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Review by Dr Pravin Thevathasan


The Narrative 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 Dore.

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 this?

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 heaven.





Copyright ; Dr Pravin Thevathasan 2020

Version: 15th November 2020



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