Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Sourcing the War in Heaven

For the question of the War in Heaven, the fall of Satan and his later career, Jutta suggests this article from the Catholic Encyclopedia, which is pretty comprehensive, and has hyperlinks to several other related topics. A few snippets:

Mention is made of the Devil in many passages of the Old and New Testaments, but there is no full account given in any one place, and the Scripture teaching on this topic can only be ascertained by combining a number of scattered notices from Genesis to Apocalypse, and reading them in the light of patristic and theological tradition. The authoritative teaching of the Church on this topic is set forth in the decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council (cap. i, "Firmiter credimus"), wherein, after saying that God in the beginning had created together two creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal, that is to say the angelic and the earthly, and lastly man, who was made of both spirit and body, the council continues:

"Diabolus enim et alii dæmones a Deo quidem naturâ creati sunt boni, sed ipsi per se facti sunt mali." ("the Devil and the other demons were created by God good in their nature but they by themselves have made themselves evil.")
Here it is clearly taught that the Devil and the other demons are spiritual or angelic creatures created by God in a state of innocence, and that they became evil by their own act.
Despite numerous references to Satan in the Old Testament, the encyclopedia notes,
it is remarkable that for an account of the fall of the angels we must turn to the last book of the Bible.
The sole Biblical official account of the war in Heaven, which presumably preceded the Creation we read of in Genesis, is found in the last book of the New Testament.

On the question of when the fall of Satan occurred, we find this:
As might be expected from the attention they had bestowed on the question of the intellectual powers of the angels, the medieval theologians had much to say on the time of their probation. The angelic mind was conceived of as acting instantaneously, not, like the mind of man, passing by discursive reasoning from premises to conclusions. It was pure intelligence as distinguished from reason. Hence it would seem that there was no need of any extended trial....To modern readers the notion that the sin was committed in the second instant of creation may seem scarcely less incredible than the possibility of a fall in the very first. But this may be partly due to the fact that we are really thinking of human modes of knowledge, and fail to take into account the Scholastic conception of angelic cognition. For a being who was capable of seeing many things at once, a single instant might be equivalent to the longer period needed by slowly-moving mortals.
There's a good deal more there. And more images of Michael here.

Monday, February 26, 2007

A pattern at the center of Purgatorio

It seems that Cantos 14 through 20 contain another architectonic pattern that remained unnoticed for centuries, until Charles Singleton pointed to it in 1965: The symmetrical canto lengths surrounding Canto 17 give us a structural basis for calling that canto the center of the entire Commedia. (This makes more sense if Canto I of the Inferno is viewed as a prologue to the entire poem, i.e., 1 + 33 + 33 + 33 = 100.)

This pattern involves a mirroring of numbers of lines around the center:

Canto 14: 151 lines
Canto 15: 145 lines
Canto 16: 145 lines
Canto 17: 139 lines
Canto 18: 145 lines
Canto 19: 145 lines
Canto 20: 151 lines

There is an additional pair of "pendants" involving the phrase "libero arbitrio" in cantos 16 and 18.

It wasn't until the 20th century that scholars began to analyze the ring structure in Homer's Iliad - yet Dante seems to have created his own "mini-ring" in his epic without having access either to Homer or their scholarship.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Darkness and the Light

Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed tutelage. Tutelage is the inability to use one's own understanding without another's guidance. This tutelage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one's own mind without another's guidance. Dare to know! Have the courage to use one's own understanding! is therefore the motto of the Enlightenment ... If it is only given freedom, enlightenment is inevitable... I. Kant, Political Writings, trans. H.B. Nisbet.
Writing toward the end of the 18th century, Kant sounded the clarion of the ascent of Reason -- the eager anticipation of the emancipation of the mind, which, once free, would rely upon itself to progress toward universal knowledge.

What would Dante make of this bold exodus from guides, tutors, teachers?

Here's Marco Lombardo inside the absolute darkness of Canto 16:
lo mondo e cieco, e tu vien ben da lui
the world is blind, and indeed you come from it.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Purgatorio 16: Marco Lombardo

Giotto: Wrath

Dante interlaces several heterogeneous elements in this canto, not all of them in any obvious way linked to wrath. To name only a few:
  • The intense darkness of the fummo, the acrid smoke that envelopes the entire canto;
  • The theme of free will introduced by Marco Lombardo in response to Dante's questioning of the origin of evil;
  • The free are subject to a higher nature that creates the human mind;
  • Multiple metaphors of knots tied and loosed;
  • The joy of the creator;
  • The innocent new soul, that "knows nothing" -- sa nulla -- other than what pleases;
  • The necessity for a guide, law;
  • The Two Suns of Pope and Emperor - the relation of religion and state;
  • The three men through whose nobility "the old times reprove the new"
Any thoughts about why these ingredients -- some of them major themes -- come into play in this canto of wrath?

Purgatorio 15: Three moments of blindness

Three times in canto 15, Dante loses his power of sight: with the angel, during the "visione estatica," and in the thick enveloping smoke at the end. All this during the setting of the sun. The play of blindness and vision will continue through the next cantos, which are at the literal center of the Commedia.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Badiou on "evil"

Alain Badiou, a contemporary French thinker, offers this comment about how the concept of "evil" is handled in politics and media today:
In truth, our leaders and propagandists know very well that liberal capitalism is an inegalitarian regime, unjust, and unacceptable for the vast majority of humanity. And they know too that our "democracy" is an illusion: Where is the power of the people? Where is the political power for third world peasants, the European working class, the poor everywhere? We live in a contradiction: a brutal state of affairs, profoundly inegalitarian-where all existence is evaluated in terms of money alone-is presented to us as ideal. To justify their conservatism, the partisans of the established order cannot really call it ideal or wonderful. So instead, they have decided to say that all the rest is horrible. Sure, they say, we may not live in a condition of perfect Goodness. But we're lucky that we don't live in a condition of Evil. Our democracy is not perfect. But it's better than the bloody dictatorships....That's why the idea of Evil has become essential. No intellectual will actually defend the brutal power of money and the accompanying political disdain for the disenfranchised, or for manual laborers, but many agree to say that real Evil is elsewhere. Who indeed today would defend the Stalinist terror, the African genocides, the Latin American torturers? Nobody. It's there that the consensus concerning Evil is decisive. Under the pretext of not accepting Evil, we end up making believe that we have, if not the Good, at least the best possible state of affairs-even if this best is not so great.
It might be worth thinking about how this characterization of a view of evil compares -- or contrasts -- with what Purgatorio presents. Do we see the kind of demonizing of Evil in Dante that Badiou finds in certain present-day political rhetoric?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

David and Solomon: Hicks from the Sticks?

The headline might be something of an exaggeration, but according to new archaeological research reviewed in Science Magazine, not as much as you might think.

Israeli archaeologist Israel Finkelstein has published controversial studies suggesting that the storied realm of the mighty kings of united Israel of which we read might have been more story than actuality:
The Bible tells of the golden age of the united kingdom of Israel ruled over by a Judean monarch, first David and then his son Solomon. It describes a renowned empire spreading from the Red Sea to the border of Syria, the splendor of Jerusalem and the first Temple built by Solomon, as well as other magnificent building projects. This united kingdom then split into Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Does archeology confirm this picture? Despite legendary exaggerations and elaborations, the authors believe that David and Solomon did exist -- but as minor highland chieftains ruling a population of perhaps 5,000 people.

In The Bible Unearthed, Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman document the state of the evidence for the glories of the United Kingdom, and find more fable than fact:
There is no trace of written documents or inscriptions, nor of the Temple or palace of Solomon, and buildings once identified with Solomon have been shown to date from other periods. Current evidence refutes the existence of a unified kingdom: "The glorious epic of united monarchy was -- like the stories of the patriarchs and the sagas of the Exodus and conquest -- a brilliant composition that wove together ancient heroic tales and legends into a coherent and persuasive prophecy for the people of Israel in the seventh century BCE." Larger map and more here.