As part of my random self-education in the classics, I’ve been reading Cary’s Victorian translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. This passage is very near the beginning. Dante in his vision or dream is in a forest, where he meets Virgil, the Roman poet and philosopher, who offers to guide him through the world to come, as far as Heaven’s Gate. But he adds:
“The blest,Into whose regions if thou then desireT’ ascend, a spirit worthier then IMust lead thee, in whose charge, when I depart,Thou shalt be left: for that Almighty King,Who reigns above, a rebel to his law,Adjudges me, and therefore hath decreed,That to his city none through me should come.He in all parts hath sway; there rules, there holdsHis citadel and throne. O happy those,Whom there he chooses!”
In other words, Virgil himself is banned from heaven as ‘a rebel’ to God’s law, and no-one can come to heaven through him. This is in contradiction to what happens in the book! He does indeed guide Dante towards heaven.
On All Saints Day, let us be mindful of the good, non-Christian people whom we know, who live exemplary lives, perhaps with no thought of an afterlife or a heavenly reward. Happy, perhaps, to accept just one earthly life and the prospect of final extinction at 70 or 80, but to live a life of loving service to the end.
May God choose them – Virgil included – to join him in his citadel!