Beauty in the Divine Comedy

Reading Time: 20 minutes

by John Tuttle, Benedictine College

This paper analyzes Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy and suggests that the poet uses beauty as a theological element. Specifically, it argues that beauty is visible throughout all three installments of the work as an external sign to accentuate the presence of greater or lesser goodness. Goodness, whether in an aboundance or a deficit, as correlated with a higher or lower presence of beauty, respectively, is a distinguishing factor throughout the entire Comedy. As any reader of Dante well knows, one of the most remarkable embodiments of holiness is Beatrice, who also – and necessarily so it would seem – stands out with her love and beauty. In fact, the work of the Divine Comedy itself, via its nature in the literary genre of poetry, exudes the element of beauty in communicating the supreme goodness of God’s Nature and of His creation. But in order to start off on this quest for beauty, its use, and its significance in Dante’s arch-work, we must come to a feasible and coherent understanding of just what beauty is.

In Search of Beauty

Just as the Pilgrim draws intellectual nourishment from Virgil and his other guides throughout the Divine Comedy, so Dante in the journey of his life was a devout disciple of the line of Thomistic philosophy along with its conclusions on creation, reason, and natural law. Regarding the element of beauty, St. Thomas Aquinas outlines some of its distinguishable attributes: unity, proportion, and clarity. Unity and proportion accompany an overall order within that which is beautiful. And claritas has a broader context when given its proper connotation of radiance. Something that is truly beautiful, then, is something that deals both with aesthetics and a higher, theological sense of being radiated, mediated through light. This aspect of radiance becomes starkly clear in Dante’s employment of beauty, particularly as experienced in the Paradiso. While we can say beauty is supposed to come with certain signs, we as yet have not arrived at a solid definition of the beautiful. Here the fine point becomes somewhat indeterminate for Aquinas. He famously hails beauty as id quod visum placet, literally rendered as “that which pleases upon being seen.” In its fullest context, this passage alludes to beauty as something which should be registered through the senses but which is also a spiritual experience (since the emotive and intellectual powers are located in the soul).1 In his book Aquinas on Beauty, Christopher Scott Sevier, a professor of philosophy at the College of Southern Nevada, details how the Thomistic view of beauty may differ from or agree with the views of his contemporaries and sources. One issue he specifically addresses is the inquiry into whether or not beauty may be defined as a transcendental in Aquinas’ understanding. First, we should reinforce the notion that, for Aquinas, the beautiful was – at the very least – associated with the good. Dionysius, of whom Dante writes fondly and approvingly in the Divine Comedy, is often referenced in Aquinas’ philosophical writings.2 Furthermore, it is with a foundation borrowed from Dionysius that Aquinas links beauty with goodness. Aquinas’ own teacher, St. Albertus Magnus, who was of some similar opinions as Dionysius, adopted beauty as a transcendental from the platonic line of thought, which traditionally highlights three key transcendentals: truth, beauty, and goodness. In his book, Sevier suggests Aquinas might have perceived beauty as a “supernumerary transcendental qualifying the secondary transcendental Good in some way.”3 Regardless of the conjecture surrounding this assessment, since the three platonic transcendentals have ultimately been adopted into Christian understanding and tradition, we will use a more fully fleshed-out understanding of beauty in conjunction with the other transcendentals. Let us turn now to exploring how beauty, in particular, has been utilized in Catholic thought.

Bishop Robert Barron, whose evergrowing ministry hinges off evangelization through media, has a high opinion regarding beauty and how it can be used to draw people closer to God. Barron was once quoted by journalist and writer John L. Allen, Jr. as saying:

Beauty is the last thing which the thinking intellect dares to approach, since only it dances as an uncontained splendor around the double constellation of the true and the good and their inseparable relation to one another…Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance.4

When juxtaposed with the pinnacle of utmost Goodness in the Divine Comedy, Barron’s commentary on beauty bears some interesting similarities:

Within Its depthless clarity of substance

I saw the Great Light shine into three circles

in three clear colors bound in one same space;

the first seemed to reflect the next like rainbow

on rainbow, and the third was like a flame

equally breathed forth by the other two.5

In the above passage, Dante is portraying the Holy Trinity in an ambiguous yet sublime fashion: the three distinct circles of three varying hues which are simultaneously one is a sign which, to the theologically adept reader, stands in for the three Divine Persons of the Trinity. Compared to Barron’s eloquent summation of the relationship with which beauty is held with its transcendent siblings, this section from the Paradiso shares some familiar imagery: for Dante, we see circles full of luminance and color; for Barron, we hear of a series of celestial forms, perhaps even belts of stars, which are caught up with one another – a scene worthy of even the Divine Comedy itself. Furthermore, we understand Dante’s “circles” rather as Divine Persons in an intimate relationship. Similarly, Barron’s transcendentals are described in a familial relationship to one another. The significance here is that Barron’s imagery almost alludes to a triune or trinitarian relationship among the key platonic transcendentals. As we will come to notice, just as Dante describes a triune Deity, he also puts these platonic transcendentals in close proximity. In fact, Prof. John-Mark L. Miravalle – who teaches systematic and moral theology at the Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Maryland – would posit that these three principles are synonymous. In his book Beauty: What It Is & Why It Matters, he writes:

…truth, goodness, and beauty get the most attention out of any of the transcendentals and the most emphasis on their relationship. It is, after all, a remarkable idea – that beauty is the same thing as goodness and that both are the same as truth…truth, goodness, and beauty are the same one reality, which engages various faculties. When we engage reality through the clear abstraction of the intellect, we talk about reality as true. When reality is the target of our will, we pursue it as good. And when reality enthralls not only our minds and wills, but also our senses and feelings, we call it beautiful.6

Miravalle refuses to back down on the proposition of transcendental unity; it is this understanding of beauty which, built upon prior Christian thinking, we shall use going forward in order to evaluate the sense of beauty Dante evokes throughout his masterful poem. Given that beauty is a manifestation of the true and the good, it becomes somewhat easier to pin down and pinpoint in the Divine Comedy. Miravalle additionally notes two crucial elements of beauty: order and surprise which, as Prof. Donald DeMarco states in his article “Can Beauty Save the World?”, have their roots in the Thomistic elements of beauty, those being unity and proportion, respectively.7 In creation, we find order – as in the adherence to natural law. But, at the same time, the mystery of God’s goodness is manifested in unique and unexpected ways. There is something wonderful, for instance, in the inexplicability of certain features and abilities that animals might have. That the platypus, a mammal, has a duckbilled snout and the ability to lay eggs is remarkable and unanticipated. Nevertheless, God saw fit to have just such a creature. Hence, the beautiful involves a coupling of order and surprise. With this, we now have a detailed checklist for what to look for when we are searching for beauty in Dante’s Divine Comedy. It should be orderly and surprising; it is caught up and equated with the good and the true; and it is radiated forth from the whole and perfect Beauty: the supreme God, Three in One. Such a characteristic iteration of the beautiful doubtlessly falls in line as part of the succession in the Thomistic tradition. We will begin by examining the beauty present in the medium Dante the Poet uses to convey his journey, namely the literary art form. Poetry serves as Dante’s springboard to the heavens. Not only is it used to construct a vivid story, but it also employs some literary devices (such as similes) which transcend those limited by the work’s original language (such as a syllabic rhyming scheme) which are unlikely to carry across convincingly in transliteration and translation. All in all, Dante’s trilogy offers sharp, memorable imagery. Outside of literary devices, there are other elements of a body of literature that contribute to how scenes and ideas are presented. For Harold C. Gardiner, S.J., who served as the literary editor for America magazine in the 1940’s, inherent to fiction as a true art form are the elements of beauty and of sin – as presented for what it is: the severing of an intimate relationship with God. Sin and its protrayal is a key ingredient in the cosmic view as Dante presents it to us. His work deals directly with the ramifications of vice, God’s judgment, and eternity. Regarding sin as it is depicted in fiction (primarily in the novels of his own day) Gardiner posits:

If the author recognizes sin for what it is, his book (granting his ability in the other elements of his craft) will be a great book. For sin is an offense against God, a loss of His friendship, and surely that theme (and, of course, its obverse, repentance and restoration) is of all the most sublime. Let the author, well supplied with the other tools of his trade, grasp and realize that theme, and we will have another Divine Comedy.8

This clearly displays reverence for Dante’s magnum opus, as Gardiner uses it as the gold standard of good fiction writing, even though it would not fall under the genre of novel per se. Nonetheless, this statement also drives home the idea that evil and its corrupted fruit can be depicted in art in a beautiful fashion, that is, in a way that sheds light on the undesirable and heinous nature of breaking God’s law. This is, of course, an essential dimension of what occurs throughout the Divine Comedy as the reader travels with the Pilgrim through Hell, then Purgatory, and eventually to Heaven. The repercussions of man’s moral decisions, in their cosmic manifestation, offer up the scenery and the dialogue seen in Dante’s three volumes. We will now move chronologically from the  Inferno on through the Paradiso. As this paper argues for the existence of beauty in every canticle and that beauty serves as an aesthetic arrow pointing toward its origin, that primal Beauty, the beauty in the Inferno must first be discerned.

Inferno: God’s Goodness and the Lost Beauty of the Damned

In the Inferno, Dante must face darkness, brutality, and fear. Guided by Virgil, whom Dante admires for his wisdom and his work, the Pilgrim mingles with his own little Dead Poets Society, traverses the depths of Hell, speaks with the damned, and moves on into Purgatory. The idea of saying this country, or at least this state of being, is beautiful seems to be hard to swallow. For the Christian, it might seem that there could be nothing beautiful about damnation, the notion of which is naturally met with repulsion and a sense of being perturbed. The reader of the first installment of the Divine Comedy is faced with the most severe results of sin such as the eternal irritation of tormented souls, their deep longing, writhing metamorphoses, and that graphic instance of Count Ugolino munching on the brains of his victimizer Archbishop Ruggieri; the mouth of the former wiped against the hair of the latter as if using a napkin. These are not pleasing images for the reader, nor pleasing punishments for those doomed to Hell. However, for Dante’s purposes, the Inferno nonetheless possesses an air of beauty which points to the brilliance of God the Creator. We will examine this through the two lenses necessary for any worthwhile discussion on beauty: aesthetics and morality. Regarding the moral dilemma of calling Hell beautiful, the triune transcendental relation found in the platonic line of reasoning, previously addressed, can come to our aid. Since everything that God creates is good9, it follows that creatures, or created things, possess the other transcendental qualities of truth and beauty as well. Furthermore, we know that God Himself is all good, since all the transcendentals have their origin in Him. God’s actions are truly good and just. Our own actions, made substantial through the gift of free will, are subject to God’s justice. As we make our choices in life, so we forge our own path. In His love and justice, God respects the decisions we make according to the free will He has permitted to those whom He made in His image. Bishop Marc Aillet once said that “human life is a choice for or against God, with heaven or hell as its consequence, and that this is what constitutes the greatness and the dignity of the human being.”10 This gets at the heart of what could be said to be beautiful about Hell. While, at first glance, the occupants of the Inferno might appear to be subject to conditions which neglect human dignity, it is for the very reason of preserving and honoring the human dignity of free choice that Hell exists at all. As an act of God’s goodness, manifested toward His creation, Hell can also be seen as a beautiful act on God’s part. Although, the hideous acts of the damned within Hell are inherently ugly. There is a distinction between God’s activity in Hell and the activity of the damned.

As for the realm of aesthetics, there is a tradition in Christian philosophy that stands behind the idea of representing the grotesque or the repulsive in a beautiful fashion. Sin is no exception to this principle. Rather, some critics like Harold Gardiner state that it is just this quality in fiction that gives it a beautiful and genuine flair. Pertaining to the portrayal of the sinful human condition, Gardiner writes:

There is beauty; the beauty of the potentiality of the human soul, unrealized, frustrated…but still fundamentally and eternally there.11

The potentiality of the human soul is undeniably strung throughout the Divine Comedy in which we see a vast gamut of human behavior and of its consequences beyond our mortal existence. The human condition, in its calling toward virtuous nobility and in its looming danger of falling, packs all the potency of truth, no matter how dark it might get at times. As Miravalle echoes:

Artists don’t just make “pretty things”; they create tension and dissonance; they depict torture and defeat. They imitate God in showing the beauty in brutality; the sin abounding, and the grace abounding the more.12

This notion is also reconcilable with Thomistic thought. Aquinas admits that those things we deem beautiful in some way cause us pleasure in experiencing them, but he also writes that, “Even an ugly thing well represented is beautiful.”13 Such is the case of the Inferno, in which Dante masterfully crafts a perpetual condemnation replete with contrapassos, or punishments, which showcase both order and surprise, the two elements Prof. Miravalle believes to be crucial to beauty. Every contrapasso is, by definition, a punishment that can be compared to the chief vice the sinner unabashedly committed in his earthly life: a moral excess or defect. A contrapasso either contrasts this worldly vice or else resembles it; both are forms of order, as is visual symmetry to a work of art. But there is also an element of surprise. For instance, in the eighth circle of Hell, among the Thieves, the reader sees a man grotesquely morphing into a serpent. There are ghastly things like this taking place in the Inferno, and they are surprising for the simple reason that the contrapassos do not have to be the way they are, yet that is how they are, in fact, set up.14 They come as an unexpected inclusion. Finally, the argument for beauty’s presence in the Inferno comes from the words of the Poet himself. On more than one occasion, Dante notes the extraordinary artistic manifestation of the Creator in Hell. For example:

O Highest Wisdom, how you demonstrate

your art in Heaven, on earth, and here in Hell!

How justly does your power make awards!15

Here Dante himself articulates the beauty of God’s creation – even in the depths of Hell. Not only is Dante crafting a work of poetry to express Hell, but he also uses his own craft to proclaim the glory of God in His creation. Francesco da Buti, in commenting on this passage in the late 14th century, equates the “art” of God with goodness and says God governs all things through goodness.16 Once again, this reinforces the idea of the omnipresence of the good where there exists the beautiful, and vice versa. Furthermore, part of God’s goodness, as already noted, is His justice. His justice makes His love all the sweeter, and the splendor of beauty emanates forth from that “Highest Wisdom.” It is quite appropriate that it is Thomas Aquinas, in the Paradiso, who speaks of “wisdom’s radiance” to the Pilgrim, that radiance which illumines and penetrates all things in love. Meanwhile, in Hell, where those who denied God’s love dwell, is depicted as a land of darkness. This artistic choice on Dante’s part suggests that those in Hell are far from the love and light of God, the full force of which we see in Heaven. Before leaving the Inferno along with Dante and Virgil, we must first pass by Satan, the prototypical sinner who was first to reject God’s unfathomable love and the extent to which it would go to rescue His creatures. This climactic moment of Dante’s first installment accentuates the former splendor Lucifer had before he chose to turn himself against his Creator. We read:

When we had moved far enough along the way

that my master thought the time had come to show me

the creature who was once so beautiful,…

If once he was as fair as now he’s foul

and dared to raise his brows against his Maker,

it is fitting that all grief should spring from him.17

It is the uniquely consistent contrapasso shared by both Satan and all those in Hell to become disfigured, though they once might have been filled with God’s love and beauty. While God’s creation is full of goodness, the moral degradation of His people is not good and thus does not reflect true beauty. Pulling from another work of literature may help shed some light on the fall of Lucifer and how this changed him. In Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, through the dialogue of the whiskey priest now sitting in prison, the author writes:

I know – from experience – how much beauty Satan carried down with him when he fell. Nobody ever said the fallen angels were the ugly ones. Oh no, they were just as quick and light18

The passage brings two important moral issues to the forefront. First, it notes that Satan knows the potency of beauty. He can make sinfulness look appetizing. But also, using the past tense, the whiskey priest says the fallen angels were creatures of light and of beauty. In fact, Satan’s angelic title in the service of God – Lucifer – means “light-bearer” in Latin.19 In rejecting God’s invitation to love, he became the Prince of Darkness. And so, in the realm of the Prince of Darkness – contra the brilliance of Heaven’s light – there is an absence of light in the landscape and a depravity of lost beauty in the souls of the damned. Passing by Satan in the depths of the Inferno, we climb with the Pilgrim to the other side, emerging upon a locale not nearly so dark as the one he has just left behind. He can see patches of light, “the lovely things the heavens hold,” the twinkling stars.

Purgatory: On the Way that Makes Beauty Whole

The “cruelest of seas” now spurned, Dante and Virgil head for brighter shores. Freshly out of Hell and now making his way through Purgatory, the Pilgrim finds great pleasure in simple delights such as the warmth and familiarity of “radiance upon his face” like the rays of the sun. Here, Dante has his sight reinvigorated. He finds joy in the visible beauty he can see, and the higher he goes, the more beautiful his surroundings seem to become. Similar as in Hell, the sufferings of the souls who are being purified are symbolic of their former sins and are thus ordered like the contrapassos of the Inferno. But unlike Hell, hope and even happiness is experienced by the souls in the Purgatory. In Hell, there were only vainglorious eulogies, excuses, and wailing and nashing of teeth, whereas in Purgatory, Dante begins to hear holy and solemn hymns chanted by those making their way to God, a veritable “feast of song.” Once again, Dante confirms his admiration of God’s handiwork in creation as he similarly did in Inferno:

the brilliant colors of the grass and flowers

within that dale would outshine all of these,

as nature naturally surpasses art.20

Nature, the artwork of God, outdoes anything man could recreate. It is only God’s creation that can be perfectly true, good, and beautiful, and only He can bring His creatures to such perfection. For our purposes, the Purgatory is not only the midway point in Dante’s journey through a spiritual country, the ascent toward the heavenly reward, but also a noticeable transition between the darkness of Hell and the brilliance of our true home, Heaven. As the Poet calls it, Purgatorio is the “way to go to make their [the souls undergoing purification] beauty whole.”21 So, while not perfect, these souls – unlike those of the damned – have a certain air of beauty about them. Yet, it is in Heaven, their ultimate destination, that this beauty will bloom into fullness. Another aspect that presents a significant transition is the exchange of Beatrice for Virgil in the capacity of guide. Virgil, consigned to the state of Limbo in Hell, could not possibly lead Dante into heavenly glory since he can not attain it himself. Beatrice enters the scene and serves as a beacon of hope, of love, and – yes – of beauty as well. Before Virgil has to step out of the picture, he ridicules Dante for his attachment to worldly things, to pleasures merely of the mind or of the flesh, instead of looking on to those eternal things of beauty (which his guide can never partake in):

The heavens wheeling round you call to you,

revealing their eternal beauties – yet,

you keep your eyes fixed on the ground alone…22

The Pilgrim’s most beautiful guide, Beatrice, reprimands the protagonist in similar fashion, accusing him of revering her earthly body more so than her spiritual and heavenly glory. She proclaims to all in his presence:

when I had risen from the flesh to the spirit,

become more beautiful, more virtuous,

he found less pleasure in me, loved me less,

and wandered from the path that leads to truth,

pursuing simulacra of the good,

which promise more than they can ever give.23

That greater beauty for which all labor and strive in purgation is the same spiritual perfection Beatrice exemplifies in her very being. That perfect beauty can be manifested primarily in the soul, where the powers of the intellect and will reside: those powers most like God’s which we have some share in. In other words, the beauty of the soul is more urgent than that of the body. The issue of being overly fixated on the external, surface-level beauty, which seems to have been a vice that Dante was guilty of commiting, is better understood by the punishments of the lustful seen both in Hell (Canto V) and in Purgatory (Canto XXVII). In Hell, Francesca da Rimini says of her partner with whom she shared her sin, “Love, quick to kindle in the gentle heart, seized this one for the beauty of my body.”24 Granted, she pushes the blame to the other condemned soul, but Francesca’s statement details a passion which (so it seems from the noble Beatrice’s accusation) is something Dante himself has struggled with. It is quite interesting then that the Pilgrim must be instructed by the angel of Chastity to cleanse himself in the flames at the very last terrace where the lustful are purged for their vices that sprung from disordered eros. Not only is this a necessary step for Dante in his ascent to Heaven, but it puts our focus on the interior beauty of the spirit (of which purity is a large part) rather than on the beauty of the body. As Beatrice exemplifies in act and appearance, the beauty of the soul in Heaven dwarfs any former beauty because the soul is in a pure state of sinlessness. It has become “more beautiful, more virtuous” in the same way Beatrice proclaims she herself has become sinless and can afford to dwell in God’s presence. We can notice also that here in a concise segment of Beatrice’s speech she mentions the three platonic transcendentals as expressed in becoming “more beautiful,” straying from the way “that leads to truth,” and falling for empty imitations “of the good.” As previously discussed, they share a triune relationship. Beatrice emphasizes a way of truth that leads to increased beauty and the opposite road, which is taken in seeking empty semblances of the good. Real goodness then belongs with its “sisters,” to use Bishop Barron’s phraseology – truth and beauty. Here again, we see that they are inseparable. By the end of this discourse, the Pilgrim displays a deep sorrow and repentance for his attitude and outlook on existence. Having passed through fire and water and following Beatrice’s lead, Dante must now enter into that greatest of realms, into Paradise itself. He journeys now to a place of refreshment, light, and peace, but it is also an experience marked by joy. Where once he was only able to see the sun and stars as distant luminaries in Purgatory, he is now moving among the celestial worlds and stellar orbs. He has been caught up in a cosmic atmosphere of flaring sparks, solar flames, and luminous beings.

Paradise: Beauty Consummated

To recap up to this point, we have emphasized the relationship between truth, goodness, and beauty. The element of light has also been addressed and shown to be an aesthetic attribute to beauty. This idea is most recognizable and most powerful in the Paradise. Heaven is the opposite of Hell in nearly every respect. While Hell was marked by the darkness of evil, Heaven is the brightest of any of the states in the afterlife. While the beauty of the damned was severely disfigured, the beauty of the saints is complete, as is their joy. Trying to unpack every point in which the Poet describes Paradise as either good, luminous, or beautiful would not be possible in this essay. The chances of the reader making it through a single canto without a reference to the splendid light of Heaven are as likely as walking through Vatican City and spotting no religious. The brilliance of Paradise is an integral characteristic to the third and final installment of the Divine Comedy. While there are many passages relevant to aesthetical and theological musings, a few deserve our close attention. In fact, the way Dante employs light and the transcendentals is simultaneously aesthetic and theological, for God is the source and fullness of all. The blessed saints, as the Poet makes the point to illustrate, have natures now perfected through grace. Now, in Heaven, they contribute themselves to the greater glory of God. The Poet writes:

all lend their beauty to the Highest Sphere

sharing one same sweet life to the degree

that they feel the eternal breath of God.25

The heavenly residents abide with God, offering their created beauty, of which He is the source, back to the Triune God. (Later in the Paradise, some of the heavenly host are described as mirrors reflecting the brilliance of the Beatific Vision.) Heaven is inherently a place of beauty, and Dante makes great elaborations to saturate the Paradise with gorgeous encounters and bright descriptions. Moreover, inherent to Dante’s theology of Heaven is God as “that Living Light,” the highest Good, and the source of all things. In Beatrice’s words of explanation:

Divine Goodness, which from Itself rejects

all envy, sparkles so, that It reveals

the eternal beauties burning in Itself…

Sin is the only power that takes away

man’s freedom and his likeness to True Good,

and makes him shine less brightly in Its light;26

This theology of Heaven appropriately places God at the center of everything and works in conjunction with the direction the Poet has taken in conceiving this fantastic journey: a gradual progression toward the “True Good.” The language in this selected passage correlates with what has already been said, highlighting the light of “Divine Goodness,” the “eternal beauties” of the Creator, and the association of mankind’s likeness to God and what it looks like. Here we are given clearly and succinctly the rationale for interpreting light in Dante: that virtue is connected to the increase in the intensity of supernatural light (as seen in Beatrice’s case); and sin causes a darkening, as clearly displayed in the depths of the Inferno. As with a good deal of the Poet’s imagery, this element has biblical roots, particularly in the Gospels and even more specifically in a Johannine context. In the Fourth Gospel, the Evangelist puts great emphasis on the contrast between light and darkness, which are conveyed as markers of good and evil respectively. In a famous line from John, we read:

In him [the Word of God] was life, and the life was the light of all men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.27

Those who depart from the Incarnate Word depart from God, and if they do not live in the light, they are in darkness. In Dante’s imagining, the souls of Hell are stuck in perpetual darkness. But in Heaven, the light is unbounded in love and joy. From Beatrice’s words is also conveyed the sense of God’s light shining on His creatures, especially those closest to Him. This idea of emanating light or beauty, as noted much earlier, is familiar to Thomistic thinking. It is the idea of claritas, of being radiated. This adds import to the visible hierarchy presented in the Divine Comedy, with God dwelling in the highest. It is from this highest seat of Wisdom that God’s truth, goodness, and beauty – like light – radiates down through all of creation. As we have seen, beauty is something which – for Dante – can be seen in every state of life following our mortal existence on Earth, whether it be Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory. Furthermore, the beauty of the individual can either be marred by sin or purified and intensified by God’s grace. Ultimately, the Creator Himself is the source and summit of all the beauty that Dante has experienced and that we experience even now.


1 Donald DeMarco, “Can Beauty Save the World?” Lay Witness (November/December, 2009): 16-17.

2 See: Dante Alighieri, Canto XXVIII, The Divine Comedy – Volume 3: Paradise (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), 334.

3 Christopher Scott Sevier, Aquinas on Beauty (Lexington Books, 2015).

4 John L. Allen Jr., Robert Barron, To Light a Fire on the Earth (New York: Image Books, 2019), 49.

5 Dante Alighieri, Canto XXXIII, The Divine Comedy – Volume 3: Paradise (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), 393.

6 John-Mark L. Miravalle, Beauty: What It Is & Why It Matters (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2019), 38.

7 Donald DeMarco, “Can Beauty Save the World?” Lay Witness (November/December, 2009): 16-17.

8 Harold C. Gardiner, S.J., Tenets for Readers and Reviewers (New York: America Press, 1953?), 21.

9 See: Genesis 1:31.

10 Marc Aillet, Miguel Ayuso Torres, et al., Alcuin Reid, ed., The Sacred Liturgy (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2014), 168.

11 Harold C. Gardiner, S.J., Tenets for Readers and Reviewers (New York: America Press, 1953?), 35.

12 John-Mark L. Miravalle, Beauty: What It Is & Why It Matters (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2019), 119.

13 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I, q. 39, a. 8.

14 Cf. John Tuttle, “The Surprise of Order,” The University Bookman, August 30, 2020,

15 Dante Alighieri, Canto XIX, The Divine Comedy – Volume 1: Inferno (New York: Penguin Books, 2003), 239.

16 Francesco da Buti, Dante Lab Reader – Hell: Song 19,

17 Dante Alighieri, Canto XIX, The Divine Comedy – Volume 1: Inferno (New York: Penguin Books, 2003), 380.

18 Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory (New York: Penguin Books, 2015), 133.

19 John A. Hardon, S.J., Modern Catholic Dictionary (Bardstown, KY: Eternal Life, 1999), 325.

20 Dante Alighieri, Canto VII, The Divine Comedy – Volume 2: Purgatory (New York: Penguin Books, 1985), 71

21 Dante Alighieri, Canto II, The Divine Comedy – Volume 2: Purgatory (New York: Penguin Books, 1985), 19.

22 Dante Alighieri, Canto XIV, The Divine Comedy – Volume 2: Purgatory (New York: Penguin Books, 1985), 153.

23 Dante Alighieri, Canto XXX, The Divine Comedy – Volume 2: Purgatory (New York: Penguin Books, 1985), 324-325.

24 Dante Alighieri, Canto XIX, The Divine Comedy – Volume 1: Inferno (New York: Penguin Books, 2003), 112.

25 Dante Alighieri, Canto IV, The Divine Comedy – Volume 3: Paradise (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), 44.

26 Dante Alighieri, Canto VII, The Divine Comedy – Volume 3: Paradise (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), 84.

27 John 1:4-5.


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