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Similarities in The Sermon on the Mount and The Divine Comedy: Dante’s references to Christ’s Teachings Research Paper

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Updated: Apr 28th, 2019

Overview of the Two Works

Admittedly, teachings of Christ are the most important conventions for the Christian world. One of his most famous sermons is The Sermon on the Mount. This sermon is provided in Mathew’s Bible. In this sermon, Jesus Christ teaches people to act rightfully. He also refers to the conventions mentioned in Hebrew Bible. Notably, Christ claims that some conventions cannot be rightful.

For example, Jesus Christ notes that people should be patient and forgiving. “Love your enemies,” he says (“The Sermon on the Mount” 1086). Of course, some conventions remain the same.

Thus, Christ claims that people should not try to accumulate wealth (treasures) in their earthly lives as they should think of treasures of heaven. Jesus claims that all earthly treasures will be destroyed by time (“The Sermon on the Mount” 1088). Of course, Jesus states that people cannot serve “two masters”: God and “mammon” (“The Sermon on the Mount” 1088). This is one of the most important conventions to be remembered. Unfortunately, people have broken this rule for centuries.

For example, Dante mentioned this in The Divine Comedy. Admittedly, Dante has been one of the central figures in world literature. He was a genius who managed to address vices and virtues of the society of the fourteenth century (James 1463). Therefore, he could not but address one of the most common vices. Dante wrote about people who tried to obtain as much gold as possible during their earthly lives. Dante encountered such people in hell and in purgatory.

Those people were vicious clergymen, misers, wasters, usurers, grafters, etc. All those sinners had to pay for their earthly life. They had to pay because they forgot that the only treasure could be found in heaven. Interestingly, Dante gave some sinners a chance to purge. Dante described “Purgatorio” which was full of sinners who could reach the gates of St. Peter (Dante 1576). It is also important to mention that Dante depicted “Paradiso” and it was clear what the real treasure was (Dante 1594).

Therefore, it is possible to trace several similarities between Dante’s most renowned work and The Sermon on the Mount. However, it is important to focus on a particular point. Christ teaches that people cannot strive for wealth but they should think more of heavenly treasures, the treasures of their souls. Dante considers this statement in his specific allegorical way.

Punishment for Sinners

Misers

It goes without saying that Dante referred to Biblical books when writing his work. Of course, he took into account The Sermon on the Mount where the most famous teachings were provided. Dante paid special attention to Christ’s teachings concerning gold. Dante placed shades of misers in his hell. He allegorically illustrated Christ’s teaching. Thus, shades of those wretched souls had to roll weights with their chests (Dante 1473). Dante created an illustrative allegory.

He depicted souls of misers who tried to obtain as much gold as possible during their lifetime. The weight of their earthly treasures could not let them go to heaven. Admittedly, it is simply impossible to reach the sky with such a heavy burden. Therefore, they were punished for their sins. Dante decided to make the sinners ‘feel’ their mistake. The misers had to feel the burden of their earthly treasures. More so, the souls had to compete.

There was a race. Dante depicted the race which was similar to the earthly one. People would always try to have more treasures than other people do. The competition never ended for sinners. At least in Dante’s hell, the sinners had to compete wearing their heavy burdens. Interestingly, Dante stressed that clergymen often sinned just like any other people. Irrespective of their ‘service’ to God, they were still punished in accordance with the great rules.

Usurers

Dante depicted one more group of sinners. Those people were preoccupied with gold more than with their souls’ treasures. Those were usurers. The punishment was quite harsh. The hell flames and “burning sands” caused a lot of sufferings to those shades who were sitting near “empty space” (Dante 1482). Again, the punishment was very symbolic.

The usurers lent money and took money from different people. They caused a lot of sorrows for many people during their lifetime. What is more, they ruined their own souls. The usurers ignored one of Christ’s teachings concerning gold. Despite the fact that Christ taught that people could not serve mammon, the usurers served that ‘deity’.

The usurer forgot about treasures of their souls and they had to pay for that in hell. It is quite interesting to note that Dante provided a name of a noble man who also lent money. Again, Dante stressed that all people (peasants or noblemen (or even clergymen)), would be punished for their sins after their death.

Simoniacs

One of the most interesting categories depicted by Dante can be also a good illustration of Christ’s teachings. Dante introduced such group of people as Simoniacs, i.e. people who tried to “adulterate” holy things into “gold and silver” (Dante 1484). These people also forgot The Sermon on the Mount as they tried to serve two masters.

They tried to buy holy things. They thought that they could buy their ‘ticket’ to heaven. Those people wanted to pass St. Peter’s gates as if they were saints and holy people. Of course, Dante made up a symbolic punishment for them as well. Thus, the great author depicted their sufferings in detail. Those wretched souls had to remain motionless while their feet were burning. Dante decided to make their feet burn to show that no sinner could tread in heaven.

Grafters

Finally, Dante depicted one more group of sinners who praised gold more than their souls’ treasures. Grafters who would “change no to yes for cash” were also punished in hell (Dante 1486). Those people had very sinful lives. They did not care about their life after death.

They wanted to get as much gold as possible. It goes without saying that those people could never pass St. Peter’s gate. They had to dive in sticky waters of flames in hell. They wanted to be surrounded by treasures during their earthly lives, but instead they were surrounded by flames of hell. They did not follow Christ’s rules of rightful behavior. They were preoccupied with earthly treasures. That is why Dante placed them in his hell.

Purgatorio and Paradiso

Interestingly, Dante described a place where sinners could purge (Dante 1501). They could atone for their sins. Dante described all the major sins mentioned in Inferno. Notably, the author did not simply provided examples of sins. He considered the nature of the sin. He also mentioned some motives. Admittedly, this part is also quite illustrative.

It also refers to The Sermon on the Mount. Dante did not only reveal the punishment for sinners. He also claimed that people could still rethink their behavior. It was never late to start thinking of treasures of heaven. More so, Christ said that people could be forgiven (even if they sinned). Therefore, even those who only thought of earthly wealth could atone for their sinful actions. Of course, it was important to start a new better life. Dante gave people hope to save their souls.

Finally, Dante also portrayed paradise. He revealed the beauty of paradise and real treasures of heavenly life (Dante 1535). This part of The Divine Comedy should be regarded as an allegorical illustration of The Sermon on the Mount. Christ was talking about treasures of heaven.

Dante depicted the life of righteous people. Admittedly, peaceful life of joy is the greatest treasure. Dante mentioned people who led rightful lives. Their rightful lives continued in heaven. Admittedly, the description of paradise could be regarded as a great stimulus to act in a rightful way. Dante showed what the real treasure was.

Dante’s illustrations

Therefore, it is possible to find several allegorical illustrations for The Sermon on the Mount in The Divine Comedy. Of course, it was hardly Dante’s aim to illustrate the sermon. Nonetheless, he managed to create really exact examples of what Christ was talking in his teachings.

Dante paid a lot of attention to people’s greediness, their chase for earthly treasures. It is possible to state that this is one of the central themes in Dante’s work. He stressed that people had to act rightfully; otherwise they would be punished after their death. Therefore, Dante portrayed sufferings of sinful people, people who cherished gold.

It is worse mentioning that the author depicted fair punishment. He ‘punished’ people to make them understand their guilt. Thus, those who took and lent money had to expose their hands to flames. Those who spent their lives in chase for earthly treasures had to race with other sinners carrying their burdens.

The guilt of each person was obvious. Each sinner could remember about his sins when suffering in hell. The sinners could never forget what they did wrong as their punishment was the best reminder. Notably, the majority of the sinners depicted admitted that their earthly treasures were not worth all those sufferings they had to endure.

The major similarities

To sum up, it is possible to claim that The Sermon on the Mount and The Divine Comedy has quite many similarities as Dante used Christ’s teachings in his work. It is also possible to note that Dante pays special attention to people’s chase for gold and earthly welfare. Christ also mentions that people should think of treasures of heavenly life. He claims that people cannot serve two masters (God and gold). Dante places such sinners into several circles of his hell.

He also puts them in his purgatory. Of course, Dante also describes other sinners and their sins. However, the shades that are punished for their love for gold and other earthly treasures are really numerous. Therefore, it is possible to conclude that Dante’s work suggests that thinking of earthly life rather than preparing for heavenly life is one of the deadliest sins. This idea can be also traced in The Sermon on the Mount.

Works Cited

James, Heather, et al. “Dante Alighieri.” The Norton Anthology- Western Literature. Volume 1. Ed. Heather James, et al. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005. 1456-1465. Print.

Dante, Alighieri. “Inferno”. Trans. Mark Musa. The Norton Anthology- Western Literature. Volume 1. Ed. Heather James, et al. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005. 1465-1576. Print.

—. “From Purgatorio”. Trans. Mark Musa. The Norton Anthology- Western Literature. Volume 1. Ed. Heather James, et al. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005. 1576-1594. Print.

—. “From Paradiso”. Trans. Mark Musa. The Norton Anthology- Western Literature. Volume 1. Ed. Heather James, et al. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005. 1594-1598. Print.

“The Sermon on the Mount”. Trans. Richard Lattimore. The Norton Anthology- Western Literature. Volume 1. Ed. Heather James, et al. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005. 1085-1089. Print.

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