How we cite our quotes:
…although his [St. Stephen’s] eyes were bent
always on Heaven – they were Heaven’s gates –
praying to his high Lord, despite the torture,
to pardon those who were his persecutors;
his look was such that it unlocked compassion. (Purg. XV, 110-114)
Another example of Gentleness, Saint Stephen takes the selfless compassion shown in Canto XI by the Prideful to another level. Where one might expect him to wrathfully d--n his torturers, he instead “pray[s] […] to his high Lord [….] to pardon those who were his persecutors.” He goes beyond the Prideful’s prayers for their fellow men by wishing good not just on indifferent souls, but on those who actively wish him harm.
[Marco Lombardo]: “Issuing from His hands, the soul – on which
He thought with love before creating it –
is like a child who weeps and laughs in sport;
that soul is simple, unaware; but since
a joyful Maker gave it motion, it
turns willingly to things that bring delight.
At first it savors trivial goods; these would
beguile the soul, and it runs after them,
unless there’s guide or rein to rule its love.
Therefore, one needed law to serve as curb;
a ruler, too, was needed, one who could
discern at least the tower of the true city.” (Purg. XVI, 85-96)
In explaining free will to Dante, Marco Lombardo begins with a discourse on the soul and its desires. It is no accident that he compares to the soul to a distinctly loveable object: a human child. This shows how much love God had in creating man. Marco Lombardo argues that God expresses His love in the soul by its desire for “things that bring delight.” Like a child, the soul is attracted to beautiful things – gold, jewels, art, music, pretty women – but, if properly educated by society, it turns away from these “trivial goods” to pursue the only truly worthy object of desire: God.
[Virgil]: “My son, there’s no Creator and no creature
who ever was without love – natural
or mental; and you know that,” he began.
“The natural is always without error,
but mental love may choose an evil object
or err through too much or too little vigor.
As long as it’s directed toward the First Good
and tends toward secondary goods with measure,
it cannot be the cause of evil pleasure;
but when it twists toward evil, or attends
to good with more or less care than it should,
those whom He made have worked against their Maker.
From this you see that – of necessity –
love is the seed in you of every virtue
and of all acts deserving punishment.” (Purg. XVII, 91-105)
To further elucidate Dante’s (and our) understanding of love, Virgil explains the difference between natural and mental love. Natural love is always “without error” because it inherently desires its Creator. Mental love, however, is where free will comes in. Because mental love is not ruled by God as natural love is, it may err by “choos[ing] an evil object [to love]” or love with “too much or too little vigor.” Thus, not only is it important for a Christian to love the proper things (God, most of all), but for them to love objects in the proper measure. Here, Virgil introduces a distinctly Aristotelian concept, that “love is the seed […] of every virtue and of all acts deserving punishments.” The idea that everything man does is motivated by desire reveals how pervasive and powerful love is in human life.