Dante is truly a prophet of hope, as Pope Francis considers him. In the time of the pandemic, we are experiencing a period of pain, fear and despair. Dante also lived through a period like this and showed us how great poetry and faith can flourish even in a devastated land. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi smiles there Divine Comedy a journey, a great journey that begins on March 25, and the Apostolic Letter will be published on Thursday Brightness of time of Pope Francis, dedicated to Dante Alighieri: the reference to the candor of the eternal light that Dante, in the third treatise of Convivio, quotes from the Book of Wisdom. In the tradition of the Church, March 25 is the day of the Annunciation and also of the death of Jesus, the date close to the spring equinox that Dante indicates (but there are those who opt for Good Friday of 1300, that is, April 8 ) as the starting day of the Comedy. The Pope’s text, like the initiatives planned by the Pontifical Council for Culture led by Cardinal Ravasi, shows all the attention of the Holy See to Dante, on the 700th anniversary of his death.
Your Eminence, what does this journey tell us today?
What holds Dante’s path, our path, is hope. The journey starts fromInferno, in the realism of the subsoil, in the mud of history, the earth as the flowerbed that makes us so ferocious seen from the top of the Paradiso, in canto XXII. But not that it ends with the irremediable pain of circles, circles and bolge. In Purgatory there is the symbolic representation of the passage from sin to catharsis to liberation, of the intertwining of divine grace and human freedom. For example, when in the third canto he stages the figure of Manfredi, who had been pierced by two blows of the sword….
… While that hope is green.
That’s right. Manfredi, the illegitimate son of Frederick II, had been excommunicated. And while she is dying she turns to “those who will forgive”, to God. They are fundamental verses: “Horrible were my sins; / but infinite goodness has great arms / that takes what is addressed to her”. This is the parable of the prodigal son: until the end the Father extends his “great arms” to you. Dante, as well as a great poet, a great Christian. And at home in the Vatican….
In the Stanza della Segnatura, Raphael represents him twice. In the so-called Dispute of the Blessed Sacrament, synthesis of the Trinitarian doctrine, appears between Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, as a theologian who announces the divine truth. The second image, with its wiry profile, depicts him on Parnassus as a poet, with Homer and Virgil: the the way of beauty, the beauty that also speaks to those who do not believe. The double interpretation is interesting: God gave him the gift of poetry and charged him with telling the truth. The beautiful and the true united.
Francis is the third Pope to write such an important official text on Dante.
Yes, the first was Benedict XV: in 1921 he composed an encyclical, The Supreme fine. But the Pope who ever sang more Dante Paul VI, who dedicated the Apostolic Letter to him in 1965 Highest singing, a beautiful text. On the one hand he wrote “Dante our”, not as a trophy but to affirm its universality and to say that the treasures of Christian thought and sentiment are discovered there. On the other, he admitted: “It is regrettable to remember that Dante’s voice rose harsh and severe against more than one Roman Pontiff, and he had bitter reprimands for ecclesiastical institutions and for people who were ministers and representatives of the Church”.
In fact, in the Comedy the Popes abound in hell: in the third bedlam of the simoniacs, stuffed upside down in a well occupied by various predecessors, Nicholas III is under the illusion that Boniface VIII has arrived early and announces Clement V …
Yes, it also takes Popes still alive! Moreover, during the years of the Council I was in Rome and I remember that Paul VI wanted to give to all the fathers gathered in the Assizes an edition of the Divine Comedy….
On the corruption of the Curia and the Church very hard: A la puttana ea la nova beast, he writes in canto XXXII of Purgatory. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Popes wrote about it only after the end of temporal power: was the Church embarrassed?
Probably s. Of course it was celebrated: it was Julius II who called Raphael, who perhaps Dante would have put, too, in hell! But he was kept a bit at a distance. It was difficult to elaborate the general criticism of the corruption of the Church: for this reason the gift of Paul VI to the Council Fathers was very significant.
Dante, beautiful to read, but not easy …
Michelangelo used to say of him: “Like a greater man was never born”. It unfolds an infinity of theological, philosophical, astronomical, historical themes… There would be an infinity of things to say. Think of the centrality of the female figures, Mary, Beatrice, Lucia… Or the vision of the Trinity, at the end of Paradiso, which at the center “seemed to me pint of our effigy”: our image, the image of Christ, the sense of being in the human face … Those who do not have at least an essential knowledge of theology cannot fully undertake this journey. I would urge contemporary culture not to consider theology as a marginal, old, decoded thing….
Unfortunately s. But here we see the power of a thought that becomes poetry. Dante shows how important Christian thought is in secular culture. And dramatic is the fact that there is a tendency to teach it superficially in schools. Maybe you can write explanatory notes but you have to make people understand the passion that animated Dante: a fervent and indefectible believer. It does not make you take off from reality: there is hell, all the vices and tragedies of history have represented them. And then there is the power of the transfiguration, the “trashumanar” of Christian redemption. He lived on that.
What does Dante say to the Church, still today?
The authenticity of the message, without worldly compromises. And the courage of sincerity, even in self-criticism. there vine that Francis points out to us, a sign of interior freedom and conversion.
A poet is celebrated by reading it. What would you say to invite you to do it?
The words that confessed Jorge Luis Borges, the great Argentine poet that Francesco knew, about the Divine Comedy: “No one has the right to deprive himself of this happiness”.
March 23, 2021 (change March 23, 2021 | 11:26)