Canto 16 Purgatory: darkness

“Profoundest darkness of the realm below, or of the night under a starless vault when it’s most shrouded by the glooming clouds, never spread for my eyes so thick a veil as did that smoke that wrapped us all about, nor spread so rough a pelt of dark to feel, so thick, no open eye could last it out…”

A thick smoke blinds Dante’s vision as he ascends Mount Purgatory. It is the darkness of the thoughts of the wrathful. As Virgil tells Dante to hold close to him as a blind man being guided that he does not fall or die, Dante hears the prayers of those on this ledge. They pray for the mercy of God. Asking for mercy from the one who takes away our sins.

I rarely have wrathful thoughts. But I have other thoughts that have shrouded my vision. All sin blinds. We grope in the darkness trying to find our way. If I wrote every darkened thought I have ever had, I would be hated and judged poorly by others. But haven’t we all had dark thoughts about another? I doubt anyone is innocent of this. But our thoughts have an affect upon ourselves and others.

Dante speaks to Mark of Lombard who elucidates the darkness of the world. He argues against the idea that the stars above determine the fate of the world. He says, “Thus if the present world has gone askew, look to yourselves, in yourselves lies the cause.” G. K. Chesterton wrote a book: What is wrong with the world?  The answer: me.

This is another defense of free will. The world is not determined. We are not off the hook for our sins. We choose certain things, and there are consequences. Every decision, every action causes something to happen–good or ill or evil. Our actions are not out of our control and we are not off the hook for our bad decisions. Yet, Providence works through all the garbage that we cause to go askew. We see the screw ups in politics, empires, the church, the state, personal lives. Fate hasn’t determined these things which we blindly accept. Nor do we blindly follow the example of bad decisions. The law tells us what is wrong. Sometimes we follow, most of the time we don’t. The law cannot save. Only Christ. It is the change in our outlook, our heart. God’s grace leading us on.

Thoughts lead to ideas, which lead to actions. Which lead to good things occurring or bad things. We humans are excellent at screwing things up on a large scale and a small scale. But the beauty of it all is that the God who made all things works with these bad decisions leading to a just and good end.

Virgil leads Dante through the darkness. Seeking wisdom and guidance from a wise person will indeed help us on our path. Prayer and God’s grace coupled with guidance will definitely help as well. We blind ourselves with sin. It can be fun for a little while until you find yourself in total darkness lost in the dark wood. Let us be wise and cling to the God who loves us and leads us on toward Himself, toward goodness.


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