BOOKS: The Divine Comedy

I was wondering…

We are reading Dante’s Inferno in my English class and I was wondering how his stuff aligns and possibly contradicts Catholic beliefs. I really love the book, but this much I would like to know. Yay Malebolge! Thoughts, opinions, criticism, and whatever are wanted very much.

Hi, I was an Italian Lit major.(many years ago, so I’m rusty) I also took a theology course on the Divine Comedy (many years ago too, probably more rusty.)

Anything specific in mind? I don’t remember any anti-catholic ideas, but I do remember some anti-cleric ideas.

There’s a Catholic Encyclopedia article on Dante Alighieri you can check out.

Here’s an interesting excerpt:

Dante’s vehement denunciation of the ecclesiastical corruption of his times, and his condemnation of most of the contemporary popes (including the canonized Celestine V) to hell have led to some questioning as to the poet’s attitude towards the Church. Even in the fourteenth century attempts were made to find heresy in the “Divina Commedia”, and the “De Monarchiâ” was burned at Bologna by order of a papal legate. In more recent times Dante has been hailed as a precursor of the Reformation. His theological position as an orthodox Catholic has been amply and repeatedly vindicated, recently and most notably by Dr. Moore, who declares that “there is no trace in his writings of doubt or dissatisfaction respecting any part of the teaching of the Church in matters of doctrine authoritatively laid down”. A strenuous opponent of the political aims of the popes of his own day, the beautiful episodes of Casella and Manfred in the “Purgatorio”, no less than the closing chapter of the “De Monarchiâ” itself, bear witness to Dante’s reverence for the spiritual power of the papacy, which he accepts as of Divine origin. Not the least striking testimony to his orthodoxy is the part played by the Blessed Virgin in the sacred poem from the beginning to the end. It is, as it were, the working out in inspired poetry of the sentence of Richard of St. Victor: “Through Mary not only is the light of grace given to man on earth but even the vision of God vouchsafed to souls in Heaven.”

Is Dante’s Inferno considered to be factual at all? As in its portrayal of Hell and the torments of sinners. I realize that it’s a fictional piece of work, but i’m just wondering if it lines up with Church teaching in any way.

If there was anything objectionable, I doubt it would have gotten past the censors of his day, but as far as it being factual goes, while there is nothing objectionable in it it remains a work of (pious) fiction.

From what I remember in class it was one of the first Italian masterpieces, it influenced alot of writers and artists.

It portrayed the mideval thinking at the time of what happened to sinners after death. I don’t think that is the current thinking now, I could be wrong?

I’ve had the pleasure of reading the Divine Comedy. I believe the general idea behind the different levels of heaven is an allegorical take on the belief that the saints of heaven experience communion with God in different measures. Those who spent a lifetime living in perfect charity (such as the Blessed Virgin Mary) are able to experience the beatific vision far more perfectly then those who lived a life of sin but repented at life’s end. There is a certain justice in this idea, and its still held as a contemporary view of heaven. Dante shows this concept in his circles of heaven, with God being in the center most circle.

Dante’s idea behind grouping the levels/circles of heaven and hell is based on the traditional conception of the 7 vices (pride, avarice, lust, gluttony, envy, sloth and hatred) and virtues (love, hope, faith, temperance, prudence, justice, and fortitude) outlined by St. Thomas Aquinas. But the church doesn’t teach that heaven and hell are necessarily segregated into levels based on the vices and virtues; this is more a literary construct of Dante.

Additionally, the punishments in the Inferno section of the book are ironic and an example of poetic justice. This is also a literary construct of Dante’s and not taught by the Church (although it doesn’t preclude the possibility). One of my favorite themes in the Inferno is that those in hell have no intention of repentance. Even in the pits of hell, sinners continue to sin. In one of the lowest levels of hell, two sinners trapped in ice for the sin of pride and treachery against each other continue to gnaw and eat each others flesh.

Primarily the Church teaches that hell exists, is the realm of Satan and the fallen angels, and those who die without saving grace. The Church teaches that hell will not pass away, is eternal, and is not inconsistent with divine justice. Jesus also refers to hell as a place of “fire” in the gospels. Pretty much everything else is speculation.

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He was as Catholic as they come. :slight_smile:

There is a MS. of the Comedy from which a line in Inferno 11 has been cut out - seemingly because the poet, mislead by the Liber Pontificalis, puts Anastasius II in Hell - but that seems to be the sum total of fault-finding on doctrinal grounds where the Comedy is concerned. The De Monarchia is the only one of his works to which Church authority took exception - which is remarkable, since his political theory in the Comedy is the same as in the De Monarchia.

He may well have regarded Boniface VIII as an intruder, but he did not reject the claims of Clement V, the next but one successor of Boniface VIII. If the poet regarded Celestine V as Pope, & Boniface VIII as an intruder, but his successor as legitimate, that would leave a nine-year gap between 1294 & 1303. Which would mean that the Papacy was for all practical purposes vacant for that period. It had earlier been vacant for lack of any election for 31 months between 1268 and 1271 - so a nine-year vacancy between Popes is not really a stretch. The poet was not a sedevacantist, in the modern sense.

I’m assuming that he regarded Boniface VIII as no Pope in any sense whatever - however, the denunciation in Paradiso 27 may not mean that; it could mean that Boniface VIII was legally, but not morally, Pope. IOW, the Papacy might be vacant in one sense - but not vacant, in another. There is is the explicit description of this Pope as “Christ’s Vicar”, in those lines of the Purgatorio where the poet describes the Pope’s arrest at Anagni. He says that the Passion of Christ was renewed in the indignities to which Boniface VIII was subjected: which is not the language of a sedevacantist. :cool: This interpretation of his words, if correct, is evidence not of confusion or contradiction on his part, but of an ability to see things under more than a single aspect.
[LIST]
*]St. Robert Bellarmine made a point of defending the poet’s orthodoxy against a Lutheran attempt to claim him as a forerunner of the Reformation
*]Cardinal Manning - not the Australian one; the English one - said of the Comedy that “after [that], nothing remain[ed] but the Vision of God”.
*]Pius IX was about as anti-anti-Catholic as it’s possible to get, and he laid a wreath on the poet’s tomb in 1857; after the writing of a book which claimed the poet was a heretic, revolutionary, & Socialist.
*]Benedict XV wrote a letter to mark the sixth centenary of the poet’s death in 1921
*]Paul VI did likewise in 1965, to mark the seventh centenary of the poet’s birth.
[/LIST]The history of his poem, of his mortal remains, of the appreciation of his poem by Catholics, leave no shadow of doubt as to his Catholicity: in every sense.

There is no way whatever of appreciating the Comedy as a whole, if all one reads is the Inferno. :frowning: Nothing in it even approaches the highest flights in the Paradiso (which is saying a lot); let alone the Vision with which the poem ends, for which the 14,000 or so preceding lines are a preparation; if the Bible is inspired, far more is the end of the Paradiso. The Inferno is not free-standing, but part of a larger whole.

I think it’s a very useful exercise to ask oneself what there is in the self, and in society, that is infernal, & needs purging. That is why he wrote the poem: as an allegory of the self, and of society. As he explains in his eleventh letter :slight_smile:

It is definitely factual.

This does not mean that the meaning of the Poem stands or falls by whether or not there is
[LIST]
*]a 3,000-thousand mile-high Mount Purgatory at the Antipodes
*]a six-winged Satan stuck at the dead centre of the earth
*]a Wood of Suicides in a Seventh Circle of Hell
*]a river of boiling blood in which the tyrants are plunged
[/LIST]- these things are not the truth of the Poem; they are vehicles of its allegorical meaning; it is that allegorical meaning that is the truth of the Poem. The graves of the heretics are given lids of iron, to show the stubborness which alone makes heresy possible - that stubbornness and blindness, and not the geographical position of the Heretics in the Sixth Circle, is the fact that Inferno Canto 10 is concerned with.

Or: the nine Heavens contained by the Empyrean Heaven are more and more extensive & vast, because the closer the soul is to God in grace, the more free it is; the increasing vastness of the Heavens is an image of the life of the soul according as it increases in grace.

Increase in grace is a fact - just as stubborn refusal to obey the known truth is a fact.

I think it was more anti-sin ideas but not anti-cleric.

An excellent commentary, in Italian, is that by Fr. Giovanni Maria Cornoldi; it is an excellent line-by-line theological and contextual commentary on the whole poem. Truly amazing commentary of what some have described as the Summa in verse.

i know Dante has tried to depict things consistent with the beliefs and knowledge of his time
the rest of the details are left up to his imagination

Oddly enough, I just started reading this last week! 'course I’m reading it because it’s a “classic” I haven’t read yet and not for a catechism lesson.

I read it last year and I liked Ciardi’s transation the best. Also I took a DVD course on it through the Teaching Company. You can borrow the courses through your public library.

Dante was an awesome poet, so very medieval and Catholic. You need to have notes or a course though, because he has so many characters who were living at his time or before.

Also make sure you check out the illustations for the book, by famous artists including Botticelli, Blake, Dore and even Dali.

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