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either great or good or both, and to refer them directly to the fountain of all greatness and goodness; while, as to that discursive fancy, which, never tired of ranging, gathers such a universal offering for the Christian altar, is it not admirable?
I sometimes fear, that these comments are on a too extensive plan, and I then recal the words
of the Convito, 'leave something for a noble
mind to find out of itself (0. But on the other hand I reflect, that, in judging a work composed so many centuries ago, it is necessary, not only to explain the text, but also the spirit with which it was written, and that to penetrate this spirit, it is frequently necessary to be minute. It sems to me, that, if a poet be meritorious in being concise, his commentator is often so in being diffuse; the former may tersely indicate ideas and events familiar in his time ,which the latter (if he be more intent on doing his duty than on displaying his wit) should patiently develope, and be less afraid of saying five words too much, than one too few. This remark is peculiarly applicable to the attempt at acquiring an insight into an old author's habits of thought, by which, when once attained, a reader comes so prepared to the consideration of a disputed point, that he, perhaps, construes without difficulty pas
(i) Al uobile ingegno k bello Ud poco di fatica lasciare. p. it7.
sages, whereupon abler critics than he had laboured vainly: now, such an insight is better got at by the scrutinizing sifting of a few opinions, than by a more enlarged, but less anxious operation. Such are the sentiments that engage me to stop at
this thirtieth verse of the original 'faith which
is the first step in the road of salvation'—and to remark , that it does not say, that faith is the road to salvation, but only that it is the first step in that road: which, lam convinced, was so worded designedly, and not so much either to imitate a passage in S. Austin, or to enforce the necessity of faith, (a want of which was no evil then in vogue) as that of good works , by implying , that, without these, very little advance can be made towards Paradise, since faith is only a single step: in order to prepare his audience to join with him hereafter in those vehement reproofs, which he directs against such as, relying on the purity of their belief, hold themselves dispensed from an active exertion of the charities of our nature. He may have here alluded to the expostulations in the Bible (0: But two reflections must have particularly actuated him; one, that the tenet he thus condemned had been already pronounced heterodox by the chiefs of his religion — a consideration sufficiently strong in a poem purporting to embrace the numerous Catholic dogmas; and the other
(i) Jamei. ii. i4.
that it appeared subversive of civil society. To him it was moreover peculiarly obnoxious, as forming a perfect contrast with his principles and practice: both of which engaged him to unite entire fidelity to his own church, with much tolerance towards that of others. Of the multiplied instances on which my present observation is founded, I shall only notice two; one of them taken from this same poem,, and one from his metrical translation of theNiceue Creed. 'Numbers' (he exclaims in Paradise) 'are there of those who ejaculate Christ! Christ! and yet on the great Judgment Day shall fall far below ma ny that never heard of Christ. Yea! the Ethiopian shall then damn the Christian; the former entering the realm of eternal glory, and the latter undone for ever(0. And, in the Creed, he expressly goes out of his way to paraphrase Deum Omnipotentem by 'God who can do all things and from whom ever proceed all those blessed graces that produce good works (»).'
The Catholic 'Limbo-of-the-holy-fathers' is defined by Aquinas as a region of peace, exempt from all sense of pain and enjoying the blessing of divine grace, but not of ineffable beatitude (3): and he
(i) Parad. Canto xix.
£a) I tette Salmi di D. A. p. i37.
(3) D. Tom. Aquini. Sen. p. in. p. 38g. Ed. i698.
agrees with S. Austin (0, and indeed S. Paul (») also, in representing that Limbo, or Abraham's bosom as being situated in In fern us or hell. In it Virgil also placed Elysium ; so that, when he himself is
put there, it is both justly and kindly done:
justly, because, as I have this moment said, it is in a division of hell that he puts the ancient worthies of Greece and Rome, and not in the Paradise of Heathenism, which was the milky-way, as we learn from the philosophers and indeed from Virgil himself in the fourth Eclogue; kindly, because, although we shall perceive a great resemblance between Limbo and Elysium, yet shall we find the former more placidly atractive; since the boisterous introduction of steeds and chariots gives way to the purer and spiritualizing imagery of Christianity. Should it be objected, that the Aeneid is a poetic fiction, but that the ecclesiastical authorities of Paganism elevated some of its votaries, under the title of Demi-gods, to a participation of celestial bliss, (as Romulus or Scipio for example) it might be answered that also Dante is writing poetrv; were it not that, in truth, he disclaims any such excuse, and prefers to every other glory that of displaying the characteristic charity of his faith . Therefore he too ( probably for the sake of the principle, rather than merely to honor those individuals ) makes exceptions in favour of a few distinguished Pagans:
(i) De Civit. Dei. Lib. xx. (a) Romans, x. 7.
til MO II.
so that, if he now leaves Virgil in Limbo, we shall find him, as he advances, enlarging at every step the horizon of benevolence; not so much by the ardour of his fancy, as by a mixture of prudence and learning, qualities that make him be looked upon by the Roman Church as one of its most venerable theologians, and indeed sometimes be designated by the title, not of a poet, but of a most divine theologian, as I remarked in my comment on the preceding Canto (0; whence he shall at last present us with Trajan among the saints, (without violating the doctrine of Catholicism, as shall be elucidated) and with Cato on his way thither, in Purgatory; him of whom it hath also been written in the Convito, 'Sacred, holy, bosom of Cato! who shall presume to speak of thee? For me, I know no eulogy befitting thee, on an occasion like the present, when I am precluded from being diffuse, except that of S. Jerome on S. Paul in his preface to the Bible, the eulogy of silence (*).'
'Our calm suspended being' color che son
sospesi is borrowed seemingly from the Mohammedan doctors , who, having a limbo very similar to that of the Catholics, call it « al Araf, a word derived from the verb arafa, which signifies properly to separate or raise (3); » so that al Araf means a place suspended between Paradise
(0 v «*•
(») p. i53.