Inferno (14th cent., 1995)

We are able to enrich ourselves with [Dante’s] experience in order to cross the many dark forests still scattered on our earth . . . and to happily complete our pilgrim story, to reach the destination dreamed of and wished for by everyone: “The love that moves the sun and other stars.” – Pope Francis, 4 May 2015

Though I read Inferno in high school, I recall nothing of it. Having read it now, I find it interesting that of the Divine Comedy, it is the book that is often read, as opposed to one of the more hopeful books that follow it in the trilogy. Last year, Pope Francis suggested reading all three books of the Comedy as a spiritual discipline for the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

And so I began again.

As I read, I found a several items of interest as Dante’s journey progressed through hell — notably his depiction of the seventh circle, where the violent are held. It is divided into three rings because the violent commit violence against three persons: others, oneself, and God. It reminded me that all violence has consequences for persons beyond the intended victim of that violence.

I also found the fact that — in addition to the traditional so-called mortal sins — many church crimes are included in the hell-punishable offenses Dante present. For example, heretics, simoniacs, and schismatics are all to be found in Dante’s hell.

As I’m reading Acedia & me, I found it interesting that at least one translation uses “acedia” for the “sluggishness” of the Everyman’s Edition I have in Canto 7.123. Those given to acedia/sullenness are immersed in muddy Styx, unable even to speak words anymore.

And acedia seems to be present in the deepest circle of hell, where one author once observed Satan stands frozen by his own indifference. Acedia is, at its root, a lack of caring. If he were to find the ability to break out of his own acedia, what might that mean? — a thought that arises. It’s telling that Virgil and Dante emerge out of hell from a crack in the deepest circle of hell. One wonders how many other souls could follow him were they to repent of their acedia…or is it too late? I don’t know, but I see here a reason to hope in mercy and a justification of Pope Francis’s exhortation to read the Divine Comedy in full.

If those souls in Dante’s hell are beyond hope, it is surely a warning to us to pursue the good earnestly, to break out of our indifference. Only on the other side of indifference can we ourselves act with mercy.

The final Canto sets up Purgatorio, the mirror landscape of hell where souls climb to God. Dante’s imagination here is brilliant; Satan, when he fell from heaven, created a great chasm — hell — and the earth retreated underneath him so that the is frozen in the bottom of the chasm, which is also the base of a mountain. The cosmology is awe-inspiring if not scientific. Dante assures us that if the way in hell was difficult, the way up Mount Purgatory is easier (easy?).

And so I move on to the next book in the Comedy.

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