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Life(and death) according to Dante and Augustine Francisco J. Vega Vega

The way to properly live as a Christian on Earth and gain salvation, or if it is even possible, has been an extensively debated topic since the beginning of the Christian faith specifically in regards to living a successful earthly life, and obtaining eternal salvation , none the less. Two authors who have tackled this subject with their work have been Augustine with Confessions, and Dante with the Inferno. Augustine believed that in order to be a saved as Christian one must live life believing completely in Christ as savior, and must repent for, and not commit any new sins. But in order to do this they need to go on a spiritual journey within themselves to fully understand what being Christian means. Alighieri, surprisingly enough, presented a similar general idea in the Inferno. Dante the character had to go on a journey to the afterlife to fully comprehend Gods will. The consequences of believing this on the temporal, (earthly), life also are similar. The result is that the two Authors imply through their works that being a Christian requires a full-hearted devotion to the Devine, and that being successful in the material world and attaining salvation is nigh impossible. Evidence that Dante believed that one cannot live a fully Christian life in the temporal can be found in the first stanzas of the first canto Midway in our lifes journey, I went astray/from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood. (Inferno I, 1-3). The divine comedy is the depiction of the metaphysical journey of Dante the author towards understanding the true path to salvation; however Dante the character represents the average person: someone who thinks they have lived a fairly Christian lifestyle, without any major sins. And by coming upon this realization this late into his life Dante is telling his audience to

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pay close attention to the following story, and to reflect on their own life to see if they are living a true Christian life, one of sacrifice and complete restraint, because if the great Dante Alighieri found himself in the Dark Wood unexpectedly, more likely than not the average person is bound to find themselves in a like situation. The first passage demonstrates just how easy it is to deviate from the narrow path. But what solidifies Alighieris point of view regarding the temporal life and its compatibility with a Christian life is that when Dante is encountered by the three beasts as he makes his way up the hill to salvation. It is the she wolf, the seemingly less frightening one of the three that turns him away. The reason being that each of the beasts represented a general type of sin; the lion and the leopard, represent sins that are intrinsic to the person. Anger, pride, and greed, all have roots within the person i.e. the soul. The she-wolf however represents the temporal/earthly sins, such as lust and gluttony. She represents the temporal because eating and having sex are both necessary to take care of ones physical body. The physical body represented the temporal; the soul the eternal. By having these two occurrences in such close proximity to each other Alighieri is alluding to the fact that it is very difficult to notice when you have faltered from the straight and narrow due to sins under the she wolfs domain, confirming his belief that it is near impossible to live a spiritually full life in the temporal world. Furthermore, if one was to be successful in the temporal world during Alighieries time, sex and exorbitant parties are sure to follow, and living in indulgence in the temporal world falls within the she wolfs domain of sins, which goes to show how much more difficult it is to maintain Christian values once worldly objectives once worldly success has been achieved. Augustine shared a similar view with Alighieri on how maintaining spiritual morals intact is extremely hard, once the slightest bit of temporal success is achieved.

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But I was an unhappy young man, wretched as at the beginning of my adolescence when I prayed you for chastity and said Grant me chastity continence, but not yet. I was afraid you might hear my prayer to quickly, and that you might to rapidly heal me of the disease of lust which I preferred to satisfy rather than suppress (Confessions VIII, 17) In this passage Augustine is recounting tales of his youth where he remembered asking God for the will power to renounce sex since he knew that what he was doing was damning him, and was well aware that what he was doing was making him hate himself more. But he was still unable to renounce his lust. He goes as far as to tell god to give him continence only not yet. What this represents is a human stepping out of line, an allusion to Satan, who was once Gods most loved angel but once he stepped out of line he was sent plummeting head first into hell. And like Satan, hell is where he would have ended up, had he let himself continue on being corrupted by worldly pleasures. The out stepping of the hierarchal chain of command is further reinforced by the phrase I had wandered through crooked ways in a sacrilegious superstition, meaning that in hind sight he sees the true severity of his actions, as he has just sinned against God directly. But the question remains, How does this relate to the temporal world if his sin has directed towards God, an eternal being. although this might be misconstrued as a Lion or Leopard sin, it has its roots seeded in the she wolf domain. Worldly success was defined as having the means to get more that you need, such as food, things, or lovers. One cant deny that Augustine was unfortunate enough to be born successful in the temporal. (Rich family). This caused him to become oversaturated with earthly pleasures and gains, which blinded him to his true goal in life, eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. This ultimately caused him to commit a sacrilegious act against god. Augustine goes as far as to directly state that he is amazement of the people who would give up completely on earthly vices, and gave themselves wholly to God, and how even though he knew that he would have to give everything up for God he hated himself for not being able to do so outright: But at that moment the more ardent my affection

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for those young men of whom I was hearing , who for the souls health had given themselves wholly to you for healing, the more was the detestation and hatred for myself in comparison with them. (Confessions VIII, 17) A counter point for Augustines belief of the inability of someone to live a full Christian life and still manage to find success in the temporal in the form of excess is that Augustine presumably found salvation at the end of his journey, even though he had managed to live in excess of sex, and somewhat notoriety. The reason for this stems in the fact that Augustines journey to the truth and absolution from his sins, forced him to commit those sins-of-plenty, so that he would be able to look within himself and see just how much he has strayed, which is what ultimately led him to understanding of Jesus Christs message of salvation. But in order to do so he had to live out the rest of his days chaste, and humble. Something he found easy to do once he got rid of all the distractions of temporal pleasures, demonstrating how detrimental an obsession with temporal success. There is also an inconsistency in The Inferno, in regards to Alighieris position on the matter. His opinion would put him on the side that despise people who fall for earthly temptations, like Paolo, and Francesca, who let their emotions get the best of them which landed them in the second circle of hell, however when they tell Dante of their time of lapse in judgment, Dante cant help but feel sadness, and pity; a reaction incongruent with Alighieris views. An explanation for this is that Dante the character had yet to reach the turning point in his life where he would understand that in hell the punishments are just and merited. Much like how in confessions Augustine was able to talk about how he was a lustful young man, even though he became a saint. Dantes judgment was still cloudy as he was still within the realm of the carnal. This is equivalent to the body, the temporal aspect of a human being. So he had yet gone far

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enough in his journey for the truth that, he was unable to see what lay behind the seemingly innocent, and beautifully poetic scene described by Francesca; extramarital sex. Other smaller aspects also hint to these opinions. In The inferno the layout of hell itself goes to show the effect of temporal desires on the ability of a person to be saved. The domains of the she wolf are the first three rounds of hell, which geometrically are the circles with the largest surface area, signifying that most of the people who go to perdition do so because of the Human temptations and that they are there because they were not able to find a balance between necessity, and excess. And in confessions, once Augustine finally finds the truth that he is satisfied with he leaves the worldly (his estate), and goes into his garden, which signifies a return to nature, away from the excesses of society and carnal temptations. Through these aforementioned arguments: the constant allusions to avoiding excess in the temporal in Confessions, Augustines disgust in his actions of unmediated lust, rejection of carnal temptations, and the suppression of sympathy for the damned in The Inferno, the thought that Augustine and Dantes opinion on the effect of temporal success on salvation is detrimental, can be reinforced. A possible explanation is that it is part to the human condition to be unable to look past the next need to be fulfilled, whether it is a spiritual need, or a physical one. But much like how Augustine was in search of the love of god, (a spiritual need), the sexual love was easier to find was easier to satisfy, so he tried to satisfy his need for spiritual love, physical love. The self beneficial behavior that most humans exhibit would get in the way of the spiritual since the temporal is much easier to obtain. This is why Augustine and Dante recommend that earthly success should be shunned if eternal salvation is being searched for.