Sunday, November 24, 2013

Poetry, Sin, and Getting a Grip

(Detail of an engraving by Gustave Doré; an illustration for "The Divine Comedy, 'Inferno,' " Dante Alighieri. Caption: Canto I., lines 1, 2.; Trans. Henry Francis Cary. Used w/o permission.)
"In the midway of this our mortal life, I found me in a gloomy wood, astray."

Sin isn't all about sex, drugs, and rock and roll: the '70s song; or the occasionally-lethal lifestyle of (some) rock stars.

Sin can involve misusing human sexuality or drugs, but enjoying rock and roll doesn't even make the list. Not for Catholics, anyway.

Maybe you've known an excessively uptight Catholic, who sincerely believes that God frowns on new music. Some of the billion or so living Catholics have odd notions: but that's not what the Church teaches.

Getting a Grip About Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll

Folks who got their theological training from movies like "Ten Nights in a Barroom," "Daring Daughters" and "Reefer Madness" might assume that misusing sex and alcohol are the second-worst offenses against God Almighty: with smoking marijuana leading the list.

That's not how it works.

"Sin," Catholic style, is anything that hurts my relationship with God:
"SIN: An offense against God as well as a fault against reason, truth, and right conscience. Sin is a deliberate thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the eternal law of God. In judging the gravity of sin, it is customary to distinguish between mortal and venial sins (1849, 1853, 1854)."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary)
Music, by the way, is important. Enforcing individual preferences isn't. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1156-1158)

Going to Hell: A Guided Tour

Dante Alighieri's epic poem has been popular off and on since the 14th century. Quite a few folks translated it into English: with varying degrees of success.

Any sort of translation is challenging, at best, and I think it's arguable that poetry can't be translated. The best anyone can do is read a poem in its original language; thoroughly understand the ideas, emotions, cultural references, word play, sounds, and rhythms of the original; and make a similar poem in another language. My opinion, and I'm getting off-topic.

I've read that Dante got charged with heresy, because his accuser had no perceptible understanding of poetry. His accuser assumed that the 'Wood of Suicides,' where folks who killed themselves grew as trees, was a denial of Catholic teaching. Seen as poetic imagery, it's a one of the more vivid illustration of how we're supposed to be "body and soul," even if we don't like it. More topics. (Catechism, 362-368)

Dante's Poetic Geography

In the first part of "The Divine Comedy," Virgil gives Dante a guided tour of Hell. The poet's Infernal geography is colorful, symbolic, and imaginative.

It's not "official" Church teaching, but Dante clearly understood what the Catholic Church has been saying.

I don't have to believe that Hell is a terraced funnel: but Dante's descending circles are an effective way to visualize the seriousness of various sorts of sin.

"The Divine Comedy" is enormous. This is an extremely sketchy overview of Dante's Inferno, from top to bottom:
  • Passive sin
    • First Circle (Limbo)
      • Pleasant surroundings
        • The unbaptized
        • Virtuous pagans
    • Second Circle (Lust)
      • Wind storm
        • Those who let emotions overrule reason
    • Third Circle (Gluttony)
      • Icy rain
        • The self-indulgence
    • Fourth Circle (Greed)
      • Perpetual shoving match between
        • Hoarders
        • Wasters
    • Fifth Circle (Wrath)
      • Stygian marsh
        • Endless fighting above the surface
        • Perpetual sullenness below the surface
      • City of Dis
        • Access to the lower circles
  • Active sin
    (Deliberate, knowing evil)
    • Sixth Circle (Heresy)
      • flaming tombs
        • Willful refusal to believe
          (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 465, 2089)
    • Seventh Circle (Violence)
        • Outer ring
          • A river of boiling blood and fire for those who unjustly hurt
            • People
            • Property
        • Middle ring
          • A forest of folks who killed themselves
          • Profligates chased by dogs
        • Inner ring
          • A desert of flaming sand with fiery flakes raining from the sky
            • The violent against
              • God
              • Nature
    • Eighth Circle (Fraud)
      • 10 variously-unpleasant Malebolge ("Evil Pockets") for
        • Panderers and seducers
        • Flatterers
        • Those guilty of simony
        • Sorcerers, astrologers, and false prophets
        • Corrupt politicians
        • Hypocrites
        • Thieves
        • Fraudulent advisers or evil counselors
        • Sowers of discord
        • Falsifiers (alchemists, counterfeiters, perjurers, and impostors)
    • Ninth Circle (Treachery)
      • Traitors in ice
        • Round 1, Caïna
          • Traitors to kindred
        • Round 2, Antenora
          • Traitors to political entities
        • Round 3 is named Ptolomaea
          • Traitors to their guests
        • Round 4, Judecca (Named after Judas Iscariot)
          • Traitors to their lords and benefactors

Sin and Staying Sane

(Gustave Doré, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
Harpies in the Forest of Suicides, Gustave Doré.

I don't think ignoring sin is a good idea, but neither is obsessing over whether or not I've unwittingly committed some trivial offense.

Despite a long tradition of folks who mistake "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" for the Gospel, we're not supposed to live in morbid fear.

"Fear of the Lord," a reasoned appreciation that God is large and in charge, is one thing. Scaring ourselves silly is something else. (Deuteronomy 6:13-14; Catechism, 2084) (December 16, 2011)

Reason, Truth, and Love

Sin is an offense of reason, truth, right conscience, and God. Any sin is a bad idea, but venial ones merely wound charity. Mortal sin kills charity. It requires both knowledge that an action is wrong, and complete consent to the wrong action.

Ignorance is a mitigating factor: but natural law, like gravity, works whether we believe in it or not. (Catechism, 1849, 1850-1864), 1951-1960)

Finally what the Church has been telling us for two millennia and counting: we're supposed to love God, love our neighbor; and see everyone as our neighbor. (Matthew 5:43-44; Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31 Luke 10:25-30)

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Brigid said...

This sounds odd. I think I know what you mean, but it still sounds odd: "the violent against"

Nested list problem at this line: "Inner ring"

Missing end parenthesis: "(alchemists, counterfeiters, perjurers, and impostors"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...

Brigid -

Found, fixed, and thanks.

(And here I thought I'd fixed that list! ;) )

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