The cosmos is built on Divine Love.
The difficulty, of course, is that once one rejects some element of divine Love the entire order begins to unravel. We can choose badly, but bad results happen when we do. In this life, God causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust providing a stable social order where people who reject Him can find happiness. God’s constant hope is to woo us, giving all of us, better than our choices deserve. At the end of life, if we ultimately turn away, finally reject the source of beauty, we are (literally) out of time.
We go to where our being made over time has brought us.
Dante shows the results in his Comedy. Those who have only read Inferno often do not even read that series of cantos well. The Inferno is God’s inferno where people who would not let go of vice, repent, are given their choice, that very vice, eternally. In most of us, this is pictured as more pathetic than horrific.
Recall that as Dante moves into the earth, the “circles of hell” get smaller. The largest parts of the inferno, the outer rings, are not particularly unpleasant. Dante’s poetic hero Virgil is damned but faces no torture and lives with many other greats an existence many might envy! The worst point in the inferno, the very center, has Satan and three other souls. Satan is not lord of the damned, but merely the most damned. He makes himself immobile and impotent through his own self-pity. This horrible area of diabolical whining is small, but even there one can see the love of God allowing the choices of Satan. For Dante, the cosmos is shot through with divine love and only a small bit, the core of the earth, is hopeless, made so by the disposition of the one there toward divine love.
Many who choose badly finally end up doing so because we will not give up some other love. Dante pictures two sinful lovers who whirl forever together, insubstantial and lost. They chose adultery over Divinity and they have their reward. They are altogether pitiable. They may moan, but these “lovers” made themselves incapable of changing. They want what they want and that they are miserable is not God’s fault.
Fortunately, the Comedy is a journey where two-thirds of the poetry is describing the redemption and glorification of those who chose differently. Ultimately, the vision is so beautiful that Dante, a man of words so magnificent they helped create modern Italian, has no words to tell us what he has seen. What he does know is that all is moved by love:
139 Thither my own wings could not carry me,
But that a flash my understanding clove,
Whence its desire came to it suddenly.
142 High phantasy lost power and here broke off;
Yet, as a wheel moves smoothly, free from jars,
My will and my desire were turned by love,
145 The love that moves the sun and the other stars.
A rejection of divine Love has eternal consequences, but we need not rush to the end of life to see the problem. Dante himself starts the Comedy lost in a dark wood midway through his life. He has chosen poorly, and his bad choices are not just killing him, but look to be damning his soul. Worst of all, Dante will discover that even what he thinks is his greatest love was a sham. He doesn’t even know his own heart! Dante thinks he loves Beatrice only to have Beatrice tell him at the top of Mount Purgatory that he is a phony romantic. His love is false.
As always, Divine Love makes what Love can of our errors. Dante thinks he loves Beatrice, even if he does not do so in truth, yet even that error can be medicine. When faced with the truth, Dante can choose true love, or he can cling to his delusion. Dante chooses love and so is saved! While there is life and some sort of love, there is hope.
The passion for the divine Beauty motivates a desire greater than any other desire and ends in a reward that is eternal, unchanging, divine. If lesser loves, motivated by lesser beauties, become swollen and get out of place, we are lost. Beauty creates desire and desire can become love, but in a fallen, broken world can also degenerate into false loves.
I know this too well having been a “romantic” and failed. A life of repentance helps as I pursue the beauty that surpasses comprehension and try to love all that is beautiful in proportion and properly. How? I can recognize the dignity of all God’s creation knowing all was not created for me, but for God. I celebrate beauty without “owning” that beauty. Each person has a divine beauty that God created for Himself and has given to that person.
Where is that beauty? If I ask any group of people, they will (almost) universally respond “in the eye of the beholder.” Yet it is the beloved they love, not themselves, so the answer seems more memorized than based on actual experience. I do not see my beloved and say: “I feel beauty!” Instead, I think: “She is beautiful.” So, she is, and that beauty is recognized, not found, in the eyes of this beholder.