Into the Dark Woods

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“This year I was drawn to Mark’s ‘certain young man’—the one who flees naked from the violence in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives (14:51-52), leaving behind his linen cloth. Scholars vehemently disagree about who this young man was. Many deduce that it’s the writer of Mark’s gospel inserting himself into the story. Others say he is reminiscent of King David fleeing from Absalom on the the Mount of Olives. Or that he foreshadows the ‘young man’ in a white robe who will meet the women at Jesus’ tomb. Whoever he was, in the midst of an encounter with violence, this “certain young man” lost what thin protection he had and fled into the night, into the selva oscura, as Dante calls it, those ‘dark woods.’ Toward what, we do not know. As the human soul matures, we are confronted with moments that force us to let go of yet another thin veil of self-delusion. The “right road,” the moral high ground, sinks into a thicket of gray.” [. . .]    –Rose Marie Berger, SOJOURNERS, May, 2012.

“Naples Celebrates Dante With Giant Easter Egg”

naples-celebrates-easter-with-giant-easter-egg-2021“Naples continues to celebrate the 700th anniversary of Dante Alighieri, the Father of the Italian language, in its own unique way. After creating Dante figurines for Christmas cribs, the southern Italian city is now devoting an out-sized Easter tradition to the Supreme Poet, reports Italian newspaper La Repubblica. Master chocolatiers at the historic Gay-Odin factory in Naples have created a two-metre high Easter egg decorated with a portrait of Dante along with some verses from The Divine Comedy. The mediaeval poet and philosopher is portrayed on the enormous egg – which boasts 300 kilos of chocolate – in his traditional red robes and laurel wreath, based on the fresco in the Duomo in Florence.” [. . .]    —WantedInRome, March 21, 2021.

“Where Did Our Ideas About Hell Originate?”

“The recent dispute over whether Pope Francis denied the existence of hell in an interview attracted wide attention. This isn’t surprising, since the belief in an afterlife, where the virtuous are rewarded with a place in heaven and the wicked are punished in hell, is a core teaching of Christianity.

“So what is the Christian idea of hell?

[. . .]

“Perhaps the most fulsome description of hell was offered by the Italian poet Dante at the beginning of the 14th century in the first section of his ‘Divine Comedy.’ Here the souls of the damned are punished with tortures matching their sins. Gluttons lie in freezing pools of garbage, while murderers thrash in a river of boiling blood.”   –Joanne M. Pierce, Sojourners, 2018

Read the full article here.

“Protestant Theologians Reconsider Purgatory”

“This Nov. 2, on what is known as All Souls’ Day, Roman Catholics around the world will be praying for loved ones who have died and for all those who have passed from this life to the next. They will be joined by Jerry Walls.

“‘I got no problem praying for the dead,’ Walls says without hesitation — which is unusual for a United Methodist who attends an Anglican church and teaches Christian philosophy at Houston Baptist University.

“Most Protestant traditions forcefully rejected the ‘Romish doctrine’ of purgatory after the Reformation nearly 500 years ago. The Protestant discomfort with purgatory hasn’t eased much since: You still can’t find the word in the Bible, critics say, and the idea that you can pray anyone who has died into paradise smacks of salvation by good works.

[. . .]

“‘I would often get negative reactions,’ Walls said about his early efforts, starting more than a decade ago, to pitch purgatory to Protestants. ‘But when I started explaining it, it didn’t cause a lot of shock.’

“Walls’ major work on the topic, ‘Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation,’ was published in 2012 and completes a trilogy on heaven, hell and the afterlife. He also has a popular, one-volume book synthesizing his ideas coming out from Brazos Press, which targets evangelical readers, and is writing an essay on purgatory for a collection about hell from the evangelical publisher Zondervan.”   –David Gibson, Sojourners, 2014

Read the full article here.

Lawrence M. Ludlow, “Libertarian Themes in the Seven Deadly Sins of Dante’s Divine Comedy

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“In this essay, I will flesh out that suggestion; I will show how Dante and aspects of the medieval Catholic theology that shaped his views had more in common with libertarian beliefs than the beliefs of many modern-day Christians, who have been infused with a puritanical—and even Manichaean—attitude about the natural world and its bounty and beauty. Indeed, the perceptions about the natural world shared by the theologian Thomas Aquinas and some of today’s libertarians may help explain why libertarianism resonates so deeply with Catholics, Jews, and other minorities—including Native Americans and members of the gay community. All of these groups instinctively understand that the inner state of a human being—one’s humanity and status as an individual—is more important than superficial differences that only appear to distinguish one person from another. In this sense, they mirror Dante’s understanding that the deeper, less visible ‘sins’ of humanity are far more destructive than outwardly observable behaviors and conditions. And while this may appear to gloss over instances where outward manifestations of ‘sinful’ behavior reflect an evil root within the inner man—it is nonetheless important to understand how inner states of being such as pride, envy, and wrath cause more harm than the outwardly visible manifestations of greed, gluttony, and lust.” [. . .]    –Lawrence M. Ludlow, The Future of Freedom Foundation, July 11, 2014.

“On the Road with Dante”

“While The Divine Comedy most clearly reflects the Catholic faith of the poet and his medieval world, it hints at some principles the Reformation would bring to bear on the church two centuries later. Dante purposely wrote in a low style that would have popular appeal despite its highly spiritual subject matter. While the church produced works in Latin, Dante wrote in the vernacular. His choice was revolutionary, ensuring the work could and would be read by common men as well as by women and children (who still study the work extensively in Italian schools today).

“Despite its loftiness, The Divine Comedy is firmly grounded in the gritty and the mundane. In fact, Dante didn’t use the word divine in his title. He simply titled it Commedia, which at the time meant a work with a happy ending as opposed to a tragic one. (The word ‘divine’ was added by a later editor and has stuck through the years.) In casting a fictional version of himself as the central figure, The Divine Comedy is prophetically personal, confessional, and autobiographical. In this way it emphasizes a surprisingly modern sense of self-determination, one that foreshadows the famous ‘Protestant work ethic.’ Moreover, in its accent on the salvation and purification of the individual soul, this work of the Catholic Dante anticipates the spiritual autobiographies of Puritans such as John Bunyan. The Divine Comedy is a story of someone seeking salvation. In Dante’s own words, the poem’s purpose is to lead readers from ‘a state of wretchedness to a state of happiness.’ And while depicting salvation in the afterlife, it’s clear Dante intends readers to find abundant life in the here and now.” [. . .]    –Karen Swallow Prior, The Gospel Coalition, October 21, 2015.

Spiritual Direction from Dante: Avoiding the Inferno (2019) by Fr. Paul Pearson

“Hell and how to avoid it are perennial topics of interest for believing Christians and others. With good reason. Entire libraries have been written on the subject. Most people, even those familiar with his classic, do not realize that Dante Aligheri’s Divine Comedy, chock-full as it is of history and politics, is a masterpiece of spiritual writing. The most famous of his three volumes is the Inferno, an account of Dante’s journey through the underworld, where he sees the horror of sin firsthand. [. . .]

“A reading experience like no other, Spiritual Direction from Dante, will educate and entertain you, but most importantly, will help you avoid the inferno!”    —Amazon

Spiritual Direction from Dante was written by Father Paul Pearson and published by TAN Books February 4th, 2019.

A Profound Meditation on Hell

When I had journeyed half of our life’s way, I found myself within a shadowed forest, for I had lost the path that does not stray …’

“So opens the 14th-century poem Divina Comedia (The Divine Comedy) by Dante Alighieri.

“The blurb on the back cover of a new book, Spiritual Direction From Dante: Avoiding the Infernoby Oratorian Father Paul Pearson, tells its readers that no prior knowledge of the celebrated text is necessary to appreciate or enjoy its riches: “Reading Dante not required!” That is because Father Pearson gives an excellent explanation of the poem, and both its cultural and spiritual significance, in just over 300 pages.

“Fusing practical advice about how to live one’s Christian vocation with a piece of high art from the Middle Ages is not an easy thing to do. Father Pearson carries it off superbly, and while doing so, he gives the reader a fresh appreciation of Divina Comedia.

“The structure of the book is a straightforward journey through the 34 cantos that make up the first part of the poem, namely, Inferno (hell). For anyone unfamiliar with Divina Comedia, this epic poem recounts how Dante, accompanied by the pagan poet Virgil, journeys through the many circles of hell, purgatory and then heaven.” […]    –K.V. Turley, National Catholic Register, June 8, 2019