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Saint Thomas Aquinas' End for Which Man Is Made and the Suicides of Dante's Inferno.

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Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches that the end for which man is made is to be reunited with the divine goodness of God through virtuous behavior as well as the use of rational human intellect in order to know and love God above all. Dante Alighieri composed The Inferno based upon Aquinas' theological teachings - teachings which were most significantly influenced by Aristotelian philosophy but had an overall theological theme. Instead of Alighieri exemplifying man's expected end of reuniting with God at the end of one's journey, he rather illustrates how man can pervert that end by loving evil things, which seem to bring happiness, above loving the actual, infinite source of happiness - God. Forever condemned to moving towards the evil things they sought on earth, the sinners in Dante's work are condemned to a hectic afterlife spent in hell instead of sharing in eternal peace and happiness with God. Therefore, those who sin destroy their humanity by not using their uniquely human gift of intellect and free will to reason against evil desires. Dante symbolically portrays their self-destruction by hopelessly entrapping the sinners in a specific ring of hell where they receive their punishment depending on the evil they sought on earth. Such punishment is appropriate because God grants the sinners their wish of choosing against God and so they suitably pay for their sin based on its cause and severity. Due to Aquinas' view of the end of man, which was collectively shared by middle age society, Dante composed a guide through hell illustrating how those who turn from God will suffer greatly at the end of life's journey.

Aquinas joined the Dominican Friars at the age of eighteen despite his family's objections. The order differed from other orders due to their emphasis on theological education; therefore, Aquinas, who studied in Italy as a child, went on to study in Paris and eventually taught throughout Italy and France .[1] Aquinas was first introduced to Aristotle at a young age but as he continued his studies he used Aristotelian philosophy to help justify nearly every aspect of his thinking, even though middle age society was somewhat weary of Aristotle's paganism. Still, Aquinas' two famous works of Summa tried to successfully combine faith and reason, mainly based on Aristotelian concepts, in order to discuss various controversial topics. Aquinas successfully synthesized both faith and reason to prove that each lead to the knowledge of God even though faith can overall uncover concepts that are unable to be proven by logical arguments (Aristotelian - based disputations). Aquinas used this scholasticism - the combination of ancient philosophy with Christian theology - in order to argue many theological topics, the most important of these topics being the final end for which man is made. [2]

Aristotle believed that through the use of the intellect we could receive happiness, for the good of itself, by simply contemplating the impersonal "prime mover" who doesn't particularly care about those who reside on earth. This "prime mover", too, is not the creator of all things, as Aquinas believed, but is the goal to which humans are to move towards in the final end to find true happiness. Aquinas built onto this Aristotelian view the theological aspect of a loving God that can be known face to face through the use of the intellect. One can receive God through a beatific vision - the human ability to intellectually receive the perfect possession of God as well as His infinite goodness to cure man's yearning for happiness.[3] Through this vision man comes in contact with being itself - being that calls everyone to reunite with The Creator in the final end. Humans answer His call by using free will to reason against evil desires in order to desire only God and lead a virtuous life; only then can we reunite with God at the end of our pilgrimage on earth.

Based on Aquinas' teaching on the end for which man is made, Dante composed The Divine Comedy to exemplify the final destiny that those who fail to receive and obey God are condemned to. Dante brilliantly depicted nine rings of hell which all sinners fall under, each ring representing earthly desires that man chose to gravitate to in life instead of gravitating towards God. As previously mentioned, Aquinas believed that humans are rational animals that have the ability to use their intellect to be virtuous and decide to encompass God during their lives instead of worldly desires; Dante illustrated what happens to those who fail do as Aquinas taught - do good and avoid evil. [4] In The Inferno, sinners are in a hopeless state of unrest, moving towards that which they desired on earth; their fate is hopeless because they no longer have the opportunity to find God as they once had on earth.

The suicides in Canto XIII of Dante's Inferno are a good example of those who have radically sinned against God. Committing violence against themselves, the suicides are located in round two of the seventh ring of hell; since the severity of the sins increase as you travel further into hell, the suicides have evidently committed a significantly evil sin against one of God's most generous gifts - the human body. Due to the fact that this specific group of sinners destroyed their mortal forms, they are forever dammed to a life in the form of a rigid twisted tree, among others, in the black and gnarly forest of the suicides. Harpies, hideous half bird/half woman creatures which defile everything they touch, nest throughout this forest and feed upon the leaves (limbs) of the trees and therefore cause great pain and suffering for the soul encased within.

According to Aquinas' teachings, the suicides in Canto XIII of Dante's Inferno pervert their end by failing to use their intellect to receive God's goodness in order to relieve the unbearable feelings they dealt with on earth. Instead, these sinners decided to literally take their lives into their own hands to end their suffering by discarding God's gift of the body on earth. These sinners feel as if it is good to end their lives because it seems as if it would end the suffering and therefore bring happiness. Here you see Aquinas' teaching that people seek that which is good in order to be happy but instead of rationally seeking the goodness of God, the suicides wrongly sought self-destruction as a way to happiness. These sinners should have looked for God when they felt as if their life was unbearable; if they tried to seek God through beatific vision then perhaps their lives would have been filled with all the goodness and happiness they needed to continue their lives and wait for when God Himself chose when their life would cease.

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