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In this essay, Marsha Daigle-Williamson notes that in the Divine Comedy, Dante sets up parallels between his pilgrim and St. Paul, especially in the third part of his poem, to suggest that he is a new Pauline apostle. However, because of an overlapping identification between Dante the poet and Dante the pilgrim, by extension the poet is presenting himself indirectly as an apostle in the Pauline tradition. Daigle-Williamson looks at how Dante constructs this claim and then examines whether it is valid or not. Ms. Daigle-Williamson, formerly a Professor of English at Spring Arbor University, now teaches in the university’s Graduate School of Education.

St. Paul is mentioned first at the outset of TheDivine Comedy when Dante’s pilgrim is about to embark on a journey through the three realms of the afterlife to see the souls of the damned, those who are being purified, and the blessed. Uttering his famous protest about his unworthiness for this journey to his guide Virgil, the pilgrim says, “I am not Aeneas; I am not Paul” (“Io non Enëa, io non Paulo, sono”[Inf. 2.32].)1 In the Purgatorio, Dante refers to Paul once.2 In the Paradiso, Dante mentions his name twice (Par. 18.131; 18.136) and refers to him periphrastically three times (Par. 21.127-128; Par. 24.62; and 28.138). However, unlike other well-known apostles and saints who appear in Dante’s heaven, Paul is nowhere in sight. It is assumed he is in the company of the blessed, but why does Dante’s pilgrim not see this famous apostle?

Although in one sense, Dante’s pilgrim sense represents Everyman during this spiritual journey, Dante structures certain events, especially in the Paradiso, to link the pilgrim’s journey experiences to Paul’s life and mission.3 Paul’s presence, then, is felt indirectly throughout this third section of the poem because of the pilgrim’s words and actions. However, since the identity of Dante the poet overlaps with that of Dante the pilgrim, the link between the pilgrim and Paul necessarily implies an association between the poet and Paul.4 And in fact, Dante does believe he is engaged in apostolic activity as he writes his Commedia.

In his “Letter to Can Grande,” in which he dedicates the Paradiso to that nobleman, Dante explains the overall intent of his poem. Although the literal subject of his poem is the state of souls after death, its allegorical subject is how “man…in the exercise of his free will…is deserving of reward or punishment by justice.”5 This of course is in line with Paul’s teaching that at judgment “everyone [will] receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad”(2 Cor. 5:10).6 His purpose, as stated in his letter, is not merely for philosophical or moral instruction “but for a practical purpose,” that is, to effect change: “the aim of the whole and of the part is to remove those living in this life from a state of misery, and to bring them to a state of happiness.”7 Dante’s purpose corresponds to Paul’s self-described mission in Acts 26:18: “To open [people’s] eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light…so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith.”

Dante’s understanding of the essence of The Divine Comedy is expressed not only in his letter but in his poem as well. When he refers to it as “the sacred poem”(“lo sacrato poema” [Par. 23.62]) and the “sacred poem to which both heaven and earth have set their hand” (“…`l poema sacro / al quale ha posto mano e cielo eterra” [Par. 25.12]), Dante is asserting that his poem is inspired by God. James Collins believes that Dante’s poetry can “be called ‘sacred poetry’ since Dante attributes the source of his inspiration not to himself or to some special talent of his but to God Himself. It…contemplates everything with the eyes of faith and sees all in the light of God’s grace.”8 There is general agreement among critics that Dante believed he was communicating biblical truths that were intended to have a salvific effect on his readers.9

Dante’s poetic strategy in achieving his overall purpose—and in legitimizing his literary enterprise as apostolic—includes an identification of his pilgrim (and himself) with Paul. To see how Dante accomplishes this, 1) we will examine Dante’s narrative methodology for constructing parallels between the pilgrim and Paul; 2) we will look at the significance of those specific parallels; 3) we will identify which parallels are strictly fictive and which ones involve Dante the poet; and 4) we will examine parallels between Dante and Paul that exist outside of the poem and would have been known by his first readers.

Dante achieves the links between his pilgrim and Paul primarily through the narrative method of biblical typology.10 In brief, in biblical typology the narration concerning a person or an event foreshadows the circumstances surrounding another person or event. The similarities can be in the substance or in the attendant details or both, but they establish an intrinsic connection between particular persons or events. In medieval exegesis, generally the two persons or events are referred to as “figura” and “fulfillment.”11 A person or an event in the Old Testament, called the “figura,” can point to another person or event, called the “fulfillment.” Moses, leading the Jews to the Promised Land, is a figura who foreshadows Christ, the fulfillment. In turn, the fulfillment can be reenacted later by another person or event, which A. C. Charity calls “a recapitulation” or “sub-fulfillment.”12 Christ’s death is reenacted by Stephen because similarly, he forgives those who are putting him to death as he commends his spirit to God (Acts 7:59-60).

In line with this typological method, Dante’s narration concerning his pilgrim and his experiences, especially in the Paradiso, is designed to reenact or “recapitulate” the substance and the details of Paul’s conversion experience, his heavenly visions and his subsequent ministry, thereby establishing him as a “sub-fulfillment” of the apostle Paul. However, because of the partial identification between the pilgrim and the poet, the poet is also presenting himself as a “sub-fulfillment.” Dante’s typological parallels, then, are intended to indicate the claim that Paul and his mission are being reenacted in another time and place.

The initial, and obvious, similarity in the Paradiso is the raptus, the pilgrim’s being taken up into heaven, which recalls Paul’s raptus into the heavens (2 Cor.12:2-4). As Teodolinda Barolini comments: “In choosing Paul as a model, Dante chooses a precursor who ‘went’ as well as ‘saw.’”13 Guy P. Raffa goes so far as to say that Dante’s pilgrim is not only a parallel to Paul but surpasses him: “Dante’s wayfarer…[will] see and hear things in the heavens that surpass the vision of even his chosen predecessor [Paul].”14 Paul does not know if it was an out-of-body experience and neither does Dante’s pilgrim. Paul’s statement, “whether in the body or out of the body, I cannot tell; God knoweth” (2 Cor. 12:3b) becomes paralleled in the pilgrim’s paraphrase about not knowing if he was in or out of the body: “If I was only that part of me which Thou createdst last [the soul], Thou knowest” (“S’i’ era sol di me quel che creasti / novellamente,…/ tu ’l sai…” [Par. 1.73-75]). Paul cannot tell some of the things he heard: he “heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Cor. 12:4b). Likewise, the pilgrim is instructed not to tell certain things he heard.15 Because Dante compares Paul and his pilgrim explicitly on some of these specific points regarding the raptus in his “Letter to CanGrande,”16 this pilgrim’s journey cannot be considered merely as “one of several medieval astral journeys to wisdom modeled on Cicero’s Dream of Scipio,” as one critic believes.17 Clearly it is designed to reenact a Pauline journey.

In addition to the raptus, Paul’s blinding by heavenly light is also reproduced typologically as Dante continues to present his pilgrim as a “sub-fulfillment” of Paul. Paul experiences blindness only once, but the episode is described three times in Acts with small variations: once by the author of Acts (9:3-9) and twice when Paul himself retells the event (Acts 22:6-11; 26:13-18). Dante’s pilgrim, in a variation of this pattern, is blinded three different times as he journeys through the nine spheres of the Ptolemaic heavens and into the Empyrean.

Although James Gaffney believes that “Dante is blinded…twice in Paradise,”18 it seems clears that in fact there are three occasions. Given Dante’s predilection for triads, the fact that the Pauline event is recounted three times in Acts, and especially the fact that Dante is using typological methodology, it seems likely that Dante intended three occasions of blindness for his pilgrim purposefully. Kevin Brownlee does list three incidents in the Paradiso “as recall[ing] the Apostle’s pre-conversionary blindness on the road to Damascus,”19 but he gives no details and makes no distinctions between the three. Dante constructs each of these incidents to reenact Paul’s experience in different ways by including various narrative details that, taken together, recall the substantive elements and nearly every minor detail of the original Pauline episode.

The first incident of blindness occurs when Dante’s pilgrim sees Christ first as a “living light” in the eighth sphere of Fixed Stars:“Through the living light the shining substance showed so bright in my eyes that they could not bear it” (“per laviva luce trasparea / la lucente sustanza tanto chiara / nel viso mio, che non lasostenea” [Par. 23.31-33]). As his initial vision of Christ, it recalls Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus because that is his first vision of Christ. The pilgrim’s temporary blindness is removed through the healing power of Beatrice’s eyes (Par. 23.46-48). The reader learns later, during the second healing incident, that she has the same healing power as Ananias, who prayed for Paul’s sight to be restored, so a Pauline allusion is present here even if that becomes clear only in retrospect.20

The second temporary blindness occurs when the pilgrim peers too intently to see if the body of the apostle John is present in heaven (Par. 25.118-121).21 As many critics note, Dante links this episode to Paul’s blinding on the road to Damascus and subsequent healing (Acts 9:10-18) through an explicit comparison between Beatrice and Ananias: “The Lady who guides thee through this divine region has in her look the same virtue as had the hand of Ananias” (“…la donna che per questadia / region ti conduce, ha nello squardo / la virtù ch’ebbe la man d’Anania” [Par.26.10-12]).22

The links in this episode, however, go well beyond this obvious similarity and include the typological recapitulation of a number of details. When Paul is blinded, “the men which journeyed with him stood speechless” (Acts 9:7); when Dante’s pilgrim is blinded, the heavenly host in that sphere becomes silent (Par. 25.130-132). When Paul is blinded, he engages in dialogue (with Jesus); when Dante’s pilgrim is blinded he also converses with a heavenly being (the apostle John)—the only time he speaks during a blinding. Paul is afraid of the light and the voice (“tremans ac stupens” [Acts 9:6a]).23 Similarly, Dante’s pilgrim, troubled about his loss of sight (Par. 25.136), experiences fear this time (Par. 26.1, 19). Paul is reassured—through a vision of Ananias coming and laying his hands on him (Acts9:12)—that his sight will be restored. So, too, Dante pilgrim is reassured he will be healed when he is told that his vision is “confounded, but not destroyed” (“smarritae non defunta” [Par. 6.9]). The phrase echoes the cadence of verses in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9: “perplexed, but not in despair,…cast down, but not destroyed,” and this is yet another way in which Paul is brought to mind.

In one significant similarity, Paul is challenged about what he is doing: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:4b); Dante’s pilgrim is challenged about trying to see John’s body: “Why dost thou dazzle thyself to see that which has no place here?” (“Perchè t’abbagli / per veder cosa che qui non ha loco?” [Par. 25.122-123]). Paul, prior to his blinding, was on his way to Damascus to continue his persecution of Christians, so his Damascus vision operates as a corrective and redirects him in a profound way. In an analogous way but to a less serious degree, Dante’s pilgrim is blinded because he too needs correction: it is curiosity rather than a holy desire that makes him strain to see if John’s body is in Paradise, so he needs redirection as well.

James Gaffney argues that “The interpretation of Dante’s blindness as a punishment for a fault of curiosity finds no positive support in the text” and that it is unnecessary “to understand John’s words as a reproof and it is incongruous to do so.”24 However, taking into account the broader framework of Dante’s deliberate, typological Pauline parallelism in which the pilgrim is reenacting Paul, he is being corrected and redirected as well. Joseph Cremona compares this scene to another instance of the pilgrim’s curiosity needing correction in the Paradiso, when he asks Adam four questions and Adam answers the third one first: “in Adam’s reordering, [there is] a rebuke to…Dante’s eager but uncritical curiosity, similar to…the curiosity that led him to peer too closely at [John].”25 Barbara Reynolds also interprets curiosity as the basis of the blinding here: “The general significance seems to be that irrelevant and superstitious curiosity can blind one, temporarily, to the truth of God.”26

The third incident of blindness occurs in Paradiso 30 when Dante’s pilgrim leaves the physical universe and ascends into the heaven of the Empyrean. Like his first case of blindness, this one occurs prior to a heavenly vision—this time of all the host of heaven (God, the angels, and the redeemed). It is here that the pilgrim is surrounded and blinded by a heavenly light: “A vivid light shone round about me and left me so swathed in the veil of its effulgence that nothing was visible to me” (“…mi circunfulseluce viva; / e lasciommi fasciato di tal velo / delsuo fulgor, che nulla m’appariva” [Par. 30.49-51]).

Critics have noted the obvious similarity between this light and the light that envelops Paul on the Damascus road primarily because of Dante’s use of“circunfulse” in this verse. Dante’s verb is a clear echo of the Vulgate’s verb “circumfulsit” in Acts 9:3b when Paul is blinded: “subito circumfulsit [emphasis mine] eum lux de caelo”; “suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven.” Although generally critics list Acts 22:6 as the Vulgate source for Dante’s verb, actually the word “circumfulsit” in relation to the Pauline event appears first in Acts 9 and is then repeated in Acts 22:6 and 26:13, for a total of three times.27

In addition to the vivid light, however, many other similarities to the Pauline episode are reproduced in this third incident. In Acts, the light comes “suddenly” (“subito” in the Vulgate in Acts 9:3b and 22:6). For Dante’s pilgrim, this heavenly light comes “like sudden lightning” (“Come subito lampo…” [Par. 30.46]). Paul indicates that his blinding occurred at noon, and Dante evokes a midday timeframe for the reader when his pilgrim surmises that it is noon on earth.28 The pilgrim’s healing on this occasion comes as he hears Beatrice explain that all souls are prepared to enter the Empyrean by this enveloping light: “No sooner had these brief words reached my mind than…new vision was kindled in me” (“Non fur più tosto dentre a me venute / queste parole brievi, [che]…/…/…di novella vista mi raccesi”[Par. 30.55-58]). Paul is healed when Ananias speaks the Lord’s word to him and lays hands on him, so Paul’s healing could be attributed to the word he hears as well as to Ananias’ hands.

The details reproduced in the three incidents account for nearly all of the details in the Pauline episode. As Christopher Kleinhenz notes about Dante’s approach to biblical material in general, Dante, “through a remarkable conjunction of individual words, complete phrases, and images…is able to draw our attention to the specific biblical text and its larger referential context.”29 In this case, Dante has included the different details about Paul’s blindness in three separate instances to continue building a case for the pilgrim’s clear identification with Paul.

In addition to the raptus and Paul’s blindness, another set of typological parallels between Paul and Dante’s pilgrim concerns the articulation of faith before church authorities. Fourteen years after his Damascus vision, Paul goes to Jerusalem to communicate with the elders of the church about the gospel he preached to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:2, 7), and the elders who approve his message are “James, Cephas [Peter] and John” (Gal. 2:9). Dante’s pilgrim, as a new Pauline figure, is now in the “heavenly Jerusalem,” so it is fitting that the same three apostles would examine the beliefs of this “new apostle”—which they do in Paradiso 24-26—so that he and his understanding of the faith can also be approved.

Paul gives no details about his encounter with the three “pillars” (“columnae”[Gal. 2:9]) of the church in Jerusalem, but he does explain his faith before Jewish and Roman authorities on three occasions (Acts 22:1-21; Acts 24:10b-21; Acts 26:2-23). Dante’s pilgrim, in a typological variation, explains his beliefs three separate times as he converses with each apostle, and he makes use of Pauline phrasing to do so.

The pilgrim’s examinations by Peter, James, and John in the sphere of Fixed Stars—on faith, hope, and love, respectively—follow the sequence of these theological virtues as listed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:13a.30 Just as Paul exhorts the Corinthian community to “examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5a), Beatrice encourages Peter to “test this man on points light and grave as thou seest good regarding the faith” (“tenta costui di punti lievi e gravi, / come ti piace, intorno della fede” [Par. 24.37-38]). Paul encourages Timothy to “study to show yourself approved unto God” (2 Tim. 2:15), and Dante’s pilgrim is compared here to a university student (“come il baccellier” [Par. 24.46]) undergoing an oral exam and seeking to be approved. In his response to Peter ’s question about the definition of faith, Dante’s pilgrim—quoting directly from the New Testament for the only time in the Paradiso—uses Paul’s words from Hebrews 11:1: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (“fede è sustanza dicose sperate, / ed argomento delle non parventi” [Par. 24.64-65]). The pilgrim acknowledges that the source of his definition is “the truthful pen” of Peter ’s “dear brother” (“…’l verace stilo /…del tuo caro frate” [Par. 24.61-62]).31 Paul proclaims to the governor Felix: “I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets” (Acts 24:14). In a parallel to that faith statement, Dante’s pilgrim proclaims that he believes in the one true God (“Io credoin uno Dio / solo ed etterno…” [Par. 24.130-131]) and in “the truth that rains downhence through Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” (“la verità che quinci piove/ per Moïsè, per profeti, e per salmi” [Par. 24.135-136]).

In the second and third of the pilgrim’s examinations—on hope and then love—naturally the content focuses more on James and John and their writings, but Pauline wording is still present in his answers. During the examination by James, Dante’s pilgrim is again compared to a student (“Come discente…” [Par. 25.64]) who wants to be approved. In response to John’s examination, the pilgrim says that one of the “cords” God has used to draw him (“…altre corde / [per] tirarti verso lui…” [Par.26.49-50]) is “the death he bore that I might live” (“la morte ch’el sostennne perch’ioviva” [Par. 26.59]). This response paraphrases Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians 5:15 that Christ “died for all, that they which live should…live…unto him.”

While the pilgrim is undergoing his examinations in this sphere, a very minor detail emerges that demonstrates the extent to which Dante attempts to identify his pilgrim completely with Paul. When the pilgrim arrives in this sphere of Fixed Stars, he enters the constellation of Castor and Pollux—the sign under which Dante was born (Par. 22.118-120). His arrival occurs just prior to entering the Empyrean, which Beatrice calls “that Rome of which Christ is Roman” (“quella Roma ondeCristo è romano” [Purg. 32.102]). Since Dante’s metaphor for his journey through Paradise is one of sailing in “my ship” (“mio legno” [Par. 2.3]), then he is metaphorically about “to sail to the heavenly Rome,” so to speak. The parallel with Paul here is that when traveling to Rome, he sails on the only ship in the New Testament that is identified specifically: “a ship of Alexandria…whose sign was Castor and Pollux” (Acts 28:11).

Clearly, the interview, the setting, and the characters in these conversations are fictive, but the line between the pilgrim and the poet begins to be blurred here. The answers given by the fictive pilgrim are, in substance, the answers that Dante the poet would himself have given as a believing, fourteenth-century Catholic poet. The purpose of both men’s visions is, of course, their personal salvation. Saul has been acting in opposition to God by persecuting Christians, and his vision turns the course of his life completely around. Dante’s pilgrim needs a journey through the afterlife because he is lost and confused (“smarrito” [Inf. 2.4]) and needs to have his life turned around. He acknowledges his spiritual condition himself in the famous opening lines of the poem: “In the middle of the journey of our life [age 35, according to Psalm 90:10] I came to myself within a dark wood where the straightway was lost” (“Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita / mi ritrovai per una selvaoscura / che la diritta via era smarrita” [Inf. 1.1-3]). His otherworldly journey is the only way he can be rescued from the dark wood and redirected to the right path. However, once the pilgrim has journeyed through and out of Hell (signifying rejection of sin) and climbed the seven ledges of Mount Purgatory (signifying cleansing from the seven sinful inclinations of fallen human nature and growth in their opposite virtues), he has been delivered from the dark wood of his confusion and has been morally restored (although he still needs revelation and teaching of theological truths).

However, having been divinely rescued for the sake of their own salvation (on the Damascus road and in the dark wood respectively), both men later learn that their visions are also—and perhaps primarily—for the sake of others. Describing his mission to others, Paul says that God sent him “to open [people’s] eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith” (Acts 26:18). Early in the poem Dante describes the purpose of Paul’s journey to heaven this way: “That he might bring [back] confirmation of that faith which is the beginning of the way of salvation” (“per recarne conforto a quellafede / ch’ è principio alla via di salvazione” [Inf. 2.29-30]).

The pilgrim receives the first indication that his journey is for more than just his sake in the Garden of Eden at the top of Mount Purgatory. Beatrice explains that he needs to write down what he sees there “for the world’s good which lives ill” (“in pro del mondo che mal vive” [Purg. 32.103]). In conversation with James in the Paradiso, the pilgrim is told that God has allowed him to come face to face with the heavenly court of the redeemed before death “so that, having seen the truth of this court, thou mayest with that strengthen in thyself and others the hope that begets true love below” (“sì che veduto il ver di questa corta, / la spene che lagiùbene innamora / in te ed in altrui di ciò conforte” [Par. 25.43-45]). Dante’s phrase “the hope that begets true love” comes from Colossians 1 where Paul teaches that “the hope which is laid up for you in heaven” (v. 5) leads to “the love which ye have for all the saints” (v. 4). While the purpose of Paul’s heavenly journey was the confirmation of faith (Inf. 2.29), the purpose of this journey is to strengthen the hope of believers. Although these purposes overlap, the difference in emphasis can somewhat be accounted for by the different audiences that each is addressing. As Ronald Herzman notes, “Paul had to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth…Dante, on the other hand, has to spread the gospel to his fellow Christians,…the nominal Christians of his day.”32 Dante’s poem, however, does present an exposition of basic gospel truths, so its teaching can be said to repeat Paul’s message.

When Paul and the pilgrim receive divine commissioning to report the supernatural things that they have seen and heard, the line between Dante the pilgrim and Dante the poet becomes even more blurred. Through Ananias’ prophecy, Paulis told, “you will be a witness for him [Jesus] to all men of what you have seen and heard” (Acts 22:14). Later, Paul relates that on the Damascus road he was told by Christ, “I…make thee a minister and a witness both of those things which thou hast seen and of those things in which I will appear to thee” (Acts 26:16).

In an analogous mode, Dante’s pilgrim is told on four occasions to report specific things that he has seen and heard. Earlier, in the Purgatorio, Beatrice instructs the pilgrim that, upon his return, he is to write down what he has just seen in the Garden of Eden (an allegorical representation of Dante’s understanding of church history): “What thou seest do thou write when thou hast returned yonder” (“quelchevedi, / ritornato di là, fa che tu scrive” [Purg. 32.104-105]). She also tells him to repeat her very words: “Take note, and even as these words are uttered by me teach them” (“Tu nota; e sì come da me son porte, / così queste parole segna”[Purg. 33.52-53]).

The allegorical scene in the garden is fictional but on the next three occasions, which all occur in the Paradiso, the specific messages the pilgrim is told to report transcend the fiction of the poem. When Peter Damian (a Benedictine abbot and later a cardinal) is asked why he is the designated speaker on Saturn, the sphere of contemplatives, he is told that the answers to some questions lie “in the abyss of the Eternal Ordinance” (“nel abisso / dell’ etterno statuto” [Par. 21.94-95]) and that this teaching should be conveyed when he returns to earth (“al mondo mortal, quando tu riedi, / questo rapporta” [97-98]). The message that there are mysteries of Divine Providence that are not given to people to understand is a standard element of Christian teaching. Next, the apostle John tells the pilgrim to report to the world below (“e questo apporterai nel mondo vostro” [Par. 25.129]) that, contrary to some popular legends, his body is not yet in heaven. This message also accords with the accepted theological opinion of Dante’s day and is not merely a literary fiction on the poet’s part. Perhaps most importantly, the apostle Peter, after delivering an invective against corruption in the papacy, instructs the pilgrim to repeat what he has just heard: “And thou, my son, who…shall return again below, open thy mouth and do not hide what I hide not” (“E tu, figliuol,…/ ancor giù tornerai,apri la bocca, / e non asconder quel ch’io non ascondo” (Par. 27.64-66). Corruption in the church existed on many levels in Dante’s time, and it needed to be addressed .By being told to open his mouth boldly (which recalls Paul’s request for prayer in Ephesians 6:19-20 to speak boldly) and being called “son” by Peter, the pilgrim becomes linked intimately to the apostolic family in yet another way.

Although it is the pilgrim who is commissioned by the first pope to address church leaders when he returns to earth, it is of course the poet who will accomplish that task and he does so in two ways. First, Dante writes a poem in which invectives are delivered by several saints against a variety of abuses. In addition to Peter ’s description of abuses in the papacy (Par. 27.22-27; 46-60), Thomas Aquinas speaks about the abuses in the Dominican order (Par. 11.124-139); Bonaventure speaks about those in the Franciscan order (Par. 12.112-126); and Benedict speaks about those in monastic life (Par. 22.73-93). Peter Damien decries the vanity and gluttony of prelates (Par. 21.118-120; 130-135), and Beatrice denounces preaching that is unorthodox and watered down (Par. 29.70-126). In all cases, these objections were relevant to the historical condition of the church in Dante’s time.

Second, the poet undertakes that task in his own life as an active Catholic layman. While he was writing The Divine Comedy, Dante sent a letter to the Italian cardinals in 1314 in which his message and self-description recall Paul. He urges the cardinals to repent for leading the church and the sheep astray and defends his credentials for upbraiding church leaders this way: “Verily I am among of the least sheep of the pasture of Jesus Christ….By the grace…not of riches, but of God, I am what I am, and the zeal of his house hath eaten me up.”33 His comments and phrasing are of course reminiscent of Paul’s defense of his credentials to the Corinthians: “I am the least of the apostles….But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:8).34 Dante also paraphrases Paul when he warns the cardinals, “make not light of the patience of Him who awaits your repentance,” recalling Paul’s challenge to the Romans: “Despisest thou the riches of his…forbearance…not knowing that the goodness ofGod leadeth thee to repentance?” (Rom. 2”4).35 In his letter to the Florentines in 1311, Dante describes himself as having a “prophetic soul [or mind]” (“praesagamens mea”),36 and warns them of impending judgment for their rebellion and greed in much the same way that Paul warns the unrepentant of coming judgment in Romans 2”5.37

Although Dante’s pilgrim is charged with a prophetic mission to church leaders by Peter, the larger charge of reporting all that he sees and hears in his otherworldly journey is commissioned by his ancestor, the crusader Cacciaguida. This event occurs in the central canto of Paradiso (Par. 17), signaling the importance of the event.38 Paul’s initial commission comes through a prophet (Ananias in Acts 22.14-16). Dante sets up a typological parallel for his pilgrim’s commissioning by the narrative implication that Cacciaguida is a prophet as well. When the light of Cacciaguida’s soul becomes brighter as he responds to the pilgrim’s questions, he is compared to a burning coal (“carbone in fiamma” [Par. 16.28-29]), evoking the burning coal that purified the lips of the prophet Isaiah in 6:6-7. This comparison can be counted as one of many examples of the Dantean procedure that Peter S. Hawkins refers to when he says, “A substantial biblical text, with many implications for the poem, can be called up by a single word.”39 In addition, Dante describes Cacciaguida as speaking “not with dark sayings…but in plain words and express terms” (“Nè per ambage…/…/ ma per chiare parole e con precise / latin…”[Par. 17.31, 34-35]). The wording here recalls God’s approach in speaking to Moses—“With him I will speak…clearly, and not in dark speech” (Num. 12:10a)—and serves to further underscore the divine nature of this commissioning. In this prophetic and divine context, Cacciaguida commissions the pilgrim to “put away every falsehood and make plain all thy vision” (“…rimossa ogni menzogna, / tutta tua visïon fa manifesta” [Par. 17.127-128]).40 Paul’s mission focuses on the cross of Christ, and he glories in preaching of the cross (1 Cor. 1:18; Gal. 6:14a); Dante’s pilgrim is commissioned in the only heavenly sphere in which the symbol of the cross appears, the sphere of Mars. As Jeffrey T. Schnapp notes, “Dante’s literary vocation—the earthly articulation of otherworldly truth—thus appears simultaneously as visionary prophecy and as self-sacrifice, the taking on of his personal cross.”41

A spiritual experience that leads to a subsequent mission for the sake of others could point to the ministry of an apostle (apostolos, “one who is sent”). That is clearly the case for Paul, but it also now seems to become the case for Dante’s pilgrim as well. It was required that each of original twelve apostles (and Judas’ replacement) had seen Christ and been with Him during his early ministry (as referenced in Acts 1:21-22). Although not one of the the original twelve, Paul is, nevertheless, an apostle in the post-Pentecost church age. In arguing his credentials to the skeptical Corinthians, he points to his personal vision of Christ as one of his qualifications for that ministry: “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” (1 Cor. 9:1). Following Paul’s line of argument, Dante’s pilgrim will have that same credential for apostleship because not only has he received supernatural revelation and divine commissioning but, at the end of his journey in the Paradiso, he too will have “seen Jesus our Lord.”42

Although scholars have recognized the obvious major links between the pilgrim and Paul, there is considerable divergence as to when Dante’s pilgrim becomes identified definitively with Paul. For Kevin Brownlee, the identification occurs from the moment of what he calls the “famous double denial” in Inferno 2—“Iam not Aeneas; I am not Paul”—because “he is in effect offering that he is [italics original]…Paul.”43 Likewise, V. Stanley Benfell posits, “The parallel between Dante and St. Paul…becomes explicit as early as Inferno II.44 However, the pilgrim’s denial that he is like Paul seems to establish only a negative parallel—and certainly not any kind of typological parallel—so a clear identification with Paul at this point is not warranted.

Other critics point to later events in the poem. According to Peter S. Hawkins, “From the outset of the Paradiso Dante makes it clear that his pilgrim is modeled on St. Paul;” at this early point in the journey, “suddenly the ‘I am not Paul’ becomes an open identification with him.”45 It is true that parallels with Paul occur at the beginning of the Paradiso, but parallels, by themselves, merely indicate similaritiesa nd do not necessarily signify an intimate identification. Some critics stipulate it occurs at the pilgrim’s entrance into the Empyrean in Paradiso 30. Robert Hollander, for example, says that it is at this point that “Dante is, figurally speaking,…becoming a second Paul.”46 Likewise, Prudence Shaw believes that the Paradiso 30 event during which the pilgrim is surrounded by light is what “confirm[s] that Dante is a new Saint Paul.”47 However, being surrounded and blinded by heavenly light does not make someone an apostle, even if it is an interesting typological detail. The commissioning by Cacciaguida, on the other hand, seems to be the point of clear identification between the pilgrim and Paul because that event reflects a par-llel of typological substance—over and above a parallel of a circumstantial, minor detail. The pilgrim’s similarity to Paul as an apostle is established clearly when, having had revelations of the spiritual realm, he is given the charge to tell all his vision.48 Both Uberto Limentani49 and Barbara Reynolds50 posit that the identification with Paul occurs during the commissioning by Cacciaguida in Paradiso 17, but neither one states a rationale for that conclusion.

In a highly unusual literary tour de force, this fictive commissioning of a fictive pilgrim during a fictive journey becomes the basis for Dante the poet’s claim of divine authorization to write The Divine Comedy. In this commissioning event, the clearest links in the poem between the poet and Paul begin to emerge: the future that Cacciaguida prophesies for the pilgrim will actually unfold in Dante’s life. It is at the time of Paul’s commissioning and the pilgrim’s that the issue of future suffering is raised. In Acts 9:15, Christ tells Ananias that He would “show him [Paul] how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” Dante’s pilgrim, after receiving prophecies in the Inferno and in the Purgatorio about future trials, hopes that Cacciaguida will now clarify the “things of ill omen [that] were said to me” (“dettemi fuor di mia vita futura / parole gravi” [Par. 17.22-23]).51

Links between Paul and the pilgrim now cross over from the poem into history and become parallels between Paul and Dante. One of the things both Paul and Dante suffer is being sent away in exile. Paul is told that his fellow citizens—the Jews of Jerusalem—would bind him and hand him over to the Gentiles (Acts21:11b). The pilgrim is told he will be driven out of Florence by his fellow citizens (Par. 17.48). Dante was exiled for corruption in political office on January 27, 1302, but when he failed to appear and answer the charges on March 10, 1302, he was then exiled permanently from Florence under pain of death if he returned.52 Paul has to leave his beloved brethren and the churches he established; similarly, Dante’s pilgrim is told, “You will leave everything you love most dearly” (“Tu lasceraiogne cosa diletta / più caramente” [Par. 17.55-56]). Dante had to leave behind his home, family, and friends when he was exiled.53 While in prison (exile), Paul warns Timothy that people would become “covetous…proud, blasphemous…unthankful, unholy…incontinent, fierce” (2 Tim. 3.2-3). Dante’s pilgrim is told that during his exile, he would suffer from “the wicked and senseless company [of his fellow exiles who are]…wholly ungrateful, quite mad and furious” (“la campagnia malvagiae scempia /…/ tutta ingrata, tutta matta ed empia” [Par. 17.62, 64]). Other White Guelphs (Dante’s party) were expelled from Florence at the same time as Dante, but Dante soon broke with them because he did not agree with their schemes to reenter Florence and was dismayed by their continual strife.54

The manner in which their divine missions are fulfilled yields even more similarities between Paul and Dante. By preaching God’s truth, Paul is able to say, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19); he affirms to the Ephesian elders that he has declared to them, “all the counsel of God [emphasis mine]” (Acts 20:27). Dante will write all that the pilgrim saw and heard. When Paul is facing opposition from some Jews in Corinth, Christ tells him (in a night vision), “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent” (Acts 18:9). Although initially Dante’s pilgrim is afraid of opposition because he has seen “that which, if I tell it again, will taste for many of bitter herbs” (“quel che s’io ridico, / a molti fia sapor di forteagrume” [Par. 17.116-117]), he determines not let fear silence him and refuses to be “a timid friend to truth” (“al vero…timido amico” [Par. 17.118]). However, it is the poet, and not the pilgrim, who overcomes timidity by writing things that he knows some readers will not like. (After all, he did put some popes and a variety of clergy, honored classical heroes, and political rulers in hell!)

Although Paul accomplishes his mission through his preaching, he also does so through his epistles, some of which were written when he was in prison. There is dispute among modern biblical scholars about the authorship and dating of some epistles, but Dante and pre-modern readers accepted that Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 2 Timothy, and Philemon were written during Paul’s “exile” (prison in Caesarea or house arrest in Rome). Likewise, the poet fulfills his mission to write, and he does so when he is in exile.55 Paul’s knowledge of Jewish law and his rhetorical skills to address first-century Gentiles find a parallel in Dante’s theological understanding and rhetorical skills to address fourteenth-century Italy—skills that uniquely qualify each of them for effective writing.56 Benfell says correctly that Dante resembles Paul “in his own writing,” but he adds that it is also “in his fate as pilgrim that Dante resembles Paul [italics added].”57 However, in reality it is not the pilgrim but the poet whose fate resembles that of Paul: the future prophesied to the pilgrim occurs “post-journey,” outside the poem’s confines and in the life of the historical poet.

For both Paul and Dante, their writings about spiritual truths are meant to cause each of them to become “a light of the Gentiles…for salvation unto the ends of the earth” (“lumen Gentium, ut sis in salutem usque ad extremum terrae” [Acts 13:47]). Although this citation, originally from Isaiah 49:6b, usually is associated with and applied to Jesus, Paul and Barnabas apply it to themselves and their mission when they are in Antioch (see Acts 13:13-47). By extension, it can also be applied to other Christians who, like the pilgrim—and thus Dante—have been divinely commissioned to proclaim the gospel.

In addition to parallels with Paul’s life and the frequent use of Pauline phraseology, some of Paul’s teachings are reproduced when Dante verbally incarnates those teachings in several events in the journey-story. As Christopher Kleinhenz reminds us: “The Florentine poet expected his readers…to understand the poem within the larger context of the Judeo-Christian [tradition and to]…pick up on [biblical] references and allusions.”58 In Romans Paul says: “The invisible things ofhim [God]…are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made” (1:20a).Dante, who quotes this verse in “Epistle 5,”59 applies this Pauline teaching literarilyby structuring many events in the poem to express invisible spiritual truths invisible ways. Erich Auerbach describes this narrative approach as the Commedia’s“dogmatic instruction transformed into concrete images;”60 Guy P. Raffa refers to it as the use of “incarnate words to translate theological concepts into visual images.”61

For example, the mode of travel for Dante’s pilgrim in the Paradiso gives concrete form to Paul’s paradigm of spiritual growth for Christians in 2 Corinthians3:18: “We all,…beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory.” This text is “fleshed out” when Dante’s pilgrim beholds the glory of the Lord reflected by Beatrice’s eyes (Par. 1.64-66, Par. 2.22,etc.) and is thereby transported from sphere to sphere. As he is propelled upward, he becomes filled with more light/revelation and, therefore, more glory. Traveling upward from sphere to sphere, then, is the poem’s physical equivalent to, and demonstration of, Paul’s teaching about moving “from glory to glory.”

In another instance, the author of Hebrews (whom Dante’s generation considered to be Paul) tells Christians that they “are come…unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels” (12:22). In the ninth sphere of the Primum Mobile, the pilgrim sees countless numbers of angels (Par. 29.133-135), and when he enters the Empyrean, indeed he arrives at the “city of the living God.”62 He is now accepted literally as one of the “fellow citizens with saints and the household of God” (Eph. 2:19). There are multiple instances of this kind of concrete imaging of Pauline teaching, and it also functions to link the pilgrim to Paul as a new example of a Pauline apostle—a new emissary, divinely appointed to present God’s truth.

The parallels between the pilgrim and Paul end with his vision of Christ in the Empyrean at the very end of the poem, but the pilgrim’s mission is embraced by the poet in the writing of the poem. In the Monarchia, his Latin treatise on political theory, Dante says that “although there are many who record the divine word, it is God alone who dictates, deigning to reveal his pleasure to us through the pens of many men” (“Nam quam quam scribe divini eloquii multi sint, unicus tamen dictator est Deus, qui beneplacitum suum nobis per multorem calamos explicare dignatusest [italics added].”63 Dante believes that God may inspire the pen of whomsoever who chooses, and he describes himself as a “scribe” in the Paradiso when he is attempting to convey God’s reflection in the magnificent order of all creation, that is, “the theme of which I am made a scribe [italics added]” (“quella material ond’ ioson fatto scriba” [Par. 10.27]).

Considering himself a scribe who receives inspiration, Dante, through his narrator at the beginning of the Paradiso, prays, “make me a vessel of thy power”(“fammi del tuo valor si fatto vaso” [Par. 1.14]).64 In praying to be a “vessel,” Dante ties himself linguistically to Paul who is called vas election is in the Vulgate in Acts 9:15b. That title is the one Dante uses in his first reference to Paul in Inferno 2.28:“Vas d’elezïone” (“the Chosen Vessel”). The word “vessel” appears in two other places in Paul’s writings. In 2 Corinthians he says that Christians “have this treasure [the life of Christ] in earthen vessels (vasis fictilibus), that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” In Romans, Paul compares God to a potter who is able to make a “vessel of honor (vas in honorem)…that he might make known the riches of his glory” (Rom. 9:21, 23). If the Pauline comments about vessels are combined, then Dante is actually praying to be a vessel of God’s power in order to make known the riches of God’s glory.

It is important to note that Dante is not attempting to bring “new truth” or to create “a new scripture” through his poem. As Christopher Kleinhenz points out, the message of The Divine Comedy “derives its moral and spiritual force precisely because it is rooted in and appeals to the authority of Holy Scripture.”65 In fact John A. Scott counts “more than 570 biblical citations and allusions” in the poem.66 Dante offers an imaginative, literary “retelling” of scripture in a new vernacular for the people of his age and for future generations of readers as well, whom he refers to as “those who will call these times ancient” (“coloro / che questo tempo chiameranno antico” [Par. 17.119-120]). Peter S. Hawkins remarks aptly that Dante’spoem is “not the proclamation of any new revelation, but rather a call to take the old one seriously”—which is a very different thing.67 If the gospel is an eternal gospel to be preached to the whole world, then its substance needs to be “re-proclaimed” in succeeding ages, even if it is done so in new ways.

Despite all the similarities between Paul and Dante the poet, however, there remains, the question as to whether an author of literature can qualify as an apostle (especially if some of the typological parallels for being a sub-fulfillment are fictive!). In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul lists a series of spiritual gifts, “charisms,” that are distributed by the Holy Spirit according to his will—and that list is not considered exhaustive. There is of course such a thing as a literary vocation for a Christian, but not all Christian writers are thereby apostles. Paul says in Ephesians that Christgave “apostles…for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephes. 4:11-12). In the Paradiso, the apostle James says the pilgrim’s vision was given to him so that he could strengthen the hope of Christians upon his return, which would qualify as edifying the body of Christ (Par. 25.44-45)—and Dante’s other writings indicate that was surely his intention. As Charity notes, “the biblical tradition of typology fastens on an event of conversion with the aim of effecting another,” and “the description of Dante’s journey is…a way of effecting that change.”68

Might there be a charism of divinely inspired literary ability to present the whole gospel? If so, what better way to use that charism than to write a literary work that teaches the basic doctrines and truths of the Bible? In the 20th century, one Christian writer of imaginative literature, C. S. Lewis, has been called an “apostle to the skeptics”69 because of his apologetic skills and the wide audience he has enjoyed. Kevin Brownlee writes about Dante’s Paradiso that it “may be seen as a new Pauline vision articulated by a new kind of authoritative voice: that of the Christian, vernacular ‘poeta,’”70 but what he says applies, in fact, to the whole Commedia. (Herzman remarks humorously that if Dante were ever canonized, he “could stand next to his counterpart Paul, whose icon is the sword, with a gigantic oversized pen.”71)

Dante links his pilgrim—and himself—to Paul through typological parallels because he understands himself and his poem as sharing Paul’s purpose and mission. In 1 Corinthians 4:16, Paul says, “I beseech you, be ye followers of me,” andin 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be ye followers of me.” The phrase “follow me” is repeated often by Christ in the New Testament, with Paul’s use of it as the only exception. By means of a fictional protagonist who is rescued dramatically from spiritual darkness and journeys to the heavens, and by means of writing an inspired poem of Christian instruction, Dante attempts to obey this New Testament exhortation through his poetic enterprise. The Divine Comedy’s fictional pilgrim does indeed undergo Pauline experiences, but it is the poem’s author who actually follows in the footsteps of Paul and, by presenting the eternal truths of Scripture anew to a new generation, it is he who is the new Pauline apostle to the Gentiles.

Cite this article
Marsha Daigle-Williamson, “Dante: A New Pauline Apostle?”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 40:1 , 39-58


  1. Text and translation are by John D. Sinclair, “The Divine Comedy” of Dante Alighieri, 3 vols. (London: The Bodley Head, 1939-1946; reprint, New York: Oxford University Press, 1974). Aeneas, as the future founder of Rome, has the requisite qualifications for a journey into the realm of the dead (Inf. 2.20-21). Paul has the qualifications as a great apostle, but as RachelJ acoff and William A. Stephany point out, “In the case of Paul … divine favor was not a reward for prior behavior” (Inferno II [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989],69). Geoffrey F. Nuttall makes a similar point that this pilgrim’s journey is not “in any sense his own achievement or something granted him in recognition of his genius. Only a spirit in Hell suggests this” (The Faith of Dante Alighieri [London: SPCK, 1969], 17). A journey willed by God is always a grace, and that major distinction between Aeneas’ and Paul’s journeys makes the pilgrim’s journey significantly more like Paul’s.
  2. In the allegorical procession of the books of the Bible in the Garden of Eden, Paul’s writings are represented as an old man “with a sword so bright and sharp that…it put me in fear”(“con una spada lucida e aguta / tal che…mi fè paura” [Purg. 29.141-142]). Paul’s icono-graphic representation with a sword is based on his comparison of the word of God to the sword of the Spirit (Ephes. 6:17) and to a sharp, two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12).
  3. Dante’s pilgrim is given a specific mission in the Paradiso that likens him to Paul, but he does not cease being Everyman simultaneously, even in that realm. As Charles S. Singleton points out, “Many have entered upon this itinerarium mentis in the past, many shall yet do so until the end of time….[It] is an event which repeats itself in the Christian heart as time unfolds, over and over again” (Dante Studies, Vol II: Journey to Beatrice [Cambridge, MA:Harvard University Press, 1958], 5).
  4. All Dante scholars distinguish between the pilgrim and the historical poet. Now some also are stipulating three “Dantes” because the narrator (who recounts the journey of the pilgrim) is also a fictional character created by the poet. For the clearest discussion and description of the “three Dantes” to date, see Robert Wilson, Prophecies and Prophecy in Dante’s “Commedia,”vol. 346: ‘Biblioteca dell’ “Archivum Romanicum” (Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 2008), 3-14.
  5. Dante, “Letter to Can Grande,” para. 28 and 29 (Dantis Alagherii Epistolae: The Letters of Dante, trans. Paget Toynbee, 2nd ed. [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966], 209-210.
  6. Unless otherwise noted, the English text is from the King James Version. Vulgate citations will be from Biblia Sacra (Torino: Casa Editrice Marietti, 1965).
  7. Letter to Can Grande,” para.16, 202; para. 15, 202.
  8. James Collins, Pilgrim in Love: An Introduction to Dante and His Spirituality (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1984), 164.
  9. According to Peter S. Hawkins, Dante wrote a poem “that he believed had a divine mission to reform the world and transform the reader” (Dante: A Brief History [Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2006], 28). Similarly, Nick Havely, Dante (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing,2007) sees Dante as “a writer who himself aspired to be a ‘chosen instrument,’ a new convert, capable of converting others” (82).
  10. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the complexities and nuances of Dante’s style in relation to the Bible, but any interested reader can find that discussion in the series of classic essays collected and republished in Dante and Theology: The Biblical Tradition and Christian Allegory, vol. 4, Dante: The Critical Complex, ed. Richard Lansing (New York: Routledge, 2003). For an in-depth description of the biblical method of typological narrative, see Henride Lubac, Medieval Exegesis, trans. Mark Sebanc (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998); and Jean Daniélou, From Shadows to Reality: Study in the Biblical Typology of the Fathers, trans. Wulstan Hibberd (London: Burns & Oates, 1960). For a succinct overview of the history of biblical typological interpretation, see George T. Montague, Understanding the Bible: A Basic Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (New York: Paulist Press, 1997), esp. chapter 2 on the typological approach of the church fathers (29-51) and chapter 3 on that of the Middle Ages(52-72).
  11. For these terms and their significance, see Erich Auerbach’s essay, “Figura,” in Scenes from the Drama of European Literature, trans. Ralph Manheim (New York: Meridian Books, 1959),11-76. Auerbach also lists other terms used by church fathers and medieval writers to express this relationship: “figura” is also called “umbra,” “imago,” and “shadow”; “fulfillment” is also called “veritas” and “substance.” Generally, modern biblical scholars call the foreshadowing person or event the “type” and the fulfillment the “antitype” (see, for example, Charles T. Fritsch, “Principles of Biblical Typology,” Bibliotheca sacra 104 [1947]: 214-22).
  12. A. C. Charity, Events and Their After-Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966),152. Charity, in a thorough discussion of Dante’s use of typology, states that “nothing…is nearer to its [New Testament’s] typological method than these echoing narratives [in Dante’s poem]” (152). Although Robert Hollander points to the pilgrim’s protestation that he is neither Aeneas nor Paul as “the first overt use of typological comparison in the poem” (Allegory in Dante’s “Commedia” [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969], 81), the pilgrim’s protest does not fit the category of typological parallels since Paul uttered no such protest; rather that early protest functions to bring Paul to mind for the reader from the very beginning of the poem.
  13. Teodolinda Barolini, The Undivine Comedy: Detheologizing Dante (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 148.
  14. Guy P. Raffa, Divine Dialectic: Dante’s Incarnational Poetry (Toronto: University of TorontoPress, 2000), 129. As proof for this statement, Raffa says, “Paul, in the end, ‘only’ made it to the tertium caelum…and therefore never reached—much less saw beyond—the solar heaven”(129). However, Beatrice contradicts this when she says that Paul himself saw the nine orders of angels in the ninth sphere of the Primum Mobile (Par. 28.138).
  15. For example, Charles Martel “told me of the treacheries his seed was to suffer, but said, ‘Be silent, and let the years revolve’; so that I can say nothing” (“…mi narrò li ‘nganni / chericever dovea la sua semenza; / ma disse ‘Taci, e lascia volger li anni’; / sì ch’io non posso dir…” [Par. 9.2-5]). Similarly, Cacciaguida tells the pilgrim things about Can Grande that should not be told: “‘And thou shalt bear this written in thy mind about him and shall not tell it’—and he told things which shall be incredible to those that witness them” (“‘E potera’nescritto nella mente / di lui, e nol dirai;’ e disse cose / incredibili a quei che fien presente” [Par.17.91-93]).
  16. “Letter to Can Grande,” para. 28 and 29, 209-210.
  17. Alison Cornish, Reading Dante’s Stars (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 1.
  18. James Gaffney, “Dante’s Blindness in Paradiso XXV-XXVI: An Allegorical Interpretation,”Dante Studies 91, ed. Anthony L. Pellegrini (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press,1973), 109. Gaffney omits the first episode in Paradiso 23.31-33.
  19. Kevin Brownlee, “Ovid’s Semele,” in The Poetry of Allusion: Virgil and Ovid in Dante’s “Commedia,” eds. Rachel Jacoff and Jeffrey T. Schnapp (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991), 253, n. 5. See Irma Brandeis, The Ladder of Vision (New York: Anchor Books,1962), 223, for another critic who stipulates three episodes of blindness.
  20. The significance of some details in Dante’s story becomes clear only in hindsight. As Barolini points out, “one of the Commedia’s basic techniques [is] imparting crucial information which the pilgrim/reader is not yet in a position to appreciate, so that [these details] accrete greater significance with hindsight” (Undivine Comedy, 31). Making a similar point, Anthony K. Cassell reminds readers that to correctly interpret Dante we need “to remain mindful of the entire work…[and] to interpret Dante with Dante” (Inferno I, foreword by Robert Hollander [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989], xxix). Christopher Kleinhenz’s interesting observation that the Commedia, apart from a horizontal and linear reading, can also be read “vertically (each canto holding up foil-mirrors to the others)” applies to the allusion-in-retrospect here (“On Dante and the Visual Arts,” in Dante for the New Millennium, eds. Teodolinda Barolini and H. Wayne Storey [New York: Fordham University Press, 2003], 282).
  21. “As one that strains his eyes, trying to see the sun in partial eclipse, and by seeing becomes sightless, such I became” (“Qual è colui ch’ adocchia e s’argomenta / di vedere eclissar losole un poco, / che, per veder, non vidente diventa; / tal mi fec’ io…” [Par. 25.118-121]).
  22. See, among others, Giuseppe Di Scipio, “Dante and St. Paul: The Blinding Light and Water,” Dante Studies 98 (1980): 151-157.
  23. See Acts 9:4-6; 22:7-10; 26:14-18.
  24. Gaffney, “Dante’s Blindness,” 110, 103.
  25. oseph Cremona, Paradiso XXVI,” in Cambridge Readings in Dante’s Comedy, eds. Kenelm Foster and Patrick Boyde (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 185.
  26. Barbara Reynolds, Comedy of Dante Alighieri the Florentine: Cantica III:Paradise, trans. Dorothy Sayers and Barbara Reynolds (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1964), 286. In terms of the significance of the blindness, Gaffney’s proposal that it “constitutes the occasion for seeking within himself the lesson of love he is required to express” (“Dante’s Blindness,” 110) seems quite tenuous. Another interpretation, suggested by Francis Ferguson, seems even wider of the mark: “Does this blindness…suggest death—perhaps Beatrice’s? Or love separated from the direct perception of its object, as the Christian’s love of God must be on earth?” (Dante [New York: Macmillan, 1966], 191)
  27. See, for example, Hollander, Allegory, 193-194; Prudence Shaw, “Paradiso XXX,” in Cambridge Readings in Dante’s Comedy, eds. Kenelm Foster and Patrick Boyde (Cambridge: Cam-bridge University Press, 1981), 201; Giuseppe Di Scipio, The Presence of Pauline Thought in the Works of Dante (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1995), 290; and Peter S. Hawkins, “Dante, St. Paul, and the Letter to the Romans,” in Medieval Readings of Romans, eds. William S. Campbell, Peter S. Hawkins, and Brenda Deen Schildgen (New York: T & T Clark Interna-tional, 2007), 121. The citation from Acts 22:6 was perhaps chosen by these critics because it is a first-person account like Dante’s: “de caelo circumfulsit me lux copiosa” (“there shone from heaven a great light round about me” [italics added]).
  28. Paul refers to “media die” [Acts 22:6b] and “die media” [Acts 26:13b]; Dante reports, “Somesix thousand miles away [on earth] the sixth hour burns” (“Forse semilia miglia di lontano /cì ferve l’ora sesta” [Par. 30.1-2]). Di Scipio (Pauline Thought) also notes this detail (289).
  29. Christopher Kleinhenz, “The Poetics of Citation: Dante’s Divina Commedia and the Bible,”Italiana 1988 (1990): 17.
  30. And now abideth faith, hope, charity….” I am indebted to Hawkins (“Dante, St. Paul,” 1)for this point.
  31. Dante is echoing the very phrase in the Vulgate that Peter uses to refer to Paul in 2 Peter3:15: “carissimus frater noster Paulus” (“our dearest brother Paul”).
  32. Ronald Herzman, “‘Io non Enëa, io non Paulo sono’: Ulysses, Guido da Montefeltro, andFranciscan Traditions in the Commedia,” Dante Studies 123, ed. Richard Lansing (New York:Fordham University Press, 2005), 57.
  33. “Epistle 8,” para. 5, 144.
  34. It is interesting to compare the phrases I have italicized here, first in the Vulgate’s rendering of Paul statement and then in Dante’s Latin statement: “[E]go enim sum minimus apostolorum…gratia autem Dei sum idquod sum et gratia eius in me vacua non fuit sedabundantius illis omnibus laboravi non ego autem sed gratia Dei mecum” (1 Cor. 15.8);“Quippe de ovibus in pascuis Iesu Christi minima una sum…Non ergo divitiarum, sed gratiaDei sum id quod sum, et ‘zelus domus eius comedit me’” (p. 132).
  35. “Epistle 8,” para. 4, 144.
  36. “Epistle 6,” para. 4, 79.
  37. Ibid., para. 1 and 2, 77.
  38. According to Uberto Limentani, “It was not by chance, but by design, that [Par. 17]…was placed exactly in the center of the Paradiso” (“Paradiso XVII,” in Cambridge Readings in Dante’s“Comedy,” ed. Kenelm Foster and Patrick Boyde [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1981], 155). Richard Lansing points out that in the epic tradition, “Events located at the middle accrued special import because…what was at the centre [sic] was deemed ‘central’ to the meaning of the work” (“Narrative Design in Dante’s Earthly Paradise,” in Dante:Contemporary Perspectives, ed. Amilcare A. Iannucci [Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997],133).
  39. Peter S. Hawkins, “Dante and the Bible,” in The Cambridge Companion to Dante, ed. Rachel Jacoff [New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993], 124). Christopher Kleinhenz makes a similar point about biblical citations in the Commedia: “Whether they are long or short—several lines, an entire verse, or even just a single word [italics added]—they are enough to trigger a response in the mind of the reader, to evoke that other text and its context and meaning” (“Dante and the Bible: Citation in the Divine Comedy,” in Dante: Contemporary Perspectives, ed. Amilcare A. Iannucci [Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997], 77).
  40. The wording of this commission is specifically reminiscent of God’s charge to Habakkuk: “Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables” (2:2). Dante, like Habakkuk, is not told to preach but to write down what he sees.
  41. Jeffrey T. Schnapp, The Transfiguration at the Center of Dante’s Paradise (Princeton: PrincetonUniversity Press, 1986), 215.
  42. As Peter S. Hawkins points out, with Beatrice, Cacciaguida, Peter, John, and others assigning the pilgrim the task of reporting what he has seen, “no prophet or apostle in either Testament of Scripture was ever more fully commissioned” (Dante’sTestaments: Essays in Scriptural Imagination [Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999], 75).
  43. Brownlee, “Pauline Vision,” 202.
  44. Benfell, “Biblical Truth,” 92
  45. Hawkins, Dante’s Testaments, 213.
  46. Hollander, Allegory, 194.
  47. Shaw, “Paradiso XXX,” 202.
  48. Failure to keep in mind the kind of identification that occurs in biblical typology can lead some critics to become accidentally mired in ontological and/or linguistic murkiness. I would, therefore, be “linguistically unable” to agree with Herzman that “by the end of the journey, Dante…is Paul” (“Io non Enëa,” 59) or with Brownlee that in Inferno 2, “he is in effect offering that he is [italics original]…Paul” (“Pauline Vision,” 202). I would also disagree with Hawkins when he states that, by the end of the poem, “Dante…has essentially become [italics original]him [Paul]” (“Dante, St. Paul,” 133) and with Henry Griffith Brinton who believes that “Paul does not encounter the pilgrim because Paul is inside [italics original] the pilgrim guiding his theological reflections” (“The Pilgrim and Paul in Dante’s Divine Comedy,” in Church Divinity 1986, John H. Morgan, ed. [Bristol, IN: Wyndam Hall Press, 1986], 55). However, I would agree with Brinton that Dante “saw himself as an evangelist in the Pauline tradition: a person with the ‘mind of Christ,’ appointed by Heaven” (62).
  49. Limentani, “Paradiso XVII,” 159: “Now he can at last portray himself as being…another Paul.”
  50. Barbara Reynolds says that through the commissioning, the pilgrim becomes “the new St.Paul” (Dante:The Poet, the Political Thinker, the Man [New York: I. B. Tauris, 2006], 354).
  51. In the Inferno, see the prophecies by Brunetto Latini (Inf. 15.61-64; 70-72]), Ciacco (Inf. 6.64-75), Farinata (Inf. 10.79-81), and Vanni Fucci (Inf. 24.142-151). In the Purgatorio, see the prophecies by Malaspina (Purg. 8.133ff), Oderisi (Purg. 11.139-141), and Bonaguinta (Purg. 24.43-48).
  52. John A. Scott, Dante’s Political Purgatory (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,1996), 20.
  53. Hawkins, Dante, 10.
  54. Scott, Dante’s Political Purgatory, 29, 35; Reynolds, Dante: The Poet, 49.
  55. Although there is dispute among critics as to the exact year Dante began to write the poem ranging from 1306 to 1308, there is no disagreement that it occurred after his exile in 1302.
  56. I am indebted to Jacoff and Stephany for this point (Inferno II, 73-74).
  57. V. Stanley Benfell, “Biblical Truth in the Examination Cantos of Dante’s Paradiso,” DanteStudies 95, ed. Christopher Kleinhenz (New York: Fordham University Press, 1997), 92.
  58. Kleinhenz, “Dante and the Bible,” 75.
  59. Epistle 5,” para. 8, 61.
  60. Erich Auerbach, Dante: Poet of the Secular World, trans. Ralph Manheim (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), 162.
  61. Raffa, Divine Dialectic, 127.
  62. The pilgrim sees God and all the host of heaven in the Empyrean in his symbolic vision of the river of light (Par. 30.61-63) and then in his vision of the “white rose” (“candida rosa”[Par. 31.1]).
  63. Dante, Monarchia, 3.4.11, trans. and ed. Prue Shaw (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1995), 110-11.
  64. O good Apollo [Christ] for the last labour [the writing of the Paradiso] make me such a vessel of thy power as thou requirest for the gift of thy loved laurel” (“O buono Apollo,all’ultimo lavoro / fammi del tuo valor sì fatto vaso, / come dimandi a dar l’amato alloro”[Par. 1.13-15]). Kevin Brownlee notes that “vaso” here in verse 14 is a hapax in the Commedia(“Pauline Vision and Ovidian Speech in Paradiso I,” in The Poetry of Allusion: Virgil and Ovid in Dante’s Commedia, eds. Rachel Jacoff and Jeffrey T. Schnapp [Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991], 205).
  65. Kleinhenz, “Dante and the Bible,” 76-77.
  66. John A. Scott, Understanding Dante (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004), 299. For that reason, Harold Bloom’s statement that “The Comedy, for all its learning, is not deeply involved with the Bible” is completely mystifying and most certainly mistaken (Ruin the Sacred Truths [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989], 47).
  67. Hawkins, Dante’s Testaments, 68.
  68. Charity, Events, 168, 208.
  69. Chad Walsh uses this phrase in the title of one of his books, C. S. Lewis: Apostle to the Skeptics(New York: Macmillan, 1949).
  70. Brownlee, “Pauline Vision,” 203.
  71. Herzman, “Io non Enëa,” 59.

Marsha Daigle-Williamson

Spring Arbor University
Ms. Daigle-Williamson, formerly a Professor of English at Spring Arbor University, now teaches in the university’s Graduate Schoolof Education.