The Divine Comedy: Week 32, The Three Ways Love Can Go Wrong

The point established last week was that, according to Dante, our sins are due to love. At the root of every sin is a love gone bad. Love of self. Love of nation. Love of pleasure. Love of security. Love of money. Love name it. Sin, vice, and evil come from loving something here on earth more than loving the Eternal Good who gave us these gifts.

But how, exactly, does love go wrong?

Interestingly, the entire structure of Mt. Purgatory in the Divine Comedy reflects Dante's answer to this question. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the terraces of Mt. Purgatory are each assigned to one of the Seven Deadly Sins. And you might think that these sins are ranked from "worst" to "less worse." But that's not quite the structure. In Dante's scheme the sins/terraces of Mt. Purgatory are gathered under three groupings, the three ways our love can go wrong.

So, what are the three ways our love can go wrong? Let's revisit the lines from Canto XVIII I shared two weeks ago:
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.
Dante shares his theory of "bad loves" in these lines. Love can go wrong in one of three ways.

First, love can choose the wrong goal, specifically turning toward evil.

Second, love can choose a worthy goal, a good thing, but not have enough (insufficient) zeal.

And lastly, love can choose a worthy goal, a good thing, but love that thing excessively, with too much zeal.

In short, love goes wrong in one of three ways.
1. You can love a bad thing.
2. You can love a good thing lazily.
3. You can love a good thing too much.

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