Dante on Preaching

In The Divine Comedy, Dante gives scathing rebukes to the corrupt church leaders of his day. In many ways he seems to foreshadow Luther.  In the following excerpt from Paradise Dante’s critique of preaching which relies on man-made ideas rather than the Word of God is relevant to us today.

You mortals do not keep to one true path
philosophizing: so carried away
you are by putting on a show of wits!

Yet even this provokes the wrath of Heaven
far less than when the Holy Word of God
is set aside or misconstrued by you.

Men do not care what blood it cost to sow
the Word throughout the land, nor how pleasing
he is who humbly takes Scripture to heart.

To make a good impression they contrive
their own unfounded truths which then are furbished
by preachers—of the Gospel not a word!

Dante then mentions man made ideas which were proclaimed as truth as an example of the “fables” which “are shouted right and left, pouring from pulpits.” He then describes the result of this sort of fable-laden preaching.

So the poor sheep, who know no better, come
from pasture fed on air— the fact that they
are ignorant does not excuse their guilt.

Christ did not say to his first company:
’Go forth and preach garbage unto the world, ’
but gave them, rather, truth to build upon.

With only His word sounding on their lips
they went to war to keep the faith aflame;
the Gospel was their only sword and shield.

Now men go forth to preach wisecracks and jokes,
and just so long as they can get a laugh
to puff their cowls with pride— that’s all they want;[1]

As much as things change, they stay the same. We ought to heed this warning today. Let us not preach the “garbage” of mere human reasoning but instead preach the clear Word of God that the sheep might be properly fed, aiming at the glory of God and the edification of his people, not our own exaltation.



[1] Dante Alighieri (2003-07-29). The Portable Dante (Penguin Classics) (pp. 560-561). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition

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