Dante Influences Benedict XVI’s First Encyclical

Pope Points to “Divine Comedy”

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 23, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI says his first encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est,” is inspired in part by Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy.”

The Pope revealed that today when he met with the participants in a congress organized by the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum.” He said that the vision of the great Italian poet (1265-1321), was decisive in trying to recover the true meaning of the word “love.”

In particular, the Bishop of Rome feels indebted to Dante’s vision in the last canto of “Paradise,” in which the poet leads the reader through a cosmic excursion, which “ends before the everlasting Light that is God himself, before that Light which at the same time is the love ‘which moves the sun and the other stars.'”

For Benedict XVI, as for Dante, “Light and love are but one thing. They are the primordial creative power that moves the universe.”

The Pope recalled that these words are based on Aristotle’s thought, “who saw in the ‘eros’ the power that moves the world.” However, the Holy Father added, “Dante’s gaze … perceives something totally new and unimaginable for the Greek philosopher.”

“Eternal Light not only is presented with the three circles of which he speaks with those profound verses that we know: ‘Eternal Light, You only dwell within Yourself, and only You know You; Self-knowing, Self-known, You love and smile upon Yourself!” he recalled, quoting canto XXXIII, verses 124-126 of “Paradise.”

Central circle

“In reality, the perception of the human face — the face of Jesus Christ — which Dante sees in the central circle of light is even more overwhelming than this revelation of God as Trinitarian circle of knowledge and love,” stressed the Pontiff.

“God, infinite Light, whose incommensurable mystery had been intuited by the Greek philosopher, this God has a human face and — we can add — a human heart,” Benedict XVI said.

“In this vision of Dante,” he continued, “is shown, on one hand, the continuity between the Christian faith in God and the search promoted by reason and by the realm of religions, at the same time, however, in it is also appreciated the novelty that exceeds all human search, the novelty that only God himself could reveal to us: the novelty of a love that has led God to assume a human face, more than that, to assume the flesh and blood, the whole of the human being.

“God’s ‘eros’ is not only a primordial cosmic force, it is love that has created man and that bends before him, as the Good Samaritan bent before the wounded man, victim of thieves, who was lying on the side of the road that went from Jerusalem to Jericho.”

The Pope said that with this vision of Dante the encyclical seeks to recover the full meaning of the word “love,” “so tarnished, so spoiled and so abused, that one is almost afraid to pronounce it with one’s lips.”

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