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The Cammino concludes

Today I've posted my final installment of the Cammino attraverso la Commedia over at Verdicts. Thanks to everyone who has followed along, and special thanks to Helen and Flavia who performed intellectual works of mercy (you didn't know there were intellectual works of mercy, did you?) by commenting on each post. (They will certainly get time off in Purgatory for that!) Although Mary was in the upper room with the apostles, Bernard's hymn to Mary isn't a perfect match for Pentecost. But it is May, and the hymn is beautiful, and I couldn't fit it into my post, so I've posted it below. If you would like to find all the posts on Dante, you can click here. Of course, feel free to comment.

'Virgin Mother, daughter of your Son,
more humble and exalted than any other creature,
fixed goal of the eternal plan,
you are the one who so ennobled human nature
that He, who made it first, did not disdain
to make Himself of its own making.

Your womb relit the flame of love --its heat has made this blossom seed
and flower in eternal peace.

To us you are a noonday torch of charity,
while down below, among those still in flesh,
you are the living fountainhead of hope.

Lady, you are so great and so prevail above,
should he who longs for grace not turn to you,
his longing would be doomed to wingless flight.

Your loving kindness does not only aid
whoever seeks it, but many times
gives freely what has yet to be implored.

In you clemency, in you compassion,
in you munificence, in you are joined
all virtues found in any creature.

This man who, from within the deepest pit
the universe contains up to these heights
has seen the disembodied spirits, one by one,

now begs you, by your grace, to grant such power
that, by lifting up his eyes,
he may rise higher toward his ultimate salvation.

And I, who never burned for my own seeing
more than now I burn for his, offer all my prayers,
and pray that they may not fall short,

so that your prayers disperse on his behal
fall clouds of his mortality and let
the highest beauty be displayed to him.

This too, my Queen, I ask of you, who can achieve
whatever you desire, that you help him preserve,
after such vision, the purity of his affections.

Let your protection rule his mortal passions.
See Beatrice, with so many of the blessed,
palms pressed together, joining me in prayer.

 

(The translation comes from the Princeton Dante Project, which I have used in every post.

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Bill M. --I've never heard of a boy of 9 falling in love with a girl of 7 and never falling out of love, much less having his whole life affected by it. But I might be prejudiced. Antonio Bologna seemed to fall in love with me when he was 10 and I was 8. Proof was the Mickey Mouse wrist-watch he gave me for my birthday. One would think that a boy doesn't give a girl a Mickey Mouse wrist-watch unless he means it. But Antonio was faithless. He went off to boarding school and never wrote to me -- not even once. Hmph. So I can't help but wonder if Dante's faithfulness was real. Or just crazy.

"Lady, you are so great and so prevail above,should he who longs for grace not turn to you,his longing would be doomed to wingless flight."Scott --Is Bernard the author of the heresy of Mary, Co-Redemptrix?? I wouldn't be surprised. It wouldn't be his first.

Hi, Ann,The simple answer to your question is no. Of course, the heresy of describing Mary as Co-Redemptrix means that Mary is equal to Christ. The importance of Mary in the economy of salvation goes as far back as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyon, and Tertullian (all 2nd C.) They all describe Mary as the new Eve, which itself is a gloss on Paul's Adam-Christ typology in Rom. 5. (It's likely that Irenaeus drew on Justin here and Tertullian on Irenaeus.)Traditionally, very high Mariology is associated with the Franciscans. The contemporary theologian Leonardo Boff, although no longer a Franciscan, went so far as to say that Mary was hypostatically united to the Holy Spirit. For many, Boff's views went beyond what one could say from the Biblical witness.I have to say, though, that I'm not an expert on this. I was the assistant for a class about Mary in the history of Christianity, but it's not part of my own research. So I'm happy to be corrected on any of this.But, back to Dante (who surely knew of Bernard's devotion to Mary): it's a lovely poem, isn't it?

Yes, it's lovely. And thanks for the theology :-) Maybe you can help me with this question too. When I read the Commedia years ago I didn't think it was a strange poem (the way I find most of William Blake weird, for instance), but, sad to say, since then I've read that Dante was 9 years old when he fell in love with Beatrice, who was only 7, and he met her only once more when they were late teen-agers. Since then I can't help but wonder just what the Commedia is really about. How do you critics explain such an outlandish devotion? Surely he wasn't literally in love with -- what? -- a personal myth? And if the part about Beatrice is really just myth, what is the rest of the poem about? So far as I know nobody has ever accused him of heresy, but I can't help but wonder what he meant by "the faith". Or maybe I'm really asking if perhaps he wasn't just a bit touched.

Ann, that's what we've been spending the last 50 days trying to figure out! :) I'd love to hear your thoughts on the posts over at Verdicts.After reading through the Commedia again, I am even more convinced that it is the most beautiful poem that's ever been written. It's about God, love, language, philosophy, politics, friendship, sanctity, and more. Only Homer and Shakespeare are in Dante's league.And as for Dante's love of Beatrice, I do think that his brief encounter with her was a moment of grace that deeply shaped his life. How much less beauty there would be in the world if he had never encountered her!

Scott --I know that the medievals were acutely aware of both the sensible world and the world of far-out abstractions and that Dante's work integrates the two in an extraordinary way. But I still think he must have been a very strange man even for the 14th century. I wonder whether his encounter with Beatrice might have been some sort of mystical experience in which he became aware of the presence of the God indirectly by means of his encounter with beauty of the exquisite little Beatrice. Of course, that is not what the Commedia is about. But his first encounter with her is a preamble, so to speak, of his faith that God is absolute beauty. Does he say much more about the meeting somewhere else? And then again, maybe Dante was some sort of nutter, though what specific sort of craziness would account for such an insane obsession? Do 9 year old boys often fall in love with 7 year old girls and never fall out of love with them? If they do, is it a sort of immature pederasty? Ugly thought :-( I think I'll stick with the hypothesis of a semi-mystical experience.I think Dante goes beyond Shakespeare and Homer. Although it seems Shakespeare was Catholic, he doesn't have a transcendent dimension -- he has depth and width to beat the others, but he doesn't have the height of Dante. Nor does Homer.

Thanks for all your posts. We have fallen behind and have barely ended the Purgatory, but are following all of your posts, albeit with a delay.

Ann, I don't find Dante's experience of Beatrice unusual at all. There is perhaps nothing more enchanting than an attractive smile of a loved one we never meet. Especially when we were young. There is only that smile and the fantasy takes over from that. In a distant way it is like Cinderella. Happily ever after because no details are further given. So this is rather common, Ann. Where is your romantic side anyway. As common as this is, Dante puts in a way that is most appealing. That is what great artists do. They articulate our lives in a most skillful manner.

Scott:It was not an intellectual work of mercy for me but a labor of love. Thank you for this opportunity. I used the text that I had saved from my Freshman English Course. It even had my class notes on each page. (I am surprised at how little my handwriting has changed.) I kept my paper from the course. It was submitted on May 18.As to Beatrice - I find Dantes praise a bit over the top. Yet that is the medieval courtly love poetry tradition. After all St. Francis considered himself to be the spouse of Lady Poverty.In another of Dantes works called New Life he writes of Beatrice:Since three is the sole factor of nine and the sole factor of miracles is three the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Who are three in one then this lady was a nine, a miracle whose root it the miraculous Trinity itself. (29). If Dante were alive today I think he might consider Beatrice a TEN.I wonder why Dante has not been declared a Doctor of the Church? Does it have anything to do with the fact that he was a member of the laity?

AnnSo sorry that your first love was so fickle, superficial, and unfaithful. Would that he had been as steadfast as Dante and you might have been immortalized in a poem.

The poem about Beatrice is beantiful and a classic. It is also fantasy. Which is ok. But Dante took it too seriously and to canonize her????

Scott --Did Dante write in the tradition of courtly love poetry? That might help explain his idolization of Beatrice. Kind of turns her into a literary device, but . . .Sadly, deconstruction does destroy, doesn't it. Or what?

"The importance of Mary in the economy of salvation goes as far back as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus of Lyon, and Tertullian (all 2nd C.) They all describe Mary as the new Eve, which itself is a gloss on Pauls Adam-Christ typology in Rom. 5. (Its likely that Irenaeus drew on Justin here and Tertullian on Irenaeus.)"Truly the first three centuries are virtually silent about Mary. Mary is certainly special and a great woman. But the idolization of her has been way over the top and a disservice to her and the Gospel. Proving that women's criticism of the exaltation Mary has led to misogyny within the church, Justin and Tertullian were misogynists. Not to mention Augustine, Thomas and the Franciscan Bonaventure.

Bill, I'm excited to see you're a fellow fan of Dante. I have one question, though. When you say, "Truly the first three centuries are virtually silent about Mary," what do you mean by "virtually"? She is mentioned in all four Gospels and Acts. I've already noted Justin, Irenaeus, and Tertullian. (If Justin and Tertullian are misogynists, they certainly hold Mary in high regard.) We have so-called "gnostic gospels" that discuss Mary. Whatever the status of these writings is (an interesting and important discussion), the writings themselves certainly aren't silent about Mary. If all these mentions of Mary in the first three centuries count as virtual silence, then what would constitute sound?

And, Bill, how could I forget the Prot-evangelium of James, the Infancy Narrative of Pseudo-Matthew, and the Odes of Solomon! All of them were written in the first three centuries after Christ.

Hi Scott,I wrote "virtually" silent. Pseudo-Matthew was written between 600-625. As far as holding Mary putting Mary on a pedestal what they did was take her humanity away from her. Elizabeth Johnson has written "Truly Our Sister" which is a classic on Mary brings back her humanity as well as helping with the misogynist issue. Further, I doubt Mary would tolerate mysogynists. nor would she approve of the apocraphyl Protoevangelium of James.

Bill, thanks for the correction about Pseudo-Matthew. (I was typing too quickly.) You're right. I still don't know what you mean by "virtually." Mary interested followers of Jesus from very early on. Even seven or eight or nine texts is a lot. And what's wrong with the Protoevangelium of James? I think it's a wonderful piece of Christian midrash. At the very least, the story about Mary in the Temple gave us Titian's _Presentation of the Virgin Mary_, which is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. Next time you're in Venice, be sure to go to the Accademia and check it out.

Thank you, Helen. All sympathy is appreciated. Sigh.

What you won't find in the Protoevangelium of James and Dante. From Elizabeth Johnson. Mary of the MagnificatThough Mary is poor and lowly, and a culturally insignificant woman, the powerful living holy God is doing great things to her. And God does this not only to her but to all the poor: bringing down the mighty from their thrones; exalting the lowly; filling the hungry with good things and sending the unrepentant rich away empty. And all of this is happening in fulfillment of the ancient promiseand in her very being. For she embodies the nobodies of this world, on whom God is lavishing rescue.In this song she sings of the future too, when finally, peaceful justice will take root in the land among all people. This is a great prayer; it is a revolutionary song of salvation. As writer Bill Cleary once commented, "It reveals that Mary was not only full of grace but full of political opinions."Miriam's song has political implicationssocially radical ones at that. With a mother like this, it's no wonder that Jesus' first words in Luke proclaim that he has come to free the captives and bring good news to the poor. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree!http://www.americancatholic.org/newsletters/cu/ac0501.asp

Well, you also won't find Mary of the Magnificat in any other text than Luke, so what's your point? You've switched from saying nobody was talking about Mary for three centuries (if you had made it 3 1/2 centuries, you'd have had to have said that nobody could shut up about her) to saying that they were, but that they weren't saying the stuff you like.Btw, Eerdmans is putting out a new collection of un/underseen apocrypha, which has a life of the Virgin that follows the proto-gospel in a lot of ways--but Mary is ugly and smells bad!

The point is that she is not the Lady in Blue, Abe. And that those who look for the goddess in her miss the point. She is on message with Jesus that the poor are filled with great things and the rich will go away empty. In case you missed Johnson's words above: "Miriams song has political implicationssocially radical ones at that. With a mother like this, its no wonder that Jesus first words in Luke proclaim that he has come to free the captives and bring good news to the poor."

Mary is the Lady in Blue, Mary isn't the Lady in Blue. Helen was in Troy, Helen was in Egypt. Iphigenia was sacrificed, Iphigenia was saved. Abraham didn't kill Isaac, Abraham did kill Isaac.My point is that you're selecting a stream of interpretation and promoting it as the correct one, which is fair enough, but only if done with critical awareness of the fact that you have made a selection, and that there were other streams that were available for the choosing. You've chosen the sausage you want to eat, but there was a lot of meat around that went into different casings.

Too facile a response, Abe.There is serious scholarship that does enable a person to sift out the facts. Elizabeth Johnson is a serious scholar. Did you read her book on Mary? With your approach one ends up empty. Perhaps you need the CDF.

Bill, please stop. This thread began when Ann asked if Dante thought Mary was Co-Redemptrix. I responded by saying no and by noting how three second century theologians understood Mary in the economy of salvation. Ann gave us a sweet and sad story about her childhood. (I'm sure she's gotten over it. Her reply to Helen seems to suggest so:)) You had a flip response to Ann's point. You then made a claim that rested on the vague word "virtually." I called you on it. You pointed out a factual error I made (for which I thanked you), and you still did not define the word "virtually." Abe then called you on the fact that Mary's only speaks of the poor in her Magnificat in Luke 1. You changed the subject by referring to Elizabeth Johnson. Abe pointed out that you are being selective. You then responded that "There is serious scholarship that does enable a person to sift out the facts." This was a question begging response because in order to prove Elizabeth Johnson was a serious scholar you pointed to Elizabeth Johnson being a serious scholar. (Notice, I'm not making a point about Elizabeth Johnson. I'm sure she's a serious scholar. Good friends of mine speak highly of her, and I trust them. I have learned from the little of her scholarship that I've read.)Meanwhile, I wouldn't call branding Justin, Tertullian, Augustine, Bonaventure, and Aquinas misogynists in a throw away line a serious response. Why can you be facile when Abe can't be? (I recognize what I've just written is a tu quoque response and not a serious argument.) I agree with Abe: it is difficult and sometimes impossible to follow your train of thought. And because it is difficult to follow your train of thought, it is difficult, if not impossible, to give you a serious response.Would that we spent more time talking about Dante. It would do us all some good.

Ann --He certainly did. And he shows us that by meeting Brunetto in the Inferno, Guido Guinizzelli and Arnaut Daniel in Purgatorio, and Falco in the Paradiso. Importantly, all these poets wrote in the vernacular. (I discuss them in my posts over at Verdicts.)

As for deconstruction, Dante does a better job showing the limits of language than Derrida does, I think. The Commedia enacts its own erasure (in a manner of speaking) better than _Glas_ or _Of Grammatology_. (I recognize that's a debatable point! I don't know how carefully Derrida read Dante. I do know there are a few studies that compare them.)

Scott,Stop being so sensitive. Dante wrote a whole poem about Mary. Can I not object to that Mariology? I am not one of your students. The problem is you heard of Johnson but have not read her as you say "little." That may say plenty about you. You mentioned Justin and Tertullian first. We disagree about the significance of the number of times Mary is mentioned. Since you talked about a Mariology that I disagree with I pointed out to you that Justin and Tertullian are part of the problem of the over-exaltation of Mary which has led to the degradation of women in Christianity. I understand that as a Contributor you have certain privileges. That does not mean you can be condescending.

Ann, Blake's poetry "weird". Dante a "strange Man' , a "bit touched", with an "insane obsession", bordering on "immature pederasty."It's alright to simply say: "there's so much I don't understand or am not able to connect with on an emotional level."

George McG --The trouble with Dante is that I did connect with him when I was young and didn't know how he had supposedly fallen in love at age 9 or so. If you take that seriously then it can give you a very different picture of him as a man, and, therefore, as a poet. I"m not the only one who has ever considered Blake weird, am I? My problem with him is that I get the feeling that he doesn't think he's writing and drawing fiction.

Bill,I'm sorry if I offended you. I certainly did not mean to be condescending, and I don't see how trying to understand your argument by laying out the points you made (which is all I did at 2:02 pm) was condescending. I simply asked you to stop because our conversation was not going anywhere.When I get into academic discussions with colleagues, we discuss each others' arguments. We often label those arguments. We ask for textual evidence. That's all I was trying to do.You asked if you could object to Dante's Mariology? Of course you can. It would have been more productive if you objected to it by discussing it. You haven't actually discussed the poem or asked any questions that might help someone else understand the poem. That's not me being sensitive, and that's not me being condescending. That's just me pointing out (as I did above) what you've said and what you didn't say and responding accordingly. Again, if I offended you, I apologize. I know full well you're not my student. I was trying to treat you as a colleague. And with that, I look forward to hearing from you the next time I post on Commonweal.

Scott,I accept your effort to patch up any misunderstandings with me. No question we disagree on a number of items. Yet your working toward conciliation is admirable. Thank you for that.

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About the Author

Scott D. Moringiello is a Lawrence C. Gallen fellow in the Humanities at Villanova University, where he teaches the Augustine and Culture Seminar and courses in the theology department.