How Did Dante Alighieri Contribute to the Problem of the One and the Many

ABSTRACT:  The One and the Many is the ultimate philosophical problem addressed by Dante Alighieri in the Divine Comedy and his less well known, De Monarchia.  The essential problem is how to balance the need for a unitary government (the one) to maintain order in society, with the need for its citizens (the many) to interact freely in their common culture. Dante resolves the philosophical problem of “the one and the many” in favor of the one. He makes Augustus Caesar the exemplar in Divine Comedy. The Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VII of Luxemburg is his modern counterpart in De Monarchia.  

Dante Alighieri completed his epic poem, the Divine Comedy, in about 1321 as an allegory of political salvation. By contrast, the Bible teaches salvation as the free gift of God – it cannot be earned in any sense. It is given by the atoning death of Christ for the sins of mankind. It’s imputed — as a forensic judicial act – apart from works when the sinner trusts Christ. This is opposed to Dante’s political salvation of works righteousness.  As if to announce his great poem, Dante clarifies the essence of political salvation in his other major work, De Monarchia. This was written between 1310 and 1313 with the descent of Henry VII into Italy. 

According to Dante’s Divine Comedy, the worst offenders at the lowest levels of Hell are those, like Brutus and Cassius, who have disturbed the political peace by murdering Julius Caesar.  Caesar’s profligate life and claims to Deity are irrelevant, as is the failure of Henry VII.  The fact that the Bible authorizes a duly ordained, lower magistrate to take violent action against a tyrannical king is irrelevant.  But in Dante’s world the Emperors slay the Velcro, the she-wolf of Cupidity, and reign in unity with Dante forever.

I. Spiritual Salvation

Dante’s vision describes a journey through the intricate realms of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise on the basis of one’s personal merits. A parallel theme in Scripture emphasizes the fact that salvation is a divine gift. It is granted through faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice, apart from works.

To illustrate, the Bible gives us the story of the prodigal son. The son’s restoration is not achieved through his own merits or deeds, but is freely bestowed by the father upon his return. This reflects the biblical perspective on salvation as distinct from Dante’s political narrative. Man must rely totally on the righteousness of Christ. This is because “all our righteousness is as filthy rags,” according to the Prophet Isaiah (Is. 64:6).

Moreover the New Testament confirms, “There is none righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:10-12). Yet God demands perfection, “be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). The only way any sinful human being can obey this command is by faith receiving the death of Christ and the perfect righteousness of Christ as his own.

God thwarted the builders of Babel and their one-world state in Genesis 11:7, 8.  By confusing tongues, He forced the creation of nations. Men “scattered abroad from there over the face of the whole earth.” In the New Testament, we are told that God “hath made of one blood all nations of men” and determined “the bounds of their habitation” (Acts 17:26). In this He intended that “they should seek the Lord.” Dante voids this Divine judgment with his international monarchy. Dante takes up where the builders of Babel left off.

II. Political Salvation

A. The Tower of Babel

Dante’s ambition for a unified global empire, as related in Divine Comedy, contradicts the biblical account of God’s confusing the languages to thwart ungodly unity.  God’s intervention in scattering the people and creating diverse nations contrasts sharply with Dante’s vision of a centralized international monarchy. This biblical narrative serves as a warning about the consequences of human attempts to subvert divine plans for diverse nations. It stresses the importance of respecting borders set by God.

The quest for a unitary earthly government will be fulfilled. It will happen only as the nations submit to the rule of Christ, the King of kings. We find this exhortation at the end of Psalm Two, the great outline of world history. “Therefore O kings be wise. Be warned O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, with trembling kiss His feet, lest He be angry and ye perish in the way. Blessed are all those who take refuge in Him” (Ps. 2:10-12)

B. United States Deserts God

The American Puritans were forced from the path of covenant renewal quite early. When William and Mary drove James II from the English throne in 1688 they renewed the Charter with Massachusetts. Tragically, they dispensed with the covenant commitment to the law of God as the criteria for leadership. It was replaced with land ownership and “good standing” in the community, per James Harrington.

From that moment the light from the “shining city on a hill” flickered and died. The national covenant with God was broken and the Great Commission to disciple the nations/cultures was derailed.

Salvation became exclusively personal in the emotion-driven crusade evangelism of Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening of 1740. It was a spiritual revival with an exclusive emphasis on personal salvation. This left the door wide open for an Enlightenment, social contract structure to dominate the new government. The social contract replaced the national covenant with God.

The need of the hour is a Great Bible Reset to restore the oath-bound commitment to the law of God in our legal system. Such a cultural reformation is built on the foundation of personal revival. This is outlined in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20.

C. United States Defies God

In ancient Israel the boundaries were covenantal, not geographical.  Thus, Ruth and Naomi traveled freely from Moab to Israel.  However, they were careful to observe covenantal requirements, such as gleaning, once they arrived. This of course, is in stark contrast to the United states where welfare is showered on immigrants. No concern whatsoever is given to entry of violent criminals.

The United States has traveled a long way down Dante’s tortuous path in quest of political salvation. Nothing short of a Great Bible Reset back to The Book of the Covenant in Ex 20-24 can deliver us. Without this Great Bible Reset, the United States will continue to spiral down into the abyss of God’s judgment and the Great Economic Reset of the World Economic Forum.

Today, echoes of Dante’s quest for political salvation are evident in the trajectory of the United States. The call for a “Great Bible Reset” suggests a need to return to the path of covenant commitment to the law of God. Dante’s pursuit of political order apart from Christ is in vain.

III. National Sovereignty

A. With Trembling Kiss His Feet

On the other extreme, the conservative passion for “national sovereignty” makes the nation-state the final arbitrator of justice. Accountable to no one, it’s an invitation to bickering among nations & war. Enter Dante’s global empire. In our day that is the United States and its so-called “rules based order.” This is enforced by 800+ military bases around the world, similar to the Roman Empire.

Instead, Psalm 2 calls rulers to submit to Christ. The are instructed to, “with trembling kiss His feet.” Acts Chapters Two and Thirteen apply this Psalm to the New Testament era. As of 2024 the United States is suffering the anger of Christ and is well on the way to “perish in the way” for rejecting his Kingship.

B. Lest Ye Perish in the Way

As of 2024 the United States has clearly provoked the anger of Christ, per Psalm 2:10-12. The end result of that is “ye perish in the way.” American Christians have provoked this anger by rejecting the law of God in their Constitution and system of criminal justice.

The contemporary conservative emphasis on “national sovereignty” is in line with Dante’s political vision in its neglect of God’s law. The nation-state, as the final arbitrator of justice is an invitation to conflicts and disputes among nations. We see this in the Middle East today where the United States and its proxy commit barbarous genocide with impunity.

The European Union (EU) is another modern example of the West abandoning its spiritual heritage. It is a replay of the strife among nation-states that Dante sought to resolve in his day. While the EU represents a move towards supranational government, it grapples with questions of sovereignty among its member states. Apart from submission to the Trinitarian God, this manifestation of the problem of the One and the Many will never be resolved. Ultimately, only Christ the King of kings can achieve this spiritual-political unity.

III. Divine Sovereignty

Accordingly, Psalm 72 describes a day when “all kings shall fall down before Him.” This means “many people shall go and say…let us go up to the mountain of the Lord…and he will teach us His ways…and he shall judge among the nations ….” (Isa. 2:3,4). That’s in the Last Days before the 2nd Coming,” according to Isaiah 2:1.  

The implication is that nations in covenant to rule by God’s law will unite in covenant. This will provide judgment among nations and common defense from attack by rebellious nations. As nations are discipled (Matt. 28:19, 20), the world will be united more and more under Christ the King of kings, ruling through his people: “But the saints of the highest one will receive the kingdom….” (Dan. 7:18).  This advance of the Kingdom of God occurs gradually with the preaching of the gospel, like the growth of leaven in bread or a mustard seed into a great tree.

The biblical prophecy outlined in Psalms and Isaiah envisions a future where all kings submit to God’s authority. This coincides with Dante’s desire for a unified global order. But, the Biblical narrative requires a covenant under God’s law, unlike the United Nations.

Its charter articulates lofty goals of world peace and unity. But such is impossible apart from the righteous rule of the King of kings.  

Although it may rule correctly in individual cases, such as the indictment of Israeli genocide, its globalist agenda calls for reduction on earth’s population by many draconian measures.   While it may seem impossible by human standards, the Old Testament prophecies of peace on earth are certain to be accomplished before the Second Coming of Christ. 

IV. De Monarchia

A. Unlimited Monarchial Power

Dante’s exploration of political salvation extends beyond the Divine Comedy to “De Monarchia.” In this book the authority of monarchy comes under scrutiny. A key question arises. Does Dante’s ideal monarchy derive its authority directly from God as in the Divine Right of Kings? Or, is it conferred and controlled via an alternative source?

In the Bible, a monarchy is legitimate if it derives its limited authority from God. But Dante takes this to mean that monarchy receives its authority from God directly. Moreover, Dante asserts that the authority of monarchy does not derive from ecclesiastical sources. Thus, there are no earthly checks on potential abuses. Those who rely on tradition in this matter he dispatches with Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees for elevating their tradition above the Word of God.

B. Authority of Philosophy

For example, John Locke argued for a social contract to limit government power. But Locke failed to recognize that an unbridled majority can be just as tyrannical. England’s Glorius Revolution at last threw off the yoke of Divine Right with the abdication of James II. However, the English Bill of Rights goes to the opposite extreme in granting absolute power to parliament with virtually no Biblical restrictions.

Proving again that mankind cannot solve the problem of the One and the Many as long as it rejects the rule of the God-Man and King of kings. This leads us to a consideration of how the rule of Christ is manifested prior to His second coming.

C. Limited Monarchial Power

Magna Carta of 1215 is a good illustration of this supposed tension between divine and earthly authority. The Magna Carta challenged the absolute authority of King John, the English monarch. The nobles insisted on certain rights and limits on royal power. But, with Dante it’s a one-sided debate. 

Accordng to Dante, only a monarch with unlimited power such as Augustus Caeser can maintain the peace. Rather than striking a harmonius balance between the one (king) and the many (nobles/people) he comes down decisively on the side of the one.

Ironically, in his futile attempt to demonstrate that the authority of monarchy comes from God directly and exclusively, Dante turns not to revelation but to philosophy. He concludes that revelation concerns spiritual matters only. Therefore, secular power is granted directly from God. If this is true, then the Monarch is released to make up the rules as he goes along. He does this under the authority of so-called natural law.

D. Authority of Revelation

Contrary to Dante, revelation addresses every facet of life, including the political. Especially the political. Throughout the Bible, every king had a priest, prophet, or pastor looking over his shoulder to keep him on the “straight and narrow.” By contrast, Dante’s monarchy is based on the Divine Right of Kings, with unlimited power.

Dante’s reliance on philosophy to establish the divine authority of monarchy becomes a point of irony in his pursuit of political legitimacy. The shift from revelation to philosophy in this context popped up again in the Enlightenment era. In the 1700s reason and philosophy were elevated above Biblical authority. And this theory plagues us to the present day, although the offensive word “monarchy” and “king” is no longer in vogue.

V. Foundations of Biblical Government

A. Separation of Church and State

It is the Scriptures themselves that draw the proper line between the institutions of church and state. God via Moses established the office of priest distinct from that of magistrate. This issue is critical because it answers the critical question. Is the monarch answerable to God alone in the exercise of his authority or may he be checked by the Ecclesia?

Authority was divided in the Hebrew Republic to guard against a dangerous accumulation of unjust power in the hands of one or a few. This also assured that only those ordained by God may lead the nation in worship. Thus, the ruler is separated from any hint or suggestion of Divinity. This was dramatically illustrated in the case of King Uzziah. He was stricken with leprosy when He sought to offer the sacrifice in place of the priest. Likewise, King Saul was judged for the same reason.

B. Separation of Prince and Priest

This biblical demarcation between church and state, set the office of priest apart from magistrate. Obviously, this has significant implications for monarchial accountability. The question lingered in the Middle Ages from the days of the first Christian Emperor, Constantine. Church and State were united as a single Christendom under the auspices of the Holy Roman Emperor. The first of this line was Charlamagne. He was crowned unexpectedly by the Pope as he knelt at the altar on Christmas day, 800 a.d.

Charlamagne regretted this incident because it symbolized his indirect authority. Nonetheless, the Emperor continuued to collect rents on church property, symbolizing his supremacy. The underlying issue has never been resolved. In the division of the promised land, God forbade any allotment of property ownership going to the Priests and Levites.

C. The Investiture Struggle

The issue came to a head in the Investiture Controversy at the palace of Canossa in 1075. In practice it had to do with who appointed the Bishops. Would it be prince or priest. Thus, after a Century of warfare, Pope Hildebrand resumed the appointment of Bishops and the collection of rents.

However, the Pope refused or neglected to set up the Biblical balance between church and state. He refused to instruct and grant the Emperor his proper authority to execute the law of God. So the conflict was still not properly resolved by Scripture.

Church and state both still insisted on superiority and refused to co-operate within their individual spheres of authority. In effect, the “state” said, fine I’ll just go it alone and make up my own rules under the alleged authority of natural law. Thus, today we have tyranny, apart from the rule of God’s perfect law of liberty.

VI. Form of Biblical Government

A. The One and the Many in the Hebrew Republic

Here’s what it’s supposed to look like. The situation in I Samuel 14:45 is an example of the people in their collective legislative capacity – like a house of commons or representatives — checking an unjust decision of the rebellious king Saul. They prevented him from foolishly putting his own son, Jonathan, to death after a glorious military victory. Power was divided horizontally and vertically in ancient Israel.

The biblical account in I Samuel 14:45 provides a compelling illustration of the collective legislative capacity of the people acting as a check on unjust decisions by the king. This biblical narrative illustrates the principle of representative government, akin to a “house of commons,” where the people intervened to prevent a misguided execution. Expanding on this, consider the Roman Republic, which featured a division of power between different branches of government.

Under God’s direction Moses established a council of 70 elders to assist in bearing the burden of government – a horizontal division of power. This was still operative in the NT where “the high priest and his associates had come, they called the Council together, even all the senate of the sons of Israel…” (Acts 5:21). In the Exodus 18 incident, Moses established a network of graded courts below himself to deal with routine matters – a vertical division of power.

B. The One and the Many in the Roman Republic

The Roman example offers a historical perspective on the effectiveness of horizontal and vertical divisions of power, emphasizing the importance of checks and balances to prevent the concentration of authority.  The leaders of Rome no doubt derived this model when they sat at the feet of Solomon between 970 and 931 b.c. But again, apart from Christ, the Prince of Peace, all such structural innovations in government are doomed to failure.

Dante pointed back to the Roman Empire as the prime example of the need for centralized power to establish and maintain peace. He failed to go back to the Roman Republic. Dante believes that the Roman Empire was justified in waging war to establish peace – Pax Romano. According to Dante, the world never experienced such an era of peace as under Augustus: “and that then the human race was happy in the tranquility of universal peace….”

This is the same Empire that Daniel described as “exceeding dreadful, whose teeth were of iron, and his nails of brass; which devoured, brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with his feet….” (Dan. 7:19).  It is also the same Empire that degenerated swiftly to the tyranny of Tiberius and ultimately to Nero and beyond. 

C. The Globalist Empire

For example, today’s European Union (EU) claims to foster unity among member states for the sake of peace and prosperity. This was the promise of Jean Monnet, French banker and globalist par excellance. His 1950 Monnet Note pointed the way back to the European unity of Charlamagne in 800 a.d.

The EU claims to establish regional stability. But this flies in the face of God’s confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel. The challenges it faces reflect the delicate balance between centralized authority and local autonomy. Almost 50 countries range in size from Vatican City to sprawling Russia. Oil and water do not mix.

Russia’s Putin offered to join and cooperate during the presidency of Bill Clinton, but was rejected. For some reason, the globalist elite prefers to wage a fruitless proxy war of Ukraine against Russia.  Instead of being defeated, Russia has emerged from the war stronger than ever. Thus, they have frustrated the globalist ambitions of the collective West.

VII. Function of Biblical Government

A. Defensive War

Under biblical law, ancient Rome was justified in waging war only to the extent necessary to defend her borders from pirates in the Adriatic Sea. This, of course, was not the intent of Roman conquerors such as Julius Caesar, whose reputation was erected on the subjugation of Gaul and indeed the entire world.

Plutarch told how Julius stood before a statue of Alexander the Great, marveling at how he had conquered the world by age 30, while Caesar had done nothing. Yet his successor Augustus was wise enough to mask his tyranny under the illusion of Pax Romano until the populace got used to a permanent dictator. This is the Pax Romana that Dante yearned for.  Instead, “in the fullness of time” God sent forth His Son.

Dante’s romanticized view of the Roman Empire invites a contrast between justifiable defensive wars and aggressive conquests. Julius Caesar’s conquests in Gaul (France), driven by ambitions to rival Alexander the Great, is a clear example of abuse of military power.

B. Offensive War

Thus Dante exalts “unity” as the necessary prerequisite for “good.” The greatest sinners in Dante’s Hell are those who have disrupted political unity. For example, Judas and Brutus, who led the assassination of Julius Caesar in the Senate. “Unity” is the passion of every tyrant. Dante confuses political unity with the voluntary unity of spirit when Christian brethren dwell together in peace (Psalm 133). He concludes that political unity is the necessary prerequisite for “good.”

Dante’s exaltation of “unity” as a prerequisite for “good” reflects his political philosophy. He considered disruption of political unity to be the gravest of sins. To illustrate, consider the outcome of the French Revolution in the late 18th century. The revolution was driven by ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity to establish a unified and just society. However, the radical pursuit of unity led to political turmoil and violence.  The ultimate result was a bloodbath and a military empire constructed on the humanist aspirations of Napoleon Bonaparte.  Here we have a cautionary perspective, on the pitfalls associated with passionate pursuit of political unity.

VIII. The One and the Many

A. The One and the Many Denied

It’s a non sequitur. Dante resolves the philosophical problem of The One And The Many in favor of the one. He offers as a premise that two rulers equal in power will forever be at war because there is not a third or greater power to judge them. But his assumption that the third ruler will always possess a spirit of justice and equanimity is equally fallacious.

For example, the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 marked the end of the Thirty Years’ War. It introduced the idea of a balance of power among European nations recognized that a single ruling authority may not guarantee peace. This form of unity among nations – the one and the many — is closer to that of the Bible, but still rejects the political authority of the King of kings.

In Scripture we have the example of David conducting a census to organize his fighting age men for conquest and Empire in the Middle East. His army chief of staff, Joab, tried to restrain him. He argued that God would “add to His people a hundred times as many as they are!” This would be accomplished by evangelism, not by empire (I Chr. 21:5).

B. The One and the Many Defined

It is only in the doctrine of the Trinity – the equal ultimacy of the one and the many – that the problem may be resolved. Mutual submission of a multiplicity of authorities to the law of Christ and then to each other is the key to peace, rather than Empire.

In the fullness of time, the biblical narrative introduces the concept of the Trinity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit appeared together at the baptism of Jesus. The Trinity embodies the equal ultimacy of the one and the many. This theological perspective offers a profound resolution to Dante’s philosophical quandary.

The Bible provides many examples where people and prince or multiple princes may unite in peace and unity under the Divine law of the Prince of Peace. Multiple authorities align under the overarching law of God in which the quest for peace is diverted from imperial dominance to a collective submission to the law of God. This answers Dante’s call for unity with a deeper spiritual foundation.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.