SELECTED BOOKS: Oratorian Father PaulPearson addresses purgatory with and through “The Divine Comedy”, providing a springboard for prayerful reflection on our own lives.
“…And of this second kingdom I will sing
Where the human spirit purges itself,
And ascending to heaven becomes worthy of it. (Longfellow’s translation)
So begins Purgatory, the second part of the 14th century poem The Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy) by Dante Alighieri.
Toronto Oratorian Father Paul Pearson who guided us through the story of Dante Hell (Hell) in Spiritual Direction: From Dante: Avoiding Hell, now leads us through Purgatory (Purgatory) in its next volume, Spiritual direction of Dante: ascent of Mount Purgatory.
The Divine Comedy consists of three parts: hell, purgatory and heaven. Written in medieval Italian, the poem recounts the adventures of the speaker (who is billed as Dante himself) through the three kingdoms, initially accompanied by the pagan poet Virgil before a woman, Beatrice, appears and guides his final journey through the nine celestial spheres. of the sky.
In this second book, Father Pearson uses exactly the same format and intent as in the first. The structure is a straightforward examination of the themes and topics that make up the 33 songs on the purgatory of Dante’s epic poem. But Father Pearson’s intention is not simply to guide the reader through Dante’s literary landscape, but to make his witty insights applicable to our 21st century lives in a practical way.
Commenting on Dante’s Overture singing of Purgatory, Father Pearson makes some interesting points about the “spirituality” section of modern bookstores. Such sections, he argues, are now reserved not for books about God, but about “self-help”. the Purgatory section of The Divine Comedy is the perfect antidote to this flawed approach, he says. The souls in purgatory cannot do anything on their own. They remind readers that it is not “helping each other” that they need so much as divine assistance.
Fortunately, unlike Hell, Purgatory is about change. Purgatory is a state of flux and ascension — Dante’s purgatory is a mountain; the souls there are undergoing an eternal change. Seen through the lens of Dante, one could say that purgatory is a destination for which the modern industry of “self-development” could dream: all the changes which occur there are positive, breathtaking.
Yet, as Father Pearson points out in his introduction, purgatory suffers from an “image problem” in the modern world; it is “misunderstood, misrepresented and unappreciated”. Yet he goes on to add, “It is intended by God as a gift and received by us as a punishment. This should not be a stumbling block for those considering joining the Church. … It should be a draw, an answer to our questions and a cure for our anxieties.
While Dante Hell has a decidedly morbid if not downright gruesome feel to it, being essentially a travelogue among the damned, Purgatory is fortunately contrasted. The souls Dante encounters here have not reached their end point; they are only one step on the way to an infinitely better place, namely heaven.
at Father Pearson’s modus operandi is the same as that deployed in his previous work on Hell. Each singing is introduced by a short reflection explaining its application to our lives. This is followed by a comment on specific lines chosen from the singing. The blurb on the back cover tells readers that no prior knowledge of the original text is necessary, stating: “Reading Dante is not necessary! »
There is no actual textual translation of The Divine Comedy in Father Pearson’s book. Therefore, unless you have a thorough knowledge of the original poem, to fully benefit from Dante’s thought and even Father Pearson’s reflections on it, one should read spiritual direction in conjunction with an English translation of The Divine Comedy: Read a singing of the original followed by all the notes and references given in the translation, then proceed to the reflections of Father Pearson. What he writes will then, in turn, send you back with greater appreciation to the original text..
Any good translation of The Divine Comedy will have many notes. These, however, tend to focus on the linguistic, historical and literary aspects of the text. Father Pearson takes The Divine Comedy and the reader in an entirely different direction, linked specifically to the spiritual direction inherent in Dante’s thought. This makes the book much more than just another commentary on Dante, as Father Pearson’s lucid and incisive spiritual insights from Dante’s text are applied to one’s inner life. In doing so, he succeeded in rescuing The Divine Comedy from the world of academic discourse and situated Dante’s thought as a springboard for prayerful reflection on our own lives.
Rather than deciphering yet another “self-help” book this Lent, I suggest you pick up Dante’s Purgatory accompanied by Spiritual Direction of Dante: Climbing Mount Purgatory by Father Pearson. Unlike any secular “self-improvement” book, Dante not only shows us what needs to change in our lives, but also reminds us of the hope inherent in this process, as represented by the doctrine of purgatory.
Spiritual direction of Dante
Ascent of Mount Purgatory
By Father Paul Pearson
TAN Books, 2020
390 pages $24.95
Order: tanbooks.com or (800) 437-5876