Six Discourses on Natural Calamities, Divine Threats, and the Four Gates of Hell

Thomas Jefferson
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The major moral obstacle to achieving the perfect state is greed for wealth and power; the major political obstacle is the papacy. The church interfered in local and international politics and asserted its right to do so on the basis of Scripture and canon law. Papal jurisdiction in temporal affairs was opposed by both monarchists and imperialists, but the former dominated the debates in the thirteenth century.

The most interesting material and the largest volume in the church-state controversy during this period was produced by the struggle between Pope Boniface VIII and the French king Philip IV. Giles of Rome wrote on both sides of the issue in different periods; John of Paris, James of Viterbo, a series of clever but anonymous pamphleteers, and a virtual army of skilled and learned canonists took part in it see introduction.

The basic arguments for and against papal supremacy are similar; monarchists differ from imperialists mainly in their assertion of the independence or autonomy of individual states. When Dante draws on the monarchist arguments, he turns them to the support of the empire; in the Comedy, he condemns the French royal house almost as severely as he does the papacy because it offers the most powerful secular opposition to the empire outside Italy.

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Dante had personal as well as philosophical reasons to condemn him, which he does by assigning him a place in Hell, although he is not yet dead in when the journey is supposed to be taking place. It is not surprising that Boniface is a powerful presence in the poem and seems to personify the corruption of the papacy for Dante even though he died years before Dante wrote most of it.

The troubles between Philip and Boniface began with jurisdictional clashes of various kinds: Philip imposed taxes on the clergy without first getting papal permission, and the pope, in response, forbad payment Clericos laicos, l ; the king then stopped all passage of money out of the country, a blow to papal finances. Boniface tried to excommunicate Philip at different times.

Probleme, Boniface tried again, in , to excommunicate Philip and place his subjects under anathema unless they renounced their oaths to the king; but before he could publish the bull, Philip had him captured in a rather blatant display of real power. If the pope was the bridegroom of the church, there could be no other husband while he lived, divorce being frowned upon even in regard to an institution.

The objection, as stated in the records of the hearings held on Boniface after his death, was:. Dupuy, Histoire du Differend, When Boniface died, chronicles report, he fulfilled the prophecy that he came to power like a fox, he would rule like a lion, but die like a dog. While he reigned, Boniface was accused of almost every imaginable vice; the attacks range from plays on his name to criminal allegations.

The point of the last accusation was to show that he did not believe the French had souls, though it sounds more like the outburst of a strong temper.

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The same accusations were made for years after his death. Philip threatened to have him tried for heresy as a means both of controlling subsequent popes and of blackmailing them to dissolve the Templars, and Philip compelled the church to hear witnesses and take depositions against Boniface for eight years after his death. It is a curious irony, and one that must have appealed to Dante, that Boniface is a presence throughout the Comedy, although he cannot actually appear in it because, according to the fiction, he is still alive, just as he was a constant presence in the hearings against him, though he could not appear at them because he was already dead.

Boniface was posthumously accused of the same variety of sins: of fornication and sodomy with specific partners Dupuy, Histoire du Differend, , , of political intrigues, particularly against the Ghibellines. The situation is reversed here, but the words are similar and both incidents reveal the abuse of religious belief to lead others into sin for political advantage.

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Whether there is any truth to these charges, they indicate the scope and persistence of the tradition of Boniface as an archvillain. Boniface invited the woman to a banquet, had her seated before a door so that during the dinner she could be pulled into another room, where his nephew was waiting to rape her 1. The papacy, even after Boniface, was at a low point while Dante was writing the Comedy. Popes had allowed themselves to be removed, with the curia, from the traditional seat of the church at Rome to Avignon, where the French Monarchy could exert a powerful influence.

Clement V undermined the empire by withdrawing his support from Henry Vll and refusing to crown him at St. But he also contributed to the decline of the papacy by giving in on the Templars and exempting the French Monarchy from Unam Sanctam in Meruit. They were perceived by their enemies as greedy, petty men, leading the church in the wrong direction and giving a bad example to the Christians they were supposed to guide, and that is how Dante portrays them in the Comedy, where their corruption is condemned from the beginning of Hell to the summit of Paradise.

A pope is included among the first souls Dante sees in Hell, because he rejected the task God set for him, but probably also because his abdication left the way open for Boniface. In any case, the pope presents a striking contrast to Virgil, who delivers a lecture on the categories of sin to Dante later in the same canto. The poet, as so often in the Comedy, provides the guidance the church fails to give.

The word trasmutato combined with mal protesi nervi suggests that the pope seduced him; Boniface was often accused of the sin cf. Jacopo, 1.

The hypocrites are clothed in heavy lead cloaks in the style of the monks of Cluny, a faticoso manto meant to remind us of the papacy, since manto is associated with the papacy through the Comedy. Thus the pope, Boniface again, not only leads him into sin, but directly into damnation. Boniface, and with him the papacy, emerges from the Inferno as a malevolent spirit, inducing others into all kinds of sins and creating disorder all around.

Even in Purgatory we are reminded of Boniface, though less critically: in connection with the indulgences offered to souls during the Jubilee he proclaimed Pg. It is also worth noting that the only one in the Comedy to call the pope the vicar of Christ is an ancestor of the French king, the other serious obstacle to the empire. Along with the condemnation of individuals, there are possible allegorical allusions to the church in Hell: one is the Veglio di Creta, the statue drawn from Daniel, which the Ottimo glosses as representing the ages of the world, with the leg of clay representing the current age of the church all intent on worldly delights, and the foot of clay the seventh age, those completely given over to greed; he also mentions the great worldly possessions of the church beginning with the gift of Constantine, which he considers the source of temporal cupidity in the church 1.

That the living body of a friar, Frate Alberigo, is inhabited by a demon because his soul is already in Hell, reinforces this interpretation.

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In Purgatory, Dante allows the church a positive function through the recognition of the sacraments and religious ritual, but he carefully divests it of human features which might suggest actual churchmen. There can be no question of their being lured into the temporal realm. It does not increase our sense of papal dignity to learn from one of the souls Manfred that a pope had his body disinterred and left to the mercy of the elements because he had died excommunicate; we are reminded of this gratuitous violence to a lifeless body when another soul Bonconte da Montefeltro tells how his unburied body was attacked by a frustrated devil who was denied possession of the soul.

It would be hard to avoid the analogy between the frustrated churchman and the frustrated devil.

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If the angels represent what the church should be, devils in Hell represent what it has become; like Lucifer, they start higher and therefore fall lower than other creatures. The one pope Dante meets in Purgatory, Hadrian V, in canto 19, is an example of greed corrected, but only when he achieves the height of earthly wealth, the papacy, and learns how little it means. In any case, he was pope for only thirty-eight days, enough to save himself, but not to do much for others.

Mention is made of one very early pope, Gregory 1, whose prayers helped to save the soul of the emperor Trajan, a rare example of the proper relation of church and state cf. Sylvester, who cured and converted Constantine, and Agapetus, who saved Justinian from heresy , but the featured story of conversion in Purgatory is that of Statius, who was rescued from sin and pagan beliefs by the words of the pagan poet Virgil see chapter four.

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At the end of Purgatory, in the Earthly Paradise, Dante presents a brief reenactment of the major stages in the history of the church represented by the chariot , particularly in its relations with secular government. The chariot which represents the church is described as more splendid than any which pleased Scipio or Augustus at Rome This moves Benvenuto to remark that Dante exalts the chariot by naming two glorious leaders, one who wondrously rescued the public state from danger, the other who felicitously ordered it 4.

Vos equidem, ecclesiae militantis veluti primi praepositi pili, per manifestam orbitam Crucifixi currum Sponsae regere negligentes, non aliter quam falsus auriga Phaeton exorbitastis. But you, who are like the commanders of the first rank of the church militant, neglecting to guide the chariot of the Spouse of the Crucified along the open track, have gone astray no differently than the false charioteer Phaethon…. When the chariot is fixed to the tree of divine justice, in which the eagle of empire lives, the tree is renewed, because the church gives new life to divine justice, whose living exponent is the Roman empire.

However, when Christ first established the church, the empire was pagan, so the eagle attacks the chariot; later, when the empire becomes Christian, the eagle bestows its feathers on the chariot the Donation of Constantine , and later still, the chariot is covered with more feathers new gifts of temporal possession and power from major secular leaders and becomes a monster with seven heads and ten horns, like the beast of the Apocalypse. The heads and horns represent the distortion of the Ten Commandments and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit or the seven virtues , the bases for moral life on earth.

The church that first appeared drawn by Christ and bearing theology the griffin and Beatrice has become a monster carrying the corrupt curia and dominated by the king of France. There is general agreement among the early commentators on most of the imagery in this drama, with minor exceptions: Jacopo identifies the whore with the pope and the giant with the kings of France who raped and adulterated the church and whored with popes 2.

Pietro interprets the dragon that rends the chariot, usually identified as a schism, as Anti-Christ, who inflames the cupidity of the pastors of the church for temporal things ; the Ottimo identifies it with the beast of the Apocalypse 2.

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But the major lesson of the drama, the danger to the church when it takes on temporal power or possession or gives itself over to secular domination by the wrong leader, is the same for all of them: when the church works with the empire, it serves the divine purpose; when it invades the temporal sphere, it becomes its victim and loses the ability to perform its divine function.

The attacks on the church for failing to do what it should and for getting into areas it has no business in, continue through Paradise, for the most part put in the mouths of saints whose purity and, presumably, judgment are beyond question. Though their attacks are most often directed at their own orders, they also implicate the papacy, either directly or indirectly, as the rotten head from which corruption flows through the body. According to the fiction of the poem, this vacancy must refer to Boniface, who either had no right to be pope, or who has lost that right by abusing the position, or both.

Dante turns the tables on them by having Peter declare the papacy vacant. He himself denounces the claims that were made in his name. Boniface stresses the unity of the church, Peter points out that the papacy is dividing Christians. And finally, Boniface claims that there is no salvation without subjection to the Roman Pontiff; Peter, the first Pontiff, ends with a promise of divine aid, of Providence working through secular Rome:.

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But the high Providence, which with Scipio defended the glory of the world at Rome, will soon give aid…. The same images and arguments recur through the Comedy as well. I would now like to look at some of the major arguments and images from this tradition and show how Dante uses them in the Comedy. Papal claims to power in the temporal sphere were based not only on the interpretation of biblical passages, but also on the supposedly historical document the Donation of Constantine, which purported to give the pope political authority over the city of Rome and the provinces and cities of Italy and the western regions.

That it was an eighth- or ninth-century forgery was not known at the time, so the main arguments against it questioned its legal validity, denying that the emperor had a right to diminish the empire and bind later emperors John 21, Monarchy, 3. The other reference to Constantine in Hell does not mention the Donation, but it would be difficult to miss the connection: when Guido da Montefeltro explains how the pope persuaded him to sin, he says that as Constantine asked Pope Sylvester to cure him of leprosy, so the pope asked Guido to cure him of his fever.

The modern pope is in a sense carrying on the tradition Sylvester began, of operating in the temporal sphere. In the Earthly Paradise, at the top of Purgatory, the Donation is symbolized by the feathers which the eagle the Roman empire drops on the chariot the church , turning it into a monster while a voice laments from heaven. Constantine himself appears in the eye of the eagle, aware now of the mistake he made and of the disaster it has brought on the world, although it is not held against him:.

These words are spoken by the eagle, which is divine justice working through the empire. Thus heaven condemns the act because it runs counter to providential order. The church also claimed supremacy in the temporal sphere on the basis of precedence in time: priests, they said, had preceded and even instituted kings, therefore kings were subject to them.

John of Paris argues on the other side that there was no true priesthood before Christ, but there were true kings De potestate regia et papali, 4 , that it is kings who prefigure Christ in the Old Testament In the Monarchy, Dante points out that seniority does not determine authority—there are, after all, young bishops with old archdeacons 3. That does not mean he accepts papal supremacy, as is sometimes claimed, but simply the dignity accorded seniority.

Nathan appears in the same circle with Solomon, who is singled out among all the saints there for great praise, and David is seen in a higher sphere of heaven with Hezekiah. Precedence in time is related to the issue of hierarchy and the supremacy of the spiritual power. Bernard, in De consideratione, tells Pope Eugene to attack with the word, not the sword, and not to usurp the sword he was commanded to sheathe; that is, not to use temporal means or interfere in temporal affairs. Boniface cites it in Unam Sanctam, but adds that since everything in the universe is ordered hierarchically, one sword must be higher than the other.

Giles comments that as body is subject to spirit, so is temporal sword to spiritual De ecclesiastice potestate, 1. John of Paris points out that doctors of the church do not interpret the swords as temporal and spiritual power, but as the Old and New Testaments or the word and persecution De potestate regia et papali, Dante, like John, denies the interpretation of the two regimes in the Monarchy; for him, the two swords signify words and deeds to carry out what Christ said he had come to do by the sword.

The two in the valley of negligent princes carry one sword each, which has been glossed as representing the two equal powers. Boniface applies the meaning of the two swords to another image, the two great lights luminaria, the sun and the moon , in a discourse welcoming Albert of Austria, whom he was then supporting for emperor: as the moon has no light except from the sun, so earthly power has only what it gets from the spiritual.

Cino da Pistoia reverses the analogy in his Lectura in codicem, making the empire the sun and the papacy the moon. Quaestio, Dante, almost impatiently, notes the problems of interpreting Scripture, and warns that it is a crime to pervert the intentions of the Holy Spirit. The sun and the moon were created before man, he points out; if man had not fallen, he would not have needed the church and state, so God cannot have intended that meaning by them—he would be a stupid doctor indeed who prepared a plaster for an abscess on a person not yet born Monarchy, 3.

Nonetheless, like John, he assumes that some will refuse to reject the analogy; to them he says that the moon has its own powers and operation.

The two suns is a startling image and states most forcefully, particularly in the mouth of a blessed soul from the perspective of the other world, that the two should be equal powers on earth. However, it violates the natural order, so when Dante rises through the planets in Paradise he is limited to one sun which is necessarily higher than the moon, but he does the unexpected with the souls he finds there.

The Moon contains not secular rulers, but religious women nuns who failed in their vows; in the Sun Dante finds great teachers, mostly religious men, but among them one acknowledged to have achieved the height of wisdom for his calling, Solomon, a king.