Strong Meat from the Stacks: Sayers On Pope Nicholas In The Eighth Circle Of Hell

The paradox which Pope displays in balanced antitheses, is displayed by Dante in violently juxtaposed images. “Judge not” says the gospel, “that ye be not judged.” Nevertheless, “till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise, pass from the law.” The law is for sin, and so long as there is sin, we must judge: we cannot help ourselves, for unless we judge, there is no earthly justice. Judge, we must, remembering that we ourselves are under judgment. Pope Nicholas is in hell—but who is Pope Nicholas and where is hell? Hell is in Dante’s heart and Nicholas is something that lurks there, greedy, and treacherous. The truth in the soul stands there to rebuke the lie in the soul: it looks down and knows itself in its opposite identity of evil. The dilemma is universal; the judge on the bench and the criminal at the bar are one in the bonds of nature; whenever a man condemns his neighbor, he condemns something that is latent or overt in himself. In the end of all things, judgment belongs to the “man born sinless, and who did not know sin”, and who, yet, being “made sin”, knew in his flesh what it felt like to be forsaken of God; that is why He is the only fit to judge.

Dorothy Sayers | Introductory Papers On Dante, 2 vol. (London: Methuen & Co., 1954; repr. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2006), 1.185.


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