indeed ,in his treatise De Vita Solitaria commends Celestine's love of solitude; and those who are more struck by the show of a throne than aware of the momentous duties it imposes, may proclaim his abdication an effort of virtue . But humility and a taste for retirement, however meritorious in themselves, can never, when they interfere with a great positive duty, be a good excuse for the breach of it. The hermitage might have exposed the sanctity of the ascetic to less temptations , and been more agreeable to speculative devotion and internal peace than the bustle of the world . Envy is frequently the offspring of ignorance: the bulk of mankind who flatter their superiors deny them sometimes too their merited encomium; and,descrying only the lustre of power, are blind to its cares: yet if the love of sway be very genial, that of tranquillity is less uncommon than many avow; and a greater number than we may suspect would feel no unwillingness to relinquish the cumbrous trappings of state, could they adopt the comfortable doctrine that every individual has a right to consult his own quiet in the first place, whatever be his rank, or office. C4NTO |lI.

Rut such ethics are unsound ; and tend to deprive mankind of the hopes of ever having an upright magistrate, at least of one with purer seutiments than amhition. Of all masks the readiest to put on is religion: sloth, ignorance, selfishness may he concealed by it, not to say the basest passions; and sometimes the wearer deceives not only others, but himself. Celestine was, it is likely, an instance of the latter, fancying his deed to be one of Christian self-denial: yet he deserted his post in the moment of danger, left all the good undone which might have been effected by a worthy bishop and Sovereign, and (since his abdication was by many considered illegal) exposed his Church to the indecency of a civil war and schism, two Pontiffs to the degradation of a prison, and one to the guilt of murder and suicide. That he should have been stigmatised then as a mean spirit is surely neither unjust nor strange; but it is so, that after the lapse of ages and the subsidence of factions, Dante is still accused of sacrilege towards a canonized Pope, or badly defended by putting an incongruous explanation on his words, and that to vindicate him it is necessary to recapitulate all the above circumstances.

Few points are surer than that Celestine was the person here meant by Dante. His son Peter says.... est Papa Celestinus quintus qui potens ita esse sanctus in Papatu ut in heremo, Papatui, qui

« AnteriorContinuar »