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HUM 120 The Medieval Self Augustine and Dante Essay

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Hum 120 (8583)
9-20-15
The Medieval Self
Both Augustine’s Confessions written between 397-401 CE and Dante’s Inferno
written between 1307-1321 depict different spiritual journeys to God by two different
men, Augustine and Dante the character. Augustine’s struggle with faith and the
character Dante’s passage through hell emphasize a focus on an afterlife during the
European Medieval period. Although Augustine and Dante share a similar view of a
separation from God as sin, they differ in their idea of the origins of sin, moral failure,
and correct pathway to redemption.
Regarding the existence of sin, Augustine does not believe human beings have an
original state of innocence. Even during the early stages of infancy and childhood,
Augustine demonstrates there is a presence of sin. For example, Augustine believes
infants commit sin by being self-centered when crying for food to ensure their own
survival. Babies also display a selfish tendency by not wanting to share even when there
is an abundance of milk (Book 1, 7). According to Augustine, one of the worst sins he
commits is when he steals pears as a boy because it is analogous to the source of evil
committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Book 2, 4).
In contrast, Dante’s view of the source of sin involves personal choice rather than
inheritance at birth. Human free will from Dante’s perspective can be good or bad since
one’s actions determine whether a soul is sent to heaven or hell. For instance, when given
the opportunity to make progress toward the path to righteousness, Dante decides to go
through many levels of torture in hell instead of fleeing (I, 124-126). In addition, the

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character Beatrice’s place in heaven represents that individuals have the ability to reach
divine grace if desired (II, 70-72). The importance of choice is also displayed through the
unidentified souls who have no place in the afterlife because they did not choose heaven
or hell. (III, 37-39).
In terms of human moral failure, Augustine considers humans’ ability to freely
make decisions such as preferring the bodily and physical world instead of spirituality to
be sinful. For instance, Augustine favors secular literature such as the Aenid, which
prevents him from being preoccupied with religious texts (Book 1, 13). Another example
of the sinful nature of free will is the physical temptation of lust, which Augustine
believes separates him from spiritual love (Book 3, 6). In addition, the devastation
Augustine feels when his friend dies is sinful because physical love cannot substitute for
spiritual love (Book 4, 2).
On the other hand, Dante’s viewpoint on moral failure is that condemned souls
choose their own fate by being consumed in sin and refusing divine grace. In particular,
the circle of hell containing the Gluttons living in filth represents how overindulgence in
life detached them from spirituality (VI, 7-9). In addition, the sinner Capaneus continues
to express defiance by blaspheming god in hell just as he had done in life. As punishment
he lies in burning sand from below and is scorched from fire rain above. (XIV, 46-48).
Another example is when Dante on various occasions feels remorse for people in hell,
which is questioning God’s justice (V, 112-114).
Augustine’s viewpoint concerning a soul’s pathway to redemption involves
obedience, baptism, and spiritual love. From Augustine’s point of view the existence of
free will is a contributor to sin and one should instead devote obedience to god’s will to

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Hum 120 (8583) 9-20-15 The Medieval Self Both Augustine’s Confessions written between 397-401 CE and Dante’s Inferno written between 1307-1321 depict different spiritual journeys to God by two different men, Augustine and Dante the character. Augustine’s struggle with faith and the character Dante’s passage through hell emphasize a focus on an afterlife during the European Medieval period. Although Augustine and Dante share a similar view of a separation from God as sin, they differ in their idea of the origins of sin, moral failure, and correct pathway to redemption. Regarding the existence of sin, Augustine does not believe human beings have an original state of innocence. Even during the early stages of infancy and childhood, Augustine demonstrates there is a presence of sin. For example, Augustine believes infants commit sin by being self-centered when crying for food to ensure their own survival. Babies also display a selfish tendency by not wanting to share even when there is an abundance of milk (Book 1, 7). According to Augustine, one of the worst sins he commits is when he steals pears as a boy because it is analogous to the source of evil committed by Adam and Eve ...
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