Inferno Canto 34

In Canto I, Dante’s pride is exposed and he realizes that human wisdom is not a “quick route” to heaven and happiness. Pride, in fact, is the root of all evil. It is the devil that told our first parents that “you will be like gods, for you will see as He does.”


In Canto XXXIV, the Tempter of all this pride is seen, displaying the sadness and result of such pride. Beating his own wings in an attempt to fly alone, he merely locks himself more and more in his own world of sorrows, separated from God. The phrase “let go and let God” is, of course, meaningless to him. Power is the tool he thinks to use, and yet power is not the ultimate answer to all things. He beats his wings the harder, only to further freeze the lake; in a similar way, one only becomes more and more trapped in a Chinese finger trap when effort is made simply to pull.


Most are familiar with Sauroman the wizard from the Lord of the Rings movies. In the book The Hobbit, also by JRR Tolkien, he has not yet turned to ally with evil, but we do see his insistence upon power as the way to “get the job done.” Gandalf, another wizard, speaks of this, telling of Sauroman the Great’s desire to save the world from evil through power, while he (Gandalf) thinks the answer actually lies in small acts of great love.


Now God certainly is all powerful, and power is neither good nor bad, but is useful to one or the other. Certainly I must disagree with the phrase “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” for none s more powerful than the incorruptible God. But this power is equaled by perfect Love. God is Love. The fire’s of His love burn with a heat opposite the frozen lake in which that the old angel of light, (also certainly powerful, although in a contingent way incomparable with God) lies frozen.


Dante has come full circle and seen the father of lies; the one who would tempt man to think he is sufficient unto himself, as Dante’s attempt at a short sprint to glory in Canto I is a prime example.



Canto XXX


“I was still standing, fixed upon these two when the Master said to me: “Now keep on looking a little longer and I quarrel with you.” Dante listens for too long to a couple of the damned argue and belittle one another, and Virgil is quickly agitated with the whole scene.


C.S. Lewis has written a brilliant book (he has written dozens) in his The Screwtape Letters. In it, he really goes into the workings of evil from its own point of view. It is an eye opening book for those who may have a false understanding of what is good in the world and how it can be misued. It certainly clears up the still oft taken [Manichean like] position that spirit is good and matter is bad. Are not the demons spirit, and is not the Christ also Flesh?


Tolkien, also a member of The Inklings, a group that CS Lewis and a few others belonged to for the discussion of literature, did not like the fact that CS Lewis wrote such a book. He thought that it is dangerous to delve too far into the ways of evil, even when the intention was the good one of exposing evil that its traps may be avoided.


Tolkien felt so strongly about this that an entire character in his great stories of Middle Earth directly reflects this. Sauroman, the White Wizard, is in the beginning good. He often relies on power as the means of solving the problem of evil. Of course, we need law enforcement and soldiers to battle evil even today. But primarily it is not power that wins all. I digress.


Sauroman eventually delves far into the ways and workings of evil, the greater to understand it. As a military officer, I certainly respect the need to know thy enemy. You must understand his tactics and procedures and capabilities to better defeat him. But when you let your mind spend too much time on these ways, the heart may follow. Sauroman, as we know, eventually goes to the evil side, allying with it and thinking it too powerful to overcome. He thinks, and not relying on God’s good providence, that evil is too powerful and will win, and thus it is best to side with it now rather than wait until good is defeated.


Know your enemy, yes, but do not become overly interested and involved. “…should it occur again, as we walk on, that we find ourselves where others of this crew fall to such petty wrangling and upbraiding,…The wish to hear such baseness is degrading.”

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