“John F. Kennedy’s favorite quotation, which he attributed to Dante, was that ‘The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality’
(Revelation) 3:16: ‘But because thou art lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth'” plays a crucial role in Dante’s conception of the Ante-Inferno. This passage from the Bible serves as a theological justification for Dante’s invention of a marginal place for souls who are neither good enough for heaven nor evil enough for hell proper.
Dante draws from this biblical verse to underscore the idea that indecision and moral neutrality are not acceptable in the divine order. Souls who fail to make a clear choice between good and evil are likened to those who are “lukewarm” and are thus rejected by God. This reinforces Dante’s view of human behavior and its consequences in the afterlife, where every action and choice carries significant weight. The Ante-Inferno serves as a place where these souls face the consequences of their indecisiveness or neutrality, emphasizing the moral and theological themes that run throughout Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Below is Dante’s actual words:.
“Master, what is it that I hear? Who are
those people so defeated by their pain?”
And he to me: “This miserable way
is taken by the sorry souls of those
who lived without disgrace and without praise.
They now commingle with the coward angels,
the company of those who were not rebels
nor faithful to their God, but stood apart.
The heavens, that their beauty not be lessened,
have cast them out, nor will deep Hell receive them –
even the wicked cannot glory in them.”
And I: “What is it, master, that oppresses
these souls, compelling them to wail so loud?”
He answered: “I shall tell you in few words.
Those who are here can place no hope in death,
and their blind life is so abject that they
are envious of every other fate.
The world will let no fame of theirs endure;
both justice and compassion must disdain them;
let us not talk of them, but look and pass.”
—Dante Alighieri, Inferno, canto iii (ca. 1317)(C. Langdon transl. 1918)