I have been re-reading Dante’s Divine Comedy and perusing some of the thinkers just prior to the ‘rediscovery’ of Aristotle…odd I know, but it is what I do when I have some ‘free’ time. I started my new-fangled book-learning with St. Augustine’s famous prayer, “Oh Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.” I’ve always enjoyed the idea of viewing our concerns with freedom, evil and good through incongruity. Eventually I wandered though some of the controversy about ‘the nature of reality’ in the early-ish church – it was here that I found my old friend, and heretic, Dante.
His concept of sin and hell, though certainly and simply conceptual, speak to me. Sin, and its consequences are muddy waters in a selfish mind and heart. It could be cigarettes, or some matter of [insert your idol here]. But for now, let’s just call it smokes…
At first, with cigarettes, the individual is ignorant, with no first hand knowledge of the pleasures or problems of smoking. Even after a person smokes a cigarette the act itself is not sinful, nor are subsequent smoking experiences. There comes a time, however, when the smoker has lost the power to say no. One aspect of the freedom of choice has been sacrificed and this, for Dante, is sin. Free will is the ability to say yes, no, or anything in between. Sin is loss of that ability; in Dante’s hell the degree of sin is gauged by the deviation from free will. Those who can no longer choose freely are destined for hell.
Over the mouth of hell Dante envisions the words “abandon hope all ye who enter,” which express the irreversible state of the condemned. The punishments inflicted on the souls in hell symbolize what they have made themselves to be. Step by descending step we traverse the cone of hell, in each lower level viewing the souls ever deeper in sin. Step by descending step we see these souls increasingly enslaved until, at the bottom of the pit, we find satan immobilized by his sins, forever frozen in ice.
Jesus, I pray you keep my heart from hardening…allow me to reach out to my brothers to offer love, and to be loved.