Dante – Inferno, Canto XI

The last three Canto’s we have been looking at the punishment of the Heretics, which, for Dante, generally means those who in some way rejected God. The materialists seem to be the most prominent of these, as we see groups such as the Epicurians among those called heretics.


The Epicurians (like the Stoics) seemed to have a materialistic worldview. But while the Stoics sought to temper their own passions (or be rid of them completely) the Epicurians wish to indulge in them. Perhaps that is why they are spoken of in more detail. The Stoics misunderstood the fact that the passions were of value to man, while the Epicurians thought they comprised the instrument by which man sought happiness.


In Canto XI, Dante seems to make his second mistake of putting a pope in Hell. This is not to say that there are not popes in hell, but that Dante seems to have a low batting average on this topic thus far. His first hellbound pope is a canonized saint, and his second (Anastasius) is the result of a historical error on which Anastasius was a denier of the true Incarnation of Christ.


After directly mentioning Aristotle and some of his works, Virgil goes on to speak of how “Violence may be offered the deity in the heart that blasphemes and refuses Him and scorns the gifts of Nature, her beauty and bounty.” This 14th century line reminds me of one similar from the 20th century, courtesy of Ettiene Gilson: “When and where piety is permitted to inundate the philosophical field, the usual outcome is that, to better extol the glory of God, pious-minded theologians proceed joyfully to annihilate God’s own creation.” In other words, one can ponder God and yet pay Him insult when we belittle His creation. We need to avoid being Stiocs (denying the goodness or at least moral neutrality of the passions), or Manicheans (denying the goodness of the material world), or even Platonists, who must deny the full reality given to the world of our sense and experience.


For those that are Catholic, our entire theology is Christocentric and therefore Incarnational. In fact, we can certainly say that, in Christ, God and Nature meet, and in fact God and Nature are Father (1st Person of the Trinity) and Mother (the Virgin Mary) of Christ.


Lastly (in reality there is, of course, so much more to reflect on here) Virgil states that “Philosophy makes plain by many reasons…to those who heed her teachings, how all of nature…springs from the Ultimate Intellect and Its art. Not only is this truth again plainly taught in places such as Blessed John Paul II’s Fides et Ratio, but by the great St. Paul, saying “For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity: so that they are inexcusable” (Rom 1:20)


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