Canto 33: The End That Is a New Beginning

Our Lenten journey with Dante through purgatory comes to an end with this canto. It seems odd, though, to call it an “end” as it is, in reality, yet another major transition. After journeying upward through the terraces and trials of the mountain of purgatory, the end of the second part of the Divine Comedy sets the stage for heavenly journeying in the Paradisio. Before embarking upon the final stage of his trek, Dante has one more thing he must do. Before ascending further, Dante must be washed in the waters of the Lethe. In so doing, he will cease to focus on his sins and will henceforth focus on matters divine.

We end our Lenten travels with Dante instructed by this final canto. As with Dante’s final canto here, Lent is not a destination so much as a transitional space. During this season, we focus on our sins and work at repentance. Such things can never be the destination; to allow them to be so would miss the whole point. Lenten observance and penitential practices only prepare the way for us to enter into experience of and contemplation upon matters divine in an appropriate manner. The destination, however, lies yet ahead. Our encounter with matters divine begins on Palm Sunday and culminates in the profound mysteries of the death of Jesus on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

As with Dante, we must pass through the waters in order to ascend to that which is most beautiful, sublime, and holy. Lent was originally established by the ancient church as a time of learning and penitential preparation for the celebration of baptism during the celebration of Easter (a complex rite that began on Holy Saturday and continued until dawn on Easter Sunday morning). The early church teachers believed that divine illumination came through baptism. Some things-the most important things-about Christian belief and practice could only be known on the basis of the illumination provided by the Holy Spirit through the sacrament of baptism. For those already baptized, the culmination of the Lenten journey with the celebration of baptism for new converts provided an opportunity for baptismal renewal. So it was and so it continues to be. Renewal of the gift of baptism-passing symbolically again through the waters-prepares us for ascent to the most holy of all mysteries.

May the last sentence of Dante’s Purgatorio be ours as we move into Holy Week: “I came forth from the most holy waves, renovated even as new trees renewed with new foliage, pure and ready to rise to the stars” (Canto 33.145).

Onward and upward into heavenly grace!

Gordon S. Mikoski

Princeton Theological Seminary

Advertisements

About gmikoski

Associate Professor of Christian Education, Princeton Theological Seminary View all posts by gmikoski

One response to “Canto 33: The End That Is a New Beginning

  • bobsinner

    What a beautiful, awe-inspiring conclusion to this transitional Canto!
    And what a deeply spiritual and reverent rendering of the Poet’s work!

    Thank you Gordon. We all are always a “work in progress.” And, our Faith Journey is constantly moving.

    What a crucial point you make: “Lent is not a destination so much as a transitional space.”

    “I came forth from the most holy waves, renovated even as new trees renewed with new foliage, pure and ready to rise to the stars” (Dante: Canto 33.145).
    — Cleansing, renewing, awaking, arising …
    Yes, Gordon, May we all move “Onward and upward into
    heavenly grace!”

    As Paul has reminded us:
    “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” [Romans 12:2 (KJV)]

    Our Redeemer has given us lasting freedom.
    May we inherit everlasting life. Amen
    Bob

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: