From the Dark Wood to the Beatific Vision
Several people have asked me lately how to read Dante. I’ve written a book about that, one that takes Dante for what he is and doesn’t try to make him into a modern therapeutic guru. We used to offer, through Libertas University, a live online course on the whole Divine Comedy– something I hope to revive one day. Much else might be done to make better known the greatest Catholic poet, and his ambitious poem, which takes you from being lost in a dark wood of sin to the Beatific Vision.
There’s nothing in all of world literature like it. I’ve written here about how we want to re-emphasize our cultural mission as we approach TCT’s 10thanniversary next month. For anyone who senses the urgency of recovering Christian culture – not just theology, philosophy, and ethics (important as they are), but ways of thinking and feeling that breathe living fire into Christian logic – familiarity with a poem like the Comedy must be high on the list, for both sheer poetic power and unequalled scope.
Dante’s work doesn’t neglect formal logic and theological categories; he studied with one of Thomas Aquinas’ earliest students, Remigio dei Girolami, O.P. at Santa Maria Novella in Florence. And his mastery of several disciplines shows in the science, history, political theory, aesthetics, philosophy, and theology of his poem. In fact, one of the best jokes in the Comedy hinges on strict moral reasoning.
Guido da Montefeltro, the original for later mafia Guidos, is in Hell (Canto XXVII) among the “false counselors.” He spent most of his life as a kind of Machiavelli before Machiavelli, conquering towns by treachery. Late in life, he got religion and entered a monastery to do penance. Pope Boniface VIII (Dante’s sure he’s bound for Hell too) comes along and says (my quick summary): “You have to help me overrun one more town.” “Don’t do that kinda thing no more.” “Don’t worry I’m the pope, I forgive you in advance.” “You can do that?” “I’m the pope. Sure.”