After reading this article you will learn about the bio, life and questions asked by Dante Alighieri.
Life and Thought of Dante Alighieri:
Dante Alighieri was born in Florence in 1265 and died in 1321. He was a man of two centuries and the most vocal antipapal. He was the great supporter of anti- papacy and imperial power.
He defended the imperial authority in its absolute form and ruthlessly criticized the hegemony of the church. In this respect, Dante stood diametrically opposite to St. Thomas and John of Salisbury.
Dante Alighieri wrote a book De Monarchia (On Monarchy) by about 1310. He was also the author of Divine Comedy. De Monarchia was the most influential anti-papalist and imperialist tract in the fourteenth century.
Dante Alighieri was a Florentine and he had gathered considerable experience in practical politics. During his exile he wandered from court to court and this enabled him to gain valuable knowledge on judicial and administrative affairs.
The anarchic condition of Italy pained him very much. Following Aristotle, he said that man could achieve his purposes only in a united and peaceful state. This could be done by a unified and powerful monarch.
A powerful monarch could claim the capacity to decide all the controversies and meet the demands of his citizens. He had no faith in the hegemony of the church. Justice was to be found in an imperial administration.
He said that the state should exist for the sake of the individuals. They must have this liberty and rights and he found the dismal condition of the church in this respect. People must have a say in the management of the state.
Analysing from this angle we call Dante a democrat and also a modern thinker. But in his approach to history, canon law and theological dogma he was a medieval thinker.
Dante Alighieri was a great patriot. He realized that the papal authority was mainly responsible for never-ending dissension among the people of Italy. The church never made any sincere attempt to unite the people nor to bring about peace.
Building up of a powerful nation-state under the authority of a monarch, according to Dante Alighieri, was the only remedy to the prevailing ills from which Italy was suffering.
Like other thinkers of imperial power, Dante Alighieri thought that the power of the emperor was derived from God, and hence it was independent of the church. In all spiritual matters he admitted the authority of the church. But the two powers were united only in God.
In order to make the emperor powerful and to bring about peace and unity in the state, study of law and jurisprudence was necessary and he emphasized this. Dante was responsible for the renewed emphasis in the study of Roman law. He enveloped his thought with a theological garment.
We can say Dante Alighieri had reconciled theology, law, jurisprudence, imperial power and, above all, Aristotelian principles. In the words of Sabine “Like Thomas, he placed his theory of the universal community within a framework of principles derived from Aristotle”.
Questions Raised by Dante Alighieri:
In his celebrated work De Monarchia Dante has raised three questions—one is, whether a world government ruled by a monarch is necessary for the welfare of the human race.
Secondly, whether the Roman people acquired world domination by right.
Thirdly, whether the authority of the emperor derives directly from God or some minister of God.
Whether Temporal Monarchy is Necessary for Welfare of the World:
The first question raised by Dante Alighieri in De Monarchia is whether the temporal monarchy is necessary for the welfare of the world. He answers the question from three different angles.
The first is the philosophical point of view. The unity of the state is of primary importance. He says “where the unity is greatest, the good is also greatest”.
Lack of unity affects the good. In his opinion, only the temporal monarchy can ensure unity, the development of the rational qualities of man is possible only in a peaceful atmosphere and this is to be achieved by the temporal monarchy.
Dante Alighieri has argued that for the settlement of disputes between the states no war is necessary.
He says, “Wherever there is a controversy, there ought to be a judgment.” This judgment is to be delivered only by the temporal monarchy. His decisions are binding on all. If there is a world government, and if all the states act according to the directives of that government, the possibility of war among the states will be much less.
It is surprising to note that more than six centuries ago this son of Florence imagined of a world government, world peace and international understanding.
In the middle of the 20th century we established United Nations and in the last decade of the century we saw the crises with which the world organization was faced.
Dante Alighieri finally has adopted Aristotelian argument. He says that where a number of things are arranged to attain an end it behoves one of them to govern the others, and the others to submit. Take the case of an individual. His objective is to pursue happiness and he subordinates all other objectives to it. He is guided by reason and not by impulses.
In a household there is a head of the family and all the members are subordinate to the head who is normally the father. The independence of all members will invite chaos. The same thing happens in the case of city or kingdom.
When a kingdom is divided itself it is brought to desolation. The purpose of the whole human race is happiness and peace. Naturally there shall be only one guide to govern. The proper title of this office is Monarchy of Empire. He is necessary for the welfare of the world.
Dante’s world government is not an indication of uniformity. In the world government there shall be uniformity of law and government, but ethnic, cultural and linguistic differences should be accepted.
Local issues should be settled locally. The monarchy should not be burdened with these matters. Common problems and issues of wider importance needs be vested in the monarchy. In this way, Dante has attempted reconciliation between regionalism and universalism.
Whether the Roman People Were justified in Assuming the Dignity of Empire:
In answering this question Dante has again adopted Aristotelian principle which states that all men are not capable of governing others. Nature makes some men suitable for the purpose.
Similarly, all nations do not possess the capacity to govern other nations. Certain races or nations are born to govern, and certain others are to be governed. Here subjection is expedient and for the fulfilment of greater interest this is to be accepted.
He further observes it cannot be doubted that nature ordained in the world a country and a nation for universal sovereignty. This nation must perform the nature-ordained duty. In this view, Rome is the nature-ordained state to govern the entire world. He notices that record of Roman achievement is full of miracles.
Roman people was by nature ordained to empire and, therefore, it was of right that they gained empire. Dante categorically says that Romans sought empire not from greed, but for the sake of common good of the conquered as well as the conquerors.
Critics are of opinion that it is very difficult to understand what Dante exactly means by Roman people. In the thirteenth century various races lived in Rome. It is also obvious from his observation that he had no animosity against pagans who constituted a major part of Rome. Although Dante was an Italian he advocated Roman supremacy.
Whether the Authority Derives Directly From God or Some Vicar or Minister of God:
This is the last question of De Monarchia. Dante’s anti-papalist idea is quite clear here. His predecessors, including St. Thomas, held that the authority of the emperor was derived from the Heaven that is God. Dante says that the Roman emperor possessed power even before the church.
Therefore, church or any priest cannot be the source of emperor’s power and authority. In Dante’s own words—the authority of the temporal monarchy comes down, with no intermediate will, from the fountain of universal authority; and this fountain, one in its unity, flows through many channels out of the abundance of goodness of God.
Dante’s anti-papalist idea is also evident in his analysis of human nature and the objective at which the individual aims. Following Aristotle, Dante says that every man has dual aims—one is the blessedness of the earthly life and the other is the blessedness of heavenly paradise.
The means of attaining these two objectives are quite different, since they are quite apart. To achieve the first aim, man resorts to reason and philosophy. Philosophers and wise men write treatises and people read these books, perfect their knowledge and earthly life.
In this respect no supernatural power comes to their assistance. We can get the blessing of heavenly paradise through the spiritual lessons. Revelations of scriptures are the only source of eternal and supernatural truths.
The church is not the source at all. Therefore, the claim of the church as the source of spiritual revelations is unfounded and unacceptable.
It is, therefore, obvious that since man has two aims, he wants two guides. The emperor is the guide for earthly blessings. He can guide him to happiness in this world, in accordance with the teaching of philosophy. Only the Supreme Pontiff leads mankind to eternal life…one cannot interfere with the other.
Before Dante two medieval philosophers—St. Augustine and St. Thomas— discussed the origin of the state. According to Augustine, the state is created by divine Providence to punish the frailty and sinfulness of man.
Naturally, he has nothing to object. St. Thomas, following Aristotle, says that the state is a natural association embodying man’s social character. Ebenstein concludes— “Dante is the first writer in the Middle Ages who ingeniously combines Augustinian and Thomistic elements”.The central idea of Dante’s political philosophy is that man needs the help of temporal authority for the fulfilment of his earthly requirements and for this he need not run after the church or the Pope.