The Medieval Abyss of Eternal Suffering


The Middle Ages is a common subject of lovely Romantic pieces as it was the time of chivalry, tragic romances, crusades, brutal torture, folklore, superstitious beliefs, and a dominant Christian culture. As much as we would want to go back to this mystical era, life during the Middle Ages was surely not as easy as the lives we are living today. Before, the society was made up of only three groups: the nobility, the clergy, and the peasants; and people were roughly fitted into these categories. Social hierarchy was existent back then, which puts despair into the hearts of those who aspire for social equity.

Religion influenced the lives of medieval Europeans to a great extent, made evident by the constant crusades and the brutal torture machines for the deemed heretics. The influence of the Roman Catholic Church was dominant in the lives of the Europeans, that they totally believed that the earthly life was just a preparation for one of the destinations in the afterlife – heaven or hell. Because the medieval people were often depicted as seeing the world through rose-colored glasses and having strong beliefs (especially dictated by the Catholic Church) despite the lack of scientific evidences, religion was the medium through which the powerful control the people for their own benefits. Religion was used by kings to exercise their authority or unite their people, while the clergy use it to gain a lot of money. They were even richer than the monarchs, for people back then believe that they had to pay or offer something for the church to lessen the years of their stay in purgatory and head straight for heaven.

The medieval Europeans’ notion of heaven was a place of spiritual bliss, sweet joy, love, and peace in the company of God, Jesus, and the angels; while their notion of hell was a place of brutal torture, eternal suffering – basically a place full of wailings, torments, wrath, sadness, and hopelessness. I personally don’t know the true nature of these two places if ever they really exist, but I reckon that medieval people picture things extremely and they couldn’t see any middle ground. Dante portrayed hell as a place of persistent torture for the people who go against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, or simply those who committed one or more of the seven deadly sins that lead to damnation conceived during the Middle Ages along with the seven heavenly virtues. Developing such horrible and gruesome notions about hell was not inconceivable, for the most cruel and barbaric torture devices sprang from the Middle Ages, mostly used for those who go against the Church. The Church back then was really powerful like that, for your choice between your carnal desires and abidance to religious doctrines would be a matter of life and death in your earthly life.

However, let us remember that the renaissance just followed after this era. The development of technology and scientific researches only surfaced after the end of the medieval period, so we may excuse these overly superstitious people for that matter. The faithful belief that they had to whatever the Church said was so great that even Dante had made a political propaganda out of the Christian belief in the afterlife. It was made obvious by the way he included Roman traitors and his own enemies in his work. I rather think that he was indeed prejudiced in writing The Divine Comedy, although he had written it exquisitely. Classic pieces of literature like this are ought to be profoundly appreciated if not necessarily believed in, for Dante’s masterpiece had pretty much reflected the collective beliefs of the medieval people during that Christian-dominated era, and the wonders and horrors that the human imagination could ever produce. 

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