Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Inferno - Canto 1 - February 18, 2015

I have taken a bit of a break since we finished the Theology of the Body, but what better time to start up a new series of reflections than Lent.  I had the idea last year to go through Dante's Divine Comedy.  I had heard of groups going through the Inferno through Lent, which makes sense because it is a reflection on sin and Lent is a time to reflect and cleanse you of sin before Easter.  With that in mind, I have decided to start our journey through Dante's Comedy on Ash Wednesday.  It is 100 Cantos long, which will take us through the final Cantos of Paradise about 3 days after Pentecost.  This, then, seems an appropriate time frame to travel this journey, the seasons of Lent and Easter.  It appears that each Canto is around 1200 words, which is about what we were doing with the Encyclicals last year, maybe a little longer, but it is Lent, so a little bit extra work is appropriate.  There are many translations and many opinions on which are the best.  I am using the Carlyle-Okey-Wicksteed translation.  The book I checked out from the library has some diagrams and drawings.  I will try to post those as well as any other charts or explanations I find.  I find them helpful to wade through the different images that Dante lays out. 

Half way through the journey of his life, according to things I have read, means he was 35 years old.  There is also a Psalm that my footnotes reference that is seen as 70 years. (The years of our life are seventy. Psalm 90:10) Not sure what to make of the fact that Ash Wednesday, the day I start this journey through Dante is also my 35th birthday.  It may be just a fun little thing or a gentle blessing from above, who knows.  You can read a lot about what Dante was going through in his life, his political issues, and his exiles from home, etc.  I imagine that much of this will be fleshed out as we go, but I think it is also important to look at what he is saying outside of Dante's individual context.  It may be a very personal journey for him, but it would not stand the test of time as it has if that were all it was meant for.  When he says he awoke from dark wood which to describe would be as bitter as death, we should think back on times in our lives where things were bleak and dark.  Maybe we are in one of those times right now, when things seem to be unraveling, God seems distant, and hope is far away.  That is where our journey starts, as we are just coming out of a dark wood of life, and before us is a Hill, and the sun is just beginning to creep over the top of the hill.  You can feel the hope grow as the warmth fills you as the light shines on you and you move forward to put that dark wood behind you.  You long to get to the top of the hill to bask fully in the light and the warmth. 

But as you begin to climb the hill you are stopped, distracted, you turn back.  Three beasts stop Dante on his climb.  Commentaries and my footnotes say that the 3 beast are the 3 main categories of sin that we will see in the inferno, incontinence, violence, malice.  They appear as a leopard, a lion, and a shewolf.  Everything I have read says that the leopard is malice, lion is violence, and shewolf is incontinence.  They are probably all correct, but while I was reading the Canto and thinking about the 3 types of sin, I felt differently.  Incontinence is underlying basic nature we have inherited that leads us to sin, leads us to want the world more than God, that stain of original sin that we must struggle constantly against.  It is a constant distraction from God, a constant step backwards.  It is not the worst type of sin, but it is a temptation to turn away from God.  The nudge to watch TV instead of pray, to sleep in instead of Mass, to look at facebook instead of your work at the office.  This is incontinence and, to me, it seems that is what the leopard is doing to Dante as he climbs.  The leopard is a distraction that causes him to turn from the path. 

The Shewolf is a complete block to moving forward.  A sin of malice or fraud is moving beyond the petty everyday sins that cause us to fall and moves into an area where we completely cut ourselves off from God, and are of mortal sin, where we cannot get into Heaven.  Dante says he cannot go past the Shewolf and is told by Virgil that no one can go that direction.  I would equate that to mortal sin cutting us off from Heaven.  Dante is told that one day a Hound will come and destroy the Shewolf, which we can understand as Christ second coming in which sin will be destroyed and no longer a part of the new Earth. 

I don't know how this will translate throughout the book, but I start off feeling some sympathy for Virgil.  We see that he is sent to guide Dante, but tells him explicitly that once they get to Paradise, someone else will guide him.  Virgil is from the inferno.  He is not able to enter Heaven.  He fully confesses that this is because of the life he lived while on Earth, but he is going to make this journey as a guide and see things that he will never get to experience because even those in Purgatory are destined for Heaven, which Virgil will never obtain.  This journey he will take with Dante will be the closest he will come to Heaven, and once he gets to the gates of Paradise, he will have to turn back to whatever level of Hell he is to spend eternity.

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