Pope Francis has recommended that Dante’s The Divine Comedy would make excellent reading for the year of mercy.
We are able to enrich ourselves with his experience in order to cross the many dark forests still scattered on our earth,” the Pope said, “and to happily complete our pilgrim story, to reach the destination dreamed of and wished for by everyone: ‘The love that moves the sun and other stars.’
Because of this recommendation, I have just recently finished reading all three books: Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. I read Anthony Esolen’s translation, which I found to be very readable. I also enjoyed his copious notes.
The story is about a guided journey taken by the author through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. There is an incredibly detailed structure to each place (complete with astronomical features) and each layer and each person encountered along the way (which include both historical and mythical persons) adds a unique piece to the story.
It is rich in concepts about the nature of God and man that are very applicable today. It also offers a broad range of perspective for modern readers who are looking through a very ancient lens. Dante must have been an incredibly educated and thoughtful person for his day; well versed in theology and philosophy as well as astronomy and with many insights into both human nature and current and historical events.
Part of what we can see so clearly through this lens is the struggle with sin that mankind has fought throughout all of history. Sins of popes and clergy are particularly evident within the story.
Bishop Robert Barron has an excellent article on the spiritual power of The Divine Comedy here: “The Spiritual Master Pope Francis Wants You To Read“.