The Spiritual Master Pope Francis Wants You to Read | Bishop Robert Barron
I first read Dante's masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, twenty-five years ago—and the experience changed my life
This year marks the 750th anniversary of the birth of the great Catholic poet Dante Alighieri. Michelangelo reverenced Dante, as did Longfellow, Dorothy Sayers, and T.S. Eliot. In fact, it was Eliot who commented, "Dante and Shakespeare divide the world between them. There is no third." One of Bob Dylan's finest songs, "Tangled Up in Blue," contains a reference to Dante: "She opened up a book of poems, handed it to me/ It was written by an Italian poet from the 13th century/ And every one of those words rang true and glowed like burning coal/ Pouring off of every page like it was written in my soul."
I first read Dante's masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, in the summer of 1990, when I was studying German in Freiburg in Breisgau. The experience changed my life. Almost every book I've written contains some reference to the poet, and I've used him extensively in my preaching for twenty-five years. Just this past summer, while filming with my Word on Fire team in Ravenna, I had the opportunity to visit Dante's tomb, which I found incomparably moving.
There is so much to admire in The Divine Comedy: its architectonic structure, its lyrical language, its unforgettable metaphors, its cadences and rhythms (impossible to convey in translations), its psychological perceptiveness, its deep humanity, etc. But I would like to focus on its extraordinary spiritual power. How wonderful that arguably the most significant poem in the Western tradition is all about sin and redemption and is suffused through and through with a distinctively Catholic sensibility.
The epic poem opens in the year 1300, when its protagonist was thirty-five, mid-life by a Biblical reckoning: