Inferno, Canto 2
Dante's attempts to climb the Mountain have taken the whole day and it is now Good Friday evening, Dante has not gone far before he loses heart and 'begins to make excuse'. To his specious arguments Virgil replies flatly: "This is mere cowardice” and then tells how Beatrice, prompted by St Lucy at the instance of the Virgin Mary herself descended into Limbo to entreat him to go to Dante's rescue. Thus encouraged, Dante pulls himself together, and they start off again.
The Prepatory Lecture
Questions for Reflection
Canto 2, © Jan Hearn
The Blessed Virgin Mary, whom the Church calls Theotokos (Mother of God), is the historical and universal God-bearer, of whom Beatrice, like any other God-bearing image, is a particu- lar type. Mary is thus, in an especial and supreme manner, the vessel of Divine Grace, as experienced in, and mediated through, the redeemed creation. (Note that the name of Mary, like the name of Christ, is never spoken in Hell.)
St Lucy, a virgin martyr of the third century, is the patron saint of those with weak sight, and chosen here as the image of Illuminating Grace. Mary, Beatrice, and Lucy are a threefold image of Divine Grace in its various manifestations.
Virgil's Mission, Dante is so far gone in sin and error that Divine Grace can no longer move him directly; but there is still something left in him which is capable of responding to the voice of poetry and of human reason; and this, under Grace, may yet be used to lead him back to God. In this profound and beautiful image, Dante places Religion, on the one hand, and human Art and Philosophy, on the other, in their just relationship.
Mark Vernon's Lecture