Dante and Beatrice, by Carl Friederich Oesterley (19th c.).
Dante, the World’s Second Greatest Poet | Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ | Homiletic & Pastoral Review
Sometime this month back in 1265, exactly 750 years ago, the World’s Second Greatest Poet was born in Florence, Dante Alighieri. Not many realize that Popes Benedict XV and Paul VI issued official Vatican statements lauding Dante for the unmatchable beauty of his poetry, his Divine Comedy above all. This is a “comedy” because, beginning in tragedy, it ends victorious (versus a “tragedy,” like Oedipus Rex, which begins in triumph and ends in catastrophe). But what makes Dante so great and so appreciated almost a millennium later?
Dante wrote in a very pivotal time for the history of Europe and the history of the Church. His much-loved metropolis of Florence was divided over the amount of control the Papal States should have over Tuscany. Dante began as a soldier and was successively made a member of all the right guilds, a city councilman, and eventually a member of the Council of the Hundred (which was responsible for the city’s highest financial and civic decisions), as well as a Florentine ambassador to other major Italian-speaking cities. Dante never wavered from his disdain over the machinating and malicious Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303). In fact, Boniface is immortalized in the eighth circle of Dante’s hell among the simoniacs and other ecclesiastics who used their sacred office to attain personal gain.
Yet, what is deeper in Dante than his political intrigue is his unique theological appreciation for the role Christians have in uniting others to Christ. While Dante is an orthodox Catholic thinker on every level, he exhibits a rare and unguarded insight that the divine comes to humans not only through others but even as other humans.