Purgatorio (Dante; Sayers, trans)

The goal of the journey is to free our judgment.  In hell we flee to the “iron-bound prison of the self” (Sayers 16). Purgatory’s atmosphere might surprise the reader at first glance.  As Sayers notes, we are hit with “its freshness, sparkle, and gaiety” (19). Unlike Hell, Purgatory has community.  There is an ontological exchange of love and prayer. Indeed, here prayer is restored.  There is actually a liturgical discipline, as each cornice must sing and/or re-narrate a Psalm from Israel’s history.

Liturgical Discipline:
* “In exitu Israel de Aegyptu” (II.46). 

*  Wrathful: Agnus Dei (16.18).

* Gluttonous: labina mea Domine (Ps. 51; Purgatorio 23.11).

* Lustful: Summa Deus Clementiae (25.121).

Theological theme: love is the root of all vice as well as all virtue.


Imagine a conical mountain.  At the very bottom are two terraces, Ante-Purgatory.  These are the “death-bed” confession types.  From here they enter “Peter’s Gate, “which is approached by the Three Steps of Penitence: Confession, Contrition, and Satisfaction” (64).

There is something else unique about the mountain.  At first glance, it seems like the road spirals up the mountain.  Just keep walking and you get to a higher level.  In a sense, that is true. Yet, when one reaches the end of a cornice, he can’t simply walk up to the next one.  The path ends, but to the side there is a small stairway cut into the mountain.  Entering that stairway can be quite difficult.

On Purgatory Proper there are seven cornices, which purge the stains of sin.

Lower Purgatory: Love Perverted.  Love of injury to one’s neighbor.

  • Pride: Superbia. Love of self perverted to hatred of one’s neighbor.
  • Envy.  Invidia. Love of one’s own good perverted to wish harm to neighbor’s good.
  • Wrath.  Ira. Love of justice perverted to revenge.

Mid Purgatory: Love Defective. 

  • Sloth. Acedia.  Failure to love a thing in its proper proportion.  Namely, we fail to love God with all our heart.

Upper Purgatory.  Love Excessive. Only one object is to be loved with all our heart. This means there is a hierarchy of goods.

  • Cornice Five: Avarice.  Excessive love of money.
  • Cornice Six.  Gluttony.  Excessive love of pleasure.
  • Cornice Seven.  Lust.  Excessive love of persons.

Sayers has an interesting observation: Dante sleeps only in Purgatory, because unlike Infernus and Paradise, Purgatory is in time. It is not an eternal state.

Cornice of Envy: Like at other cornices, this one is introduced with a verse from Mary; here it is vinum non habent. The scourge of the sin of envy is fashioned with cords of love (13.39). They have their eyes sewn shut with wires of iron.  This makes them depend on their neighbor (and perhaps his good). It is also similar to putting a hood on a falcon.  It forces the beast to shed fear and calm down.

Sayers notes that envy, unlike other sins, contains an element of fear (170). Am I afraid that others might do well?  (This, of course, is the sin of Wokism.) It is best illustrated by Guido del Duca (it feels like half the people in the poem are named Guido, and that isn’t racist for me to point out since I am part Italian in heritage),

“And in my heart such envy used to burn,
If I’d caught someone looking pleased with life,
Thou wouldst have seen how livid I could turn” (14.82-84).

Canto 15: The Angel of Generosity, demonstrating the contrary of Envy, erases the second P from Dante’s head.  One counter to envy is true partnership, or as Augustine put it, “common objects of love.”  Virgil tells Dante that when they share such goods, they aren’t diminished but increased: “The more enamoured souls dwell there at once/Ever the better and the more they love/Each glassing each, all mirrors and all suns” (15.73-75).  Love is a “force multiplier,” so to speak.  It’s easiest to see this when we take “knowledge.”  If I share my knowledge, I don’t decrease my knowledge.  I multiply it. This is what Augustine, the Fransiscans, and Wyclif meant about sharing spiritual goods.

Cornice III: The Wrathful

The wrathful have to sing the Agnus Dei. They must go through thick smoke.  As they can no longer see, they have to listen.

Love of the Good is here restored.  Every creature has love.  It either has a proper object or not, but it still has love. There is a three-fold mis-love: faulty aim (at the wrong Good), too much zeal (excessive love) or lack thereof” (love defective, Sayers 201).

Cornice IV: The Slothful

Mary’s example: she ran in haste to Elizabeth.

As Sayers notes, sloth poisons the will (209). It is a deliberate refusal of joy.

When virtue springs from the heart, it must kindle a reciprocal love (22.10-12).

There is a strange section where Dante meets sodomites on the Cornice of the Lustful.  How is that possible, given the previous meeting in Hell?  He really doesn’t say, but I think we see a similar example today: take the advocates of “Side B Christianity.”  There you have it. Interestingly enough, this is the only Cornice where the penitents walk against the Sun, illustrating that their sin was against nature.


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