Going Up the Mountain (Dante’s Purgatory)

Going Up the Mountain (Dante’s Purgatory) April 6, 2019

There is hope for those of us who started badly. We can end well. Thank God. Love waits for our consent, waiting for us to turn from distractions, to beauty.

Jesus told a story about a son who ran away from his good home to pursue lesser loves. He gave up a father who loved him for people who showed him a good time, because they loved his money. That ended, as such trades always do, in a pig pen.

We are drawn down to dirt not by love, or even by fun, but by our mistakes about what love is and our errors about what made the fun. The good that we find, even the husks that we eat in the stye, are echoes of work of the Good God. He wants better for us: more jollification, a better feast, but God will do what He can to with what we give Him.

Like the father in the story Jesus told, Father God waits and will take the little turns we make toward real beauty and multiply them as only He can. He draws us up from the pig pen to paradise.

As a young man I thought I loved, but I did not. Love was waiting to pull me up from my errors, but I missed it. I wanted to see God, but not enough to do what God wished me to do.

Lord have mercy.

God would give us, each one of us, every good gift, but not at the cost of any other person. We would seize, claim, carve off a bit of God’s cosmos as our own.

No.

God instead would draw us up to see greater glory.

Satan took Jesus to a high mountain to look down at the kingdoms of the world. Evil wished Jesus to look down and take less than His divine inheritance. The world is good and can be beautiful, but only when in the proper place. God draws up to subsume all the good, truth, and beauty and limits us to nothing.

Satan offers us the world and loses us the heavens! The genius of Dante grasped this because he lived the truth. He looked to the world and ended up exiled. He loved the flesh and discovered that his “love” was mere selfishness. (God have mercy on me a sinner!) He loved “learning” and discovered that he was merely playing with the sophistry of devils.

Dante began, as many of us do, lost and then plunged into hell. Eventually, he found hope, the good of the intellect. As a result, God began to purge Dante’s soul:

To run o’er better waters hoists its sail The little vessel of my genius now, That leaves behind itself a sea so cruel; And of that second kingdom will I sing Wherein the human spirit doth purge itself, And to ascend to heaven becometh worthy. But let dead Poesy here rise again, O holy Muses, since that I am yours, And here Calliope somewhat ascend, My song accompanying with that sound, Of which the miserable magpies felt The blow so great, that they despaired of pardon.*

My Dad likes to talk this way. When we are following God, being purged of smallness so that we can go up and gain all in gaining God, Dad says “we are in the flow.’

Like Dante, Dad is right.

We sail to God’s holy mountain when we reject the hopelessness of Hell. We say “yes” to the good God and “no” to our lesser desires and all these things are given to us.  We abandon lust and gain love. We give up on wealth and have life more abundantly. We stop currying favor with the great and powerful and the happiest become our family. 

The Holy Spirit is here to draw us up to God, but that is not so we can become detached from the reality. Instead, we gain all of reality, including the metaphysical. All the good, the truth, and beauty is ours in Christ.

I love you God.

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Purgatory, Canto 1, lines 1ff. Dante. Translated by Longfellow.

 


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