"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Dante's Purgatorio Cantos XXIV – XXVIII, Summary

Canto XXIV
The now group of four continue walking on the terrace of gluttony, Virgil and Statius coupled, Dante and Forese coupled.  Dante asks Forese about his sister Piccarda, and he tells him she is now in paradise.  Forese goes on to point out a few other souls, the Troubadour poet Bonagiunta of Lucca, Pope Martin IV, who had an obsession with eating eel, the Ghibelline Ubaldin da la Pile, who was father to Archbishop Ruggieri (who we famously met having his brains eaten in Inferno 33), Archbishop Bonafazio, and a Marchese who was known for his drinking.  But it is the poet Bonagiunta that has Dante’s interest.  He asks Bonagiunta to speak to him, and the poet first mentions a woman, Gentucca, from his home town of Lucca.  He goes on to ask of Dante’s new poetic style.  Bonagiunta has heard of Dante writing on the nature of love, wherever it may lead.  But it is now time to break away from the terrace and all the souls bound to it must move on.  The three pilgrims now together again reach another tree, the tree from which Eva ate.  A voice proclaims the negative examples of gluttony, the centaurs, known for their drunkenness, and the Hebrew soldiers who were excluded from Gideon’s army because they drank like dogs.  Finally they meet the angel of this terrace who wipes away the sixth “p” off Dante’s forehead.

Canto XXV
The three poets now move on toward the next terrace but in the in-between discuss the nature of the body and soul.  Dante asks how a soul devoid of body could grow emaciated in that terrace of the gluttony.  Virgil starts to answer but turns to Statius to provide it.  Statius, rather than answer directly, expounds on the entire process of how the body and soul are formed.  He explains how the essence of the male blood is formed and mixed with the essence of the female blood to form a new being with its own animal soul.  At this point God breathes into the being an additional soul, the spirit, which blends with what is there to form a single soul.  When the being dies, he carries both elements of the soul, but the physical one can undergo transformation through the purgatorial penances while the spirit waits for the perfected physical soul to reconstitute herself.  The finally come to the last terrace where a wall of fire stands before them with just a tiny edge for the ledge.  They hear a hymn of clemency being sung and the penitents crying out Virgin Mary's words, "I know not man" and of the Roman goddess of chastity, Diana.  They have come to the terrace of lust.

Canto XXVI
Walking single along the edge, Virgil cautions Dante to be careful.  The sun, now low on the horizon, cast Dante's shadow onto the wall of fire making the flames change shade.  The penitents walking by are amazed by this and one particular soul asks Dante how this could be.  Before Dante responds he notices one group of penitents passing another group, each giving a platonic kiss to a passing person.  After each kiss, one group would shout out "Sodom and Gomorrah" and the other would shout out Pasiphae, the wife of King Minos who lusted after a bull.  The souls gather around Dante to hear him explain, and he tells them that he is still alive.  Dante asks of the significance of the groups kissing, and the soul who first approached him again speaks.  He explains that the group shouting "Sodom" are homosexuals, and he and the others are heterosexuals, both groups trying to cure themselves of their beastly sexual appetites.  The soul introduces himself as Guido Guinzzelli.  Dante is astonished because he knew of Guinizzelli's poetry, and considers him another father figure.  Guinizzelli humbly points out another soul close by, who was even a "better craftsman," Arnaut Daniel, the Provencal Troubadour who wrote in his mother tongue.  As Guinizzelli fades into the fire, Arnaut steps up and for the only time in the entire Divine Comedy speaks in a language other than Italian and asks in his Provencal to pray for him.  He too then fades into the fire.

The pilgrims reach an end where they can go no more.  In front was a wall of flame.  An angel could be seen inside the fire and invites them to enter.  All that go on must be “bitten” by this fire.  But Dante freezes.  He is in fear the fire will consume him like the burning of bodies he had once seen.  Virgil implores him.  The fire may torment but it will not cause death.  He implores Dante to test it with his hand, with his sleeve, but no amount of reason can undo the panic Dante feels.  Then Virgil appeals to his desire to see Beatrice, who will be on the other side of the flame.  With the name of Beatrice, Dante begins to soften.  Virgil then steps in, and Dante follows, and Virgil to keep Dante encouraged says, “I can almost see her eyes.”  With hymns being sung, the dazzling light of the fire blinds Dante.  When they come out, the night has set and they settle down on a step to sleep.  He dreams of a woman who tells him she is Leah and that her sister Rachel never leaves a mirror where she is fixated on her own eyes.  When they awake, they continue to the very top most step of purgatory, and there Virgil tells him he can go no further.  Dante can stay there until the one with the “fair eyes” arrives.

Dante now on top of the purgatorial mountain, where a forest is before him, wanders about exploring.  The softest, gentlest breeze caresses him, and about him small birds sing "songs of joy."  Lost in the forest, echoing that very first canto from Inferno where he had lost his way, he stumbles upon a stream with the purest water he has ever seen.  Across the bank and among the blossoms, he notices a pretty lady singing.  He calls out to her to come closer so he can make out her song.  The lady, who we will eventually learn her name as Matelda, turns towards him and approaches the stream so that now Dante can understand her song.  She says she is there to answer all his questions, and she goes on to explain how this was the earthly paradise given to Adam and Eve.  Matelda explains the breeze comes from heaven above, the abundant verdure, and of the fecundity of the holy ground.  She reveals that there are two rivers, this one beside them called Lethe, and has the power to wipe away memories of sin, and another on the other side of the wood, Eunoe, that has the power to return all memories of good to consciousness. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

Faith Filled Friday: “Love is Patient, Love is Kind”

Since the passage came up recently at Mass, and since it mentions the three Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity, which have been prominent in the reading of Dante’s Purgatorio, I thought it would be worth quoting the 13th chapter from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians.

(1) If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.  (2) And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.  (3) If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.  (4) Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, (5) it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, (6) it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.  (7) It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  (8) Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.  (9) For we know partially and we prophesy partially, (10) but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.  (11) When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.  (12) At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.  (13)  So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 

Many of you have heard that read at weddings.  It’s quite popular.  My wife also selected it to be read at our wedding.  It’s really one of the most beautiful passages in the entire Bible.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Notable Quote: On the World’s Story by John Steinbeck

I have not read John Steinbeck’s novel East of Eden, but I came across this beautiful quote from it.  It’s one of those novels I’ve been meaning to read.

A child may ask, “What is the world’s story about?” And a grown man or woman may wonder, “What way will the world go? How does it end and, while we’re at it, what’s the story about?”

I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one, that has frightened and inspired us, so that we live in a Pearl White serial of continuing thought and wonder. Humans are caught — in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too — in a net of good and evil. I think this is the only story we have and that it occurs on all levels of feeling and intelligence. Virtue and vice were warp and woof of our first consciousness, and they will be the fabric of our last, and this despite any changes we may impose on field and river and mountain, on economy and manners. There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well — or ill?

          ~ John Steinbeck

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Comments to Dante's Purgatorio, Cantos XVIII to XXIII

Some discourse on the character of Statius is required.  Not only is he in the three last cantos that I summarized but he goes all the way through to the end of Purgatorio with Dante.  That’s more than a third of the cantica, which is more than any other character in the entire Divine Comedy except for Virgil or Beatrice.  That’s significant and requires some understanding.

To emphasize the importance of Statius, Dante (the author) has Statius complete a purgatorial terrace with the customary earthquake that occurs on such completions, the only character that we see complete one as Virgil and Dante (the character) pass through.  When Statius is asked who he is, he responds with this:

'My name is Statius. On earth men often speak it.
I sang of Thebes and then of great Achilles,
but fell along the way with the second burden.

'The sparks that kindled the fire in me
came from the holy flame
from which more than a thousand have been lit—

'I mean the Aeneid. When I wrote poetry
it was my mamma and my nurse.
Without it, I would not have weighed a dram.

'To have lived on earth when Virgil lived
I would have stayed one year's sun longer than I owed
before I came forth from my exile.'  (Purg. XXI. 91-102)

Statiuswas a first century Roman poet who wrote much in the style of Virgil, including an epic like the Aeneid.  In this passage he does not yet realize he is speaking to Virgil himself, the man “that kindled a fire in me” but more importantly calls his predecessor a “holy flame.”  So Virgil was his poetic forefather, or more accurately here, his “mamma and nurse.”  How many times has Dante called Virgil his father?  Countless.  Dante the author then has set up a situation where Statius stands in parallel with Dante the character, both poets who not only revered Virgil but was a poetic guide and parent.  I don’t quite know what to make of Statius feminizing Virgil with “mamma” while Dante looks at him as a father but it is noteworthy.  In literary construction, Statius is Dante the character’s doppelgänger,a double.  

But a doppelgänger is not usually a complete double.  There is something different that allows the author to make a particular point.  The second of Virgil’s questions concerns how Statius came to the terrace of avarice, and while this is interesting I don’t believe this contrasts with Dante in any important way. The third question that Virgil asks Statius is most interesting and I think leads to a discriminator.  He asks how Statius became a baptized Christian, since that is the only way to being saved in purgatory. 

'But, when you sang the cruel warfare
between the twofold sorrows of Jocasta,'
said the singer of the Eclogues,

'it does not seem, from what you wrote with Clio's help,
that you had found as yet the faith,
that faith without which good works fail.

'If that is so, what sun, what candles
dispelled your darkness so that afterwards
you hoisted sail, following the fisherman?' (Purg. XXII. 55-63)

The singer of the Eclogues is Virgil, Eclogues being another of his major works.  Notice the metaphor Virgil uses to describe those in faith and those not.  The light of both the sun and of candles describes those who follow “the fisherman,” which would be St. Peter or perhaps Christ Himself.  Statius replies,

And the other answered him: 'It was you who first
set me toward Parnassus to drink in its grottoes,
and you who first lit my way toward God.

'You were as one who goes by night, carrying
the light behind him--it is no help to him,
but instructs all those who follow—

'when you said: "The centuries turn new again.
Justice returns with the first age of man,
new progeny descends from Heaven."

'Through you I was a poet, through you a Christian.
But, that you may see better what I outline,
I will set my hand to fill the colors in.

'Already all the world was pregnant
with the true faith, inseminated
by the messengers of the eternal kingdom,

'and the words of yours I have just recited
did so accord with the new preachers
            that I began to visit them.

            'More and more they seemed to me so holy
            that when Domitian started with his persecutions
            their weeping did not lack my tears.

'While I remained on earth,
I gave them comfort. Their upright ways
made me despise all other sects.

'I was baptized before, in my verses,
I had led the Greeks to the rivers of Thebes,
but, from fear, I stayed a secret Christian,

'long pretending I was still a pagan.
More than four centuries, because I was lukewarm,
did I circle the fourth terrace.  (Pur. XXII. 64-93)

So it was Virgil again that showed Statius the light of the true faith in the darkness of false faith.  Statius read the famous Eclogues 4, where Virgil wrote “The great line of the centuries is born again; now the Virgin of justice returns, and the golden reign of Saturn; now a newborn child is sent down from the heavens on high” (ll. 5-7).  Virgin, Saturn as supreme deity, newborn child from heaven, it’s not surprising how all the intellects of the middle ages believed that Virgil somehow had prophesied the coming of Christ with those lines.  Dante the author is saying that Statius, reading those lines and coming across the first century church fathers who preached of an incarnate God who was born as a child from a virgin, led to his conversion to Christianity, was secretly baptized, and hid his Christianity for fear of martyrdom.  That reluctance of coming out as a Christian cost him four hundred years in ante-purgatory.

Now this is all made up by Dante the author.  There is no evidence that Statius converted or was even aware of Christianity.  Dante is creating this fiction to make a point, to discriminate Statius from Dante the character.

Now what point could that be?  Dante is clearly a Christian already, already baptized, and except for some mortal sin would be on his way to heaven.  Remember that Dante at the beginning of this work is in a midlife crises having lost “the one true way” (Inf. I. 12).  What is the “one true way?”  He lost his faith.  This will become more fleshed out when Dante the character meets Beatrice in a few more cantos.  But for now, let it suffice that Statius followed both lights that shined in the darkness, that of poetry and that of Christian truth, though Virgil was unaware in his prophesy.  But Dante only followed the light of poetry and as we will see that of pagan philosophy, but somehow had lost sight of the light of faith.


Some random thoughts on other issues in these cantos.

The P’s on the forehead must only be for Dante.  I think I said somewhere all the penitents have P’s wiped off as they complete a terrace.  Apparently not because there is no mention of Statius having a “P” removed when he completes the terrace of avarice.  I guess an earthquake supersedes wiping a P off. 

The final part of Virgil’s discourse on love takes place in Canto XVIII.  Here he completes his thoughts by saying that though the soul moves toward what is pleasing she has the power through free will to reject that direction.  This works in two ways.  One can reject what is good, which stymies spiritual development but one has the power to reject sin, though the sin is pleasing.  Just because the soul moves toward what pleases her does not mean it is good.

 'Now you see how hidden is the truth
from those who hold that every love
is in itself deserving praise,

'perhaps because such love seems always good.
But every seal is not a good one,
even if imprinted in good wax.' (Purg. XVIII. 34-39)

All loves are not good, though they may seem so.  But Dante is actually more perplexed.  He asks:

'For if love is offered from outside us
and if the soul moves on no other foot,
it has no merit in going straight or crooked.'  (43-45)

Dante is asking if love comes from outside of us, how is the soul supposed to discern if she follows the straightway (good) instead of the crooked?  And on this Virgil cannot answer him.  “No other foot” refers to the twin feet of philosophy and faith.  Virgil is only able to explain love through the one foot of Greco-Roman philosophy.

And he to me: 'As far as reason may see in this,
I can tell you. To go farther you must look
to Beatrice, for it depends on faith alone.  (46-48)

The other foot is that of faith and revelation.  Virgil, being a pagan, can only go so far in his understanding.  Dante’s next guide, Beatrice, will have to fill in what he cannot.

This is quite fascinating.  This seems to echo the Cardinal virtues that came from Greek philosophers, and recall that the guardian of the island was Roman pagan Cato back in the first canto who was an exemplar of those four virtues.  But the four Cardinal virtues are incomplete for salvation.  The three Christian virtues are required, and here Cato and Virgil are lacking.

Notice too, that what saves Statius is not just the nobility of Virgil’s Aeneid, but the other foot, faith, that was hidden in Virgil’s fourth Eclogue, despite Virgil not even being aware of it. 

The passage with the dream of the siren in Canto XIX is I think demonstrative of Virgil’s philosophy.  The siren is attractive, and Dante the character is moved toward her.  She stands outside of him but his mind formulates her as a good, though the reality is she is not.  It takes divine intervention from what some think is St. Lucy to get Virgil to strip her bare and expose her hideous true self.

Another episode in this group of cantos that deserves some discussion is that with Forese Donati in Canto XXIII.  Actually the encounter spills over into the following canto, so Donati’s appearance is one of the longer encounters.  Donati, residing on the terrace of gluttony, is emaciated, so much so that Dante doesn’t even recognize him at first.  Donati is an old friend of Dante’s and the cousin of his wife, Gemma Donati.  This is about as close as we get for a family member to show up in the Divine Comedy.

Dante the author begins the passage through the terrace of gluttony in what I think is an ironic humor.  As they enter the chant they hear from the penitents is “Labia mea, Domine” or in English, “O Lord open my lips.”  The line is from Psalm 51 but those who pray the Divine Office will recognize it as the opening to the Morning Prayer.  The complete line goes, “O Lord, open my lips and I shall praise your name.”  It really doesn’t have anything to do with eating, so it rings with irony.  Hollander’s note does cite commentators who make the point that these gluttons are now making better use of their mouths.

When Forese discovers Dante is alive, like many souls we have seen he is taken aback.  Forese here cries out, “What grace is this for me!” or in the Italian, “"Qual grazia m'è questa?" (Purg. XXIII. 42).  The phrasing echoes a very similar situation where in the Inferno Dante meets his old teacher, Brunetto Latini, who when he discovers Dante cries out, "Qual maraviglia!" or “What a marvel!”  In Purgatory the surprise is seen as a “grace,” a gift from God, while in Hell it’s seen as some sort of empirical phenomena disconnected from God. 

Though the two friends speak of their past in round-about terms, we gather that in their youth the two were quite the party animals.  Forese speaks about renouncing their past lives, which given the context suggests an overindulgence of food and drink, and given he speaks of “the brazen ladies of Florence” who “flaunt their nipples with their breasts” (Pur. XXIII. 101-102) further suggests a time of dalliance with loose women.  I kind of have an image of young Disco Dante, partying it up. 

We learn that Forese has accelerated his penance because of his wife Nella has constantly prayed for him.  It is the faith and devotion of his wife that has aided his purgation.  In the following canto (unfortunately I cut off the grouping in between Forese’s episode) Dante asks his friend about Forese’s sister Piccarda.  Forese tells him that his “virtuous sister” is now in paradise “rejoicing in her crown.”  Actually Piccarda is one of the first souls Dante meets in Paradisio

I think it is quite intentional that we get a contrast between the devoted Nella and the virtuous Piccarda against the brazen ladies of Florence.  What are we to make of it?  There does seem to be less women in hell and purgatory than men.  When we get to Paradisio we do by my perception seem to encounter more female characters than in the previous canticas.  We have Beatrice, St. Lucy, the Blessed Mother and many other women as we will see as constant examples of virtue.  It’s a feminist complaint that much of literature portrays women as either saints or sluts.  It is not an unfounded complaint.  Women do seem to be closer to the divine in the Divine Comedy than men.  However, given the context of the times, women didn’t have the power to commit the variety of sins that men could.  Are women less inclined toward evil?  Perhaps a slight bit, though I think that may be controversial to say. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Dante's Purgatorio Cantos XVIII – XXIII, Summary

Still sitting within the terrace of sloth, Dante asks Virgil to further explain what love is.  The mind, Virgil says, created to react to love moves toward what is pleasing.  The soul will never rest until it bends itself toward what it loves.  This is desire and it is innate.  Though it can appear that all things loved are good, this is not the case.  There is, however, within man the innate power of reason to restrain desire for what is not good.  Virgil tells him this is all based on philosophic reasoning, and that Beatrice will eventually further explain how faith of revelation will augment this understanding.  It is midnight now and rushing by are penitents who to be cured of sloth are required to be in constant running motion.  Here the countering virtue is spoken aloud by the penitents themselves, echoing Mary’s visit to Elizabeth and Julius Caesar’s military quickness to Spain.  The Abbott of San Zeno rushes by, marveling at a living person.  More souls rush by, unable to stop, but giving examples of lack of zeal, those that were swallowed by the Red Sea because they did not rush through while it parted and those in Troy who did not flee when the city was burned to the ground.  Finally Dante overcome with drowsiness falls asleep.

Canto XIX
Still at the terrace of sloth and now asleep, Dante has a disturbing dream.  A siren came before him, a hideous woman stammering but filtered through his mind she appears beautiful and mellifluent.  She says she provides content to all those who dwell with her.  As Dante is about to be seduced by her charms, another woman, a holy one, exhorts Virgil to take action.  Virgil rips open the Siren’s garments, letting out a stench, which wakens Dante from the dream.  As they exit the terrace, the angel of the terrace beckons him to come and swooshes his face with his wing.  They enter the fifth terrace, that of avarice, where souls lay with their faces into the dirt, weeping.  They cry out the line from Psalm 118 about cleaving to the dust.  Dante meets Pope Adrian V, who explains the therapy of this terrace.  The penitents are to cleave to the dirt like they cleaved to material things in life to realize that cleaving to material things is turning your back to God.

Canto XX
The pilgrims leave Pope Adrian V, cursing the she-wolf that represents avarice.  As they proceed they hear one penitent cry out the positive proclamations of the terrace of greed, which are proclamations of generosity.  He cries out on Mary in her labor being taken in at the Inn, the ancient Roman statesman Fabricius, who lived in austerity over wealth, and St. Nicholas, who provided dowry for poor girls so they wouldn't have to go into prostitution.  They meet the soul of Hugh Capet, the Frankish king who founded the Capet dynasty in France.  Capet goes on a long screed to how France and his descendants to his throne had committed grave sins of avarice.  He further explains how during the day the penitents chant the positive proclamations while at night they chant the negative examples of greed.  He gives several examples of the negative proclamations from myth and Biblical history, culminating with the Roman general Crassus known for accumulating wealth.  Suddenly an earthquake is heard that rocks purgatorial island and all the penitents began shouting together, "Gloria in excelsis Deo." 

Canto XXI
Dante stood wondering the meaning of the earthquake and the shout of all the penitents, which had reached down to the shore below when a soul comes up to the pilgrims and gives them a holy greeting.  The soul is taken aback when he learns they are not penitent souls in purgatory.  Virgil asks about the tremor and the shouts, and the soul explains it occurs every time a soul in purgatory completes a purgation, and this earthquake was for his completion of the terrace.  The soul explains he has just completed five hundred years on the terrace of avarice and having had his will freed from the constraint of sin can now rise upward.  Virgil asks the penitent who he was in life, and the soul explains he was the first century Roman poet Statius and that he owes whatever he accomplished to his Roman predecessor, Virgil.  He says Virgil’s Aeneid was the flame that shone a light to the world.  Virgil finally gives Dante permission to say who is standing before him, and upon hearing it Statius drops to his knees at Virgil’s feet.

Canto XXII
After completing the terrace of avarice and after the angel of that terrace wiped another “P” off Dante’s forehead, the three souls continued on, Dante trailing behind while Virgil and Statius converse.  Dante hears Virgil ask Statius why he a man of such noble character suffered the vice of averice.  Statius explains that he was not there in the fifth terrace to cure him of greed but of its opposite, prodigality, the inability to control one’s spending.  Virgil then asks, how could Statius, a pagan, come to have true faith?  Statius explains that Virgil wasn’t just a poetic inspiration that shaped his poetry but that Virgil’s prophesy of Christ in the Eclogue and combined with the first century Christian preachers, led to a conversion and was baptized.  But he hid that baptism for fear, and so was not martyred with the early martyrs but had to spend four hundred years in the ante purgatory section.  The two continue discussing poetry with Dante listening when they came to a tree with fruit, “You shall not eat of this fruit,” the tree says.  Then the tree goes on to give positive proclamations countering the vice of gluttony, speaking of Mary more concerned with the newlyweds than of food at Cana, of ancient Roman women who were ascetic, Daniel who scorned food, and of John the Baptist eating honey and locust.


The pilgrims and Statius continue on into the terrace of gluttony when a penitent sings out “O Lord, open my lips.”  The penitent is emaciated, eyes sunken and skin tight against the bones.  The face shaped by the two eye sockets and cheek and nose bones formed into the word OMO, which is Italian for man.  Finally Dante recognizes the penitent.  It is Forese Donati, an old friend, and cousin to Dante’s wife.  Dante, shocked by his friend’s disfigurement, asks him what has happened.  Forese explains that all those on this terrace satisfied their appetites on earth beyond “all measure,” and so here are to learn the thirst and hunger of holiness.  Dante asks, since it’s only been five years since he passed away, how has he made it so far so fast on the mountain?  Forese explains that his wife Nella’s devoted prayers for him has sped his course.  He predicts that Florence will pass some laws to prevent women from immodest dress and cautions Dante to renounce that wild life they shared as young men.  Dante says it is now painful to recall those days and says that because of Virgil he has left all that behind.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Comments to Dante's Purgatorio, Cantos XII to XVII

Now that one has read a number of these cantos with the pilgrims going through the terraces of purgation, we can see several patterns.  Remember these terraces are for therapeutic conditioning of the soul toward virtue, so all things work toward that end.  When the pilgrims first enter the terrace, there is some form of positive proclamation presented in either an image or audio of the virtue.  Usually there are several but one will always be from the life of the Blessed Virgin.  The penitents on that terrace are usually singing or chanting a hymn, also selected to accentuate the virtue they need to learn.  Then undoubtedly the pilgrims meet the penitents, who are undergoing some form of mortification.  I think of it more as a mortification than a penance.  A penance implies one is trying to make up for something in the past; a mortification I would say implies a training to correct.  The penitents are usually in community, in groups helping each other.  In hell, souls were either solitary or when in groups in opposition or even antagonism with each other.  Souls undergoing the mortifications of these terraces usually ask for prayers.  Finally as the pilgrims leave the terrace, more images or audio are proclaimed, this time an example of a negative proclamation of the sin.  So the souls undergo both positive and negative reinforcement as they circle the terrace over and over.  Finally when Dante leaves the terrace, an angel responsible for that particular terrace removes one of the “P’s” on his forehead.  I don’t know if it’s actually said or not, but I believe all the souls have a “P’ removed when they have completed their temporal mortification, moving on to the next terrace.  Time on each terrace for the penitents depends on how engrained that sin is in their being.  Outside prayers seem to help along the process.

Let’s take one of the terraces and walk through these steps.  Let’s look at the Terrace of Envy which starts in Canto XIII and runs midway into Canto XV. 

The positive proclamations of the virtue—charity being the corresponding virtue to the sin of envy—are here in audio because the mortification for this terrace is that the souls have their eyes wired shut, and so can only hear.  We hear the Blessed Mother’s appeal to Christ at the wedding at Cana, “They have no wine.”  This is such a charitable appeal, putting herself in empathy with the celebrants.  A lesser person, such as myself, might scoff and say, “Ha!  I had plenty of wine at my wedding,” but the Blessed Mother with her Immaculate Heart feels for those in pain and perhaps more importantly tries to help remedy the situation.  We see an example from classical literature—Pylades saying he is Orestes to save his friend from execution—and Christ stating the beatitude, “Love him who has done you wrong.”  When Dante the character asks Virgil about these proclamations, Virgil describes them as “scourges,” and the voices act as a “cords of the scourge.”  That’s a fascinating metaphor.  I think it suggests mortification.

The hymn here is actually a chanted prayer, “Mary, pray for us,”/then “Michael,” “Peter,” and “All saints.”  It sounds like a Litany of All Saints, or some early version of it. 

The penitents in this terrace are actually the most touching to me.  Having their eyes sewn shut means they can only advance as the blind—literally the blind leading the blind.  I don’t know if you’ve ever had to help a blind person.  My father went blind from midlife on, and I’m so sensitive to it.  They need so much help in doing some of the very basic things we take for granted doing.  To walk in an unfamiliar area requires so much hesitation and consternation.  Each step is an unknown adventure wrought with anxiety, if not fear.  To move about the terrace requires coordination between the souls.  It forces them to act in charity with each other.  Dante the author emphasizes this by bringing political opposites, a Ghibelline and a Guelph, together as now cooperating friends.

The negative proclamations come from Cain, who murdered his brother in jealously, and from Aglaurus, the woman in classical mythology who was jealous of her sister’s relationship with the god Mercury.  Upon exiting, Dante is blinded but a light that turns out to be the angel.  I think it is the light that here wipes away the “P,” a fitting means since this terrace cures souls through blindness. 

#  #  #

Let’s ponder the theological discussions in the last three cantos and I’ll touch on the upcoming one next time.  On the terrace of envy (Canto XV), we get a dissertation on how earthly things are limited and so are reduced as people share them, but divine things multiply the more one shares.  Love breeds love, for instance.  Virgil tries to explain it to Dante after he chastises him for thinking in a limited way:

And he to me: 'Because you still
have your mind fixed on earthly things,
you harvest darkness from the light itself.

'That infinite and ineffable Good,
which dwells on high, speeds toward love
as a ray of sunlight to a shining body.

-'It returns the love it finds in equal measure,
so that, if more of ardor is extended,
eternal Goodness will augment Its own.

'And the more souls there are who love on high,
the more there is to love, the more of loving,
for like a mirror each returns it to the other.  (Purg. XV. 64-75)

The analogy is that as light through multiple mirrors augments, so does love.  It is not a coincidence that so much blinding light occurs in this canto, and it is contrasted against the sewn eyes of the penitents. 

In Canto XVI, the terrace of wrath, we get a dissertation on the nature of free will and how it perpetuates evil in the world.  Marco the Lombard explains:

To a greater power and a better nature you, free,
are subject, and these create the mind in you
the heavens have not in their charge.

'Therefore, if the world around you goes astray,
in you is the cause and in you let it be sought.
In this I will now be your informant. (XVI. 79-84)

The next couple of tercets explain why we perceive evil to come from heaven:

'From the hand of Him who looks on it with love
before it lives, comes forth, like a little girl
who weeps one moment and as quickly laughs,

'the simple infant soul that has no knowledge
but, moved by a joyous maker,
gladly turns to what delights it.

'At first it tastes the savor of a trifling good.
It is beguiled by that and follows in pursuit
if guide or rein do not deflect its love.  (XVI. 85-93)

A new soul being born in the midst of a world set in motion, does not perceive the evil that has been passed on to her day, and so identifies that evil to come from the metaphysical.  But that soul too enjoys the earthly things (“the savor of a trifling good”), pursues them, and is disordered by them, and through free will passes on the evil.  Notice how this part of the theology builds on the discussion of limited earthly goods from the previous canto.  Marco goes on to discuss why then civil authority is needed—to curb the bad choices made by our free will.

Then coming out of the fog, which is also a symbol for the wrath that swallows up those in that vice, Virgil explains the nature of love on which the whole divine order is based on.  First he explains how all things start from love:

'Neither Creator nor His creature, my dear son,
was ever without love, whether natural
or of the mind,' he began, 'and this you know. (XVII. 91-93)

So it starts with perfect love from the Creator (the natural love), and we humans take that natural love and have to filter it through our minds.  I think that’s what Dante is saying, though I admit it’s rather complicated and it’s possible I distorted the meaning.  But let’s go with that.  Virgil continues.

'The natural is always without error,
but the other may err in its chosen goal
or through excessive or deficient vigor.

While it is directed to the primal good,
knowing moderation in its lesser goals,
it cannot be the cause of wrongful pleasure.

'But when it bends to evil, or pursues the good
with more or less concern than needed,
then the creature works against his Maker. (XVII. 94-102)

So through the mind, man can either work toward the primal good with proper love or distort that love in opposition to the Divine in several ways.  Notice how here Dante is building upon the last canto’s discussion of free will.  I can’t say this enough, everything in the Divine Comedy is perfectly integrated and crafted.  Virgil explains then as I outlined in the summary of this canto, how this disordering can be a result of loving an improper thing, not loving enough of good things, or loving proper things in a distorted way.  I think you can see that without me spelling it out. 

But what’s important here is how these theological dissertations capture the nature of all that is physical and metaphysical.  Dante through his Christian understanding of the world has envisioned the totality of man and the universe.  Limited goods shape our earthly life; divine goods orient us toward God; free will requires curbing of our appetites through civil and theocratic authority; the use of our free will through our mental activity shapes our souls in either positive or negative ways.  And the way our souls are shaped leads to the structure of our afterlife.  Both purgatory and hell are shaped by the way we distort God’s natural love.  The sins shape the structure of hell in a descent, and shape the structure of purgatory in an ascent.  The difference is that those in hell have permanently distorted—twisted is a good way to think of it—their souls.  In purgatory, through repentance the process is to return to the soul you were meant to have, to untwist it into normalcy. 

The entire Divine Comedy is shaped by the theological underpinnings.  I find how Dante mirrors the intellectual underpinnings of his world view into this beautifully constructed epic to be of the utmost artistry.  I have said this is the greatest work in all of literature.  I hope I was able here to explain why.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Notable Quotes/Faith Filled Friday: Quotes from The Power of Silence

This is a combination “Notable Quotes” and “Faith Filled Friday.”

 A few months ago I had several posts from The Power of Silence by Robert Cardinal Sarah.  You can find those posts here:
Part 1 here
Part 2 here
Part 3 here:

Cardinal Sarah was just so quotable I started jotting down some of the really great quotes out of his book.  I present them here for your enjoyment and moment of prayer.  Yes, reading spiritual quotes is a form of prayer.  At least I think so.

From Introduction:

This friendship was born in silence, it grew in silence, and continues to exist in silence.

Silence was the salt that seasoned this story.  Silence had the last word.  Silence was the elevator to heaven.

The silence of night is the most capable of crushing all the dictatorships of noise.

Silence is more important than any other human work.  For it expresses God.

From Chapter One:

There is one great question: how can man really be made in the image of God?  He must enter into silence.

At the heart of man is an innate silence, for God abides in the innermost part of every person.  God is silence, and this divine silence dwells in man.

If we observe the great works, the most powerful acts, the most extraordinary and striking interior transformations that God carries out in man, we are forced to admit that he works in silence. 

We listen in silence; man enters into a silence that is God.

Silence is not an absence.  On the contrary, it is the manifestation of a presence, the most intense of all presences.  

In silence man conquers his nobility and grandeur only if he is on his knees in order to hear and adore God.  It is in the silence of humiliation and self-mortification, by quieting the turmoil of the flesh, by successfully taming the noisy images, by keeping at a distance the dreams, imaginations, and roaring of the world that is always in a whirl, in order to purify himself of all that ruins the soul and separates it from contemplation, that man makes himself capable of looking at God and loving him.

God’s silence is a consuming fire for the man who approaches him.

This age detests the things that silence brings us to: encounter, wonder, and kneeling before God.

In silence there is a collaboration between man and God.

Persons who live in noise are like dust swept along by the wind.

Man must make a choice: God or nothing, silence or noise.

Lack of respect for silence is a form of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

From Chapter Two:

Creation itself is a silent word of God.

In heaven, speech does not exist.  There on high, the blessed communicate with each other without any words.  There is a great silence of contemplation, communion, and love.

The silence of Jesus’ death transforms, purifies, and appeases man.  It causes him to be in communion with the sufferings and death of Christ, to come back fully into the divine life.

From Chapter Three:

Sacred silence is therefore the only truly human and Christian reaction to God when he breaks into our lives.

Sacred silence, laden with the adored presence, opens the way to mystical silence, full of loving intimacy. 

Words bring with them the temptation of the golden calf!  Only silence leads man beyond words, to the mystery, to worship in spirit and in truth.

And how small would God be if we understood him.

From Chapter Four:

There is a time for human action, which is often uncertain, and a time for silence in God, which is truly victorious.  Far from vengeful, noisy, ideological rebellion, I believe in the fruitfulness of silence.  Prayer and silence will save the world.

Unless we seek to suppress all the superficial aspects of our lives, we will never be united with God.  By detaching ourselves from everything superfluous, we enter little by little into a form of silence.

 Modern existence is a propped-up life built entirely on noise, artificiality, and the tragic rejection of God.  From revolutions to conquests, from ideologies to political battles, from the frantic quest for equality to the obsessive cult of progress, silence is impossible.  What is worse: transparent societies are sworn to an implacable hatred of silence, which they regard as contemptible, backward defeat.

A man without silence is a stranger to God, exiled in a distant land that remains at the surface of the mystery of man and the world; but God is at the deepest part of man, in the silent regions his being.

When the soul is detached from the body of the departing person, it rises in an incomparable silence.  The great silence of death is the silence of the soul that travels toward another homeland: the land of eternal life.

All that is from God makes no noise.  Nothing is sudden, everything is delicate, pure, and silent.

From Chapter Five:

Silence is an extremely necessary element in the life of every man.  It enables the soul to be recollected.  It protects the soul against the loss of its identity.  It predisposes the soul to resist the temptation to turn away from itself to attend to things outside, far from God.

Man does not seek silence for the sake of silence.  The desire for silence for its own sake would be a sterile venture, a particularly exhausting aesthetic experience.  In the depths of his soul, man wants the presence and company of God, in the same way that Christ sought his Father in the desert, far from the cries and passions of the crowd. 

A Christian cannot fear silence because he is never alone.  He is with God.  He is in God.  He is for God.  In the silence, God gives me his eyes so as to contemplate him better.  Christian hope is the foundation of the true silent search of the believer.  Silence is not frightening; on the contrary, it is the assurance of meeting God.

Of course these are not all, and they may not even be the best quotes.  These are just some that caught my eye.  Try to set aside some silent time this weekend, and see if it moves you.