What Is the Significance of Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno”?

ABSTRACT: Dante’s inferno is an epic, medieval allegory of both the journey of a soul toward God and a commentary on mankind’s ultimate political salvation.  On the personal level Dante describes a system of salvation by works righteousness apart from faith in Christ. On the political level he calls for a return to the Pax Romana of an ancient Empire ruled by a benevolent dictator named Caesar Augustus. 

I. The Savior State of the Roman Beast

Dante’s great allegory, The Divine Comedy, calls for a one-world empire under a savior state.  The Holy Roman Empire would rule city and church.  According to Kantorovich in The King’s Two Bodies”, Dante held that “The curse of mankind was conquered, without the intervention of the Church and its sacraments, by the forces of intellect and supreme reason alone, forces symbolized by the pagan Virgil….” (11). His attacks on the church were deserved, but Dante’s alternative is heretical. Lasting peace and political stability could be had only by a universal monarchy with unlimited power, apart from Christ. Like Aquinas and Shakespeare, Dante mixed pagan Greek and Christian allusions. 

He was a big fan of Virgil, the propagandist retained by Augustus to hymn the pastoral praises of imperial Rome and its exalted emperor.  Dante celebrated virtually every humanistic heresy of his day, including those of Islam and Judaism.   The greatest sins in the Inferno are offenses against political peace and unity.  He indicted Brutus and Cassius, who murdered Julius Caesar. They are tormented forever by Satan himself with Judas Iscariot in the lowest depth of the Inferno.

Dante’s guide through the Inferno and Purgatorio is the Roman poet Virgil.  This symbolizes human reason as a guide to salvation. Only after purifying himself by severe discipline in Purgatory is Dante given access to Heaven. His Heavenly guide is Beatrice, who is the object of his unrequited love. She embodies the bliss of Heaven and the culmination of a golden Joachimaite age. It is the Age of the Father, the Age of the Son, and his own age of an exalted humanistic man nurtured by the state and natural reason.

II. Harlot Church Astride the Roman Beast

As reported by R.J. Rushdoony in his World History Notes, “This faith, a mixture of Jewish and Roman humanism with Christian heresies, was also held much later by another Christian Jew, Christopher Columbus, who hoped to evangelize the world in term of the Joachimite faith….This was a development of Aristotle’s idea of man as a social animal.  The papal assertion that papal overlordship was the essential of Christian salvation was a product of the same kind of thinking.”

The Inferno of Hell was a familiar concept. But, the very idea of Purgatory was relatively new at this point in church history.  The idea that man can in any way atone for his own sins or add to salvation is an assault on the sufficiency of the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ.  It is works salvation at its worst.

Political traitors are in the lowest level of the Inferno for Dante. This is because it is the unitary state, the revived Roman Empire, that represents man’s ultimate salvation. The Divine Comedy pictures a system of works righteousness. Mankind must climb the mountain of purification (Purgatorio) to avoid Hell and ascend to Heaven. It protrudes from the exact opposite pole of Jerusalem.  Thus it stands opposed to salvation by faith in the atoning work of Christ alone.

III. Reason As the Rule In Inferno

According to Dante, the thing that distinguishes man from the rest of creation is understanding with the capability of development. He cites the Moslem Averroes comment on the pagan Aristotle to prove that understanding of Plato’s universal forms is made practical by extension to the political realm. Thus, Aristotle’s “Politics” concludes that “those who are strong in understanding are the natural rulers of others.”  Philosopher Kings.  By this he defines the “speculative intellect” as the “Primal Goodness.” By way of contrast, the Bible places many other qualities ahead of native intelligence, such as ability, fear of God, love of truth, hating covetousness (Ex. 18:21).

Dante holds forth universal peace as the first principle for our deductions. This short chapter (IV)  in de Monarchia introduces the question, “is temporal monarchy necessary for the welfare of the world?”, which is answered in the affirmative. The implication is that temporal monarchy is the necessary condition for the peace on earth announced by the angelic choir. As Dante is quick to point out, the alleged peace of Augustus was in fact the temporal setting into which the Savior was born:  In the fullness of time God brought forth His Son. 

Dante envisions the Neo-Platonic great chain of being, in which man ascends to god-hood by escaping from his material prison. This is primarily a political ascent from the Inferno, with the pagan Cato the Roman exemplar of civic virtue the ruler of Purgatory and thus the guide to heaven. 

V. The Angelic Choir Heralds Pax Romana

A. Incarnation of Rome In Inferno?

Thus, Dante marshals the incarnation itself – and the angelic pronouncement — as evidence that a temporal monarchy is man’s happiest mode of government.  There is even a passage in Virgil that suggests this,  — that a boy-child would be born. Many Christians mistakenly latched onto this as a promise of Messiah.  However, he ignores the fact that correlation does not equal causation. Simply because two events happened to occur at the same point in history does not mean that they are necessarily causative. 

In this same vein, Dante quotes Psalm Two. That Psalm opens with the question, “Why do the nations consire and the people’s plot in vain again the Lord and against His anointed?” Dante applies this to a conspiracy against Messianic Rome. But, the very opposite is true. The book of Acts quotes this verse (Ps. 2:1,2) as the Roman Empire conspiring with the Jews to crucify the Messiah.

B. Aristotle or Christ in Inferno?

So that leads to the question, on what authority does Dante rest his political theory ultimately – the Bible or “the philosopher?” Does the Bible approve Aristotle’s statement, “The world is not intended to be disposed in evil order; ‘In a multitude of rulers there is evil, therefore, let there be one prince.’” On the contrary, (Pr 24:6). “By wise guidance you will wage war… in abundance of counselors there is victory.”

On the contrary, it is only the multitude of rulers that prevents tyranny. The unitary rule promotes tyranny. Same in the courtroom as in the war council.  It is all too easy for a single ruler, supposedly accountable to no one but God, to degenerate into a tyrant. Dante has not taken into account the biblical doctrine of the total depravity of man. This doctrine in practice means that a single individual cannot be trusted with total power. Moreover, a single individual does not possess sufficient wisdom in and of himself to rule wisely – “in a multitude of counselors there is safety.” Dante errs because he takes the pagan Aristotle for his source of ultimate authority instead of the Bible.

VI. The Heresy of Two Kingdoms

A. The Sword of Defense

Under the “two-kingdoms” theory promoted by Dante, the so-called secular realm is removed from the authority of church counsel. On the one hand, the Pope allegedly leads men in matters of eternity by revealed truth. On the other hand, the Emperor leads men to happiness in this world on the basis of philosophy or natural law.This is reminiscent of Plato’s philosoher-kings and guaranteed to produce tyranny. Tyranny is by definiton rule apart from the law of God.

The Lord’s prayer requires us to pray for that day when God’s will be done on earth, exactly as it is in heaven: one kingdom, not two.  Thus, Dante justifies the tragic division of church and state that stemmed from lack of a biblical reconciliation at the Castle of Canossa in 1075.  Dante and all of the secular tyrants who draw inspiration from him are the spawn of that fateful abortive encounter. At that point the Pope extended mercy apart from justice.

B. The Sword of Justice

Thus, it is a gross error to hold that religion and politics cannot mix.  On the contrary they cannot exist apart. Law is the heart of politics and all law is an expression of somebody’s religion. That is somebody’s conception of what is right and what is wrong.

Ultimately, it is one of two choices.  Will we be governed by a law or religion of man or the law of God?

As interpreted by Augustine and others this is apparently the same as the two-swords theory. Under this theory church and state function as having equal authority under God.  This is derived from Jesus response to the disciples upon departure from the last supper (Lk 22:36), “lord we have two swords.”  I take it to mean in part at least that Jesus was indicating from this time forward the disciples of Christ would bear the sword of judgment. This was in accord with the grant of authority He had just made a few sentences earlier. He had promised, “and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you” (Lk 22:28)

1. Kings from Abraham

God had promised Abraham that kings would flow from his loins. Likewise, Daniel had prophesied that the Saints of the most high would bear dominion with Christ (Dan 7:27).  That authority was about to be secured on the cross, but Peter misunderstood it be a sword of conquest in the garden.  

When Peter cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest, Jesus restored it and told Peter to put away his sword. He explained that “those who live by the sword shall perish by the sword.  Christ was about to achieve victory over the humanistic state by another means.  “He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”  Thus, we may escape the Inferno.

2. Lawful Use of Law

Submission to this very law is the one thing that God requires of us at this particular time in our history. Nothing other than a return to His law as summarized in Exodus 20-24, the Mosaic covenant will suffice.  This is a GreatBibleReset.com, as opposed to the GreatEconomicReset.com of Klaus Slob. 

It is the lawful use of the law of God that He requires.  This is the very heart of Christian Nationalism or better the heart of what it means to be a Christian nation.  This is the vital life blood of what it means to disciple the nations, that includes both an individual and corporate response.   Read this passage every day. Pray over it.  Internalize it.  If you don’t understand it, get the commentary at the bookstore of KingswayClassicalAcademy.com.  Study it on your own or study it in a group.  Our very survival as a nation is at stake.  We must re-establish Bible justice as defined by this summary of God’s law.   Maybe if God sees enough of us taking the law seriously like this, He will stay the judgment of descent into Dante’s Inferno.


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