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r.mro Iv.. ,
these are supposed to be limited now, we shall shortly see: but first learn from the recapitulation of many others said to have been once dwelling there, that this second division is (as I all along affirmed) St Thomas Aquinas' hell-of-holy-fathers, called by other Catholics 'Limbo,' and by others 'Abraham's bosom.' This proximity of'Abraham's bosom' to the 'hell of the damned' (it is an observation of Boccaccio ) agrees perfectly with S. Luke's parable ot the rich man lifting up his eyes, being in torments, and yet being able to descry Abraham with Lazarus in his bosom (0.
All the guiltless men that preceded Christianity having been once here dwelling together, it follows that it is Abraham's bosom, or the Hell which had been inhabited by the Patriarchs, and that, whatever descriptions Dante found his Church had ever made of such a place, might be made of it still, except there were some ecclesiastical decision to the contrary . But no such hazardous decision exists . It is indeed so far from being required by any Catholic dogma, that I find the Catholic expounders of the Psalms include in one group all those who, without being Christians, led virtuous lives. All such (without pronouncing who be such (*))
(i) Comento. p. i3. —and Gospel xvi. »3.
(2) I have already stated at more than sufficient length that an orthodox Divine can not judge on appearance, or apply his abstract principles to individuals, though a poet may. p. aa3.
being enumerated among those to whom the Lord has not imputed sin, are declared blessed: for though original sin or want of baptism exclude them from Paradise, it may not so from the bliss of Limbo or Jlell-of-the holy-fathers ('). To this David evidently alluded (and not to the ineffable bliss of Paradise) as the region in which he hoped to wait for the Messiah: and of it Dante himself spoke, when, paraphrasing the xxxn Psalm, he divided its Lvo first verses into three tiercets; and, with theological acumen defining in each tiercet a particular class of the blessed, made the third assert'and blessed shall all those likewise be, unto whom God and the Angels of heaven shall impute no sin (*).' He might therefore have argued thus: All to whom sin is not imputed; are blessed; but original sin is not imputed; then one may be in original sin and yet be blessed: But none in original sin shall enter Paradise; then one may be blessed without ever entering Paradise: But the Church furnishes no other region but the hell-of
(i) 'The Royal Prophet' (it is a Catholic comment I quote, Annotaz.ai Salmi di Dante, p 38.) ' specifies three classes of the blessed: Firstly , those in whose spirit is no guile— secondly, repentant sinners whose transgressions are forgiven — thirdly those guilty of no imputed sin, that is of no sin but original sin, which, not being voluntary, is not imputed to man, he unto whom the Lordimputeth not iniquity.' Psalms.
XXXII. ?. i — 3.
(a) E quei lutti beati ancor saranno
ISetteSalmi di D. A. p 3a.
the-holy-fathers, wherein the idea of separation from Paradise can be united with that of bliss; ergo that region is one of bliss, and it contains those Pagans whom I suppose to have been great and virtuous characters, yet to have died in original sin for want of baptism.
Dante (as his few words reveal) had his mind
full of contending sentiments sorrow that the
honored spirits of Antiquity should be shutout from the superior bliss of Paradise, and the more so because, not being as yet within the second division , he does not exactly know what their actual portion of bliss is; terror on thinking on the line which he had seen over hell's gateway , 'Leave ye that enter every hope behind; * and satisfation from the reflection, that this line is contradicted by the fact of Christ having descended as far as this very circle and borne away from it many that were here hoping for his arrival. All this is implied by his asking whether it be indeed true that none ever left this region? Boccaccio morevoer suggests, that he might have meant to infer the possibility of its not being to any an eternal doom (since it was not soito those Patriarchs ), and to hint obscurely that also his master Virgil might perhaps hope one day to get out. If however this question is to be understood, it is followed by no answer; and the matter is mildly
consigned back to its pristine darkness. Had our poet hazarded any reply, it would surely have been the same burst of indignation which we shall find him, on another almost similar occasion, direct against the presumption of seeking to scrutinize matters that lie totally beyond human comprehension:
And who is he who thus presumes to scan
But as to the demand about Christ's descent, Virgil answers it at great length; marking the epoch at which it occurred by referring to that of his own death. —.This is supposed to have taken place about half a century before the Christian era (a). Whatever had been Dante's reason for putting his question in so covert a shape, (whether delicacy towards his master, or in order to avoid pronouncing inany part of hell the hallowed name of Jesus) his master replies with the frankness in which a noble mind delights, that the Gospel story is most correct, and runs over the roll of the Jewish Sages, as if to show they had become well known to him. Dante not content with inculcating this doctrine here by mouth of his duke, repeats it in his own person in his Creed 'then the Saviour descended
(i) Parad. Canto xix.
(a) This the second time the date of Virgil's career is refercd to, yet exact Ckronologists disagree about it. Hell, Comment, Cant* >. p. 38.
to liberate the ancient Fathers (0. ' One of these
Moses had been already commemorated by
Virgil under the name of Musaeus; at least it has been pretended so (»).
Musaeum ante omnes medium nam plurima turba Hunc habet atque humeris extantem suscipit altis (3).
At last we enter the second division; and the verses that introduce us are impressive, although not so sonorous as those of which they are a manifest imitation:
Largior hie campos tether et 1 umiue vestit
Beautiful in itself it surely is, and great proof of the learning and correct taste of Dante, that he was able to produce so many points of similitude between two systems apparently so discordant as the Christian and the Pagan, and, uniting much of the imagery of both , make no attaint upon either: by which happy selection an ancient poet and theologian (without any of that discrepancy which nothing less than prodigious erudition and genius could have avoided ) is represented as conducting a modern one through that future world, which many imagine was depicted formerly in a
(i) . . . discese per cavar gli antichi I'adri. Credo, p. i39.
(2) Nisi, m arbitrantur aliqui, Musieus et Moyses uimm et idem «int. Genealogia Deor. Lib. nv. Cap. viu.
(3) Aenrid. I. Ti. v. 687.
(4) Id. Id. Id. 637.