Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Dante Alighieri's Continued Influence on Modern American Politics

Check out my latest at History is Now Magazine...

Theodore Roosevelt’s biography reads like a how-to manual for achieving great things. While he had many influences, one poet in particular fascinated him, Dante Alighieri. The sound of that name conjures up images of souls in torment, people crying in agony, and absolute horror. Roosevelt, however, didn’t read Dante as a house of horrors, but as inspiration for living the strenuous life.
Roosevelt knew Dante well enough to author an essay for Outlookmagazine entitled “Dante and the Bowery”. IN the magazine Roosevelt wrote, “Dante dealt with those tremendous qualities of the human soul.” He also included an allusion to Dante in his greatest speech, “The Man in the Arena”: 
Read the whole thing THERE.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Hell We Choose. An Advent Call to Holiness.

One of the more frequent objections I hear online against the Holy Faith is that God throws people, supposedly against their own wills, into hell and thus must be some kind of moral monster. The answer to this, of course, is simply that God doesn't determine our individual eternal fate alone, rather He does so in conjunction with our will. St. Augustine of Hippo summed this up perfectly in a sermon when he said,
God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us (Sermo 169)
In that way salvation is like a marriage. God isn't a spiritual rapist, intent on forcing every one of His creatures into eternal union with Himself, rather He proposes, He offers, an eternal relationship and allows us the free choice to say "yes" or "no." Saying "no" has some logical consequences attached to it (see: Could God Have Made Hell a Nicer Place for more on that) as does saying "yes." These logical consequences make those without God (those who say "no") end up in "hell" and those with God (those who say "yes") end up in "heaven." Thus, just like marriage, it takes two "yeses" for someone to be saved - God's and their own. God, for His part, both wills all men to be saved (cf. 1 Tim 2:4) and provides the grace needed for each man to say "yes" to God. All that then separates the saved and the damned is the willingness of each individual person to say "yes" back to God. Or as CS Lewis puts it in The Great Divorce,

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.

St. Catherine of Siena, the great mystic and Doctor of the Church, in her famous Dialogue (which was nothing less than a transcription of a conversation she had with the Father) received the same message on salvation from the lips of God
How great is the stupidity of those who make themselves weak in spite of my strengthening, and put themselves into the devil's hands! I want you to know, then, that at the moment of death, because they have put themselves during life under the devil's rule (not by force, because they cannot be forced, as I told you; but they put themselves voluntarily into his hands), and because they come to the point of death under this perverse rule, they can expect no other judgement but that of their own conscience. They come without hope to eternal damnation. In hate they grasp at hell in the moment of their death, and even before they possess it, they take hell as their prize along with their lords the demons.
Indeed it is our disposition toward Christ that even affects the way we see Him at the Last Judgement (for He looks on all of us the same) but the blessed,
wait for divine judgement with gladness, not fear. And the face of my Son will appear to them neither  terrifying nor hateful... The differences in the appearance of his face... will not be in him but in those who are to be judged by him. To the damned he will appear with just hatred, but to the saved with mercy and love. 

St. Catherine explains this thus,
So no one waits to be judged. All receive their appointed place as they leave this life. They taste it and possess it even before they leave their bodies at the moment of death: the damned in hate and despair; the perfect in love, with the light of faith trusting in the blood. And the imperfect in mercy and with the same faith, come to that place called purgatory.
 Thus it is the love of God that allows his beloved sons and daughters to turn their backs on Him forever. This love is powerful enough that He finally respects our choice, the choice we make not just with our lips but with our lives (cf. Matt 7:22). The great Dante, recognizing this truth, bold inscribes on the gates of hell,
Through me you pass into the city of woe:
Through me you pass into the eternal pain:
Through me among the people lost for aye.
Justice the founder of my fabric mov'd:
To rear me was the task of power divine,
Supremest wisdom, and primeval love.
Before me things create were none,
Save things Eternal, and I eternal endure.
All hope abandon ye who enter here. (Inferno, Canto III)
Dante's Inferno

Such it is that some choose hell.

To put this in practical terms, I had the occasion of asking an atheist recently whether he would even want to be with Jesus for all eternity. Not whether he thought it possible, not even if he thought a person could survive death, but simply if he'd want it. He might think it as likely to come true as wanting to be Superman is, but still the question remained - would you even want it if it were possible? To those that answer "no," they can see immediately why existence apart from God, "hell," is possible.

Perhaps, though we might wonder, wouldn't the damnation of even one person ruin the joys of heaven  for all, including God? C.S. Lewis shows us that such thinking amounts to no more than,
the demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven. (The Great Divorce)
Which itself would be loveless and unfair (the very things people accuse the doctrine of hell of). Hatred doesn't have the last say. Love does.

Which means every man has the same choice presented to him - know God or no God. The one is the narrow path that leads to eternal bliss. The other the wide road to perdition (cf Matt 7:13-14). For those whose lives are centered on Christ, death just means more Christ. For those who live Christless lives, they receive an eternity of just that - Christlessness. This Advent I implore you to take stock of your life and ask yourself what choice is the way you're living making? Remember, it isn't enough to pay lip service to living God, just as it isn't enough to say "I love you" to your wife and then cheat on her. Talk is cheap. Those who love Jesus will show it by the way they live their lives (cf. Jn 14:13), which means more than going along with the prevailing culture (cf. Rom 12:2). So take this season, where we are called to reflect upon the coming of Christ not just at Christmas, but at the end of time, and decide to live a life of holiness. Don't wait for next year or when the kids are older or when you get that promotion or graduate from school or retire. Start today.

You Might Also Be Interested In: St. Faustina Sees Hell

Recommended Reading:

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)