We’ve been talking a lot in class about faith and reason, about the theologians who overcomplicate and overthink religion versus the simple followers who experience God and take things on faith.
I was going to title this blogpost “Faith v. Reason,” to exemplify this tension, but then I realized that it isn’t faith versus reason at all.
Something that was said in class the other day:
“You must believe in order to understand”
“You must understand in order to believe”
You can’t always explain God rationally, in a way that’s perfectly understandable, but does that mean that you shouldn’t believe? Of course not; that’s where faith comes in. Reason and faith work together, just as Virgil and Beatrice work together to guide Dante through the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. It is not either/or, it is that reason is inadequate and must be supplemented by faith. (Sorry if this argument seems basic, I’m just working through some things. I think it gets more interesting…keep reading).
Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed, Sloth
And “Experience” should be right up there with the cardinal and theological virtues
Prudence, Temperance, Courage, Justice, Hope, Faith, Caritas
“To understand” fits under Pride. To believe that faith can ever be fully comprehended by us, imperfect and incomplete creations, is a sin. In so doing, you are not giving God enough credit; you are underestimating and minimizing the greatness and glory of God.
I wrote about this in the last free write we did in class:
“So why do people persist in writing books, producing televangelism, orating, analyzing and overanalyzing and literalizing and therefore trivializing God’s word?...This is why people become disenchanted with religion: because people take something beautiful and experiential and turn it into something dry, dusty, crusty, inaccessible, difficult, gross.”
“…The shower of gold
Of the Holy Ghost, which pours down endlessly
Over the sacred Scrolls, both New and Old,
Reasons it to such logical certainty
That, by comparison, all other reasoning
Can only seem confused and dull to me.” (Paradiso XXIV.91-6)
He compares his faith to a reasonable argument that is so logical, no other arguments can compare. Now, this may seem like the exact opposite of an experiential faith, the kind we’ve been discussing in class, but it’s not. By relating his faith to a logical argument, in this example, Dante is comparing faith to something people experience in their everyday lives. He is not advocating that we base our faith on logic, he is just using a logical argument as a metaphor.
We have talked about how language is inadequate to express and communicate faith, so putting Heaven into words, like Dante does in his Paradiso, would certainly seem blasphemous and arrogant. EXCEPT, he spends all of his time in the Paradiso explaining how he can’t fully express what he sees, feels, experiences there; how sometimes even the Heavenly Host must hold back their exultations and celebrations, or else Dante, being the inadequate human, would explode. He elucidates how faith cannot be fully elucidated to us while still in our imperfect forms.
“In the eternal justice, consequently,
The understanding granted to mankind
Is lost as the eye is within the sea:” (Paradiso XIX.58-60)
So Dante gets around that technicality, managing to take us on the ride of our lives through Heaven while still maintaining humility before God and a deep respect for Him. Dante expresses creatively that which he has the capacity to imagine, but makes sure to constantly remind us that God is even more amazing than what he has managed to write down, and even more incredible than what we have the ability to experience. Brilliance.
Rhiannon, you ask us: “What is heaven to you? What do you imagine is the purpose for all this suffering? What 'justifies' the ways of the world, or what binds them together? Is it even definable? But Heaven? A Heaven that's really open to all comers? A Heaven in which people I hate are going to be singing God's praises, completely pure and holy? What does it look like when all the bad stuff is stripped away from us, and all the good is left?”
In answer, I would direct you to the following passage:
“Mortals, be slow to judge! Not even we
Who look on God in Heaven know, as yet,
How many He will choose for ecstasy.
And sweet it is to lack this knowledge still,
For in this good is our own good refined,
Willing whatever God Himself may will.” (Paradiso XX.133-8)
I think the answers to your questions are bigger than I am capable of.