This morning I read Cantos 32 & 33 of Paradise; this morning I concluded another journey – two conclusions within one week; both journeys took 3 – 4 years.
My journey through The Divine Comedy was instigated by my dear friend Michael Daily. A few years ago he mentioned a piece he read about Dante’s Purgatory and spiritual formation, that while Protestants don’t share the Roman Catholic view of Purgatory that there is much to commend Dante’s work if taken as it was written (these italicized words are actually my thinking); it is not written as an argument for Purgatory in the afterlife, but rather as an account of our transformation into the image of Christ through seeking what C.S. Lewis called “joy” and others term “a desire for beauty” – Purgatory leads to Paradise and Paradise leads to the Presence of the Trinity. While Dante believed in Purgatory, arguing that belief was not the purpose of his volume.
There wasn’t one time when Dante’s theology bothered me in the least; here I am in the 21st Century reading the words and images of a man who lived hundreds of years prior to me and who is expressing his desire for Christ in images and terms and paradigms which he knows and lives within. How can I quarrel with such a man? On the contrary, I found myself enjoying an education – as Virgil and Beatrice guided Dante, so Dante guided me – though Virgil and Beatrice had a more enlightened pupil in Dante than Dante had in me. Had it not been for the notes of Dorothy L. Sayers (and Barbara Reynolds) I would have been helplessly lost in the classical world of Dante.
Michael shared with me that the article he read suggested using Dorothy L. Sayers’s translation (completed after her death by Barbara Reynolds); since I’m a Sayers aficionado that was a suggestion I readily adopted. Knowing that Sayers was influenced by Charles Williams, in addition to reading Dante I read Williams on Dante, Sayers’s first series of lectures on Dante, and Barbara Reynolds on Sayers’s encounter with Dante – this all helped immeasurably.
Of The Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise, I’m most likely to revisit Purgatory; but all three volumes have sections I want to return to and contemplate. I wish I had read these as a young man for I think it would take me a lifetime to appreciate the passageways of this grand house, from basement to top floor.
I recently began a rereading of The Pilgrim’s Progress – time for another journey.