The sins caused by ‘perverted love’ set the scene for the first three terraces of Purgatory. As the Twelfth Canto opens, we find Dante contemplating the yoked sinners about him.
These are the sins of “love’s harm” done to others. As Jake has noted in his penetrating exploration of Canto XI, the first of these sins (in order and significance) is Pride. On this terrace, where proud souls are purged of their sins, Dante and Virgil see beautiful sculptures. These carvings present the cardinal virtue of humility, pride’s natural opponent. Humility can be seen as ‘not thinking less of yourself, but rather, as thinking of yourself less. It is a spirit of self-examination.
Jake pointed out that “the prideful must give back what they never had in the first place, and prayer is the vehicle for returning stolen goods.” And, to do this, they first must realize that they never had them. Tis ‘a bit of a Conundrum for the children of Eve, to say the least.
As Dante proceeds, he continues to note so many souls, all condemned by their own excessive, defiant pride – their hubris. He lists them all, from the great fallen angel, Lucifer, himself, to the magnificent wreckage of the city of Troy (‘sad, proud Ilium‘). And, among those he noted was Nimrod and the ruins of his great tower.
[Compare to images of Purgatory itself, above]
“I saw Nimrod in Shinar overseeing the proud builder
at the foot of his great tower.”
Dante is among the first to connect Nimrod and the Tower of Babel.
A product of his time, Dante viewed pride as inseparable from the human condition; from being virtually synonymous with the original transgression – the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Dante is familiar with Aquinas’ great “Summa Theologiae”: “The mark of human sin is that it flows from pride.” (3a.1.5) Everything ill flows from pride.
Now Pride is normally considered a cardinal (mortal) sin, and we found it well represented among the damned of the “Inferno.” So, why are these “overly proud souls “ here in Purgatory? Shouldn’t they be in hell? Ah, but these “proud souls” have repented sufficiently to have been given a second chance to save their souls. And, hence, they carry their burdens up, around the spiral ramps of Purgatory.
Dante made progress, as well. He ascended to the second cornice much faster than he had to the first. Why is this? Virgil points out that the “Angel of Humility” has removed one of the peccatum from his forehead. The angel had brushed Dante’s forehead with his wings, erasing one letter “P” (peccatum), the one representing pride. It seems that its weight had been an extremely heavy one.
And, the angel wondered:
Why do people so seldom respond to this invitation?
You are born to fly, so why fall down in a little wind?”
It is then that Dante notes the glorious sound of the singing of “Beati pauperes spiritu” (“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” – Matthew 5:3.)
“We set out on the climb, and on the way
‘Beati paupers spiritu’ rang out,
more sweetly sung than any words could say. (109-111)
Dante is hearing a Beatitude being sung.
While The Ten Commandments dealt with human actions,” The Beatitudes” deal with attitudes that can lead to actions.
In essence, “Christian Law” is summarized in The Beatitudes, in Christ ‘s command to love God, and one’s neighbor as oneself (see Matthew 5:3 – 12; Luke 6: 20-26). Therefore, Dante is hearing Divine Law being sung – and, it is praising humility and the desperate.
In Matthew, the first and most important Beatitude is:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit:
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”
And, so, in his awe, Dante’s spirit rose,
and he moved ahead and upward, lighter afoot,
with rather undeserved assistance.