Review: Dante and the Franciscans: Poverty and the Papacy in the 'Commedia'

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Book Review


History (Pomona)

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Dante, Franciscans, poverty, papal investigation, suppression


Poverty is a familiar theme in the writings of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), his works capturing the two very different dimensions of poverty that dominated the imagination of early fourteenth-century Italy: the fear of poverty as a socio-economic affliction that beset many Italians (and never stopped haunting the ones that it did not), and the quest for poverty as a spiritual virtue that provided the key to everlasting life in the next world and ecclesiastical reform and renewal in this one. Dante's own life's experience exposed him to both kinds of poverty. His exile from his beloved Florence (from 1301) gave him his first bitter taste of poverty as a reality. And the fact that he was writing the Divina Commedia (c. 1307-1321) against the backdrop of the most active phases of papal investigation and suppression of the Spiritual Franciscans, made him an armchair expert on evangelical poverty as an ideal.

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