Monday, December 18, 2017

Dante in Advent at Eighth Day Books

Yesterday, a professor from Wyoming Catholic College stopped in at Eighth Day Books on his way home to celebrate Christmas and spoke on Dante and Advent: “Dante and Waiting: The Poet and the Purgatorio for Advent.” Jason M. Baxter is associate professor of fine arts and humanities at WCC. His first book comes out in the spring of 2018 from Baker Academic:

Dante's Divine Comedy is widely considered to be one of the most significant works of literature ever written. It is renowned not only for its ability to make truths known but also for its power to make them loved. It captures centuries of thought on sin, love, community, moral living, God's work in history, and God's ineffable beauty. Like a Gothic cathedral, the beauty of this great poem can be appreciated at first glance, but only with a guide can its complexity and layers of meaning be fully comprehended.

This accessible introduction to Dante, which also serves as a primer to the
Divine Comedy, helps readers better appreciate and understand Dante's spiritual masterpiece. Jason Baxter, an expert on Dante, covers all the basic themes of the Divine Comedy, such as sin, redemption, virtue, and vice. The book contains a general introduction to Dante and a specific introduction to each canticle (Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso), making it especially well suited for classroom and homeschool use.

You may read a substantial excerpt from the book here.

There was a nice gathering at Eighth Day yesterday afternoon: I brought a red velvet cake to add some decadence to the event. Professor Baxter spoke about mostly the antechamber to Purgatory where souls wait to enter the Gates of Purgatory. The angel who guards the gate has been told by St. Peter to err on the side of mercy. Baxter said the souls in this ante-Purgatory learn that 1) this is a place of great mercy; 2) the divisions of humanity are healed there; and 3) complacency is overcome and their view of the world is changed. He gave the examples of Manfred, the son of Frederick II (who is in the Inferno), the grandson of Empress Constance; Dante's friend Belacqua; Buonconte of Montefeltro, and others. Manfred and Buonconte are there in spite of their violence and cruelty because of just a moment of repentance before their deaths; Belacqua is too lazy to take advantage of the mercy that will be offered him if he climbs to Purgatory's gates. Sapia of Siena is on her way to Purgatory only because "poor Peter the comb-seller" had prayed for her.

It was a good presentation as we discussed the mysterious balance of free will and God's mercy and grace: one little human gesture of repentance and desire was well matched by God's gifts to help the soul come closer to Him in Paradise, after enduring purification and achieving the virtues necessary to be ready to see God and have God see him or her.

I hope to obtain a review copy.

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