Caldecott, 4: A Voice of Gold


Today I received in the mail one of the last books written by my teacher Ralph McInerny, Dante and the Blessed Virgin (Notre Dame, 2010). And it so happens that my son is writing a paper on Dante for his freshman English class at St Thomas High School. I have been immersed in the Commedia for the last few days.

The visit by Stratford Caldecott provoked us to ask how is it that each discipline will find the logos and be lead to the vision of the whole? How will each discipline finds its way to the contemplation of beauty?

Dante’s Commedia is a reminder of the scope of our problem and its “solution.” I cannot resist: “When I had journeyed half of our life’s way, I found myself within a shadowed forest, for I had lost the path that does not stray.” And he says “that savage forest” was “dense and difficult.” Ah — so begins the journey. Well, I have spent the last week with my son journeying down into the dark realm of the inferno among the lost, and we have trudged the circles around the mount of purgation, finally emerging with Beatrice to glimpse paradise. Believe me, the dark allegories speak much of academia. I am haunted by the image of Geryon (Inf xvii.10-18). But rather than linger there, let us make for the bright light.

McInerny cuts right to the heart of all: the Blessed Virgin Mary. In chapter four, “The Queen of heaven” he takes us to canto 23 of the Paradiso in order to note “the role of Dante’s personal devotion to Mary, which complements the recognition of the universal role of the Mother of God.” (103) We find this verse: “The name of that beautiful flower that every morning and evening/ I invoke, drew my entire soul and reminded me of the greater focus” (Par 23.88-90) In a rich chapter, McInerny explains the images, the theology, and philosophy in this ultimate destination of the journey. Looking back, Dante recognizes that Beatrice first awakened the love that rises to heaven (Par 26.15). And in the struggle to love the good more perfectly, McInerny says “we need the help of friends, the support of the community in which we live, and above all, God’s grace.” (121)

We need the conspiracy of Mary, St. Lucy, and Beatrice to send us our Virgil. (Inferno, canto 2). As Dorothy Sayers points out in her notes to the Inferno, those women are a “threefold image of divine grace in its various manifestations.” (82) They send Virgil. Sayers explains Virgil’s mission as a preparation for grace because Dante is not so far lost that he cannot respond to “the voice of poetry and of human reason; and this under Grace, may yet be used to lead him back to God.” We must feebly imitate Virgil in our various ways and means. The love of the lovely must be roused in each dim and narrow path.

But thou — go thou! Lift up thy voice of gold;
Try every needful means to find and reach
And free him, that my heart may rest consoled.
(Inf. 2.67-69)

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