Canto 24 Paradise: faith

“I cannot write–it skips, this pen of mine; our glaring images, much less what we say, can never pain those folds of bliss so fine.”

Dante is speaking to Peter about faith. Dante cannot recall and write of the beauty that he sees in Paradise. Words will not suffice for the beauty we see and encounter.

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the argument of things not come to light.”

Dante then speaks to Peter proclaiming his faith. It is written in the language of student and pupil as though he must defend his thesis to a professor to earn his baccalaureate.

“And I respond: ‘I believe in one God, sole and eternal, who was never moved but moves all Heaven with love and with desire; Physics and metaphysics have not proved, alone, such faith for me: it also comes given me by the truth that rained from Heaven through Moses, through the prophets, through the Psalms, the evangelists, and you whose fostering words the Holy Ghost inspired; and I believe in three eternal Persons, and in these one essence, so completely one and three, … the gospel teaching has impressed on me. This is the spark, this is the principle that spills out into such a living flame it glitters like a star within my soul.'”

This is the essence of the Christian faith. It is written echoing the form of the Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. It is a confession, a proclamation of what faith is but also who we are in God. One of his creatures who burns with the spark, the image of God.

As Anthony Esolen reminds us in his commentary, “… faith is a gift. It is not by his own power but by God’s grace that in this canto Dante can say, ‘I believe.'”

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Oscar Wilde genius of the Picture of Dorian Gray

The genius of this work is the profundity of the language; the beauty of the use of language and the wisdom within its pages.

This book plumbs the depths of the human person. The mystery of the body-soul union of the person. The way a person will try to define another with language but always fall short of knowing the exactitude of each person. In our Western thinking, we must define things, understand, vivisect everything that we may know it.

I do this. We all do. If we do not understand, we must find information to help us understand another person. We do a pretty good job at understanding nuances and ticks and why we do what we do. But we fall short by only understanding another person by the material sciences. We must also know a person by metaphysics, but a spiritual point of view. Science alone will not answer everything. Religion will not answer everything. Both together (I think theology being the First to go by) will answer who the human person is. It is a marriage, not a singularity.

A person cannot be understood by one mode of study or understanding.

The Picture of Dorian Gray doesn’t have THE answer. But it paints a picture of the human person, in all its glory, but in all its diabolic-state also. We are not black and white creatures. We are complex. It makes things simple to understand a person scientifically: action, reaction; choice, consequence. Putting each person in a neat little package. But we are far more complex.

Yet, almost quite simple. In that, we know who we are (possibly) we know who we were made by (hopefully). It is the not knowing that darkens our view of ourselves. Or is this too simple? If we knew who we were, children of God, meant to love God and be loved by God and follow Christ likewise, then this would focus our aim. A returning to God, to Eden. But we complicate our lives and other’s lives with sin–with falling short, disobeying God’s command and so on.

Our resistance toward following Christ is what terribly complicates. And following our own will, our own selfishness–this is what hurts us and leads us to the dark wood.

I think this is one aspect of what the Picture of Dorian Gray is about. The mystery of this body-soul union and the pain we cause our bodies and souls when we think one is less than the other. (i.e. our bodily sins hurting our souls, our soul sins hurting our bodies–because of the union our whole person is wounded).

 

Home

Plying the wine dark sea,

an adventure seeking home.

Reaching the shores of death. Where shades, disembodied

tell of future fate.

Lost on the sea, tossed by the tumult.

Circe gives refuge, but turns men into what they truly are.

Gorging on passions and appetites, transformed into things inhuman.

Sirens calling from the rocky shores to wreck ship and soul. The heart that sees the Siren witch as a beauty who can save. The heart of man deceiving self.

Reaching home, fighting for home again.

It was lost on the seas and islands and adventures. Who he was nearly lost.

The soil of home reminds him of who he is. Slowly regaining understanding.

But the sea an ever present temptation to leave his calling behind. The wanderlust with the hope of returning home.

Words

I wish I had words of beauty again.

Like the silver-tongued. But not telling lies.

Only truth and beauty and reality.

These words lay in my stomach like leaden weights.

A cold feeling in the pit of the stomach.

Do words written in joy only manifest as beauty?

Is it the state of one’s soul which determines the weight and aesthetic of the word?

The Muses have left me void.

The Furies hold their shears lightly against the strings.

Cutting, the beauty plummeting to the depths.

To the Pit.

When loneliness, grief, shame subside,

then healing will return the aesthetic, but with a weight and joy

not present before. A wisdom gained. Knowing what and who Love truly is.

Fall

The year almost over. The leaves crisping in the clear, chill air. My heart yearns with memory and loss. With what was and what might be. My blood, my heart slow. The sap in the trees do the same. A season nearing hibernation.

How does a broken heart mend? Over time? How long? “Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholds him with his hand.”  How does one build trust? How does one love again? How does …?  “Wait for the Lord and keep his way…”

Cloud and wind destroy. Rains and tempests, wreck and dash to pieces bodies and souls. “The Lord my light; my salvation…”

Depths of the ocean within the eyes, the wisdom of the galaxies. “Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path.” The soul burns to rise, but weighed down by its vice. Learn from the falling leaves and the burning fires. A quiet in the embers and rising heat.

“To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me …” Seeking you in all things. But forgetting the first, like Gomer. “Seek ye first …” Yearning for stability and life and love and wholeness again. Two lost. Only You save. But what of the role of the Beatrice-figure?

“I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol…” My person grows dim. A gray soul, a pale body. Kneeling, making self small.

After the long winter, after a long death Persephone brings blooms of life, from gray to color. The color rising within me. Divine love bringing all things, beings, creatures to life. The God of love, justice, mercy, grace upholding all things, renewing all, making all things whole, all things new. The leaves turn brilliant burning colors before they die. So I follow the archetype. And fall with the leaves. Shattering, heart breaking to be remade. The image of God searing through.

Canto 25 Purgatory: importance of the body and honoring the body

Here Dante is nearing the ledge of the lustful. Here also, Statius explains to Dante the creation of the body-soul union. He speaks metaphysically and biologically, which also emphasizes the union of the spiritual and material as Anthony Esolen reminds us in his commentary.

The emphasis of the importance of the body is intentional. We are not only souls, but also bodies. Christianity is the “strange” religion that emphasizes the importance of the body and the perfection of the resurrected body. Heaven isn’t a disembodies existence. Nor is Hell. On the Last Day this soul is reunited with its body–the human being made complete. Our souls and bodies must be respected.

As Dante and Virgil continue, they near the ledge of the lustful. Virgil says, “you’d better keep a tight rein on your eyes.” As Anthony Esolen reminds us, lust begins with the wandering of the eyes. Our senses, our body sinning, missing the mark.

The lustful burn in fire that does not destroy, but purifies. This is the final purifying before entering the earthly Paradise and then going on to Paradise–union with God. The lustful burned with passion in their bodies. Now their souls are cleansed to be able to stand before God who is holy. “… for only by this suffering and this food can the last wound of all be sewn, and healed.”

Remember that the order of sin is reversed from that of Hell. Lust being first in Hell and being last in Purgatory. All sin harms as we have seen. But the fire of our passions must be transformed into the consuming fire and perfected love toward God and neighbor. Lust uses. But love consumes, heals, forgives, bears all grievances (see 1 Corinthians 13).

The human person is a body-soul union. This is the teaching in the Christian faith, emphasized continuously in the Scriptures. John especially emphasizes this in the New Testament. We are not whole or complete one without the other. And to stand before a holy God, our souls and bodies must be cleansed–made new, like Christ’s.

Canto 24 Inferno: the struggle

In this Canto Dante follows Virgil down to the ledge of thieves. He needs to climb down because the bridge has been broken. Virgil encourages him to be sure the rocks are secure so that he does not fall downward and end in peril, in death.

Virgil lightly and easily climbs down, but Dante struggles. He is weighed down with sin. His own sin. Remember this is Dante’s journey of recognizing his own sin that has weighed him down in his life and which he contemplates in his exile. Dante is exhausted after the climb down.

Virgil encourages him: “‘You must shake off your sluggishness’ the Teacher said, ‘for no one comes to fame who sits in soft pillows of down, or lies at ease in bed, And when his life is wasted utterly he leaves such traces of himself behind as smoke in air or foam upon the sea. Get up, then! Conquer your distress with that brave soul that wins through every fight, unless it should turn weak beneath the flesh’s weight. …” Virgil reminds Dante of the mountain he must climb after Hell. These words and reminder give Dante strength and he moves on.

Reader, remember, Dante has been through Hell, literally. A long weary, weighted exhausting, fearful, despairing journey. A look upon the wreckage sin causes. A realization of his own wreckage. Dante is almost at the end of the journey through Hell. The closer he journeys to the bottom, the more tired Dante becomes. Isn’t this true of our own sin? The longer we stay in sin that is not repented, the more it weighs us down. After a while one hits the bottom. But the hope afterward, the hope is repentance. A journey upwards. Virgil’s reminder that the journey is almost over and that the Mount of Purgatory is next is a reminder that there is a journey upwards toward hope, toward redemption, toward forgiveness, toward God. First he must go downward, the realization of all his garbage, wreckage, sin, then he can journey upwards. Don’t we need our friends, teachers, mentors, pastors, family, father figures, mother figures, etc to encourage us to keep on going. To own our shit, to turn away from it, to go on the journey toward wholeness and healing. It is painful, but it is filled with grace and God’s love. He is our redeemer. We cannot do this journey on our own. God puts each person in our life as a reminder of Himself, as a guide, as one leading. Why? Because each is made in the image of God. Yet, we must be wise and discern which are leading us toward goodness and which are leading us to destruction. Yet, the mystery is grace within both. The grace in toxicity is knowing your limits and remembering who you are: a child of God, who cannot serve two masters.

A quick word on the punishment of the thieves (probably more will be said in Canto 25 entry): The thieves are tied up with snakes and dwell in a pit of serpents. Anthony Esolen reminds us of the Scripture of Jesus calling the Pharisees “brood of vipers” and “the serpent being the most cunning creature.” A thief is a liar and uses cunning to steal. Their punishment is just because their bodies are stolen from them. They are cursed with metamorphosed bodies — some are turned into serpent-like humanoid creatures. One is burned and turns to ash and then reforms like the Phoenix. But to no purpose. It is a cyclical meaningless death and “resurrection” that never ends and leads toward nothing transformative.

Taking what is not your own is grievous to your neighbor. This is not love toward your neighbor. Adultery has an element of thievery within it. Obviously stealing money, goods, property, etc. Gaining by cunning takes much mental acumen and trickery and deceit. Deceit is treacherous and hurtful toward all involved. It is a grievance upon emotions and psyche, upon the inner person. The struggle is real and happens every day. The journey through our own Hell is wearying. But with God’s help and with those sent by God, we are encouraged and exhorted through our own wreckage and after a lot of work and grace and repentance (for it is work) we are made whole again by God’s forgiveness, our turning away from our sin and turn toward God’s grace and mercy.