Joining Dante for a journey: how literature can transform your life and faith

Jake Santitto - Campus Pastoral Associate (Students)

Dante’s divine comedy was one of those 'books you need to read before you die' but it was also a book that seemed too daunting to start. I had tried before, but only ever made a few chapters in before losing interest. I could not understand why it was so popular.

It was written over 700 years ago, after all, so how good could it really be?

Over the Christmas break I decided to pick it up and give it another attempt, this time with a 'friendlier' translation. It was still a tough read, but I found myself captured by the book, drawn into the story following the protagonist as he journeys through the 3 realms of the Christian afterlife, Inferno (hell), Purgatorio (purgatory), and Paradiso (heaven).

Whether you read it from a Christian point of view recognising the deeply interwoven theology that paints a beautiful/terrifying picture of the life to come, or out of a general interest in literature,

there is a wonderful array of analogy and insights into the human person and what it means to be human.

If you decide to take up the challenge of joining Dante for his expeditions through the Christian afterlife, you will immediately be faced with the terror of the Inferno, his most famous of the 3 books. This is a fascinating dive into how Dante saw the world and how our actions can make us more or less human. The Inferno is broken up into 3 segments where people are led astray by desires, violence and finally fraud. Yet far from being simply a description of human punishment Dante reveals with compassion the human condition and the logical realisation of the way they lived their life.

Now most people end their reading with the conclusion of the Inferno. I can understand why as there is almost a sense of weariness and fatigue that comes with spending time in such a hopeless literary space. However, Inferno is just the beginning of Dante’s journey. Shouldn’t we want the happy ending the Comedy promises?

Now Dante must ascend Mt Purgatory which takes the more familiar structure of the 7 deadly sins. Each terrace of the mountain brings Dante to encounter not only a new sin but also its remedy. One of my favourite examples of this divine logic takes place on the terrace of Pride where souls carry a boulder up the mountain. In life those souls which would always try to stand above others are now hunched over, bearing the weight of pride they created for themselves in life.

Then finally we reach paradise! The journey of Dante’s purification reaches its fulfillment. Paradiso is the most mystical and transcendent of all the parts of the Comedy. As Dante begins the climax of his journey, he must grapple with a range of different questions, like, why in paradise some receive more than others? When Dante reaches the end of his journey in the final chapter, we are given a description of God that must rate as one of the most beautiful to ever be written.

The Divine Comedy has helped elucidate for me what makes us human and transformed my faith in new dynamic ways.

Now I haven’t written this article solely to convince you to read Dante’s masterpiece (though you definitely should!). There is a multitude of classic literature that can offer infinite wisdom to a modern audience. Like Dante, they are not always an easy read and at times can be challenging and make us feel uncomfortable. We may now see the world through a different lens from these ancient authors. Whether that be changes in morality, science or custom, let’s not sidestep this precious literary heritage in favour of comfort or inoffensiveness. Rather, let’s try to discover the eternal truths that lie hidden in these works. So why not give it a try … take a journey with Dante.

Bio: Jake Santitto is a Student Campus Pastoral Associate at ACU’s Melbourne campus. He loves lifting heavy objects up and putting them down (also known as weight training!), taking quiet walks in nature, and drinking way too much coffee.

 

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