In the zeal which animates me, I shall lay aside all that timid deference which worldly delicacy conceives it has a right to expect. Charity, itself, shall invest me with all the austerity of the ministry which I exercise; and although I am not unmindful of that courtesy which is due to the sensibility, or even to the weakness, of the great ones of this world--although I may sacrifice it by filling your hearts with anguish and alarm.
I will not be sparing of harrowing descriptions and awful truths, which, perhaps, are alone capable of inspiring you with a becoming detestation of sin, a salutary disgust for the false pleasures and vanities which hurry you onward to destruction, and a firm and sincere resolution of leading such a life for the future as may obtain for you a judgment of mercy. Ah! is it for eternity? And would I not be wanting in one of my most important duties towards you, if I delayed to examine whether it be painful to you, at present, to hear what will be so dreadful to endure hereafter?
Arm yourselves with courage then, my brethren, to unite with me in contemplating this last and fearful scene, the bare thought of which, in former times, filled the deserts with anchorites, and compelled Jerome, though exhausted from works of sanctity, and Hilarion, though emaciated from fasts, and disciplines, and watchings, to tremble in the inmost depths of their solitudes.
But you may say, perhaps, that whereas every one of us is destined to receive an irrevocable sentence, which, even at the hour of death, must decide our fate for eternity, it is that judgment we ought to fear, without suffering our minds to be so much engrossed by the thoughts of that other judgment which will put an end to this world, and be nothing more than a solemn promulgation, and a confirmation of the previous one.
It is this question, my brethren, I propose to answer in the present discourse, by showing you how much the general judgment must add to the severity of the particular one, and by explaining to you how it fills up the measure of the divine vengeance, and effects the complete abandonment of the sinner.
Among the awful events which shall characterize that great day of justice, I select three leading circumstances to which I beg to direct your undivided attention: the resurrection of the body, the manifestation of consciences, and the final decree which will establish an eternal separation between the elect and the reprobate. I maintain, first, that the resurrection of the body will be an aggravation of the unfortunate sinner's punishment; secondly, that the manifestation of consciences will be an oppressive weight of ignominy upon him; and, thirdly, that the final decree of separation, which will be pronounced by the lips of Jesus Christ himself, will be the consummation of his despair.
My brethren, this is a subject which is well worthy of your attention. You will shudder more than once at the sight of the awful vengeance of God. I shudder at it myself when I prepare to describe it to you. Let us with one accord implore the grace of meditating upon it now with so much profit that we may never have the misfortune to experience its severity. Ave Maria
I.--In the first place, then, I maintain that the resurrection of the body will be an aggravation of punishment for the sinner. Shall the infidel exclaim against the mention of resurrection, like those pagans to whom St. Paul announced the same doctrine eighteen centuries ago? Shall he inquire how is it possible that the dead can return to life; and where can they find their bodies to invest themselves with them anew?
This is a weighty and perplexing question in the estimation of our affected sages; but it seemed so puerile and absurd to the great apostle, that he proudly spurned those who were not ashamed to propose such a question, as stupid and senseless men. Dicet aliquis, quomodo resurgunt mortui, qualive corpore venient? Insipiens!* What other answer could be given with propriety to such an objection? What! cannot He indeed, who is able to give life and take it away, according as He pleaseth, also restore that life again, when the time which He has appointed shall have arrived? Insipiens!
Oh, folly of the human intellect! Will the elements of this body be so widely scattered throughout every part of the universe--will they be blended and confounded with so many elements of a different nature, that even the eye of the Creator himself will not be able to discern or recognize them, or His hand to reach and collect them? Insipiens! Must the just man be deprived of his reward, and must the sinner escape the punishment which he has deserved, because God will not be able to discover either of them amidst that heap of rubbish which death shall have amassed? And must they both escape alike from His anger and His love?
Yet, O great God of heaven and earth! it is by such difficulties as these, that men imagine they can conquer Thy omnipotence, and confound Thy wisdom. These are the specious reasonings with which they assail the oracles of Thy eternal truth; these are the foundations upon which they build their theories, in opposition to Thy most awful and most undoubted threats. For our part, O Lord! we believe, without difficulty, that it is easy for Thee to do what it is impossible for us to comprehend; that Thou wilt reanimate, by a breath, what Thou hast created by a word; and that, because Thou hast declared it, we shall all indeed arise again, to receive, every one according to his works.
Let us consider, then, how this resurrection will be an increase of punishment to the sinner. Cast into the dark prison of hell, from the moment he heaved his last sigh, he endures inexpressible torments in the midst of those fires which shall never be extinguished.
It would seem that his misery has already reached its height; but his entire being does not yet suffer; his soul alone is a prey to those devouring flames. His body, that other portion of his being, remains insensible and inanimate on earth. His unhappy soul remembers, in the midst of her torments, that companion which had been so dear to her--with which she had been united during the most blissful period of their joint existence. How great was the happiness which she enjoyed in such society! All her miseries have date their commencement from the period of separation.
She knows that the revolution of years and of ages is destined to bring about a day which is known to God alone--a day on which that union which had been once so agreeable, must be renewed, and shall never more be interrupted. With anxious impatience she longs for that day, when she may at length experience some alleviation of her tortures. This last of days at length arrives; the stars in the firmament have already lost their light; the world has been purified by fire; the sound of the fatal trumpet suddenly reaches to the very bowels of the earth, and summons the dead of every generation to return to life once more.
All nature is at once thrown into confusion; the whole creation is in travail to give birth to the human race, which is to be born anew. The dust of the tombs is put in motion; the scattered ashes are amalgamated; the bones are formed and joined together; flesh covers them at once; all the bodies of the children of men again appear with all their limbs, but they are as yet motionless and inanimate.
At the same moment the souls hasten from their tenements to be united to their bodies, and to restore them again to life. Hell permits its victims to escape. The reprobate soul rushes from her dismal prison, and is transported with the rapidity of lightning to the spot where this body, which had been the object of so many regrets, and of so much affection, is about to be restored to her. In what condition will she find that body?
Let us consult the sacred Scriptures; what do we read in them? That at the last day each one shall reap what he had sown during life. Quae enim seminaverit homo haec et metet.* That he who had lived in the corruption of sin, shall never be released from the corruption of death. Qui seminat in carne sua, de carne et metet corruptionem. Neque corruptio incorruptelam possidebit.
That the just shall arise again to a new and eternal life, but that the resurrection of the wicked will be a second death, worse than the first. Haec est mors secunda. That their bodies, by an awful combination of all that is terrible in life and death, will become the living food and never-dying prey of rottenness and worms. Putredo et vermes haerditebunt illum; vindicta carnis impii ingnis et vermis.
If you have ever seen a dead body in the coffin, figure to yourself now that melancholy and hideous object, that livid paleness, those distorted features, that horrible dissolution, those exhalations of death, those worms which gnaw and consume their disgusting prey;--such is the condition in which this body presents itself to the criminal soul, whose idol it had been, and which she desired with such ardent wishes, and so many sighs, to possess again. Oh, afflicting mistake! O, unutterable anguish!
"What!" she exclaims, "is this that portion of my being which had been so dear to me--my old associate in my labours and my pleasures-- in which I found so much grace and beauty-- which I took so much care to decorate--whose inclinations were my sovereign law?" "The very same," replies an awful voice. "Recognize it, and renew that alliance which once possessed so many attractions for you."
Alas! she shudders, she recoils; she is unable to endure either the sight of this carcass, or the infection which exhales from it; she desires to plunge again into the depths of the dark abyss, that she may escape from such a destructive union. But an invincible power prevents her escape, and thrusts her forward towards that odious object, to which she must be again united by ties that can never more be severed.
In the excess of her anguish and despair, she exclaims--"oh, wretched being! thou wert destined to be the cause of what is more intolerable to me than even hell itself! Oh, habitation of infection and filth! oh, detestable mass of corruption, what terror do you not cause me! To approach you merely is a dreadful chastisement; what must it not be to enter into you, to dwell within the prophet had used in a very different sense. "This," she continues, "is the place of my rest, for ever and ever. Haec requies mea in saeculum saeculi.
This is the habitation which I have prepared for myself, which I have deliberately chosen: this is what I have preferred to my God, to my conscience, to a never-ending happiness; this is the abominable flesh with which I was willing to identify myself during life. How often have I not desired, in the excess of my madness, to be able to change my nature, to divest myself of my spiritual being, and of every privilege which it conferred upon me, that I may destroy myself, and bury myself in this mire. Thus it is, O terrible God, that Thou dost punish me by fulfilling my senseless wishes." Hic habitabo, quoniam elegieam.
In the midst of all these groans and lamentations, struggling in vain against an irresistible power, she enters into this body of death, and again endows it with life, to the mutual torment of both. The flames by which the soul is devoured, communicate themselves instantaneously to the body; they eagerly seize upon their new victim; they encircle it; they penetrate into it; they rush like a torrent through every vein, through the entrails, through the very marrow of the bones; and the soul endures multiplied torments from every part of this burning body.
How is it possible to describe those eyes, blazing with the fire of hell, and the rueful looks which they cast around on every side--those scalding tears that shall never cease to flow--that hideous mouth, and its horrible gnashing of teeth, which begins, never more to end--that countenance, upon which a ray divine beauty formerly shone, but which, in its monstrous deformity, now bears the resemblance of the very devils--those frightful members, and the intolerable stench of death which they diffuse all around them.
Whithersoever this animated carcass turns its footsteps, there is a universal dispersion and flight--as at approach of some spectre, or disgusting monster. Et erit omnis qui viderit te resiliet a te. Oh, what a change, my brethren! perhaps this was some great man, about whose person, when upon earth, every one was busy to obtain the honour of one of is looks, of one of his smiles. Perhaps this other was one of those who are so amiable in the eyes of the world, who formed the attraction of every society, who was sought after everywhere, out of whose company no real or perfect pleasure could be found.
This was perhaps a celebrated beauty, whose presence was sufficient to attract universal attention, who gloried in captivating every heart, who received incense like a deity. Alas! What abandonment, what neglect, what universal manifestations of contempt and aversion, do they not all experience now?
Ah! figure to yourselves two reprobates--after a criminal attachment to each other here below--after having sworn an eternal fidelity to each other in the intoxication of their insane passion--meeting each other in such a plight upon the last day. What mutual disgust and aversion! what reproaches and imprecations against each other! what anguish and despair at having sacrificed themselves, without the possibility of recovery, to what they can no longer refrain from detesting! With how great shame are they not overwhelmed by the recollection of those abominable pleasures which had been the object of their guilty union, and the only tie which bound them together! How furious but how ineffectual is their desire to tear and to destroy each other!
Such, then, will be the literal and dreadful fulfillment of this prophetic expression of the Scripture, The Lord Almighty will take revenge on them; in the day of judgment he will visit them. After having brought forth their bodies from the grave, to consign them to a second death, He will send fire into their flesh to burn them, and worms to devour them. Dabit enim ignem et vermes in carnes eorum. And because this fire will never be extinguished, and these worms will never die, these carcasses will live for ever in a condition worse than death, and must experience the horrors of such a dreadful punishment for all eternity. Dabit enim ignem et vermes in carnes eorum, ut urantur et sentiant usque in sempaeternum.
If Such a picture makes you shudder, my brethren--if you be tempted to complain, because I have ventured merely to delineate it before your imagination--if you cannot endure the bare idea of it, what will it be to witness the reality? What do I say? What will it be if you yourselves, on a future day afford the dreadful spectacle which I have described?
Oh, ye wordlings, who hear me! behold the end of these vain amusements; of these manifold sensualities in which you spend your lives; of these niceties and this refinement upon which you pride yourselves; of this unceasing care which you bestow upon your persons; of this slavish subserviency to your tastes, your appetites, and all the inclinations of nature; of this effeminacy of manners; of this affectation in dress; of these scandalous nudities; of these familiarities, so full of danger; of these acquaintances which have passion alone for their connecting link; of this gratification of your own will, in thinking, and seeing, and hearing, and saying, and doing whatever you please; of this forgetfulness of the holy law of God, and of the dignity of man, to degrade yourselves to the instincts and enjoyments of the brute.
This is what St. Paul, in his energetic and divine language, describes as sowing in the corruption of the flesh; and to all those who shall have sown--that is to say, to all those who shall have lived--in this manner, he proclaims that on the day of justice they must reap, in their bodies raised up to life, corruption and death as their only fruit. Qui seminat in carne sua, de carne et metet corruptionem. But those (he adds) who shall have sown in purity of mind--those who shall have led a life of virtue and innocence--will reap a blessed and immortal existence in pure and glorious bodies. Qui autem seminat in spiritu, de spiritu metet vitam aeternam.
We, therefore, entreat you to take compassion, not only upon your souls, which you so basely sacrifice to ignominious passions, but also upon your bodies, which you love with such tender and blind affection. Think of that punishment which you are treasuring up for them by flattering them with such cowardly and criminal indulgence. They are victims which you are fattening for the day of wrath.
Alas! is it not enough that in punishment of the original sin in which they have been conceived, they should be condemned to that first death which is inevitable for all--a death so dreadful from the sufferings which accompany it, and the horrible dissolution which follows it? Will you devote them again, by new voluntary sins, to a second death, infinitely more dreadful--a death whose consequences must be eternal? Will you, then, be the executioners and the most merciless enemies of yourselves?
What answer can you make--you who have yet time to guard against this danger? Who has promised you to-morrow? Who can promise it to you, or satisfy you that this very night may not be your last? Do you expect to find peace of mind in the doubts and objections of the infidel? But what will objections and doubt avail you then? Will they change the decrees of the eternal one?--will they restrain His power?--will they prevent the fulfillment of His unerring threats?
Persuade yourself if you can, if your madness may carry you to such a length, that the grave is an asylum whither the divine vengeance will not be able to pursue you or to overtake you; but will such a persuasion lessen its power to break open that asylum, to drag you forth from it, to carry you before the tribunal of an irritated Deity, and consign you to those avenging flames which His breath shall kindle? will you feel the heat of these flames less intensely, because you refused to believe in the truth of their existence?
Will you maintain that God is too merciful to make us endure a twofold death; that one is sufficient for his justice; and that it puts an end to everything for man? On this principle, therefore, the same destiny must await the innocent and the guilty, the pious adorer and the infidel, the assassin and his victim, the plunderer and the widow or the orphan whom he had despoiled, the oppressor of mankind and the benefactor of their race; they must all die alike, once and forever, while neither hope for one nor fear for the other can exist beyond the grave.
On this principle, the chaste and mortified body of the just man, which had been the instrument of a virtuous soul of the performance of good works of every kind--which had, perhaps, been sacrificed by a glorious martyrdom in vindication of the cause of God himself--and the impure body of the sinner, defiled by incests, adulteries, rapine, murder--perhaps by parricide--will be swallowed up in the same tomb, devoured by the same worms, and confounded together in the same dust for ever.
No, no! This cannot be; all the divine attributes assure me of the contrary; reason convinces me of it no less clearly than faith. The first death is common to all, because it is the expiation of a sin which is common to the whole race of Adam; but another order of things must come to pass, in which every one shall receive according to the merit of his works, and death will be for the wicked alone, and life for the just alone.
And, oh! my brethren, that life and death are very different, indeed, from those which bear the same names here below. That life is one whose happiness we cannot describe, and that death is one worse misery we cannot conceive; never-decaying youth, dazzling beauty, joy ineffable, happiness without alloy or limitation--such will be the new life of the elect raised to glory; misery and torments without number, devouring and eternal flames, frightful deformity, corruption worse than the corruption of the grave--such will be the second death of the reprobate. Either this life or this death must be your future portion, my dear friends whom I now address.
Make your choice of one or the other this moment. Time is now afforded you that you may be enabled to avoid one and to merit the other. This is man's great and only concern. Perhaps you are now beginning to comprehend its entire importance. To make you still more sensible of it, I shall continue to describe the events of the last day; and, as I have already proved to you that the resurrection of the body will be an aggravation of the sinner's punishment, I shall proceed to show that the manifestation of consciences will be an excess of ignominy to him.
II.--It might appear that nothing could be wanting to complete the ignominy of the sinner after the moment when the ties of the body were severed, and, after having been arraigned before the tribunal of the Supreme Judge, he has been convicted of his crimes, and branded with the sentence of eternal reprobation.
But, how great soever the confusion which overwhelms him may then be, it is unknown by at least the greater part of creatures. Buried with himself in the dismal darkness of hell, it has no witnesses except the wretched beings who are sharers in his sufferings, and God, who necessarily beholds all things.
Perhaps the memory of this miserable man is still honoured upon earth; perhaps his ashes still repose there in a magnificent tomb; perhaps his histories are filled with his name, and kingdoms resound with his praises. It is only on the day of justice that this phantom of glory will vanish, and leave no trace behind it; it is only then the sinner shall see himself deprived of even the least remnant of honour, reputation, or regard; then shall be drain the chalice of infamy, even to the very dregs.
Now, my brethren, how disgraceful must it not be to appear before the whole world, dragging along this hideous and impure carcass which makes man an object of aversion to every eye and stamps him so palpably with the seal of hell? Yet this is but a very feeble prelude indeed to the humiliations which are to follow. God is about to fulfill the threat which he uttered by the lips of his prophets.
"Perverse man! thou hast imagined that I would be like thyself, that I would dissemble thy iniquities; come now, that I may exhibit them in the broad daylight, and that I may overwhelm thee with the confusion which thou meritest. Arguam te, et statuam conra faciem tuam. I will show thy nakedness to every nation, and thy disgrace to every people. Ostendam....nuditatem tuam et....ignominiam tuam. I will heap thy crimes and abominations upon thy head; I will stamp them upon thy forehead, and upon every member of thy body; I will cover thee all over with mire of thy secret disorders. Vias tuas ponam super te, et abominations tuae in medio tui erunt. In this condition I will abandon thee to the ridicule and reproaches of every creature; and in the excess of thy degradation that shalt learn that I am a God who cannot be defied in vain. Et contumeliis te afficiam. et scietis quia ego dominus.
* * * * * Behold this just and terrible God tearing away every veil which had covered this corrupt heart, searching with his omnipotent hand into the very bottom of this abyss of iniquities, and drawing out of its depths an alarming multitude of monsters and reptiles--that is to say, of disorders and crimes--the mere sight of which terrifies the sinner himself. Illic reptilia quorum non est numerus.
Among these, there appear many evil thoughts, many filthy imaginations, many detestable desires, many shameful ideas, many criminal desires and deeds of darkness, which have succeeded each other almost without interruption during a long series of years, and occupied the whole course of a worldly and disorderly life. There, envy, jealousy, hatred, revenge, treachery, black intrigues, falsehoods, atrocious, calumnies, sanguinary desires and conspiracies, exhibit themselves.
There may be seen the sins of infancy, of early youth, of mature years, of disorderly old age--the sins of every day, of every hour, of every moment--each individual's own sins, and the sins of others, of which each person had been the occasion, the instrument, of the cause--sins which had been unknown or forgotten until then--sins which those who committed disguised from themselves, and many which they elevated into virtues--sins of every kind, of every sense, and every member of the body--sins of all the powers and faculties of the soul--enormous sins, and sins which are even nameless--all come forward and exhibit themselves at the same time, so that out of such a countless multitude not even a solitary sin can escape the eyes of the whole universe, and not even one of those circumstances which are most humiliating and oppressive to the sinner will omitted, disguised, or attenuated. Imponam tibi omnia scalera tua, et nom parcet oculus mens, nec miserebor.
Who will be able to endure this awful manifestation? Then must the mask of the hypocrite, and all the audacity of the shameless sinner, disappear together. Ah! what is this I see? That man who seemed so scrupulous about honour and probity, who had the names of them every moment upon his lips, who affected so much disinterestedness and integrity in all his dealings, to whom every one was anxious to confide a trust, and to consign the dearest interests to his care--that man was an impostor. The honourable reputation which he enjoyed was altogether owing to his duplicity, his artifices, and a villainous combination of sagacious and profound perversity. The whole world must know his villainy, his intrigues, his perjuries, and his plunderings. Ostendam gentibus nuditatem tuam et regnis ignominiam tuam.
That magistrate who was believed to be incorruptible--who, in a degenerate age, was admired as an illustrious relic of primitive integrity and scrupulous exactness--made justice a matter of traffic in private, and amassed a fortune at the expense of oppressed innocence. The whole world must know that abominable traffic by which he dealt in the blood and tears of the widow and the orphan; they will thoroughly see through the baseness and obduracy of that venal and corrupt heart. Ostendam gentibus nuditatem tuam et regnis ignominiam tuam.
That wife who imposed herself as a model of conjugal affection and fidelity--who concentrated upon herself the undivided esteem and affection of a virtuous and too-confiding husband--was an adulteress; under a most specious exterior, she concealed a hatred of every obligation, a mortal indifference for all that nature commanded her to love, most shameful propensities, and habits of a most ignominious character. The whole world must learn the disorders of her heart, its perfidiousness and its profligacy. Ostendam gentibus nuditatem tuam et regnis ignominiam tuam.
That young person whose gentleness, piety, and modesty were so loudly extolled--who was so often seen prostrate in the tribunal of penance, and at the foot of the altars--did not walk in sincerity before the Lord; she deceived a charitable confessor, and parents who were too blind to her defects; she abused all that is most sacred in religion, the more effectually to conceal these passions and disorders which she cannot now conceal from the eyes of the Almighty. The whole world must know her shameful weakness, her dissimulation, and her sacrileges. Ostendam gentibus nuditatem tuam et regnis ignominiam tuam.
Thus shall all hypocrites be unmasked and confounded. But you, shameless sinner, audacious libertine! who seem to glory in your iniquities--you who bid an open defiance to heaven, and in the effort to shake off all the restraints of shame, deny even that any distinction exists between vice and virtue--you flatter yourself perhaps that it will be easy for you to endure the overwhelming confusion of that day. What! have you not also a hypocrisy peculiar to yourself?
Have you not your own mysteries of iniquity and shame, at which you are forced to blush in secret, which you studiously conceal in the bottom of you own heart, and are unwilling to allow your most intimate acquaintances to unfold. Let us speak in good earnest. Upon those very occasions when you most audaciously boast of your excesses and disorders, do you ever tell the whole truth, or exhibit yourself as you really are, without disguise or concealment?
Ah! if it were the will of God, at this present moment, to lay open to me to relate in presence of this assembly, I will not say the history of your whole life, but merely your actions of such a month, of such a year, of such a day in particular--if I revealed, I will not say all your actions and thoughts since you came into this world, but merely--and mark this well-- that particular grovelling and detestable sentiment which you have conceived and nourished within your breast, that particular act of treachery or baseness which you have committed, that disposition, that propensity which holds you in subjection, that abject, ignominious, revolting situation to which passion has forced you to humble yourself in that particular circumstance--it would be sufficient to make you drop down dead with shame and sorrow.
And why speak of your fortitude, you who are the slave of the basest and most feeble pride that can be conceived--you who have not even so much inviolable of all secrets, to a solitary man, a minister of the charity of God--you whose entire unbelief, and aversion to the faith of you fathers, has perhaps no other principle or foundation except the terror into which you are thrown by the bare idea of once confessing your sins, to obtain forgiveness for them in the tribunal of mercy?
What then must become of you at this other most awful tribunal, which will hold its deliberations in presence of heaven and earth, when an enraged and omnipotent Judge will make manifest, to the despair of you pride, not merely all that you know about your disorders, but moreover all that you do not know, and all that you have forgotten respecting them--when he will awaken those monsters that have been lulled to sleep, and bring to life those which seemed already dead--when he will search and unfold every labyrinth of your heart, and bring forth from it all that you were unable or unwilling to see there with your own eyes--when every word that has escaped from your lips during the whole course of your life, every shadowy phantom of your imagination, every secret act of your will, every look, every motion, every desire, every intention, every project will be produced again to your confusion--when he shall dissipate every shadow under which you concealed yourself, and penetrate every barrier behind which you sought for shelter, and unfold that lengthened series of baseness and infamy which have dishonoured you in your capacity as a man, and still more in your capacity as a Christian--when He shall bring to light abominations which perhaps paganism would have detested, at which even nature shuddered--when, in this state of abjection, in this deep depravity, He shall exhibit the true cause of you impiety, of your blasphemies, and of this affected contempt of virtue which you would fain exhibit as fortitude of soul and superiority of intellect--when, in fine, He will stamp upon you the peculiar and distinctive mark of every one of your crimes as so many indelible stigmas--when He shall cover you all over with the filth of your passions and vices, and exhibit you in that condition to the whole world as a spectacle of horror and disgrace? Et projiciam super te abominationes...et ponam te in exemplum.
Now, my brethren, behold the sinner branded, degraded from his inheritance, covered with so many horrible stigmas, and compelled to exhibit himself in such a condition, not in the brightness of the material sun, but amid the dazzling rays of the eternal Sun of Justice--in the light of God, which is nothing else than the reflection of his infinite purity and sanctity--a light which is formidable even to the elect--in which the angels find that they are not pure enough; it is in the midst of such dazzling brightness that this unfortunate man, covered with confusion as with a cloak, is compelled to encounter the looks of the most august and most numerous assembly that ever existed, and to stand in presence of all the orders of heavenly spirits and of the triumphant elect. He is obliged to endure the contrast between his own degradation and ignominy, and their glory and splendour.
To make satisfaction for his sacrilegious ridicule and derision, he in his turn is forced to bear with well-merited disdain, and that dreadful hissing of which the Scriptures speak, and that severe and oppressive irony. This, then, is the man who rose up in rebellion against God, who sounded the trumpet, and declared war against the Almighty, who considered us to be so foolish because we relied upon His promises. Let him tell us now that religion is a vain fancy, and that unbelief is wisdom. Et super eum ridebun; et dicent, ecce homo qui non possint Deum adjutorem suum.
To the reproaches of the just shall succeed the complaints, the threats, the accusations of the accomplices and victims of his disorders. I see them fall upon him from every side, like avenging furies, asking him, in accents of despair, to restore their soul and their eternity, which he had been the cause of their having lost.
I hear howlings and imprecations, which make me shudder. "It is you, vile seducer, plundered me of all that was most precious--my honour and my virtue; you, by your base artifices, and detestable passion, have dragged me along with yourself into this abyss of every woe." "It is you, immodest woman, who, by enkindling an impure fire within my bosom, have left me a prey to everlasting flames." "It is you, unnatural father, barbarous mother, have given me the first example of irreligion and licentiousness; instead of restraining my growing passions, you have, on the contrary, rather hastened their development, and broken off all restraint from them. My reprobation is your work." "It is from you, detestable wife, I have learned such infamous lessons of vice; by means of an honourable and sacred union, you have laid a fatal snare for my innocence; our united efforts ought to have been directed to save our souls, but you have preferred that we should both perish. See what a husband owes to his affection for you."
But who can describe the innumerable multitude of the unhappy reprobates, who rise up enraged against the public corrupters of morality and faith, against the authors and vendors of obscene and impious books--against all those who have made science, arts, their talents, their industry, their influence, subservient to the triumph of vice or error--who have opened these copious and inexhaustible springs, at which men of every generation, of every rank, of every country, shall assemble even to the end of time, to carry away, and imbibe in copious draughts, that poison which kills the soul. I see whole generations and nations seduced, deluded, perverted, by this heresiarch, by this licentious poet, by this preacher of atheism, madly pursuing the author of their ruin, accusing him of his impostures, his obscenities, his blasphemies, and with loud cries, imploring the justice of heaven against that man who indulged in the impious sport of precipitating so man thousands into hell.
But among all the voices that are raised against the sinner, the most violent and most terrible is that which issues from his own bosom. Yes! his conscience, which he had always stifled during his life-time, which he prevented from groaning or complaining in secret, set free at length, and restored to all its rights, enraged and furious, roars like a lion, and terrifies and subdues him in its turn. This witness which he cannot silence, this inexorable accuser, this furious domestic enemy, audibly relates his iniquities and infamies, through the very lips of the culprit himself, and paints in the blackest colours his hatred of all good, his love of evil, his constant resistance to the light of his own reason, his invariable contempt and abuse of the divine graces, his ingratitude and hatred towards the Author of his being.
Then it is, that, heaping reproaches and imprecations upon himself--not knowing where to conceal his shame--he invokes death and annihilation; he conjures the mountains and hills to fall upon him, and to bury such a mass of wickedness beneath their ruins. But all in vain; he must live to see and to detest himself for ever, to bear the intolerable burden of unbounded confusion and disgrace for all eternity. Evigilabunt in opprobrium, ut videant semper. Such, then, is the excess of disgrace which the sinner must endure from the manifestation of consciences. In addition to this I have merely to show, in a few words, the consummation of his despair, in the last sentence which the supreme Judge will pronounce.
III.--The Judge has not yet appeared. But from the earliest moments of that dreadful day, has not everything apprised the sinner that he can expect nothing but inexorable severity? The appalling deformity of that body, which has been restored to him, the rigorous and oppressive manifestation of his most secret iniquities, the confusion with which he is overwhelmed, the aversion which all creatures testify towards him--do not all these announce to him, distinctly enough, what the decision of the supreme arbiter of his destiny must be in his regard? Has any one of his friends or relatives condescended to feel an interest in his favour? Has any one of those saints, who had formerly been so zealous for his salvation, so deeply affected by his wanderings, so full of indulgence, of charity, of tenderness, condescended even to cast a look of compassion upon him? The very sinners who resemble him, and the accomplices of his crimes, have become his most merciless enemies. What do I say?
Inanimate nature itself declares war against him. All the elements exhibit a most striking manifestation of their hatred, in a manner peculiar to themselves. The earth groans beneath his feet, and manifests an impatience to reject him from its bosom; the sea, swelling beyond its limits, terrifies him with the menacing sound and dreadful agitation of its waves: the sky roars above his head, and presents him with nothing but thunders; the whole creation conspires to thrust him into hell. Pugnabit eum illo orbis terratum contra insensatos.
In the meantime, the sacred sign of redemption shines aloft in the air, with an agreeable splendor; but for him alone that sign of salvation and mercy is a signal of reprobation and wrath. He shudders at the mere sight of it. "There," he exclaims, "is that cross which I have so often insulted and blasphemed, but which now triumphs along with those who have adored it. There is that cross, crimsoned for my sake with the blood of a God--that cross, which ought to be the source of all my hope and consolation, but which now comes to aggravate my terror and despair! There is that cross, which leaves no excuse for my guilt, which proves the justice of all these torments I endure! because, though I was marked with its seal by baptism, I have had no other sentiments towards it than those of a jew and an idolator; I also have nailed Him, who is about to judge me, to that cross, as well as they have done. What right have I to ask or to expect forgiveness?
The last act of this great and awful tragedy at length approaches. The brilliant cloud, which bears the divine Son of Man, appears in the firmament, and attracts universal admiration. More beautiful than a morning-star--a thousand times more brilliant than the sun--adorned with such glory and majesty as no mortal intellect can conceive--invested with a power, in comparison with which the authority of all the monarchs of this world are as nothing--surrounded by myriads of angels, and an ocean of light--the supreme Judge of the living and the dead is seated upon his throne. After a short internal of silence, commanded through respect, shouts of triumph, hymns of joy, loud acclamations of praises, which shake the vault of heaven, ascend from every side.
The glorified elect, beholding for the first time with their corporeal eyes, the adorable humanity of THE WORD MADE FLESH--contemplating that ravishing and ineffable beauty, that countenance, upon which all the perfections of the divinity, with all the virtues of man, are represented--are no longer capable of containing the transports of their joy and love.
They exult with delight: soaring aloft at once, like eagles, into the midst of the air, they fly into the arms of their Saviour, and inebriated with heavenly delights, they take their position at his right hand. Meanwhile the sullen, disconsolate, trembling sinner, with his eyes fixed upon the dust which he moistens with bitter tears, is thrust along with the vile society of Satan towards the left. There he hears the virtues proclaimed, and the victory celebrated, of those whom he had despised, calumniated, or persecuted upon earth; he hears the King of Glory, who, in accents full of tenderness and affection, styles them blessed of his Father, and invites them to share his inheritance, and take possession of his kingdom.
Dark envy at all their happiness consumes the sinner, and embitters his punishment. To aggravate his mortification and anguish to the utmost, he recognizes among them the old associates of his guilt, who had returned to God by a sincere conversion, washed their sins in the blood of the Lamb, and to the end of their lives remained faithful to that grace which had reconciled them, and now reign along with that glorious and happy society.
He is a witness of the rapture with which they celebrate their passions conquered, their fetters broken, their salutary tears, heaven gained at last, and their happiness secured for ever, at the cost of such trifling sacrifice. At such a spectacle he is unable to restrain his cries and groans--"Ah! unhappy wretch that I am," he says to himself, striking his breast, and tearing himself with his own hands; "could not I do what has been done by these others, who had the same propensities, the same prejudices, the same errors, the same habits, and the same vices as myself? Had not I the same lights, the same remorse, the same graces which have saved them?
Senseless and insane being that I was, instead of following their example, I have made their conversion the subject of my foolish and indecent sarcasms; they despised my contempt; the whole universe applauds their triumph this day; and here am I for all eternity, the detestation and outcast of all creation".
Whilst he abandons himself to the anguish of these tormenting thoughts, the Just Judge, after having crowned all the saints, turns towards the reprobate. Oh, my God! who can conceive the terror of these wretches, and the new torment which they feel at the moment when Thy divine visage, inflamed with anger, shoots all its rays upon them, like a burning sun; when Thy looks, like so many darts of fire, pierce their vitals and consume them. It is to this Thy prophet alluded, when he said, that Thou wouldst set them on fire, like furnaces, on that day which he styles the day of Thy enraged visage. Pones eos ut clibanum ignis in tempore vultus tui.
But what is to become of them? What violent trembling seizes upon them, and agitates them, What violent trembling seizes upon them, and agitates them, like the leaves of the forest, when Thy terrific voice, shaking the foundations of the world, and bringing consternation to their inmost souls, makes them hear these dreadful words: Discedite a me maledicti! "I now break for ever all the ties which united the Creator to rebellious creatures, the father to unnatural children, the thrice holy God to incorrigible sinners.
Depart from me!--from Me who gave you existence and life--who formed you to My likeness, and destined you to be sharers in My own happiness; from Me, who formed for your benefit, all this beautiful universe, in which the multiplied favours which I lavished upon you in such profusion, were only a pledge and a feeble prelude of those joys which I prepared for you in My kingdom; from Me, who bore with your ingratitude and your insults so long--who pardoned your crimes so often--who pursued you by My grace--who, through the hope of overcoming your obduracy, prolonged from year to year, that existence which you invariably abused; from Me, who loved you so tenderly, as even to offer Myself a victim for your sake, to weep, to suffer, to die for you, and who could obtain nothing but your hatred in return; from Me, the only author of every blessing, who rejected by you, reject you again in My turn, and abandon you a prey to all sorts of evil; from Me, who am benediction itself; but I solemnly curse you this day. Unfortunate man! you have loved malediction; you have chosen it for your inheritance; may it abide whit you for ever!" Maledicti!
At this word, a terrible voice issues from the throne of God, and resounds through the highest heavens; another re-echoes it with a dreadful roaring from he abyss of hell; another comes forth from the four quarters of the earth, and they all repeat together "Malediction, woe, Maledicti!" "Begone, then, far from Me," resumes the supreme Judge, "to the abode of eternal misery--to that place where there are no limits to torture, and no end to desolation; where the fire is ever burning, and never consumes; where a never-dying worm devours, and never destroys; where there is not left so much as the consolation of being able to hope for death. Discedite a me in ignem aeternum.
These frightful prisons have not been created for man, the beloved work of my father's hands, but for the rebellious angel, your enemy and mine. You were well aware that dark hatred exasperated him against you; that the damnation of the human race was the only object of his desires; and you have preferred him to your God. Not content with falling into all his snares, and piercing yourselves with all his darts, you have, moreover, conspired with him in his plots against mankind, and against Me also; you have become the seducers of your brethren, the corruptors of innocence, the calumniators of virtue, the persecutors of piety, the devils of the earth, the ministers, the instruments, the organs of the prince of darkness; and it is but just that you should share his fate, after having embraced his cause and performed his work. Discedite.....in ignem aeternum qui paratus est diabolo et angelis ejus.
After having pronounced this decree, directing towards those miserable beings a parting look, on which indignation and pity are depicted, He turns away from them for ever; and after having dispelled the clouds which hung upon His brow, He fixes His eyes upon the assembly of the just, with a smile full of sweetness and majesty, which makes heaven and earth rejoice. The never-ending canticle of praise and thanksgiving, in which all creatures join, immediately begins. At the sound of these concerts the heavens throw open their portals, and display their entire magnificence to the enraptured eyes of the elect, who ascend into the air, accompanied by angels, and enter in the train of the Lamb into the everlasting Jerusalem, which resounds with their reiterated acclamations of joy and triumph.
Whilst the reprobate contemplate this spectacle in sullen silence, oh! appalling contrast!--the earth gives way around them, and hell, displaying the depths of its prisons, demands its victims with expanded jaws! Then it is that these unfortunate beings, examining the dreadful depths of that abyss which is about to swallow them, and feeling more conscious than ever of the awful nature of their destiny, which they contrast with the happiness of the just, can fix no limits to their despair. Strength and courage abandon them altogether; their hearts are broken; they burst into torrents of tears; and raising their eyes for the last time towards that heavenly country which they shall never more behold, recognizing among those who now enter it, their friends, their fellow-citizens, their relatives--looking upon the places which had been prepared for themselves, but which others now occupy--all the acuteness and intensity of feeling with which they had ever been endued, revives at the moment of desolating separation, and they exclaim in a voice stifled by sobs and groans, "Farewell, paradise of delights, admirable city of the living God, abode of peace, of glory, and happiness, for which we had been created, and from which our crimes irretrievably banish us! Farewell, Father of Mercies, whose children we no longer are; divine Saviour, who recognizest us no more as thy brethren; Spirit of love, whom we have compelled to hate us! Farewell, adorable Redeemer, who hast shed all thy blood in vain to preserve us from these miseries to which our own madness has consigned us! Farewell, incomparable Virgin, mother of all the living, whom we choose to have as an enemy rather than as a mother; holy patrons, who once obtained for us so many graces which our own obduracy has rendered unavailing; angel-guardians and protectors whom we have abandoned, to unite ourselves with those monsters to whom we have now fallen a prey! Farewell, you all whose memory is most tender and torments us most--virtuous friends, whose advice and example we have despised--Christian parents, who so often entreated us, with tears, to have mercy upon ourselves, and we would not hear you--beloved spouses, to whom we were united by such endearing ties, from whom our infidelity has separated us for ever! Farewell, all you happy inhabitants of heaven! Hell claims us as its portion! Farewell, bright day of eternity! we descend into a night that shall never end. Farewell, joy, peace, consolation, hope--farewell for ever! Torments, desolation, and despair must be our inheritance for ever more!" At these words they sink into the burning prison-house, which groans as it swallows up its prey. The gates of the abyss are closed upon them, never more to open. All is consummated. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
I have not strength to add any more. May the sincerity of your conversion, my brethren, your faithful co-operation with divine grace, and the infinite mercy of the Lord, preserve you from such an awful destiny! This is a blessing which I wish you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
What Must You Do To Get to Heaven?