Saturday, May 11, 2024

Genuine Art: Dante, Divine Poet

Adam Kirsch in the Atlantic, writes about the close passing of the poetry critics Marjorie Perloff and Helen Vendler and opine "it is a moment to recognize the end of an era.In our more populist time, when poetry has won big new audiences by becoming more accessible and more engaged with issues of identity." Adam Kirsch is an editor of The Wall Street Journal’s weekend Review section and the author of The Revolt Against Humanity: Imagining a Future Without UsClearly. neither Kirsch, Perlof, or Vendler would have approved of Dante Alighieri.

Bishop Robert Barron in his Book Pivotal Players explains the challenge we face when trying to appreciate widely known art, such as Michelangelo's: "A serious problem in approaching any of Michelangelo's great works is that they become so familiar, so iconic, that we convince ourselves too easily that we already know them such as La Pietà and Michelangelo's work on the Sistine Chapel.

A search through Google Books indicates that while Michelangelo's work may be familiar and iconic, this is not the case with Dante Alighieri. Alighieri is considered the greatest Italian poet, best known for The Divine Comedy, an epic poem that is one of the world's most important works of literature. The poem, which is divided into three sections, follows a man, generally assumed to be Dante himself, as he visits Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. A search of Google Books shows Alighieri was better known in the 1900 than today.

To celebrate the Seventh  Centenary of the death of Dante Alighieri, Pope Francis writes in his apostolic letter, “Candor Lucis Aeternae” (“Splendor of Eternal Light”): On this anniversary, the voice of the Church can hardly be absent from the universal commemoration of the man and poet Dante Alighieri. Better than most, Dante knew how to express with poetic beauty the depth of the mystery of God and love. His poem, one of the highest expressions of human genius, was the fruit of a new and deeper inspiration, to which the poet referred in calling it:

“the Poem Sacred
To which both heaven and earth have set their hand” (Par. XXV, 1-2).

In the letter, Pope Francis expressed deep appreciation “to those teachers who passionately communicate Dante’s message and introduce others to the cultural, religious and moral riches contained in his works....this great heritage cries out to be made accessible beyond the halls of schools and universities.”

Pope Francis' exhortation should be reason enough to watch the PBS Documentary despite the fact that PBS hides Dante's Catholic faith: "DANTE: Inferno to Paradise is a two-part, four-hour documentary film chronicling the life, work and legacy of the great 14th century Florentine poet, Dante Alighieri, and his epic masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, one of the greatest achievements in the history of Western Literature."

Father Imbelli, writing for America Magazine, includes a glowing review of the focumentary: "The documentary features vivid art works (including the baptistry of San Giovanni in Florence and mosaics in the churches of Ravenna —their luminous images gracing with beauty the beginning and end of Dante’s earthly life). It incorporates authoritative comments from some 20 Dante scholars and re-enactments by actors of select scenes from Dante’s life and poem. The whole is bound together by an excellent script, written by Ric Burns and the Dante scholar Riccardo Bruscagli, and winningly narrated by Alan Cox."

Pope Francis writes in his apostolic letter, “Candor Lucis Aeternae”: At this particular moment in history, overclouded by situations of profound inhumanity and a lack of confidence and prospects for the future, the figure of Dante, prophet of hope and witness to the human desire for happiness, can still provide us with words and examples that encourage us on our journey. Dante can help us to advance with serenity and courage on the pilgrimage of life and faith that each of us is called to make, until our hearts find true peace and true joy, until we arrive at humanity’s ultimate goal: the Love which moves the sun and the other stars "

A good place to start digging deeper is to read Pope Francis' highly informative letter. In it he describes the Popes of the last century and Dante Alighieri. In particular Saint Paul VI who starting in 1965, for the seventh centenary of Dante’s birth, promoted the Divine Poet's cause. Above all, however, Pope Paul honored the memory of the great poet with an Apostolic Letter, Altissimi Cantus, in which he reaffirmed the strong bond uniting the Church and Dante Alighieri. “There may be some who ask why the Catholic Church, by the will of its visible Head, is so concerned to cultivate the memory and celebrate the glory of the Florentine poet. Our response is easy: by special right, Dante is ours! Ours, by which we mean to say, of the Catholic faith, for he radiated love for Christ; ours, because he loved the Church deeply and sang her glories; and ours too, because he acknowledged and venerated in the Roman Pontiff the Vicar of Christ”.

Yet this right, the Pope added, far from justifying a certain triumphalism, also entails an obligation: “Dante is ours, we may well insist, but we say this not to treat him as a trophy for our own glorification, but to be reminded of our duty, in honouring him, to explore the inestimable treasures of Christian thought and sentiment present in his work. For we are convinced that only by better appreciating the religious spirit of the sovereign poet can we come to understand and savour more fully its marvellous spiritual riches”. Nor does this obligation exempt the Church from accepting also the prophetic criticisms uttered by the poet with regard to those charged with proclaiming the Gospel and representing, not themselves, but Christ. “The Church does not hesitate to acknowledge that Dante spoke scathingly of more than one Pope, and had harsh rebukes for ecclesiastical institutions and for those who were representatives and ministers of the Church”. All the same, it is clear that “such fiery attitudes never shook his firm Catholic faith and his filial affection for Holy Church”.

Paul VI went on to illustrate what makes the Comedy a source of spiritual enrichment accessible to everyone. “Dante’s poem is universal: in its immense scope, it embraces heaven and earth, eternity and time, divine mysteries and human events, sacred doctrine and teachings drawn from the light of reason, the fruits of personal experience and the annals of history”. Above all, he stressed the intrinsic purpose of Dante’s writings, and the Divine Comedy in particular, a purpose not always clearly appreciated or duly acknowledged. “The aim of the Divine Comedy is primarily practical and transformative. It seeks not only to be beautiful and morally elevating poetry, but to effect a radical change, leading men and women from chaos to wisdom, from sin to holiness, from poverty to happiness, from the terrifying contemplation of hell to the beatific contemplation of heaven”.

Whether is Michelangelo's art, art Music or any other genuine art form,
draws man to adoration, to prayer, and to the love of God, Creator and Savior, the Holy One and Sanctifier.

For, as Bishop Barron's writes in his book, Renewing Our Hope: ”Following Dietrich von Hildebrand, we should say that the truly beautiful is an objective value, to be sharply distinguished from what is merely subjectively satisfying.This means that the beautiful does not merely entertain; rather it invades, chooses and changes the one to whom it deigns to appear. It is not absorbed into subjectivity; it re-arranges and re-directs subjectivity, sending it on a trajectory toward the open sea of the Beautiful itself.”

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