"The Divine Comedy" Resonates
By Elizabeth Lev
ROME, FEB. 9, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI's new encyclical on love came as a surprise to most everyone. Some wags commented on the paradox of the "German Shepherd" exclaiming that God is Love. Others are amazed that the erstwhile watchdog of Church doctrine would choose to dedicate so much ink to social teachings.
My surprise had nothing to do with this. I was floored when the Holy Father said he was inspired by Dante.
Why would this avant-garde theologian, eyes firmly fixed on the contemporary Church and its modern maladies, draw from 700-year-old poetry to describe love? Could he be teaching us that the great works of Christian art -- whether literary, musical or visual -- have lessons and messages pertinent to us today? What sweet music to the ears of an art historian.
I found it interesting that Elizabeth Lev starts off by referring to Cardinal Ratzinger by his uber-conservative nickname and then in the second excerpted paragraph, she uses the phrase 'avant-garde theologian' in the same context in comparing his reputation to that of Benedict XVI, author of Deus Caritas Est. As prefect of the CDF, rightly or wrongly, Cardinal Ratzinger was labeled the 'German Shepherd', but I've never seen him described as 'avant-garde'.
Regardless, Deus Caritas Est and the Holy Father's appreciation of Dante are not the first examples of his efforts to use the long tradition of Christian art as a lesson for Catholics in the modern day. Indeed, I believe it was the issue of the full-color illustrations and Benedict's persistence in ensuring that they be included that caused the first delay in the publication of the Compendium last year.
In any case, the points on Dante are all quite fascinating. The personal story regarding the baptism of the children and subsequent events illustrates the point all the more. Of course, read Elizabeth Lev's story and then consider that Limbo is only a hypothetical construct.