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much however we know from the Apostle, that "the wisdom of the wise" is folly (0: and from the strictest rules of logic, thatiin comparison with a Being infinitely wise our philosophers are as ignorant as our ideots, since the capacities of both are finite. Here then the axiom of exclusion is again inapplicable to individuals: and we remain in the dark, except when aided by a miraculous interposition of heaven; to which Catholics pretend only in those cases where their Church has decreed canonization,and in those others recorded in the Bible, and which all Christians equally believe. But understand the necessity of a belief in Jesus ever so literally, I repeat that it is not
ignorant of the true faith is so either vincibly, or invincibly. If vincibly, he can conquer it; so if be does not, he is wilfully ignorant: bat such wilfulness is guilt; and the wilfulness precedes the ignorance, so that something criminal, and not mere ignorance, is, as it ought to be, the real cause of his diaster, should he expire deficient in the knowlege necessary to salvation. If invincibly ignorant, he'is involuntarily so ; and the converse of the proposition seems equally correct, lliat.alt'involuntary ignorance is invincible .Then no man involuntarily ignorant of the true faith will ever be called to account for that ignorance ; and whatever be bis circumstances, whether born in Christendom, or among Heathens, whether totally uncivilized, or decorated with all the folly of the wise ( mis-named by us learning ), if he be not wilful in his ignorance then is he invincibly ignorant and in the opinion of the Church innocently : and, if his life be in other respects as innocent, his eternal portion will be with the pure of heart, in spite of appearances which easily deceive us. But, in fine, whose ignorance is or ever was, vincible, or invincible, voluntary, or involuntary, may have been enquired by particular divines on tbeir own authority, but it is certain that the dogmas of Catholicism most prudently and charitably abstain from it. (i) I. Cor. 1. i9-ao.
decided who has been blest with that belief, or who has not. There is no death but supposes a space between it and full life: and that space, however imaginably brief, is less evanescent in comparison with all the ages since the creation, than these are with eternity. No instant of time but may be compared with the longest human life: but neither that instant, nor that lengthened life, can bear the least comparison with eternity; so it is mathematically correct to affirm, that in the balance with eternal existence all portions of time, the greatest, or most minute, are absolutely and equally insignificant. The instant therefore which is so transient in our perception, may in that of the Divinity be of neither more nor less duration than the most protracted human life: so if this life can merit an eternity of bliss, that instant may be just as capable of meriting it. Truly speaking then (because speaking with reference to the Fountain of truth ) the space supposable by us in even cases of suddenest mortality, between utter dissolution and full life, is not comparatively short; and things may take place during it of which we blind mortals can attain no knowledge; but which may secure the individual a crown of infinite joy quite as possibly as the whole sum of his thoughts, words, and deeds, during the pittance of years he had been seen to live. Neither the Catholic doctors, nor, I believe, any power on earth, pretend to be acquainted with what may
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 Chrisstian charity (') . 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 Salvation every man not totally unworthy of them . Rut 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
(') E salve, salvo, O spirto fortunafo ,
Monti. Baasvilliana , Canto i.
tiI* TO 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 (O; 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 W. The axiom therefore of exclusive
(i) The story of S. Gregory and Trajan is told variously ( Baroniii* ad ann. 604— N. Aless. Vita S. Greg. Lib. .>.. cap. 44.); hut all allow that he represented that Pagan Emperor in Paradise, and that the asset tion was condemned ' not because it was impossible for the Prince to be there, but because it was impossible for the Pontiff to know 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 many years ago, the holy preacher Lionardo da Porto Maurizio was under process of Canonization , the advocate of the devil ( such is the quaint title of one of the Canonical lawers— I'avvocato del diavolo) stopped all proceedings hy accusing the candidate of the rash judgment of having piouounced the damnation of his neighbour. A most hardened and sacrilegious murderer ( he had slain a priest at the altar with circumstances of marvellous atrocity aud the premeditation of many months ) had been just turned off from the gallows with an atheistical cry of vengeance in his mouth, 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 mig'it have been wrought in the culprit in the interval between the tightening of the rope and the utter departure of his soul, without a dir ct revelation from above, the onus probandi of which lay with the aduncates fur canonization.' Can. Lett. p. a.
1 (») No religion can 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. t. p. 167. Ann