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True love beckons

"My beloved spoke and said to me, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me." Song of Solomon 2.10

As they leave Purgatorio, Virgil falls silent as he is overcome with awe in their approach to the beautiful mount of Paradiso. Turning to his guide and mentor, Dante finds that he is gone. In his place appears the mesmerising figure of Beatrice - but, like Moses, her face is veiled because she radiates the unapproachable holiness of God. Amazing to think, like all of the characters in the Divine Comedy, the original Beatrice was a real person known to the author. Yet now she is perfected and true to a form beyond what Dante has heretofore experienced and he can only marvel - not at her but at the Gryphon, who represents Christ, and who now appears in the midst of a bizarre procession of symbolic figures.

Dante's earthly exile from his beloved Florence will never end but, through his allegory, he testifies to how, in his lost state, he finds his way into a pilgrimage towards a better place and, in the process, finds that he is on a journey of self-improvement or, rather, the formation of his self into the likeness of Jesus, which is the inheritance of all true believers. I refer to that process of sanctification, which follows the moment of justification when we put our trust in Christ. Virgil offers what we might call natural revelation and the highest form of human love, which is friendship. Beatrice takes Dante further, towards the higher love that can be enjoyed only in that redeemed relationship with God which Jesus enables.

The Divine Comedy invites us to move from our earthly journey through life as we know it, into a pilgrimage of personal formation which, alone, can prepare us for our eternal destiny. As such, its scope and ambition are breath-taking. Dante's incorporation of humour and acquaintance enriches it with the warmth of personality and the depth of experience. And is that not what the journey towards maturity is all about - becoming the people God created us to be?



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