From Jennifer L. Holberg
Consider today’s blog a bit of a continuation of Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell’s from yesterday on Christ’s “descent to the dead.”
Frederick Buechner has argued “that we really can’t hear what the stories of the Bible are saying until we hear them as stories about ourselves”—and I think the same thing has to be true about doctrine. For me, probably no writer has helped me imaginatively engage theological issues better than Dante in the Divine Comedy. (And I’m not alone: this past Saturday’s Wall Street Journal has a piece entitled “The Ultimate Self-Help Book: Dante’s Divine Comedy.”)
Set as it is on Good Friday through Easter, the medieval Divine Comedy very consciously uses that timeline (referring specifically to events “one thousand and two hundred sixty-six years ago”) as a marker of the salvific work that the character Dante has lost sight of—and which necessitates the long trip through hell and purgatory to paradise itself.
Most readers will perhaps best remember the journey that Dante and his guide, the poet Virgil, take through hell in “Inferno” and the vivid stories of the sinners they meet there. Dante’s imaginative renderings of those sinners’ punishments, each fitted to the defining sin, remain some of the most powerfully rendered scenes in all of literature.
But what has always struck me is the richly imagined landscape. It’s not just as if Dante and Virgil meet sinners while walking around a fiery lake or something—no, instead, Dante creates a physical world that shows the full effects of the fall.