Dante and Resurrection
In a comment on Joseph Komochak’s post on “Resurrection,” I suggested that Bishop Wright gets Dante wrong.
By contrast, I think that Hans Urs von Balthasar gets il Poeta exactly right.
Here are some insights from von Balthasar’s Glory of the Lord, volume three: Lay Styles: “Dante:”
“The Love which began on earth between two human beings, is not denied, is not bypassed on the journey to God. It is not, as was hitherto the case, sacrificed on the altar of the classical via negativa. No: it is carried right up to the throne of God, however transformed and purified. This is utterly unprecedented in the history of Christian theology.
“It is true that the figure of the beloved is enriched with symbolic content, but it would be ridiculous to maintain that she is only a symbol or allegory – of what? Of faith? Of theology? Of the vision of God? Only dusty academics could fall for something as abstruse as that!
“No, the figure of the beloved is a young Florentine girl of flesh and blood. Why should a Christian man not love a woman for all eternity and allow himself to be introduced by that woman to a full understanding of what “eternity” means? And why should it be so extraordinary – ought one not rather expect it – that such a love needs, for its total fulfillment the whole of theology and Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell” (p. 32).
Recall that Dante sees the souls in Purgatory in bodily form – even before the resurrection of the body. Balthasar comments:
“It is from their bodily appearance – their tears, thinness, and so on – that Dante can read the state of their souls. The explanation, given by Statius, is that the soul, as the substantial form of the body, has an attractive power over matter even after its death. When the solid matter slips from its grasp, it takes hold of the air that surrounds it and gives it form, and from this fashions for itself the new shadowy limbs in expectation of the future resurrection of the solid body (Purgatorio 25, 88-105).
“But this means that the souls of the departed are not separated from the world but are inserted into the community of this single real cosmos, and as cosmic beings help to determine, in their turn, the destiny of the world … this idea so boldly maintained by Dante against Platonism and even against Saint Thomas” (p. 71).
Moreover, in the blessed in Heaven,
“there remains a longing for the risen body, disio dei corpi morti (Paradiso 14, 63), for the immortalization of flesh and blood and thus also of the solidarity of the generations. Yes, there is a longing ‘not perhaps for themselves alone, but for their mothers, for their fathers, and for the others who were dear before they became eternal flames.’
“In a profound speech Solomon explains that the present shadowy or luminous body of the souls in Heaven receives its radiance from spiritual beatitude. One day, though, it will be the other way: the transfigured resurrection body will react upon the glorified soul’s beatitude and power of vision, thus raising it to new heights” (Paradiso 14, 37-66) (pp. 75&76).