Category Archives: Dante’s Divine Comedy

Paradiso Canto XXXIII

“Within the depthless deep and clear existence of that abyss of light three circles shone – three in color, one in circumference: the second from the first, rainbow from rainbow; the third, an exhalation of pure fire equally breathed forth by the other two.” (Canto XXXIII)

Who dares to say what we will see when we see God “face to face.” Dante dared; should he have?

“If any one, therefore, says to us, ‘How then was the Son produced by the Father?’ we reply to him, that no man understands that production, or generation, or calling, or revelation, or by whatever name one may describe His generation, which is in fact altogether indescribable. Neither Valentinus, nor Marcion, nor Saturninus, nor Basilides, nor angels, nor archangels, nor principalities, nor powers [possess this knowledge], but the Father only who begot, and the Son who was begotten. Since therefore His generation is unspeakable, those who strive to set forth generations and productions cannot be in their right mind, inasmuch as they undertake to describe things which are indescribable.” -St. Irenaeus of Lyons

Certainly, many a Father and Doctor of the Church would qualify, by St. Irenaeus’ standards, as not in their right mind. But as Aristotle and St. Thomas say, to achieve even a little knowledge of the highest things is far better than to know almost everything about worldly things.

The extreme difficulty of finding words to describe the vision in heaven is hardly made any easier by Revelation. How will, indeed, we “see” the threeness and oneness of God? We cannot do such here, not through creation.

God is One, and He acts as one.  We can know that God exists through reason alone, but this is reasoning from cause to effect, and in this case, we recognize a “necessary cause” for all that is contingent. We can only reason to the one cause, which is the one nature, the one essence that is the one God.  There is no way to know (through reason) that there is a Trinity.

In heaven, of course, we will see God not through some other medium, but directly. This must be the key to seeing God, three and one. But still, to describe it in human terms must truly be impossible. Yet we should not fault Dante, but rather praise him, for saying what he can. After all, many things we try to describe here on earth fall short (I hope) of what we actually conceive. One’s love of a spouse and children, for example; I may try to express to my wife my love for her, but human language falls short.

In the prologue to Book II of St. Augustine’s de Trinitate it is written, “men seek to know God, and bend their minds according to the capacity of human weakness to the understanding of the Trinity; learning, as they must, by experience, the wearisome difficulties of the task, whether from the sight itself of the mind striving to gaze upon light unapproachable.”

But at the end of the Divine Comedy, indeed, what makes it a comedy (a story with a happy ending) is what will make all of our lives a comedy; we will see God face to face, as He is. He will call us friends.

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Paradiso, Canto XXIV

“As a bachelor arms himself for disquisition in silence till the master sets the terms for defending, not deciding, the proposition; so did I arm myself…”

 

When one has the pleasure of meeting the first Vicar of Christ, one knows it is time to learn and not to teach. But if the teacher asks, one must answer. Dante prepares himself for the questions on faith, hope, and charity, the three theological virtues, of which the great apostles in heaven will ask of him an explanation. One of the primary roles of a teacher is not only to teach the content, but to know what content is worth teaching. Therefore, it is not for Dante to answer the questions he deems appropriate, to answer those of the master, who not only knows the answer to the question, but the importance of the question.

 

“Therefore my pen leaps and I do not write; not words nor fantasy can paint the truth: the folds of heaven’s draperies are too bright.”

 

St. Thomas, a master of the Sacred Page himself – he wrote, besides his more well known works, countless Quaestiones  Disputatae,  – spoke similar words when it was begged of him to complete the writing of his Summa Theologica.  Just as “not words nor fantasy can paint the truth,” as Dante must admit more and more often as he nears the vision of God, just so, all that St. Thomas had written seemed to him “as so much straw.”

 

Luckily for us, it was well before this point that St. Thomas began his Summa. In the first question, we learned the nature of sacred doctrine. Certainly this influenced Dante’s account in Canto XXIV:

 

“Faith is the substance of what we hope to see and the argument for what we have not seen. This is the quiddity as it seems to me…Starting with this belief, it is evident, we must reason without further visible proofs. And so it partakes, by nature, an argument.”

 

The two most important points, I believe, of this first Question, as it relates to theology being a true science, are from the 2nd and 8th Articles respectively:

 

“We must bear in mind that there are two kinds of sciences. There are some which proceed from a principle known by the natural light of intelligence…There are some which proceed from principles known by the light of a higher science… So it is that sacred doctrine is a science because it proceeds from principles established by the light of a higher science, namely, the science of God…sacred science is established on principles revealed by God.” (Article 2)

 

“…it is to be borne in mind, in regard to the philosophical sciences, that the inferior sciences neither prove their principles nor dispute with those who deny them, but leave this to a higher science…Sacred Scripture, since it has no science above itself, can dispute with one who denies its principles only if the opponent admits some at least of the truths obtained through divine revelation… Since faith rests upon infallible truth, and since the contrary of a truth can never be demonstrated, it is clear that the arguments brought against faith cannot be demonstrations, but are difficulties that can be answered.” (Article 8)

 

Understanding of these two articles underlies much of what Dante says here and in the following Cantos (and, in fact, in the entire Commedia).

The Purgatorio as Spiritual Exercise, Afterward

In an earlier post, I proposed that:

 

“Dante’s Divine Comedy is a wonderful work of poetry and a reflection upon the philosophy and theology of the Church in the High Middle Ages. But, like the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, often missed is its value as a spiritual exercise. Much like St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises and St. Francis de Sale’s Introduction to the Devout Life, the Purgatorio especially functions as a spiritual exercise that, approached with prayer, is a great aid toward removing vices and instilling virtues so that one may more easily cooperate with the grace of God.”

 

In a comment as a rebuttal of a negative review of the Divine Comedy via Amazon.com, the following was stated:

 

“Read it for the symbolism behind the characters, and the problems, political and otherwise that Italy was having at the time. Read it to appreciate the genius that one must posses to write a story in such a fashion, ie terza rima, try looking at the Italian Version, and the way that it is written. Religion is the last thing that should be on one’s mind when reading this book.”

 

Certainly much of what is said here is correct. But far be it from me to approve the final sentence. Dante certainly, in his genius, fit into the story the situation, both personal and political, of his time. What good author ignores it? But Dante understands that time, place, (and all the other accidents of reality) have their existence in the One Who Is. In a way we would be correct to say that religion should be kept in mind in everything we read (or hear, or do, or otherwise). In the Commedia, the primary point is that of the soul seeking God; what else is religion, properly defined, than man’s attitude towards his Creator?

 

The great poem speaks of politics in the Italian Peninsula, of Beatrice, or Virgil, and, as I stated, of ‘the philosophy and theology of the Church in the High Middle Ages.’ But what it is “about” is God, and man’s seeking God. It certainly is just as much about God seeking man, by way of calling Him with His grace.

 

In fact, what the Comedy is about is that one point, that one fixed point from where all else comes.

 

“I saw within Its depth how It conceives all things in a single volume bound by Love, of which the universe is the scattered leaves; substance, accident, and relation so fused that all I say could do no more than yield a glimpse of that bright revelation.” (Paradiso, Canto XXXIII)

 

 

I chose the project because the Middle Ages are too often represented as a time when religious thought was simply vain argument about needless distinctions and pointless debates. Certainly, there was some of this, and Dante himself complains of it. Because there is truth mixed with error, so much of the truth gets missed (is not this so often the case in many things?).

 

Followers, for instance, of the method used by Peter Lombard, St. Albert the Great, St. Bonaventura, and St. Thomas Aquinas, often used the scholastic method to useless ends. In doing so, in fact, did they not ignore the teachings of such writers? St. Thomas himself states in the beginning of his Summa Theologica that one of his purposes in writing it is so that students would not be “hampered by what they have found written by other authors, partly on account of the multiplication of useless questions, articles, and arguments…”

 

The Summa Theologica, rather, is not only a great manual of instruction on the truths of the faith, but it is at least as much a work of profound spiritual depth. What else, for one, do we call “spiritual” except that which the spirit does: seek truth? But even so, the Summa Theologica should be prayed, not just read.

 

I stated in my thesis that “like the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, often missed is its [the Divine Comedy] value as a spiritual exercise.” Even the above quoted rebuttal of a poor review of the Comedy missed this, in fact, rejected it.

 

Yes, “Read it for the symbolism behind the characters, and the problems, political and otherwise” as the reviewer says. But these and all the many other elements of the story are bound up in one; rather, bound up in the One:

 

“Consider then how lofty and how wide is the excellence of the Eternal Worth which in so many mirrors can divide Its power and majesty forevermore, Itself remaining One, as It was before.” (Paradiso, Canto XXIX)

 

“Religion is the last thing that should be on one’s mind when reading this book”? On the contrary, our relation with God is what is primary, and it is what makes everything else in the Divine Comedy (or in anything else in the universe) truly great.

Paradiso, Canto XIX

Canto XIX

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.”

Paradiso Canto XVII

Canto XVII

 

Contingency and God’s foreknowledge, contingency and necessity.

 

Aristotle discusses the question in his On Interpretation when he states that “A sea-fight must either take place to-morrow or not, but it is not necessary that it should take place to-morrow, neither is it necessary that it should not take place, yet it is necessary that it either should or should not take place to-morrow. Since propositions correspond with facts, it is evident that when in future events there is a real alternative, and a potentiality in contrary directions, the corresponding affirmation and denial have the same character. This is the case with regard to that which is not always existent or not always nonexistent. One of the two propositions in such instances must be true and the other false, but we cannot say determinately that this or that is false, but must leave the alternative undecided.”

 

It is, in this case, necessary that one of two contraries happen, but neither is necessary as it is in itself. It is simply the law of contradiction (or of non-contradiction, if you prefer) at work in time.

 

We read in the Paradiso that “Contingency, whose action is confined to the few pages of the world of matter, is fully drawn in the Eternal Mind; but it no more derives necessity from being so drawn than a ship dropping down the water derives its motion from a watcher’s eye.”

 

At first I am unsure of how to take this verse. There are, after all, not just contingency and foreknowledge, but predestination separately. Of course, we do not say that God’s knowledge of something forces it, in the same way that my having already watched a movie or read a book makes me suddenly it’s author just because I know beforehand what will happen the second time I watch or read it. It is, of course, merely that I have seen the story already. God, of course, sees the story all at once, and this, on its own, in no way makes Him its cause.

 

God has seen already a much broader picture.  We know that there will either be or not be a battle tomorrow. Guessing correctly doesn’t necessitate it. In fact, if the battle happens today, it wasn’t necessary yesterday that it happen. God, of course, knew it would, but that did not necessitate it. And, of course, I dare not limit God’s foreknowledge to merely future contraries, but His knowledge extends to all events whatsoever.

 

However, there is also the fact that everything receives its being from God, to include the being of its very acts (and, if rational, the being of its thoughts and its willing). So while the foreknowledge of God certainly is not causal, understood AS foreknowledge, the fact that God is the prime mover certainly is causal.

 

This, to me, has always been the more difficult question. It is, however, a question that can be deeply pondered but must remain a mystery. What we must not do (and it has led to many heresies) is attempt to remove the mystery by emphasizing one aspect of this mystery and removing the other.

 

There is free will, and God is the ultimate prime mover of “all that is.” There is no sin in seeking to understand this; the sin is in thinking we have arrived at understanding this.

 

That is, as made clear in Canto XVII, God’s business.

Paradiso, Canto VII (On the Passion and Resurrection)

Why did God Become Man?

 

St. Anselm takes up the problem (and what theologian has not?):

 

“Would it be proper for God to cancel sins by compassion alone, without any payment of the honor taken from him?

 

How would one go about putting away sins in this way? Simply by not punishing? But it is not right to cancel sin without compensation or punishment — if it is not punished, then is it passed by and not dealt with.

 

But it is not fitting for God to pass over anything in his kingdom without dealing with it.

 

It is therefore not proper for God to pass over sin unpunished.

 

There is also another thing which follows if sin is passed by unpunished, — that with God there will be no difference between the guilty and the not guilty. That would be inappropriate for God.” (Anselm, Why did God Become Man?)

 

St. Anselm is usually interpreted as having concluded that the Incarnation, and thus the Passion, death, and resurrection of Christ was the only way for man to be saved; a sort of necessity that differs from that of St. Thomas Aquinas’ understanding. When Aquinas speaks on the necessity of Christ’s Incarnation and passion, he is much more careful to qualify “necessity.”

 

“As the Philosopher teaches (Metaph. v), there are several acceptations of the word “necessary.” In one way it means anything which of its nature cannot be otherwise; and in this way it is evident that it was not necessary either on the part of God or on the part of man for Christ to suffer. In another sense a thing may be necessary from some cause quite apart from itself; and should this be either an efficient or a moving cause then it brings about the necessity of compulsion; as, for instance, when a man cannot get away owing to the violence of someone else holding him.” (STh III, 46, art. 1)

 

“”Limited man, by subsequent obedience, could never make amends; he could not go as low in his humility as once, rebellious, he had sought to rise in his pride…For God, in giving Himself that man might be able to raise himself, gave even more than if he had forgiven him in mercy.” (Paradiso, Canto VII)

 

We see Dante’s understanding of the Incarnation reflects that of St. Anselm, but goes beyond, as does St. Thomas Aquinas, who states that it was not necessary, as St. Anselm says, for God to become man to forgive men (God could indeed forgive by a mere mercy alone) but that it was however the most appropriate means.

 

“It was not necessary, then, for Christ to suffer from necessity of compulsion, either on God’s part, who ruled that Christ should suffer, or on Christ’s own part, who suffered voluntarily. Yet it was necessary from necessity of the end proposed;…Among means to an end that one is the more suitable whereby the various concurring means employed are themselves helpful to such end. But in this that man was delivered by Christ’s Passion, many other things besides deliverance from sin concurred for man’s salvation.” (STh III, Q. 46, various articles)

 

St. Thomas then lists many of the particular ways in which the Passion was most suitable as the means for man’s salvation, because:

 

  1. Man knows how much God loves him, and is thereby stirred to love Him in return

 

  1. Thereby He set us an example of obedience, humility, constancy, justice, and the other virtues displayed in the Passion, which are requisite for man’s salvation.

 

  1. Christ by His Passion not only delivered man from sin, but also merited justifying grace for him.

 

  1. By this man is all the more bound to refrain from sin, “You are bought with a great price: glorify and bear God in your body.”

 

  1. It redounded to man’s greater dignity, that as man was overcome and deceived by the devil, so also it should be a man that should overthrow the devil;

 

He concludes, therefore, by stating “It was accordingly more fitting that we should be delivered by Christ’s Passion than simply by God’s good-will.”

Paradiso, Canto V

We see in this sphere what we may call magnanimous souls. St. Thomas dedicates several articles in his Summa to magnanimity.

 

Magnanimity by its very name denotes stretching forth of the mind to great things…Now a man is said to be magnanimous in respect of things that are great absolutely and simply, just as a man is said to be brave in respect of things that are difficult simply. It follows therefore that magnanimity is about honors. (STh. II, II, 129, art. 1)

 

“I do indeed see that you make your nest in your own light, and beam it through yours eyes that dazzle when you smile, o spirit blessed. But I know not who you are, nor why you are assigned here, to this sphere that hides itself far more resplendent yet upon my sight.” (Canto V)

 

These souls were indeed great souled, but struggled to truly understand from whence the honor they sought has its source. They were not necessarily proud, certainly not in the way of our primary source of original sin. But they may be able to be said to have been proud in the way that magnanimity is sometimes translated as “pride” in Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics.

 

In St. Thomas’ Commentary on Aristotle’s Ethics, he states that “[Aristotle] draws two conclusions from the premises. The first is that magnanimity seems to be an ornament of all the virtues because they are made more excellent by magnanimity, which seeks to perform a great work in all the virtues. In this way the virtues increase. Likewise, magnanimity accompanies the other virtues and so seems to be added to them as their ornament. The second conclusion is that it is difficult to be magnanimous because magnanimity cannot exist without the goodness of virtue, and even without great virtue to which honor is due. But it is difficult to attain this. Consequently, it is difficult for a man to be magnanimous.” (Book IV, Lecture 8)

 

It is difficult, but not impossible. Aristotle, knowing nothing of grace, still understands the difficulty yet attainability of magnanimity, but he certainly couldn’t have an identical understanding of the concept. Great-souled-ness is certainly different in a Christian context.

 

A little later, St. Thomas comments on the vices opposed to magnanimity: “If the smallsouled man knew himself, he would strive for the things he deserves because they are good and desirable, since one’s own good is desirable to everyone. Ignorance of this kind does not come from stupidity-for the stupid are not worthy of great things -but rather from a certain laziness by reason of which they are unwilling to engage in great things according to their dignity.” (Book IV, Lecture 11)

 

Basically, our gifts are our gifts, but they are from God. We therefore recognize where our gifts come from but, at the same time, call them what they are. A bright and healthy man should never, for the sake of being lazy, decide he isn’t as bright and capable as he actually is and set lower goals, especially lower goals in the preaching of and working towards the Kingdom of Heaven. To whom much is given, much is to be expected. Pretending you were given less than you were and calling it humility is a double lie. But when you go do “great things,” be careful never to forget that you are reflecting the light and not its source.

 

We may say that the most magnanimous of all was Mary, who said “my soul doth magnify the Lord.” Only she could say with perfect and true humility that “all generations will call me blessed” for she knew that it was only by him who “has done great things for me.”

The Purgatorio as Spiritual Exercise

The Divine Comedy, especially the Purgatorio, is a poetic demonstration of a common medieval theme: the ascent from vice to virtue by the grace of God.

 

Dante’s Divine Comedy is a wonderful work of poetry and a reflection upon the philosophy and theology of the Church in the High Middle Ages. But, like the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, often missed is its value as a spiritual exercise. Much like St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises and St. Francis de Sale’s Introduction to the Devout Life, the Purgatorio especially functions as a spiritual exercise that, approached with prayer, is a great aid toward removing vices and instilling virtues so that one may more easily cooperate with the grace of God.

 

In each section that follows, an excerpt or two from Dante’s Purgatorio is given, followed by an excerpt or two from a different Catholic spiritual author, followed by a short reflection on the unity of the theme.

 

Summa Theologica (St. Thomas Aquinas)

 

“What have your souls to boast of and be proud? You are no more than insects,

incomplete as any grub until it burst the shroud.” (Canto X)

 

“What, to eternity, is a thousand year?…The fame of man is like the green of grass: it comes, it goes; and He whom by it springs bright from earth’s plenty makes it fade and pass.” (Canto XI)

 

The subject of any virtue or vice is to be ascertained from its proper object: for the object of a habit or act cannot be other than the object of the power, which is the subject of both. Now the proper object of pride is something difficult, for pride is the desire of one’s own excellence. (STh., II-II q.162 a.3 resp.)

 

Pride denotes immoderate desire of one’s own excellence, a desire, to wit, that is not in accord with right reason. Now it must be observed that all excellence results from a good possessed. Such a good may be considered in three ways. First, in itself. For it is evident that the greater the good that one has, the greater the excellence that one derives from it. Hence when a man ascribes to himself a good greater than what he has, it follows that his appetite tends to his own excellence in a measure exceeding his competency: and thus we have the third species of pride, namely boasting of having what one has not. (STh., II-II q.162 a.4 resp.)

 

We must remember what Dante means in the first line: we are incomplete like a grub. That grub was made to be a beautiful butterfly. It was not, however, made to be one on its own, prideful and separated from its maker.

 

The Interior Castle (St. Teresa of Avila)

 

“I was sent to show the way his soul must take for its salvation; and there is none but this by which I go.” (Canto I)

“What’s this? What’s this? Negligence! Loitering! O laggard crew run to the mountain and strip off the scurf that lets not God be manifest in you.” (Canto II)

But we should understand that this fountain and this resplendent sun, which is in the centre of the soul, lose not their brightness and glory, for these always remain in it, and nothing can take away its beauty. But if any one should throw a black cloth over a crystal which is exposed to the sun, it is evident that, though the sun may shine upon it, it will have no effect on the crystal. (St. Teresa of Avila)

As I said in an earlier reflection on Dante, This is the entire journey of purification, or sanctification, and of salvation. God created us, and saw that His creation was very good. Stained with sin as we are, we must rise up, cooperate with God’s grace, and be on our way. We need not wait until Purgatory to begin to “strip off the scurf.” Sainthood is not for the “elite;” there is a, I hope by now well known, universal call to holiness.

 

The Ascent of Mount Carmel (St. John of the Cross)

 

“Such is this Mount that when a soul begins the lower slopes it most must labor; then less and less the more in nears the goal.” (Canto IV)

 

The happy lot of the soul, then, lies in this unobserved departure which no carnal desire or aught else was able to hinder. And also in that this departure took place by night, which is the privation of all desire wrought by God, a condition which is as night to the soul. The happy lot of the soul, then, consists in its being led of God into this night from which so great a blessing results, but into which it could not have entered of itself, because no one is able in his own strength to empty his heart of all desires, so as to draw near unto God. (St. John of the Cross)

 

It is God who purifies us, who removes the stain which we can by no means remove ourselves. As we grow in holiness, we are more and more what we are meant to be. We are held down, so to speak, less and less by the flesh which wars against the spirit. But although it is always God who both calls us to sanctity and effects this sanctity, nevertheless, we must cooperate with His grace. As St. Augustine famously says, He Who created you without you does not will to save you without you. Thus sanctity is also a human labor.

 

Introduction to the Devout Life (St. Francis de Sales)

 

“Men run from virtue as if from a foe or poisonous snake. Either the land is cursed, or long-corrupted custom drives them so…The heavens cry to you, and all around your stubborn souls, wheel their eternal glory, and yet you keep your eyes fixed on the ground. And for turning from the joys of Love the All-Discerning flails you from above.” (Canto XIV)

 

In the exercise of the virtues we should always prefer that which is most conformable to our duty, not that which is most agreeable to our imagination.

Among the virtues unconnected with our particular duty, we must prefer the most excellent to the most glittering and showy. (St. Francis de Sales)

When assaulted by any vice, we must embrace the practice of the contrary virtue, and refer all the others to it, by which means we shall overcome our enemy, and at the same time advance in all the virtues. (St. Francis de Sales)

 

Virtue makes life easy, if by life we mean right living. But virtue is hard to obtain. Just as many want to be strong and fit but few overcome the laziness of the flesh and actually make fitness a reality, likewise with our habits, our character. When we finally do decide to mold our character and instill true virtue, we must recognize our vices, and not simply try to avoid falling into them, but rather make a very active effort to do their opposite. Only through this positive act do we overcome them and replace them with true virtue.

 

The Spiritual Exercises (of St. Ignatius Loyola)

 

“…see that man’s ways, even at his best, are far from God’s as earth is from the heaven whose swiftest wheel turns above all the rest…Perhaps a greater care, as often happens, dims his memory and his mind’s eye…I came back from those holiest of waters new, remade, reborn, like a sun-wakened tree that spreads new foliage to the spring dew, in sweet freshness.” (Canto 33)

 

Take, O Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my whole will

 

The first Colloquy to Our Lady, that she may get me grace from Her Son and Lord for three things: first, that I may feel an interior knowledge of my sins, and hatred of them; second, that I may feel the disorder of my actions, so that, hating them, I may correct myself and put myself in order; third, to ask knowledge of the world, in order that, hating it, I may put away from me worldly and vain things.

 

Lost and failing to fix our eyes upon the true Good, we make little idols for ourselves and fail to obtain our own true happiness. Original sin has affected both our intellectual and sensual desires. When we offer these back to God, He purifies us. We are made new, and , as the final words of the Purgatorio tell us, made “perfect, pure, and ready for the stars.

 

Concluding Thoughts

 

We are called to holiness. Purified of all sin through the grace of Christ, may we all gaze upon the Heavens. Let us run the race so as to win. May we be among those who persevere until the end so that, ourselves made holy by Him who is holy, we may forever sing: “Holy, Holy, Holy….”

 

Paradiso, Canto I

“…but thou hast ordered all things in measure, and number, and weight.” (Wis 11:20)

 

The glory of him who moves all things race fourth through all the universe and is reflected from each thing in proportion to its worth.

 

We see that the order of things is reversed when we come from God’s point of view. I, recognizing the good or perceived good in some thing, love that thing. But for God, it is quite the opposite. He does not recognize the good in some thing and therefore love it, but rather, loves it, and thereby it is good, thereby it exists. It is the same with truth, for it is up to us to recognize truth, but this truth is not something separately recognized by God but rather is one with Him.

 

What much is granted to our senses there in the garden made to be man’s proper place that is not granted us when we are here.

 

Dante merely states here that in the beatific vision we are granted to see what we naturally desire but cannot attain without grace. “O, happy fault.”

 

“The elements of all things” she began “whatever their mode observe and enter order it is this form that makes the universe resemble God in this the higher creature see the hand of the internal work which is the goal to which these norms conduce, being so planned.”

 

Of all created and visible things, that is (as far as we know), all creatures besides angels, man is the highest. He stands, in fact, on the border between the purely spiritual and the merely material. Man is a microcosm, and the macrocosm was made for man. The world has order built into it, as does human nature. The world, when contemplated, points man towards his goal. It shows us something of its Maker, and only in its Maker are we to find eternal joy.

 

It is true that often times the form of a thing does not respond to the intent of the art… just so the creature sometimes travels wide of this true course…and it’s first impulse maybe twisted earthward by a false desire.

 

All this means is that things, being contingent as they are, are always apt to tend towards non-being. They may not do as they should, but this is a failure of their nature, and not their nature itself. In man, much is due to the fall, by which we lost supernatural grace and preternatural graces as well. But our nature is still, though fallen, that of a creature of God, and we need grace to right this nature so that it may be what it was created to be.

 

“You should not as I see it marvel more at your ascent than the river’s fall from a high mountain to the valley floor.”

 

When our nature is set aright, by grace, we should no more marvel at its attainment of its original purpose than we marvel at seeing all other natural things do just as they ought. Water falls, because by nature it is pulled toward the earth. Man rises to the contemplation of God, for that is why he was created.

Dante, Purgatorio, XXX (part II)

I love this line as well: “Pursuing the false images of good,
that promise what they never wholly pay.”

This ties back to what Virgil says in Canto XVII. “All men, though in a vague way, apprehend a good their souls may rest in, and desire it; each, therefore, strives to reach his chosen end.”

Do not the limited things of this world seem so fulfilling as we strive after them, and so empty later? This is most especially true in sin, where we rationalize it up to the point of committing it, and then (if we still have the conviction of conscience about us) immediately experience the emptiness of our act as the primary feeling of guilt.

Even if not directly sinful, we feel the same thing if, while on a diet, we see that piece of chocolate looking so appealing and, once the taste of it is gone, the calories remain in our stomach…and we feel so much more regret for so much longer than the fleeting pleasure of the moment that “promised so much,” as the quote from Canto XXX says.

In keeping to the analogy of a diet and health, one can put a piece of pizza away in a minute or so…and can work for 30 minutes on a treadmill to “remedy” the situation. How many sins do we commit within a moments time and, afterward, regret for so long, whether it is just as a matter of guilt or as a matter of waiting for the next opportunity to confess.

And yet, we are human, and we seem to be slow learners. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Ro 7:24)

Luckily the next line answers…