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The Necessity of Fraud
Dante viewed the universe as being a single unified work of God. Every element of creation served a purpose, and nothing happened by mistake. This worldview dominated the medieval world in which Dante lived (Eco 118), and recognition of it is paramount to our understanding of Dante's The Divine Comedy. In this epic, Dante expounds his vision of Hell, from its inhabitants and their punishments to the physical structure of Hell's many circles. The question that plagues many of The Divine Comedy's readers is precisely how Hell fits into God's unified plan for existance. The typical answer that Hell logically spawns from God's inherent justice is unsatisfying, as it does not explain why He chose to introduce human folly in the first place. To understand Dante's fundamental ideas regarding Hell, we must realize that he viewed human failure as a basic requirement for the concept of human love, and love as the ultimate motive for all existance. Dante held fraud to be the most base of all sins. It follows from Dante's basic medeival beliefs that the entire structure and existance of Hell, including fraud, is directly and inseparably tied to the notion of love.
The interconnectivity of opposites lies at the heart of the medeival worldview. Umberto Eco articulates this in his Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages in his statement, "Even monsters acquired a certain justification and dignity from their participation in the music of creation. Evil itself became good and beautiful, for good was born from it and shone out more brightly by contrast" (Eco 35). The idea that good and evil were born from each other parallels recent scientific discoveries of our universe, such as the existance of antimatter. Just as God may have drawn matter out of a pool of nothingness, creating it by contrast of a reflection antimatter, for every good thing that He drew from nothingness a correspondingly evil thing had to come into existance to qualify the first one's goodness. For beauty to exist, similar levels of ugliness must also exist (Eco 35). God was not content with these opposites, however. He wanted to create an entity that could decide for itself between the good and the bad, or the beautiful and the ugly, and to choose the one that God aligned himself with. He wanted to create love. To be specific, he wanted to create the contrast between love and love's opposite. This necessity of contrast begins to explain how Dante's idea of Hell is a manifestation of love.
The Catholic Church is very adamant about its statement that love is not a feeling or an emotion. In the Church's view, love is an action. Love produces many feelings and emotions, but love itself is the act of choosing to adhere to the good of God and His creation. When people love other people, they are actively choosing to recognize the good present in those people. As a result of this act, they may be bombarded with feelings of happiness, joy, contentment, and other such emotions that are typically referred to collectively as the "emotion" of love. This may seem like an insignificant technicality, but it was one of the unifying principles of thought in the Middle Ages that love consists of action (Eco 67). For the act of love to be a choice of human will, there must be an alternative, which is of course to reject the good of God and His creation. In Dante's view, the entirety of human existance was brought about for the purpose of love, which is made manifest in day-to-day intereactions among people - both in their adhesion to and rejection of God's goodness (footnote of Thomas Goddard Bergin translation, 73). The two greatest commandments of Catholic doctrine state, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with all thy strength and with all thy mind: and thy neighbour as thyself" (Luke 10:27). It is clear that love requires action, and the underlying implication is that God made the love of self worthwhile, and wanted people to extrapolate their intrinsic goodness on the rest of the universe. Not suprisingly, this was another natural element of the medeival worldview; as Eco writes, "An aesthetic pleasure arises when the soul finds its own inner harmony duplicated on its object" (Eco 10).
Dante's audience believed that before He created humans, God created angels. These angels were capable of choosing or rejecting God, and were therefore capable of love. Some angels would inevitably choose to reject God, thereby necessitating the existance of Hell, a place that is defined by the absense of God (Sayers' notes on Dante, Canto IV). To be able to make this choice, the angels were endowed with an intellect capable of reasoning, but also capable of perverse or malicious reasoning -- Dante's broader definition of fraud (Sayers' notes on Dante, Canto XI). Fraud is more specifically defined as deception made for personal gain. By this more specific definition, angels are incapable of committing fraud against each other. Even the most infamous angel, Lucifer (also known as "The Great Deceiver"), cannot deceive other angels. This is because, according to St. Thomas Aquinas (who is Dante's primary theological model), "the angels know all things by their substance," and it is impossible to decieve someone who knows everything. All of the angels who are in Hell are there by a fully-informed choice to reject God. Their choice may have been made due to Lucifer's malicious reasoning, but it was not due to deceptive reasoning. Dante writes, "since man alone / Is capable of fraud, God hates that worst" (Dante XI: 25).
By this reasoning it is evident that God had created love without fraud, because he created the angels who could love, but were incapable of deception. They were capable of love and malice, but they could not commit fraud (by its more specific definition). The type of love that the angels demonstrated was a very different kind of love than humans are familiar with. In C.S. Lewis's Perelandra, which strongly parallels the journey of Dante in The Divine Comedy, he describes the countenance of angels: "The rich variety, the hint of undeveloped possibilities, which make the interest of human faces, were entirely absent ... Pure, spiritual, intellectual love shot from their faces like barbed lighting. It was so unlike the love we experience that its expression could easily be mistaken for ferocity" (C.S. Lewis 199-200).
The lack of "undeveloped possibilities" is the key difference between human love and angelic love. Humans, who are not all-knowing, are capable of changing their minds. They are capable of forgetting, learning, and developing opinions. Because people (unlike angels) cannot know everything, they can only choose to love God through faith. In this way, God created the love we are familiar with that is based on faith and whose incentive is hope. For Dante's audience, this concept described all forms of human love. A human can only love another human based on faith, because of the nature of human knowledge (i.e., it is incomplete), whereas an angel can love God or a person without faith, because of the completeness of its knowledge. This difference explains the behavior and appearance of the angel Dante encounters, which he describes as having a look of strong scorn, and appearing to be not at all concerned with the issues before him, contrasted to Virgil who appears rather flustered (Dante IX: 88,103).
This unique state of being that humans experience lead the medeival Catholics to view all aspects of their perceived world as signs from God; they knew that they had to love God's world through faith, so they reasoned that God would give them signs through their perception of the world to help bolster their faith. In Umberto Eco's words, "things were more than they seemed. Things were signs. Hope was restored to the world because the world was God's discourse to man" (Eco 54). The view of the world as a message from God provided a natural segue to the realm of transcendant beauty, where the beautiful and Divine were connected more than ever, both in the natural world and in the works of mankind (Eco 33). In this period, a multitude of connections were made between concepts of faith and nature, nature and art, and art and mathematics, which were seen as signs of hope from God. The world was viewed symbolically, and the symbols were seen as Divine signs which elicited hope and instilled faith that everything was working together seamlessly exactly as God intended (Eco 32).
This openness to the world around them, however, opened wide the possibility of deception and fraud. In this way, God created fraud when he created the human love that comprises faith and hope. He did not make anyone commit fraud, but the concept of (and therefore the possibility of) fraud is inherent in love. The Catholics that Dante wrote to were expected to see and love the good in the world as well as in the people around them: "If anyone says, ‘I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen" (1 John 4:20). Clearly, the unified worldview held by the medeival Catholics of Dante's time made them very susceptible to injury by deceit. In a world where everything is goverened in unity by the comprehensive power of God's will, fraud is a natural and essential component to human love, and the two can only exist as a result of and in contrast to each other. Dante says of Hell's creation, "God Eternal / wrought me: the Power, and the unsearchably / high Wisdom, and the primal Love supernal" (Dante III: 4).