Lothario de Segni, Pope Innocent III
On the Misery
of the Human Condition



. . .with tears in my eyes I shall take up first what a man is made of; second what a man does; and finally what man is to be.

. . . . Man was formed of dust, slime, and ashes; what is even more vile, of the filthiest seed. He was conceived from the itch of the flesh, in the heat of passion and the stench of lust, and worse yet, with the stain of sin. He was born to toil, dread and trouble; and more wretched still, was born only to die. He commits depraved acts by which he offends God, his neighbor, and himself; shameful acts by which he defiles his name, his person, and his conscience; and vain acts by which he ignores all things important, useful, and necessary. He will become fuel for those fires which are forever hot and burn forever bright; food for the worm which forever nibbles and digests; a mass of rottenness which will forever stink and reek.


Of the Miserable Entrance Upon the Human Condition

“Therefore the Lord God formed man from the slime of the earth,” an element having less dignity than others. For God made the planets and stars from fire, the breeze and winds from air, the fishes and birds from water; but He made men and beasts from earth. Thus a man, looking upon sea life, will find himself low; looking upon creatures of the air he will know he is lower; and looking upon the creatures of fire he will see he is lowest of all. Nor can he equal heavenly things, nor dare put himself above the earthly; for he finds himself on a level with the beasts and knows he is like them.

“Therefore the death of man and the beast is the same, and the condition of them both is equal, and man has nothing more than the beast. Of earth they were made, and into earth they return together.” These are not just the words of any man, but of the wisest Solomon.

Of the Vile Matter from which Man is Made . . .

Of the Shortness of this Life . . .

Of the Discomfort of Old Age . . .

Of the Misery of the Rich and Poor . . .


Of the Misery of the Good and the Evil . . .


Why the Body Is Called the Prison of the Soul . . .


On the Nearness of Death

A man’s last day is always the first in importance, but his first day is never considered his last. Yet it is fitting to live always on this principle, that one should act as if in the moment of death. For it is written: “Remember that death is not slow.” Time passes, death draws near. In the eyes of the dying man a thousand years are as yesterday, which is past. The future is forever being born, the present forever dying, and what is passed is utterly dead. We are forever dying while we are alive; we only cease to die when we cease to live. Therefore it is better to die to life than to live waiting for death, for mortal life is but a living death.

  Whence Solomon said, “I praised the dead rather than the living, and I judged him happier than them both who is not yet born.”


The Guilty Progress of the Human Condition

Men strive especially for three things: riches, pleasures, and honors. Riches lead to immorality, pleasures to shame, and honors to vanity. Hence the Apostle John says, “Do not love the world or the things that are in the world; because all that is in the world is the concupiscence of the flesh and the concupiscence of the eyes and the pride of life.” The concupiscence of the flesh pertains to pleasures, the concupiscence of the eyes to riches. and the pride of life to honors. Riches beget covetousness and avarice, pleasures give birth to gluttony and lechery. and honors nourish pride and boasting.

“Nothing is more wicked than a covetous man and there is not a more wicked thing than to love money.” That is a statement of the wise man, and the Apostle confirms it saying, “They that will become rich fall into temptation and into the snare of the devil and into many unprofitable and hurtful desires, which drown men into destruction and perdition . . . .”


Insatiable cupidity is an unquenchable fire. Was there ever a covetous man content with his first wish? When he has got what he wanted, he always longs to have more, and never sets his present possessions as a limit. “The eye of the covetous man is insatiable in his portion of iniquity; he will not be satisfied.” A covetous man shall not be satisfied with money, and he that loves riches shall reap no fruit from them.” Nor Hell nor perdition is ever sated, nor the insatiable eyes of men. “The horseleech has two daughters who say, ‘Bring, bring,’” For: “The love of money increases as the pile of coin mounts up.” The enemy is one of your own household, living not far off but near, nor outside, but within; for “his strength is in his loins and his force in the navel on his belly.” Lust is never put to flight except by flight, and never mortified except by torment. It needs freedom and abundance for its cause; but for its effect it invents its own means and opportunities. The vice corrupts every age, disturbs wither sex, breaks all order, undermines each class of society. For it assaults both young and old, men and women, wise and foolish, higher and lower; and last, even priests, who embrace Venus at night and then worship the Virgin at dawn at night they excite the son of Venus on a bed, at dawn they offer the Son of the Virgin on an altar.

Who could untangle well enough the many kinds of lust? For this destroyed the Five Cities with the neighboring region; ruined Sichem and its people; struck down Her and Onan, sons of Juda; pierced both the Jew and the Medianite woman with a dagger; destroyed the tribe of Benjamin for the wife of a Levite; felled in war the sons of Eli the priest; killed Urias, murdered Ammon, stoned the elders, cursed Ruben, seduced Sampson, and perverted Solomon.


. . . while the avaricious gather wealth and misers save it, while gluttons swallow their pleasures and lechers wallow in theirs, the ambitious strive for honors and the proud esteem them. The ambitious man is always fearful, always under tension lest he say or do anything which might make him displeasing in the eyes of men. He pretends humility, feigns honesty, displays affability, shows off his kindness, is accommodating, is compliant, honors everyone and bows to everybody, frequents courts, visits important people, rises and embraces, claps his hands and fawns. A famous quotation describes him well: “If there’s no dust he’ll still brush it off.” He is prompt and eager where he knows he will please, hesitant and lukewarm where he thinks he will not. He condemns evil and detests iniquity, but what he praises and blames varies with the person, so long as he will be thought competent and be deemed welcome by one and all. But see how he must keep up a grave battle in himself, and a very hard conflict it is, with Iniquity hammering at his soul and Ambition leading him by the hand; for what the one suggests he do, the other will not permit. And yet Iniquity and Ambition, mother and daughter, plot for one another: the mother lives in the open and the daughter, kept in hiding, never resists—one claims a public and the other a secret domain.

The Damnable Exit from the Human Condition

. . . it is natural that what is made of matter should return to matter. “He shall take away their breath and they shall fail and shall return unto their dust.” But when man shall die, his heirs will be beasts, serpents, and worms. “For they shall all sleep in the dust, and worms shall cover them.” “For the worm shall eat them up as a garment and the moth shall consume them as wool.” “I am to be consumed as rottenness, and as a garment that is moth-eaten.” I have said to rottenness, “thou art my father”; to worms, “my mother and my sister.” “Man is rottenness, and the son of a man is a worm.” O vile father, ghastly mother, abominable sister! Man is conceived of blood made rotten by the heat of lust; and in the end worms, like mourners, stand about his corpse. In life he produced lice and tapeworms; in death he will produce worms and flies. In life he produced dung and vomit; in death he produces rottenness and stench. In life he fattened one man; in death he fattens a multitude of worms. What then is more foul than a human corpse? What is more horrible than a dead man? He whose embrace was pure delight in life will be a gruesome sight in death.

“The vengeance on the flesh of the ungodly is worm and fire.” Double for both: a worm and fire inside him which gnaws and burns the body. “Their worm,” he says, “shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched.” “The Lord shall put fire and worms in their flesh so that they will burn and feel it forever.” The worm of conscience will destroy them in three ways: it will trouble them with memories, disturb them with repentance, and torture them with anguish. “They shall come with fear at the thought of their crimes, and their inequities shall stand against them to convict them,” saying, “What has pride profited us or what advantages has the boasting of riches brought us? All those things are passed away like a shadow, and like a ship that passes through the waves whose trace cannot be found when it is gone by.” So also with us: as soon as we are born we start ceasing to be, and we can show no sign of virtue but are consumed in our own iniquity. With boundless perturbation they recall what they had done in their lives with excessive delight: the prick of memory pierces them in punishment, as the very goad of their wickedness had incited them to sin.

Then will their wealth not help them, neither their honors defend them nor their friends procure them favor. For it is written, “Their silver and their gold shall not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord.” “The kings of the earth shall weep and bewail when they see the smoke and the burning,” “because of fear and its torments.” “What then will you do in the day of visitation an calamity which comes from afar? to whom will you flee for help?” “Everyone shall bear his own burden.” “The soul that sins, the same shall die.” . . . . There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, there shall be groaning and wailing, shrieking and flailing of arms and screaming, screeching and shouting; there shall be fear and trembling, toil and trouble, holocaust and dreadful stench, and everywhere darkness and anguish; there shall be asperity, cruelty, calamity, poverty, distress and utter wretchedness; they will feel an oblivion of loneliness and namelessness; there shall be twistings and piercings, bitterness, terror, hunger and thirst, cold and hot, brimstone and fire burning, forever and ever world without end.