Why Study Dante? The Case for Teaching ‘The Divine Comedy’ to Our Youth – Catholicism.org

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

It is becoming increasingly common — to my great dismay — to find one of two scenarios in both Catholic and Public schools in the United States when it comes to its exploration of great literature. The first is that modern educators completely ignore the study of Dante and his Divine Comedy, skirting past the father of the Italian language for the reason of the complexity of his message. The other is perhaps even more egregious and scandalous, which is the tendency for American audiences to be exposed only to Hell, with no hope of Heaven, or even Purgatory. This often leads to those who do read Dante’s Inferno to be left with a severe distaste for his work, as well as for the Catholic faith in general, often viewing it as cruel, puritanical, and vengeful. Among modern Dante scholars, Scott Crider of the University of Dallas inveighs against this second scenario trenchantly and eloquently: “Teaching the Inferno alone is such a curricular perversion I hardly know how to be tolerant: no wonder generations of college graduates think of Dante as a cruel tormentor, and Christianity as all judgment and no love.”1 It is not a fitting assessment to give to Dante, whom Pope Benedict XV calls “the most eloquent singer of the Christian idea.”2

Those who have read the Comedy are all-too aware of the distinctly visceral, violent, and dark nature of Dante’s Hell, divided into nine concentric circles of increasing acridity and severity. The kinds of punishment doled out to those in Hell are both ironic and graphic in nature, ranging from the winds in the Second Circle, to the boiling rivers of blood in the Seventh Circle. This imagery remains embedded in the Catholic imagination, and even in the modern imagination of what a Hell might be, consistently replicated in all forms of modern storytelling that involve some sort of afterlife.

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Why Study Dante? The Case for Teaching ‘The Divine Comedy’ to Our Youth – Catholicism.org

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