How we cite our quotes:
I started: “O my light, it seems to me
that in one passage you deny expressly
that prayer can bend the rule of Heaven, yet
these people pray precisely for that end.
Is their hope, therefore, only emptiness
or have I not read clearly what you said?”
And he to me: “My text is plain enough,
and yet their hope is not delusive if
one scrutinizes it with sober wit;
the peak of justice is not lowered when
the fire of love accomplishes in one
instant the expiation owed by all
who dwell here; for where I asserted this –
that prayers could not mend their fault – I spoke
of prayers without a passageway to God.” (Purg. VI, 28-42)
Dante thinks Virgil contradicts himself by claiming that prayer can benefit living souls, but saying the opposite in his Aeneid. However, Virgil defends the truth of his statements by qualifying his Aeneid statement with the fact that those who pray in the Aeneid are pagan and thus their prayers are “without a passageway to God.” This all-important “passageway” is faith. Those with faith, it is implied, can use “prayers” to “mend their fault.”
“I am Virgil, and I am deprived of Heaven
for no fault other than my lack of faith.” (Purg. VII, 7-8)
Virgil’s only real sin, the only reason he is in Hell, is his lack of faith. This hardly seems fair, since Virgil was born before the time of Jesus, and thus could never have heard of Christianity. Nevertheless, faith in Jesus is a prerequisite for Dante’s Heaven, so Virgil’s lack of faith keeps him forever from the ultimate paradise.
Upon my forehead, he traced seven P’s
with his sword’s point and said: “When you have entered
within, take case to wash away these wounds.” (Purg. IX, 112-114)
Each of the seven P’s represents “peccatum,” the Italian word for “sin” but which can also mean “wound.” The number seven signifies that Dante will have to pass through all seven terraces of Purgatory, to battle each of the seven capital vices, to reach Heaven. In order to “wash away these wounds,” Dante must have faith in God that He will provide Dante with the willpower to work through the pain of penance, no matter how agonizing it becomes.