« AnteriorContinua »
cardinal point in which the philosophy of John ran counter to that of Thomas, whose theory of grace and the Divine influx as developed by the Dominican school went far, says Renan, to suppress free-will. John did not scruple to affirm that the soul draws its individuality from itself and thus defined the soul as a free and intelligent force which develops in the double sphere of will and knowledge.1
That Dante should have so decidedly identified himself with this doctrine constitutes a strong presumption that he had heard it demonstrated by the Subtle Doctor and been brought over to his views notwithstanding the tenets of Aquinas which had for many years held undisputed sway in the schools of philosophy. The doctrine of Free-will may be regarded as the passport to any intellectual freedom worthy of the name, and it is not without significance that we find Vergil summing up the aims of Dante in the presence of Cato with the words: 'He goeth seeking liberty, and how dear a prize is this he knoweth who surrenders life itself to gain it."2
There are other directions in which Dante forsook Aquinas to follow the newer philosophy. Duns Scotus demonstrated with great boldness and dialectical skill that human reason and philosophy are powerless of themselves without the aid of revelation to attain to or prove the highest truths relating to God. He refuted the doctrine. that the omnipotence of God was capable of logical demonstration, and testified eloquently to man's need of a supernatural faculty to enable him to know his last end. and attain to the Beatific Vision.3 Formal adhesion to this conception of truth may be traced in the entire framework of the Divina Commedia. It is dramatically presented in the disappearance of Vergil (Reason) in the Earthly
1 Hist. Littér. de France, t. xxv p. 457. Art. 'Jean Duns Scotus.' 2 Purg. i 71: Libertà va cercando, che è si cara
Come sa chi per lei vita rifiuta.
See R.P. Alexandre Bertoni of the Friars Minor, whose recent work (1917) on 'Le Bienheureux Jean Duns Scotus' has shed a flood of light on the doctrines held by Duns.
VOL. XCVI.-NO. CXCII.
Paradise when superseded by Beatrice (Divine Intuition). It is also worked out with great subtlety in the Fourth Book of the Convivio, which is devoted in great part to a demonstration of the divine outpouring of this gift (Nobility) on man prior to birth and hence prior to Baptism.1
Still more significant is the complete rejection by Dante of St. Thomas' notorious and very decidedly expressed opinion that the souls of the blest prior to the resurrection are unable to acquire knowledge of things previously unknown or of events which occur after their death. Duns Scotus did not hesitate firmly to controvert this theory as tending to the vilification of the soul and intellect.2 Adopting throughout the entire Paradiso the views of Duns on this subject, Dante presents a disembodied Thomas bearing witness by his own experience to the fact that he is completely purged from his former error, recounting in fact the deterioration of his own Order, news of which had come through to him.
Almost, possibly quite, alone in his generation, Dante was able to perceive that the conclusions of an Aquinas and a Duns, supported or controverted with such extraordinary virulence by inferior men, were acceptable in the eyes of God not because they contained the whole truth but because they were genuine aspirations after truth, witness to a thirst for God which was the sign of the Holy Spirit. It was his achievement to reveal the glory which rested equally upon saints thus wide apart in men's esteem, and in so doing to betray how far his own eye could pierce the measureless fountain of God's grace. Thus it is that we behold Thomas Aquinas pointing with admiration to the eternal light of Siger, that very Siger whose invidious truths he had bitterly controverted, whose lingering death
1 Conv. Bk. iv c. 21.
• Vide Reportata Parisiensia, Liber iv Dist. 45 Sch. iii: Hic tamen est opinio cuiusdam Doctoris, qui ponit vilificationem animae et intellectus, quia dicit quod anima separata non potest acquirere notitiam prius ignotorum, ita quod intellectus separatus non potest immediate notitiam accipere a re extra, nisi mediante phantasmate, etc. (Cf. Summa, 1a pars art. 89.)
3 Par. xx 118-120.
was indirectly the result of that superior force in dialectic on the part of the Saint which beat down the defences of the persecuted scholar.1 In Heaven their sins against each other were blotted out; there, like Bonaventura acclaiming the prophetic gifts of Joachim after persecuting the Joachist Spirituals, they cast off earthbound prejudices, remembering them but to seize a chance of making atonement, or, like Gregory' who when he opened his eyes in Heaven smiled at his own self,' 2 as a source of gentle amusement.
The profound interest which John was able to rouse by his discourses is attested not only by tradition but by the number of his students, which even in Oxford is said to have amounted to 30,000. But the highly technical form in which his words were uttered and committed to writing gives small hint to the modern of the underlying intention which kindled the wrath of one faction, the acclamations of the other. Then, as now, a very light line divided heresy from orthodoxy; it was possible to express truth and error in almost identical terms, the distinction lying in the colour, as it were, imparted by the speaker. This was so well understood that Inquisitors came to depend for their conviction of offenders almost entirely on such matters of fact as association with other heretics rather than on statements of belief, having often been worsted in argument with their victims. An example of the ambiguity it was possible to import into doctrinal teaching is furnished by John's discourse on the Last Judgement. He demonstrated
1 Par. x 133-138:
Questi, onde a me ritorna il tuo riguardo,
2 Par. xxviii 133-135:
Ma Gregorio da lui poi si divise ;
• Reportata Parisiensia, iv. dist. 48.
that in this hour the merits no less than the sins of all men will be made manifest. The general sentence will be pronounced and each individual will hear deep within his own consciousness his own doom. Of this supreme tribunal Christ will be the Judge. Nothing could be more Scriptural or Catholic. But imagine the effect of this discourse on men writhing under a system which lent to foreign, perhaps depraved, popes and prelates the power to damn for all eternity, irrespective of conduct, their political opponents. Incontrovertible in its orthodoxy, it yet reminded men of a Court of Appeal in which excommunication would have no force against the witness of a man's conscience. To such a Court Dante tacitly appealed again and again in his Purgatorio when exhibiting the excommunicate unharmed by ecclesiastical censure.
We may believe that on many occasions when John occupied the rostrum the session was graced by the revered figure of the Italian poet, eagerly seizing every point and delighting in all that was implied but could not openly be said little suspecting that in days when the works of John Duns Scotus had come to be neglected by all but a few scholars his own name would surely ring down the ages highest among the immortals.
We propose to shew cause for believing that Dante did not resist the desire to immortalize the Master he greatly revered in the work which he has told us was the chief delight of his later years.
The main difficulty about admitting the possibility of John's presence in the Paradiso lies in the hitherto unshaken tradition that all the dead persons whom Dante encountered on his way through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise were individuals whose death had occurred prior to 1300 (or 1301). Although this is nowhere expressly declared the obvious intention of the opening cantos of the Inferno was to give that impression, and Dante took pains not to obscure this point of view by introducing any who had died later than that date under their own names. By lending his characters the gift of prophecy he kept the liberty of commenting, though obscurely, on events which occurred subsequently
to the key date, for it would have been a tedious and hampering restriction to be cut off altogether from any allusion to the things most closely affecting his life at the time of writing. The rigid censorship exercised by ecclesiastical authority and enforced by the Inquisition Courts suffices to explain why Dante sought to persuade the bulk of his readers that he was dealing solely with 'old unhappy far-off things' and had left untouched the acutely controversial business of deciding whether the people of his own day were saints or sinners. It is however a remarkable fact that Dante omitted to name, or described only under nicknames, certain persons in his drama to whom he assigned nevertheless a very important rôle. And there is good reason to believe that in so doing he was making use of that subtle and useful art of 'Disguising'1 which he extolled in the Convivio and employed, so he there explained, with great dexterity in his Canzoni. Indeed, Dante plainly gave his readers to understand in his introduction to the Paradiso (Epistle viii) that under the literal subject, 'the state of souls after death,' lay hid an allegorical subject-man as by good or ill deserts in the exercise of the freedom of his choice, he becomes liable to rewarding or punishing justice.' Although the state of souls after death' limits the scope of the literal subject to a date prior to that of the vision, the allegorical subject plainly knows no such artificial restriction; for it is the living rather than the dead who exercise free will and thus become liable to justice.
Dante may have had more than one reason for not openly introducing the figure of Duns Scotus on the scene. To do so might have prevented the Paradiso from seeing the light by exciting the suspicion that dangerous doctrines
1 Conv. Bk. iii c. 10: 'And this figure in rhetoric is a matter of much praise and moreover is necessary; I mean when words are addressed to one person and intended for another.' In the Latin eclogues written towards the close of his life Dante is found still practising this 'necessary 'art of double-writing, as when he disguised the figure of Robert of Naples under the screen of Polyphemus, lest the epistle, being copied by some spy, might cause mischief.