The Terrace of Wrath


In cantos XV and XVI of The Purgatorio, we enter the third terrace of the deadly sin of wrath.  One Virgil and Dante enter this terrace, a thick cloud of smoke engulfs them and they are unable to see anything at all.  While in this terrace, Dante has an “out-of-body” experience where he sees a vision of examples of both wrath and grace.

Two examples of grace and wrath stood out to me.  For wrath, in particular, the violent stoning of St. Stephen would be a vivid example of how evil the sin of wrath is.  According to the Bible, those responsible for Stephen’s stoning, did so in a violent state of wrath.  It’s an example of wrath at its absolute worst.

An example of grace was when Mary found Jesus in Jerusalem after he didn’t return home with his parents after Passover.  Mary showed great restraint and grace to Jesus, even though she may have had every right to be upset.

While these examples were poignant to me, there are two things in particular that left a lasting image on me during these two cantos.  The first being, why would Dante choose a thick cloud of smoke for the penitent to travel through while being purged of wrath?  While in this cloud of smoke, the visions that are experienced seem to be more spiritual in nature than sensory.  Could it be because a state of wrath could blind people?  That this particular sin blinds those?  How about this for an explanation?  You usually display signs of wrath at those things which you see that really upset you.  Taking that sensory perception away while having a potential “out-of-body” experience would be a strong example of the consequences of wrath.

While that visual was intriguing, it didn’t come anywhere close to Dante’s argument about how much the Catholic Church of the 14th century was so intertwined in the secular affairs of state.  During this period of time in history, the church had a large influence in the affairs of state.  During these two cantos, Dante presents the argument that the church should be responsible for dogma, while the states, and their rulers, should be responsible for those secular affairs.  To me, his argument is an early one of the separation of church and state.  Italy, in particular, the Pope interfered in the affairs of Italy, by siding with individual city-states to advance their agenda, or with other countries, such as France and Spain, to advance their territorial/political ambitions.  I truly believe that Dante wanted to see an end to this interference.

That argument must have been a very controversial, and brave one, for him to make during this period of time, especially while he was in exile from his home of the city-state of Florence.

The conclusion of the sixteenth canto brings me, not only to the half-way point of my journey up the mountain of Purgatory, but the half-way point of The Divine Comedy.

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About Jeremy

Husband, book lover, Civil War Buff. If I could read for a living I would, but unfortunately, it doesn't pay the bills!

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