Apostolic Letter - Motu Proprio

"Altissimi Cantus"
For the VII Centenary of the birth of

Dante Alighieri

 

December 7, 1965

 

      In commemoration of the VII Centenary of the birth of Dante Alighieri the "lord of sublime song", Pope Paul VI, in this Apostolic Letter, weaves the praises of the literary work and Christian life of the great poet, the Pope erects a Chair of Dante Studies at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, so that the young, made students of such a Master, may be enabled to illustrate the memory, the work and human wisdom of Dante, which is in itself, perennially "fertile poetry".

 

 

1. For the lord of sublime song, Dante Alighieri, a centenary event worthy of celebration is being commemorated this year: seven centuries have passed since his birth in Florence, that generous city which nurtured other agile and powerful geniuses.

 

    At this time, Italy, in particular, is competing in commemorating the memory of Dante in various ways, giving homage to its greatest poet, who is the brightest star of its literature. And justly so, because Dante is the father of the Italian language, the first to give it form direction and character; thus, throughout the ages he is providentially, so to speak, its guardian and protector.

 

      Many other civilized nations as well wish to take part in this solemn historic commemoration; so that the name of Dante, everywhere on earth remains, and will always remain aglow with fame and immortal glory, like a torch, only now placed higher and brighter, casting its rays farther.

 

     By right, We, too, take this opportunity to announce that the Catholic Church joins this global tribute of honor and praise. As a matter of fact, the Church places Dante among the illustrious, those who are clothed with courage and prudence, who compose poems according to the laws of art, and, who love beauty (cfr. Eccl 14, 1-5).

 

2. In the majestic chorus of Christian poets, there are many who distinguish themselves,  Prudentio, St. Ephrem of Syria, St. Gregory of Nazianzen, St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, St. Paul of Nola,  Venantius Fortunato,  St. Andrew of Crete, Romanus the Melodist, Adam of St. Victor, St. John of the Cross and others -- to recall them all would take too long -- the celestial harp, the harmonious lyre of Dante, resounds with admirable strokes, sovereign  for  the greatness of the themes treated, for the pureness of inspiration,  for the strength and vigor joined together with exquisite elegance.

                                     
       Therefore, following the example of Our Predecessor Benedict XV, who, on the occasion of the sixth centenary of the death of Dante Alighieri, desired to issue the Encyclical Letter "In praeclara summorum" (AAS 1921 (XIII), p. 209 ss); We too, wish to pay tribute and homage to the Poet. However, not only to give him glory at this moment, but, in his honor to do something which would inscribe itself and attribute over time a constant reminder of him, even more than a mute or cold monument of stone or bronze. By raising to a higher level an uninterrupted flow of knowledge of Dante, for the spiritual benefit of young people, who, as students of so great a Master, may in turn also give him praise, becoming capable of pointing to his memory and work. In this way, Dante's ever fertile poetry, will enjoy a continuous springtime in the field of literary discipline, and his human and Christian wisdom strengthen the cultural tradition of Italy , which meritoriously acknowledges in Dante the father of its living language.

 

3. To this end, We have established in accordance with the competent academic authorities, a Chair of Dante Studies, in the heart of that residence of Our venerable Predecessor Pius XI, and following him the successive Roman Pontiffs, until Us, who always, and especially during the period of Our Ministry to the City of Milan, have held it in great honor and affection.  We refer to the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart of Milan.  Therefore, We establish on our initiative (Motu Proprio), that it have its own Dante Chair!

 

     In fact, the thought pleases Us, that this foundation testifies to the cult We are nurturing of the singer of the Divine Comedy, ignited for the sake of diligent youth educated by that Athenaeum of higher learning. From there will go forth scholars -- this hope flashes before Us -- intelligent and devoted, with the capacity of being professors themselves of dantean Philology; whence, all the treasures of the Poet can be drawn from, for study, and for the revitalization of culture for generations to come.

 

     Perhaps some would want to ask why the Catholic Church wishes, by its visible Head, to take to heart cultivating the memory and celebrating the glory of the Florentine Poet. Our response is easy: by direct claim -- Dante is Ours! Ours, by which we mean to say, of the Catholic Faith; Ours, because breathing the love of Christ he very much loved the Church and sang Her glories; and Ours, because he acknowledged and venerated in the Roman Pontiff the Vicar of Christ on earth.

 

 4.  Nor do we regret the fact that the voice of Dante lashed out severely against more than one Roman Pontiff, and had harsh reproofs for ecclesiastical institutions and for persons who were representatives and ministers of the Church. We do not hide this moment of his spirit and this aspect of his work, knowing well what caused this bitterness of soul, even his own beloved city of Florence and Italy itself, were not spared such harsh reprimands; one can concede indulgence in regard to his art and political passion, that the office of judge and corrector was taken over by him, especially before pitiable circumstances, and yet, such fiery attitudes never weakened his firm Catholic faith and his filial affection for Holy Church.

 

     Dante is Ours, We can well repeat; and, that we affirm this not to gain any ambitious trophy of egotistic glory, but rather, in order to remind ourselves of the duty we have to acknowledge it as such, and to explore in his work the inestimable treasures of Christian thought and sentiment. We are convinced that only if one penetrates into the religious soul of this sovereign Poet can one find in depth the understanding and taste of its wonderful spiritual richness.

 

 

 

Catharsis and religious sense in the Divine Comedy

 

5.  There is something in the very nature of Dante's poem that makes its presence known. Every poem merits this claim to a certain degree by the virtue of its cathartic qualities, proper to true art and poetry, and which can excite and elevate one's spirit to new thoughts, sentiments and powers.  In the Divine Comedy this elevation is present at a uniquely higher degree, it is because it springs forth from the religious sense and, most distinctly from the Catholic Faith.

 

     The faith, "che come stella in cielo in me scintilla" (that like a star in heaven shines in me), Par. XXIV, 147, which forms the most precious love and possession of his heart, "questa cara gioia sopra la quale ogni virtu si fonda" (this precious jewel upon which all virtues rest), ibid., 89-90; is found in its depth and height and in all its parts of this temple of poetry, is filled up with faith, it is a temple of faith. For this very reason the Poet's work has come to be called sacred:

 

Se mai continga che'l poema sacro,

al quale ha posto mano e cielo et terra

si che m'ha fatto per piu anni macro,

 

Vinca la crudelta che fuor mi serra

del bello ovile ov'io dormi' agnello,

nimico ai lupi che li danno Guerra;

 

Con altro voce omai, con altro vello

ritorneo poeta, ed in sul fonte

del mio battesmo predero 'l cappello.   

Par XXV, 1-9           

 

 

 

(If it ever happens that this my sacred poem, in the composition of which both heaven and earth conversed, on which I have worked so hard, invested so much time, leaving myself psychically drained, can ever overcome the cruel hatred that bars me from Florence, my beautiful city, where I slept like a lamb, enemy to the wolves that war on it; then, with other voice, other fleece, I will return as Poet and put on, at my baptismal font, the laurel crown).

 

Dante crowned Ecumenical Poet at his beautiful San Giovanni

 

6.  At this point, allow Us, with felt emotion and deep satisfaction to announce the following: it is like crowning the vow and dream of Dante himself, since we have willed that at his Baptistery of "bel San Giovanni", Inf. XIX 17; at the place of the sacred font, where he became a Christian and was named Dante, with a large participation of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, that the exalted monogram of Christ might be set in a garland of gold, given by Us in witness and acknowledgement of the Christian world, for his having sung in a wondrous way "la verita che tanto sublima", (the truth that makes us so noble) (Par. XXII, 42).

 

     The laurel, which adorns the head of Dante Alighieri, speaks of the honor and the pride of the Italian people and of the entire human race, and yet, never over the course of the centuries has anything been so impoverished and made pale. Therefore, it is expedient that the laurel once again renew itself, for the very fact that the greatness of Dante's genius and his sublime work, it merits him well to be called the poet who belongs to all peoples, indeed ecumenical, most noble and worthy of study and of being listened to.

7.  The poem of Dante is universal: in its immense scope, it embraces both, heaven and earth, eternity and time, the mysteries of God and the events of mankind, sacred doctrine and worldly disciplines, the knowledge drawn from divine Revelation and that from the light of reason, the events of personal experiences and the memories of history, his own time and Greco-roman antiquity -- while giving to the Medieval Ages its best representation.  We find in its treasury of contents oriental wisdom, the Greek logos, Roman civility, and, in synthesis, the dogmas, precepts and laws of Christianity in the elaboration of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. The poem is Aristotelian in its philosophy, Platonic in its tendency to the ideal, Augustinian in its conception of history; it is faithful to the theology of  St. Thomas Aquinas, in a sense a poetic mirror reflecting in its parts the Summa of the Angelic Doctor. And if that be true in general lines, it is just as true that Dante is open to the profound influence of St. Augustine, of St. Benedict, of the Victorines, of St. Bonaventure, and not to neglect the influence of the Abbot Giacchino da Fiore, the apocalyptic writer, since Dante tends to reach out to the things which are dawning over the horizon or which are not yet born, but, are hidden in the future.

The purpose of the Comedy is primarily practical and transformative

     The aim of the Divine Comedy is primarily practical and transforming. Its aim is not only to be poetically beautiful or morally good, but on a higher level it proposes a radical change, an interior conversion that would take us from disorder to wisdom, from sin to holiness, from misery to happiness, from the contemplation of the horrors of hell to the beatitude of paradise.    The supreme sage himself affirms this in the letter to Can Grande Della Scala, when he writes: "Il fine del tutto e della parte potrebbe essere molteplice, ossia vicino e remoto; ma, tralasciando un minuses esame, si puo dire brevemente che il fine del tutto e della parte e togliere dallo stato di miseria i viventi in questa vita e condurli allo stato de felicita" -- (The end of the whole and of the part would be multiple, that is to say near and distant; but, omitting a fastidious examination one can say briefly that the end of the whole and of the part is, to take those living in this life from a state of misery and lead them to a state of happiness), (Ep. XIII, 15).

 

 

 

     This is why the Divine Comedy presents itself as a Itinerarum mentis in Deum (A journey of the mind to God), from darkness of inexorable reprobation, to the tears of purifying expiation, and, from step to step, from brightness to brightness, from flaming to blazing love, until the Source of light, of love, of eternal grace is met:

 

Luce intellectual, piena d'amore,

amor di vero ben, pien di letizia,

letizia che trascende ogne dolzore. 

Par. XXX, 40-42

 

 (Light of intellectual wisdom, full of love; love of the supreme Good and of every true blessing; love full of joy, happiness that transcends every other sadness).

 

   The grounds for poetry are given as teachings and monitions for our ascent to God. The natural and supernatural, the truth and error, sin and grace, good and bad, the works of men and the effects of their actions are seen, considered, valued with a heart for God, from the vantage point of eternity. Such an ascent, in its craving to touch that which is most intimate and exalted, becomes epos (word) of interior life, epos (word) of celestial grace, epos (word) of mystical experience, of holiness in various ways; it becomes the theology of spirituality and of the heart. 

 

From the lowest realms to the vision of the Most Holy Trinity. The Saints, and the Queen of Saints

 

9.  From the abyss of crimes punished, through the serene realms where human spirits purify themselves, toward the arduous summits of perfection, to which a multiplicity of ways lead to holiness and splendor, there are those who model the many different forms that holiness takes -- panegyrics woven for St. Francis, St. Dominic, St. Peter Damian, St. Benedict of Norcia, St. Romuald, St. Bernard -- all rising toward a summit. One hundred cantos, for whoever would understand their salutary meaning, one hundred rungs of a ladder, as that seen in the dream of Jacob, which, from abysmal darkness rises to the light of the Trinity. But before the last and highest step is taken, invoked by Bernard to be the gracious advocate on behalf of the new and inexperienced pilgrim, in order that his ultimate desire might be fulfilled, is the Virgin Mother Mary.

 

     Indeed, for the Florentine Poet, Mary -- "il nome del bel fior ch'io sempre invoco e mane e sera", (the name of the beautiful flower which I invoke morning and evening), Par. XXIII, 88-89 -- "che la su vince, come qua giu vinse", (she who in heaven is above all the blessed, and below on earth surpassed all in virtue and merit), ibid., 93, -- she is the dispenser of graces, she is the shining portal of Heaven who, bridging the distance between Christ and creatures, permits access to Christ and to the beatitude of eternal Truth. St. Bernard prays:

 

Or questi, che da l'infirma lacuna

de l'universo infin qui ha vedute

le vite spiritali ad una aduna,

 

Supplica a te, per grazia, di virtute

tanto, che possa con li occhi levarsi

piu alto verso l'ultima salute.

 

E io, che mai per mio veder non arsi

piu ch'i fo per lo suo, tutti miei preghi

ti porgo, e Prego che non sieno scarsi,

 

Perche tu ogni nube li disleghi

di sua mortalita co' preghi tuoi,

si che 'l sommo piacer li si dispieghi.

Par. XXXIII, 22-33

 

(This one (Dante), who coming from the depth of the infernal pit to this high place, has seen one by one the various conditions of transfixed spirits, he now implores you to obtain for him through your great capacity of grace and power to open the way, still higher, toward God, I have never desired anything as ardently for myself as his desire to see God, I place all my prayers before you, hoping they be not insufficient, so that you, with your prayer of intercession, free him from every cloud of his mortality and thus manifest to him God without veils, uttermost happiness.)

 

Humanity symbolized in search of peace

 

10.  The protagonist of the action, being the poem itself, symbolizes all of humanity and evokes this through a continuous allegorical veil, acknowledging errors and turning to the right path; illuminating and purifying itself by an ascent to the Supreme Truth and the Supreme Good.

 

     Divine law is given to humanity in order that it may be fulfilled consequently with temporal and eternal happiness, to which it aspires by following the true good that inspires right love, avoids evil, which is the source of distorted love, greed and perversity.

"It is clear that humanity finds in peace, that is, in the tranquility of peace, the greatest conditions to carry out its work, which is almost divine, according to the famous phrase: 'you have made them a little lower than the angels'" (De Monarchia, I, IV, 2).

 

     This peace of individuals, this peace internal and external,  private  and  public.   This tranquility of order is disturbed and shaken because piety and justice are being trampled on. And to restore order and salvation there is need for the harmonious action of faith and reason, Beatrice and Virgil, the Cross and the Eagle, Church and State, and a rekindled awareness of one's destiny in a universal affirmation of the undeniable, though still obscure, beginning of a new age in history. Heaven and earth unite to spread the song of this Gospel of peace. A poem of peace is the Divine Comedy: the Inferno a dark song of peace forever lost; the Purgatorio a delicate hymn to hope for peace, and the Paradiso a triumphal song of peace eternally and fully possessed.

 

Temple of wisdom and of love

 

11.  But the peace of the Divine Comedy is nothing less than a temple of wisdom and of love, of a wisdom breathing love and of a love flagrant of wisdom. Who can deny that the verses of the divine poem inspire love for all peoples, that they render an energetic and efficacious invitation to make every condition of life better? Orienting everyone and everything toward its assigned destiny by divine Providence?

 

     The Divine Comedy is the poem of social betterment in the conquest of liberty, a liberty which is exempt from the slavery of evil, and which induces us to find and to love God in full appreciation of all His gifts, in history and in life, in all its manifestations, professing a humanism whose qualities we deem good to make clear.

 

Dante's humanism

     The humanism of Dante completes, so to speak, that of Saint Thomas Aquinas.  It is a humanism based on the optimism of his principles, that grace does not destroy nature, but restores and crowns it, and that  persona est nomen dignitatis  (cfr. Summa Theologica, I, q. I, a. 8 ad 2; I-II q. 109, a. 8; I, q. 29, a. 3 ad 2).        It  is  a  humanism  well opposed to current mystics-ascetics which seem to point to contempt for the world as an ideal. In Dante all human values (intellectual, moral, emotional, cultural, civil) are recognized and exalted. What is very important to understand is that this truth is appreciated and given honor by Dante as he comes to plumb the depths of the divine; wherein, it would seem that contemplation could have drawn him away from earthly things. Rather, his humanity defines itself even more full and perfects itself at the summit of divine love. Also, at the heart of the immensity of the heavens, Dante senses himself overcoming all restlessness and anxiety through the communication of truth and goodness, and all that awaits him far

from our earthly unhappiness: "l'aiuola che ci fa tanto feroci" (the flower-bed (earth) that makes us so ferocious) ( Par., XXII, 151).

 

    As for classic civilization, Dante is of the mind that it was a provident preparation for Christianity, and that it may have offered in advance and allegorically very differently than the Renaissance or at least in a current which distinguishes it, where human values are considered separate and independent of God, creating a humanism that causes itself to be heathenistic and troubled.

 

Dante's political vision

 

13. It's appropriate for us now to touch upon the heart of Dante's political doctrine. The two powers (Church and State) are destined by God to conduct humankind to happiness, one which pertains to the sacred, heaven; the other to earthly affairs. While the aims are distinguished from one another and independent in their own spheres, and without shunning or causing confusion between the sacred and the earthly, it is affirmed nevertheless by Dante, that in rebus fidei et morum, the State is subordinate to the Supreme Pontiff in matters of faith and morality. However, both the Church and the State are at the service of the Christian community, and received their authority from God. The Church in particular is  free  from  the  burden of  useless ostentation and the concerns of temporal governance. The Church must always be engaged in the struggle to proclaim the truth and in making it fruitful:

 

Non vi si pensa quanto sangue costa

seminaria nel mondo, e quanto piace

chi umilmente con essa seacoast. 

Par. XXIX, 91-93.

 

(No one thinks of how much blood it costs to keep it (truth) in the world, and how greatly pleasing to all is the one who keeps it with humility).

 

     As we see, it is not too easy an accomplishment to standardize the "truth" within the radical separatism of the modern world, as predicted by Marsilio Patavino. Indeed, the duty of the State more than any other thing seems to be moral. The State is destined to make justice triumph and to put down those things that are obstacles to achieving justice; such as greed, the cause of disorder and war.  There is need for universal governance. This concept, in medieval terms, calls for a supernational authority which keeps law and order, and protects the peace and harmony of all peoples. This insight was foreseen by the divine poet. And it is not merely utopistic, as some might tend to interpret it. We find in our own times a reflection of Dante's thought in the practical actualization of the United Nations, with its light and benefice extending to all peoples of the world.

 

 Poet-theologian

 

14.  We cannot avoid pointing out the relationship between poetry and prayer, and between poetry and religious truths, in order to put in greater light these existing relationships in the Divine Comedy; and in order to make clear the nature of poetic art, specifically that of Dante Alighieri.  In the actual state of things, poetry itself has need of an auspicious renewal, and in particular, a deflowering of religious poetry.

 

     

Giovanni di Virgilio had prepared for the sepulcher of Dante an epithet which reads: "Dante teologo di nessuno dottrina ignaro -- che filosofia scaldi sul suo nobile seno" (Dante the theologian, knowledgeable in all doctrine, which philosophy set aflame in his heart.)

 

     Since that time, Dante has principally been honored with the title of theologian, attested to throughout the centuries by a consensus which unfailingly made itself unanimous and which prevailed in his being regarded as the "supreme poet"; so much so that the Comedy came to be called "divine".

 

     Both these titles are right and just. Although a theologian, Dante is in no way restrained from being a poet, on the contrary, he is rather to be proclaimed the "lord of sublime song" as well as a theologian of eminent thought.

 

     The nobility, the greatness, the noblest entreaties of his poetry are so evident, that it is not necessary to go into complicated arguments in order to illustrate them. Dante's poetry is like an ethereal mountain top that resists, with the passing of time, the erosion of waters. Since it is known to be great, there is no need for prolonged reasoning over its greatness; it is sufficient for all to cast a glance.

Mystagogue into the sanctuary of art

 

15.  As Virgil was a guide to Dante, so for others, possibly even more numerous, can Dante be another Virgil, a mystagogue into the sanctuary of art and particularly the art of poetry. This is very auspicious for our times, where the decline of the spirit is accompanied too often with economic and technical progress, art is impoverished, reducing itself too much to a lack of wisdom and to subjectivism -- it may be right for Us to define it   --   Manichean,  contemptuous of nature,  cynical,  given  to  description  and exaltation of vice, and, in poetry, there is a preference for an indulgent or tedious lyricism, with unnecessary limitations, narrowness and sterility. 

 

The essence of poetry

 

16.  There are those who treat corollaries from a particular philosophical system, which they themselves invent and embrace. They negate the distinction between poetry and prose. There are still others who hold such distinctions; defining poetry as having a lyrical characteristic which is mainly emotional, demanding language of sentimental and intuitive, and attribute to prose the characteristic of being logical, definite, scientific and objective thought. It is a fact that poetry can find nourishment from the inwardness of the subject itself. But in doing so, if it renounces or disdains the intellectual faculty, it will not then attain logical clearness or concreteness. It will be weak, obscure, and, sustained by words seeking emotional effect and it will move into a languid form.

 

     On the whole however, the greatness of poetic structure does not offer any reasons for being disvalued. In antiquity the literary forms most appreciated were the poem and the tragedy, to the first of these Plato gives the palm and to the second Aristotle, holding these forms as the culmination of masterpieces (Plato, Leg. II, 658d and ff; Aristotle, Poetica, 1461 b and ff.).

 

Psychological, inspirational, rhythmical

 

17.  The criterion for determining the degree of perfection and beauty in poetry is asked especially of the mental-emotional state, that is, of the power with which the artist  proposed to lead with increasing ease and effectiveness, wherever it pleased him to go; Horace too reveals the same point as an inescapable postulate: "Not enough is it for poems to have beauty; they must have charm and lead the hearer's soul where they will" (Horace, Ars Poetica, 99-100; cfr. Epist. II, I, 212-214).

 

      Inspiration is acquired with the language of true poetry, with its mysticism, and perhaps this will never be fully made clear. However, poetry does not put reason aside, but rather, on the contrary, it constitutes another way of knowing things, of attaining and making relations which are unseen.   Art has need of reason in the tumultuous activity which ensues along with the spark of inspiration, which illuminates everything, then, calms down and simplifies; for the work of execution which follows, done with ability and talent, in order to communicate the true state of the soul, again not only by ideas and flights of imagination, sentiments, but also through perfect fusion of diverse elements: that is, "of good writing the source and fount is wisdom" (Horace, Ars Poetica, 309).

    

     To that is added what is necessary to produce a flow, like a magnetic current, on behalf of the position of well related words, with harmony and rhythm: "If one has gifts inborn, if one has a soul divine and tongue of noble utterance, to such give the honor of that name, poet" (ibid. Satires I, IV. 43-44).

 

Excellence of form and thought in the Commedia

 

     In Dante all that inspires and lifts his work to marvelous heights, in one embrace of the sea of being, is the igneous strength and  passionate breath of inspiration:

    

I' me son un, che quando

Amor mi spira, noto, e a quel modo

ch'e ditta dentro vo significando. 

Purg. XXIV, 52-54.

 

(I am one who, when Love breathes in me, takes note; what love, within, dictates, I, in that way, without, would speak and shape).

 

     All  genres  of  literature  are  brought  together  and  united in the poem: the epic, the poetic, the didactic, the dramatic, and to the last of these, characterization and action, in an immeasurable multiplicity of combinations and variations, all in the coherence of a superb architectural unity.  The whole range displays itself there in every tone and sentiment: gentleness and warlike, sadness and joy, disdain and admiration; expressions of anger, terror, fear, love, prayer, adoration, a sweet smile, an ecstasy. With his masterful strokes, the great poet sings the most complex and elevated things of life, the mysteries of God, and the exalted thoughts of the human mind.  Indeed, a miracle of nature issues from that source into a generous river which overflows, serving the Italian language, then in its infancy and its first endeavors of artistic expression. Dante's work will be "bread made with barley by which thousands shall be satiated...baskets shall be full to overflowing with it. This shall be a new light, a new sun which shall rise where the old sun shall set and which shall give light to those who lie in shadows and in darkness because the old sun no longer sheds its light upon them" (Convivio, I, 13). His genius is "given to every sort of change" (Par. V, 99), and lends itself as a well managed instrument in order to express, now with aristocratic dignity, now with a certain earthiness, now with force, with delicateness, with multiple musical tonality and color, to all that passes through the longings of mind and heart, worries, exaltations, reproaches and praises, the abusive language of the damned and the prayers of the saints, visions, dreams, prophecies, intentions, the acuteness of philosophic thought and the summits of theology.

 

The relationship between poetry and theology

 

19.  Pointing to the theology of Dante opens up a problem in regard to it.  Some commentators assert that it is a non-poetic character of the Divine Comedy, when and where it is united with theology; and others, on the contrary, are of the opinion that it is a distinctly brilliant meridian point of light, all its own.  We feel in accord with the judgment of the latter, for various reasons.

 

    

Who can deny that religious sentiment and religious truth, the longing of the finite for the Infinite, have been and will remain a source of life, a deep current  that urges poetic intuition and creativity? The spiritual perhaps being its highest and purest form?  With  language uniquely its own -- as song prefers to speak, painting to act, sculpting to discourse -- poetry expresses the mystical experience, the psychology of charm, ecstasies, it soars to the supreme Beauty, the Good and the True, it ascends to that which transcends every thought, to the unspeakable, to the "eterna luce che, vita, sola e sempre amore accende" (eternal light, which, of Itself, once it is seen, forever enkindles love) Par V, 8-9. Poetry becomes a magnificent gift of God's goodness and a reflection of God's glory, appearing as:

 

...giorno a giorno

essere aggiunto, come quei che puote

avesse il ciel d'un altro sole adorno".

                                                      Par., I, 61-63

 

(...day being joined to day, as though the One Who could, had adorned the heavens with a second sun).

Prayer and poetry

 

20.  Besides, contemplatives, that is, religious people par excellence, are candidates for Poetry, for great Poetry,  the striking models of this are, by all consideration, the insights of the prophets and the davidic psalms.

 

     In reality, there is a secret relationship between true mystics and poets, and in general between craftsmen of fine arts, for which poetry is the animator and mother. The poetic gift corresponds in the natural order to that which is in the supernatural order, that is, the prophetic and mystical gift; in its development there is both an analogous and psychological process searching the hidden places of the soul, the extreme point of the spirit, the heart's center, where some feel the presence of God, and others, while not fully understood, but suspected and intuited, the presence of the gift of the "Author of beauty" (Wisdom 13, 3; cfr. H. Bremond. Priere et poesie, Paris 1926).

 

 To exhort a cultivation of religious poetry: Dante Alighieri as model

 

21.   Here we seize the opportunity to encourage the cultivation of religious poetry, be it in the texts of plain chant wedded to song, which gathers in itself the true voices of nature interpreting the sentiments of the multitude, of passing joys and sorrows, in celebration of feasts and great events; or, in that which is the expression of the soul in dialogue with the divine Reality, which makes it alive and transcend itself. The art of the word, for believers, have as their master and teacher the Word of life, pure and simple, through faith in their heart.  May they cultivate religious poetry at the school of Dante, because in him they have an incomparable model for all the reasons we have set forth.

 

     In Dante between the poetic and doctrinal elements, to examine their relationship, they of themselves  reveal  the  authentic  validity  of  their  alliance.  One is not juxtaposed to  the  other, even  if  one be  subordinate to the other, both form a living and harmonious organism, like a human body with its structure of flesh and bones, so that if one is removed the other falls, its beauty is sustained within the entire contexture.

 

Beauty is the handmaid of truth and goodness

 

22.  Theology and philosophy also have a consistent relation with beauty: because beauty lends its garment and ornamentation to their doctrines; with sweetness of song and the visibility of the figurative and plastic arts, beauty opens the way, so that its precious teachings may be communicated to many. At times, high dissertation and subtle reasoning are inaccessible to the untrained and to the many who hunger for the bread of truth; they are otherwise informed through sensing and appreciating beauty's influence, it is more easily through this vehicle that the truth shines and nourishes them. This understood, justifies Dante as the "lord of sublime song",  for whom beauty became the servant of goodness and truth, and goodness the subject of beauty.

 

Honor the sovereign poet

 

23.  This is an opportune time to set aside a goal for the number of celebrations praising Dante Alighieri in order to conclude with the heartfelt exhortation: "Honor the sovereign poet". Having a cult for him is very important, because he belongs to all, clothed as he is with the name Catholic, universal poet and educator of humankind; those with much diligence and a strong zeal for religion, for love of country, for events of history, for affinity of studies, feel themselves very close to him. May they then with talent  not only turn with readiness day and night to the example of the Divine Comedy, that sublime masterpiece, but thoroughly deepen their study to discover what is yet unexplored or hidden in it. May they search by embracing the whole of it, not reading it hastily or impetuously, but with a penetrating mind and with loving meditation. For various reasons many will not find it feasible, but hardly does one find someone who ignores the complex of its content or its ideals, its parts or at least its most famous verses.

 

Conclusion

 

24.  Finally, we invite the people of our time to integrate and enlighten their culture with this encounter of so noble a spirit, now that the anniversary of the seventh centenary of Dante's birth guiding us like a dazzling star to which one turns to look and to ask the way  to   the  good  road,   which  is  often  impeded   by  a dark  wood,   to  that  which  Dante points out to us, his "dilettoso monte -- ch' e principio e cagion di tutta gioia" (the mountain of delight, the origin and cause of every joy) (Inf., I, 77-78)

 

     We, on Our part, in order to give him honor in this present solemn celebration, desire a perennial memory, a beneficial initiative for his cult, so we are constituting, as we said above, Motu Priprio the Chair of Dante Studies at the Catholic  University  of the  Sacred Heart in Milan . We entrust the faithful execution of all contained in this Motu Proprio, with Our authority, to the venerable Fratello Carlo Colombo, titular Bishop of Vittoriana, President of the Institute "Giuseppe Toniolo" in Milan , therefore by his assistance, to the Honorable Rector of the Catholic University itself, Professor Ezio Franceschini.

 

     We establish all that is stated in this Apostolic Letter, Motu Proprio, and we want it to be always valid and permanent, without any obstacle or contrary thing being able to hinder it.

 

     Given at Rome, at Saint Peter's, on the seventh day of December 1965, the Feast of St. Ambrose Bishop, in the third year of Our Pontificate.

 

PAULUS PP. VI

 

 

 

Translation from the Italian: Fr. Mario Marzocchi, S.S.S.