Love’s voyage: Reading Dante’s spirituality

Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter Candor lucis aeternae of 25 May 2021 marks the seventh centenary of the death of Dante Alighieri. Valentin Gerlier explores the spirituality of love to be found in his poetry.

Approaching Dante can be daunting. His work weaves so many themes and moves in so many directions, from poetry to philosophy, from theology to spiritual literature, that the overall effect can be bewildering, and one can rightly be excused for desperately wanting to close the book! This is perhaps because, as Hans Urs von Balthasar puts it, Dante’s magisterial vision transcends the division of disciplines: ‘a synthesis of scholasticism and mysticism, of Antiquity and Christianity, of the sacral concept of Empire and the spiritual Franciscan ideal of the Church, and – even more stunningly – a synthesis of the courtly world of the Minnesang and the very different world of scholastic wisdom’.1 Transcending categories in order to unite them, Dante’s work constitutes nothing less than an encyclopaedic tour de force.

Spirituality as a journey of love
This magisterial aspect also applies to Dante’s relationship with spirituality. In some ways, he attempts to marry all aspects of life: the inner with the outer, the interior with the universal, and the earthly with the heavenly; to weave together the various ligatures of being according to the pattern that unites them all – love itself. Indeed, a good way to approach Dante’s relationship to spirituality is to encounter it as a spirituality of love, where love appears as the very energy and flowering of wisdom, the gift of grace and the beginning and end of all things. But love is not a lofty, idealistic principle removed from the trials and tribulations of daily life: it is also the companion, friend and guardian spirit along the arduous pilgrimage that is life. As the power that nourishes and transforms all things, it guides all things towards their place of rest and peace, which is also their true being.

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