Today at The Catholic Thing Robert Royal has a short and suggestive piece about sex and deception. Dante – Il Poeta – gives him a lift.
Royal recounts teaching Dante’s Inferno, the first part of the Divine Comedy, to students.
One of the more famous bits in Inferno is the hellish plight of Paolo and Francesca, adulterers, destined eternally to lash about twisting in the whirlwind as they cling to each other. Oh, the pathos! Oh, the sympathy as they recount their deeds, which lead to their deaths and this doom!
How unfair it all seems for such a little transgression, right? After all what’s adultery in the face of eternal punishment. Right?
Royal makes an important point. Before we – with Virgil and poetic Dante – reach Paolo and Francesca, we are warned against deception. Minos, judge of the underworld…
“… tells them: “O you who come to this abode of pain. . .beware how you come in and whom you trust. Don’t let the easy entrance fool you.” [Because in Hell, the damned will lie to you. Don’t believe everything you here.]
Virgil, a smart pagan, thinks Minos is just trying to block their way. But that’s not what he said or did. He’s warning them about infernal deception, especially how easy it is to find yourself entangled in it. It may, thus, be something that even Virgil’s pagan wisdom doesn’t see clearly on its own. And since what follows is two adulterers presenting a touching and almost beautiful picture of their sin, maybe the pagan poet, for all his wisdom, is not the best guide in this particular case.”
I turn now the reader’s attention to the arguments that have been offered for giving absolution to those who do not have a firm purpose of amendment and then admitting them to the reception of Holy Communion.
For example, stories as plaintive and touching as the tale of Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Rimini are described in defense of admitting the divorced and civilly remarried to the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist, even though they do not intend to amend their lives. Oh, the pathos! Such dire circumstances these (adulterers) are in! Is it really so bad what they are doing? After all, they are in love.
Can the warning of Minos serve to sober us up a bit?
I’m sure it never entered Prof. Royal’s mind to suggest a link between the scenario of Inferno Canto V and Amoris laetitia.
Read the whole thing over there.
If you have never read the Divine Comedy, you should. It is perhaps the greatest work ever written, saving Holy Writ. You could start with Esolen (Part 1, Inferno- US HERE – UK HERE) or perhaps with the late, great Inkling Dorothy Sayer’s fine version (Part 1, Inferno, US HERE – UK HERE). There are many renderings to choose from. I would very much like to teach on Dante someday. Maybe it’ll happen.
When you make the excellent choice to read the Divine Comedy, here are a couple tips. First and foremost, make the decision that you will read the whole thing. Don’t read just the Inferno. The really great stuff comes in Purgatorio and Paradiso. Also, be smart in your approach to Dante. Read straight through a canto to get the line of thought and story and then go back over it looking at the notes in your edition. Sayers has good notes. Dante was, I think, the last guy who knew everything. Hence, every Canto is dense with references. You will need notes to help with the history, philosophy, cosmology, poetic theory, politics, theology, etc. Really. You will need help. Take it.