26th Annual Bernardo Lecture
November 10, 2016
5:30 Casadesus Hall (4:30 Reception in Green Room)
Ronald L. Martinez, Professor of Italian at Brown University,
Cleansing the Temple: Dante and the Defense of the Church
Readers of the Commedia are familiar with Dante’s severe judgment of contemporary popes. The attacks are explicable as part of Dante’s strategy of defending the Church itself, which the poet saw as imperiled by papal avarice and political ambition. From the reference to the biblical punishment of Uzzah for touching the Ark of the Covenant in Epistola XI, urging Italian cardinals at the 1314 conclave to elect a Pope favorable to Rome, we know that Dante anticipated accusations of meddling in Church affairs. And meddle he did: the representations in the poem of the Church, in guises both historical and typological (Ark of the Covenant, Temple, Bride of Christ, etc.) comprise an ambitious program by which Dante identifies with the role of protector and purifier of the Church, modelled chiefly on scriptural episodes of Christ cleansing the Temple, a longstanding staple of anti-simoniacal reform within the Church itself. A series of passages in the second half of Paradiso (Cantos 15-16, 18, 22, 27) elaborate Dante’s investment in this role, one that is repeatedly linked to the poet’s condition as an exile.