Too many of your theologians and preachers have rejected an aspect of God that is made clear in the scriptures: our God is a jealous God. And you’ve rejected it, not because you have disproved it, but because you are embarrassed by it. You simply cannot imagine that God could have anything in common with a jealous husband.

Author’s Introduction: Imagine if Homer, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, and the other great poets of ancient Greece, Rome, and the Middle Ages had been given the gift, not only to peer into the twenty-first century, but to correspond with us who live in that most confusing and rudderless of centuries. Had it been in their power to do both of those things, what might they say to us? How would they advise us to live our lives? What wisdom from their experience and from their timeless poems might they choose to pass down to us?

Dante: On Jealousy

I said in my previous letter that the greatest surprise that awaited me on the top of mount purgatory was the Garden of Eden. I lied.

I encountered something greater—at least something greater to me—when I crossed over from the seven deadly sins into the land of innocence restored. There in that Garden where Adam first saw Eve and declared her bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, I met her, the one who has been my muse, my light, and my lady in the tower.

Beatrice.

I first saw her on the streets of Florence when I was nine years old. That first glance at her ethereal loveliness immediately inscribed itself upon my heart and soul and set the course for all that came after. When I saw her, it was as if I had crossed a great frontier; a new life opened before me and beckoned me forward.

I saw her again nine years later when I was eighteen; that vision confirmed to me that it was my special calling to be the poet-knight to celebrate her beauty. But she married and moved into a different life to which I had no access. Then, to my everlasting sorrow, she died and was taken far away into eternal realms closed to my mortal eyes.

Without her presence to guide me, I strayed from my calling and fritted away my poetic gifts on lesser women who were only the palest shadows of Beatrice. It was then, in my twenty-seventh year, that I had a vision of Beatrice in heaven, a searing, convicting vision that cut through my heart and exposed me for the unfaithful steward I had become.

I quickly set pen to paper and composed a series of love sonnets in her honor. The poems were well received and brought me fame, but they did not do justice to all that Beatrice had inspired in me. I knew that God had called me to write a greater work, but for many years I could not conceive what that would be.

And then, in my thirty-fifth year, when the political power which had been given to me drove all thoughts of poetry and love from my mind, I woke to find myself lost in that deep, dark wood. God rescued me, of course, and sent Virgil to guide me through hell and purgatory. It was God’s purpose that I would share my journey with the world as both a warning to sinners and an encouragement to the saints.

Little did I know that God was not the only one who desired me to go on the journey. There was another force at work, and I met that force in the Garden of Eden.

#

When I saw her, I thought my heart would stop and that I would not return again to the land of the living. Flames of love coursed through my body, and I turned with pain and joy to share the experience with Virgil. But he was gone, called back to the circle of the virtuous pagans.

You see, I no longer needed him or his wisdom, for Beatrice would lead me the rest of the way up the levels of paradise to God. Virgil’s reason was immense, but it was limited; it could lead me back to Eden, but it could not transcend our primal home. Beatrice, in contrast, was filled with the grace of Christ; it radiated from her eyes and from her smile—a radiance to light my way to the Empyrean of God.

Oh how I longed to enter into that radiance and let it flow around me. As I drew closer to Beatrice, I dreamed that she would throw her arms about me and shower me with affection. Instead, she scolded me with a ferocity that nearly turned my heart to ice.

Though I had been purged of the seven deadly sins, I had yet to face my infidelity to Beatrice, an infidelity that had prevented me from growing into the lover, the poet, and the man that God had created me to be. And so, well, she let me have it.

“God endowed you with gifts beyond number, but you let your artistic garden go to seed. For a time, my physical beauty kept you on track, and it seemed as if you would fulfill your high calling. But when I died and went where you could no longer see me, you turned aside from that calling. You should have followed my soul to heaven; instead, you followed my body to the earth and gave your heart to other, lesser women.”

Choked with tears and with shame, I confessed feebly to my sloth and idolatry. I had betrayed her, and, in doing so, betrayed my calling and my purpose. In the end, she relented and accepted my confession. Our broken bond was restored and Beatrice took up once again her role as my spiritual and poetic North Star.

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You may be wondering, my friends of the future, why I have shared these things with you. Why should you care about, and what can you learn from, my sad and troubled relationship with Beatrice? A great deal, I believe.

Too many of your theologians and preachers have rejected an aspect of God that is made clear in the scriptures: our God is a jealous God. And you’ve rejected it, not because you have disproved it, but because you are embarrassed by it. You simply cannot imagine that God could have anything in common with a jealous husband.

And yet, that is what he is. God is the Bridegroom, and we—first Israel, and now the Church—are his bride. God hates idolatry, for when we leave him to seek other gods, we break our covenant with him and become adulterers.

In the redemptive drama God put me through, Beatrice played the role of Christ the Bridegroom while I played the role of the unfaithful Bride. Beatrice was right to be jealous when I strayed from her influence and began to praise other women. In the same way, God is right to be jealous when we abandon him in favor of false gods who care nothing for our growth and only lead us astray.

My story of finding, losing, and regaining Beatrice is the story of all of us. It is our collective love story, not with the man or woman whom we marry, but with the God who created us and desires for us to spend eternity with him.

—Dante

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Editor’s note: The featured image is “Dante e Beatrice nel giardino di Boboli” by Raffaele Giannetti, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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