Friday, May 8, 2015

Dante: finite love as a passage to the infinite

Immersing myself this afternoon and this evening in reading about Dante I came across a passage in the third volume of Hans Urs Von Balthasar's Glory of the Lord, concerning Beatrice's role in the Divine Comedy. Her role is nothing less than leading Dante (the pilgrim and poet) to God. In the poem she is something like divine wisdom and revelation personified. Balthasar dismissed as "ridiculous" the idea that, while "enriched with symbolic content," Beatrice's role in Dante's masterpiece can be reduced to "only a symbol or allegory" (30). He asserts, "Only dusty academics could fall for something as abstruse as that" (30).

His explanation of the central role Dante's love of Beatrice plays in the Divine Comedy is nothing short of beautiful:
No, the figure of the beloved is a young Florentine girl of flesh and blood. Why should a Christian man not love a woman for all eternity and allow himself to be introduced by that woman to a full understanding of what 'eternity' means? And why should it be so extraordinary - ought one not rather to expect it - that such a love needs, for its total fulfillment, the whole of theology and Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell?

Beatrice and Dante behold God, Paradisio Canto XXII, by Gustave Doré

One can surround the real figure of Beatrice, as also Dante's real life of love, with as many question marks as one wishes. Nevertheless, the principle is established for the first time , and never again so magnificently: for the sake of infinite love, it is not necessary for the Christian to renounce finite love. On the contrary, in a positive spirit, he can incorporate his finite love into that which is infinite - but at the cost of terrible sufferings, as Dante shows us (30)
Keep in mind that Beatrice was not Dante's wife. Dante had a wife with whom he had at two sons, Pietro and Jacopo, and at least one, possibly two, daughters. Dante's wife's name was Gemma. As for Beatrice, she was the wife of another man. However, Dante's marriage to Gemma and, most likely, Beatrice's marriage were arranged marriages. It seems that Dante knew Beatrice from the age of 9. Beatrice died quite young and became for Dante the personification beauty, truth, and goodness. Like friendship in the classical sense, the kind of love Dante had for Beatrice is extremely rare, especially in the West, if not altogether extinct.

Our late Friday traditio is Francis Poulenc's Gloria from his Mass in G Minor:

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