Lust—The Second Circle of Hell

“O race of men, born to fly heavenward,

how can a breath of wind make you fall back?”[1]

The Divine Comedy: Purgatorio

Canto XII, lines 95-96

In his Confessions, Augustine reflects upon the disorder[2] of his love, manifested through his intense lust. He had said to the Lord in the midst of his lust, “‘Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.’ I was afraid you might hear my prayer quickly, and that you might too rapidly heal me of the disease of lust which I preferred to satisfy rather than suppress.”[3] The man of great reason, Augustine, had made “reason slave to appetite”[4].

Augustine had become the slave to desire. As Dante says of Francesca and Paolo in his Inferno, “How much desiring brought these two down into this agony.”[5] When Francesca says to Dante, “There is no greater pain than to remember, in our present grief, past happiness,”[6] the disorder of their loves becomes evident. Their Eros-love had become consumed by the appetite of the moment, rather than Eros-love that looks to the future.

In responding to Agathon in The Symposium, Socrates says of Eros-love that it means “I want the things of the present moment to be present also in future time,”[7] and later he recounts the woman Diotima’s teaching, “So, in sum Eros is of the good’s being one’s own always.”[8] What this indicates is that love must have an eye to the future rather than to the present. Lust is a slave, though, to the moment.

Reflecting later upon his lusts, Augustine says, “Nevertheless they held me back. I hesitated myself, to be rid of them, to make the leap to where I was being called. Meanwhile the overwhelming force of habit was saying to me: ‘Do you think you can live without them?’[9] In my previous post, I said almost in passing, “Beyond this passage [Prov. 6.23-25], the theme of choosing the Woman Wisdom over the adulteress takes front and center stage.” The Proverbs presents us with the choice of one woman over another. It is a woman, Diotima, who leads Plato to understand the true nature of Love. Virgil was able to break Dante out of his lustful trance by looking to the truly Beautiful Woman. So should we be surprised that the answer to Augustine’s anguish comes through a woman, the chaste Lady Continence? Lady Continence presents to Augustine the many who have gone before him, able to find the strength which ever eluded him. She says of them, “Their Lord God gave me to them. Why are you relying on yourself, only to find yourself unreliable? Cast yourself upon him, do not be afraid. He will not withdraw himself so that you fall. Make the leap without anxiety; he will catch you and heal you.”[10]

What does all this mean? Consistently, we see that the answer to lusts is not to “just say no”[11] or “think harder”, but rather to look to the truly Beautiful. Perhaps, it should be no surprise that True Beauty is manifested in the form of a Woman.[12] It seems that the Proverbs, Plato, Augustine, and Dante have all circled their proverbial wagons around this same camp of thought. The cure for the lustful objectification of woman is to see what is truly beautiful.

For many of us, this is most clearly seen through marriage. Husbands have the opportunity to behold this Beauty day-in and day-out, if we will only but have eyes to see. God has given us a Woman, created in His own image, so that we might know Him more. For Husbands, who is the Woman who leads us away from the adulteress? The Proverbs tell us,

15 Drink water from your own cistern,

    flowing water from your own well.

16 Should your springs be scattered abroad,

    streams of water in the streets?

17 Let them be for yourself alone,

    and not for strangers with you.

18 Let your fountain be blessed,

    and rejoice in the wife of your youth,

19  a lovely deer, a graceful doe.

Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;

    be intoxicated always in her love.

20 Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman

    and embrace the bosom of an adulteress? (Prov. 5.15-20)

 

Again, the Proverbs lead us to look to one Woman (one’s wife) instead of another (the adulteress).

God has created us with an Eros-love. This Eros-love is the desire and longing that we have to be with God always. This same Eros, when it becomes distorted by sin, becomes a passionate lust. But since God has created us with this Eros-love, it cannot be destroyed—it must be re-ordered. This re-ordering comes through beholding what is True, Good, and Beautiful. As Paul exhorts us, ”Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil. 4.8)

What does this mean for education of children? How do we harness the good desires of Eros-love in our students for their good? Though our students are not married, what can we point our students to so that they might have a glimpse of what is truly beautiful? How do we prepare our students to see the vileness of adultery long before they are married?

I’d love to hear your responses to these questions below!

“He who commits adultery lacks sense;

he who does it destroys himself.”

(Proverbs 6.32)

 

 

[1] Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy: Purgatorio. trans. by Mark Musa. (New York, New York: Penguin Books, 1985), 131.

[2] Augustine gave us the category of thinking of our loves as being ordered or disordered in The City of God. He says, “So that it seems to me that it is a brief but true definition of virtue to say, it is the order of love…” Augustine, The City of God. trans. by Marcus Dods. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2017), 461.

[3] Augustine. Confessions. trans. by Henry Chadwick. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 145.

[4] Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy: Inferno. trans. by Mark Musa. (New York, New York: Penguin Books, 2003), 110.

[5] Ibid., 113.

[6] Ibid., 113.

[7] Plato. Symposium. trans. by Seth Bernardete (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 29-30.

[8] Ibid., 36.

[9] Confessions, 151.

[10] Ibid., 151.

[11] Thomas Chalmers argues in his “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection”: “There are two ways in which a practical moralist may attempt to displace from the human heart its love of the world—either by a demonstration of the world’s vanity, so as that the heart shall be prevailed upon simply to withdraw its regards from an object that is not worthy of it; or, by setting forth another object, even God, as more worthy of its attachment, so as that the heart shall be prevailed upon not to resign an old affection, which shall have nothing to succeed it, but to exchange an old affection for a new one.” Thomas Chalmers, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection”, monergism.com. https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/Chalmers,%20Thomas%20-%20The%20Exlpulsive%20Power%20of%20a%20New%20Af.pdf. Accessed April 2, 2018.

[12] Throughout history Woman has represented the most beautiful of God’s creation. It is no wonder that Satan would target the epitome of Beauty in producing his apex predator, Lust. The confusion of Beauty and Lust has led many Christians to denigrate Women and their beauty altogether. All the while, it seems, that the Lust of men has only increased rather than decreased. The result has been the objectification of Women altogether as things to be used then ignored. The tragedy is that both Men and Women have suffered as a consequence.

2 thoughts on “Lust—The Second Circle of Hell

  1. Perhaps sharing stories where betrayal has damaged the heart of an innocent (perceived by the reader/listener) person. Of course, it is nice to follow that up with reconciliation, but with emphasis on the long rehabilitation necessary to bring the relationship closer to the original path of trust that was once trodden with footprints side by side. I believe there is plenty of exposure on the concept of betrayal and hurt in our culture, but is there emphasis on the effort to restore?

    Perhaps some time on the subject of wisdom and the emphasis on the wake of hurt due to the consequences of sin would help students to see things from a perspective of a more developed frontal lobe.

    Liked by 1 person

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