As an American now living in Scotland, I am compelled to address a line that would probably receive little attention elsewhere.
“There shall be seen the pride whose greed confounds the mad Scot and the foolish Englishman who cannot stay within their proper bounds.” (Canto XIX)
Of course, here is spoken of the Wars of Independence between Scotland and England, of which Edward the Longshanks, Robert the Bruce, and William Wallace hold such fame.
It is notable that it was likely just around the time of the writing of this part of the Commedia that the famous Declaration of Arbroath was written and sent to the Papacy then residing in Avignon.
It is generally accepted that it served in many ways as an inspiration and a guide for the Declaration of Independence of what is now the United States, who also, of course, broke away from English rule. The Declaration of Arbroath’s most famous passage is as follows:
“For as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom — for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”
My last fifteen years, that is, all of my adult life until 2 months ago, were spent serving the cause of freedom as a soldier. Today, as always, there is much talk of freedom, and whether or not Americans will hold on to the liberties that the founder fathers risked so much to obtain. But rather than speak on the current debates in American politics, to which I no doubt have chosen my sides on the issues, there is a more fundamental point to make here.
Without elaborating at all here (although it would be worth elaborating at some point), that it “is not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom” that a man is willing to give his life. St. Thomas speaks to the fact that glory and riches and honors are not what makes man happy (Q. 2, Things in Which Man’s Happiness Consists)…and we know that the one thing that will make man happy is the vision of God; it is to make that vision possible that the man Jesus Christ did indeed die, setting us free: free from sin.
We are thus made free. We are prepared to give up our lives if need be. And in one way, perhaps the most important, we already have (or if we have not, we should not delay in doing so). In baptism, we died with Christ, and then, like Christ, rise to new life.
As Blessed Columba Marmion says in his Christ, the Life of the Soul, “The Christian life is nothing other than the progressive and continued development, the application in practice, throughout the whole of our human existence, of the twofold initial act put into us in seed form at baptism, of the twofold super-natural result of ‘death’ and of ‘life’ produced by this sacrament. In that is to be found the whole program of Christianity.”