The Faith of a Liberal: Selected Essays

By Morris R. Cohen | Go to book overview

24
DANTE AS A MORAL TEACHER

EXCEPT for those who believe that they can enjoy a poem without knowing what it means, the first requisite of an honest and intelligent discussion of Dante should be a frank recognition of the fundamental difference between his view of the world and that which is distinctively modern. Dante lives in a closed world, limited in time and space, and authoritatively mapped out for all time by Aristotle and the Christian Fathers. Man--meaning Christendom inhabiting the Mediterranean basin --is the center of this universe. Around man's abode all the stars revolve in eternal and perfect circles. The plan of this universe is so well revealed that there are not and there cannot be in it vistas of essentially new truth or of new possibilities of achievement. It is a world in which the beginnings of human history are not lost in the dim past, nor is its future particularly perplexing. The number of generations from Adam to Christ is definitely known and the number of generations from Christ to the final day of judgment is also limited. Heaven and hell have a strictly limited capacity. The mystic rose of heaven was half filled by the Hebrew saints who lived before Christ, and it would be relatively easy to figure out the maximum number that hell can possibly contain after the resurrection when the sinners' earthly bodies will all be located there.

This aspect of Dante's fundamental belief is not popular today. His expositors and commentators try to avoid it by two suggestions, first, that Dante does not mean to be taken literally,

____________________
Published in The New Republic, Vol. 28, p. 181 ( October 12, 1921).

-234-

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