C.S.Lewis’ friend Dorothy Sayers was one of the great translators of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Her version includes excellent notes and a memorable map of hell.
Sayers’ map of the nine circles of hell makes visual one of the most important teaching points of Dante’s great vision.
Dante categorizes the sins with an inexorable logic. The sins of lust, gluttony and greed are at the top level of hell because they are the sins in which we love a good thing the wrong way or too much.
And yet most of us consider these sins to be the most serious.
By the time Dante gets to the end of the seventh circle there is a deep divide. In the map it is shown as the Great Barrier.
Circle Eight is composed of ten smaller ditches containing the souls of ten different types of the fraudulent. There we find the pimps and seducers, the flatterers, grafters, corrupt politicians, those who make money out of religion, hypocrites, thieves, sowers of discord, false counsellors, fakes, counterfeiters, conmen….all types of liars.
Satan himself is called “the Father of Lies” and everything he does is a lie. Exorcists say one of the most challenging things in dealing with demons is that they cannot tell the truth. Everything they do is a lie. They lie. They deceive. They distort. They misdirect. They distract. They accuse. They blame.
They lie. Lying is the most dangerous sin because the sinner himself eventually believes the lie. An intentional lie in the Eighth Circle is the kind of lie that is told to further the liar’s interests and to knowingly harm another person.
This is Dante’s Deep Divide. The lie (and then in the ninth circle–the traitorous) are the root of all other sin.
You might say Pride is the root of all other sin, and that is also correct, but pride also has at its heart a lie. Humility is honest and free. Pride is always a cover up, a denial of truth and a living lie.
Tony Esolen makes the sobering point in his commentary that the depths of hell are reserved for all kinds of liars because a lie attacks the very foundation and root of language and reason. Nothing stands if there is no truth. Everything crumbles because of lying.
Now here is the terrible realization about our relativist society: the whole thing is built on a gigantic and overwhelming lie. Relativism teaches that there is no such thing as truth, or if there is, then there is no way we can articulate it accurately. Pope Benedict XVI warned of the “dictatorship of relativism” and he was right, because if enough of us believe there is no such thing as truth, then we must find someone or some system that offers us the security of certainty so we can live our lives, and that leads, in the end to dictatorship. Literally.
In my own book about hell-–Slubgrip Instructs–the demon Slubgrip is teaching Popular Culture 101 in Bowelbages University. He instructs his diabolical college students how to infiltrate modern society and undermine it with a whole range of different forms of relativism.
What can counter the great lie? I am increasingly convinced that Catholic educators need to take a good long look not only at what we are teaching in our schools, but how we are teaching it. For too long we have gone along with the secular curriculum and added prayers. Instead we need to be looking at the roots of culture and the tools of classical learning. From the beginning we need to be teaching our children not only facts, but how to think and how to know the truth.
This is the foundation for the future and it is only in first believing truth, then teaching truth and how to discover it that the great lie can be reversed.
By Fr. Dwight Longnecker at Patheos