The Divine Comedy

Someone asked me recently how he could not be sure he was not currently living in Purgatory.  (I think he was a White Sox fan.) The lament made me think, upon later reflection, of the classic piece of medieval literature, The Divine Comedy.  (Pope Francis, by the way, has encouraged Catholics to read this during the year.)

In the Inferno we hear of an interesting exchange between Dante and Odysseus.  The Greek hero is in hell and tells how, after returning from the Trojan War and spending some time at home, he set out once again through the Straits of Gibraltar into the ocean.  Odysseus then recounts the speech he gave to his frightened companions.  The crew sailed on, avoided mutiny, and eventually found land: the westward limit of the earth!  Alas, the land was Purgatory, and they were shipwrecked upon it.

Dante's fictional encounter is amazingly similar to Columbus's voyage that would occur one hundred years later.  The "factual" Odysseus sailed westward and found not Purgatory, but America.  Christopher Columbus even gave a similar speech to his desperate crew when they were near starvation.             

Dante not only anticipated the explorers of the late 15th Century, he also anticipated this parishioner.  In Dante's epoch, there was no distinction between the earthly and eternal.  The metaphysical boundaries were blurred.  There was no clear demarcation at death with the afterlife like we have today.  Man could experience the afterlife on this earth.

Columbus's discovery changed this.  Because the globe was discovered, it was known that the world now has the same "material" all around and in every phase. There is utter consistency; a certain tedium.

Perhaps it is best for us Catholics to have somewhat of a primitive geography, and I hope it is Heaven we are experiencing on earth.

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