Dante's Ministry of Felicity: The Interplay of Beatitude, Metaphysics, and Intercessory Prayer in the Theological Imagination of the 'Commedia'
This thesis is an exercise in theology and Dante studies. It sets as its central research question, “How does intercessory prayer conduce to the realization of beatitude? How does Dante help us think, in other words, about the ways in which prayer for another person’s good actually serves to help make them blessed or happy?” The question stems from conversations that have been taking place especially within the past twenty years in the study of Dante’s theology about beatitude, metaphysics, and prayer in the 'Commedia'. These conversations reflect theological interest in beatitude and causality, prayer and divine and human interaction, and the eschatological dimension of prayer. By asking this question at the heart of these conversations and interests, this thesis offers not only a fresh approach to understanding how Dante’s 'Commedia' might be said to lead people to happiness but also theological insight into the nature, activity, and effectiveness of intercessory prayer. It claims Dante as a relevant source and authority for theological investigation.
In response to its central research question, this thesis argues that Dante shows intercessory prayer as acting in accordance with various principles of beatitude. Intercessory prayer can be construed as a form of participation in divine beatitude and a secondary cause of created beatitude. It serves by grace to merit for others, to hope for others, and to behold others in love, and in these ways, it helps to dispose others for the final grace of being raised to the embodied vision and love of God (and of the created order and human image at the heart of God). Intercessory prayer thus comes to be understood in view of the 'Commedia' as an expression of the blessedness of Christ, as an operative perfection of human nature, and as a reflection of what it means for God to be perfect. Dante helps us think of intercessory prayer as grounds for beatitude.