The Divine Comedy: Week 30, Good and Bad Loves

We're born to love, and our natural inclinations to love are not bent, broken, or depraved.

And yet, our loves do go wrong. So, how does that happen?

As Virgil describes in Canto XVIII, our loves go bad when they become disordered and misdirected, focused not upon God, the true goal of all our loves, but upon some lesser good. Here is Virgil giving a succinct summary of Dante's general theory of love, and the problem every soul on Mt. Purgatory is dealing with:
Neither Creator nor his creatures ever,
my son, lacked love. There are, as you well know,
two kinds, the natural love, the rational.

Natural love may never be at fault;
the other may, by choosing the wrong goal,
by insufficient or excessive zeal.

While it is fixed on the Eternal Good,
and observes temperance loving worldly goods,
it cannot be the cause of sinful joys;

but when it turns toward evil or pursues
some good with not enough or too much zeal--
the creature turns on his Creator then.
There's a lot here to unpack, so we'll be revisiting this passage, but for this week I just want to note the theme of disordered, misdirected love. Love isn't naturally bad. Love goes bad when it chooses the wrong goal. And what is the wrong goal? The wrong goal is some "worldly good" rather than the "Eternal Good."

Good love happens when we approach worldly goods with "temperance," keeping these goods in their proper place while "fixed on the Eternal Good." When we do this, when our loves are properly directed and ordered, our loves "cannot be the cause of sinful joys."

Virtue, in this view, is good love, and sin is bad bad. And we're judged, as Virgil continues in the next Canto, depending upon how we sort the good loves from the bad:
This is the principle on which is based
the judgment of your merit--according as
it winnows out the good love from the bad.

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