Pull Question: Dante’s Purgatory

Can the Terrestrial Paradise become Limbo for someone like Virgil?

In canto 28 of Purgatory, Virgil is inside of the Terrestrial Paradise along with Dante and Statius.  This seems like an odd thing to happen, since Virgil normally dwells in Limbo, which is in hell.  Limbo is a place in hell that is specifically for what Dante calls the “virtuous pagans.”  Virgil, along with the likes of Homer, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are all within this circle of hell.  They are not being tortured but they are not enjoying themselves either.  They are merely in an eternal state of never leaving where they are and having no hope of leaving where they are.  The Terrestrial Paradise, for someone who cannot enter the true Paradise, would seem to be a very similar situation.  It would be a place where you would have no hope of leaving, you would not be tortured.  You would however enjoy yourself.  Limbo and the Terrestrial Paradise of quite similar, in those senses at least.

Does anyone ever stay in the Terrestrial Paradise?  From reading Purgatory, it seems as though no one stays there permanently.  It could be argued that Matelda stays there forever, but there is definitely not a focus in Dante on the “people who stay in the Terrestrial Paradise” as there is for people in any circle of hell, purgatory or paradise.  If no one stays in the Terrestrial Paradise, which I would say seems quite likely, then the purpose of the Terrestrial Paradise is to make a person forget all of their sin in the river of Lethe while reminding them of their good deeds in the waters of the Eunoe which prepares them for the Celestial Paradise.  If this is the only point of the Terrestrial Paradise, then it would not make any sense to have it become Limbo for any virtuous Pagan.

It also would be odd if a virtuous pagan dwelt in the Terrestrial Paradise as if it were a Limbo because the Terrestrial Paradise is located at the top of the mountain of Purgatory.  For a person to enter the Terrestrial Paradise, they must purge themselves of their sins (in other words, they must conform their wills to what is good).  This seems to be something that a virtuous pagan would at least be capable of doing.  The problem here is that to enter the mountain of Purgatory, one must have been saved by Jesus Christ.

But somehow, Virgil entered Purgatory, and he entered the Terrestrial paradise.  This is because he believed in Jesus, after his death.  Virgil could not be saved from eternal damnation because he did not believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord during his life, but he is not disqualified from entering Purgatory or the Terrestrial Paradise in this case because he is no longer with any fault.  His fault of not having faith in Jesus Christ is condemning but not restricting when he is called upon by God (or Beatrice in this case) to act.

Pull Question: Dante’s Inferno

Why does Dante’s journey end with an immobilized sin (i.e., Satan held in place, powerless)?

Dante’s journey through hell begins with three animals attacking him at the base of the hill of Calvary. The leopard, lion, and she-wolf represent sin collectively (corresponding to different specific sins or categories of sin which are not in the scope of this question). After being attacked by sin, and consequently rescued by Virgil, Dante spends the rest of his journey directly witnessing the full effects of sin: namely eternal punishment in the Inferno.  So what does it mean that Dante begins by facing mobile and active sin, but ends with a completely immobile and powerless sin, manifested in Lucifer’s position in hell?

 If Inferno is treated as a completely separate book from the Divine Comedy, then it seems as though the change would be easy enough to explain away. If Dante travels through hell after being attacked by sin, he would recognize the path that sin would lead him to, and it would no longer have power over him.  If Inferno is viewed in light of Purgatory and Paradise, the answer need not change significantly.  Dante’s travels through hell bring him to the point where everyone he sees from now on will no longer be under the power of sin.  Everyone in Purgatory is saved and everyone in Paradise is saved and done dealing with the effects of their personal sins.

The problem with both of these answers is that sin was still active on earth, and Lucifer is clearly portrayed as defeated and without power over even hell.  If Jesus was right in saying that a kingdom divided will fall, then surely a kingdom without a leader will fall even faster.  So the question really boils down to something like “Why does sin still have power at all, if Satan is immobilized?”  The answer lies here: the Divine Comedy is a progression, detailing Dante’s experience as he moved through the earth, the bowels of hell, and on into the mountain of purgatory and into the heavens of paradise. It makes sense that by the time we reach the end of hell (and the beginning of purgatory) we could see Lucifer’s feet sticking up helplessly into the air.

So why does Dante end with immobilized sin?  Dante does so because he realizes that for the true Christian, sin does not have a hold of us.  Sin acts, but is a defeated kingdom.  Lucifer may think he has power (and thus continues to flap his wings even in hell), but he truly is defeated.

Non-Christian Art: Three Christian stances and why to care

Sometimes, Christians make bad art. Perhaps its because they don’t have talent or training, perhaps its because they get confused about what good art means. That doesn’t perplex me. There are lots of reasons to fail in art, and enough Christians succeed to show that faith isn’t a disqualifier. But, assuming it’s good for the Christian soul to interact with beauty, what does the Christian do with beautiful art created by non-Christians? In general, I have always consumed it without a second thought. Dish out Lord Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty” in front of me, and pass me another helping of Asimov. Continue reading Non-Christian Art: Three Christian stances and why to care

One Book for College: Joining the Recommendations

Over at Mere Orthodoxy, Matt Anderson took it upon himself and his bloggers to each recommend a book to read during college. While I do not write for Mere-O, I am an avid reader and Matt is a friend of mine, so I thought I would throw my own hat into the ring. Hopefully he won’t mind this particular intrusion, but that may depend on which book I end up recommending. Continue reading One Book for College: Joining the Recommendations