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Dante's Commedia

Theology as Poetry

Edited by Vittorio Montemaggi and Matthew Treherne

Publication Year: 2010

In Dante's Commedia: Theology as Poetry, an international group of theologians and Dante scholars provide a uniquely rich set of perspectives focused on the relationship between theology and poetry in the Commedia. Examining Dante's treatment of questions of language, personhood, and the body; his engagement with the theological tradition he inherited; and the implications of his work for contemporary theology, the contributors argue for the close intersection of theology and poetry in the text as well as the importance of theology for Dante studies. Through discussion of issues ranging from Dante's use of imagery of the Church to the significance of the smile for his poetic project, the essayists offer convincing evidence that his theology is not what underlies his narrative poem, nor what is contained within it: it is instead fully integrated with its poetic and narrative texture. As the essays demonstrate, the Commedia is firmly rooted in the medieval tradition of reflection on the nature of theological language, while simultaneously presenting its readers with unprecedented, sustained poetic experimentation. Understood in this way, Dante emerges as one of the most original theological voices of the Middle Ages.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press

Title Page / Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

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About the William and Katherine Devers Series

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pp. vii

The William and Katherine Devers Program in Dante Studies at the University of Notre Dame supports rare book acquisitions in the university’s John A. Zahm Dante collections, funds an annual visiting professorship in Dante studies, and supports electronic and print publication of scholarly research in the field. In collaboration...

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pp. ix-x

We express our sincere gratitude to the friends, colleagues, and institutions who in different ways have supported Dante’s “Commedia”: Theology as Poetry. In particular, we acknowledge the generous financial support received from the Burney Fund of the Faculty of Divinity and from the Department of Italian of the University...

Abbreviations, Editions, and Translations

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pp. xi-xii

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Introduction: Dante, Poetry, Theology

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pp. 1-13

Dante’s “Commedia”: Theology as Poetry has its origins in an international conference of the same title, held in Robinson College, Cambridge, on December 12– 14, 2003. The aim of the conference was to bring together theologians and Dante scholars to address two related questions suggested by our title. First, what are the theological...

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1. Polemics of Praise: Theology as Text, Narrative, and Rhetoric in Dante's Commedia

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pp. 14-35

The conference from which this essay proceeds demonstrated a wide variety of ways in which theologians and literary critics may collaborate. Dante’s Commedia provided a natural focus for and encouragement to such collaboration. At the same time, the debate unsettled any easy assumptions about the relationship between theological...

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2. All Smiles: Poetry and Theology in Dante's Commedia

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pp. 36-59

Milton dubbed Edmund Spenser “our sage and serious poet,” praising him as a better teacher about virtue and vice than “Scotus or Aquinas.”1 Literary history subsequently transferred this laurel crown to Dante, who continues to be read, translated, and reimagined by modern writers to a degree that has eluded the author...

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3. In Unknowability as Love: The Theology of Dante's Commedia

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pp. 60-94

The debate over the question of the relationship between theology and narrative poetry in the Commedia is one of the oldest and most controversial surrounding Dante’s text. And while it would be possible to trace a broad seven-hundred-year-old critical consensus as to the importance of this relationship, it would be impossible to trace any consensus...

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4. The Poetry and Poetics of the Creation

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pp. 95-130

Dante’s first mention of the Creation in the Commedia is at the beginning of the Inferno, when the protagonist has put the dark wood behind him and finds himself at the foot of the hill of virtue, where he is stopped by the leopard of lust. We are immediately given the hour of the day and season of the events about to unfold: a spring...

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5. Liturgical Personhood: Creation, Penitence, and Praise in the Commedia

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pp. 131-160

To speak of “liturgical personhood” is to draw a link between liturgical practice and subjectivity that requires careful formulation. The notion that liturgy might in some sense shape personhood, while not new, has been sharpened over the last fifteen years or so in theological studies. Scholars have addressed—often in highly sophisticated...

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6. Dante’s Commedia and the Body of Christ

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pp. 161-179

The systematic theologian inevitably approaches a theological poet such as Dante with a certain amount of trepidation and, hopefully, with some caution. After all, to read a literary text as theology (as though it were theology?) is to cross a boundary that resonates at many different levels. There is, first, the question of genre, and second, that of intent. Do we read literary texts with the same kinds of expectations...

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7. Dante’s Davidic Journey: From Sinner to God's Scribe

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pp. 180-209

Dante’s debt to the Psalms—the biblical book that, to many of its interpreters, contained the wisdom of the whole Bible in its words—is widely acknowledged, as is the influence of the biblical figure whom he believed to be its single author: King David.1 In Dante’s time, David was considered a sinner, a penitent, a just man, and an exemplary ruler. He was the psalmist, a divinely inspired auctor, a prophet...

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8. Caritas and Ecclesiology in Dante’s Heaven of the Sun

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pp. 210-244

“Theologus Dantes, nullius dogmatis expers” [Dante theologian, stranger to no knowledge].1 According to Boccaccio, this epitaph, composed by Giovanni del Virgilio, would have been inscribed on the tomb of Dante, had Guido Novello not died before he could “fare il sepolcro e li porvi li mandati versi” [make the tomb and inscribe...

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9. Neoplatonic Metaphysics and Imagination in Dante’s Commedia

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pp. 245-266

Readers often find an image of their own longings in the works of great poets. Dante, for example, exerts considerable sway over those, like T. S. Eliot and Dorothy Sayers, who see him as a representative of a lost Christendom—the Catholic poet par excellence. Others, like Bene detto Croce, have played down the theology and exalted...

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10. “Il punto che mi vinse”: Incarnation, Revelation, and Self-Knowledge in Dante's Commedia

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pp. 267-285

Dante often speaks of God as a point. The thrust of the term punto, as Dante explains in the Convivio, is indivisible irreducible unity, a measure of space or time reduced to infinity, to the dimensionless (“lo punto per la sua indivisibilitade è immensurabile” [Conv. 2.13.27] [the point cannot be measured at all, since it cannot be divided]). The punto thus becomes a reference to God as the ultimate...

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11. How to Do Things with Words: Poetry as Sacrament in Dante's Commedia

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pp. 286-305

In this essay I propose to conduct two lines of conversation of different sorts. The first, which forms the substance of my essay, is a sort of trialogue—constructed more or less hypothetically (you might say that I invent it)—between three near contemporary theologians: Dante, Thomas Aquinas, and Meister...


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pp. 307

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Dante, Conversation, and Homecoming

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pp. 308-317

There is, I think, much to be said for seeing the Commedia as an essay in re-theologization—that is, for seeing it, following a tendency in the Convivio towards the de-theologization of human experience under the conditions of time and space, as a bringing back of that experience into closer communion with its specifically...

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Dante as Inspiration for Twenty-First-Century Theology

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pp. 318-328

My participation in the conference from which this volume sprang was an inspiration for me as a theologian. In my academic work I concentrate mainly on thinking through Christian theology in the contemporary context with a view to the future. Particular concerns include the interpretation of scripture today, the character...


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pp. 329-355

Notes on Contributors

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pp. 356-357

Index of Names and Subjects

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pp. 358-379

Index of Passages from Dante's Works

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pp. 380-386

Index of Scriptural Passages

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pp. 387-388

E-ISBN-13: 9780268086800
E-ISBN-10: 026808680X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268035198
Print-ISBN-10: 0268035199

Page Count: 400
Publication Year: 2010