I will begin by saying that I do not have any great insight to provide into the Paradiso. In all honestly, so much has been said on Dante’s The Divine Comedy that not much more can be said. However, as I was reading it I found a few things interesting in the text and I thought I would comment on that.
First of all, I find Dante’s separations both intriguing and somewhat troubling. Obviously, as titled by the second part, the Purgatorio, Dante believes in Purgatory, which I do not find biblically sound. But that is beside the point. What I truly find interesting throughout the Divine Comedy, and especially int he Paradiso, were the separations within each of the places. While I understand that Catholic teaching is heavenly influenced by works-based thinking, I am surprised that this would bleed into the views on heaven, or paradise.
Why did the Medieval Church think that heaven would be separated? Why did they think that some people who were less worthy would be farther from God and those deemed more worthy (by Dante) got to be closer? There are only two places one can go after death: Heaven or Hell. You are either separated from God or with Him forever, and there are no levels within or in-between. While I recognize that the Divine Comedy is in part a vision and is heavily fiction, I find it troubling that this was a generally accepted view held by people in the Church at that time. We are all one in Christ.
Secondly, I found it odd how much of Greek and Roman philosophy and imagery was used in the text, especially in the Paradiso. Obviously in the first poem, Dante meets a key Roman figure in history. But a great number of Greek and Roman, or at least pagan, gods are mentioned all throughout the text, not to mention his request towards his muse. Why use pagan imagery in a highly Christian work? Why not use more biblical imagery? I understand that the classical influence was high at this time, and it only became more focused as time went on, leading to many abuses in the church, notably during the time of Galileo. I understand that, but I find it disappointing that such an opportunity was missed.
I recognize that in part why there are these layers in Hell and Heaven and why there is a heavy secular influence is because so often people lean towards what the world teaches rather than what Scripture teaches. It is familiar and human. Many would rather conform to the world rather than by what God tells us to be true. This is not to say that we can not learn from things outside of the Bible, but rather that we must keep Christ at the forefront of our lives and use the Bible as our guide.
Obviously this makes more sense to my readers who are Christian, but I say this to clear the confusion both for believers and unbelievers. Part of why there have been abuses in the Church, why much of Church teaching has been watered down today, why many actions of “Christians”, past and present, don’t appear very Christ-like is because of this outside influence. I do not mean just sin. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely through Him. This is not what I mean. Rather, confusion arises when there is a mixture of teaching. This confuses seekers, those who simply like to read literature and understand the beliefs of writers, and immature Christians. This is why I find the pagan imagery particularly troubling in the Paradiso.
However, I found the overall text to be quite great, which should be of no surprise to anyone who has read great poetry. Dante is a master of the pen, and his position alongside Homer, Virgil, Milton, and the writers of other great epics is well deserved. I did not read the Divine Comedy in Italian as I cannot read Italian (and my Latin is only so good). Even so, the poetry comes through beautifully in the translation. They really do not write poetry like they used to! And despite the flaws I find in Dante’s work, I still think that his writing should be among that which students of literature read.
Blessings to you and yours,