“A man who has no claim to an imperial crown, does not grieve because he is not an Emperor”

Man cannot attain to beatitude without the gift of supernatural grace. Therefore, he who dies in original sin is deprived of eternal life; but he is not, therefore and thereby, subjected to any sorrow or suffering. Not being proportioned to beatitude, he is incapable of enjoying it. He does not, however, suffer from the loss; because God rectifies his will, conforming it to His own, and taking from it the desire of that which is impossible to it. A man who has no claim to an imperial crown, does not grieve because he is not an Emperor. Neither does such a soul suffer any sensible pain. On the contrary, it is endowed with all perfection proper to human nature—such as the knowledge of all natural things, and even the contemplation, by means of creatures, of such as are Divine. It enjoys all the happiness which human nature can enjoy. Furthermore, God confers upon these souls certain supernatural gifts—such as immortality, and impassibility of body—so that they are not subject to human infirmity; nor will they ever suffer sensible pain. And, although we believe that the abode of these souls is Limbo, the place of their habitation signifies but little. My private opinion, (subject to any future pronouncement of the Holy Roman Church), is, that after the resurrection, they will dwell on the purified and glorified earth. (Savonarola)


11 thoughts on ““A man who has no claim to an imperial crown, does not grieve because he is not an Emperor”

  1. I don’t really buy this account.

    1.) In Adam’s original justification, every descendant of Adam has a claim on eternal beatitude that Adam subsequently forfeited. If every soul while it exists on earth is “a dethroned exile” as someone put it, how is that soul no longer such upon dying?

    2.) In His Incarnation, Christ at least potentially makes beatitude possible for every human creature. The eschatology presented here seems to treat some members of the human race as utterly alien to the Incarnation, like it never happened and sheds no light on the significance of their premature deaths. Surely this is a mistake.

    3.) This account seems to violate the principle that we spend eternal fixed in the condition in which we die. If we die in personal mortal sin, we’re punished for that sin in which we persist. If we die in God’s grace, we’re rewarded for that grace in which we persist. If we die in original sin, it seems we should persist in some state that reflects original sin. The most obvious effect of original sin in man’s earthly life is that we suffer, we toil, we die. We’re subject to concupiscence as well. Then how is it natural that a soul persisting for all time in original sin should enjoy the preternatural gifts that Adam forfeited by Original Sin? How is natural happiness compatible with what we know of the state of original sin as mankind actually experiences in this life? Mankind was expelled from the natural Eden (natural happiness, freedom from concupiscence, etc.) when he was expelled from the supernatural Eden (grace), but he can return to the natural Eden (this benign version of Limbo) simply by dying, without being justified? It’s a glib, ad hoc, asymmetrical account. At the very least, someone advocating a blissful Limbo (which many sinners would prefer to the awful cross it takes to earn a Heaven that, apparently, unbaptized babies don’t even miss; “better not to be born” and all that) should say that God deals mercifully with the souls of those who die only in original sin, granting them a better state than they would enjoy if Christ had not come and died for them.


  2. Reblogged this on Pulp Catholic and commented:
    So, theologically speaking, I’m more and more of the mind that the existential angst of modern man vis-a-vis matters of the afterlife for the non-baptized is due to the (foolish) collapse of the distinction between the natural and supernatural. This has screwed up our eschatology to the point that we can’t even speculate of a non-supernatural afterlife – a life where humanity enjoys a perfection of it’s natural powers thought does not participate in beatitude (limbo). Don’t even get me started on how the lack of a distinction has really limited our ability to look beyond the horizon of the natural – Can you define the Theological Virtue of Faith? How about distinguish between the Natural and Infused Virtue of Prudence?

    Upshot – I like limbo as a speculative thought. Why can’t my afterlife have multiple worlds?


  3. It seems to me that the opinion of Bl. Pius IX (expressed in Singulari Quadam), and thus of the Ordinary (though not infallible) Magisterium of the Holy Church, that because “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments (Catechism of the Catholic Church)” and “Only when we have been released from the bonds of this body and see God just as He is shall we really understand how close and beautiful a bond joins divine mercy with divine justice” it may be that God dispenses an extraordinary grace removing Original Sin from those who have not rejected His grace or (in the case of infants) are unable to commit conscious sin, but because we cannot know with certainty anything other than the ordinary means of Baptism, “To proceed with further inquiry is contrary to divine law.”

    A side note, while Savonarola may or may not have been guilty of the heresy he was accused of, he was most definitely a false prophet and a schismatic, seeking to supplant Christendom’s order with a conjured up translatio imperii. Whether his theological writings are sound and orthodox is for others more wise than myself to decide, but his history makes me extremely wary of them.


    • “Savonarola shows us the strong conscience of the ascetic and an apostle who has a lively sense of things divine and eternal, who takes a stand against rampant paganism, who remains faithful to the evangelical and Pauline ideal of integral Christianity, put into action in public life as well and animating all institutions. This is why he started preaching, prompted my an interior voice and inspired by God” – Pius XII


      • Interesting quotation, could you kindly cite its original source? I have only been able to trace it back to a book on Pier Giorgio Frassati by Cristina Siccardi, which gives it in full but completely without citation of any source. I may have to revise my opinion on this subject, but I find it hard to believe that anyone “inspired by God” could be so false in their prophecy.


        • I believe the statement appeared in Osservatore Romano on 5th November 1969 but I am unsure of the context. I don’t suppose you are bound to hold Pius XII’s opinion on the point. I have only come across one ‘false’ prophecy of Savonarola and that concerned the conversion of a multitude of Turks in the period after his death. Given the startling accuracy of his other prophecies and the veneration directed towards him by other saints and popes, his posthumous apparitions and the miracles he worked from beyond the grave, I suspect he misinterpreted a revelation about the millions of conversions among the pagan indigenous peoples of the Americas. Not knowing of the existence of the Americas he assumed pagans meant Mohammedans.


          • There is his prophecy of a “new Cyrus” (that is, a new Emperor of Christendom) whom he took to be Charles VIII of France, who would set up a new temporal and spiritual empire in Florence, who would supposedly reform the Church, and according to some sources a “prophecy” that Alexander VI would be deposed, and the Antichrist would swiftly come as it was the final age of the Church.
            It may be that Savonarola died a holy death, and I am aware of some of the saints who held him in high regard, on the other hand Saint Ignatius of Loyola, and Popes such as Paul IV, Clement VIII, and Benedict XIV condemned some of his writings and thought his original condemnation was not unjust.


          • Yes it is tricky distinguishing what Savonarola took to be the concrete realizations of his prophecies from the actual prophecies, what was conditional and what was unconditional, and also a certain degree of misinformation which circulates about what he actually prophesied. So far as I understand his writings have never been formally condemned. There was a famous incident when St Philip Neri was asked to intercede to prevent this and went into immediate ecstasy, assuring his friends, when he came around, that the peril had been averted. Savonarola and the question of his sanctity seem to provide a test case between and older mediaeval-patristic conception and a modern Ignatian conception of obedience in the Church which have struggled over the last five hundred years.


  4. “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments”

    When God says X is required for Y, then He is pledging Himself to provide X whenever He provides Y. Otherwise, God is lying and wasting our time. Even good Popes slip and say things they might otherwise regret saying?


    • For context, here is the whole passage from the Catechism,

      “The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are “reborn of water and the Spirit.” God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments. The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament. For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament. “Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery.”(GS 22 § 5; cf. LG 16; AG 7) Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.”

      It is clear then, that the necessity of Baptism is commanded by God for those who know and are conscious of its necessity, and that He may extend its Graces in a extraordinary manner for those who do not know, but who would have received it had they known. In no way could this be construed as God lying about the necessity of Baptism, for those who know and are conscious of its necessity, it remains absolutely necessary, and the only known certain means of removing Original Sin. But for those in ignorance, “Now, in truth, who would arrogate so much to himself as to mark the limits of such an ignorance, because of the nature and variety of peoples, regions, innate dispositions, and of so many other things?” (Singulari Quadam) Because we cannot know, we must ever evangelize and seek to bring them to the sure means of salvation, but neither should we wholly despair of the souls beyond our reach.


      • No orthodox Catholic theologian ever supposed that adults could go to limbo so the remark in Pius IX’s allocation (whatever it means and whether or not it has any theological note) is irrelevant. The Ecumenical Council of Florence on the other hand solemnly defined that the those who die in original sin only go immediately to hell (Laetentur Caeli) and that the sacrament of baptism is the only available remedy for original sin in infants and thus must not be delayed (Cantate Domino). These are dogmas and they allow only for a more pessimistic Augustinian account of the fate of unbaptised infants or limbo (or heresy). In fact there may be little real difference between these two positions. What remains is the clear truth that, in the words of Augustine, “If you wish to be a Catholic, do not believe, nor say, nor teach, that infants who die before baptism can obtain the remission of original sin.”


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