Krishna TikkaniProf. SpiroACS 1000-H0512 December 2017Sin, Salvation,and SanctificationSin is defined inthe Bible as a “transgression of the law of God” and “rebellion against God” (1John 3:4, Deuteronomy 9:7). Sin separates humans from God, preventing salvationand leading to an eternity in Hell.
Jesus, during his time on earth, traveled theregion he lived in preaching about repentance from sin and the way to eternallife. Ultimately, it came down to whether or not one had a faith that whatJesus did on earth by dying on the cross and being resurrected that would savethem from their sins and deliver them to eternal life with God. Dante takesthis foundation and delves a little deeper, categorizing what he believes arethe most fundamental venial sins that continue to separate us from God.
He thentakes those Christians who suffered from these sins and had them sent toPurgatory, where they would be cleansed and purified before being able to enterheaven. These sins are then ranked by level of the mountain which those sinnersreside on, which implies that some sins are worse than others. Dante, in Purgatorio, draws from Jesus’ ideasabout sin for the basis of the terraces of sin in his purgatory; however, everythingDante writes about the punishments and methods of the cleansing of sin andgetting to heaven find no support from the Bible. The severity of the sins isalso of Dante’s creation.To begin, nowhere in theBible is such a place called “Purgatory” said to exist, and as such anyargument for purgatory is purely interpreting scripture.
The Bible does have agreat deal to say about sin, though. Isaiah 55:6 says we must “seek the Lordwhile he may be found, while he is near”, and that after death we are “destinedfor judgement after death” (Hebrews 9:27). Also in the Bible are passages thatexplain how the only second chances for salvation come in the earthly life,such as the famous John 3:16, Romans 10:9-10, which says that when you professbelief in Jesus Christ you are saved, and Acts 16:31, which says the same thingagain. Furthermore, death is to be “away from the body, and at home with theLord” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8).
But in no place can it be found that death is”away from the body, being cleansed in the purifying fires of purgatory”. Such bold statements offaith and defining sin are also declared by Jesus himself. In the parable ofthe wedding feast in the gospel of Matthew (22:1-14), Jesus explains how thosewho reject the gift of salvation and favor their own good works over the graceof God will be condemned to Hell. Jesus, in Matthew 23:23, shows how the prideof the Pharisees led them to becoming hypocrites because they did not want tobe exposed as wrong and telling lies to the people. Matthew 12:32 says thatthere is “no forgiveness in the age after this one” for sinning against theHoly Spirit.
Finally, in Matthew 5:25-26 Jesus tells his disciples that it isbetter to settle sinful matters before the “final judge”, or else it won’t beforgiven and again, they are sent to an eternal suffering in Hell.From the gospel of Luke, Jesustells us to “love your enemies” (6:27), and to “love God with all your heart,soul, and mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (10:27). These commandmentsprovide the foundation upon which Dante builds his version of purgatory, as theseven sins described in the poem can be derived from not following thesecommandments.The basic premise ofpurgatory is that sinners are given another chance to “repent” and be cleansedand purified of the venial sins that tarnish their otherwise good-standingrelationship with God. In Dante’s purgatory, there are “punishments” that aremore akin to burdening tasks that the penitent must repeat over and over untilthey are deemed “pure” enough to move up the mountain. The only example givenin the poem of a soul moving on to heaven is that of Statius, when the mountain”trembles when a soul feels it is pure, ready to rise, to set out on itsascent, and next there follows that great cry” (Purgatorio XXI.58-60).
Themountain gives a signal to souls that move on to heaven.The seven sins in Dante’spurgatory are based on the different misdirections of love. First, there arePride, Envy, and Wrath, which are all love of negative consequences towardothers. Next, there is Sloth, which is a lack of the right kind of love towardothers. And the last three, Avarice (and Prodigality), Gluttony, and Lust, areall an excess of love of things that should be loved up to a certain point pastwhich it is deemed inappropriate. Through their own efforts and practices arethey cleansed of sin in Dante’s purgatory.
When Jesus says that his payment onthe cross is sufficient as the ransom for all sins, Dante seems to miss that indescribing what purgatory is. What it should be described as is a place whereany remaining traces of a sin not able to be repented fully on earth are madeup for. The souls in Purgatorio aredepicted more as sinners who belong in hell than saved people with smallimperfections remaining. One interesting aspect of Dante’s journey through Purgatorio is that he is inscribed withseven “P’s” on his forehead, representing that he must overcome all seven ofthe sins that souls go to purgatory for. However, throughout the journey up themountain, he attributes his change in perspective to Virgil and Beatrice, butnot God. How can someone writing a poem about the Christian afterlife fail tomention God where He should be mentioned? This aspect of Dante’s thoughts wasastounding as he claimed to be such a devout Christian himself. The onlysimilarities between what Jesus says in the Bible and what Dante says in Purgatorio is the correlation betweenthe “love your neighbor” commandment and the sins being misapplications of lovefor those neighbors.
Other than this, Dante deviates heavily from anything thatcan be corroborated by Jesus’ teachings. Thedifferences in perspectives on sin in both Jesus’ teachings from Dante’sdescription of the penitent souls is drastic. One of the first things taught toChristians is that all sins separate from God, and left unchecked, the Biblesays, leads to eternal damnation. Therefore, how is the idea of purgatorysupported, if sins left unchecked post-salvation lead to eternal punishment?How can sins be ranked as deserving more or less severe punishments? While sinsmight not be equal in severity as determined by humans, they are equal inpenalty and on the other side, forgivability. Dante’s purgatory gives a secondchance after death to get to heaven for souls that otherwise would have beenleft to the upper regions of Hell.
The Bible says that while you have anunlimited number of chances to enter into a right-standing with God, thesechances only exist in the earthly life. Once death comes, if you haven’tcrossed that line of faith, then your luck has run out. But this argument onlyapplies to the non-believers or those not fortunate enough to have been given achance to put their faith in Christ.
Furthermore,the whole concept of purgatory implies that the righteousness of Christ wasinsufficient in cleansing believers of sin implies two things: that faith alonedoes not fully justify a believer alone, and that some personal works must bedone to remove sin, when it is taught that works don’t fix sin, only faith andrepentance does. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—andthis is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no onecan boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Works of the living cannot change God’sjudgement. Another argument that shows the discrepancies between Dante’s visionof sin and the Bible’s description comes from Romans 8:38-39, which says that”neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor thefuture, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in allcreation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in ChristJesus our Lord.” If this is to be taken as biblical truth (which it is), thenhow can there be such a place (purgatory) in which the soul is separated fromGod? The evidence does not support Dante’s story. Finally, the idea thatsinners have another chance at redemption is not only unbiblical in nature, butcontradictory from scripture.
Dante’spoem was written with the intention to be a literary work, as opposed to atheological work, and as such can expect to fail most theologicalinterpretations of it. Dante was a poet, not a theologian and most likely didnot care if what he was writing was theologically accurate, as it only had tobe of literary excellence, which it is. Jesus’ ideas of sin inform Dante onlyto the extent of determining the sins that should be included in purgatory, thesins that Christians continue to suffer from following salvation, as they areonly venial in nature and misapplications of live. However, everything pastthis point has very little biblical evidence to support it. So, while one couldmake theological interpretations using the text, it is not the ideal directionto take with the poem as it appears to point toward being more of an allegoryfor a human life and the paths that can be taken based on each person’sjourney.