that the temperature is -23 this morning in Toronto, while in Edmonton it is +4?
Eric Carle: The Grouchy Ladybug
Alighieri Dante: Penguin Classics Divine Comedy #2 Purgatorio
Musa's version will be used for the blog series. It's good, readable, and has helpful notes for those who are new to Dante. (*****)
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, says that although he is saddened by the unnecessary decision made by a small number of parishes to leave the Anglican Church of Canada, the Canadian Church as a whole remains vibrant and united in its witness to the Gospel message.
Despite reports that emphasize division, the Primate says, the reality is that thousands of Anglicans continue to worship together ever week, even though they disagree over issues such as sexuality.
In this message, Archbishop Hiltz speaks about the state of the Canadian church and asks Canadian Anglicans to pray that we may remain one.
link to video here
Meanwhile, the difficulties in the Diocese of Niagara appear headed to court:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Michael Patterson
Days: (905) 527-1316 ext.257
click here to send an email.
HAMILTON, ONTARIO-- February 28, 2008- The Diocese of Niagara and two breakaway parishes represented by The Network entered into good faith negotiations Tuesday to reach an agreement on temporarily sharing two local Churches, St. Hilda’s in Oakville and St. Georges in Lowville, however, no agreement could be reached specifically on the issue of shared services.
The matter will now be resolved in a court hearing tomorrow at the John Sopinka Courthouse Ontario Court of Justice on 45 Main St. E. Hamilton, Ontario
from the Niagara diocesan website
“Christ Jesus Has Made Me His Own”, a quiet day offered at St. Augustine’s – Parkland, led by Rev. Quinn Strikwerda and Rev. Maddie Urion.
website here for directions & contact info
Saturday March 1, from 10am-3pm
As a complement to your diet of Quiet Days during lent, you can also feel free to wander down to St Tim's on March 15, for A Lenten Quiet Day along the lines of "Images of Redemption in the Poets of God".
I arrived in Toronto yesterday evening and negotiated my way to Wycliffe College (which still bears the scars of my residency there many years ago. This afternoon I'll be wending my way to St Paul's Bloor St, where the first sessions of the Vital Church Planting conference will take place early this afternoon. I anticipate meeting up with a fellow blogger sometime over the next day or two.
Having enjoyed the company of those in Limbo and souls of the lustful in the first circle, we now join Dante and Virgil as they proceed further down into circles III, IV and V of Hell. In these three circles we will meet the gluttons, the "hoarders and spendthrifts" and then the wrathful. Each type is given its own circle, as each has its own particular kind of vice. At the same time, it is worth considering: why does Dante connect these sins in order?
First Dante and Virgil see those whose sin was gluttony. I might add that their sin still is gluttony - the soul continues in the state it has chosen. Here we can begin to see why this sin is "lower" than the lustful. At least the lustful attempted some sort of "mutuality" in their lust. In the circle of the gluttons, the sin becomes more selfish. Gluttony is not concerned with the wants or desires of another. It is the beginning of the self centered sins.
(will be back again shortly...the great thing about blogging at my favorite cafe is that you can get in a game of chess with one of the regulars and the readers will never know...)
At the entrance to the circle of the gluttons, Dante and Virgil encounter Cerberus, the three-headed dog of the underworld.
I am now in Third Circle: that of rain
One ceaseless, heavey, cold, accursed quench,
Whose law and nature vary never a grain;
Huge hailstones, sleet and snow, and turbid drench
Of water sluice down through the darkened air,
And the soaked earth gives off a putrid stench.
Cerberus, the cruel, misshapen monster, there
Bays in his triple gullet and doglike growls
Over the wallowing shades; his eyeballs glare
Canto VI, 7-15
Gluttony is a cold state, unlike the hot winds of lust. It is fitting that here they find Cerberus ever hungry with three mouths. As a side note, Cerberus is also the name of one of the largest capital investment groups in the world (they just bought Chrysler). It is in this Canto that Virgil tells Dante a very important thing about the state of souls after the resurrection of the body:
Go to, said he, hast thou forgot thy learning
Which hath it: The more perfect, the more keen,
Whether for pleasure or for pain's discerning
Our contemporary world often sees the afterlife as somehow "less" than this life. But Virgil reminds Dante that in the state of the resurrected body, our senses will be more keen, thus more able to delight in the New Jerusalem, the new heavens and the new earth. Likewise, the condemned will be more adept for "pain's discerning".
Next we have the hoarders and spendthrifts - two seemingly opposite kinds of people who are now grouped together. Their sins are, in Dante's view, the same in this: they were so small of mind that "in the handling of their wealth to use/ No moderation - none in either kind". (VII.41). Here we can see that Dante is drawing on the ancient virtue of moderation in all things, expressed in Aristotle's Ethics. Here these two "opposites" are really one and the same: they fail to be moderate in their use of worldly wealth. In this circle, the souls rail against each other. They have moved from simple selfishness to opposition to others. Here as well Virgil warns Dante against "Luck" or "fortune":
For all the gold that is beneath the moon,
Or ever was, could not avail to buy
Repose for one of these weary souls, not one
Just before we leave this Canto, we have to distinct displeasure of meeting up with the "sullen" - those who "took no joy in the pleasant air, no joy of the good sun, our hearts smouldered with a sulky smoke" (VII. 121). These are souls who simply refused to accept the naturally given joys of God and creation. They simply bubble in a black mud, refusing all joy and all delight. "Bah Humbug" might be their anthem.
The river Styx appears to them next - they are progressing downward in the geography of the underworld. Throughout literature we can see the natural symbol of rivers as places of transition from one state to another. Think of the positive parallel of the "River Jordan", and then think of what it's opposite must mean. They are coming to a new level of Hell - the City of Dis. Here they see the wrathful, and they encounter fierce opposition from the fallen angels who guard the city. Virgil is bewildered at their opposition, and they must wait for divine assistance to gain entrance. Sayers' note is, I think, quite helpful: "Humanism is always apt to underestimate, and to be baffled by, the deliberate will to evil."
Just as the final vision of Christian community is a city - the New Jerusalem - so also in Hell there is portrayed a perverted kind of anti-city. It is here that Dante begins to understand and know the truth about sin:
...Amid the weeping and the woe,
Accursed spirit, do thou remain and rot!
I know thee, filthy as thou art, I know.
It is not merely any soul which Dante encounters in the story, but allegorically, it is the sins in his own soul. Here for the first time he comes to the point where he recognizes the hatefulness of sin. It is really sin in himself of which he says "I know".
Priests inhibited, parishes vote, Bishops react:
Archbishop of Canterbury responds:
Dioceses, parishes prepare for litigation:
Finally, the true prophets speak, Johnny Cash & Joe Strummer (caution to the delicate):
One of the facts I try to keep well hidden is that at one point I thought I was going to be a journalist. Even to the point of getting a scholarship to a fairly well respected university's journalism program. But I was saved...perhaps for a worse fate: to be forever frustrated at how church is reported.
The Calgary Herald has an article entitled Anglican Church facing danger point, says expert. I think the headline is correct. It's written by Becky Rynor and consists of a number of statements from Bill Acres, a professor of religious studies at the University of Western Ontario. By all accounts Dr. Acres is a popular teacher, and continues to give much scholarly insight. There are, however, a number of things just plain wrong in the article.
Here's how the reporter gives us the goods:
Recently, a number of Anglican parishes in five Canadian dioceses left the national church to join a branch called Global South, which mostly takes in Africa, and which tends to be more conservative than the rest of the Anglican church.
Okay, let's just start here. I have been following the goings on in the Anglican Church of Canada for the past little while. The parishes which have recently voted to leave the Anglican Church of Canada have voted to go with the Southern Cone - in South America. That's across the ocean from Africa. It's a different continent. You can look it up on Googlemaps if you don't believe me. I'm sure that the Calgary Herald has internet access, or at least an atlas.
Obviously the reporter was given a few terms: "Global South" and "Africa". If she got these buzzwords from Dr Acres, either she was not paying attention, or Dr Acres has not been paying attention. But perhaps she just had a few rumours. So how does Dr Acres inform the article further?
"There are parishes all over the country . . . that have been making rumblings about leaving the church over the ordination of homosexuals and bisexuals and over the blessing of same-sex unions," Acres said.
There are many things in this quote which might be addressed. I don't want to speak to everything, but I do want to address an interesting addition here. For the longest time this debate/discussion/dialogue has taken place within the language of gay/lesbian. One of the pieces that has been missing, of which I have written a few brief things, is the issue of bisexual persons in this discussion. There is not time or space here to go into all the issues involved. But there is one thing which needs to be addressed: how can it be "justice" to allow homosexual and lesbian persons to find expression of their sexuality in blessed unions, while at the same time denying the "nature" of bisexual persons by excluding them from a full expression of their sexual natures? It is the obvious logic of the position of those who have been arguing for SSU that they must argue to offer something more than SSU to those who are bisexual, whose "nature" will not find its expression in the limitation of one gender. I am thankful to Dr. Acres for introducing this in a very public way.
Dr Acres goes on to say:
"I think we're having something foisted on us. I think that the stuff we're hearing that's coming out of central Africa is not really coming out of our own tradition. I have a very strong feeling, as do many others, that this is a position that is being taken by a very powerful element of the church . . . I think it takes a lot of its content from outside, from other forms of evangelical Christianity."
I have to confess that I have little confidence in Dr Acres' analysis. Back in 1994 when the "Essentials" movement (and no, I don't have a membership card) was formed, I find this:
This declaration was adopted at a national conference of Anglicans from across Canada in June 1994 and serves as the theological basis of those involved in this on-going movement. As members of the Anglican Church of Canada from every province and territory, and participants in the Essentials 1994 Conference in Montreal, we unite in praising God for his saving grace and for the fellowship we enjoy with our Lord and with each other. We affirm the following Christian essentials:
1. The Triune God There is one God, self-revealed as three persons, "of one substance, power and eternity," the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit...
There is reference to the Formularies, the Solemn Declaration and the Creeds. No Swahili. Nope. Nada. I guess it's good to know that those Africans from South America invented, in Elizabethan English, the foundational documents of the Anglican way of being a Christian. Sort of like the Donation of Constantine: made these things up, and then pretended that they really were part of the heritage of the Anglican Church of Canada.
I might just as reasonably argue that the whole movement toward SSU is just a movement from the far more liberal Episcopal church in the United States, being foisted upon us Canadians. Let me suggest this as an alternative:
"I think we're having something foisted on us. I think that the stuff we're hearing that's coming out of
central Africathe Episcopal Church is not really coming out of our own tradition. I have a very strong feeling, as do many others, that this is a position that is being taken by a very powerful element of the church . . . I think it takes a lot of its content from outside, from other forms of evangelicalNorth American Christianity."
Dr Acres goes on to say:
"The central African church looks to us and sees us ordaining homosexual bishops . . . and they say this cannot be, this is a state of sin."
"Us"? Sees "us" ordaining homosexual bishops? Last I knew, I was not a member of The Episcopal Church. I am a member of the Anglican Church of Canada. Take 1 minute to think about what that sentence is actually saying. More on this later.
But for now it appears that the article has diverted attention away from the historical reality of Canadian discernment on these issues, confused geography, and left the identity of the Anglican Church of Canada in the hands of the Americans.
The implication of the article, and Dr Acres' statements, is that anyone who holds to the current teaching of the Lambeth Conference on human sexuality is merely influenced by the conservative elements of Anglicanism in Central or West Africa. Let me state for the record that I don't read the pronouncements of the various African Primates and Bishops on these matters. Let me repeat: You don't need to be an African to hold a traditional Anglican viewpoint on matters of human sexuality. They didn't invent the traditional viewpoint. We did.
Quit saying "BOO!" with an African accent.
On Sunday, February 24, the sol cafe will be holding its monthly "service service" where our regular Sunday gathering and worship takes the form of rolling up our sleeves and doing some good. This month we will be meeting at the downtown Salvation Army depot (9618 101A Ave NW) to sort food and do whatever other work needs doing. meeting at 5pm. there will be rides available from cafe dabar 5ish
Preston has received his new prayer material from head office and thinks that perhaps the material might need a bit of reworking...
We received a worship resource here at the parish called "Enough for All", an ecumenical service on the theme of caring for creation. It comes out of The Primate's World Relief and Development Fund and two other ecumenical partners. All good and well. There's some good stuff in there, and we will probably use some of it for our intercessions on an upcoming Sunday.
However, one particular prayer jumped out at me. It goes like this:
We pray for the air - which sustains us with every breath, and regulates a climate where life can flourish. Help us to understand our dependence on a stable atmosphere and recognize our need to reduce dangerous accumulations of the polluting emissions that we humans are responsible for. Teach us to change our careless and wasteful behaviour for the good of the world.
God of the Winds and Gases, show us your glory and hear us.
read the rest here
This prayer will be particularly effective with the 9-13 year old boy crowd...
What’s In A Name?
Our word ‘bishop’ comes from the New Testament word episcopos. It’s an Anglo-
Saxon- language-development-thing: episcopos got shortened to episcop. Then somebody thought biscup sounded better than episcop. And from biscup it’s not too far to bishop.
The New Testament word episcopos means “overseer”, or “one who has oversight”. You may ask: “Oversight of what, or whom?” In Christian tradition oversight has meant two things:
1) Overseeing the continuing ministry of Jesus Christ in each new time and place;
a) through the ministry of all Christians in general;
b) through the ministry of those ordained to serve the local Body of Christ
2) Overseeing and defending the unity and continuity of the Church of Jesus Christ
as it has been handed down.
From A Resource Paper Published by the Diocese of Edmonton Executive Council
To Aid Discernment in the process of raising up the next Bishop of the Diocese.
Well, I've taken some time to carefully look at the various materials available from the candidates for upcoming episcopal election of the next Bishop of Edmonton. But before looking at anything specific in regards to candidates' answers, the first question I must ask myself is: what is a bishop?
Overseeing the "continuing ministry of Jesus Christ in each new time and place". An episcopal office is one of continuity. It is to be in fellowship with the communion of the saints throughout the ages. Yet a bishop is to bring the same gospel into new times and places. It is the twofold arena of the Great Commission: time and place. This oversight is, in the office of bishop, for "all Christians". It is universal or "catholic". And in each particular bishop it is local - a bishop has a certain diocese in which to exercise his ministry.
So when I ask what a bishop is, I begin to look at three things. The bishop continues the ministry of Jesus which was handed on to the Twelve, and from them to the next generation, and down to us in this day. This is our responsibility through time - our tie to the generations of Christians who preceded us, and the faith we hand on to those who will follow us. Second, a bishop is a bishop for the whole church. A bishop is not simply a bishop for my own parish, or even for my own diocese. The church is truly catholic when a bishop exercises a ministry in connection with the whole church. Third, a bishop has a specific vocation to exercise ministry for the local congregations under his oversight, and each "new time and place" will have its own challenges and needs. There seems to be a rather organic balance desired here. A bishop needs to be an agent of continuity, but is called to minister in new times and places. A bishop needs to minister locally, but needs to be connected to the catholic church.
For myself, I find that addressing the question "what is a bishop" helps to give a framework within which to approach our episcopal election. By no means is this an exhaustive list of what a bishop is called to be. Read and digest the whole resource paper. Perhaps some of us will skip this step and jump straight into looking at the candidates' materials. But unless I have a sense of what the office calls for, how will I know how to discern? It is of course obvious that only one candidate will become our next bishop. So to all the candidates who have allowed their names to stand we should offer our prayers and our thanks. It is no easy thing to be up for public scrutiny and discernment.
Pray without ceasing.
Mark your calendars. This is an annual fundraiser for the local projects of Habitat for Humanity. The line up includes a variety of local artists, from roots and blues to jazz, pop and more. Ticket info will be coming shortly. Spread the word.
A variety concert to raise funds for Habitat for Humanity Edmonton:
Sunday May 4th
St. Timothy's Anglican Church
ticket info coming soon
Inferno, Canto III-IV
Backing up a bit from our Valentine special on the circle of the lustful, we have a few noteworthy episodes to consider. Many can remember the famous line “Lay down all hope, you that go in by me” over the entrance gate of hell in Canto III. Yet while we may be drawn to the image of misery which this line evokes, it is only part of a larger text:
Justice moved my great maker; God eternal
Wrought me: the Power, and the unsearchable
High Wisdom, and the Primal Love Supernal.
We might at least understand that Dante imagines “justice” to be wrought in Hell. But how are we to understand the idea that “Primal Love Supernal” had an equal part in making the gates of Hell? Hell becomes simply the soul’s experience of the Love which it rejects. Even Hell is held together, and owes its existence, to the Love Supernal. Hell is simply a rejection of that love. Hell depends on that Love for its very existence.
Some sins to consider: Virgil points Dante to the souls of those “whose lives knew neither praise nor infamy”.(III.36). These are like the lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, who will be spit out of His mouth. Mingled with this “dismal company” are those
Who against God rebelled not, nor to Him
Were faithful, but to self alone were true.
This is an interesting image to consider. In our culture we tend to value a certain kind of disposition we have come to call “integrity”. So long as you are true to what you believe, you are accounted as having “integrity”. However, to be true to self alone is to place oneself at the center. Even the soul which tries to ignore God, neither rebelling nor faithful, cannot postpone the choice forever. To refuse to follow does not mean one will not have an object of worship. It will turn out to be the self. And there will come a point when the soul will realize that it has in fact made a choice.
In Canto IV we meet the virtuous pagans and the souls of the unbaptized. A word about the latter: pretty high view of sacramental grace here. Say no more, unless you are a Calvinist. But back to the virtuous pagans. They are placed in Limbo – a place neither of bliss nor torment. “Perhaps in limbo the heroes enjoy some such compensation for their loss of the beatific vision” (Evelyn Waugh – Brideshead Revisited). So who do we have here in Limbo? We have the great poets and philosophers who predate Christ – those who did not have the opportunity to rebel or follow Him. Contemporary ears grate against hearing of such souls in Limbo. But let’s consider what Dante is saying, and indeed, what the great pagans themselves have said.
Aristotle, writing of the blessed and divine life, has this to say:
But such a life would be too high for man; for it is not in so far as he is man that he will live so, but in so far as something divine is present in him; and by so much as this is superior to our composite nature is its activity superior to that which is the exercise of the other kind of excellence. If intellect is divine, then, in comparison with man, the life according to it is divine in comparison with human life. But we must not follow those who advise us, being men, to think of human things, and, being mortal, of mortal things, but must, so far as we can, make ourselves immortal, and strain every nerve to live in accordance with the best thing in us; for even if it be small in bulk, much more does it in power and worth surpass everything. This would seem, too, to be each man himself, since it is the authoritative and better part of him. It would be strange, then, if he were to choose not the life of himself but that of something else. And what we said before will apply now; that which is proper to each thing is by nature best and most pleasant for each thing; for man, therefore, the life according to intellect is best and pleasantest, since intellect more than anything else is man. This life therefore is also the happiest.
Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics X.7
What it boils down to is this: the soul still gets what it asks for. Dante calls Aristotle the “king of men who know”, and yet Aristotle is here in Limbo. Why? Because he failed in his imagination of the goodness of the divine toward humanity. It is the failure of human reason that it cannot imagine such an afterlife and communion with God which the Christian religion speaks of. “But such a life would be too high for man”. And so the virtuous pagans receive the kind of afterlife which they imagined: the spirits of the virtuous pagans have the afterlife which they thought appropriate to humanity. God gives the soul what it truly asks for.
Limbo shows us just how high pure reason, on its own, can be elevated...
He stood there, dignified, in his polyester fastfood uniform, earnestly waiting for the bus and oblivious to the river of traffic around him, to the forced smiles and brief, uneasy glances from passersby.
In a world of multiple urgencies and lives racing at 50 mghz, he had one focus only--in this case, the Laurel Canyon bus to McDonald' s. He was alone, and he needed to concentrate. He had a job. That meant a schedule and responsibilities.
Stopped at the light, I watched him through my windshield. He was eighteen or so, short black hair slightly askew, with the thick body and unfinished facial features so common to Down's syndrome. Three years ago, I would have looked away, just as the other people nearby on the street were doing now.
But instead I just watched. I find that I can't look away anymore, not from Down's people, not since Danny...
You discover a lot about yourself. I assumed, with the callousness writers seem to perfect, that this "Danny thing" would be the source of so much good material. Well, he is; but not remotely in the way I expected. For the two years since his birth, every time I've sat down to write about him, an arctic silence has settled into my head. Danny will not be used. He is too intimate, too demanding, too funny, too eager to play; he does not fit conveniently into a prefabbed holding pen for the mentally handicapped. And I am too ignorant and not far enough along the road to offer any advice, other than to recount the experience of my own family.
I know that this is doable. It hasn't been easy, but it hasn't been a cross either. You stop thinking like that. Danny's just here, he's part of our normal routine. You adjust. Our manage has the same love and strengths, and also the same faultlines, it always had. So does the family. You learn to stop melodramatizing; you get tired of your own bathos.
I also know that we've been given a gift. A friend, Chicago novelist Patrick Creevy (Lake Shore Drive), the brother of one Down's person and father of a Down's daughter, puts it this way: "The best thing [about a mentally handicapped child] is having a son or a daughter in whom you're never disappointed; you're absolutely out of the business of disappointment .... So many of the expectations that in parents turn tragic, we're safe from. And in its place comes this wonderful, unconditional love, an unburdening from the hunger for perfection."
It's a kind of redemption. You enter a community--parents of sick and handicapped children--filled with far harder stories than Down's syndrome; where quiet, heroic love is an ordinary affair, and you learn from it.
Francis X. Maier is Chancellor for the Archdiocese of Denver and Special Assistant to Archbishop Chaput. This article first appeared in Commonweal magazine. Full article available at Be Not Afraid.
It appears that several more parishes are considering motions of "realignment" away from the Anglican Church of Canada and toward the Southern Cone. Bishop Michael Bird of the Diocese of Niagara has had a pastoral letter issued (available on the diocesan website):
If a meeting of this nature is to be held, however, I want to assert that the Bishop and the Diocese have a role to play in that debate and need to be represented. As your Bishop, I would require notification of any such meeting and I expect to be invited to send a personal representative who will make a statement on behalf of the Diocese of Niagara and be available to answer any questions.
An informed decision can only be made after hearing all sides of a very complex issue. I would also like to reaffirm my strong commitment and willingness to uphold the best interest of our diocesan family in the wake of any action a parish may decide to take in this matter.
I echo the words of our Primate in his letter to the other Primates of the Anglican Communion that acknowledges with gratitude and great respect, that while conservatives struggle with the issues that face us at the present time, many have indicated clearly that they intend to remain within the fellowship of the Anglican Church.
In Victoria on Vancouver Island, there is a report that two priests have been inhibited in anticipation of the possibility of such a motion/vote at the parish AGM:
The two priests of St Mary of the Incarnation, in Victoria (Metchosin) were inhibited late Friday afternoon by Diocesan Archdeacon, the Venerable Bruce Bryant-Scott.
The Venerable Sharon Hayton, rector, and the Rev Andrew Hewlett, assistant priest, received notice late Friday afternoon (February 15), that disciplinary action was being commenced against them although no charge was given under the Church’s canons (bylaws).
Prior to receiving the letter, the clergy had been summoned to meet with the Archdeacon, in the Bishop’s absence, and were told to stop any motion called for by parishioners which would affect their future in the Anglican Church of Canada. Parish members are considering accepting the offer of episcopal oversight (pastoral care) from Bishop Donald Harvey, moderator of the Anglican Network in Canada, under the Primatial authority of Archbishop Gregory Venables and the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. The parish meeting to consider this motion is tomorrow, Sunday, February 17, at 2pm.
I do sense two different approaches here, although I suspect that some will be a bit more cynical than I. The first approach seems to me to be understandable: "You may be considering leaving. Let the Bishop or his representative have a voice at that discussion."
In the case of the parish of St Mary’s, Metchosin, Vancouver Island, the priests have been inhibited before the meeting took place. Before the discussion happened.
Undoubtedly there will be more rumblings in the press, in the blogs and anywhere else a soapbox may be erected. I suspect the resolution to all of this will only come about by prayer and fasting.
Election results are now here.
Video links to interviews of the candidates for the episcopal election to select the next bishop of Edmonton are now up. Click on the name to go to the video. Parishes will also be sent DVDs shortly.
The Reverend Wendy Ainsworth
The Very Reverend Dr. Jane Alexander
The Rt. Rev. Dr. David Ashdown
The Venerable Edward King
The Reverend Canon Darcey Lazerte
The Reverend Dr. Mervyn Mercer
The Very Reverend Peter Wall
I have a few more things to tinker with on this post, but there you have it for now.
There may be further questions one might like to ask of the prospective candidates, including their reactions to the recent Anglican Church of Canada troubles on the west coast, and now, it seems, in Ontario as well. This is simply to say that the internal difficulties of our church are real. The National Post is reporting that "At least five more Anglican churches -- three in British Columbia and two in Ontario -- are likely to separate from the national Church" (article here).
Yes, I know that there are a thousand mushy blog posts out there to celebrate the day of romance. And Mrs Felix woke up to the fragrance of roses gently wafting through the room.
But you know, for those sitting home alone on such a holiday, thinking to themselves "no sugar tonight", I thought I would offer a bit of consolation. I thought I would take a slight break from our usual progression and celebrate Valentine's day with a brief overview of Circle II - the circle of the lustful in Dante's Inferno.
Into this torment carnal sinners thrust,
so I was told - the sinners who make their reason
Bond thrall under the yoke of their lust.
Like as the starlings whell in the wintry season
In wide and clustering flocks wing borne, wind borne
Even so they go, the souls who did this treason
Hither and thither, and up and down, outworn,
Hopeless of any rest - rest did I say?
Of the least minishing of their pangs forlorn.
So if you find yourself dateless on this date, imagine only these verses of the poet on the cards accompanying the over priced roses - the flowers of romance and the thorns of lust! Scoff at them!! Or at least watch TV...
What Dante encounters in this circle of Hell are the souls of the lovers whose "love" was not governed and guided by "reason". Don't get him wrong: love expressed in sexual form is part of the good of creation. But like every good thing, it can be misused. in this circle of Hell he encounters those who "make there reason bond thrall under the yoke of their lust". What is the nature of lust in Dante? It is to have our sexual appetites run wild and uncontrolled. And so they are driven hither and thither by a hot howling wind. It is the image of being subject to forces which seem to drive us arbitrarily. It is an image of the soul losing control over itself.
It is worth noting that the "lustful" are pretty far up in Hell, not really far down. Just so, their repentant counterparts are very high up on Mount Purgatory. That is because lust is a flawed attempt at love. It is not a sheer descent into hatred. And at least in this sin, there is a desire for community and mutuality - it is not here a particularly "selfish" sin. It seeks what is good - mutual love, but seeks it in the wrong way. And to succumb to lust is to be blown about forever, at the whim of that hot wind.
Happy Valentine's Day.
Israel Kamakawiwo'ole - May 20, 1959 - June 26, 1997.
One of my favorite things in this world. Take 4 minutes out of your day and play it. All that is beautiful is not lost.
There may be a better version out there. I'll keep looking... Bruddah Iz, one of the last full blooded Hawaiians. The first vid gives some footage of who he was. The second has the better sound quality.
A note on the first vid: "The Hawaiʻi State Flag flew at half-staff on July 10, 1997, the day of Iz's funeral. His koa wood coffin lay in state at the Capitol building in Honolulu. Over 10,000 people attended his funeral. Thousands of fans gathered and cheered as his ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean at Mākua Beach on July 12, 1997."
Members of what is described as the largest congregation in the Anglican Church of Canada voted strongly Wednesday to split with Vancouver-area Bishop Michael Ingham over his support for same-sex blessings.
"It means that the community speaks with one mind," said St. John's Shaughnessy Anglican Church spokeswoman Lesley Bentley, after a preliminary count showed that out of 495 ballots cast, only 11 opposed the split and nine abstained.
"What it is is very uniting."
The vote means the church, which has more than 700 members, will break with Ingham and join with the conservative Anglican bishops of the Diocese of the Southern Cone, which includes Argentina and Paraguay.
The Vancouver Sun has an article
Primate Hiltz has a letter here.
'Anglican Communion Network' has a press release here
St John’s (Shaughnessy) Vancouver, the largest Anglican Church in Canada, voted overwhelmingly on February 13 to accept the episcopal oversight of Bishop Donald Harvey, Moderator of the Anglican Network in Canada, under the Primatial authority of Archbishop Gregory Venables and the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. The largest congregational meeting ever, voted 97.7% in favour of the motion. Of the 495 votes cast, 475 were in favour, 11 were against and 9 abstained. Other provisional votes are under consideration and may impact the final vote.
The congregation has been in “serious theological dispute” with the Diocese of New Westminster since June 2002, when the bishop approved same sex blessings after the diocese voted 62.5% in favour of the practice. The diocese’s unilateral actions were in clear defiance of the overwhelming majority of the global Anglican Communion, which had stated at the1998 Lambeth Conference (a decennial gathering of all Anglican bishops in the world), in Resolution 1.10, that such practice was contrary to scripture and could not be legitimized. St. John’s has been seeking alternative episcopal oversight ever since.
Update from the Anglican Journal here.
Archbishop Terry Buckle, current Metropolitan of the Province of British Columbia and the Yukon, has announced his intention to retire at the end of 2008. The Diocese of the Yukon intends to elect a coadjutor bishop on May 31, 2008. Those clergy who may wish to seek nomination are requested to contact the Chair of the Nominating Committee who will provide them with details of our process and the requirements and deadlines involved.
The Diocese of Yukon's website is here.
Related post here. I have a few longtime friends at SJS. I'm hoping to talk with them for a bit over the weekend. While from one point of view there will be some cheering, this morning's daily office had this in it: "For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?"
Update: results of their vote is here, along with a few links.
Members of St. John's Shaughnessy Anglican Church, a neo-Gothic landmark in the heart of the city's wealthiest neighbourhood, are gathering for an expected vote on breaking with Vancouver-area Bishop Michael Ingham over the issue of same-sex blessings and trying to take the church property with them.
Ingham has warned St. John's Shaughnessy that what it is considering is "schismatic." If members of the large parish at the corner of Granville and Nanton try operating under the authority of a South American Anglican bishop or anyone else, Ingham said, they will not be legally able to hold onto the church property.
From the Victoria Times Colonist
St John's Shaughnessy parish website
“Any attempt to betray that trust through schismatic action is a ground for immediate termination of license or removal from office, and may well subject those same individuals to civil proceedings also,” he wrote.
The letter was directed to clergy, wardens, and trustees of St. John’s Shaughnessy, Church of the Good Shepherd, and St. Matthias/St. Luke, all in Vancouver, and to St. Matthew’s Abbotsford.
The four parishes are listed on the website of the Anglican Network in Canada as being member parishes. Leaders of the Network are engaged in establishing a separate Church in Canada under the jurisdiction of an Anglican Church in South America, the Province of the Southern Cone.
Bishop Ingham’s letter followed a similar epistle issued by a neighbouring bishop, James Cowan, who is Bishop of British Columbia, which covers Vancouver Island. On January 30, Bishop Cowan sent a letter to all his parishes, also warning any attempt to transfer episcopal and synod jurisdiction to another Anglican Province.
Both bishops wrote that if a resolution to leave the diocese came before any parish’s annual meeting, the chair of the meeting is obliged to rule it out of order as “ultra vires”–beyond the powers of any parish or congregation.
“There may be clergy and laity who, in good conscience, feel they can no longer remain members of the Diocese of New Westminster or the Anglican Church of Canada. Resignation of office and the seeking of a spiritual home elsewhere is the honourable and appropriate course of action for such persons,” wrote Bishop Ingham, echoing a similar passage in Bishop Cowan’s earlier letter.
In the midst of Canto I Dante spies a mountain, which he tries to scale but is unable. The figure of the mountain is a familiar image from the Scriptures. The Ark comes to rest on a mountain, the Law is given on a mountain, Christ is transfigured on a mountain. By far the main images of mountain in Scripture have positive associations: they are places where God meets us, or speaks, or is revealed in a special way. But those are not the only associations; after all, it was “on the top of a high mountain” that Satan showed Christ all the kingdoms of the world, and offered these in exchange for worship.
So while the mountain is a place of encounter with God, it is also the place of temptation. In particular, it is the place where Christ faced temptation. As Dante surveys the “mountain-side”, he sees three beasts comes toward him: a leopard, a lion and then a wolf. Commentators have liked to identify these three beasts with three classes or types of sin (mostly based on Aristotle’s ethics).
Perhaps there is some correlation intended with the three temptations of Christ in the wilderness, culminating (in Matthew’s Gospel) with the confrontation with Satan on the mountain top. At any rate, Dante finds that these three beasts turn him back from ascending the mountain. This brings to mind two things: he cannot directly ascend to God, nor is he Christ-like to face temptations on the mountain and overcome them. The beasts all turn him back, and upon seeing the Wolf, Dante is defeated:
The ancient cause of many men’s enslaving
She was the worst – at that dread sight a blank
Despair and whelming terror pinned me fast
Until all hope to scale the mountain sank
It is the midst of this frustrated attempt that Dante stumbles across Virgil, who tells him
“Nay, by another path thou needs must go
If thou wilt ever leave his waste”.
If the soul is to ascend to God, it must (at least in this case) do so by another route. Dante is afraid of the beasts - his sins. They will not let him pass. Virgil tells him that he must descend into Hell - in essence, descend into himself, see the true nature of sin, and then he will be ready to begin the ascent to God, which begins with repentance. Remember that Purgatory is also pictured as a mountain (Sayers argues that this is the "mountain-side") which Dante mentions.
At this beginning point, fear which habitual sin, and the control it exercises over us, prevents the soul from repenting. This fear and the control of sin are irrational, and so the figure of reason - Virgil - comes to Dante's aid. But Dante is a Christian, and in the story even Virgil understands the limits of where he can guide Dante:
...a worthier spirit than I
Must lead they steps, if thou desire to come
With whom I'll leave thee then and say good-bye
For the Emperor of that high Imperium
Wills not that I, once rebel to his crown,
Into that city of His should lead men home.
Recall John Donne's Holy Sonnet XIV: "Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend, But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue." In Donne's poem, reason is unable to help. In Dante's, the ability of reason to lead the soul to God is strictly limited. While Dante has a high view of human reason, he nonetheless recognizes that human reason is not only limited, but can even be "rebel to his crown".
So where then are we? We still have enough power of reason to understand the nature of sin, and the destruction is brings. Reason can lead to to understand the moral life, but it cannot of itself enable us to live it. Put another way, human reason by itself can only convict us of law, it cannot bring us into grace. But as preparation for the grace which is to come, the soul first needs to see the truth of its own sin. And that is the nature of Hell.
As a piece of practical theology, we might ask what our "beasts" are, which prevent us from ascending to God. Does a particular sin have such control over us that it prevents us progressing further? And do we understand the true nature of sin? We often see only the illusion which temptation presents - "You will be like God". Dante wishes to show us the true face of sin.
Update: The Anglican Journal has an article.
Don Harvey has issued licences on behalf of the Southern Cone to two former priests of the Anglican Church of Canada. Bishop Don has issued licences to:
The Reverend William G. Campbell in Toronto, Ontario
The Reverend Lawrence H. Winslow, in Sandy Lake, Manitoba
Having relinquished any previously held licences, both of these godly, retired priests are now instated as priests of the Anglican Network in Canada and, as such, come under the episcopal authority of Bishop Don and the Primatial oversight of the Most Reverend Gregory Venables of the Province of the Southern Cone. Therefore, their licences and orders are effective throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion although the Anglican Church of Canada has made it clear they will not recognize these orders.
A church plant is being established in Brandon, Manitoba.
Further west, James Cowan, Bishop of BC, has issued a letter to his diocese. The New West website has a story: "Neighbouring Bishop warns separatists in his diocese". I assumed quickly that he meant ecclesiastical, not fervent quebecois nationists. BIshop James wrote:
If a person is employed by the Diocese or parish and is found to be acquiescing in or to be actively promoting such separation, this is a ground for immediate termination of employment without notice or severance.
link to pdf of +James' letter
Time to read a bit more of the Inferno.
Election update here
The various persons nominated for the position of Bishop of Edmonton have their cv's and responses to the questions for the candidates available. You can download a pdf by clicking on the link after each name. The diocesan page with all this info and more is here.
The Rev. Wendy Ainsworth here
The Very Rev. Dr. Jane Alexander here
The Rt. Rev. David Ashdown here
The Ven. Edward King here
The Rev. Darcey Lazerte here
The Rev. Dr. Mervyn Mercer here
The Very Rev. Peter Wall here
While these pieces of information are helpful, they are by no means exhaustive. There are no doubt things which delegates might wish to know which have not been asked of the candidates, for a variety of reasons.
The final step in the Search Committee nomination process is the determination of the nature and form of the information which should be made available to Synod Members concerning each nominee.
This aspect of the election process usually causes Members of Synod significant frustration. Members of Synod called upon to elect a bishop frequently complain that the information which they are given about the candidates is insufficient.
GUIDE FOR THE ELECTION OF A BISHOP; pdf here 9.e page 15
Originally prepared in May 1999 by
Brian Burrows, Provincial Chancellor
Revised in August 2007 by
David Jones, Provincial Chancellor
"Search for a Bishop", subtitled a "Resource Paper Published by the Diocese of Edmonton Executive Council" tells us that
The election of the next Bishop of Edmonton has much to do with you. He or she will be your spiritual overseer. The more informed you are:
- the closer your mind and spirit will be to the mind and spirit of God as revealed in scripture, and given witness in the tradition of the Church,
- the more discerning you will be in the crucial choice.
So what does all this mean? Well, let's be Anglican Christians. We pray, individually and corporately. We discern what the role of a bishop is, from Scripture and tradition. We use our minds and our brains to digest the information and inform our potential decisions. While we are encouraged to refrain from "politicking", we still have a responsibility to use our powers of discernment, submitted to the guidance of the Spirit, and informed by our reading and reflection.
Let's jump straight to the nitty gritty. Many (but not all) delegates will be keenly interested in the candidates' understanding of the same sex issues, and their opinions about the decisions made (or not made) at the last General Synod. Will that be a deciding factor for some delegates? Quite possibly. But let me state this: I believe it would be a grave mistake for either side of the issue to vote in a candidate based simply on their take on that one issue. I do not mean that it is not a very important issue. It is. But to vote for a candidate based only on one criterion, would not, I believe, serve the Church. Whether or not the candidates have made their take on this issue clear in their statements I do not know. I have not read through the information yet. (I figured that would be something I would do this week when I have a chunk of time for uninterrupted reading. This generally takes place between 2 am and 5 am, except when the baby needs changing...) Personally, I feel completely free to email a candidate and respectfully ask a question if I am unclear about something and I believe I need more information to make a faithful and informed decision.
Be that as it may, I had another thought about how to approach this election. What if I tried to discern not what kind of a bishop would be most helpful to me, but what kind of a bishop would be most helpful to you? And what if I considered not what kind of a bishop would best support my style of ministry, but what kind of bishop would best uphold yours? And what if I considered not what kind of bishop would be most beneficial to the growth of my parish, but what kind of bishop would be most beneficial to the growth of your parish? Just a thought...
Lastly, while there are going to be strongly held opinions on the virtues and qualifications of each candidate, each one is to be treated as a brother/sister in Christ. I will suggest that if anyone wishes to comment on this, that they refrain from publicly comparing what they see as the various merits of the candidates. At a certain point in time I will offer my own take on some of the questions posed to the candidates, particularly regarding the resolutions from General Synod. All of the candidates would desire our prayers. And if we are faithful in our prayer and discernment, then we can trust God's guidance over us.
Click here for the 2008 Episcopal Election post series
AUTOGRAPH Reception/COMMON SENSE Grand Opening
7:00-11:00pm February 29, 2008
February 29 - April 30, 2008
Daytime Viewing by Appointment: 482-2685
COMMON SENSE Gallery
North Edmonton Sculpture Workshop
Take some time to have a look.
Two of Mr Willms' offerings to the Muses grace our backyard, although one of his pieces has been the subject of either interactive art appreciation through the addition of coloured sidewalk chalk, or sheer philistine vandalism:
From the letters of St Jerome, a bit of reflection on the rise and role of the bishop :
Hence a presbyter is the same as a bishop, and before ambition came into religion, by the prompting of the devil, and people began to say "I belong to Paul, I to Apollos, I to Cephas", the churches were governed by the direction of presbyters, acting as a body. But when each presbyter began to suppose that those whom he had baptized belonged to him, rather than to Christ, it was decreed in the whole Church that one of the presbyters should be chosen to preside over the others, and that the whole responsibility for the Church should devolve on him, so that the seeds of schism should be removed.
in ep. ad Tit. I, I, 5 (Jerome's commentary on Titus, and you can also see more of his ideas in Letter 146, To Evangelus)
Click here for the Episcopal election post series
For those about to descend, here are a few links for information about the Dante, the Comedy, assorted online texts and translations, how to stop the mouth of underworld beasts from classical mythology and that sort of stuff.
Have a miserable Lent!
Why I've taken up Dante for Lent
--By A.N. Wilson - article in the Telegraph from Lent 2007
Welcome to Danteworlds, an "integrated multimedia journey--combining artistic images, textual commentary, and audio recordings--through the three realms of the afterlife (Inferno, Purgatory, Paradise) presented in Dante's Divine Comedy. The site is structured around a visual representation of Dante's worlds: it shows who and what appear where. Click on regions within each realm (circles of Hell, terraces of Purgatory, spheres of Paradise) to open new pages featuring people and creatures whom the character Dante meets during his journey. Click on individual figures in the regions to view larger images in pop-up windows. Available for each region are explanatory notes, a gallery of artistic images, recordings of significant Italian verses, and study questions--all aimed at enriching the experience of reading Dante's poetic vision of a voyage literally out of this world."
--University of Texas
Harvard Classics, Vol. 20 The Divine Comedy: an English trans. by Henry Cary
DIGITAL DANTE trans of Henry W. Longfellow, and the Allen Mandelbaum translation
-- Columbia University project
The Dartmouth Dante Project (DDP) is "a searchable full-text database containing more than seventy commentaries on Dante's Divine Comedy - the Commedia."
And if you can get your hands on "The Figure of Beatrice" by Charles Williams, you will be close to the Kingdom of Heaven.
In addition, a bit o' reading in Aristotle's Ethics, Virgil's Aeneid, Augustine generally and Boethius should round out all that extra time you will have from doing a TV fast...
Update: from Mike's recommendation in the comments comes a link to Father Robert Crouse's series on Dante. This comes via a site I've previously described as "the best little anglican church website in Canada".
[these are year A readings, for year B readings, click here]
At the beginning of the Lenten season we look at the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. A story like our own, and yet unlike. It is like our own in that we are all tempted; it is unlike our own in that we, unlike Jesus, fall short. In this story from Matthew’s Gospel, we see Jesus being “tempted’ or tested by the devil – the spiritual being who is the representation of all that wishes to oppose God. Jesus faces three temptations – each one somewhat different, and each one having something in common.
4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 4:2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.
Before we begin, let’s just set the context a bit: Jesus has just come from his baptism, where God has declared: “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”. The Spirit has descended upon him, and it is said that he was “led up by the Spirit” into this wilderness place.
The First Temptation:
4:3 The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread."
What is this temptation about? Jesus is, quite naturally, probably a fair bit hungry after a time of fasting in the wilderness. Fasting is a difficult spiritual discipline to practice because we are so accustomed to taking care of our physical needs. To intentionally deny our physical selves is at best, (we tend to think), counter intuitive, and often downright unnatural. There are really two parts to this temptation: first is just the temptation for Jesus to break his discipline of fasting – after all, to satisfy our physical selves is the first thing we often think of. The second part of the temptation is to “command” the stones to instantly become bread – to force it to happen, to take a shortcut from the spiritual discipline of fasting and just give in and eat. But there are no shortcuts in the spiritual life.
4:4 But he answered, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" Of course Jesus answers by quoting the Scriptures: What we have in Matthew’s gospel is only the first part of the quotation from Deuteronomy. The full quote, as I’m sure you remember (or you can google like I did), goes like this:
“He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord”
What kind of answer does this give? There is some stuff to flesh out in the full text of the quote, which I’ll probably pursue later. But for now, Jesus is reminding us that we have physical needs (which certainly are important) but we also have spiritual needs. We are body and soul – we are physical and spiritual creatures. To feed only our bodies, without feeding our spirits, is a temptation. This season of Lent invites us to consider how we nourish our hearts, how we “live by every word that comes from the mouth of God”. It invites us also to listen – it is hard to hear the word of God until we still the background noise in our lives. On what do we live?: bread alone, or by the word of God?
The Second Temptation
4:5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple,
4:6 saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'"
Now the story gets a little more complicated. The devil takes Jesus up to the Temple, and while there are there he decides to throw in some passages of Scripture as well.
If we consider just the setting for this temptation, it should give us pause. For in the progression of these three temptations, the last is the one about the place of worship. The Temple was the particular place of ancient worship, the place of the Holy of Holies – and yet at the very pinnacle of the Temple, there is temptation. I suspect that things have not changed all that much in the last 2000 years. There is as much temptation in the church as there is on any streetcorner on the Vegas strip – and maybe more. One can always want to use the things of God for one’s own purposes. The church is not immune from temptation, and its offspring – sin. Temptation can take place in the ancient temple and in the sanctuary of the contemporary church. Temptation to both of the other things: failure to pay attention to the matters of the heart, and the desire for power – to have things my way. The church is not immune from all the temptations which beset any other group of individuals who gather together.
But what is the particular form of the temptation here in Matthew’s gospel? Prove that you are who you say you are, and prove something about this “word that proceeds from the mouth of God”. After all, it is written that God will do these things for you.
4:7 Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"
The Third Temptation:
4:8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor;
4:9 and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me."
Next we have a temptation to power and authority over others for one’s own purposes, and through wrong means. Power in and of itself is not the temptation. The temptation comes in when one asks: how will this power be gained? What price am I willing to pay to get that power over others, and all the temporary glory that comes with it? “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” The temptation here is told in its largest form – all the kingdoms of the world. But we can all fall into this temptation in our own little worlds – the desire to use power and authority unjustly over anyone in our sphere. The temptation to get and use power over others is of course the opposite of what Jesus exemplifies in his life – instead, as we follow the gospel story, we see that Jesus ends up “powerless” according to the kingdoms of this world, and one of his last acts is of servanthood – as he washes the feet of his disciples. It doesn’t matter how big or small our kingdom is – it might be an empire, it might be an office, it might be a living room – we all are tempted to have unjust power over others.
There is, as well, a second part to this temptation: do we assume that the devil is telling the truth in this story? and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.
Is that true? Is it really the devil’s to give away? “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof”, says the psalm. And Jesus reminds Pilate “you would have no authority over me had it not been given you from above”. So what we have in this temptation is a lie, masquerading as truth. The world is God’s – God is the one in charge here, not the devil. It is a lie – a false promise. And this lie is at the heart of every temptation. You see, temptation promises to deliver something that it actually has no power to deliver. Like the first story of temptation in the garden of Eden, when they were told – you will not die, you will be like God.
4:8 Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" In Jesus’ answer two things are linked together: worship and service: whatever or whoever we worship will not be told by our words, but by our actions: whatever we serve, that is our god.
Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
ché la diritta via era smarrita.
Midway this life we’re bound upon,
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
Where the right road was wholly gone and lost.
We will be joining the poet Dante, along with his companion Virgil, for the next 40 days. During the season of Lent we will descend into the Inferno. There we will see the end and goal of all unrepented sin. We will also see in stark contrast the redemption of the souls in the Purgatorio, where repentance and grace address the roots of our sins and their effects. And finally we will emerge in Easter week to contemplate with Dante and Beatrice the joys of the Paradiso.
But we cannot move directly to that final vision of God just yet. There is no skirting of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Like Dante, we make the journey inward and downward - inward to the place where we see our sins for what they really are, and downward where we see where sins leads. In the opening canto, Dante awakes out of slumber. Like lent, advent is also a season of repentance. And so the old advent hymn "Sleepers Awake!" is a fitting beginning to Dante's journey.
Dante is perhaps surprised to find himself in this state; not many of us consciously aim (at least in the beginning) for the Inferno. All too often we are lulled into sin:
How I got into it I cannot say,
Because I was so heavy and full of sleep,
When first I stumbled from the narrow way.
Dante awakes to find himself near the gates of Hell. While some intentionally enter there (where "all hope is lost"), most of us meander into it. At this beginning point, just at the entrance to Hell, the soul might say with Dante "How I got into it I cannot say." Inattentiveness to our spiritual state always leads to the same place: the entrance to Hell.
I will be adding some notes on the characters and the story as we go along. But here at the beginning let me say a few things which will help us understand the Comedy's logic. No one is in Hell who has not made a willed choice to be there. We tend to think of "hell" as that place or state where God imposes a punishment upon an unwilling subject. But it is the opposite which is true. Augustine (Conf) once observed that "every man's inordinate affection becomes his own affliction." Dante simply gives us, in the story of the Inferno, the true shape and end of the choice to sin: it is merely sin drawn to its logical conclusion. The soul is allowed to see more fully and perfectly what its choice is, and yet it chooses still.
Within this first canto we catch a glimpse of the end of the story:
The morn was young, and in his native sign
The Sun climbed with the stars whose glitterings
Attended on him when the Love Divine
First moved those happy, prime created things
At the end of the Paradiso we shall see the "Love which moves the Sun and the other stars" - a line borrowed from Boethius (patron of this blog) Consolation of Philosophy II.vii
O felix hominum genus
Si vestros animos amor
Quo caelum regitur regat.
O happy race of men,
If the love that rules the stars,
May also rule your hearts.
A note on Virgil: he is the guide and companion of Dante in the first part of his journey. He is the voice of reason, the arts, and all that the best humanism can offer. But he can only guide Dante so far - there comes a time when only grace can bring him higher. I'll be saying more on this as we proceed.
For simplicity sake, I'll use Sayers' translation. There are other translations available online and in print. The focus will be on the text: what does the poet say, and what does it mean? Primarily, I will look at the Comedy as both a piece of theological instruction, and an allegory for the soul's descent into sin, its redemption and sanctification, and its communion with God.