Pope Francis has issued a statement commemorating the 750th anniversary of Dante Alighieri’s birth. He said, in part:

Dante is, in part, a prophet of hope, a herald of the possibility of redemption, of liberation, of profound change for every man and woman, of all humanity. He invites us once again to regain the lost sense of our human journey, and hope to see again the bright horizon where the full dignity of the human person shines. Honoring Dante Alighieri, which Paul VI already invited us to do, we shall enrich ourselves by his experience to cross the many dark woods spread in our land, and happily make our pilgrimage through history to reach the end dreamed of and desired by every man: “the love that moves the sun and all the other stars.”


Somebody please send the Holy Father a copy of How Dante Can Save Your Life. He’s basically blurbing the book here.

I received a nice note from a reader of this blog today. He said:

ittybittydanteRod, your new book is fantastic.  What a great introduction to Dante and how his insights can be applied practically to one’s own life.  I love it and will keep it forever.  I am going to have my children read it, one by one, when they come of age, and we’ll discuss it together.  You have explicated the spiritual wisdom in the Comedy, and illustrated it via the life of Rod Dreher.  Bravo!

Some people have told me that they haven’t read my book because they think Dante is too hard, or not for them. Don’t let that put you off of it! Seriously, you don’t have to have read any Dante to profit from my book, and even if you never do read Dante, I think you will learn a great deal from this book, which is to say, from Dante himself (I’m just the guy making him understandable to non-literary types).

Don’t take it from me; take it from Pope Francis: you need to read Dante to be liberated, to change, and to find your way out of the dark wood to look up and see the stars. David Brooks is reading How Dante, I see. Excerpt from a great Crux News interview with him:

[Brooks]: And second, and this is certainly true of me, there is so much online that is mental candy. It just distracts you from reading books that are deeper and more spiritual. I’m a big believer that everybody should have one spiritual book going at all times, that you should have a book on your nightstand going at all times. And when you’re completely addicted to your phone, it can keep you from that.

Q: What’s the spiritual book you’re reading right now?

A: It’s called “The Quest for a Moral Compass.” It’s quite a good history of moral philosophy. I have that book and then I have a book called “How Dante Can Save Your Life” by Rod Dreher, which is about a guy who had a midlife crisis and used Dante to get out of it.

UPDATE: Here’s an excerpt from How Dante Can Save Your Life, on what Dante learned from St. Francis of Assisi:

Francis of Assisi, one of the greatest saints of the Catholic Church, died four decades before Dante Alighieri was born. The spoiled-brat son of a silk merchant, Francis became disillusioned by material wealth, and in defiance of his father, took up a life of poverty in the service of God. Francis received a mystical call to rebuild the Roman church, which was falling into spiritual ruin because of its great wealth and earthly power. Francis’s voluntary poverty, his willingness to renounce everything for the sake of God, renewed and transformed Western Christianity – and the heart and mind of Dante.

The pilgrim never speaks to St. Francis in Paradiso, but he hears the great Dominican theologian Thomas Aquinas sing the praises of the Franciscan founder in the Circle of the Sun. In Dante’s time, the Dominicans and the Franciscans, the two major reform religious orders of the Middle Ages, were often bitter rivals. In Paradiso, the poet has Dominicans praise Franciscans, and vice versa, to show how if we loved as we ought, we would throw off the yokes of pride and envy, and work harmoniously.

The Dante scholars Bill Cook and Ron Herzman contend that St. Francis was a central figure in teaching the exiled poet how to survive his suffering and to redeem it. Francis is the anti-Farinata: where the Florentine noble took great pride in his wealth, position, and family background, Francis renounced his own, in the belief that riches and social position were snares for the soul. Cook and Herzman say it is precisely Francis’s humility and poverty that the once-proud Dante needs to survive his own impoverishment and ruin, and to allow them to become an instrument of God’s peace.

“Dante, the poet of exile, must learn to do without. Franciscan poverty teaches Dante that it is possible to face the circumstances of his exile by embracing them,” Cook and Herzman write. And Francis’s humility, which taught him that the mercy of God is the only thing that saved him, gave the poet Dante, who was aware of his own extraordinary gifts, the grace to make public confession of his sin.

“Like the Francis who says that if great sinners had been given the same graces that he had, they would have responded to them better than he did,” argue the scholars, “Dante asserts that his very salvation is more an act of mercy than of merit, and without that mercy he would be with the likes of Farinata, Pier delle Vigne, and Ulysses.”

This is why Dante is not Ulysses, and not the writer Brunetto Latini encouraged him to be. He did not follow his own star to his destiny. Rather, the poet’s humility taught him to prostrate himself before the wisdom of those who came before him, and who charted a path to the glory of God. Like Socrates, Dante’s greatness in part was knowing what he did not know.

So writes the man from St. Francisville…