Augustine and Dante on Sin, Virtue, and Agency

"Here I saw people more numerous than before, on

one side and the other, with great cries rolling

weights by the force of their chests" (Inferno 7.25-27)

"The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill man's heart. We have to imagine Sisyphus happy."

---Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

In Confessions, Saint Augustine defines sin as alienation from God. Dante, too, affirms this conception in Inferno. But whereas Augustine tends to emphasize the negative aspects of human freedom---it triggered the Fall and distanced man from God---Dante practices a discerning syncretism. Probing beyond Augustinian ideas, he defends the possibility of human virtue divorced from God. In Inferno, extraordinary characters like Ulysses exemplify this possibility, displaying a uniquely human grandeur. In essence, Dante retains the Augustinian framework but proceeds to poeticize the heroic potential that arises from free will, delineating its power for good and its ability to partly redeem souls languishing in damnation.

Augustine renders nearly all judgment relative to an omnipotent God. Such a worldview manifests itself in almost all his rhetoric: "Who will grant me that you come to my heart and intoxicate it, so...

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