3 Reasons Protestants Should Read Dante’s Divine Comedy

1. Eternal realities are exalted to their rightful place by his poetry.

Who does not revolt at the thought of eternal condemnation when he reads The Inferno? Dante’s vast imagination conjures levels of judgment for common and uncommon sins. He casts his readers into a caldron along with their sins and differing punishments so that the mind practices to unite each transgression with its fitting torment. This kind of exercise builds a godly hatred of sin as well as a sense of proportion.

In Paradise the equal and opposite affection for glory is developed. Our Lord said that some would bear 30, 60, and 100 fold fruit. Dante presses the reaches of human imagination in an attempt to color what that might look like for all eternity. For those of us with dwarfed imaginations, it is a regimen to stretch our minds so that they might begin to take in some of the metaphors throughout Scripture.

For any Bible-believing Christians who are afraid of imagination as if it is a back-door attack on Sola Scriptura—“Imagination sounds a lot like ‘fiction’ which does not sound like Truth”, a truncated imagination will struggle with the “marriage of the Lamb”, “we shall be like Him”, “we shall judge angels”, “my Father’s house”, “great white throne”, and “all things new.” Dante takes two large buckets of Scriptural images and tries to compel us to think about them. The result in my heart was more godly fear and more driving hope.

Who takes much time to think about eternity? In The Divine Comedy, eternity becomes at once both terrifying and awesome.  

    2. The end of beauty is achieved through meticulous order.

    Like Baroque music, The Divine Comedy is an orderly masterpiece in a trinal structure. There are 3 sections (Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven) with 33 Cantos each set in rhymes of 3. The Inferno has an introductory Canto so that the entire work reaches 100.

    The edition I read had Italian on the left hand side with English on the right so that I could see the original words and their rhymes, though I do not speak Italian. As I compared his word selection in Italian, I often found my mouth gaping as he used so many unique words in sets of three. For more than 14,000 lines, the rhymes are set like gears in a Swiss watch in a linking pattern of a, b, a, b, c, b, c, d, c, d, e, d, e, f…

    He originally called his work The Comedy meaning a happy ending which points to a great unity, but the three sections, 33 cantos each, and rhymes in sets of thee point pleasingly to the One true God in three Persons. Unity and diversity; Grand, overarching oneness and particular threeness.

    3. The message of “Press on!” is imprinted on any honest reader.

    The implied message in Hell and Heaven is to avoid the one and gain the other at any cost. But then in The Purgatory, Virgil repeats to Dante over and over the command to press on, do not delay, quicken your pace, and keep moving. For any readers who have the wisdom to apply this to their present life, it is a vital Scriptural injunction (Heb. 6:1).

    Biblical errors in Dante’s Divine Comedy

    Even though it is worth reading, the errors are serious and reflect the unbiblical nature of core Catholic teachings.

      1. Very little Christ.

      With such astounding powers to build with words, why could Dante not make our hearts pull toward Christ? The entire work rarely references the Son of God. The poetry of Isaac Watts, the sermons of Spurgeon, and even the portrayal of Prince Emmanuel in Bunyan’s Holy War do much more to draw the heart to Jesus than the 14,000 lines of Dante. The one who determined to know nothing save Jesus Christ, to boast in nothing save the cross, would have found a great deficiency in a theology that produces such a bloodless portrait. 

        2. Too much Mary.

        Faithful to the false teaching of Rome, Dante walked by the King to exalt a woman who knew that she needed a Savior, a woman who was content to stay in the background after fulfilling her role in the divine plan. Even up to the 100th Canto, he writes of Mary with little attention to the Son of God. At best, it is a foolish overemphasis on a creature which Mary does not desire. At worst, it is idolatry which Mary hates.

          3. Purgatory is set after death.

          Following the unscriptural dictates of a religion justly compared to the Great Whore of Babylon, Dante tries to breathe some life into the teaching of a second chance after death. But this can be dealt with easily if the reader will simply imagine the lines of Purgatory addressing the Christian in his life on earth.

          Disregarding Jesus and praying to a creature are serious errors, but the vibrant portrayal of eternal realities are so avoided by the human heart and lacking in modern literature that I recommend you to read Dante.

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