Dante’s Comedy is a three-part epic poem. Much could be said about the structure of the entire work—the Inferno, Purgaturio, and Paradisio—but space will not allow any comments here. In the first part, the Inferno, Dante is guided through the nine circles of Hell. His guide is his master in epic poetry, Virgil, the author of the Aeneid.
When they enter, Dante sees these words:
I AM THE WAY INTO THE CITY OF WOE,
I AM THE WAY INTO ETERNAL PAIN,
I AM THE WAY TO GO AMONG THE LOST.
JUSTICE CAUSED MY HIGH ARCHITECT TO MOVE:
DIVINE OMNIPOTENCE CREATED ME,
THE HIGHEST WISDOM, AND THE PRIMAL LOVE.
BEFORE ME THERE WERE NO CREATED THINGS
BUT THOSE THAT LAST FOREVER—AS DO I.
ABANDON ALL HOPE YOU WHO ENTER HERE.
I saw these words of dark and harsh intent
engraved upon the archway of the gate.
“Teacher, I said, “their sense is hard for me.”
And he to me, as one who read my thoughts:
“Here you must leave distrust and doubt behind,
here you must put all cowardice to death.
We have come to the place I spoke about,
where you would see the souls who dwell in pain,
for they have lost the good of intellect.”
Again notice the last line of the placard Dante sees: “abandon all hope you who enter here.” Hell, according to Dante, is a place for those who have “lost the good of intellect.” Of all things, Dante emphasizes the intellect.
What is the good of the intellect? C. S. Lewis once said “For me, reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.” The intellect uses both reason and the imagination to put everything together. Philosophers have reasoned for centuries that the mind seeks what is true, the will seeks what is good, and the emotions seek what is beautiful. These are the three ideas by which we judge things; by which we determine whether something is true, good, and/or beautiful.
Someone asked Jesus “which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:34-40).
How do we love the Lord with all our mind? If the mind is the organ of truth, then we should pursue the truth. If we are not using our mind to know the truth, then we are not loving God with all our mind. We are wasting that great human power. Perhaps we are using our intellect to argue for something that is contrary to the truth.
Solomon said, “Buy the truth and sell it not” (Prov. 23:23). The Lord accused Israel of being destroyed for a lack of it. He said, “there is no truth, nor goodness, nor knowledge of God in the land” (Hosea 4:1). And, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you…” (Hosea 4:6).
There are practical consequences that accompany not loving God with all our mind. Paul spells this out in his letter to the saints in Rome. He begins by arguing that a knowledge of God is present: “that which is known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it unto them” (Ro. 1:19). He then writes, “knowing God, they glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks” (1:21). Even a cursory knowledge of God should lead someone to glorify Him and give thanks. But Paul writes, they “became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened” (Ro. 1:21).
In one of Paul’s earlier letters he writes of those who did not receive the love of the truth that they might be saved (2 Thess. 1:10). And then he writes, “And for this cause God sends them a working of error, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (1:11, 12). If we are not nurturing a love for the truth, we will fall pray to a working of error.
Those Dante met in his fantasy romp through hell were those who “have lost the good of intellect.” And Dante is right to echo the sentiments of Paul, ABANDON ALL HOPE YOU WHO ENTER HERE