This spring, the Italian American Law Society at St. John’s Law School hosted a wonderful event led by some knowledgeable law students discussing Dante’s Divine Comedy, focusing in particular on Canto VI of Purgatorio and the politics of Florence and Italy at the time Dante wrote. The law and religion features of the Divine Comedy really might merit an entire course. Here is an interesting new book that features another important and sometimes neglected element of the masterwork: its theological framework and content. The book is Dante the Theologian (Cambridge University Press) by Denys Turner.

An understanding of Dante the theologian as distinct from Dante the poet has been neglected in an appreciation of Dante’s work as a whole. That is the starting-point of this vital new book. In giving theology fresh centrality, the author argues that theologians themselves should find, when they turn to Dante Alighieri, a compelling resource: whether they do so as historians of fourteenth-century Christian thought, or as interpreters of the religious issues of our own times. Expertly guiding his readers through the structure and content of the Commedia, Denys Turner reveals – in pacy and muscular prose – how Dante’s aim for his masterpiece is to effect what it signifies. It is this quasi-sacramental character that renders it above all a theological treatise: whose meaning is intelligible only through poetry. Turner’s Dante ‘knows that both poetry and theology are necessary to the essential task and that each without the other is deficient.

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