With this year marking the 750th anniversary of Dante Alighieri’s birth, the Vatican is taking a closer look the author of the Italian masterpiece, the Divine Comedy, and his impact upon the popes of the 20th century.
“Dante is a universal poet for all people and all times,” according to a Mar. 17 article by L'Osservatore Romano which expounds upon the estimation which Paul VI, along with his predecessor Benedict XV, had for the Italian poet.
Once describing him as a “master of exalted lyricism,” Paul VI, who shepherded Vatican II to its close following the death of its founder, John XXIII, so appreciated the works of Dante, he gifted a special edition copy of the Divine Comedy to each of the council fathers...
Believing him to be “the poet of theologians and the theologian of poets,” (I love that description) according to L'Osservatore Romano, Paul VI would go on to establish a chair for Dante studies...
Paul VI's love for the Italian master was such that he was even known to have requested that his private secretary, Msgr. Pasquale Macchi, read aloud excerpts from the Divine Comedy, as well as Alessandro Manzoni's masterpiece The Betrothed, (another book I love) according to Cardinal Paul Poupard.
...Like Paul VI's successor, Benedict XV (1854-1922) was also an avid follower of Dante's writings, referring to the Divine Comedy as “the fifth Gospel.” (another apt description)
... In his 1921 encyclical... Benedict XV refers to Dante as “the most eloquent bard to sing and announce Christian wisdom.”The whole article is worth perusing, check it out there: Dante's biggest fans? The 'poet of popes' and his legacy at the Vatican. Even more worth your time is Dante's greatest work, La Commedia. I've read it in a few translations and really enjoy Mark Musa's (it also has great notes for those not familiar with the Trecento Italian politics and culture Dante takes for granted), Longfellow's translation is a classic, especially with Albert Dore's engravings, and I've heard nothing but great things about Anthony Esolen's translation. For those of us who read la bella lingua, nothing can beat the rhythm of the original. If you haven't yet touched Dante, let this anniversary be your first, but certainly not last, trip from the pit of hell to the face of God. If you find it hard going, don't "abandon all hope," (Inferno, III) Dante readers have long held that you're only ever really ready to start reading Dante after you've finished reading Dante, but here are some guides to be your Virgil:
(purchasing on Amazon through our affiliate link supports the blog at no additional cost)
And there is also this free online course, which I can't vouch for, having not listened to it, but which is offered by a Dominican, Dr. Sebastian Mahfood, OP
Here are the translations I recommended:
And for those who've already encountered Dante and want to delve a little deeper:
And, in case you aren't in a Dante mood, here is a link to Manzoni's classic I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed) which is also something everyone ought to read at least twice in their life:
God bless and remember, E'n la sua volontade é nostra pace (Paradiso, III)!