Dante’s Purgatory: Canto 4 Retelling — Prepurgatory — The Spiritually Lazy (Purgatory)

Chapter 4: Prepurgatory — The Spiritually Lazy (Purgatory)

Dante was so interested in what Manfred had to say that he had lost track of time. Suddenly aware that much time had passed, he thought, A human being has only one soul, although it may have more than one part. If he or she had two or more souls, one soul would be able to pay particular attention to what Manfred had to say while another soul would be able to pay particular attention to the passage of time. He is wrong who teaches that human beings have more than one soul. The Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas was correct when he stated that a human being has one unified soul with three parts.

The souls with whom Dante and Virgil were traveling called out, “Here is the way up the mountain that you have been searching for.” Dante and Virgil began climbing, while the souls continued their journey.

The gap was narrow, and it was steep, and climbing it required the use of both hands and both feet. Think of San Leo and Noli. Those towns are on steep hills that you can climb with your feet only, but this mountain cannot be climbed so easily.

Dante and Virgil climbed up the narrow passageway. They rested briefly, and Dante asked, “Where do we now go?” Virgil replied, “Straight up, as we have been going. We must not be distracted. We must find an experienced person to guide us for a while.”

They climbed, but Dante grew exhausted. He pleaded to Virgil, “Listen to me, please. I must stop. I cannot keep up with you.”

Virgil replied, “Keep climbing until we reach the open area that we can see from here. Then you can rest.”

They climbed and reached the open area and rested. They looked down at the area that they had traveled. Seeing the distance that a traveler had already traveled can put heart in a tired traveler.

Dante looked at the shore, which was far below him, and then he looked up at the Sun, but it was not where he expected it to be. Virgil, who knew Dante’s thoughts and his questions, said, “The Sun is not where you expected it to be because you are in the Southern Hemisphere. You are no longer in Italy, which is in the Northern Hemisphere. Think of a person high in the Northern Hemisphere looking at the equator. That person will see the Sun travel from left to right. Now imagine a person low in the Southern Hemisphere looking at the equator. That person will see the Sun travel from right to left.”

Dante said, “I understand, but can you tell me now how much more climbing we have to do? We have done much steep and difficult climbing, but still the peak of the mountain is so high that I cannot see it.”

Virgil replied, “This mountain is different from other mountains. This mountain is the most difficult of all mountains to climb, but it is hardest at the beginning of the climb. The higher one climbs, the easier the climbing becomes. When climbing the mountain becomes as easy as floating in a boat down a river, then you have reached the end of your journey.”

Dante thought, Resisting sin is like climbing this mountain. Turning away from sin is very difficult at first, but it becomes easier as one’s will grows stronger. As one’s will is strengthened and perfected, it becomes much easier to resist sin. In other words, the higher one climbs up the mountain, the more one purges his or her sin. The more sin one purges, the easier it is to climb up the mountain.

Dante and Virgil then heard a voice: “Before you … reach the top … of this mountain … you will feel … like resting.”

Dante and Virgil turned in the direction from which the voice had come. They saw a boulder that they had not looked closely at, and they saw some souls resting in its shade.

All of the souls looked tired — or lazy. One soul was sitting with his arms wrapped around his knees and his head drooping between his legs.

Dante said to Virgil, “Look at this soul! No man on Earth could look more like a lazy man, not even if his middle name were ‘Lazy.’”

The lazy soul barely lifted his head and looked at Dante and said, “If … unlike me … you are filled … with energy … run up … this mountain.”

Dante recognized the soul by his voice. Still exhausted from his climb, Dante staggered toward him.

The lazy soul teased Dante: “Do you now know … why the Sun … travels from your right … to your left?”

Dante half-smiled and said to the soul whom he now recognized to be a friend, one who in the Land of the Living made parts for musical instruments when he could rouse himself from laziness, “Belacqua, now I need not worry about what happened to you after your death! You are a saved soul, and you will see Paradise! But why are you sitting here? Are you waiting for a guide? Or are you as lazy here as you were in the Land of the Living?”

Dante thought, The unrepentant slothful are punished in the Inferno, and I was afraid that my friend Belacqua would be punished there. But any sin can be forgiven if it is sincerely repented.

Belacqua replied, “Climbing will not do me … any good … just yet. … The angel … will not allow me to pass … from Prepurgatory … into Purgatory Proper … until as many years … pass here … as passed … until I repented … at the very end … of my life. … I kept God waiting … and now … as is proper … God keeps me … waiting. … However … God is merciful … and if … people pray for me … I may go … to Purgatory Proper … and start climbing … the Mountain of Purgatory … sooner … as long as … the prayers come … from a good heart. … The prayers … of evil people … such as hypocrites … are not heard … in Heaven.”

Dante thought, I see what is going on in Prepurgatory. Here are the souls who are waiting to climb the Mountain of Purgatory. They made God wait — by waiting to repent — and so God is making them wait to climb the mountain. Virgil and I have already seen the excommunicated and the slothful. Perhaps we will see other kinds of late-repentant souls.

Virgil said to Dante, “It is already noon,” and then Virgil started climbing the mountain again.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce

This is an excerpt from Dante’s Divine Comedy: A Retelling in Prose by David Bruce, available here:

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