Canto 20 Purgatory: avarice and calling

“For Dante believed that you did not make yourself, you conformed yourself to the calling chosen for you by God.”

This is from Anthony Esolen’s commentary on Purgatory in his translation of the Divine Comedy.

Dante focuses on the Capet’s who were in the dynasty of politics of Florence. One son became a monk another came from humble beginnings and rose to the throne of Florence. Dante talks about St. Nicholas and how he saved three daughters from poverty and prostitution by giving anonymous gifts to them for their dowries, so they could marry, instead of relegated to destitution. Dante contrasts this generosity with political marriages to secure wealth and dynasties. Dante also speaks of the myth of Midas who with his touch, turns everything to gold. It’s great, he’d be financially set for his entire life. But how could he eat, how could he love another? Everything he touched would become gold. Wealth can become a god and everything else becomes less than.

In America, one myth goes: we must reach the American dream. Many have seen this as become a self made man. (Not a new idea–Dante exemplifies this in Hugh Capet). In this whole work–the Divine Comedy–we have seen how following one’s own will leads to destruction and hurt.

Must we all become monks? Of course not. But there is something to God’s call or purpose in your life. All that we do should be to the glory of God, not to our own glory. His call on our life is for Good because God is good. He knows what is best for us. When following our own desires, this usually leads to the person becoming lost. Lost in vice. Lost in another’s will. Lost in the dark, not knowing where to go next. What the purpose of this life is. Searching–one thing to the next. Possibly trying to make sense of each desire and action. Or just fumbling in the dark and not thinking about any of it, until one day the person wakes up and wonders how they got where they are.

The way Western culture has gone is not a new thing. My professor friend, Dr. Moser pointed out to me that society has become more accepting of the fumblings of our human free will. “Do what you will” see what happens. “We can’t stop what a person will do; we don’t have the right.” Or, “they won’t listen anyway.”

It is as though the moral compass has been thrown into the sea. Or everyone has their own understanding of morality. Only objective truth rules the day.

We have individualized each will–not certain which will is correct. This is a generalization. But it is definitely true in our ideas of love and relationships. The human desire to love and be loved has existed for all time. And our distorted view has as well. Yet, breaking family bonds and vows was less acceptable, but is now very easy and highly acceptable. “It’s just what happens.” Someone has called divorce an epidemic. I would have to agree.

But I am going on a tangent. Dante saw the self-made man as a dangerous concept. We should have pause as the idea of becoming self-made. It may lead us on a painful, dark path.

As Capet shares the stories of avarice in the city of Florence, the reader has to remember we are in Purgatory. Capet wants the same thing as Dante, the redemption of that city. Even the avaricious and those who have sinned and fallen away, always have the chance to repent. And when we repent, consequences do not go away, but a light returns to the sinful soul. A purpose that was ignored returns. Salvation comes to the repentant. There is always hope for the repentant sinner.


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