Freedom from Illusion
In a fine recent article in First Things entitled “The Freedom of Heaven & the Freedom of Hell”, Anthony Esolen mines Dante’s Divine Comedy to give us a striking image of what it means to be free. To be truly free, Esolen says, we must first free ourselves from the illusion that we are our own—the illusion that we belong to ourselves.
Ancient spiritual writers used to emphasize that we have been bought at a great price, the price of Christ’s blood. This is a direct reference to an important aspect of the Christian concept of “redemption”, which always includes a buying back by God of souls in bondage to sin and to the Devil. And before that, of course, God created us. He is the potter, we the clay. We were made by God and for God. We are not our own.
Esolen sees Dante’s depiction of Satan, whom Dante encounters in the very depths of hell, as a telling reminder of this truth. Satan sits at the very bottom of hell frozen in ice. He eternally flaps his reptilian wings, trying to rise under his own power. But his flapping creates bitter cold winds which keep the waters frozen, locking Satan in their grasp. Cut off from God, Satan's power of flight is utterly self-defeating. He refuses to admit that he is not his own, yet he cannot rise even the slightest amount under his own power.
So it is with us, and it makes a wonderful Lenten meditation. Every time we feel or think or act as if we belong to ourselves, our efforts are miserably self-defeating. For we are not our own. We belong to God.
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