Dante Alighieri: Medieval (1265–1321)

THE DIVINE COMEDY’S INFERNO
Canto I

While I was rushing downward to the lowland,
Before mine eyes did one present himself,
Who seemed from long-continued silence hoarse.

When I beheld him in the desert vast,
“Have pity on me,” unto him I cried,
“Whiche’er thou art, or shade or real man!”

He answered me: “Not man; man once I was,
And both my parents were of Lombardy,
And Mantuans by country both of them.

‘Sub Julio’ was I born, though it was late,
And lived at Rome under the good Augustus,
During the time of false and lying gods.

A poet was I, and I sang that just
Son of Anchises, who came forth from Troy,
After that Ilion the superb was burned.

But thou, why goest thou back to such annoyance?
Why climb’st thou not the Mount Delectable,
Which is the source and cause of every joy?”

“Now, art thou that Virgilius and that fountain
Which spreads abroad so wide a river of speech?”
I made response to him with bashful forehead.

“O, of the other poets honour and light,
Avail me the long study and great love
That have impelled me to explore thy volume!

Thou art my master, and my author thou,
Thou art alone the one from whom I took
The beautiful style that has done honour to me.

Behold the beast, for which I have turned back;
Do thou protect me from her, famous Sage,
For she doth make my veins and pulses tremble.”

“Thee it behoves to take another road,”
Responded he, when he beheld me weeping,
“If from this savage place thou wouldst escape;

Because this beast, at which thou criest out,
Suffers not any one to pass her way,
But so doth harass him, that she destroys him;

And has a nature so malign and ruthless,
That never doth she glut her greedy will,
And after food is hungrier than before.

Many the animals with whom she weds,
And more they shall be still, until the Greyhound
Comes, who shall make her perish in her pain.

He shall not feed on either earth or pelf,
But upon wisdom, and on love and virtue;
’Twixt Feltro and Feltro shall his nation be;

Of that low Italy shall he be the saviour,
On whose account the maid Camilla died,
Euryalus, Turnus, Nisus, of their wounds;

Through every city shall he hunt her down,
Until he shall have driven her back to Hell,
There from whence envy first did let her loose.

Therefore I think and judge it for thy best
Thou follow me, and I will be thy guide,
And lead thee hence through the eternal place,

Where thou shalt hear the desperate lamentations,
Shalt see the ancient spirits disconsolate,
Who cry out each one for the second death;

And thou shalt see those who contented are
Within the fire, because they hope to come,
Whene’er it may be, to the blessed people;

To whom, then, if thou wishest to ascend,
A soul shall be for that than I more worthy;
With her at my departure I will leave thee;

Because that Emperor, who reigns above,
In that I was rebellious to his law,
Wills that through me none come into his city.

He governs everywhere, and there he reigns;
There is his city and his lofty throne;
O happy he whom thereto he elects!”

And I to him: “Poet, I thee entreat,
By that same God whom thou didst never know,
So that I may escape this woe and worse,

Thou wouldst conduct me there where thou hast said,
That I may see the portal of Saint Peter,
And those thou makest so disconsolate.”

Then he moved on, and I behind him followed.


Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy has so permeated literature and theology that much of what he wrote about the afterlife is though by many to come from the Bible.  T.S. Eliot said “Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them. There is no third.”

John Mark Reynolds said this in his book, The Great Books Reader:

The best advice I can give is to read quickly the first time. You will know you’re missing more than you’re gaining, but get what you can and then read the selection again. This time, look up some of the unfamiliar people and works. Third time, try reading the lines aloud and let the sound move you. Focus on a single line you want to understand the fourth time through, and read until you understand.

The Comedy is an entire Christian worldview. It isn’t the only possible Christian worldview, because no human book could contain that whole, but it’s a very good one. It combines the best science, theology, poetry, politics, and psychology from the age in which it was written. That means parts of it are wrong, but even where wrong, it stimulated in others the thinking that produced modernity.

The Divine Comedy portrays Dante’s vision of heaven and hell.  What is yours?

Join the discussion on Facebook HERE 

Logo

John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


 On Anguish and Beauty

Anthony Esolen

How does one begin to praise the greatness of Dante’s Divine Comedy?
It is as wildly various as the flora and fauna that sport across the capitals of an illuminated manuscript.

It is as theologically ordered and precise, in its own way, as the Summa Theologica of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Dante’s leading light in matters of the intellect, the virtues, the church, and the nature of God.

It is as delightful as a romance with Lancelot and Guenevere, as terrifying as the apocalypse of John, and as wondrous as the seraphic vision that came to Saint Francis and marked him with the marks of Christ.

What moment in all of literature can surpass the profound anguish of an Ugolino who looks into the faces of his children, all prisoners on his account, and all, with him, about to starve to death, and who says, in a few stunning words, “I did not weep, I had so turned to stone”?

But then, what moment can surpass the wonder of Piccarda, who has become more human precisely because she has immersed herself in the divine Love? “In His will is our peace,” says she.

If we say it’s hard to find a single human moment, or a single one of the wonders of God as made manifest to man, that does not find its place in Dante’s poem, we say no more than the truth, and yet we still fail to grasp the excellence here. For it’s one thing to find these moments—to find, in the excerpt above, the grim blasphemy of sinners who wish, far more than that they had never been born, that their parents and the whole human race and the time and place of their begetting had never existed; a universal curse. Or to find the paradox that love, that sweetest of desires, had brought disaster and condemnation—as Francesca the gentle-spoken adulteress says, “Love led us to one death.”

What astonishes more than all is to find all these things ordered in an artistic, philosophical, and theological whole, so that Virgil’s encounter with Beatrice is meant to anticipate Dante’s encounter with Francesca, and then with other lovers and indeed other writers of love poetry in the Purgatory, before the pilgrim poet finally meets Beatrice herself; she in turn leads him to Paradise, where he will enjoy at the last a vision of “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.”

Such an achievement in poetry had no precedent.

Dante could have done as Milton would do, centuries later, and adapt the meter, narrative techniques, and epic apparatus of Virgil’s Aeneid to his own language. He did not.

He could have written in the style of the romancers of his own day, like the prodigious and remarkably original Chrétien de Troyes. He did not.
The Divine Comedy is of its own kind, even as it gathers to itself all the Christian and classical learning Dante had inherited. It’s as if a man should study all the paintings of the dramatic Caravaggio and the brooding Rembrandt, and then, inspired by them, compose the Saint Matthew Passion—when, to boot, nothing of that sort had ever been composed before, and nothing quite of that sort would ever be composed again.

———

All of this is to insist that when we read Dante, even in the few cantos above, we bring to our reading more than the habits we have acquired in reading other poets. We must read as composers, as sculptors, as architects, as theologians.

Take, for example, the appearance of Beatrice to Virgil. We understand the necessity of the conversation. Dante the pilgrim is having second thoughts about entering hell—naturally. But instead of giving him an eminently practical reason for trusting him, as, for instance, that if Dante remains in the dark wilderness he will be lost for certain, but if he accompanies Virgil he at least has a chance, the Roman poet becomes for him and for us a courtly lover, swept into obedient service by a vision of a beautiful woman such as had no counterpart in anything he had ever written.

Now, if we conclude that this is just a fine quirk of poetic adaptation, we miss the deep humanity and theology both. Dante expects us to think—that is the object of reason—and to begin to see—that is the object of the intellect. This is, after all, the same Virgil who has just revealed to Dante that he will never enjoy the sight of God, and who has burst into an exclamation of longing and hopelessness: “Happy the man He chooses for His house!” That is the man who now tells Dante he has seen Beatrice, and, even before she gives her name, indeed before she speaks a word, “begged her for the grace of a command.” The ancient pagan is a man like all men, made to be fulfilled only by the vision of holiness itself, the vision of God.

I hope, then, dear reader, that you will not approach this poem as if it were a mere artistic artifact. Such would be to sin against any work of truly great art, but it would be all the more disordered in the case of Dante. That is because Dante himself summons us to a deeper engagement with the world of man and the being and goodness of God.

If we were present on that dread day, under the blank staring of the Mediterranean sun, when, amid those who loved Him and those who plotted His destruction, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, would we confine our thoughts to the picturesque scene, or to the eloquence of the Master? No, we would long to look upon the reality itself. The only human thing to do, the only rational thing, would be to press beyond the human, in love. We would—or at least we should—take upon ourselves the ultimate task of our poet: to seek the face of God.

Anthony Esolen, PhD, is a professor of Literature at Providence College and a senior editor of Touchstone magazine. In addition to authoring several books, he is well-known for his translations of classical works of literature, including Dante’s Divine Comedy.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).

Analyzing the Account of Adam and Eve Using Dante’s Fourfold Method by Melissa Cain Travis

Melissa Cain Travis

In book two, chapter one of Convivio, Dante outlines a fourfold method for the interpretation of literature. The first level of understanding is the literal, which involves the plain, superficial meaning of the text. The second is the allegorical, the identification of symbols of higher truths, what Dante refers to as “truth hidden beneath a beautiful fiction.”[1] The third is the moral, by which wisdom about virtue and vice is gleaned from the text. The fourth understanding is the anagogical or spiritual sense, in which “supernal things of eternal glory” are signified, even if the work is also literally true. Using this fourfold method, we may analyze the account of mankind’s fall recorded in the third chapter of Genesis.

In the literal reading of the story of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman are created in a sinless state and given one command: not to eat the fruit of a tree that grows in their garden dwelling, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. If they do so, they are told, they will “surely die.” A crafty serpent approaches the woman and manipulates her into believing and acting in a way contrary to divine proclamation. Tempted by the idea of having her eyes opened and being like God (as the serpent has promised), she partakes of the forbidden fruit and offers it to her husband, who willfully accepts it. As a result, both are banished from their idyllic home, exiled to a difficult mortal life of toil, pain, contention, and distance from God.

Allegorically, the man and woman represent all of humankind, past, present, and future. Like Adam and Eve, all of us exploit our God-given free will to our own detriment, failing to achieve moral perfection. The serpent is a metaphor for the influence of external evil, whether satanic or human in origin. The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil represents the pervasive, superficially attractive opportunities for moral depravity, while the Tree of Life may be thought of as symbolizing access to immortality and intimacy with God.

The moral understanding of the account is the lesson that disobedience to divine command is objectively wrong and cannot go unpunished. Sin corrupts the human soul, leading to natural negative consequences and the added misery of broken fellowship with the Creator. Moreover, disobedience has ramifications that affect others to a magnitude and temporal extent that we cannot even begin to fathom.

The anagogical reading offers higher, spiritual truths about good, evil, human nature, and God’s plan of redemption. We are a fallen race living in the midst of cosmic conflict; Satan’s objective is the destruction of the souls of men by the distortion of truth in one manner or another. However, from the very beginning, God has preordained his inevitable victory, which will come through the descendent of the woman. God incarnate, the “offspring,” will eventually trample the enemy, defeating evil and its myriad effects once and for all.

Logo

John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.


Melissa Cain Travis serves as Assistant Professor of Apologetics at Houston Baptist University. She is the author of Science and the Mind of the Maker (forthcoming, Harvest House 2018) and the Young Defenders series (Apologia Press). She is a writer for Christian Research Journal and blogs at melissatravis.com.

 

[1] http://digitaldante.columbia.edu/library/dantes-works/the-convivio/book-02/#01

Dancing Through The Fire by Malcolm Guite

untitled

Then stir my love in idleness to flame
To find at last the free refining fire
That guards the hidden garden whence I came.

O do not kill, but quicken my desire,
Better to spur me on than leave me cold.
Not maimed I come to you, I come entire,

Lit by the loves that warm, the lusts that scald,
That you may prove the one, reprove the other,
Though both have been the strength by which I scaled

The steps so far to come where poets gather
And sing such songs as love gives them to sing.
I thank God for the ones who brought me hither

And taught me by example how to bring
The slow growth of a poem to fruition
And let it be itself, a living thing,

Taught me to trust the gifts of intuition
And still to try the tautness of each line,
Taught me to taste the grace of transformation

And trace in dust the face of the divine,
Taught me the truth, as poet and as Christian,
That drawing water turns it into wine.

Now I am drawn through their imagination
To dare to dance with them into the fire,
Harder than any grand renunciation,

To bring to Christ the heart of my desire
Just as it is in every imperfection,
Surrendered to his bright refiner’s fire

That love might have its death and resurrection.

Hear Malcolm Guite read today’s poem


It is somehow easier for us to understand Jesus as the Son of God than the Son of Man.  When Christ spoke of Himself this way, the gospel of John says the crowds were astonished and asked “Who is this Son of Man?”  His reply was instructive.  He said “A little while longer the light is with you.  Walk while you have the light lest the darkness overtake you…”  We tend to suppress our humanity as somehow bereft of the imago Dei, yet here we find Jesus with both promise and warning.

Desire which fuels our passion is not to be extinguished but rather elevated from corrupt and poor substitutions by the light of Christ.  We are grateful to poets who strengthen and inspire us to lift our heads as children of God.  As Malcolm Guite writes in The Word in the Wilderness:

Through them I learned that the right response to Eros is not to ask for less desire, but for more, to deepen my desires until nothing but Heaven can satisfy them. I also take occasion here to think about the art of poetry itself. There is a parallel, I think between our love-life and the making of poetry. In both there is an initial gift and inspiration, a subtle and all-transforming intuition of beauty. But in both this might easily be frittered away or corrupted. The first glimpse, the intuition, which as it did for Yeats’s Wandering Aengus, should lead to a life-times quest, can be lost or dissipated in the pursuit of one will’o’the wisp after another. Or we can be faithful to it: that first intuition, that graceful gift of love can be attended to, and shaped.

How does passion reveal the image of God?

John 12:34–36

The people answered Him, “We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever; and how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?” Then Jesus said to them, “A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), Italian poet and philosopher. Little is known of his early life except that he was born in Florence, lost his parents before he was 18, was betrothed at the age of 12 and married in 1293. In 1274 he first met his Beatrice (prob. Bice Portinari, the daughter of a Florentine citizen and wife of Simone dei Bardi), and he became her poet nine years later. Her death in 1290 led to a crisis, resolved by writing the Vita nuova (prob. in 1292, possibly later) in which he promised her a poem ‘such as had been written for no lady before’, a promise fulfilled in the *Divina Commedia. He then turned to the study of philosophy, prob. under the *Dominicans at Florence, and wrote a series of allegorical Canzoni or odes on the Lady Philosophy and literal ones on Courtesy, Nobility, Liberality, and Justice. In 1294 he entered politics but, having supported the opponents of Pope *Boniface VIII, he was exiled from Florence in 1301 and travelled widely in Italy. He returned to the study of philosophy and wrote the incomplete De Vulgari Eloquentia in Latin and began the Convivio (Banquet), which was designed to comment freely on his earlier philosophical Canzoni. In the course of the fourth book he became aware of the significance of the Roman Empire; the appearance of the Emp. Henry VII in Italy at the same time (1310) converted Dante into an ardent supporter of the Emperor, for whom he wrote in Latin the treatise De Monarchia (1312–14?). This work, which was condemned as heretical (*Averroist) in 1329, argued the need for a universal monarchy to achieve the temporal happiness of mankind and the independence of the Empire from the Pope and the Church, which should abandon all temporal authority and possessions and concentrate on happiness in the world to come. Dante’s political prospects were shattered by the death of Henry VII in 1313, and in 1315 his native city of Florence renewed its sentence against him. He spent some years at *Verona and from c. 1316 lived at *Ravenna, where he died. The last period of his life was devoted to the completion of the Divina Commedia (q.v.), which established him as one of the few poets who belong to all times and all nations.

 
F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 453.

Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings.  For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page

Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith

 

51vg-xoskvl-_sy346_For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.

Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.
Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.

 

Art: London Street Art: Golden Lady by Josephine R. Unglaub

Josephine R. Unglaub
Josephine R. Unglaub

Unglaub is a German-based artist and photographer with a passion for surrealism. Her work can be found here: https://lemanshots.wordpress.com

 

 

The Refining Fire by Dante

Ff107685Over my suppliant hands entwined, I leaned
just staring at the fire, imagining
bodies of human beings and seen burn.
And both my trusted guides now turned to me.
And the Virgil spoke, to say: ‘My dearest son,
here may be agony but never death.
Remember this! Remember! And if I
led you to safety on Geryon’s back,
what will I do when now so close to God?
Believe this. And be sure. Where you to stay
a thousand years or more wombed in this fire,
you’d not been made the balder by one hair.
And if, perhaps, you think I’m tricking you,
approach the fire and reassure yourself,
trying with your own hands your garments hem.
Have done, I say, have done with fearfulness.
Turn this way. Come and enter safely in!’
But I, against all conscience, stood stock still.
And when he saw me stiff and obstinate,
he said, I little troubled: ‘Look my son,
between Beatrice and you there is just this wall….’
Ahead of me, he went to meet the fire,
and begged that Statius, who had walked the road
so long between us, now take up the rear.
And, once within, I could have flung myself ‒
The heat that fire produced was measureless ‒
or coolness, in a vat of boiling glass.
To strengthen me, my sweetest father spoke,
as on he went, of Beatrice always,
saying, it seems I see her eyes already.’
and, guiding us, a voice sang from beyond.
So we, attending only to that voice,
came out and saw where now we could ascend.
‘Venite, benedicti Patris mei!’
sounded with in what little light there was.
This overcame me and I could not look.

(The Devine Comedy, II Purgatorio, lines 16−32 and 46−60)

Hear Malcolm Guite read today’s poem


The essence of sin as described by St Paul in his epistle to the Romans is man’s suppression of Truth, which he goes on to say results in the exchange of Truth for a lie.  Here we see the imago Dei, or the image of God with which we are created, dwelling as St Paul says ‘in darkness.’ The capital sins through which Dante progresses in Purgatory are inversions of virtue, and they crush our souls.

In The Word in the Wilderness, Malcolm Guite describes the progression:

They started at the bottom of the mountain, crushed, as we all are, by the heavy weight of Pride. For the very thing we think is exalting us up, is really weighing us down, all that effort to keep up the image! Best to let it go and rest in humility, accepting that grace we all need. They have been through Envy, and learned to shut their eyes to the useless things we covet, they have stumbled through the black and blinding smoke of Anger, and so with the other sins, each thankfully left behind. But there is always something that stays with us, some besetting sin that, as Paul says, ‘clings so close’. And so at last they come to the smallest circle, the least of the seven, but it still needs addressing, and that, as you will already have guessed, is Lust!

Why do we cling to that which destroys us?

Romans 1:18–25

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Dig Deeper: Art, Literature & Liturgy

Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), Italian poet and philosopher. Little is known of his early life except that he was born in Florence, lost his parents before he was 18, was betrothed at the age of 12 and married in 1293. In 1274 he first met his Beatrice (prob. Bice Portinari, the daughter of a Florentine citizen and wife of Simone dei Bardi), and he became her poet nine years later. Her death in 1290 led to a crisis, resolved by writing the Vita nuova (prob. in 1292, possibly later) in which he promised her a poem ‘such as had been written for no lady before’, a promise fulfilled in the *Divina Commedia. He then turned to the study of philosophy, prob. under the *Dominicans at Florence, and wrote a series of allegorical Canzoni or odes on the Lady Philosophy and literal ones on Courtesy, Nobility, Liberality, and Justice. In 1294 he entered politics but, having supported the opponents of Pope *Boniface VIII, he was exiled from Florence in 1301 and travelled widely in Italy. He returned to the study of philosophy and wrote the incomplete De Vulgari Eloquentia in Latin and began the Convivio (Banquet), which was designed to comment freely on his earlier philosophical Canzoni. In the course of the fourth book he became aware of the significance of the Roman Empire; the appearance of the Emp. Henry VII in Italy at the same time (1310) converted Dante into an ardent supporter of the Emperor, for whom he wrote in Latin the treatise De Monarchia (1312–14?). This work, which was condemned as heretical (*Averroist) in 1329, argued the need for a universal monarchy to achieve the temporal happiness of mankind and the independence of the Empire from the Pope and the Church, which should abandon all temporal authority and possessions and concentrate on happiness in the world to come. Dante’s political prospects were shattered by the death of Henry VII in 1313, and in 1315 his native city of Florence renewed its sentence against him. He spent some years at *Verona and from c. 1316 lived at *Ravenna, where he died. The last period of his life was devoted to the completion of the Divina Commedia (q.v.), which established him as one of the few poets who belong to all times and all nations.

 
F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 453.

Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings.  For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page

Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith

 

51vg-xoskvl-_sy346_For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.

Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.
Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.

 

Art: William Blake – The Angel Inviting Dante to Enter the Fire – National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne – 1824-7

De Magistro by Malcolm Guite

SL7I thank my God I have emerged at last,
Blinking from Hell, to see these quiet stars,
Bewildered by the shadows that I cast.

You set me on this stair, in those rich hours
Pacing your study, chanting poetry.
The Word in you revealed his quickening powers,

Removed the daily veil, and let me see,
As sunlight played along your book-lined walls,
That words are windows onto mystery.

From Eden, whence the living fountain falls
In music, from the tower of ivory,
And from the hidden heart, he calls

In the language of Adam, creating memory
Of unfallen speech. He sets creation
Free from the carapace of history.

His image in us is imagination,
His Spirit is a sacrifice of breath
Upon the letters of his revelation.

In mid-most of the word-wood is a path
That leads back to the springs of truth in speech.
You showed it to me, kneeling on your hearth,

You showed me how my halting words might reach
To the mind’s maker, to the source of Love,
And so you taught me what it means to teach.

Teaching, I have my ardours now to prove,
Climbing with joy the steps of Purgatory.
Teacher and pupil, both are on the move,

As fellow pilgrims on a needful journey.

Hear Malcolm Guite read today’s poem


Most of us can point to a special teacher who made a material difference in our lives.  They stand out beyond the spark they created in our minds, because it was their personal interest in us that endeared them.  The title of today’s poem means ‘of the teacher’ and it is also the title of a work by St Augustine co-written as a dialogue with his son.

In The Word in the Wilderness, Malcolm Guite writes:

Augustine tells how father and son explore together what it means to learn and to teach and come to the conclusion that at any moment when we suddenly ‘recognize’ a truth, and make a glad, inner assent to it, it is not the outward and visible teacher, the person in the room, who is the ultimate source of that truth and that assent, but rather an ‘inner’ teacher, deep within us, a source of light and truth to whom we have brought each proposition for confirmation, and that teacher, said Augustine is Christ, himself, the Logos, the Word in each of us, who guides us through the wilderness. At such moments of joyful recognition both teacher and pupil discern the Word in and through one another, and in and through the words they share.

Describe a teacher who made a significant impact on your life.

John 13:13

Jesus said “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.”

 

Dig Deeper: Art, Literature & Liturgy

Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), Italian poet and philosopher. Little is known of his early life except that he was born in Florence, lost his parents before he was 18, was betrothed at the age of 12 and married in 1293. In 1274 he first met his Beatrice (prob. Bice Portinari, the daughter of a Florentine citizen and wife of Simone dei Bardi), and he became her poet nine years later. Her death in 1290 led to a crisis, resolved by writing the Vita nuova (prob. in 1292, possibly later) in which he promised her a poem ‘such as had been written for no lady before’, a promise fulfilled in the *Divina Commedia. He then turned to the study of philosophy, prob. under the *Dominicans at Florence, and wrote a series of allegorical Canzoni or odes on the Lady Philosophy and literal ones on Courtesy, Nobility, Liberality, and Justice. In 1294 he entered politics but, having supported the opponents of Pope *Boniface VIII, he was exiled from Florence in 1301 and travelled widely in Italy. He returned to the study of philosophy and wrote the incomplete De Vulgari Eloquentia in Latin and began the Convivio (Banquet), which was designed to comment freely on his earlier philosophical Canzoni. In the course of the fourth book he became aware of the significance of the Roman Empire; the appearance of the Emp. Henry VII in Italy at the same time (1310) converted Dante into an ardent supporter of the Emperor, for whom he wrote in Latin the treatise De Monarchia (1312–14?). This work, which was condemned as heretical (*Averroist) in 1329, argued the need for a universal monarchy to achieve the temporal happiness of mankind and the independence of the Empire from the Pope and the Church, which should abandon all temporal authority and possessions and concentrate on happiness in the world to come. Dante’s political prospects were shattered by the death of Henry VII in 1313, and in 1315 his native city of Florence renewed its sentence against him. He spent some years at *Verona and from c. 1316 lived at *Ravenna, where he died. The last period of his life was devoted to the completion of the Divina Commedia (q.v.), which established him as one of the few poets who belong to all times and all nations.

 
F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 453.

Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings.  For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page

Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith

 

51vg-xoskvl-_sy346_For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.

Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.
Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.

Art: Henri de Triqueti – Dante and Virgil – Museum of Fine Arts, Boston – 1861-2

Towards A Shining World by Dante

DivineComedyFresco-e1436473812304Dante and Virgil emerge from hell and begin the ascent of mount purgatory

So now we entered on that hidden Path,
my Lord and I, to move once more towards
a shining world. We did not care to rest.
We climbed, he going first and I behind,
until through some small aperture I saw
the lovely things the skies above us bear.
Now we came out, and once more saw the stars.

To race now over better waves, my ship
of mind -alive again- hoists sail, and leaves
behind its little keel the gulf that proved so cruel.
And I’ll sing, now, about the second realm
where human spirits page themselves from stain,
becoming worthy to ascend to Heaven.
Here, too, dead poetry will rise again.
for now, you secret Muses, I am yours…

Dawn was defeating now the last hours sung
by night, which fled before it. And far away
I recognised the tremblings of the sea.
Alone, we walked along the open plain,
as though, returning to a path we’d lost,
our steps, until we came to that, with vain.
Then, at a place in shadow with the dew
still fought against the sun and, cooled by breeze,
had scarcely yet been send out into vapour,
my master placed the palms of both his hands,
spread wide, likely and gently on the tender grass.
And I, aware of what his purpose was,
offered my tear-stained cheeks to meet his touch.
At which, he made once more entirely clean
the colour that the dark of Hell had hidden.

(The Divine Comedy, I Inferno, lines 133−end, and II Purgatorio, lines 1−8 and 115−29)

Hear Malcolm Guite read today’s poem


When someone says ‘I’ve been through hell’ we at once relate to their suffering (for we all suffer) but we likewise acknowledge the pain which is uniquely their own.  We struggle for words of comfort and encouragement.  Beyond eloquence, the gift of presence is needed most as we figuratively and literally wipe away their tears.

In today’s selection from The Word in the Wilderness, we encounter Dante and Virgil as they emerge from Hell and begin their journey through Purgatory. Malcolm Guite describes the scene:

So Dante and Virgil emerge at last, under the clear shining stars, and all their powers and hopes revive. As Dante says at the very beginning of his second book ‘the Purgatorio’:

Here, too, dead poetry will rise again.
For now, you secret Muses, I am yours …

The two poets emerge onto a beautiful little island in the ‘Antipodes’ the other side of the world, and there, Virgil, seeing Dante’s face all stained with tears and smeared with the grime of Hell, does a beautiful thing. He stoops down and washes Dante’s face with the clear morning dew.

How has another person helped you through a time of great suffering?

Ephesians 4:32

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

Dig Deeper: Art, Literature & Liturgy

Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), Italian poet and philosopher. Little is known of his early life except that he was born in Florence, lost his parents before he was 18, was betrothed at the age of 12 and married in 1293. In 1274 he first met his Beatrice (prob. Bice Portinari, the daughter of a Florentine citizen and wife of Simone dei Bardi), and he became her poet nine years later. Her death in 1290 led to a crisis, resolved by writing the Vita nuova (prob. in 1292, possibly later) in which he promised her a poem ‘such as had been written for no lady before’, a promise fulfilled in the *Divina Commedia. He then turned to the study of philosophy, prob. under the *Dominicans at Florence, and wrote a series of allegorical Canzoni or odes on the Lady Philosophy and literal ones on Courtesy, Nobility, Liberality, and Justice. In 1294 he entered politics but, having supported the opponents of Pope *Boniface VIII, he was exiled from Florence in 1301 and travelled widely in Italy. He returned to the study of philosophy and wrote the incomplete De Vulgari Eloquentia in Latin and began the Convivio (Banquet), which was designed to comment freely on his earlier philosophical Canzoni. In the course of the fourth book he became aware of the significance of the Roman Empire; the appearance of the Emp. Henry VII in Italy at the same time (1310) converted Dante into an ardent supporter of the Emperor, for whom he wrote in Latin the treatise De Monarchia (1312–14?). This work, which was condemned as heretical (*Averroist) in 1329, argued the need for a universal monarchy to achieve the temporal happiness of mankind and the independence of the Empire from the Pope and the Church, which should abandon all temporal authority and possessions and concentrate on happiness in the world to come. Dante’s political prospects were shattered by the death of Henry VII in 1313, and in 1315 his native city of Florence renewed its sentence against him. He spent some years at *Verona and from c. 1316 lived at *Ravenna, where he died. The last period of his life was devoted to the completion of the Divina Commedia (q.v.), which established him as one of the few poets who belong to all times and all nations.

 
F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 453.

Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings.  For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page

Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith

 

51vg-xoskvl-_sy346_For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.

Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.
Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.

 

 

Art:Domenico di Michelino – Dante and his Poem – Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence – c1465

This painting by Domenico di Michelino is one of the most famous depictions of Dante and the three realms he wrote about: Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. These are, of course,  the three canticles that together constitute Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Central in the painting is the poet Dante, holding in one hand the Divine Comedy on its opening page (you can make out the first line of text) and with the other hand pointing at hell (Inferno). Right behind Dante is mount Purgatory: the region where the penitent toil for their sins. At the right side of the work the city of Florence is depicted. Dante was born a Florentine but in 1302 he was exiled from his native city during the civil war between Guelfs and Ghibellines. You can see Brunelleschi’s 15th century dome of the Santa Maria del Fiore, which did not yet exist in Dante’s time (he lived from c. 1265 until 1321).
The sky depicts the realm of paradise. The bright star on the right is the sun, it occupies the fourth sphere (counting from below). At the top left you can just make out the eighth sphere of the fixed stars.

Through The Gate by Malcolm Guite

2584e55f4d583b11d1df6712e0374156Begin the song exactly where you are,
For where you are contains where you have been
And holds the vision of your final sphere.

And do not fear the memory of sin;
There is a light that heals, and, where it falls,
Transfigures and redeems the darkest stain

Into translucent colour. Loose the veils
And draw the curtains back, unbar the doors,
Of that dread threshold where your spirit fails,

The hopeless gate that holds in all the fears
That haunt your shadowed city, fling it wide
And open to the light that finds, and fares

Through the dark pathways where you run and hide,
Through all the alleys of your riddled heart,
As pierced and open as his wounded side.

Open the map to Him and make a start,
And down the dizzy spirals, through the dark,
His light will go before you. Let him chart

And name and heal. Expose the hidden ache
To him, the stinging fires and smoke that blind
Your judgement, carry you away, the mirk

And muted gloom in which you cannot find
The love that you once thought worth dying for.
Call him to all you cannot call to mind.

He comes to harrow Hell and now to your
Well-guarded fortress let his love descend.
The icy ego at your frozen core

Can hear his call at last. Will you respond?

Hear Malcolm Guite read today’s poem


One of the great ministries of the church is that of Pastoral Care.  Its functions include personal restoration, and many have been blessed by hope and encouragement in their journeys through addiction, grief, divorce, PTSD and much more.  These problems are easily identified with personal Hell, but there are countless more, though less obvious, that likewise prey on us all.  As Dante and Virgil stood before the gates of Hell, the inscription instructed them to ‘abandon hope’, but hope precisely was most needed.

Thanks be to God, our hope in Jesus is greater than Hell.  As Malcolm Guite says in The Word in the Wilderness:

Like Jesus, who went to the cross, not for pain in itself, but ‘for the joys that were set before him’, so we are to make this journey through the memories of pain and darkness, not to stay with these things but to redeem them and move beyond them. And the journey is itself made possible because Christ himself has gone before. ‘He descended into Hell.’ Throughout the journey into the Inferno we are shown signs that Christ has been this way before and broken down the strongholds. Dante is here alluding to one of the great lost Christian stories, which we need to recover today; ‘The Harrowing of Hell’. We, who build so many Hells on earth, need to know that there is no place so dark, no situation so seemingly hopeless, that cannot be opened to the light of Christ for rescue and redemption.

Do you have a testimony of overcoming?

Matthew 16:18

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

 

Dig Deeper: Art, Literature & Liturgy

Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings.  For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page

Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith

 

51vg-xoskvl-_sy346_For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.

Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.
Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.

Art: The Gates of Hell by William Blake (1824-27)

Meeting Virgil: ‘There Is Another Road’ by Dante

dante-and-virgil-in-hell.jpg!LargeAs I went, ruined, rushing to that low,
there had, before my eyes, been offered one
who seemed -long silent- to be faint and dry.

Seeing him near in that great wilderness,
to him I screamed my ‘miserere’: ‘Save me,
whatever – shadow or truly man – you be.’

His answer came to me: ‘No man; a man
I was in times long gone. Of Lombard stock,
my parents both by patria and Mantuan.

And I was born, though late, sub Iulio.
I lived at Rome in good Augustus’ day,
in times when all the gods were lying cheats.

I was a poet then. I sang in praise
of all the virtues of Anchises’ son. From Troy
he came ‒ proud Ilion razed in flame.

But you turn back. Why seek such grief and harm?
Why climb no higher up at lovely hill?
The cause and origin of joy shines there.’

‘So, could it be’, I answered him, (my brow,
in shy respect bent low), ‘you are that Virgil,
whose words flow wide, a river running full?

You are the light and glory of all poets.
May this serve me: my ceaseless care, the love
so great, that made me search your writings through!

You are my teacher. You, my lord and law.
From you alone I took the fine-tuned style
that has, already, brought me so much honour.

See you there? That beast! I turned because of that.
Help me ‒ your wisdom’s known ‒ escape from her.
To every pulsing vein, she brings the tremor.

Seeing my tears, he answered me: ‘There is
another road. And that, if you intend
to quit this wilderness, you’re bound to take.’

(The Divine Comedy, I Inferno, lines 61−93)

Hear Malcolm Guite read today’s poem


René Descartes said “The reading of all good books is like conversation with the finest men of past centuries.”  Here, at the beginning of his quest, Dante envisions an accompanied journey with the Roman poet Virgil, to whom he says “You are my teacher.  You, my lord and law, from you alone I took the fine-tuned style that has, already, brought me so much honour.”  Let the lesson begin.

Dante was cheered by the poet’s presence, but Virgil’s message to him was corrective, not affirming: He was on the wrong road.  As Malcom Guite points out in his book The Word in the Wilderness, this is what great literature is for.  He writes:

Dante’s first encounter with Virgil is justly famous and readers of C. S. Lewis’s ‘The Great Divorce’ will recognize how closely his own encounter with George Macdonald, of whom Lewis could also say: ‘You are my teacher. You my lord and law’, is modelled on this passage. But all of us, probably have one particular writer of whom we could say ‘you are the one who has most found, most helped, most guided me’, For some it has been C. S. Lewis, for me it has been two very different poetic companions, one of them Dante and the other S. T. Coleridge. If you have such an author in your life, then doubtless you have fantasized about meeting them and telling them how you felt, even if they lived in another age and wrote in another language. Dante realizes that fantasy and models it for us here.

We begin today a study within a study.  This week we look to Dante’s poetry with a student’s eye.  As Malcom wrote of great literature:

It’s not an exclusive cultural acquisition, a badge of educated status, or something on which academics can hang their displays of erudition, it is there, in the words of Sidney’s Defence of poetry, ‘to delight and instruct’. First and foremost it delights, as I hope all the poetry in this anthology will do, and then it leads to truth, teaches us something worth knowing. It seems to me that both of these simple aims have been lost sight of in our age. Here is a chance to restore them.

Which great author would you choose as a journey’s companion?

Psalm 1

Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper. The ungodly are not so, But are like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the ungodly shall perish.

 

Dig Deeper: Art, Literature & Liturgy

Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), Italian poet and philosopher. Little is known of his early life except that he was born in Florence, lost his parents before he was 18, was betrothed at the age of 12 and married in 1293. In 1274 he first met his Beatrice (prob. Bice Portinari, the daughter of a Florentine citizen and wife of Simone dei Bardi), and he became her poet nine years later. Her death in 1290 led to a crisis, resolved by writing the Vita nuova (prob. in 1292, possibly later) in which he promised her a poem ‘such as had been written for no lady before’, a promise fulfilled in the *Divina Commedia. He then turned to the study of philosophy, prob. under the *Dominicans at Florence, and wrote a series of allegorical Canzoni or odes on the Lady Philosophy and literal ones on Courtesy, Nobility, Liberality, and Justice. In 1294 he entered politics but, having supported the opponents of Pope *Boniface VIII, he was exiled from Florence in 1301 and travelled widely in Italy. He returned to the study of philosophy and wrote the incomplete De Vulgari Eloquentia in Latin and began the Convivio (Banquet), which was designed to comment freely on his earlier philosophical Canzoni. In the course of the fourth book he became aware of the significance of the Roman Empire; the appearance of the Emp. Henry VII in Italy at the same time (1310) converted Dante into an ardent supporter of the Emperor, for whom he wrote in Latin the treatise De Monarchia (1312–14?). This work, which was condemned as heretical (*Averroist) in 1329, argued the need for a universal monarchy to achieve the temporal happiness of mankind and the independence of the Empire from the Pope and the Church, which should abandon all temporal authority and possessions and concentrate on happiness in the world to come. Dante’s political prospects were shattered by the death of Henry VII in 1313, and in 1315 his native city of Florence renewed its sentence against him. He spent some years at *Verona and from c. 1316 lived at *Ravenna, where he died. The last period of his life was devoted to the completion of the Divina Commedia (q.v.), which established him as one of the few poets who belong to all times and all nations.

 
F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 453.

Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings.  For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page

Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith

 

51vg-xoskvl-_sy346_For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.

Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.
Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.

Art: Dante and Virgil in Hell by Jean-Leon Gerome (1824-1904)

What Is Passion?

but812-1-1-wc-100THE DIVINE COMEDY
Dante Alighieri

And I, in the midst of all this circling horror,
began, “Teacher, what are these sounds I hear?
What souls are these so overwhelmed by grief?”

And he to me: “This wretched state of being
is the fate of those sad souls who lived a life
but lived it with no blame and with no praise.

They are mixed with that repulsive choir of angels
neither faithful nor unfaithful to their God,
who undecided stood but for themselves.

Heaven, to keep its beauty, cast them out,
but even Hell itself would not receive the
for fear the damned might glory over them.”

And I. “Master, what torments do they suffer
that force them to lament so bitterly?”
He answered: “I will tell you in few words:

these wretches have no hope of truly dying,
and this blind life they lead is so abject
it makes them envy every other fate.

The world will not record their having been there;
Heaven’s mercy and its justice turn from them.
Let’s not discuss them; look and pass them by…”


On this day, January 27th in 1302, Dante Alighieri was undoubtedly dejected. Yesterday he was chief magistrate and a leading citizen of Florence, but today he was fined heavily and permanently excluded from public office on trumped-up charges.  Worse, in a few weeks he will be exiled entirely from the city.

Homeless and without wealth, it would seem that his life was ruined.  That could have been true, but it was only then that he decided to write what has become one of literature’s greatest achievements.

The Divine Comedy, an epic 14,000 line poem is a bit of the Wizard of Oz as it tells of Dante’s tour through hell, purgatory and heaven. It is ultimately a story of love. Dante learns from the Inferno (hell) what happens to love when it has gone all wrong; Purgatorio (purgatory), what happens to imperfect people trying to repair their souls; and in Paradiso (heaven), the beauty of love perfected. The reader’s joy is traveling alongside Dante on his journey before returning to earth.

Dante discovers at the end of a long journey that he had confused the beauty of earthly Beatrice (his long-lost girlfriend) for the greater love of God.

So like us.

Love is common, but we dabble at it. It’s a cup from which we sip but rarely drink deeply – with our whole heart. When Jesus cleared the temple of swindlers by flipping over their tables, the Bible says the disciples, seeing this were reminded of the verse “the zeal of Your house consumes me.” That’s loving with your whole heart.  It’s messy, inconvenient and politically incorrect.

 

IMG_0181Psalm 69:9

For zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.

D I G  D E E P E R


 

William Blake, Illustrations to Dante’s “Divine Comedy” (1824-27)

Blake’s 102 drawings illustrating Dante’s Divine Comedy were commissioned by John Linnell, the chief patron of Blake’s final years. Although Linnell did not begin to pay for the designs until December 1825, at the rate of about 1 pound a week, Blake probably began work on the drawings by the fall of 1824. They were left at Blake’s death in 1827 in various stages of completion, ranging from pencil sketches to highly finished water colors. Most show an expressive freedom in the handling of color washes far greater than Blake’s earlier water colors. In 1826, Blake began to engrave large plates based on 7 of the designs; these were also left incomplete at his death. The water colors remained in Linnell’s collection and estate until their sale at auction in 1918. Through a scheme organized by the National Art-Collections Fund, they were dispersed among 7 participating institutions: the Ashmolean Museum, Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, the British Museum, the Fogg Art Museum, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Royal Institution of Cornwall, and the Tate Collection.

As we generally find with Blake’s illustrations to the works of other writers, he has paid close attention to the details of Dante’s poem. Yet, while faithful to the text, Blake also brings his own perspective to bear on some of Dante’s central themes, including sin, guilt, punishment, revenge, and salvation. In several designs, Blake’s pictorial imagery, particularly when associated with similar motifs in his illuminated books and their iconography, indicates a critical attitude towards Dante. This interpretation of the illustrations is buttressed by Blake’s verbal criticisms of Dante found in his c. 1800 annotations to Henry Boyd’s translation of The Inferno, his conversations with Henry Crabb Robinson in 1825, and his inscriptions on the rectos of a few of the Dante designs themselves. But harsh criticism coexists with many signs of intellectual sympathy in the illustrations.

We have recorded in the Editors’ Notes the inscriptions on the versos of the designs. None of these is attributable to Blake; some probably represent at least 2 attempts to organize the designs into their proper sequence. The arrangement of images given here accords with our understanding of the sequence of passages illustrated and varies at several junctures from Butlin’s ordering.

The William Blake Archive 

 

Literature and Liturgy: Dante Alighieri and The Divine Comedy

DanteDante Alighieri was born in Florence in May or June of 1265 to a family of lesser nobility. The essential facts of his early life are told in his La vita nuova (The New Life), written in about 1293. One of the most important events of this period occurred when he was nine. At that time he met Beatrice, a young girl to whom he later dedicated most of his poetry and almost all of his life. Although he barely knew her and it is unlikely that they ever exchanged more than a few words, Dante loved Beatrice for the rest of his life. He eventually entered into an arranged marriage with Gemma Donati, and they had four children.

Dante started writing poetry at an early age. After Beatrice died he turned to philosophy in an attempt to find relief from his sorrow. His interest in philosophy was reflected in his poetry. He also became active in politics and played a part in the violent political and military conflicts that engulfed Italy (seeGuelfs and Ghibellines). A leader of the White Guelfs, he rose to high office in Florence and was sent as an ambassador to the pope in Rome in 1301.

The victory of the opposing party in Florence, the Black Guelfs, resulted in the banishment of the leaders of the White Guelfs. Dante was among those forced into exile in 1302. He lived in various places in Italy until at length he settled in Ravenna, where he died on Sept. 13 or 14, 1321. A small tomb in Ravenna holds the poet’s remains.

It was in Ravenna in about 1317, where he set about completing his masterpiece, La Commedia, begun a decade earlier. In essence, it is an epic poem chronicling an allegorical journey through the afterlife, divided into three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. The purpose, Dante wrote, was to convert a corrupt society to righteousness, “to remove those living in this life from a state of misery and lead them to a state of felicity.”

In Inferno, Dante is guided by the Roman poet Virgil through the nine concentric circles of hell (“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”), where they meet various sinners from history, myth, and Dante’s enemies list. Purgatory is a nine-tiered mountain where Dante must confront his own shortcomings and seek redemption (“O conscience, upright and stainless, how bitter a sting to thee is a little fault!”). Before he reaches Paradise, Virgil is replaced by Dante’s long-lost Beatrice and Bernard of Clairvaux, and together they meet Dante’s heroes as they journey through the nine concentric circles of heaven (“Like the lark that soars in the air, first singing, then silent, content with the last sweetness that satiates it, such seems to me that image, the imprint of Eternal Pleasure”). Dante finished the epic poem just before his death, and it was almost immediately recognized as brilliant. His epitaph begins: “Dante the theologian, skilled in every branch of knowledge that philosophy may cherish in her illustrious bosom.”

 

Bibliography

Obviously a bibliography of this topic must begin with the Divine Comedy, but which translation? That depends. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s is a classic. Dorothy Sayers’s has the best notes. Robert Pinsky’s (Inferno only) is probably the most accessible to a modern reader.

Vita Nuova, Dante’s combination of poetry, autobiography, and writer’s workshop, brings the author to life. Il Convivio (“The Banquet”) and De Monarchia (“On Universal Monarchy”) explore his philosophical and political ideas. These are all readily available in print and online.

On the Comedy

Robert Royal’s Dante Alighieri: Divine Comedy, Divine Spirituality (Crossroad, 1999) serves as a basic guide to the complicated poem. Kathryn Lindskoog leads readers through Dante’s Divine Comedy: Purgatory (Mercer, 1997) by retelling the story in her own words. Rodney J. Payton also aims for accessibility in A Modern Reader’s Guide to Dante’s Inferno (Lang, 1992).
Geoffrey F. Nuttall takes the Comedy as the basis for warm, almost devotional, commentary in The Faith of Dante Alighieri (SPCK, 1969). From Hell to Paradise (Washington Square, 1996), by Olof Lagercrantz, offers a breezy walk-through of the poem but questions some Christian ideas, such as a literal hell.

From here, the thicket of Dante commentaries grows much denser. Sayers’s Introductory Papers on Dante (Barnes & Noble, 1969) goes beyond the generalist notes in her translation into specialist territory. Charles Williams’s The Figure of Beatrice (Faber & Faber, 1943) yields profound insights into Dante’s thoughts on divine love, but it’s a demanding read.

In The Invention of Dante’s Commedia (Yale, 1974), John G. Demaray highlights images and ideas—especially the concept of pilgrimage—that influenced Dante’s writing. Joan Ferrante takes a different approach in her influential The Political Vision of the Divine Comedy (Princeton, 1984).

On Dante and his world

A reader can find basic—though occasionally contradicting—information on the poet in a variety of sources, including Dante and His World by Thomas Caldecot Chubb (Little, Brown & Co., 1966), Dante Alighieri, His Life and Works by Paget Toynbee (Methuen & Co., 1900), and Dante and His Time by Karl Federn (Haskell House, 1970). Hollander’s “Dante: A Party of One,” which appeared in the April 1999 issue of First Things, is also a nice introduction.

Dante becomes the subject of deeper inquiry in books like Deborah Parker’s Commentary and Ideology: Dante in the Renaissance (Duke, 1993), James Collins’s Pilgrim in Love: An Introduction to Dante and His Spirituality (Loyola, 1984), and Erich Auerbach’s important Dante, Poet of the Secular World (University of Chicago, 1961).

To get a feel for Dante’s milieu, one can start with Charles L. Mee’s well-illustrated The Horizon Book of Daily Life in Renaissance Italy (McGraw-Hill, 1975) or Margaret Oliphant’s quirky The Makers of Florence: Dante, Giotto, Savonarola and Their City (Burt, 1897). For more serious study, see A History of Early Renaissance Italy, from the Mid-thirteenth to the Mid-fifteenth Centuries (St. Martins, 1973) by Brian S. Pullan or The World of Dante (Clarendon, 1980), edited by Cecil Grayson.

A devoted reader with a large travel budget (or a vivid imagination) could follow the route proposed by Anne Holler in Florence: Four Intimate Walking Tours (Holt & Co., 1982).

Online

Dante sites online truly form a worldwide web—one page leads to another in an interconnected universe of text and links. These are just a few possible entry points:

•      Digital Dante, http://dante.ilt.columbia.edu
•      Dante Alighieri on the Web, http://www.greatdante.net
•      Otfried Lieberknecht’s Homepage for Dante Studies, http://members.aol.com/lieberk/welc%5Fold.html
•      Dante Divine Comedy Links, http://pages.ancientsites.com/~Torrey_Philemon/calliope/dante.htm
•      Renaissance Dante in Print, http://www.italnet.nd.edu/Dante/

God Of Little Things by Gina Dalfonzo

Gina Dalfonzo

It’s late at night and I’m reading in bed—Charles Dickens’s The Uncommercial Traveller, which is so good that I’ve been staving off sleep much longer than I should have. I come to a particular passage—nothing wonderful or magnificent, just a couple of sentences in a silly little story he’s telling about sailing from England to France. But it’s so funny, in that nonchalantly over-the-top Dickens way, that I laugh out loud.

And the thought strikes me, out of nowhere, that I can’t imagine being any happier than I am right this minute.

It’s a rogue thought. Even a rebellious thought. According to many Christians I know, you see, my life as a single person is far from complete. I’m not supposed to be able to imagine perfect happiness in my present state, let alone experience it.

Except I do.

My life is full of moments like these: little moments that give me unspeakable joy and satisfaction. It’s also full of hard moments—days when baby after baby after adorable baby scrolls by in my Facebook feed; nights when I ask God why my prayers for marriage were never answered.

But it doesn’t do, I’ve found, to dwell too long on how much greener the grass looks in that yard over there. When married acquaintances envy me my freedom or my opportunities, I’m tempted to remind them of all they have that I have good reason to envy. We could go on playing that game for hours (my freedom can be accompanied by loneliness, their joy in their family can be tempered by exhaustion, and on and on and on). I have to find ways to circumvent it. And if I try, they’re easier to find than I would have expected.

I didn’t choose the life I now lead. And yet, I still find so many joys in it. One of the biggest surprises has been how many little things bring me true joy—and how often those little joys help make up for the lack of bigger things. I can’t explain that. It doesn’t make sense if I think too hard about it. All I know is, God’s economy is not like ours.

There are, of course, any number of people who think that it should be. I run into them all the time. For example, I know Christians who rail against single people having pets because pets, they say, should not take the place of families. What these single people are supposed to do if all their efforts at having a family have failed, these Christians never say. Sit home alone and lambast themselves endlessly for their failure, I suppose.

It’s troubling, this idea that one should be cut off from joys of all kinds if one hasn’t achieved the joy of having a family. It suggests both a lack of trust in God to have every person’s best interests at heart, and a lack of the imagination to comprehend all the different kinds of joys God offers us.

I think of Dorothy L. Sayers, another favorite writer of mine, who found her joy not in her difficult family life, but in the life of the intellect. When she discovered Dante in middle age, her whole life was transformed. Her letters spill over with the sheer joy of reading him, translating him, thinking about his work night and day.

Sayers’s friend and biographer Barbara Reynolds used the Dantean phrase “the mind in love” to describe the way Sayers responded to the world around her and the God who made that world. It was an apt description. The mind can indeed be in love, just as the heart can, and can bring unspeakable joy.

The problem is, the church’s vocabulary has become impoverished. It doesn’t have the words to describe the stab of joy that comes when reading a perfect passage of Dickens; when jumping to one’s feet at the end of an inspiring play; when luxuriating in a favorite old movie that’s become as comfortable as a warm blanket and bedroom slippers; when Beethoven’s Ninth suddenly starts playing on the radio in the middle of an ordinary morning, like a king arriving on the doorstep as you’re finishing the breakfast dishes. Because it has, by and large, lost the understanding that these things are important.

Yet if they are real, and good, and come from the Father who gives every good and perfect gift, then how could they not be important?

How much easier it would be for God’s people to reach others if we would understand this. If we reached out not just with truth, but with imagination, creativity, delight in the music and art and books that mean so much to the people around us. These things cannot carry the weight of a whole life, but there are moments, now and then, when they make life worth living. They reveal something about God’s character that is more appealing and attractive than we tend to realize.

The fact that He generously gives such things to so many demonstrates that He is near to the lonely, the broken—just as near as He is to the people who seem to have it all together.  If we were willing to focus on this part of God, to talk about how He sends joy in all shapes and sizes and gloriously unexpected ways, to all kinds of people—how much better equipped we would be to help those lonely and broken ones.

Glory be to God for little things. It’s not quite Gerard Manley Hopkins, but nevertheless, it rings true for me. The small comforts and consolations that might mean nothing to the person next to us, but that pierce us to the heart with joy—thank God for them. In the beautiful and loving mind that conceived and created them and gave them to us, there is nothing little about them at all.

 

 

John 1:1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.  And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

Gina Dalfonzo is author of One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church. She is also associate features editor at Christianity Today, and a columnist at Christ and Pop Culture. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Christianity Today, First Things, The Weekly Standard, National Review, and elsewhere.

 

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (c.1320)

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RickDante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy has so permeated literature and theology that much of what he wrote about the afterlife is though by many to come from the Bible.  T.S. Eliot said “Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them. There is no third.”

As Terry Glaspey wrote in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know :

The Divine Comedy was the first great poem written in Italian, the language of the ordinary person, rather than Latin, the language of the priest and scholar. It gave an aura of dignity to the Italian language and opened the door for others to write serious literary works in their native tongue. Dante’s epic poem was an immediate sensation among his contemporaries, and has remained a classic down to our time. In the twentieth century alone there were more than fifty different translations of Inferno into English!

The poem works effectively on a number of levels. First and foremost, The Divine Comedy is a creative work of poetic genius and intricate structure. Dante shows great imagination in ordering the afterlife around the seven deadly sins and the virtues that are their positive counterparts. Mirroring the medieval fascination with numbers, and especially with the number three (symbolizing the Trinity), he structures of the entire work around it.

There are three major parts: Inferno (hell), Purgatorio (purgatory), and Paradiso (heaven). Each contains thirty-three cantos (Inferno has an additional introductory canto). Each stanza in each of the cantos also reflects the trinitarian fascination with the number three, as there are three lines in each one, a rhyme scheme we now call “terza rima.” (Chaucer borrowed this same technique for The Canterbury Tales.) Nine, which is of course the result of multiplying three with itself, is also an important number: the number of circles of hell through which Dante passes on his descent through that dark kingdom and the number of spheres in paradise. Seven, the traditional number of perfection, is used for the seven stages through which he passes on his ascent of the great mountain of purgatory, seeing sinners being cleansed of the seven deadly sins (pride, envy, anger, sloth, covetousness, gluttony, and lust).

But there is much more here than numerological symbolism, for Dante’s work, though about the divine realm, is also thoroughly human, filled with both compassion and indignation. Throughout his poetic journey Dante crafts scenes of humor, horror, pathos, and transcendent vision. Even those who cannot accept Dante’s theology can revel in this adventure of the human soul in search of ultimate reality.

The Divine Comedy portrays Dante’s vision of heaven and hell.  What is yours?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Dante Alighieri and The Divine Comedy

Dante. The Divine Comedy. Translated by John Ciardi. New York: New American Library, 1970.
———. Vita Nuova. Translated by Mark Musa. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973.
Holmes, George. Dante. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), Italian poet and philosopher. Little is known of his early life except that he was born in Florence, lost his parents before he was 18, was betrothed at the age of 12 and married in 1293. In 1274 he first met his Beatrice (prob. Bice Portinari, the daughter of a Florentine citizen and wife of Simone dei Bardi), and he became her poet nine years later. Her death in 1290 led to a crisis, resolved by writing the Vita nuova (prob. in 1292, possibly later) in which he promised her a poem ‘such as had been written for no lady before’, a promise fulfilled in the *Divina Commedia. He then turned to the study of philosophy, prob. under the *Dominicans at Florence, and wrote a series of allegorical Canzoni or odes on the Lady Philosophy and literal ones on Courtesy, Nobility, Liberality, and Justice. In 1294 he entered politics but, having supported the opponents of Pope *Boniface VIII, he was exiled from Florence in 1301 and travelled widely in Italy. He returned to the study of philosophy and wrote the incomplete De Vulgari Eloquentia in Latin and began the Convivio (Banquet), which was designed to comment freely on his earlier philosophical Canzoni. In the course of the fourth book he became aware of the significance of the Roman Empire; the appearance of the Emp. Henry VII in Italy at the same time (1310) converted Dante into an ardent supporter of the Emperor, for whom he wrote in Latin the treatise De Monarchia (1312–14?). This work, which was condemned as heretical (*Averroist) in 1329, argued the need for a universal monarchy to achieve the temporal happiness of mankind and the independence of the Empire from the Pope and the Church, which should abandon all temporal authority and possessions and concentrate on happiness in the world to come. Dante’s political prospects were shattered by the death of Henry VII in 1313, and in 1315 his native city of Florence renewed its sentence against him. He spent some years at *Verona and from c. 1316 lived at *Ravenna, where he died. The last period of his life was devoted to the completion of the Divina Commedia (q.v.), which established him as one of the few poets who belong to all times and all nations.

 
F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford;  New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 453.

 

 

Terry Glaspey

 

Terry Glaspe

Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.

He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.

He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:  Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.

Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.

He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.

Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Dig Deeper at TerryGlaspey.com

 

Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Order it HERE today.