Dante Alighieri (1285-1325) is another example of a learned man educated under the influence of Aristotelian based ideas. Specifically, he supported Aristotle’s concepts of some men being superior and therefore having divine right to rule:
I am referring to actions, which are regulated by political judgment, and to products, which are shaped by practical skill; all of these are subordinate to thinking as the best activity for which the Primal Goodness brought mankind into existence. This sheds light on that statement in the Politics that “men of vigorous intellect naturally rule over others”.Dante Alighieri, Monarchy, Book 1, part 3, lines 10-15
Dante’s education history is not well documented. However, it may be presumed he studied at least one scholastic or scholastic-like institution attached to a monastery. He was politically minded and so to hold a political office he had to join a Guild (these were professional associations; the extent to which Guilds could considered cults or men’s clubs is an extension of the current conversation), so he became a pharmacist, so he could join the pharmacy Guild. Like many men, Dante was also involved with physical battles due to conflict with other powers (again, the issue of war and fighting is an extension of the current discussion that warrants recognition but I’m not going into.)
Florence, Dante’s home town, experienced many conflicts of political, religious, and territorial nature. As destiny would have it, Dante finished up on the loosing side. In his fifties, he was banished and separated from his family. Dante was angry, very angry, especially towards the Church.
As an intellectual, Dante took pen to paper to express his views. He did so eloquently through the art of poetry. Looking over Dante’s work, it quickly becomes apparent that he was well versed in Ancient Greek philosophy. The Divine Comedy contains a myriad of references to characters like Apollo, Aphrodite, and Hellen of Troy that demonstrate he also understood the ancient theology connected to their namesakes.
The Divine Comedy, was just that, a comedy. In a pre-Renaissance style of linguistics he wrote in what was then a crude vernacular of Latin. He was making fun of the Church’s stance on a number of issues, hence, his books were banned. The fact that the Church later (long after Dante’s death) retracted their objections and embraced him as a golden boy of Christianity is a curious thing.
I am not familiar with the full body of Dante’s writings, however, I found one particular verse that struck me as being profound. It is a single line from The Divine Comedy that reads: “O virgin mother, daughter of thy Son”.
Painting of the Virgin Mother with Child; original dated to the 5th or 6th century, overpainted in the 13th century
“O virgin mother, daughter of thy Son, humble beyond all creatures and more exalted; predestined turning point of God's intention; Thy merit so ennobled human nature that its divine Creator did not scorn to make Himself the creature of His creature. The Love that was rekindled in Thy womb sends for the warmth of the eternal peace within whose ray this flower has come to bloom. Here to us, thou art the noon and scope of Love revealed; and among mortal men, the living fountain of eternal hope.”
That single line is a confusing mixture of symbolic language; “mother” and “daughter” are both described in relation to the “Son”. How could the biblical Mary be both Jesus’ mother and daughter? Not to mention, a virgin too! How can this be? Then I remembered Justin Martyr and his explanation the Jewish symbolism of family structure to represent groups of people (see: Theology of Early Christianity as described by Justin Martyr). Could this really be? If Leah and Rachel were symbolic of synagogue and church … ? Was Mary … a church? Not a church in the modern sense of a physical building but a church in the ancient meaning of a church referring to a congregation? I needed more evidence to be sure.
Model of Jewish symbolism using family structure: Father = Godhead, Mother = Church or Synagogue, Daughter = congregation or groups of people, And Son = human beings or individuals.
I then learned that in bygone eras, daughters were referred to simply as “virgins” because, you know, according to patriarchal values, a female’s sexual activity is more important than anything else. Virgin Mary = Daughter Mother. It is a play on symbology that needs to be reversed = Mother and daughter are one and the same.
When Dante wrote The Divine Comedy he was an outcast and rebel of the Church. Could it be that Dante, in the most creative yet mocking gesture of satirical poetry, be revealing a symbolic secret of great significance? If so, it may explain why the Church, in a corrupted state who wanted to maintain power over masses, deemed his work to be heretical. Who should one believe? A man who rose the ranks of politics and was educated in theology and was then outcast? Or an institution that claimed poor people could enter heaven if they paid the Church enough money? (I.e., the Catholic Church taught if a Christian sinned – murder, rape, thief, etc. – they could give money to the Church in order to reduce their time in purgatory; this practice was called indulgences. The practice of indulgences was one of the fundamental issues that caused rifts in the Church and led to the Reformation a few centuries after Dante’s lifetime.)
It has taken many hours of reflection and further research for me to make the final assessment. My conclusion, to put it bluntly, is that the Virgin Mother belongs in the same realm of possibility as Santa Clause, the tooth fairy, and Mary Poppins.
There is outstanding scientific evidence that stipulates a woman’s ova cannot produce a child without a man’s sperm. Conversely, there is outstanding evidence from multiple sources that both the word “virgin” and “mother” have purely symbolic meanings that have been used in written text before, during, and after the formation of Christianity.
It’s plausible that two thousand years ago, without the knowledge of DNA, X and Y chromosomes, and other practical elements of reproduction, that some people believed it was possible for a woman to fall pregnant without intercourse. To justify that belief today is not so easy.
This is my opinion. It is up to each and every individual to decide for themselves if they believe the the Virgin Mother is real or if her appearance has been made to be as grand as the Emperor’s new clothes.
Sitting in contemplation with my reality of Mary, I am reminded of a time when my son was nearly ten. It was a day in February, an ordinary school day. When we got home, he was not his usual cheerful self. Solemnly, he took himself to his bedroom and shut the door. When I went to check on him, I found he was sitting on his bed, tears streaming down his face. My immediate thought was that something bad had happened at school, perhaps he’d been bullied. At first he refused to speak and just shock his head in response to my questioning that was along the lines “did you and so and so have a fight?” I then moved into a semi-lecturing mode of the need to express emotions. I told him that I could not help him if I did know what was wrong. I made stabs in the dark about how he might be feeling about his father and I breaking up three months early. He shook his head to all of these. I took a deep breath and said “Is it something I have done? If so, please tell me so I can make right.” Amid bursts of sobbing, he let it out:
“I know Santa Claus is not real! Don’t lie to me, I know he’s not real!”
Of all the things my son could have told me, I was not expecting that. I queried if a conversation had come up in the school yard that day which prompted the topic, but my son, once calmer, said that was not the case. For whatever reason, that day, he was ready to confront me. As we talked, my son did an exceptionally good job of articulating exactly how he felt. He told me of the clues he’d picked up on, like conversations he’d over heard and poorly hidden presents he’d spotted under my bed that later appeared as Santa gifts. My son made it overwhelming clear that he was not sad because he knew Santa was not real, he distressed because he didn’t know if he could trust anything I said.
I was caught off guard. My elder daughter had breezed through finding out and accepting there was no Santa Clause. She had a different temperament. She was more dreamy, loved to play make believe. My son, on the other hand, was astute, inquisitive, like an mini-engineer who wanted to know how everything worked. I found myself fumbling as I tried to explain that “everybody” lies to their children about Santa but no harm is meant by it. It was supposed to be fun, a game of sorts, a pretend kind of magic. I told him the lie was done with love, not to hurt him with deception. My son said he did not think it was fun to be lied to. I was in a corner. How could I raise my son to be an honest man if I also taught him it was acceptable to sometimes lie?
I started paying extra close attention to my son and what I said to him from then on. Our relationship had been ruptured. I had to rebuild trust. I succeeded.
The following Christmas, we still went through the tradition of Santa but as my son unwrapped the gifts, he said “Thanks, mum! That’s just what I wanted!” Later the same Christmas Day, he did a better job of pretending Santa was real so as to keep the “magic” alive for his younger cousins. To my surprise, I felt a sense of unease. Without conscious effort, ever so subtly, it dawned on me that I’d indoctrinated my son into the cult of Santa Clause. I tried to convince myself that it was important for children to have the opportunity to have fun, use their imaginations, and believe there were magical beings in the world. To this day, I’m not sure if that’s fitting to contemporary times. I imagine that in the past, when the tradition of Santa began (around the fourth century, Turkey), the experience of children waking on Christmas morning to find simple gifts of a handmade nature was quite different to the experience children now have of sacks filled with plastic toys and digital devices.
I was born and raised a Catholic. I was always told Mary was real. Can I trust anything the Church says if she is not real?
PART NINE: Christianity and Disease