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into the world David, ancestor of the Redeemer
after the flesh. St. Augustine said that "God
showed in the most opulent and illustrious Empire
of the Romans how much the civil virtues might
avail even without true religion, that it might be
understood how, this added, men became citizens
of another city whose king is truth, whose law
charity, and whose measure eternity." Dante goes
further than this. He makes the Romans as well
as the Jews a chosen people, the one as founders
of civil society, the other as depositaries of the true
faith. 1 One side of Dante's mind was so practical

1 This results from the whole course of his argument in the sec
ond book of De Monarchia, and in the VI. Paradise he calls the


and positive, and his pride in the Romans so in
tense, 1 that he sometimes seems to regard their
mission as the higher of the two. Without peace,
which only good government could give, mankind
could not arrive at the highest virtue, whether of
the active or contemplative life. " And since what
is true of the part is true of the whole, and it hap
pens in the particular man that by sitting quietly
he is perfected in prudence and wisdom, it is clear
that the human race in the quiet or tranquillity of
peace is most freely and easily disposed for its
proper work which is almost divine, as it is writ
ten, ' Thou hast made him a little lower than the
angels.' 2 Whence it is manifest that universal
peace is the best of those things which are ordained
for our beatitude. Hence it is that not riches, not
pleasures, not honors, not length of life, not health,
not strength, not comeliness, was sung to the shep
herds from on high, but peace." 3 It was Dante's
experience of the confusion of Italy, where

Roman eagle "the bird of God" and "the scutcheon of God."
We must remember that with Dante God is always the " Emperor
of Heaven," the barons of whose court are the Apostles. (Para-
diso, XXIV. 115 ; Ib., XXV. 17.)

1 Dante seems to imply (though his name be German) that he
was of Roman descent. He makes the original inhabitants of
Florence (Inferno, XV. 77, 78) of Roman seed ; and Cacciaguida,
when asked by him about his ancestry, makes no more definite
answer than that their dwelling was in the most ancient part of
the city. (Paradiso, XVI. 40.)

2 Man was created, according to Dante ( Convito, Tr. II. c. 6),
to supply the place of the fallen angels, and is in a sense superior
to the angels, inasmuch as he has reason, which they do not need.

8 De Monarchia, lib. i. 5.


" One doth gnaw the other
Of those whom one wall and one fosse shut in," i

that suggested the thought of a universal umpire,
for that, after all, was to be the chief function of
his Emperor. He was too wise to insist on a uni
formity of political institutions a priori? for he
seems to have divined that the surest stay of order,
as of practical 'wisdom, is habit, which is a growth,
and cannot be made off-hand. He believed with
Aristotle that vigorous minds were intended by na
ture to rule, 3 and that certain races, like certain
men, are born to leadership. 4 He calls democra
cies, oligarchies, and petty princedoms (tyrannides)
" oblique policies which drive the human race to
slavery, as is patent in all of them to one who rea
sons." 5 He has nothing but pity for mankind
when it has become a many-headed beast, " despis
ing the higher intellect irrefragable in reason, the
lower which hath the face of experience." 6 He
had no faith in a turbulent equality asserting the
divine right of I'm as good as you. He thought
it fatal to all discipline : " The confounding of
persons hath ever been the beginning of sickness
in the state." 7 It is the same thought which Shake
speare puts in the mouth of Ulysses :

" Degree being vizarded,

The tmworthiest shows as fairly in the mask.

. . When degree is shaked,

1 Purgatorio, VI. 83, 84. 2 De Monarchia, lib. i. 16.

8 De Monarchia, lib. i. 5. 4 De Monarchia, lib. ii. 7.

5 De Monarchia, lib. i. 14. 6 De Monarchia, lib. i. 18.

7 Faradiso, XVI. 67, 68.


Which is the ladder to all high designs,
Then enterprise is sick." 1

Yet no one can read Dante without feeling that he
had a high sense of the worth of freedom, whether
in thought or government. He represents, indeed,
the very object of his journey through the triple
realm of shades as a search after liberty. 2 But it
must not be that scramble after undefined and in
definable rights which ends always in despotism,
equally degrading whether crowned with a red cap
or an imperial diadem. His theory of liberty has
for its corner-stone the Freedom of the Will, and
the will is free only when the judgment wholly con
trols the appetite. 3 On such a base even a demo
cracy may rest secure, and on such alone.

Rome was always the central point of Dante's
speculation. A shadow of her old sovereignty was
still left her in the primacy of the Church, to
which unity of faith was essential. He accordingly
has no sympathy with heretics of whatever kind.
He puts the ex-troubadour Bishop of Marseilles,
chief instigator of the horrors of Provence, in para
dise. 4 The Church is infallible in spiritual mat
ters, but this is an affair of outward discipline
merely, and means the Church as a form of polity.
Unity was Dante's leading doctrine, and there
fore he puts Mahomet among the schismatics, not
because he divided the Church, but the faith. 5

1 Troilus and Cressida, Act I. s. 3. The whole speech is very
remarkable both in thought and phrase.

2 Purgatorio, L 71. * De Monarchia. lib. i. . 14.
* Paradise, IX.

6 Irtferno, XXVIII. ; Purgatorio, XXXTT.


Dante's Church was of this world, but he surely
believed in another and spiritual one. It has been
questioned whether he was orthodox or not. There
can be no doubt of it so far as outward assent and
conformity are concerned, which he would practise
himself and enforce upon others as the first pos
tulate of order, the prerequisite for all happiness
in this life. In regard to the Visible Church he
was a reformer, but no revolutionist; it is sheer
ignorance to speak of him as if there were anything
new or exceptional in his denunciation of the cor
ruptions of the clergy. They were the common
places of the age, nor were they confined to lay
men. 1 To the absolute authority of the Church
Dante admitted some exceptions. He denies that
the supreme Pontiff has the unlimited power of
binding and loosing claimed for him. " Otherwise
he might absolve me impenitent, which God him
self could not do." 2

" By malison of theirs is not so lost
Eternal Love that it cannot return. " 8

Nor does the sacredness of the office extend to him
who chances to hold it. Philip the Fair himself
could hardly treat Boniface VIII. worse than he.
With wonderful audacity, he declares the Papal
throne vacant by the mouth of Saint Peter himself. 4
Even if his theory of a dual government were not

1 See the poems of Walter Mapes (who vraa Archdeacon of Ox
ford) ; the Bible Guiot, and the Bible au seignor de Berze, Barba
zan and Me'on, II.

2 De Monarchia, lib. iii. 8.
1 Purgatorio, III. 133, 134.
* Paradiso, XXVII. 22.


in question, Dante must have been very cautious
in meddling with the Church. It was not an age
that stood much upon ceremony. He himself tells
us he had seen men burned alive, and the author
of the Ottimo Comento says : " I the writer saw
followers of his [Fra Dolcino] burned at Padua to
the number of twenty-two together." l Clearly,
in such a time as this, one must not make " the
veil of the mysterious verse " too thin. 2

In the affairs of this life Dante was, as we
have said, supremely practical, and he makes pru
dence the chief of the cardinal virtues. 3 He has
made up his mind to take things as they come, and
to do at Rome as the Romans do.

" Ah, savage company ! but in the Church
With saints, and in the tavern with the gluttons ! " *

In the world of thought it was otherwise, and here
Dante's doctrine, if not precisely esoteric, was cer
tainly not that of his day, and must be gathered
from hints rather than direct statements. The
general notion of God was still (perhaps is largely
even now) of a provincial, one might almost say a
denominational, Deity. The popular poets always
represent Macon, Apolin, Tervagant, and the rest
as quasi-deities unable to resist the superior strength
of the Christian God. The Paynim answers the
arguments of his would-be converters with the
taunt that he would never worship a divinity who

1 Purgatorio, XXVII. 18 ; Ottimo, Inferno, XXVIII. 55.

2 Inferno, IX. 63 ; Purgatorio, VIII. 20.
8 Purgatorio, XXIX. 131, 132.

* Inferno, XXTT. 13, 14.


could not save himself from being done ignomini-
ously to death. Dante evidently was not satisfied
with the narrow conception which limits the inter
est of the Deity to the affairs of Jews and Chris
tians. That saying of Saint Paul, " Whom, there
fore, ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto
you," had perhaps influenced him, but his belief
in the divine mission of the Roman people prob
ably was conclusive. " The Roman Empire had
the help of miracles in perfecting itself," he says,
and then enumerates some of them. The first is
that " under Numa Pompilius, the second king of
the Romans, when he was sacrificing according to
the rite of the Gentiles, a shield fell from heaven
into the city chosen of God." 1 In the Convito
we find " Virgil speaking in the person of God,"
and ^Eacus " wisely having recourse to God," the
god being Jupiter. 2 Ephialtes is punished in hell
for rebellion against " the Supreme Jove," 3 and,
that there may be no misunderstanding, Dante
elsewhere invokes the

"Jove Supreme,
Who upon earth for us wast crucified." *

It is noticeable also that Dante, with evident de
sign, constantly alternates examples drawn from
Christian and Pagan tradition or mythology. 5 He

1 De Monarchia, lib. ii. 4.

2 Convito, Tr.IV.c. 4; Ib., c. 27; ^Eneid, I. 178, 179; Ovid'a
Met., VII.

8 Inferno, XXXI. 92.

* Purgatorio, VI. 118, 119. Pulci, not understanding, has paro
died this. (Morgante, Canto II. st. 1.)

6 See, for example, Purgatorio, XX. 100-117.


had conceived a unity in the human race, all of
whose branches had worshipped the same God un
der divers names and aspects, and had arrived at
the same truth by different roads. We cannot un
derstand a passage in the twenty-sixth Paradiso,
where Dante inquires of Adam concerning the
names of God, except as a hint that the Chosen
People had done in this thing even as the Gentiles
did. 1 It is true that he puts all Pagans in Limbo,
"where without hope they live in longing," and
that he makes baptism essential to salvation. 2 But
it is noticeable that his Limbo is the Elysium of
Virgil, and that he particularizes Adam, Noah,
Moses, Abraham, David, and others as prisoners
there with the rest till the descent of Christ into
hell. 3 But were they altogether without hope?
and did baptism mean an immersion of the body
or a purification of the soul? The state of the
heathen after death had evidently been to Dante
one of those doubts that spring up at the foot
of every truth. In the De Monarchia he says :
" There are some judgments of God to which,
though human reason cannot attain by its own

1 We believe that Dante, though he did not understand Greek,
knew something of Hebrew. He would have been likely to study
it as the sacred language, and opportunities of profiting by the
help of learned Jews could not have been wanting to him in his
wanderings. In the above-cited passage some of the. best texts
read I s' appellava, and others Un s' appellava. God was called I
(the Je in Jehovah) or One, and afterwards El, the strong,
an epithet given to many gods. Whichever reading we adopt,
the meaning and the inference from it are the same.

2 Inferno, IV.

8 Dante's " Limbo," of course, is the older " Limbus Patrum."


strength, yet is it lifted to them by the help of
faith and of those things which are said to us in
Holy Writ, as to this, that no one, however per
fect in the moral and intellectual virtues both as a
habit [of the mind] and in practice, can be saved
without faith, it being granted that he shall never
have heard anything concerning Christ; for the
unaided reason of man cannot look upon this as
just ; nevertheless, with the help of faith, it can."
But faith, it should seem, was long in lifting Dante
to this height ; for in the nineteenth canto of the
Paradiso, which must have been written many
years after the passage just cited, the doubt recurs
again, and we are told that it was "a cavern,"
concerning which he had " made frequent question
ing." The answer is given here :

" Truly to him who with me subtilizes,

'If so the Scripture were not over you,

For doubting there were marvellous occasion."

But what Scripture ? Dante seems cautious, tells
us that the eternal judgments are above our com
prehension, postpones the answer, and when it
comes, puts an orthodox prophylactic before it :

" Unto this kingdom never
Ascended one who had not faith in Christ,
Before or since he to the tree was nailed.
But look thou, many crying are, ' Christ, Christ ! '
Who at the judgment shall be far less near
To him than some shall be who knew not Christ."

There is, then, some hope for the man born on the
bank of Indus who has never heard of Christ?
Dante is still cautious, but answers the question in-

1 De Monarchia, lib ii. 8.


directly in the next canto by putting the Trojan
Ripheus among the blessed :

" Who would believe, down in the errant world,
That e'er the Trojan Ripheus in this round
Could be the fifth one of these holy lights ?
Now knoweth he enough of what the world
Has not the power to see of grace divine,
Although his sight may not discern the bottom."

Then he seems to hesitate again, brings in the
Church legend of Trajan brought back to life by
the prayers of Gregory the Great that he might be
converted ; and after an interval of fifty lines tells
us how Ripheus was saved :

" The other one, through grace, that from so deep
A fountain wells that never hath the eye
Of any creature reached its primal wave,

Set all his love below on righteousness ;

Wherefore from grace to grace did God unclose
His eye to our redemption yet to be,

Whence he believed therein, and suffered not

From that day forth the stench of Paganism,
And he reproved therefor the folk perverse.

Those Maidens three, whom at the right-hand wheel 1
Thou didst behold, were unto him for baptism
More than a thousand years before baptizing."

If the reader recall a passage already quoted from
the Convito, 2 he will perhaps think with us that
the gate of Dante's Limbo is left ajar even for the
ancient philosophers to slip out. The divine judg
ments are still inscrutable, and the ways of God

1 Faith, Hope, and Charity. (Purgatorio, XXIX. 121.) Mr.
Longfellow has translated the last verse literally. The meaning


" More than a thousand years ere baptism was."

2 In which the celestial Athens is mentioned.


past finding out, but faith would seem to have led
Dante at last to a more merciful solution of his
doubt than he had reached when he wrote the De
Monarchia. It is always humanizing to see how
the most rigid creed is made to bend before the
kindlier instincts of the heart. The stern Dante
thinks none beyond hope save those who are dead
in sin, and have made evil their good. But we are
by no means sure that he is not right in insisting
rather on the implacable severity of the law than
on the possible relenting of the judge. Exact jus
tice is commonly more merciful in the long run
than pity, for it tends to foster in men those
stronger qualities which make them good citizens,
an object second only with the Roman-minded
Dante to that of making them spiritually regener
ate, nay, perhaps even more important as a neces
sary preliminary to it. The inscription over the
gate of hell tells us that the terms on which we re
ceive the trust of life were fixed by the Divine
Power (which can what it wills), and are therefore
unchangeable ; by the Highest Wisdom, and there
fore for our truest good ; by the Primal Love, and
therefore the kindest. These are the three attri
butes of that justice which moved the maker of
them. Dante is no harsher than experience, which
always exacts the uttermost farthing ; no more in
exorable than conscience, which never forgives nor
forgets. No teaching is truer or more continually
needful than that the stains of the soul are in
effaceable, and that though their growth may be
arrested, their nature is to spread insidiously till


they have brought all to their own color. Evil is
a far more cunning and persevering propagandist
than Good, for it has no inward strength, and is
driven to seek countenance and sympathy. It must
have company, for it cannot bear to be alone in
the dark, while

" Virtue can see to do what Virtue would
By her own radiant light."

There is one other point which we will dwell on
for a moment as bearing on the question of Dante's
orthodoxy. His nature was one in which, as in
Swedenborg's, a clear practical understanding was
continually streamed over by the northern lights of
mysticism, through which the familiar stars shine
with a softened and more spiritual lustre. Nothing
is more interesting than the way in which the two
qualities of his mind alternate, and indeed play into
each other, tingeing his matter-of-fact sometimes
with unexpected glows of fancy, sometimes giving
an almost geometrical precision to his most mysti
cal visions. In his letter to Can Grande he says :
" It behooves not those to whom it is given to know
what is best in us to follow the footprints of the
herd ; much rather are they bound to oppose its
wanderings. For the vigorous in intellect and rea
son, endowed with a certain divine liberty, are con
strained by no customs. Nor is it wonderful, since
they are not governed by the laws, but much more
govern the laws themselves." It is not impossible
that Dante, whose love of knowledge was all-em
bracing, may have got some hint of the doctrine of
the Oriental Sufis. With them the first and lowest


of the steps that lead upward to perfection is the
Law, a strict observance of which is all that is ex
pected of the ordinary man whose mind is not open
to the conception of a higher virtue and holiness.
But the Sufi puts himself under the guidance of
some holy man [Virgil in the Inferno], whose
teaching he receives implicitly, and so arrives at
the second step, which is the Path \Purg atorio~\
by which he reaches a point where he is freed from
all outward ceremonials and observances, and has
risen from an outward to a spiritual worship. The
third step is Knowledge \Paradiso~\, endowed by
which with supernatural insight, he becomes like
the angels about the throne, and has but one far
ther step to take before he reaches the goal and
becomes one with God. The analogies of this sys
tem with Dante's are obvious and striking. They
become still more so when Virgil takes leave of
him at the entrance of the Terrestrial Paradise
with the words :

" Expect no more a word or sign from me ;

Free and upright and sound is thy free-will,
And error were it not to do its bidding ;
Thee o'er thyself I therefore crown and mitre," 1

that is, " I make thee king and bishop over thy
self ; the inward light is to be thy law in things
both temporal and spiritual." The originality of
Dante consists in his not allowing any divorce be
tween the intellect and the soul in its highest sense,
in his making reason and intuition work together
to the same end of spiritual perfection. The un-
l Purgatorio, XXVII. 139-142.


satisfactoriness of science leads Faust to seek re
pose in worldly pleasure ; it led Dante to find it in
faith, of whose efficacy the shortcoming of all logi
cal substitutes for it was the most convincing argu
ment. That we cannot know, is to him a proof
that there is some higher plane on which we can
believe and see. Dante had discovered the incal
culable worth of a single idea as compared with
the largest heap of facts ever gathered. To a man
more interested in the soul of things than in the
body of them, the little finger of Plato is thicker
than the loins of Aristotle.

We cannot but think that there is something
like a fallacy in Mr. Buckle's theory that the ad
vance of mankind is necessarily in the direction of
science, and not in that of morals. No doubt the
laws of morals existed from the beginning, but so
also did those of science, and it is by the applica
tion, not the mere recognition, of both that the
race is benefited. No one questions how much
science has done for our physical comfort and con
venience, and with the mass of men these perhaps
must of necessity precede the quickening of their
moral instincts ; but such material gains are illu
sory, unless they go hand in hand with a corre
sponding ethical advance. The man who gives
his life for a principle has done more for his kind
than he who discovers a new metal or names a new
gas, for the great motors of the race are moral, not
intellectual, and their force lies ready to the use of
the poorest and weakest of us all. We accept a
truth of science so soon as it is demonstrated, are


perfectly willing to take it on authority, can appro
priate whatever use there may be in it without the
least understanding of its processes, as men send
messages by the electric telegraph, but every truth
of morals must be redemonstrated in the experience
of the individual man before he is capable of util
izing it as a constituent of character or a guide in
action. A man does not receive the statements
that "two and two make four," and that "the pure
in heart shall see God," on the same terms. The
one can be proved to him with four grains of corn ;
he can never arrive at a belief in the other till he
realize it in the intimate persuasion of his whole
being. This is typified in the mystery of the in
carnation. The divine reason must forever mani
fest itself anew in the lives of men, and that as
individuals. This atonement with God, this iden
tification of the man with the truth, 1 so that right
action shall not result from the lower reason of
utility, but from the higher of a will so purified of
self as to sympathize by instinct with the eternal
laws, a is not something that can be done once for
all, that can become historic and traditional, a dead
flower pressed between the leaves of the family
Bible, but must be renewed in every generation,
and in the soul of every man, that it may be valid.

1 'I conceived myself to be now," says Milton, "not as mine
own person, but as a member incorporate into that truth whereof
I was persuaded."

2 " But now was turning my desire and will,

Even as a wheel that equally is moved,
The Love that moves the sun and other stars."
(Paradise, XXXIII., closing verses of the Divina Commedia.)


Certain sects show their recognition of this in what
are called revivals, a gross and carnal attempt to
apply truth, as it were, mechanically, and to accom
plish by the etherization of excitement and the
magnetism of crowds what is possible only in the
solitary exaltations of the soul. This is the high
moral of Dante's poem. We have likened it to a
Christian basilica ; and as in that so there is here
also, painted or carven, every image of beauty and
holiness the artist's mind could conceive for the
adornment of the holy place. We may linger to
enjoy these if we will, but if we follow the central
thought that runs like the nave from entrance to
choir, it leads us to an image of the divine made
human, to teach us how the human might also
make itself divine. Dante beholds at last an image
of that Power, Love, and Wisdom, one in essence,
but trine in manifestation, to answer the needs of
our triple nature and satisfy the senses, the heart,
and the mind.

" Within the deep and luminous subsistence

Of the High Light appeared to me three circles,
Of threefold color and of one dimension,
And hy the second seemed the first reflected
As Iris is by Iris, and the third
Seemed fire that equally from both is breathed.

Within itself, of its own very color,

Seemed to me painted with our effigy,
Wherefore my sight was all absorbed therein. 11

He had reached the high altar where the miracle
of transubstantiation is wrought, itself also a type
of the great conversion that may be accomplished


in our own nature (the lower thing assuming the

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