Canto 17 Purgatory: love that strays

“Not the Creator nor a single creature, as you know, ever existed without love, the soul’s love or the love that comes by nature. The natural love is just and cannot rove. The soul’s love strays if it desires what’s wrong or loves with too much strength, or not enough. When toward its prime good it is led aright and keeps good measure in the second goods, it cannot be the cause of bad delight, But when it twists to evil, or does not race for a good with the appropriate care, the Potter finds rebellion in the pot.”

Here Dante sees those afflicted with acedia or sloth as most know it. Those who are restless. On this ledge the penitent seek to rest in God. Augustine’s famous words, “our hearts are restless until they rest in thee,” are threaded within this canto.

In Dante’s view, as Anthony Esolen elucidates in his commentary of his translation of Dante’s Comedia, love is the law of all things. “…the source of every good deed, and of every evil deed, is love.”  Our loves disordered. We love too much or too little or love the wrong things. “Excellence is a good thing; therefore to love excellence is also good; but to love excellence in oneself and to deny the incomparable excellence of God, as Lucifer did, is evil, is outside the order of creation.”

For example, the sexual act is good. It stems from love. But the love of the sexual act as the highest love will become an idol. Which can become an insatiable seeking of the next thing, like Don Juan seeking the next woman instead of delighting and loving only one woman. Eros in the right order is that in a commitment to one person. Affairs stem from a disordered love. A search for the next thing. The next pleasure. Romantic trysts fueling the affair. There can be genuine love within, of course, but at the outset, it is illicit and out of order. Adultery in the throes of acedia begins with joy, but leads toward pain and hurt and destruction. Causing much more pain than a fulfillment of what love truly is.

In another sense, we can have pride in ourselves in knowing we are good at something. Good with people, good at writing, good at managing. Knowing who we are and what we are good at. But when we elevate ourselves above everyone else because of what we are good at, this is a dangerous pride which leads to other sin. Usually losing our sight to love God first and loving others. All sin does this. Blinds ourselves from loving God and then others. We begin to love idols. Putting our pride, our lust, our greed, our needs, love for self above love for God.

It is a twisting of what is good. Twisting it into an evil. Acedia leads us to indifference of our sinfulness. An indifference to our actions that are disordered. An indifference toward God, toward others, even toward our self. Becoming more and more restless. Seeking and seeking in our minds, in our hearts, in our bodies. Seeking for the next thing. Discontent always haunting, wanting a destination, but never knowing what that destination is. Like Ulysses lost on the sea, searching for Mount Purgatory, for immortality.

Acedia is frightening. All sin is when we examine how destructive it is and see its destruction. Knowing it in our hearts and our lives. The Inferno exemplifies the horrors of our sin. Mount Purgatory warns us but gives us hope when we repent and turn back to God. Lord, help us put our loves in order that we do not stray. And when we do stray, give us the grace and courage to turn our ship around heading toward the source of all Good. The loving and good God.


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