This September marks 700 years since the death of Italian poet Dante Alighieri, whose Divine Comedy is widely considered to be one of the greatest works of Western literature. This lyrical tour of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven has gone on to inspire and influence countless works of art and down the centuries to the present day, from paintings to video games. In his recent apostolic letter “Candor Lucis Aeternae” Pope Francis celebrated the life and legacy of Dante, calling the Divine Comedy “one of the highest expressions of human genius.”
Dante Alighieri was a man who endured many trials and sufferings. Seeking to rise in the civic life of his hometown of Florence, he found himself on the wrong side of an intense political rivalry. As a result, he was exiled. Stripped of his property and unable to return to his native city, Dante refused to succumb to despair. Instead, he turned the injustices he experienced into inspiration for his poetry.
As Pope Francis observes, “Reviewing the events of his life above all in the light of faith, Dante discovered his personal vocation and mission. From this, paradoxically, he emerged no longer an apparent failure, a sinner, disillusioned and demoralized, but a prophet of hope.” Like every prophet, Dante sometimes found it necessary to proclaim inconvenient truths, even criticizing fellow believers who were guilty of corruption, injustice, and hypocrisy, as well as calling for repentance and renewal within the Church.
Pope Francis believes that Dante is as relevant today as he’s ever been and that his message “can and should make us appreciate fully who we are and the meaning of our daily struggles to achieve happiness, fulfillment and our ultimate end, our true homeland, where we will be in full communion with God, infinite and eternal Love.”
In his apostolic letter, Pope Francis urges everyone, believers and nonbelievers alike, to rediscover (or to discover for the first time) the genius of Dante. An excellent way to do this is by joining 100 Days of Dante. This free online reading group developed by Baylor University’s Honors College will guide participants through the Divine Comedy “to inspire new and life-long readers to celebrate Dante’s enduring legacy.” By reading three cantos a week starting in September 2021 participants will complete the entire masterworkby Easter 2022. Videos featuring commentary from Dante scholars will help readers navigate and explore the Divine Comedy’s “literary, theological and spiritual significance.”
The 100 Days of Dante initiative is currently in its second week, but don’t worry about falling behind; there’s still plenty of time to catch up if you jump on board now. You’ll be embarking on an unforgettable journey through one of the most profound books ever written – there’s no telling what you’ll discover!