Monday, August 6, 2018

Theodore Roosevelt on Dante

Some of you will, no doubt, be surprised to learn that several American presidents were influenced by the thought and writings of Dante Alighieri. I wanted to point to one in particular today, Theodore Roosevelt.

Most of us know TR as an avid hunter, leader of the First United States Volunteer Cavalry (the "Rough Riders") in their famous charge up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. What many are less familiar with, however, is his love for reading. Roosevelt himself estimating that he read tens of thousands of books over the course of his life. He even managed to read a book a day during his time as president.

Even those who might be aware of TR's erudition, normally do not associate him with our favorite medieval love poet - Dante Alighieri. However, TR read enough Dante that the Italian ambassador,  Edomondo Mayor Des Planches, called him a "constant reader of Dante," and the Italian king gifted TR a beautiful edition of The Divine Comedy. TR also wrote an article for Outlook magazine, which is well worth taking a moment or two to read.

IT is the conventional thing to praise Dante because he of set purpose “used the language of the market-place,” so as to be understanded of the common people; but we do not in practice either admire or understand a man who writes in the language of our own market-place. It must be the Florentine market-place of the thirteenth century—not Fulton Market of to-day. What infinite use Dante would have made of the Bowery! Of course, he could have done it only because not merely he himself, the great poet, but his audience also, would have accepted it as natural. The nineteenth century was more apt than the thirteenth to boast of itself as being the greatest of the centuries; but, save as regards purely material objects, ranging from locomotives to bank buildings, it did not wholly believe in its boasting. A nineteenth-century poet, when trying to illustrate some point he was making, obviously felt uncomfortable in mentioning nineteenth-century heroes if he also referred to those of classic times, lest he should be suspected of instituting comparisons between them. A thirteenth-century poet was not in the least troubled by any such misgivings, and quite simply illustrated his point by allusions to any character in history or romance, ancient or contemporary, that happened to occur to him.

Read the rest HERE.

by Nathan Barontini

Monday, January 1, 2018

Is Mary the Mother of God? An answer to a Protestant Objection

Happy New Year's and Happy Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.

Today, on Facebook, I came across the following objection to Mary being called the Mother of God. In case you run across this today, or any day, here is my refutation.

The Objection (attributed to Dr. Walter Martin): "If Catholics say, 'Mary is the Mother of Jesus, therefore, Mary is the mother of God, then it also follows that we must say, 'God is Trinity; Mary is the mother of God, therefore, Mary is the mother of the Trinity.'"

Let's simplify this to a syllogism. The Catholic argument is:

Mary is the mother of Jesus
Therefore, Mary is the mother of God

Syllogisms always have three propositions (two premises and one conclusion). This type of syllogism is called an "enthymeme," i.e. one that has an unstated "hidden" premise. Why do all syllogisms have to have three propositions? To link the three terms that are present. For example, in our Catholic argument, the three terms are: "Mary," "Jesus," and "God." The "hidden" proposition must link "Jesus" to "God." Thus, the hidden proposition is, "Jesus is God." So, our syllogism is:

Syllogism 1:

Mary is the mother of Jesus
Jesus is God
Therefore, Mary is the mother of God

Fine and good. That is iron-clad logic.

Martin's argument seems, on the surface equally strong,

Syllogism 2:

God is Trinity
Mary is the mother of God
Therefore, Mary is the mother of the Trinity.

Do we Catholics have to start claiming Mary is the mother of the Father and the Holy Spirit? No. Why? Because Dr. Martin's argument depends on this argument,

Necessary, false, Syllogism 3:

Jesus is God
God is the Trinity
Therefore, Jesus is the Trinity

It is only by establishing the equivalence between Jesus and the Trinity that would require us to call Mary, if she is the mother of God, to also be the mother of the entire Trinity. Neither we Catholics, nor (I presume) Dr. Martin believe Jesus is the Trinity, therefore Martin's argument evaporates.

TL;DR - Mary being the mother of one person of the Trinity doesn't mean she is the mother of all three persons of the Trinity.

Have a holy feast day!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Dante Died 696 Years Ago Today

Dante's Tomb, Ravenna
"L'altissimo poeta" (the most exalted poet) died on the evening of September 13th, 1321 - 696 years ago this evening. On such an occasion, it is interesting to reflect on Dante's thoughts about earthly fame.

The most striking conversation Dante has on this subject is with his old teacher, Brunetto Latini.

Dante, upon seeing Latini cries out,
Still in my heart stays, memory's dear inmate,
The fatherly kind image, paining now,
Of you, when in the world, early and late,
You taught me how man may eternal grow. (Inferno 15. 82-85*)
The pupil has learned well from his master. Latini implores Dante to remember his greatest literary work,
Let my Treasure, in which I still live on,
be in your mind, I ask for nothing more. (Inferno 15.119-120**)
The irony, of course, is all in the location.

This conversation takes place in the seventh ring of Hell. Latini speaks as he, naked, runs across burning sands with fire raining down upon him.

Later, in Purgatorio, Dante's idea of earthly fame via art is corrected by the great manuscript illustrator, Oderisi da Gubbio.
O idle glory of all human dower!
How a short a time, save a dull age succeed,
Its flourishing flesh greenness doth devour!
(the "dull age" following the collapse of the Roman Empire being the reason the poets of antiquity are still remembered.) 
In painting Cimabue thought indeed
To hold the field; now Giotto has the cry,
So that the fame of the other few now heed.
So our tongue's glory from one Guido by
The other is taken; and from their nest of fame
Perchance is born one who shall make both fly.
Naught but a wind's breath is the world's acclaim (11.91-100*)
Or, in Hollander's more sober translation,
Worldly fame is nothing but a gust of wind 
Dante, of course, is the "one who shall make" the " Guido's" (Guinizelli & Calvacanti - both poets) "fly".

Oderisi is correcting Latini's error. He teaches Dante, and Dante teaches us, how futile Latini's hopes are (and who among you have ever read, or even heard of, Latini's Treasure?). Fame, and particularly artistic fame is something that rarely lasts and isn't worth pursuing.

Ironically, here we are, remembering one artist nearly seven centuries after his death. Has the last seven hundred years been another "dull age" or is Dante the exception to his own rule?

I'll let you decide.

* Laurence Binyon translation
** Robert & Jean Hollander translation

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Ultimate Mid-Life Crisis by Dante Alighieri

The Ultimate Mid-Life Crisis

"Midway life's journey I was made aware
That I had strayed into a dark forest,
And the right path appeared not anywhere.

Ah, the tongue cannot describe how it oppressed,
This wood, so harsh, dismal and wild, that fear
As thought of it strikes now into my breast.

So bitter it is, death is scare bitterer.


The day was going, and the darkened air
Was taking from its toil each animal
That is on earth; I only, alone there,

Essayed to arm my spirit against all
The terror of the journey and pity's plea,
Which memory, that errs not, shall recall." (Dante, Inferno )

--- From the Laurence Binyon translation, which is, sadly, less know than it should be. If you're looking for a Dante that gives you a feel for the poetry, I'd highly recommend this translation, even over Dorothy Sayers'. ---

I plan on, in a forthcoming post, examining a few different translations, setting forth their relative strengths and weaknesses.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

St Dominic, Kind unto his Own, Severe with his Foes.

Today, the Church celebrates the feast of one of her great saints - Dominic de Guzmán. In his honor, I thought I'd let Dante offer up his praise. This in the singing verse translation by Laurence Binyon.
Therein was born the enthusiast amorous
     Of Christian faith, the saintly wrestler, kind
     Unto his own, severe unto his foes.
So charged, soon as created, was his mind,
     With quickening power, that in the womb it led
     His mother a prophetic tongue to find....
And that his name should with himself accord,
     They called him, prompted by a spirit from here,
     By the possessive of his only Lord.
Dominic was he named and I aver
     He was a husbandman chosen by Christ
     To tend his garden and be His helper there.
Messenger and familiar of Christ
     He showed him; for his love's first loyalties
     Clung to the first great counsel given by Christ.
Often, awake and silent on his knees,
     His nurse would find him on the floor, as who
     Should there be saying: 'I am come for this....'
A mighty teacher soon, he went his way
     About the vineyard to restore the vine
     Which, tended ill, fast withers and goes gray....
With doctrine and with will then, both endorsed
     With the apostolic office, forth he went
     Swift as a torrent from some high vein forced.
On stocks and stumps of heresy he spent
     His vehemence, most impetuously where
     Most stubborn was the opposed impediment. (Paradiso 11.55-102)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Painting through the Comedy. Canto II.

Readers know of my love for the greatest of Catholic, indeed all, poets. Artist Eric Armusik is working his way through the Commedia one canto at a time. First he completed Canto 1

Nel mezzo di cammin di nostro vita...
And has now finished Canto 2

I am Beatrice who send thee

Note the radiance of light from Beatrice into the dark of Limbo (where she engages Virgil's services). Virgil, the great poet of Rome, has his head bowed low before Beatrice, the Florentine girl who died, barely noticed, at 25, daring not to meet her gaze. The profundity of the image lies here - the great pagan, now damned, is abashed by the saint, regardless of her historical insignificance. 

I've blogged my way though much of the Inferno (I stopped as I became engaged to teach a course on the entire Comedy, which has occupied much of my time). You can check those posts out HERE and HERE

Those posts are very abbreviated. I cover these in much greater detail in the course, which I may make available online at some point. For now, enjoy these beautiful images and READ the COMEDY!

Consider signing up for email notifications for new posts on this blog. No spam, ever, guaranteed. Currently, posts are going out about once a month (or at least I'm trying to hit that schedule). 

Posts frequently involve Catholic apologetics, occasional news commentary, Catholic book reviews, and - obviously enough - Dante. 

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(pictures posted with permission of Eric Armusik).

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Holy Saturday

Of course today is a day of reflection on the death of Christ for our sins, but I think we can take a second to smile.