This morning ends the Ekklesia Project gathering for the year, with Joel Shuman speaking with us about the benefit of reading Dante’s Divine Comedy for imagining the Kingdom of God. By reading the poem in its entirety, Joel learned to face some challenges he had previously overlooked. The poem constitutes a very long parable to the effect that, “The Kingdom of God is like. . . .”
Joel argues that Dante understands that all the things of this world belong to and are redeemed into the Kingdom of God. He cites five features of particular importance: first, Dante’s effect on the imagination. Dante creates a landscape of the imagination, and invites his readers to join him there. He, like Jesus, treated the imagination as among the most important of the moral faculties. Faithfulness demands imagination, the capacity to discern God’s work in the world even when the appearances seems to contradict that possibility. Second, Shuman cites Dante as an exemplar of “wakefulness.” Dante stirs us to rouse from a sleepiness that blinds us to the reality of grace. Most people prefer sleepwalking, in seeking gods of our own making; Dante narrates for us a waking at the grace of God’s beauty. Third, Joel notes the power of desire. Dante encounters threatening beasts that emblematize the desires that drive us away from God (as Jesus notes in Matthew 13:22 the seed that gets off to a good start, but that succumbs to the cares and desires of this world). Fourth, Joel notes the effect of habit on our lives. Purgatorio concerns our learning to live well (whether in a post mortem interval, or in daily terrestrial life). Dante encounters encouragement and scolding as he passes through the Purgatorio, illustrating that salvation requires not individual effort, but the shared diligence of lives bound together. Dante’s goal can only be accomplished in communion. And I must have missed the transition to the fifth point, because Joel just wound up the talk.
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Some might be interested in this CD course on Divine Comedy:
http://www.teach12.com (search: dante)
Two gifted teachers share the fruit of two lifetimes’ worth of historical and literary expertise in this introduction to one of the greatest works ever written
One of the most profound and satisfying of all poems, the Divine Comedy (or Commedia) of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) is a book for life.
Happen to know of any podcast/mp3s that have been made available? Doesn’t seem to be quite the thing this year like it was last year (recording it and putting it onoine, that is)
Dale, the plenary sessions were all recorded (I was looking over Kevin’s shoulder as he recorded them). I reckon he’s editing them and preparing them for uploading when he has time.
I would look for them as links on this page, when they’re ready.
It comes as no surprise that a look at the Purgatorio in this venue would offer a didactic reading of this kind. I first read your summary a few days ago, and it’s lingered in part because of something that sits somewhere between an observation and a question. It is certainly true that Dante the pilgrim climbing the mount encounters chastisement and support from those he meets. To say:
illustrating that salvation requires not individual effort, but the shared diligence of lives bound together.
(realizing that this is a brief report of a longer discussion, but still…) makes it sound like Dante is propounding the need for a contemporary congregation or community of some kind for salvation to occur. Given that his journey begins inspired by divine impulse, prodding a dead Roman poet to lead him down/up that path to salvation, I would be curious to know if the diligence extends to authors that matter in one’s life, and if the lives bound together might no include the dead whom one has only encountered within the binding of a book.
I plan to re-read the poem soon, and will be sure to keep Joel’s comments in mind.
Thanks for the pointer….I’ll watch for it. Thank you also for your summaries.