Written By: Sarah Spivey
Grade: 12th Grade
Teacher: Mr. Adam Lockridge
Class: Medieval Literature, Level 7
Issue: Set to Appear in the March Issue of the Newsletter
Through Virgil, in Cantos XVI-XVIII, the author Dante reasons that sin is the equivalent of love misdirected into the seven areas represented by Purgatory: Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Avarice, Gluttony, Lust. I would like to expound on his argument a step further, and propose that the basis of all these sins and the root of misdirected love is pride, the state of being self-centered and self-serving. Pride is not necessarily putting yourself high, but rather focusing on and worshiping yourself instead of God, thinking yourself the ultimate end. This of course can result in the most popular example of pride, puffing yourself up; however, by idealizing yourself you justify not only that but all manner of sin, including those stacked above Pride on the mountain.
In Purgatory, the Proud are punished by being made to move about perpetually, bent low under the immense weight of a stone slab. They carry this weight to counteract the overdue importance they placed on themselves in their mortal lives, a weight designed to cleanse their souls until God deems them fit to move on. To demonstrate the difference between pride and humility, stunning scenes are carved into pure marble along this tier of the mountain.
The first scene depicts the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel descended to earth to proclaim to the Virgin Mary that God had chosen her to bear the Messiah. The following one shows Uzzah attempting to save the Ark of the Covenant from falling, and as he touches it, dying. The contrast in these two stories could not be greater. In the former, Mary accepts that God always knows and acts as is best, despite what her human frailty might think. In the latter, Uzzah takes it upon himself to defy a command of God in order to accomplish what he thinks ought to be done. Uzzah’s actions reveal that he does not truly believe God foresees all possible events, and that it was for him to help God.
The third scene is more difficult to understand, but the text seems to indicate that relying on what our own senses perceive as true or false, instead of what God has revealed to us, is also a sin of pride. Carved into the marble is a depiction of seven choirs singing, probably to God, and smoke rising from censors in worship. This is how we ought to be, forever praising God and recognizing His divine knowledge and power, but the senses of Dante the Pilgrim are confused because while the carved images look so real, they cannot possibly be so. He needs to rely on what God reveals, not his own faulty faculties, because relying instead solely on his own is certainly an act of pride.
The final scene shows David dancing nearly naked before God in the streets, and his wife Michal looking on with consternation and scorn. David willfully demonstrates for all to see his humility before God despite his position as King of Israel. Michal, however, wells up with stung pride because she believes her husband, the king, should not belittle himself and, by consequence, her.
All these prideful people have set themselves up as god in their lives, believing they owe more to themselves than Him. All sinful acts spring from that root. Envy occurs when you direct your desires toward what others have rather than what God deserves from you; gluttony when you submit yourself to the appetites of the flesh instead of your spiritual appetite for God; lust when you believe you have a right to pursue another person with your whole being apart from God. Pride is believing yourself worthy of these acts, believing that God comes second to what you want. From reading Purgatorio, with a final ray of hope, we learn that God can cleanse us from our sinful state of pride, if only we will subject ourselves to His judgment and mercy.