In Purgatory, everyone rushes about. Dante is warned by his teachers to hurry. The penitent souls rush towards the top of the mountain in their keenness for the gates of Heaven. This awareness and worry over time contrasts sharply with the never-ending tediousness of Hell found in Dante's Inferno.
Like the human world, Purgatory operates on a normal time scale. This means that things change here, which – if you think about it – is the whole point of Purgatory. Men repent for their sins on earth. They work to improve themselves and make themselves morally better in God’s eyes. The passage of time allows these changes to happen.
The concept of time in each of the three realms (Hell, Purgatory, Heaven) dictates whether or not an individual can change his character in that place. While one cannot change in Hell, where damnation is eternal, he can change in Purgatory, where time runs as it does in the mortal world.
The concept of love Dante presents in the Purgatorio has a theological bent. Love ultimately comes from God, who is Infinite Love and instills it in each of his creatures. However, being a loving God, He allows each man free will by dividing up man's loves (desires) into natural and mental; the natural inherently loves the ultimate good (God), while the mental love can desire whatever attracts it (usually beautiful things) and must be trained to desire only worthy things.
All of the sins punished in Purgatory are forms of perverted love or love expressed in improper measure. Perhaps the most shocking idea, though, is that love motivates all human action.
Given Virgil’s definition of mental love, prayer is perhaps the most selfless – and therefore superior – kind of mental love, one in which a soul prays for another, whom he may or may not know, out of the pure goodness of his heart.
In Purgatorio, Dante’s image of Beatrice conflates the concepts of mortal and divine love and it is clear that, as a mortal, he still has trouble differentiating the two.
Purgatory is essentially a grand school where individuals learn to improve their minds and souls. Education in this sense equates to purification. The lessons of Purgatory operate through tough love, but also teach by example. As Dante travels though the seven terraces of Purgatory, which correlate to the seven deadly sins, he becomes more and more pure until he's finally ready to ascend to Heaven. A certain amount of learning takes place through repetition, as each terrace of Mount Purgatory requires the penitents to recite examples of punished sin and counterexamples of its corresponding virtue. Dante’s education, however, has an extra level. He eventually realizes that man can only learn so much from reason and must, at some point, surrender to faith in order to accept what he cannot explain.
Although Purgatory teaches its lessons through punishment, it also reinforces them with more positive methods – namely idolization of exemplary role models and repetition of didactic hymns.
In the latter stages of Dante’s journey through Purgatory, Statius and Beatrice replace Virgil as his guide because Virgil – a symbol of human reason – lacks faith in God and is thus no longer fit to mentor Dante.
Dante, the author of Purgatorio, is keen to show that his writing has a legitimate social use. So his depictions of art – poetry, music, painting, and sculpture – all function as a means either of turning individuals (such as penitent souls in Purgatory) away from vice or moving them to praise God. From Dante’s perspective, the most important social use of art is to celebrate Christianity. However, the narrative also outlines a very personal aspect of art for Dante: he puts himself in a genealogy of poets, heralding himself not only as the foremost poet of the current (in the early 1300s) dolce stil novo style, but also as more than just a lyric poet. Placing himself in the company of great epic poets like Virgil and Statius, Dante also establishes himself as a master of the epic genre.
In Purgatorio, there are many references to nature as an artist. This points back to God as the ultimate creator and craftsman.
Although Cato scolds Casella for using art in a sinful way, art has its place and its function in Purgatory – namely, to convey a Christian message to all souls.
Dante’s view of politics is essentially a negative one. The sorry state of politics is to be blamed on the passage of time, the infective nature of sin, and man’s misguided exercise of free will. As Purgatorio goes on, Dante’s political perspective becomes clear. Dante sees individuals as susceptible to selfishness; societies need a just ruler and laws to guide them towards virtue. However, Dante’s hope for an ideal emperor who might restore a beneficial balance between church and state seems to die halfway through Purgatorio. The second half of the text discusses politics not in terms of practice, but in terms of theory and philosophy. An important aspect of Dante’s theory is his emphasis on the importance of the individual and his soul.
By asserting that a just emperor is the cure for the maladies of the Empire, Dante claims that the secular arm of the state is more crucial for political purity than the Church.
When Beatrice charges Dante to accurately record his narrative “to profit the world which lives badly,” she asserts that it is neither the Church’s nor the state’s responsibility to see to the good of its citizenry; rather, the burden of living virtuously should fall to the individual himself.
The punishment of souls in Purgatory is different from that of those in Hell because these individuals actually have hope of a better existence. With their sweat and blood, they strive to be worthy of Heaven, while those in Hell wallow in their misery, with no hope of redemption. Penitent souls suffer in Purgatory as a way of cleansing themselves in preparation for going to Heaven.
Although souls in Purgatory have hope of redemption, their punishments work in inherently the same way as in Hell because they still follow the rule of contrapasso.
The punishments in Purgatory differ fundamentally from Hell’s punishments because the penitents, unlike the sinners, take a certain amount of delight in their punishment, despite the pain.
Human reason has been Dante’s primary guide through Hell (in Inferno) and Purgatory (in Purgatorio). However, reason is not sufficient to get him to Heaven; he must have trust and faith in Christ as the Savior and in God. One of the most prevalent examples of faith is prayer – a selfless plea to God that He let only blessings fall on the object of the prayer. But for Dante, faith must be solidified even further. Hence the appearance of his new Christian guide, Statius, as a replacement for the pagan Virgil.
From Statius’ explanation of the birth of the human soul, one could argue that acquiring faith over human reason is the most important message in Purgatorio.
Because Statius has been converted to Christianity by Virgil’s poetry, Virgil should not be condemned to Hell.
In Purgatorio, the famous tension between fate and free will is explained in terms of love. According to Purgatorio, there are two kinds of love: natural and mental. Natural love is one’s innate attraction to God (whether or not one is conscious of it) and it is fated; man cannot do anything about it, so he is not judged based on his natural love. Instead, his virtue and vice come with his mental love. This love operates by free will. It can target any object of desire. Heaven’s laws, however, require that an individual cannot love unworthy objects (material goods, money) over God, and cannot love anything in improper measure (too much or too little). So if a person exercises free will to err on either side, he can be punished with eternal damnation.
If heaven only “set[s] your appetites in motion,” it does not dictate your destiny. Fate is not an integral part of an individual’s life; the exercise of free will is much more important.
As seen with Dante, fate determines where one’s soul will end up (in Hell or Heaven); fate is thus the key driving force in an individual’s life and there is little one can do to resist it.
As the first vice punished in Purgatory, pride is the most serious of the forgivable sins. As punishment for pride, penitents have to carry such heavy weights that their heads are bent down, rendering them unable to challenge anyone with their defiant eyes. Unfortunately, Dante suffers from this perilous pride. Dante’s artistic ego soars, especially when he establishes himself as heir to the masters of the genre of epic poetry genre, especially Virgil and Statius, and as the foremost practitioner of the dolce stil novo style.
Dante’s frequent comparisons of proud persons (in both Inferno and Purgatorio) to children point to pride as a defining characteristic of a spiritually immature individual.
Despite Dante’s professed humility, which he flaunts on the first terrace, much of his behavior in the rest of Purgatory suggests that he has not truly purged himself of his pride.
In Purgatorio, virtuous language adheres to truth. However, Dante has also added courtesy here. When meeting a penitent for the first time, Virgil urges Dante to address him politely. There is also pressure for one’s language to reflect one’s beliefs. Many speeches come forth in song and praise the Lord for His compassion. Finally, towards the end of the narrative, the restriction of truth is applied to Dante’s craft, poetry. Whereas Inferno casts doubts upon the truthfulness of poetry, in Purgatorio Beatrice charges Dante with writing only the truth in his poetry.
In Purgatorio, the truth of one’s words – a theme underscored in the Inferno – becomes even more important, because Beatrice, a heavenly creature, charges Dante’s craft with it.
Unlike in the scenes of the sinners’ recognition of Dante in the Inferno, little emphasis is placed on Dante’s peculiar Tuscan accent in Purgatorio; this reflects a distinct change in the penitents’ concerns as opposed to the sinners’. The penitents are more concerned about the future (entering God’s true city where men are united) than the past (the earthly life where men’s allegiances are divided by nationality and social rank).