The Place

Now, when I’d paced my bank until there lay

Only the brook between, I halted there

To get a better view of this display                Dante, Purgatory, Canto XXIX lines 70 – 72


I’ve now read Dante’s second volume in the Divine Comedy – Purgatorio. I know I will need to re-read and work on the texts that I am liberating for study purposes. There have been a couple of themes I have looked for on this first course through a volume that I have largely enjoyed, perhaps more than I would have considered likely.

When The Right Reverend Pater Bradley suggested the text ‘as the text on Purgatory’ he mentioned the author’s use of landscape narratives; Dante and his companion Virgil enter the realm of Purgatory from the Inferno (Hell) and journey to the “earthly paradise” that is at the peak of the place that is Purgatory.

In her extensive introduction to her own translation Dorothy L Sayers sets the work in one context by saying ‘Dante has grasped the great essential which is so often overlooked in arguments about penal reform, namely, the prime necessity of persuading the culprit to accept judgement. If a man is convinced of his own guilt, and that he is sentenced by a just tribunal, all punishment of whatever kind is remedial, since it lies with him to make it so; if he is not so convinced, than all punishment, however enlightened, remains merely vindictive, since he sees it so and will not make it otherwise.’ 16

Those who enter Purgatory do so at their own free will, knowing that the exit is to Paradise through ‘The Earthly Paradise’ at the pinnacle of the mountain, those entering from ‘The Inferno’ do so knowing that (in reference to the puishments to be received are ‘…There is no difference in the justice (to Hell); the only difference is the repudiation or acceptance of judgement.” 16 However ‘Heaven and Hell are eternal states, but the life of purgatory, like that of earth, is a temporal process, and time is of its very essence.” P21 This notion of time is interesting, given that the alternative is infinity then by comparison Purgatory is but a fleeting moment, and the diversion in the direction of travel is deemed by whether the individual is penitent or not (including those who have never heard of the `question’). In this group of ‘unknowers’ I wonder about children, how can a child make the distinction, how can an infant find that means to knowledge that enables them to discern whether to own to guilt or not? But this is where it gets very personal and I’ll leave it there for a while. Pain is important! St Augustine talks of the ‘Salutary troubles being a purification exhibited in prison” P55 The Decree of the council of Florence, A.D. 1429 that souls in the Intermediate State (Purgatory) “are purged after death by purgatorial or cathartic pains.” P55.

The soul, which is created apt for love,

The moment pleasure wakes it into act,

To any pleasant thing is swift to move.              Dante, Purgatory, Canto XXVIII lines 19-21


There follows an example of the process that leads to purgation. Admission of guilt, penance (which frees the penitent of the guilt and thereby purges the ‘culpa’ leaving two things remaining “Technically, you still have to “purge the reatus”. `…this leads you to the third part of Penance, viz Satisfaction, and calls for two further acts: reparation to the wronged and amendment in yourself”. P56

What is left to be done in Purgatory is the purging of the reatus, “….By this is meant the damage done to the soul by the habit of sinfulness – the coarsening of fibre, and the clouding of the mind and imagination…” P58

Clearly the seventy one page introduction says a lot more than I’ve noted here, but what I tried to do is set a framework for where I currently think my investigations fit in with it.



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