Dante and the Vestibule of Hell

One of my favorite parts of summer vacation is the extra time of leisure it affords. In addition to the joys of extra family time, euchre tournaments, sangria, days on the lake and cooking, being able to read whatever whenever with no deadlines in sight is a delight!

One of the books I brought this year was Dante’s Divine Comedy. Out of all of his masterfully thought out circles of hell where people are punished in accordance with their sins, demonstrating Dante’s great erudition in both history and orthodox Catholic theology, I found his depiction of the Vestibule of Hell to be particularly striking. In Canto III of the Inferno, before reaching the Acheron river and the entrance to Hell, Virgil leads Dante through Hell’s Vestibule where the futile are consigned. Here those who have demonstrated the indecision of indecisions are eternally whirling about with no definite end or goal. They are unable to rest–eternally!

In the notes Dorothy Sayers comments:

The Vestibule is the abode of the weather-cock mind, the vague tolerance which will neither approve nor condemn, the cautious cowardice for which no decision is ever final. The spirits rush aimlessly after the aimlessly whirling banner, stung and goaded, as of old, by the thought that, in doing anything definite whatsoever, they are missing doing something else.

Why did this strike me? It seems pertinent to our lives today in modern culture as we seek to live as faithful disciples of Christ.

First, it is a lesson in daring and boldness. Be bold for Christ! Live completely for Him, everyday and in everyway. As Paul exhorts us: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).

Second, when faced with tough choices between multiple goods, make such choices with the uttmost trust and zeal since we serve the God who is the Master of the universe, the Author of existence, who guides everything down to the smallest detail by the power of His Divine Love.

Third, rest! We need to learn how to rest. At first this might seem the opposite of daring and boldness, however on a deeper examination we see they go hand in hand. Being with God is rest. Adam and Eve were originally at rest with God before sinning and rupturing their rest in and with God. Subsequently the Israelite people were commanded to observe the Sabbath rest in remembrance of this original state of rest, the Seventh Day of creation when God and his creation was at rest. When Christ came He definitively restored our union with God, allowing us again to enter into the perfect trusting rest in the Father. We enter this rest for the first time through Baptism, and again every time we receive our Lord in the Eucharist. However, in order to fully and subjectively enter into this objective rest of God, we must really observe the Sabbath.

Neglect of observing the Sabbath is perhaps one of the most alarming things in the West today. When our habits and live patterns change so do the beliefs we hold. Many people are practical atheists even while professing to be Christians or Catholics.

Observing the Sabbath rest is of the utmost importance because it reminds us of the greatness for which we were made. We were made by God and for God. He made us to share in His Love now and forever with all others who accept that Love. This is great news indeed, and it orders all the rest of our lives, relativizing all other aspects, ordering them to this great Divine Rest which we are called to enter into even now! We do this by giving Sunday over to time with God, leisure, family, friends, feasting, meals, and fun. This is a sign to us and others that we were made for play, Divine play. Work and all the other whirlings in life serve this Divine reality, and our Sunday Sabbath rest calls us back lest we forget in the business and necessities of everyday life, not to mention the myriads of technological devices that now exponentially amplify the whirling!

Let us seek again to robustly observe the Sabbath, that we might be a light to the world by the quality of our rest, play, joy and feasting!

[No tags for this post.]

Related posts