Our Suffering, Our Solace
Dante's Way of Boundless Love
This year marks the seventh centenary of the death, in 1321, of the poet Dante Alighieri, who completed the final canticle of his Commedia shortly before he died. It has since been a commonplace, in certain Catholic circles, to say that the hereafter is not as Dante imagined it, as if the poet ever meant to give us a photographic tour rather than the greatest epic of love ever written—of love betrayed, love revived and heartened, and love fulfilled. We have much to learn from him, especially, I think, in his treatment of that realm whose very existence many Christians doubt, while not necessarily doubting its purpose or its action.
I speak of Purgatory. We say that human beings should love—but we hardly know how; our hearts beat feebly, and the sinews of our souls are not used to exercise. Purgatory, as Dante sees it, is where, or we might say how, souls learn to suffer, and thus to love.
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Anthony Esolen is a professor at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts in Warner, New Hampshire, and the author of many books, including Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (Tan, with a CD), Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture (Regnery), and The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord (Ignatius). He has also translated Dante’s Divine Comedy (Random House). He and his wife Debra publish a web magazine, Word and Song (anthonyesolen.substack.com), on poetry, hymnody, language, classic films, and music. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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