Our Suffering, Our Solace
Dante's Way of Boundless Love
This year marks the seventh centenary of the death, in 1321, of the poet Dante Alighieri, who completed the final canticle of his Commedia shortly before he died. It has since been a commonplace, in certain Catholic circles, to say that the hereafter is not as Dante imagined it, as if the poet ever meant to give us a photographic tour rather than the greatest epic of love ever written—of love betrayed, love revived and heartened, and love fulfilled. We have much to learn from him, especially, I think, in his treatment of that realm whose very existence many Christians doubt, while not necessarily doubting its purpose or its action.
I speak of Purgatory. We say that human beings should love—but we hardly know how; our hearts beat feebly, and the sinews of our souls are not used to exercise. Purgatory, as Dante sees it, is where, or we might say how, souls learn to suffer, and thus to love.
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Anthony Esolen is a professor and writer-in-residence at Magdalene College of the Liberal Arts in Warner, New Hampshire. His many books include Sex in the Unreal City: The Demolition of the Western Mind, Life Under Compulsion: Ten Ways to Destroy the Humanity of Your Child, Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, and The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord. He is a regular contributor to Chronicles, Crisis Magazine, The Claremont Review, Inside the Vatican Things, The Catholic Thing, and American Greatness. He has translated Dante's Divine Comedy. He is a Roman Catholic and lives with his wife in New Hampshire. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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