The souls in Dante’s Purgatorio are our souls—in process and on the way, struggling to unlearn and relearn. Souls in the Inferno and the Paradiso are beyond change, but the souls in Purgatorio, like the still-living souls on earth, live in hope of heaven while they are formed in virtue by being reformed in love. At the centre of both the Purgatorio and the entire Commedia is a canto about love as the source of all our virtues and vices. Part of the power of Dante’s Purgatorio is that it invites us to step out of the immediacy of our own lives into the immediacy of this Augustinian and Thomistic-shaped world and into the lives of fellow sinners journeying up the seven-story mountain. As we read, we become fellow pilgrims with them, confronting our own misdirected, deficient, and excessive loves. However, also like them, we progress through repentance and the slow ardorous reordering of our loves, our habits, and our moral imagination, the latter of which is aided by images, models, and stories like the Commedia itself.
Brian Williams is a DPhil student in Christian Ethics, Oxford, researching the work of Hugh of St. Victor and Philip Melanchthon on the subjects of education and the intellectual appetite. He is the author of The Potter’s Rib, a book that explores the history, theology, and practice of mentoring for pastoral formation.