Review by Dr Pravin
Spirituality of Dante’s Divine Comedy:
A Hundred-Day Guided Journal
By Sebastian Mahfood OP
En Route Books &Media
About thirty years ago, I purchased Dante’s Divine Comedy. I left them
on the shelf for twenty-five years because I believed that I would have
to do a lot of background reading before I could start. What a pity
that was: Dante is most certainly a great poet, perhaps the greatest of
them all. But, as I now realize, he is also for us ordinary Catholics
in our common struggles to enter the kingdom of heaven. Certainly,
Dante was interested in the mythologies of ancient Greece and Rome. He
discusses the political factions he encountered in his own life. But,
above all this, he was a Catholic who wanted to show his
fellow-pilgrims the way to heaven.
And that is the purpose of this invaluable book: to teach Catholics why
Dante matters so much. Dr Sebastian Mahfood is a teacher and he guides
us in our prayerful reflections of this great work.
The book has a straightforward plan. The introduction is an overview of
the Divine Comedy and should not be missed. Then we have a canto
followed by a brief lecture and reflection and ending with a question
for the reader.
The translation used is the prose translation by Arthur John Butler.
This makes for a relatively easy read. I myself chose to read this
alongside the Penguin Classics translations which I have grown to like
a great deal. The illustrations are the well- known ones by Gustave
For example, the fourth canto is on limbo where the good pagans go. In
the lecture, it is noted that Dante recognized in himself the sin of
pride, owing to his love of pagan thinking.
The fifth canto describes the souls in hell because of lust. They
include Cleopatra, Helen Paris and Tristan. In the lecture, it is
pointed out that they pursued a passion for creation without loving the
creator. In the famous case of Francesca, she blamed someone else for
her sin, rather like Eve. If only these souls treated their neighbour
as souls loved by God and meant for heaven.
The souls discussed in the seventh canto are in hell because of
avarice. In the lecture, it is noted that liberality is the golden mean
between hoarding and prodigality. Our goods are meant to serve others.
Is this true in our case?
The ninth canto discusses heretics. In the lecture, it is noted that
the heretics denied the immortality of the soul. God means nothing to
them. We live in an age when God is rejected. How are we affected by
As I keep reading this splendid work by Dr Mahfood, I have grown to
realize that Dante teaches us how to live this life in order to go to
Copyright ©; Dr Pravin Thevathasan 2020