THE last half century has witnessed a remarkable awakening of interest in the study of Dante. It might be true in Macaulay’s day that the majority of young people who read Italian would “ as soon read a Babylonian brick as a canto of Dante,” but to-day multitudes are learning Italian to enjoy the sweetest poet who ever spoke that tongue. This increasing appreciation is due to a fundamental sympathy between the poet and the spirit of our age. These are the days of the microscope, the etching tool, and the specialist. We delight in minute investigation and exact scholarship ; we believe in realism and in details. A poem whose mechanism is as precise as the structure of a delicate watch, and which is realistic to the last degree, cannot fail to challenge our attention. It was different in an age which looked up to Dr. Samuel Johnson as a model in composition, and reveled in broad generalization. This is a time when popular rights are much vaunted, and Dante, aristocratic and disdainful though he was, unhesitatingly ascribing the evils of Florence to the boorish plebeians, was still essentially a valiant democrat. The tremendous emphasis he placed upon the worth of the soul lifted the individual man above all titles and claims of blood, so that free Italy found in him its prophet. His writings have proved an armory filled with keenest weapons for the destruction of the claims of the Church to temporal dominion.
Again, the nineteenth century has been distinctively scientific. We have given over the last hundred years to the investigation of fluids and gases ; and the price has been slight compared with the victories we have won. But a too steady gaze at the natural has made dim the supernatural. The soul is beginning to cry out fiercely against its bondage. The prophets of materialism and agnosticism have had their day, and now the clearest voice that ever spoke the soul’s deep consciousness of its mastery over matter and fate is being heard. To Dante the physical is fleeting, the spiritual is the real. He saw time under the forms of eternity. The seen is the stepping stone into the unseen. This is the steadily growing conviction of the world. In a time of vanishing materialism with its attending fatalism, we exult in this superb reassertion of the freedom of the will, by one whom Lowell calls “ the highest spiritual nature that has expressed itself in rhythmical form.” The best religious life of our day is flowing, not in channels of contemplation, but of philanthropy. Our saints linger longer over their frater-nosters than over their pater-nosters. Dante is certainly not the prophet of socialism or of humanitarianism. He was a rigid individualist, and to him the noblest form of religious activity was the absorption of the mind in pondering the deep things of God rather than unflagging endeavor. “ They shall see his face ” was to him a more significant description of heaven than “ His servants shall serve him.” In this he does not reflect our age; but in his superb assertion of the reality and supremacy of the spiritual, in his passionate desire to know, in his conception of the strenuousness of life, and the austere rigors of the moral law, he strikes a responsive cord in many hearts.
The great Florentine felt that he was a prophet with an imperative communication from God. His rare ethical insight and his extraordinary intellectual gifts were the seals of his office. He spoke in the vulgar tongue that his word might come to all. Even Isaiah, after his exalted vision in the temple, had not a more urgent sense of mission than had this rugged soul as he wandered about the world experiencing and working out “ his mystic, unfathomable song.” He too had had a vision. In closing the Vita Nuova he says : “ It was given unto me to behold a very wonderful vision ; wherein I saw things that determined me that I would say nothing further of this most blessed one, until such a time as I could discourse more worthily of her. And to this end I labor all I can, as she well knoweth.” From our knowledge of Dante we may well believe that this was more than a beholding of the ascended Beatrice whom he had loved in the flesh. It was a vision of that which she symbolized to his mind, namely, the Divine Wisdom and its dealings with the children of men. He too would justify the ways of God to men, and his whole after life was a training, —
Stamped in my brain I can make manifest.”
(Par. i. 23, 24. Longfellow’s trans.)
Dante was one of the three preëminent poets of the world, because first of all he was a seer. “ The more I think of it,” says John Ruskin, “ I find this conclusion more impressed upon me, — that the greatest thing a human soul ever does is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think ; but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion, — all in one.” No eye ever saw more clearly the heart of man and the grandeur of the moral law than did this thirteenth-century prophet. What he saw so vividly he could state vitally. He was a poet, because the heart of all truth has rhythm and poetry in it.
What was the message this poet-prophet sought to deliver to the world ? Let us use his own words in his letter dedicating the Paradiso to his friend and protector Can Grande. “ The aim of the whole and the individual parts is twofold, a nearer and a farther, but if we seek into the matter closely, we may say briefly that the aim of the whole and the individual parts is to bring those who are living in this life out of a state of misery, and to guide them to a state of happiness.” How the soul of man, lost in the mazes of life and defeated by the fierceness of its own passions, can learn its peril, escape from the stain and power of sin, and enter into perfect blessedness, this is his theme. He sets it forth in three works which are distinctively religious, and in which he uses his own life as a type of the experience of the race, namely, The New Life, The Banquet, and The Divine Comedy. The last is the completest and fullest statement of what is vital in the first two.
Following his great master St. Thomas Aquinas, Dante believed that the supreme end of all right endeavor is happiness. There is a twofold happiness for man because he is a dual creature. He has a corruptible and an incorruptible nature. As a citizen of this world he attains happiness by obeying Reason and practicing the four Cardinal virtues Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude. This gives to the natural man perfect temporal felicity. For the spiritual nature the Supreme Beatitude is the Vision of God. This lies beyond the capacity of the natural reason, therefore Revelation, whose channels are the Scriptures, the teachings of the Fathers, and the decisions of Councils, makes known the mysteries of God. By practicing the Theological virtues, Faith, Hope, Love, man becomes a partaker of the divine nature and enters into eternal blessedness ; partially in this world, perfectly, according to his capacity, in the Celestial Paradise. But men miss the true way. They desire happiness. Love for the objects which seem good is implanted in the soul, even as zeal in the bee for making honey, yet man tastes the inferior good and is led on toward evil. This passion for the lower pleasures is no excuse, for men should bring their desires to the reason, which winnows the good from the evil, and then by the power of the will they can restrain the baser loves. They permit the reason and the will to slumber, and thus lose the way of happiness and wander into paths of misery. A fearful vision, even of Hell and the awful consequences of sin, is needed to keep back their feet from evil. The method of relief from the thrall of iniquity and the entrance into moral and spiritual joy Dante graphically describes in the story of his own soul’s experience. Midway in the journey of life he found himself lost in a dark wood; coming to the foot of a high hill he looked upward and saw its shoulders clothed with light. Then was his fear quieted and he strove to ascend the desert slope. Almost at the beginning of the steep three beasts attack him, a she-leopard, a lion, and a she-wolf. As he was falling back before them there appeared to him one who “ through long silence seemed hoarse,” — hoarse, not merely because he had been dead thirteen hundred years, but because his message of imperialism had been so long neglected. It was Virgil, who conducts him through the deeps of Hell, and up the steeps of the Mount of Purgatory, where he leaves him in the Terrestrial Paradise. Here he meets Beatrice, who leads him upward through the Celestial Paradise until he sees God and the Rose of the Redeemed.
Thus Dante would teach us that men often unconsciously go astray and awake to find themselves lost in the tangled mazes of the world. Before them rise the shining shoulders of the Delectable Mountain. This does not appear to be the mountain of salvation as is usually stated. It is a mirage of happiness, which the soul blindly, as yet unguided by Reason, tries to ascend : —
the savour ;
Is cheated by it, and runs after it,
If guide or rein turn not aside its love.”
(Purg. xvi. 91-93. Longfellow’s trans.)
The leopard of incontinence, the lion of violence, the wolf of avarice cannot be overcome. The joy and glory sought in delusive pleasures and in worldly ambitions cannot be attained. Reason, sent by the Divine Grace, leads them into a better way. It shows them the nature of sin and its awful consequences. It next guides up the steep path of purification and freedom until the soul is brought back to the stainlessness enjoyed by the first pair in Eden. Reason and the practice of the moral virtues can do no more. Spiritual life in this world, and the world to come, is the gift of God, made known through Revelation. Therefore, Beatrice, the Divine Wisdom, ushers the soul into the celestial mysteries, lifting it from glory to glory until it touches the height of bliss in a rapturous vision of God.
Is Dante a safe guide ? Has he pointed out the way of life ? The ultimate goal which all men seek he claimed is happiness. We are accustomed to consider the pursuit of happiness misleading. Well-being, the perfection of character, is the final good ; happiness is the consequence of a fully developed life, not an end to be achieved : what is the Supreme Beatitude ? Dante unhesitatingly affirms that it is the Vision of God. To know God, to love him perfectly, to be like him in holiness, this is life eternal, and the statement is unassailable. How shall this perfect blessedness be attained ? In answering this question modern theology differs radically from Dante both in definition and in point of view. We Protestants assert that we enter upon the way of life by an act of faith. “ Faith,” says Horace Bushnell, “ is a transaction. It is the trusting of one’s being to a being, there to be rested, kept, guided, moulded, governed, and possessed forever.” Faith is that divine energy by which the soul attaches itself in vital union to God. Because of this union, the life of God enters into the soul, regenerating it, so that man becomes a new creature. This presence of the spirit of truth leads into a perfect knowledge of the truth. “ If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching.” “ And when he, the spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth.” This diviner spirit perfects love and completes character, for we are transformed by the renewing of our minds.
Thus our modern orthodox view, beginning with faith, emphasizes the redemptive grace of God, and insists that man is saved, not by what he does for himself, but by what God does for him and in him. The thought constantly coming out in our hymns and sermons is that the first step in the way of salvation is the vital union of the soul with God through faith. We measure progress by our deepening consciousness that our lives are “ hid with Christ in God,” and out of this sense of intimate relationship grows all Christian joy and peace and hope.
Coming to Dante from the atmosphere of the modern pulpit, we are surprised at the utter absence of this feeling of the union of the soul with God during the process of salvation. The redeemed look continually into his face and are sensibly one with him ; but the toiling spirits who climb the Mount of Purification have no sweet sense of the indwelling Christ; no “ joy in the Holy Ghost; ” they do not “ dwell in the secret place of the Most High ; ” they would apparently not understand what Paul meant when he said, “ It is no longer I that live, but Christ that liveth in me.” Dante is certainly no mystic. God in his view is the “ Emperor of Heaven,” who can be contemplated in his works, Christ is the “ Light of Heaven,” the Holy Spirit kindles the affection of those in Paradise. Undoubtedly he would accept all that the Scriptures teach regarding the personal relation of the soul with God. With St. Thomas Aquinas he believes that by faith, hope, and love we become “ partakers of the divine nature ” in this world. In the Convito he goes so far as to say “ our Beatitude, that is, this happiness of which we are speaking, we may first find imperfectly in the active life, and then almost perfectly in the exercise of the intellectual virtues (contemplation), which two operations are unimpeded and most direct ways to lead us to the Supreme Beatitude, that cannot be obtained here.” (Con. iv. 22. 10.)
But conscious personal union with God was not a luminous truth with him. It did not occupy the place in his thought that it does in modern teachings. A few rare spirits richly dowered with spiritual insight, who could give much time to profound meditation, might attain to a serene consciousness of the nearness and love of God ; but the masses that are struggling in the purgatorial fire of life while they may be submissive to the divine will, and even sing in the flames, have no sustaining realization that their lives are “hid with Christ in God.” With Dante the root virtue is obedience to Reason and Revelation. Faith is the acceptance of a body of truth, it is belief in a proposition, not trust in a personal God. By the contemplation of revealed truth love is kindled, and love is the divine energy by which the soul unites itself to God. Would a man be saved ? Christ has made the atonement. God has marked out the way, and will give the needed grace; now let man work out his own salvation. It is an arduous task. It is like climbing a precipitous mountain ; vicious habits must be overcome by the constant practice of the opposite virtues ; bad thoughts must be driven out by good ones; evil dispositions come not out but by prayer and tears and fiery sufferings. Dante lays tremendous stress on the human side of salvation. Goodness must be won ; it must be worked out and worked in by heroic effort: this is his philosophy of Purgatory. The Protestant exclaims, “ Receive the grace of God into your heart, and right actions and dispositions will grow out of it.” Dante would teach that goodness is a toilsome achievement. Let a man be prudent, just, courageous, temperate and he will attain blessedness in this world. If he will believe revealed truth and meditate upon it, it will make him free, and will lead him to everlasting felicity.
Yet, after all, if we except a few minor details, such as the efficacy of baptism and prayers for the dead, his way of salvation differs from what we hear in Protestant pulpits more in point of view and in definition than in reality. With us faith is trust in a person ; with him it is belief in a proposition. We consider Paul the greatest of the apostles. Dante did not even meet him in Paradise. We regard revelation as primarily the communication of a new life ; he thought it the declaration of a new truth. We are absorbed in what God does for us ; he assumes the Divine Grace and cries, “ Work out your own salvation.”
But while the form into which this “ Lord of the song preëminent ” threw his message is alien to many of our modes of thought, the substance changes not. The materials with which he wrought his monumental work are essentially the same in all ages, and what this vivid man, with his preternatural insight into the heart of things, saw, this is his enduring word to the world. Such stuff as his dream was made of is permanent, and what he saw in his raw material is the real burden of his prophecy. His subject matter, as he himself stated it, is, “ Man, subjected, in so far as by the freedom of his will he deserves it, to just reward or punishment.” The accountability of man, the supremacy of the moral law, and the certainty of its rewards and punishments, — these truths, profoundly conceived by a master mind, and set forth with extraordinary dramatic power, can be written on no sibyl leaves, easily blown away. They command the attention of all times. Of these eternal verities Dante is the most powerful prophet in the Christian centuries. He differs from nearly all preeminent preachers of righteousness in his starting point. He begins with man, they with God. Among the austere Hebrew prophets Dante most closely resembled Isaiah in majesty of thought and vigor of language, but the theme of the Jewish statesman was the awful holiness of Jehovah. Among modern seers Jonathan Edwards is most nearly related to our poet in subtilty of intellect, intensity of conviction, and in terrific power of imagination. The New Englander saw God, high and lifted up. Before that august vision man shriveled into nothingness. He is a worm of the dust, depraved to the core, and if he is saved, it is through no merit of his own, but through the elective mercy of the Almighty. God, his glory, his decrees, his compassion; and man, a sinner “ saved by grace,” this is most often the message of the conspicuous teachers of Christianity. It seems impossible to have a majestic consciousness of the greatness of God without having man appear a pitiable creature. Dante began with man rather than with God. He riveted his gaze on the sovereign power of the human will instead of on the decrees of the Omnipotent. He stood at the opposite pole of thought to Calvin and Edwards. He could never say with the celebrated French preacher, 11 God alone is great! ” Man is great, too ; he is no mere worm, plucked by a mighty hand from destruction, and changed into celestial beauty by irresistible grace. He is an imposing figure, master of his fate, fighting against principalities and powers, yet strong through divine help to climb the rugged path of purification and achieve blessedness.
Not only was Dante antipodal to many illustrious religious teachers in his starting point, but he differed radically from the great dramatists in his conception of the regal power of the will to conquer all the ills of life. Free will is the greatest of God’s gifts, as Beatrice informs the poet. This potential freedom, that in every right life is continually becoming actual, makes man superior to every disaster and hostile force. Dante called his greatest work a Comedy, because it had a happy ending. There is a deep reason why it had a happy ending. It is because man can be a complete victor in life’s battle. Our poet leads the spectator through fiercer miseries than does Æschylus or Shakespeare; but their immortal works are tragedies, ending in death, while his is a comedy, issuing in triumphant life. Two apparently antagonistic elements enter into our lives, — Necessity and Freedom. The supreme tragedies of literature have been built up upon Necessity. Dante has reared his monumental poem on Freedom. Notice the fundamental conception of Shakespeare in his masterpieces. He is looking at this life only, its happiness, its titles, its successes. He declares that man but half controls his fate. Mightier powers are working upon him in whose hands he is but a plaything. The individual, foolishly dreaming that he is free, is but a shuttlecock, tossed about by other spiritual forces. Hamlet wills with all his soul to kill the king, but he cannot do it. He has a fatal weakness which he is unable to overcome. Macbeth does not wish to commit murder, he is a puppet in the grasp of a stronger, darker spirit. Othello is blindly led on to his own undoing. He enters his hell through no will of his own; a craftier will controls him. The hero of modern tragedy is under the dominion of what happens to be his chief characteristic. Given this nature of his and certain untoward events and his doom is sealed.
The leading Greek dramas are still more impressively constructed on the idea that man is but a grain of wheat between the upper and nether millstones of adverse forces. The characters appear to be free, but if one looks deeper down, he perceives that they are the representatives of vast world powers, while the tragedy is the suffering of the individual as the two malign energies crush against each other. The classic tragedy is commonly constructed on the essential antagonism between the Family and the State. The necessity of such collision is no longer apparent to us, and we have changed the names of the colossal powers that make sport of human life. For family and state we read Heredity and Environment, — task - masters as exacting and irresistible, who allow even less room for the freedom of the individual will. Each one of us had living about three hundred years ago 1016 ancestors. Their blood mingling in us determines by an inexorable law what we are. Environment completes the work heredity began, so that our characters and careers are the inevitable resultants of these two forces. In their clashing life finds its sorrow and perhaps its tragic destruction.
With any such philosophy Dante might have written out of his own bitter experiences one of the world’s darkest tragedies rather than its supreme comedy. He had certainly been the sport of hostile forces. Born of knightly blood, possessed of brilliant genius, cherishing pure aims, sensitive to the sweetest affections and noblest ideals, loving righteousness and hating iniquity, an unsullied patriot, by the fickle passions of a turbulent mob he was deprived of city, home, family, position, property, and made a lonely exile, condemned to a horrible death should he return to Florence. If tragedies grow out of the losses of the individual, held in the grasp of relentless and uncontrollable forces, then Dante had in his own life the materials for as black a drama as was ever played on ancient or modern stage.
But the immortal Florentine had no such fatalistic message for the world. Stripped of those very things, the loss of which the supreme poets had held made life a disaster, he turned his thoughts inward, and in his soul won a victory over malignant fate to which he reared an imperishable monument. He planted himself firmly on the Biblical teaching of the inherent greatness of man. He believed with Christ that “ a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth,” and with Paul that he could lose all things and still be more than conqueror. “For the free will, which if it endure fatigue in the first battles with the heavens, afterwards, if it be well nurtured, conquers everything.” (Purg. xvi. 76—78.) His is not only the first great Christian poem, but it is distinctively the Christian poem of the world in its majestic conception of man and his possibilities. Shakespeare’s religious instincts were comparatively weak. He apparently never seized the essence of the Christian ideas, nor did he look at the soul in its relationship to God. He was “ world-wide,” while Dante was “ world-deep ” and “ world-high.” The Englishman held the mirror up to nature, the Italian looked into the face of God, and beheld all things with the light of the eternal world upon them. Tennyson had no such triumphant evangel for sorrowing humanity. He had a message of faith and hope for an age of doubt, but he utters no such stirring notes of victory as Dante. His friend Aubrey de Vere once remarked to him that In Memoriam was analogous to the Divina Commedia. It was the history of a soul contending with a great sorrow. It began all woe, it had its Purgatorio abounding in consolation and peace, why not add a Paradiso of triumph and joy ? The poet answered, “ I have written what I have felt and known, and I will never write anything else.” Dante’s poem is an autobiography. He passed beyond “ consolation and peace ” to a victorious joy. From the heaven of the Fixed Stars he looked back
So pitiful of semblance, that perforce
It moved my smiles : and him in truth I hold
For wisest who esteems it least.”
(Par. xxii. 130-133. Cary’s trans.)
In the insufferable Light he saw his life and knew that the Primal Love had shone through it all. We know that in thought, and believe that to a large degree in experience, he had that visio Dei which made him the exultant and confident prophet of man’s possible victory. That every life can turn the darkest tragedy into glorious comedy, that the dread foes of man are not belligerent circumstances, but the riotous passions, — the leopard of incontinence, the lion of violence, and the wolf of avarice, — this is the ringing proclamation of this mediæval prophet. No other masterpiece in literature, excepting the Bible, gives such an impression of the actual and potential greatness of man.
Having dwelt at length upon the tremendous emphasis the prophet-poet places on the sovereignty of the human will, it now remains to consider the correlated truth which gives his message its permanent worth and its austere grandeur. Man is indeed accountable, but to what? The throne of God. The “ Emperor of Heaven ” rules with sleepless vigilance and with strict justice. Right and wrong are as far apart as the Pit of Hell and the Rose of the Blessed. Having such an august conception of the authority and requitals of the moral law, Dante would startle a frivolous world into a keen realization of how dreadful sin is in its nature and results. This is the purpose of the Inferno. The book is a Vision of Sin. But one cannot set forth the true nature of evil except sub specie ceternitatis. The scene must necessarily be laid in the next world where iniquity comes to its monstrous growth. If the poet would reveal what sin is, he must describe it when it has conceived and brought forth death. He must go among the “ truly dead ” for prophetic as well as artistic purposes. One of the most extraordinary characteristics of Dante’s genius is his ability to exhibit the inner nature of evil in form and color. With singular penetration he detects the distinctive quality of each particular sin, and then portrays it in action fitted to its character. For example, the delights of carnal and illicit love seem enticing. Dante shows that at heart they are a devastating storm that never rests. The sleek sin of gluttony, so easily yielded to, so satisfying and deadening, in its gruesome nakedness is beastly filth, and is punished in a stenchful region where rain, eternal, cold, accursed, heavy, pours down through the tenebrous air while Cerberus, a personified stomach, tears and flays the spirits that howl like dogs.
What did this grim pilgrim find out sin to be when in dolorous journey he went to its very depths ?
He learned that sin is hopeless. “All hope abandon, ye who enter here,” is the dread motto set over the world of sighs. It is significant that no guard is there to keep the lost souls from escape. The Greek tradition placed the monster Cerberus at the gate, but sin leads downward to deeper death, and the soul once given over to evil does not seek to regain the light.
Sin is grotesque. Sin as it appears in the Paradise Lost is splendid rebellion. Mephistopheles is an elegant gentleman, but Dante’s Lucifer is hideous and loathsome to the last degree. No one can read the Inferno and bear away the impression that wrong-doing contains any element of beauty or profit. Everywhere it is shown as ludicrous, foolish, detestable, ending not in fiery agony whose endurance lends to the sinner a touch of heroism, but in foulness and sterility. The lake of bloody ice, and not the lake of fire, is its true symbol.
Sin is selfishness, for the shades on the marge of Acheron blame everybody but themselves for their fate. It is thus a denial of true self-hood, being a repudiation of responsibility and a surrender of freedom.
Sin does not lead to spiritual annihilation. Sins of the flesh may brutalize, and sins of the spirit may demonize, but they do not destroy the power of the will. The fierce Capaneus, stretched naked on the blistering sand with flakes of fire falling like snow upon him. scornfully challenging Jove to weary Vulcan in forging thunderbolts, has suffered no abatement of the strength of his haughty will through sin.
But what is the punishment of sin ? It is to be given over to itself. Sin is hell, and hell is the death which sin, when it has conceived, bringeth forth. Hell is to let one’s sin have complete dominion over him. The punishment of wrath is to be the slave of wrath. The judgment of the flatterer is to wallow in the sewer-filth of his own lying words. Moreover, the requital of sin is inevitable. There is no escape. The doer and the deed are forever bound up together. The penalties of evil abide in it. Hell is not something happening to a man, it takes place in him, therefore it cannot be cheated or avoided. Souls are given their own character and conduct as a world to live in. “ Wherewithal a man sinneth, with the same also shall he be punished.”
The Inferno is a Vision of Sin in its essential nature. The Purgatorio is a masterly setting forth of the effect of sin on the soul. Pride is an enormous burden, envy is blinding, wrath a stifling smoke. From this defilement the spirit must and can be purged. This is not the work of a moment. Statius was twelve hundred years in Purgatory. The process may involve pain so hot that to cool one’s self one would fain leap into boiling glass. But whatever the cost the soul must be cleansed. How is the stain of sin washed away ? In redemption the divine and human must both put forth effort. God provides for the forgiveness of sins in the atonement wrought on Calvary, and makes a way of escape up the Mount of Purification ; man’s part is to climb the steep path and yield submissively to the purifying process.
The first step is for the soul to get out of the hopelessness of hell into a new environment, into a land of light and music and hope. The next essential is that the soul yield itself to the purging. To keep the spirit in a docile mood the prayers of those upon earth are efficacious. As Dr. Edward Moore has clearly shown in his recently published Studies in Dante, prayers for the souls in Purgatory do not directly abridge the sufferings, but, like all intercessory petitions, they lay hold of God’s grace to influence the sufferer to be receptive of the divine dispensations, so that the remedial pains may be more speedily effective. Dante also recognizes the healing power of art, of music, and of light. But given the contented mind that can even sing in the midst of the fire, and all these redemptive forces, the poet teaches with insistent iteration that it is only by strenuous effort that liberty is attained. Evil dispositions must be eradicated. The soul is not saved unless it keeps thinking. Good thoughts drive out the bad. Constant contemplation of virtue creates love for it, and hate for the opposite sin. The new thought and the new love are converted into character by continual practice. Purgatory, banished from Protestant theology, has come back into modern thought through the gates of literature, and the favorite theme of our most powerful novels is to show how the soul comes to purity by staggering under heavy burdens, and by passing through the fierce fires of suffering. Dante’s message of what the stain of sin is upon the soul, and of how it is to be removed, is true to our best thought and experience. It is susceptible, however, to this criticism. It is too individualistic. He does not make the soul save its life by losing it. His Purgatory is too much like a gymnasium where activity is mere drill. In the Purgatory of life we cleanse the soul by loving service to others, not by conscious self-redemption.
The noble message which comes jubilantly down through all time in the Paradiso is that Reason cannot search out the deep things of God ; but Revelation, received by faith, will lead the trusting spirit into the heights of celestial felicity. Here the rapt soul learns that God is indeed in the universe, and in the individual, and that every individual is in every other, and all are in God. This is the final vision of truth, and beyond this there is none other. All longing ceases, and the spirit attains perfect bliss when it joins its look unto the Infinite Goodness. There it learns that whatever is dispersed through the universe is included in the Eternal Light, bound with love in one volume. “ In that Light one becomes such that it is impossible he should consent to turn himself from it to any other sight; because the Good which is the object of the will is all collected in it, and outside of it that is defective which is perfect there.” When the heart is so pure that it can see God as he is, when the mind is so instructed that it perceives all truth in him, when the desires and will are turned by the Primal “ Love which moves the sun and other stars,” then the Ultimate Beatitude is reached.
“ No uninspired hand,” says Cardinal Manning, “ has ever written thoughts so high in words so resplendent as the last stanza of the Divina Commedia. It was said of St. Thomas, ‘ Post summam Thomæ nihil restat nisi lumen gloriæ! ’ It may be said of Dante, ‘ Post Dantis Paradisum nihil restat nisi visio Dei.’ ”
Charles A. Dinsmore.