Dante’s Sanctification in Knowledge

Cross-posted at my class blog.

“Through the law comes knowledge of sin.” – St. Paul in Romans 3:20.

Dante, in seeing the just retribution for sins (arranged in that interesting medieval order) in Inferno is seeing people that are in realm that is created by “Love”, learns to slowly leave pity behind. I think that the progression of Dante fainting and pitying the damned souls towards his courage and delight in justice is something that gives us an interestingly piercing look at what a correct view of perfect justice is. The law, and the just desert of sinners in getting the wages of sin, is, at the end of the day, Love. Dante, as he pities the sinners, is reproved rightly by Virgil, because he is not properly loving them. The sinners are not prevented from sinning while in Hell, they live in Hell because (as will come up through Purgatory) Heaven would be a worse Hell for them, because they want their sin more than they want the “vision” of God. The punishments are actually just, in great Augustinian form (ironically, I suppose), the continuation of their life of sin. The violent wallow in blood as they did in their life. The “Limbo”-ites are punished with being Pagan; they have exactly what they had in life, no “expectation” or “hope” just as in the story of Pandora’s box. Those who seek rebellion against God (Satan) are stuck in ice that is made by the arch-traitor’s wings, constantly seeking to ascend, and so trapping himself. He lives in rebellion, but is kept away from his final destruction (an act of Love in Justice?) Dante, learning this, sees that justice is love, and Inferno works as the Law, showing us what sin is. The punishments in Inferno are pictures of what the sins punished are doing to the soul of the living man already, though he doesn’t know it. The souls in Hell only know the past and future, they don’t know what they are doing, or what is happening now in the world. There is a reason sin is lawlessness, and there is such a thing such as “the mystery of lawlessness” in the Bible. This justice is a final act of the punished persons’ free will to choose sin instead of God. Dante knows how to love them the same way God does: he doesn’t harm their will to rebel with his pity.

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