Dante Alighieri, one of the great literary geniuses of all time, was also a man of action, committed to social justice and the affairs of his native Florence. But he was at the same time a man of deep faith, a visionary and a prophet, who judged the world and the Church by the light of the Gospel and the radiance of eternity. All these factors combined in The Divine Comedy to create a literary as well as spiritual masterpiece.
Florence in Dante’s time was bitterly divided between rival factions, one favoring the temporal power of the pope and the other committed to the autonomy of the city. Influenced by the radical Spiritual Franciscans, Dante opposed the papal claims to temporal power—particularly the worldly statecraft of the reigning pontiff, Boniface VIII—and urged a return to the evangelical ideals of poverty and simplicity. When the political tides turned against him, he was forced to flee Florence, spending his last twenty years in exile.
In these years, Dante wrote his Divine Comedy, the record of an imaginative pilgrimage from the depths of hell, up the mount of purgatory, and finally to the ethereal rapture of paradise. The poet’s journey involves his own progressive conversion, preparing him to endure the increasingly rarefied atmosphere along his spiritual path until he is drawn into the presence of “the Love that moves the Sun and the other stars.”
Dante died in Ravenna, far from the city he loved.
St. Peter: “We never meant . . . that the keys consigned into my hand / should fly as emblems from a flag unfurled / against the baptized in a Christian land. / Nor that my head should, in a later age, / seal privilege sold to liars. The very thought /has often made me burn with rage.”