Above the Gates of Hell

This is Anthony Esolen, an English professor and Dante scholar/translator, on the inscription above the gates of hell in Dante’s Inferno:

“I have long thought that the most chilling words upon the portal of Hell are not those that shut the door on the fulfillment of human longings: ABANDON ALL HOPE YOU WHO ENTER HERE. These crush with their finality, but they do not possess the shocking irony of the simple signature of the architect: DIVINE OMNIPOTENCE CREATED ME, THE HIGHEST WISDOM, AND THE PRIMAL LOVE. Of course, it is a Trinitarian signature. Still, the sonorous ending on amore, Love, should give us pause. How can Love fashion a realm of groaning and wailing, of utter agony and alienation? Theology can take us far: the just punishment of the wicked, says Thomas, is an act of charity toward them (justice and charity cannot finally be at odds), even when that punishment does not or cannot result in their correction. At the least it restrain them from deeper depravity. One may suppose, too, that punishment respects the dignity of the sinner, to grant him what his own disordered love has merited and has longed for. For such a lover, the only place more agonizing than Hell would be Heaven. Indeed, the one place hotter than Hell is Heaven, as Dante imagines it: without grace, the fires of Love in Paradise would be unendurable. Perhaps, then, the inscription over the gates of Hell is meant to teach as much about Love as about Hell. For Love, as Dante saw, is no mere sentiment, no habit of ease. It is a consuming fire.”