Angels of Purgatory

You are currently viewing Angels of Purgatory

Purgatory is a common concept in Catholic doctrine.  According to Catholic doctrine, Purgatory is a realm people who have repented go to, but do not merit immediate admission to heaven. 

A powerful literary depiction of Purgatory comes from Dante and his poet Virgil, who describe their imaginary trip through the afterlife kingdoms.  Dante and his guide, Virgil, travel through the realms of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise in the early fourteenth century. 

Purgatory, according to Dante’s vision, is geographically located in the middle of the ocean opposite Jerusalem.  It is structured as a mountain that has seven cornices built around it that each represents the seven deadly sins.  As we take a look at Dante and Virgil’s journey through purgatory, we will explore the role of the angels.

Dante and his guide Virgil’s Journey through Purgatory

The angels are sent by God from Paradise to guide the repentant souls in their journey toward salvation.  Like the entire journey of Dante, each encounter with the angels is rich with metaphors and allegories. 

These angels possess colors, gestures, and objects that symbolize a virtue that leads to the achievement of salvation.  Objects are like the sword and the keys of the angel doorkeeper, who guards the mountains of Purgatory.

An angel boatman is responsible for carrying each departed soul to Purgatory.  The angel carries the boat with its wings only.   Once the soul travelers have encountered the boatman, they are welcomed at the foothill of the mountain by the angel doorkeeper. 

At this point in  Dante’s and his guide’s journey, the two travelers ascend three steps, which symbolically represent contrition, confession, and expiation.  Next, before opening the gate, the angel-doorkeeper marks Dante’s forehead with seven symbolic p’s.  These symbols mark the structure of Purgatory.   

Two angels guard the lowest part of the Mountain.  This part of the mountain is referred to as ante purgatory, where souls start their process of expiation and purification before ascending to their designated cornices.  In the ante purgatory appears for the last time the tempter serpent.  This serpent is then killed by  the two angels and their swords. 

Dante then goes through the process of purification by having all of the P’s removed from his forehead one by one.  They are removed by the angel guides at the entrance of the various cornices, who represent the special graces sent by God to sinners for purification.

The Functions of the Angels of Purgatory

The angels of Purgatory are said to have three functions.  The first function is performing a purification rite.  This consists of removing one by one the deadly sins from the soul.  The second function is that they illuminate with their light. 

The third function is that they lead the soul in its ascent to perfection and beatitude by pointing out the stairways to the next cornice.  Each of those who guard the cornices symbolically represents the purgation of sin from their cornice or wears a color that represents a virtue.   

Dante is ready to ascend higher after all of his P’s are washed away.  Having completed the expiatory labor of climbing the mountain, he can now reach the Angel Guardian of the Terrestrial Paradise who welcomes those souls who have expiated their sins and are ready to ascend to the higher heavens of Paradise.

Leave a Reply