Monday, 8 December 2008

Che Vivesse in Italia Peregrina

I came across a beautiful exchange in the Purgatorio today. Throughout Inferno, Dante often asks after or seeks out Italians (naturally because of the common language), especially Florentines, since he was from Florence (and was exiled from it at the time of writing). The people he speaks to are only too happy to volunteer their local origins, and this results in several interesting and (in different ways) illuminating conversations. As he reaches the second section of Mount Purgatory, he again uses the same tack but this time gets a decidedly different reply:

We are, dear brother, now all citizens
Of one true place. But you must mean
"Who winged his pilgrim life through Italy".

One senses that Dante must feel slightly put out to have his question (hitherto perfectly natural) dismissed so effortlessly. But after much of the factionalism in Inferno (the intricacies of thirteenth century Italian politics are never far from the narrative there), it is decidedly refreshing to meet a soul who, though not having forgotten his earthly roots, calls Dante's (and our) attention to a far deeper and more abiding reality and a more primeval and ultimate homeland.

It is a good reminder for Advent as well (and a reminder for me personally to hearken back to the lessons God taught me in England a year ago)- we are all pilgrims, all exiles. Here we have no lasting abode. That homesickness we intrinsically feel, that Sehnsucht, that longing for ultimate joy will be fulfilled. He is coming. But we must be ready. And we must not mistake our earthly dwellings for home. We may love them deeply (for patriotism is a virtue, even if a pagan one) but they are waypoints, inns on the journey. Our destination is somewhere different. To quote T.S. Eliot, "the end of all our journeying will be to arrive back where we started, but to know the place for the first time." Eden shall be remade and returned to and, indeed, a better than Eden, for He Who walked there of old shall then walk among us in our own flesh. There is our final destination. There is the end of our pilgrimage. There is home.

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