Christian Beliefs

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Holy Trinity
The Holy Trinity is an important part of Christian doctrine that states that there is only one God, but that God can be divided into three divine individuals: The Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit.

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Christian Beliefs
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Christian Beliefs
Christian Beliefs

The specific religious beliefs of Christians can vary greatly from denomination to denomination but within the faith practitioners generally believe in and can agree upon several tenants of Christianity. Among these tenants are the existence of God, the death (and subsequent resurrection) of Jesus of Nazareth, the 7-day world creation narrative, God's creation of humanity, and a handful of other key doctrines.

The Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity is an important part of Christian doctrine that states that there is only one God, but that God can be divided into three divine individuals: The Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit. Each one of these figures is both God, as a completed entity, while simultaneously distinct from one another in purpose.

Earliest version of the Shield of Trinity (manuscript of Peter of Poitiers, c. 1210)

The Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is considered to be one of the central doctrines of the Christian faith. Each part of the Trinity is consubstantial to the others and all three are God as a single entity. This perception of God as a trinity, while common to most denominations of Christianity, did not become popular until the early 3rd century, just under three hundred years after the formation of the Early Christian church. Original translations of the New Testament referred to a Trinity within the scriptures that represented God, the Son and the Holy Spirit interchangeably. It was Saint Theophilus of Antioch who first explicitly wrote that the Trinity was all entities of God in a single form, in the late 2nd century.

The Virgin Birth

Another key belief of the Christian faith lies in the virgin birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Several books of the New Testament (Matthew 1:18-1:25 and Luke 1:26-1:38) make mention of the Annunciation, conception and virgin birth of Jesus. By the 2nd century the idea had become widely accepted through the Christian Church. The Gospel of Matthew and Gospel of Luke tell the story of Jesus' conception from the points of view of Joseph and Mary, respectively.

In Matthew's gospel, it is revealed that Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before the two were married he became aware that Mary was pregnant. Joseph was preparing to quietly divorce her when he was visited by an angel in his dreams. The angel then told Joseph that Mary's virginity had been preserved, and that the child she would have was conceived through the Holy Spirit. Joseph was also told that the he should name the infant Jesus, and that the child would "save his people from their sins."

Luke's Gospel details the story of the Annunciation from the point of view of Mary. According to Scriptures, God sent the angel Gabriel to Mary, a virgin who was betrothed to Joseph. When Gabriel greeted Mary he told her that she was favored by God, and that she would be the mother of the "son of the Most High". Mary asked how it would be possible for her to have this child when she was still a virgin, to which the angel responded that the Holy Spirit would come to her to conceive the child without sin.

The belief in the virgin birth of Jesus of Nazareth is not limited strictly to Christians or practitioners of Christianity. The Qur'an also states that Mary was visited by an angel and informed that she would give birth to a son, despite being a virgin in Sura 3 (Al Imran) and 19 (Maryam). According to a book called The Koran, written by J.M. Rodwell, though it is not explicitly stated in the Qur'an, many Muslims believe that Mary and Jesus were the only two children not to be effected by Satan at the moment of birth. Christians will know this idea as Original Sin.


The martyrdom of Perpetua - the Menologion of Basil II (c. 1000 AD)

In Christian theology, martyrdom can be ranked or measured by degrees. Pope Gregory I was the first to define these modes and assign the colors of white, blue, green or red to each form. The title of a red martyr was granted to those who died a violent or torturous death as a result of religious persecution. Blue or green martyrs include those whose deaths "involve[d] the denial of desires, as through fasting and penitent labors without necessarily implying a journey or complete withdrawal from life." The title of white martyrdom was granted to those who died as a result of "strict asceticism", or abstinence from needs like fasting.

The martyrdom of many Early Christians at the hands of Roman officials inspired the faith and worship of fellow Christians and inspired other members of the faith to volunteer to be martyred. This phenomenon became so widespread that when a group of Christians presented themselves to the Roman governor of Asia in order to be martyred he put only a few to death before becoming exasperated and saying, "You wretches, if you want to die, you have cliffs to leap from and ropes to hang by."

"Persecution was seen by early Christians, as by later historians, as one of the crucial influences on growth and development of the early Church and Christian beliefs. [This] shows how the persecutions formed an essential part in providential philosophy of history that has profoundly influenced European political thought."

-W.H.C. Friend

One of the most infamous periods of Christian martyrdom began in approximately 257. Emperor Valerian issued an order that all Christian clergy-members must perform sacrifices to the Roman Gods. In a second letter, written in 258, Valerian commanded that all bishops and high-ranking members of the Christian church should be put to death. Christian knights and senators were stripped of their title, rank and property and, if they did not perform sacrifices to the Gods of Rome, they were executed as well. Members of the Emperor's household or workers that did not perform a sacrifice were made slaves and Roman matrons who refused where stripped of property and banished.

More vicious governors took it upon themselves to execute Christians in increasingly severe ways. Governor Aelius Hilarianus performed one of the most infamous executions of Christians when he handed down a death sentence to a Roman noblewoman and nursing mother named Vibia Perpetua and her slave, Felicity, who was also pregnant at the time. It was against Roman law at the time for pregnant women to be executed so it was not until Felicity gave birth to her child that the sentence was carried out.

According to scripture, Felicity and Perpetua were brought to the amphitheatreto be scourged by gladiators and publicly executed. Then a leopard, a boar, a bear and a cow were set upon the women and gladiators. After both Felicity and Perpetua had been severely wounded by the animals, they were put to the sword. According to scripture that the Roman soldier who had been tasked with ending Perpetua's life was unable to, "and when the swordsman's hand wandered still (for he was a novice), herself set it upon her own neck."

The martyring of Christians during the Roman Empire symbolized many things for the followers of this new faith. Ultimately, it became a way for Early Christians to show their obedience to, reverence for and respect of the values and ideals set out by Christianity, to the point of self-sacrifice and death. Scriptures about the deaths Felicity and Perpetua not only proved their commitment to the beliefs of the church, but showed that martyrdom could be a means of self-empowerment for both women and slaves.

The Death & Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Perhaps the most important tenant of the Christian faith is the belief in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. The Gospels of the New Testament describe in detail the series of events revolving around this event. The scriptures begin with the betrayal of Jesus at the hands of the Apostle Judas, and cover everything from the sentence of death, delivered by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, the torture that Jesus suffered, his crucifixion and eventual death. According to the writings of the Apostle Paul, Jesus was resurrected from the dead after three days, on what is now known as Easter Sunday.

All four of the Gospels of the New Testament include the narrative of Jesus' betrayal, arrest, trial, death and resurrection, with only very slight differences. The narrative begins the night before a great feast. Roman officials, who sought to arrest Jesus, thought it better to take him into custody the night beforehand rather than during the feast itself, in order to avoid mass rioting. In exchange for thirty silver pieces, the Apostle Judas agreed to identify Jesus to these officials with a kiss on the cheek.

According to the Gospels of Matthew and John, Jesus predicted that he would be betrayed that night as he sat down to eat with the 12 Apostles. Scripture explains that Jesus knew that he would be betrayed and allowed it in order for God's plan, to sacrifice his only son for the souls of mankind, to reach fruition. At the end of the meal Judas identifies Jesus with a kiss; Jesus is then arrested.

After his arrest, Jesus was given a short trial by a Jewish judicial body called the Sanhedrin. All versions of the Gospel attest that he was tried, mocked, beaten and then condemned for his claim of being the Son of God. After his trial by the Sanhedrin, Jesus was brought to the court of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, to corroborate the ruling of the Sanhedrin and condemn Jesus to death. Pilate, apparently felt pity for Jesus, choose not to make the sentence himself and instead offers the crowd that has gathered outside his court the choice to condemn Jesus or not. The crowd demanded Jesus' execution and Pilate sentenced him to be scourged and crucified.

Once convicted Jesus was flogged and mocked by Roman soldiers. He was then wrapped in a purple robe, symbolizing his "false" claim of ultimate royalty, and given a crown of thorns. After that, Jesus was made to carry the cross on which he would be crusified to Golgotha, the place of crucifixion. At Golgotha Jesus was offered wine to dull the pain and suffering of the crusifiction, but refused and was crucified between two thieves. According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus was stabbed in the side with a spear, and suffered for six hours before finally dying.

After his death, Jesus' body is removed from the cross to be anointed with oil and buried in a tomb, carved out of stone. The tomb was then sealed off with tremendous stone that could only be moved with the strength of several men. After three days a group of women, including Mary Magdalene, visit the tomb only to find the stone rolled away from the tomb's entrance. Once the women entered, they encountered the newly-resurrected Jesus Christ. Jesus told them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me". (Matthew 28:10)

No single Gospel includes a detailed and specific list of accounts of the resurrected Jesus Christ, though Christian theologians agree that the resurrection constituted the beginning of a new era. The Apostles were visited by the resurrected Jesus Christ and instructed to spread his word before Jesus ascended to Heaven and returned to the right hand of God.

The Second Coming

The Second Coming refers directly to the prophecy of the end times and return of Jesus Christ to Earth, as detailed in the Book of Revelation. Depending upon the denomination of Christianity that an individual chooses, the specific circumstances that occur before, during and after the Second Coming can vary drastically. The Second Coming has also been referred to as the Epiphany and the Parousia, the Greek word for arrival.

The Nicene Creed, a prayer that summarizes the narratives and ideology of orthodox Christianity, says that "he [Jesus] ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end; We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come; Amen".

Protestant Christian beliefs regarding the Second Coming vary greatly but generally state that Jesus will return to establish the Kingdom of God and to judge the sins of the people on Earth. Anglican, Methodist and Lutheran Christians (amongst others) acknowledge this through the Mystery of Faith: "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again."

Orthodox and Catholic denominations of Christianity preach about the Second Coming of Jesus in much the same way that Early Christians did. According to scripture, before the Second Coming the Earth will be conquered by the Anitchrist and endure an era of torture and suffering. Only after Earth has been overtaken will the Second Coming begin "as suddenly as a flash of lightning. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be". (Matthew 24:27) Counter to the phrase "second coming", Jesus will not return to Earth as some other denominations describe. Instead he will create a New Jerusalem through the resurrection of the dead in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Acts of the Apostles includes several passages explaining that the Second Coming of Jesus will be heralded with signs that the Lord will return to the Earth. "Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory". (Matthew 24:30)

Rapture is another key idea in the narrative of the Second Coming. Many denominations of Christianity, including Lutherans, Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, believe in Rapture only as the resurrection of the dead. In recent years a different idea of the Rapture has formed amongst fundamentalist Christians in the United States. According to some fundamentalists, and influenced partially by media like the book Left Behind, the Rapture will take place in a more overt way; all "good" Christians will be lifted up to heaven leaving only their clothes and those believers and non-believers who could not enter the Kingdom of Heaven behind.

The Creation of the World

The book of Genesis contains the narrative of the creation of the world at the hands of God. The scripture opens with the phrase, "In the beginning God created both the heavens and the earth," and details the story of God creating all of existence from a, "formless void" over the course of six days, with a final day for rest.

The creation narrative of Genesis implies that the cosmos that God created formed the universe in three separate tiers. The habitable earth was placed at the center, the underworld below and the heavens, high above.

The creation narrative of Genesis describes the order in which God chose to create all of existence, from the cosmos to the fish in the ocean. On the first day God spoke, saying, "Let there be light," and it was created. In this way, God was both bringing into existence, and naming what he had created.

On the second day of creation, according to English translations, God called into being the dome of the sky to separate the earth from the heavens On the third day God commanded all the water below the heavens to come together, which he named the sea.

On the third day he spoke to the earth, commanding it to produce, "all kinds of plants, those that bear grain and those that bear fruit."

On the fourth day God commanded into existence all of the lights in the sky. He separated the lights, placing the brightest one in the sky to rule over the day, called the Sun. And a smaller light to rule over the night, called the Moon. He then made many other lights and placed them in the sky as stars.

On the Fifth day God brought into existence all the fish in the sea, and all of the birds of the sky and commanded them to increase in number.

On the sixth day God commanded once again, "Let the earth produce all kinds of animal life: domestic and wild, large and small," creating all of the animals that would walk, run and crawl on the earth. Last, God created humanity from dust.

On the seventh day he rested.

The Creation of Humanity

The Fall by Michelangelo (1475-1564)

As with other Abrahamic religious, Christianity subscribes to the belief that Adam and Eve were created by God, and were the first man and woman. Adam and Eve lived together in the Earthly Paradise known as the Garden of Eden. Both were created without sin, but when they disobeyed the word of God and ate the forbidden fruit of the garden they were banished to Earth, to live out their lives away from the Paradise of God's Love.

The Christian narrative for the creation of humanity is recorded in the Old Testament, specifically in chapters one through five of the Book of Genesis. From the Book of Genesis, two narratives have arisen regarding the creation of humanity.

In the Yahwist-Elohist version of Genesis, God constructed Adam of dust, and breathed life into him. He then placed Adam in the Garden of Eden. Within the garden God also placed all the plants and animals of Earth, giving Adam dominion over all of these creatures. In the Garden of Eden God also placed the Tree of Life and the Tree of knowledge of good and evil. God also placed the Tree of Life and the Tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden. He then instructed Adam that he may eat fruit from any tree save the Tree of Knowledge.

When none of the creatures in the Garden of Eden proved to be a suitable companion for Adam, God took one of Adam's ribs and constructed for him a partner which Adam named "woman"; meaning "for this one was taken from a man". Adam described her as, "bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh". This narrative also describes Adam and Eve as having been created in a state of innocence, in which they were not ashamed of their apparent nudity. This version of the story of Genesis is known as the 'subordinating (of woman) account".

The Priestly narrative of Genesis, known as the "non-subordinating view (of woman)", accounts that God created both man and woman together, and presented them as equals that were given dominion over all life and creatures in Creation. "--so God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it." (Genesis 1:26-28)

The differences between the two narratives of Genesis appear to only exist in the idea of creation of the physical form, however. The story of the fall of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden remains much the same, regardless of whether an individual reads the Priestly or Yahwist-Elohist version of Genesis.

In the scriptures, one of God's creatures, the serpent, tempts Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, despite God's command to never eat its fruit. The serpent manipulated Eve and assured her that she would not die and, "God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil". Eve took the fruit and ate from it, also giving it to Adam, "who was also with her". Though Adam was also with Eve at the time of the serpent's temptation, traditionally women have been given the majority of the blame for humanity's fall from the grace of God. The apostle Paul wrote, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man"For Adam was formed first [according to the Yahwist-Elohist narrative], then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner." (Paul 2:11-14)

After eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, both Adam and Eve were granted the knowledge of good and evil. They were both overcome with shame at their nudity, covered themselves with fig leaves and hid from God. When God asked Adam and Eve why they hid their shame, Adam told God that Eve gave him the forbidden fruit. Eve told God that the serpent deceived her. God then names the serpent the enemy of mankind for its deceit, and curses it to forever crawl the Earth with its belly against the ground. God then punished Adam and Eve for their disobedience, condemning man (Adam) to labor hard upon the Earth to sustain life, and woman [Eve] to suffer the pain of childbirth in order to create life. The two were then ousted from the Garden of Eden to live life on Earth as we now know it. Presumably, the existence of Original Sin came from the disobedience and punishment of Adam and Eve as well.

Life After Death

Different ideas and interpretations of the afterlife exist in almost every culture on Earth. Christian theology and beliefs regarding the afterlife are generally similar amongst its various denominations. After death, Christians believe a soul will be judged by God or a Saint. A particularly popular image is that of St. Peter standing at the gates of Heaven, with a book that tells of all the deeds, good or bad, a person has committed in life. Once judged, one of three things will happen.

The souls of those, baptized or un-baptized, who have died in a state of mortal sin will be damned to Hell. The souls of baptized Christians and other repentant individuals who died as Christians who have also died in a state of non-mortal sin will be sent to Purgatory for purification before their entrance into Heaven. And, the souls of baptized Christians who died without sin (generally only achieved when a person is given their Last Rights) will be granted entrance into Heaven. One of the most famous interpretations of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven comes from a portion of the 14th century poem, Divine Comedy, written by Dante Alighieri.


Christian interpretations of Hell generally assert that it is a place for the souls of unrepentant sinners to suffer eternal damnation as a consequence of their transgressions. The concept of Hell is generally paired with the passing of a judgment by God, of the soul of an individual, after death.

Christianity's interpretation of Hell originally rose out of the Jewish belief in Sheol. Sheol was described as a place of silence and forgetfulness, below the ground. By the 3rd century, the idea of Sheol had grown to include two separate divisions: one for the good and righteous, and one for the evil and sinful. Hell was also believed to be a state of mind; individuals that were not Christian, had not found God or were un-baptized were said to be in Hell without God's light.

Dante and Virgil in Hell by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1850)

The first and most well-known portion of Divine Comedy details a journey through Hell; this part of the poem is named Inferno but is more popularly known as Dante's Inferno. Dante, as both the narrator or protagonist in the poem itself pass through the gates of Hell, and is then guided through the nine, concentric circles of Hell. As Dante passed through the gates of Hell he noted that the phrase "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'entrate" or "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here" was inscribed on the stone.

The first circle of Hell, known as Limbo, was reserved for virtuous pagans and those who were un-baptized. Despite being one of the circles of Hell, Limbo was not necessarily a place of suffering, as much as it is an imperfect Heaven. The souls of the lustful were condemned to the second circle, where they were buffeted by the winds of an endless storm. Souls consumed by gluttony ended up in the third circle, where they laid in muck and sleet from icy rain. The greedy were found in the fourth circle, forced to push great weights up steep hills. Amongst the greedy that Dante saw where many members of the papacy, including cardinals and popes. The river Styx acted as both a crossing in the story as well as the fifth circle of Hell. Souls who were judged and found to be wrathful were sentenced to remain in the freezing water, grappling with other souls to rise to the surface.

Lower Hell, composed of the final three rings, was made of steep slopes. Heretics and false prophets were entombed in flaming coffins in the sixth circle. The seventh circle, divided into three rings of its own, housed violent souls. The outer ring submerged those who were violent against people and property in a river of boiling blood. The middle ring held those who had done violence to themselves, like suicides and profligates. The souls of suicides were changed into thorny, gnarled trees that were eaten by harpies, and the souls of profligates were made to run from packs of dogs who chased and mauled them. The inner ring of the seventh circle was reserved for those who did violence against God. Blasphemers were damned to wander a flaming desert.

The souls of the treacherous or those who committed fraud (of different kinds) were sent to the eighth circle of Hell. The eighth circle was divided into ten Bolgie. The first bolgia forced the souls of seducers and panderers to walk in lines, whipped by demons. The second bolgia steeped flatterers in reeking excrement. The third trapped those who had committed simony, the act of attempting to obtain holy sacraments by bribery, gifts or other means. People guilty of simony were buried head-first in stone and their feet burned with hot coals. The fourth bolgia punished false prophets, astrologers, sorcerers and other users of magic by twisting their heads around so they were forced backwards.

Barrators, or corrupt politicians were fully submerged in a lake of boiling pitch. The inhabitants of the sixth bolgia, hypocrites, were made to wear lead cloaks, gilded in gold, to illustrate their falsehoods. Thieves were in the seventh bolgia, guarded by a dragon, and eternally chased and attacked by lizards and snakes. The eighth bolgia was devoted to counselors or advisors who had given false or evil advice to those who had asked their help. They were trapped within individual, burning flames. Souls deemed Sowers of Discord were slashed into pieces at the hands of demons, healed, and dismembered again in the ninth bolgia. The tenth was home for all souls of "falsifiers": imposters, counterfeiters and perjurers. Dante, as both the writer and the narrator, considered these people a disease inflicted upon society, and in this narrative they were given diseases as punishment.

The ninth and final circle of Hell was home to the souls of the treacherous; those who were sent there were tormented the most severely of all. This circle was separated into concentric rounds. The first encased souls in ice up to the chin for the sins of being traitor to "kindred" or family. Traitors to their countries, cities or political parties were kept in the second round, encased in ice like those in the first, but chewed on one another's exposed faces. The third round held traitors to guests, completely encased in the ice, with only their faces exposed. In the fourth round, at the deepest center of hell, were the souls of the people who had betrayed God. Within this round people were completely encased in the ice, in all sorts of inhuman positions. At the very center of this circle was Satan. As a traitor of Heaven, and a fallen angel, Satan was trapped up to the waist in ice, frantically weeping and trying to escape. In Satan's mouth was Judas Iscariot, traitor to Jesus of Nazareth, sentenced to be eaten alive and torn to shreds for all of eternity.


According to Christian theology, Purgatory is considered a place of only temporary punishment. When a person dies their soul is immediately sent to the afterlife to be judged and sent on to Heaven or Hell. Some souls that enter into the afterlife, while not damned to Hell, are not free enough from the effects temporal sin (Earthly sin) to pass directly into Heaven. The souls of these people, while not completely pure, are destined to enter Heaven, but not before they have been purified of all Earthly sin in Purgatory.

Some Christians and theologians believe Purgatory to be a state of mind, state of being or simple process to cleanse the soul, but most consider it to be a place. In this place, the souls of those who were not damned but were not yet pure enough to enter Heaven are generally depicted as being purified of their temporal sin by fire. It is also generally agreed upon amongst theologians that this causes great "Pain of the senses". Saint Augustine wrote that "gravior erit ignis quam quidquid potest homo pati in hac vita", or "the pain which purgatorial fire causes is more severe than anything a man can suffer in this life". However, there are branches and denominations of Christianity that outright deny the existence of Purgatory.

The idea of Purgatory has been a documented part of the Christian religion since the times of Early Christianity but the majority of ideas and conceptions of Purgatory were created during the Middle Ages through poetry, paintings and popular culture of the time. One famous depiction of Purgatory from that era comes, once again, from Dante's Divine Comedy.

The second part of Dante's Divine Comedy, Purgatorio, details the climb up the Mount of Purgatory. The Purgatory described in Dante's poem was much more focused on the idea of sin as a motive or root for sinful behavior, rather than Hell where sin lies in the direct actions of the souls of the damned.

The mountain itself was made up of a series of ten tiers that could only be scaled through suffering, sacrifice, faith in God and spiritual growth. The first two tiers were both called Ante-Purgatory; people whose souls were those of penitent Christians but their faith was delayed until late in life or deficient in some manner were placed here. After Ante-Purgatory came the seven terraces, representing the seven deadly sins. From bottom to top, the seven terraces were the proud, then the envious, the wrathful, the slothful, the covetous, the gluttonous, and the lustful. The final tier of the mountain was called the Earthly paradise, or the Garden of Eden.

The first two tiers were called Ante-Purgatory; these tiers had to be traversed by those souls who had become penitent Christians only later in life, perhaps even on their death beds, without receiving the sacrament of Last Rites. Amongst the souls who must climb the tiers of Ante-Purgatory were those who had been excommunicated from the church and had repented. These souls still did not have to fear being sent to Hell but they were made to wait for an amount of time that equal to their human lives before they could begin to properly scale the Mount of Purgatory.

The Mount of Purgatory was also subject to certain rules, the most important of which was simply called the "Rule of the Mountain", which stated that once the sun sets, the souls could not climb its sheer cliffs. Presumably this rule was a reference to the presence of God, and that progress in life (and in the afterlife) could only be achieved through the grace and presence of God.

After climbing past the two tiers of Ante-Purgatory, Dante arrived at the first terrace. This terrace focused on pride, and dotted along the path were statues and sculptures that expressed divine humility, the virtue that lies opposite of the deadly sin of pride. The first and most familiar example of this humility was shown through a depiction of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, when the angel Gabriel told her that she would bear the son of God. Also there were also statues depicting the prideful, including Satan and the Tower of Babel.

Upon entering the second terrace, dedicated to the vice of envy, Dante saw that the souls of the envious wore grey cloaks and had their eyes sewn shut, so as not to see the world around them. This terrace focused primarily upon the sense of sound, and Dante was also able to hear stories of generosity (the virtue opposite envy) in the air as he walked. Just as with the first terrace, he was also given examples of envy. In this case he heard the story of Cain, whose jealousy of the gifts Abel had been given by God eventually drove him to murder his brother in an act of fratricide.

Next was the terrace of the wrathful, its parallel virtue, meekness. For souls to purge themselves of the influence of wrathful actions and dispositions they had to walk through acrid smoke and miasma. The smoke was so dark that souls where unable to see the outside world, and were instead granted visions of meekness. While on this terrace Dante was granted a vision of the meekness of the Virgin Mary's understanding and love for her son Jesus, though he had disappeared for three days to listen to sermons at a temple in Jerusalem.

Souls that became entrenched in the sin of slothfulness were made to move endlessly on the fourth terrace. Souls ran the length of the terrace, too busy to converse with anyone else, let alone Dante. As an example of zeal, the virtue that combats sloth, Dante witnessed a scene, once again, from the life of the Virgin Mary. This time Dante sees Mary's great haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth after the Annunciation.

The fifth terrace purified the souls of all those who coveted Earthly rewards in the form of money, goods, extravagance and even over-ambition. The souls here lied face down on the ground, unable to move from their positions, repeating Psalm 119:25, "My soul cleaveth unto the dust: quicken thou me according to thy word," in prayer. Here Dante was shown an example of humble virtue through the humble birth of Jesus Christ, in the manger of a barn.

On the sixth terrace souls were purged of the sins of gluttony (the act of excessive drinking, excessive eating and the excessive desire for bodily comfort). Penitent souls were made to stay at a copse of trees that bore fruit, starving, though the fruit itself would be forever out of reach. There trees told stories of temperance, like the Virgin Mary sharing the gifts of her son, Jesus of Nazareth, at the Wedding of Cana.

The seventh terrace was aimed to purify those who must repent for sins of sexual desire and lust, both heterosexual and homosexual. Repentant souls had to cross through a tremendous wall of flame in order to reach the top of the Mount of Purgatory. From the flames Dante could hear the souls of others reciting examples of the Virgin Mary's chastity, chastity being the virtue to match lust.

After crossing through the fire Dante finally arrived at the summit of the Mount of Purgatory. At the very top of the mountain was the Earthly Paradise, also known as the Garden of Eden--it was there that the first humans, Adam and Eve fell from God's grace. Once at the top, the souls of all the people who had scaled the mountain were allowed to cross through the River Lethe, erasing their memories of past sin. Once through the River Lethe, they drank from the River Eunoe, restoring all good memories and completing the purifying process which allowed their ascent into Heaven.

Heaven (Paradise)

In the majority of Christian denominations Heaven stands as the fount of God's power, influence upon and love of all of existence. Two parts of the Holy Trinity are believed to reside there in a physical and (semi) permanent sense: God the Father and at his right hand, the resurrected Jesus Christ. There they will remain until Jesus once again returns to Earth to usher in the Second Coming and the resurrection of the dead.

Heaven is also widely considered to be the ultimate resting place of righteous, Christian souls, until the resurrection of the dead. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes Heaven as, "The ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme definitive happiness," and that it, "consists in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of the redemption accomplished by Christ". Whether Heaven is a state of being or a place is still debated amongst Christian theologians, though they agree that those in Heaven experience the bliss of being, "perfectly incorporated into Christ".

Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the highest Heaven by Gustave Dore

The third part of Dante's Divine Comedy, Paradiso, described the journey through the Christian paradise of Heaven. As with Dante's writings on Hell and Purgatory, Paradiso, is considered a popular depiction of the Heaven as it might appear. The Heaven that Dante described is laid out in sections, much the same as the circles of Hell and the terraces of Purgatory. According to the poem, Heaven stands as a series of spheres which surround the Earth--similar to pre-Galileo depictions of the planets revolving around Earth, and named accordingly. This layout of the Heavens was meant to allegorically symbolize the soul's ascent to God. [Some] of the planets are home to the souls of people based upon the vices, or lack of virtue, that they may have had in life, regardless, the souls there have found their Paradise and live in perfect harmony with God.

The first was the sphere of the Moon, it stood was the First Heaven for all souls who, in life, broke their vows. The waxing and waning of the moon was meant to illustrate the inconsistent nature of these souls. It was explained to Dante that vows between man and God are not meant to be broken unless keeping the vow would cause a greater evil.

The Second Heaven was on the sphere of Mercury. Ambitious souls, deficient in the virtue of justice, were there. Seeking Earthly glory through over-ambition is represented by Mercury's proximity to the shining light of the Sun. This proximity is intended to illustrate the fact that seeking only the light of Earthly glory is nothing compared to the overwhelming power and light of the glory of God.

Following along with the traditional imagery of Venus as the goddess of Love, Dante described the Sphere of Venus as the Third Heaven, a place for souls that lacked temperance in life. On this sphere Dante met the soul of Charles Martel of Anjou. Charles explained to Dante that in order for a society to function as it should, people of all kinds must work together and love one another, and gave an example from the life of the poet Sordello (whom Dante met while climbing the tiers of Purgatory). According to Charles, the soul of Sordello's young lover, Cunizza da Romano had ascended to Heaven, while the soul of her brother Ezzelino III da Romano, despite ruling Padua, Vicenza and Verona suffered in the seventh circle of Hell.

The Sun acted as the fourth sphere and the Fourth Heaven for souls who had become tenants of the virtues of fortitude, justice, wisdom and prudence. These souls had been pillars of God's teachings in life and, metaphorically, shined the light of their virtues on the Earth. While on the fourth sphere, Dante encountered the souls of King Solomon, Boethius, Saint Francis of Assisi, Isidore of Seville, and many others.

The fifth sphere was Mars, a planet commonly associated with the Roman god of War. The souls of Christian warriors who gave their lives fighting on behalf of God were in this Fifth Heaven. The dense groupings of stars surrounding Mars represent the deaths of these faithful warriors, and they formed the image of a cross, visible in the Heavens from a vantage point on Earth.

The Sixth Heaven existed on the sphere of Jupiter, holding the souls of Just Rulers. Like the spheres of Venus and Mars, Dante chose to mirror the theme of the god Jupiter, the king of the Roman gods. Amongst the souls there, Dante noted the presence of William II of Sicily, Constantine, David and even Ripheus the Trojan, who was originally a pagan, but had converted to Christianity and been, "saved by the mercy of God".

Saturn, the seventh sphere and Seventh Heaven, was a place for the souls of contemplatives: pinnacles of temperance. While in this Seventh Heaven Dante spoke with the souls of Saint Peter Damian and Saint Benedict. Saint Damian denounced "degenerate prelates", or high-ranking officials of the clergy or papacy, who would abuse their power while claiming it was the will of God.

The eighth sphere and Eighth Heaven was that of the Fixed Stars, representing Faith, Hope and Love. From there, Dante observed Earth and all of the spheres that he has already visited, and concluded that the Earth was very small and petty compared to the Heavens. Dante was then questioned by Saint Peter, Saint James and Saint John on his Faith, Hope and Love, respectively.

The Ninth Heaven of Primum Mobile, or "First Moved", sphere was the final sphere in the physical universe, moved directly by God. Primum Mobile was the home to all of God's Angels. Dante saw the light of God in the distance, surrounded by nine rings or "intelligences" of Angels. It was from Primum Mobile that Dante was able to ascend to the Empyrean, a place that lies beyond the physical realm of human existence. In Empyrean was a huge rose, also called the Celestial Rose. All of the souls in Heaven, including those souls that Dante met at every sphere, found their home in the petals of this tremendous rose. Dante also observed Angels flying around the rose to distribute Peace and Love, evoking the image of circling bees. Dante was then granted the privilege of looking at the Virgin Mary. Saint Bernard prayed to her to, in turn, grant Dante permission to look upon God. When Mary approved, God appeared to Dante in the form of three selfsame circles, seemingly impossibly occupied the same space, representing the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.