ioThe Divine Comedy by Dante was written to be a guide for religiousinstruction. It explained religious teachings of the time in a story thatwas also entertaining, even though it was filled with moral lessons. Dantealso used this work to express his comment on current events. Dante usesseveral allegorical figures in Purgatorio to express his comments on theneed for the church to focus more on spiritual matters instead ofconcerning itself with the affairs of politics. Dante felt that there wasa need for separation between church and state in order for the church tofulfill its true purpose of showing people the way to spiritualenlightenment.
In Canto XXXIII of Purgatorio, the Pilgrim witnesses two verydifferent pageants. The first pageant is an allegorical reference to whatthe church was meant to be according to God’s word. There is a longprocession led by seven candlesticks, followed by the elders of the OldTestament. After the elders, there is a griffin, which represents Christ;the griffin is pulling a chariot surrounded by seven women who representthe seven virtues.
The chariot is obviously representative of the church,and trailing behind the chariot are the men of the New Testament. Thispageant is very beautiful to the Pilgrim and he realizes that it is how Godintended the church to be: following the biblical teachings, surrounded byvirtue following the light to salvation and leading the men who came afterChrist.
After witnessing the first pageant, Dante, the Pilgrim falls asleepand is awakened later only to find the chariot. Next he witnesses anotherpageant, very different from the first. There, next to the chariot is atree that represents the Holy Roman Empire. Then the chariot suffersseveral mishaps that basically lead to its complete desecration. An eagleflies from the tree and sheds its feathers, representing the wealth thathas been obtained by the church. A dragon’s tale comes from the earth andbursts through the floor of the chariot, alluding to one or more of theschisms that the church had suffered. At the end of the pageant a whore issitting in its seat looking lustfully at the Pilgrim. The whore representsthe corrupt papacy whose favors could easily be bought. Finally, a giantcomes from the forest and begins to beat the whore and proceeds to drag thechariot along with the whore into the forest. This is one of the bestexamples of allegory in the entire Divine Comedy. The giant representsPhillip III of France and the whore represents Pope Boniface VIII who movedthe papacy from Rome to Avignon, France because of the influence of PhillipIII. This pageant demonstrates the history of the church and what hasactually become of it because of the influences of political affairs.
Long before Dante’s time it was believed that the truly spiritual andblessed spent their life in contemplation and from devotion came truereward. Dante felt that the leaders of the church could not be trulyconcerned with the spiritual growth of themselves or the people they weresupposed to instruct if they were caught up in politics. To illustratethis belief Dante mentions the biblical story of Rachel and Leah in CantoXXVII of Purgatorio. Leah and Rachel were sisters who were both married toJacob. Rachel was the favorite wife because of her beauty, but because ofLeah’s inner strength and devotion to God, the Lord blessed her withchildren, (one of whom was the ancestor of King David). Rachel however wasbarren and became jealous of her sister. Her jealousy caused her to stealand lie; only when she prayed to God and asked for a son was she able toconceive a child. By using this allegory, Dante puts forth the idea thatfor the church to truly fulfill its purpose, it should be concerned withspiritual matters not the temporal power of political affairs.
Throughout the Divine Comedy Dante uses a variety of stories to teachmoral lessons. In addition to these moral lessons, he uses allegory tomake a social commentary on the Catholic Church’s involvement in politics.
One of his biggest criticisms is that with out separation between churchand state, the church will be unable to accomplish its Divine mission tospread the word of God and instruct people in their paths of spiritualenlightenment.
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