Discuss how Dante criticizes the Church. If you could talk about three or four key points, that would be great.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One distinct way in which Dante criticizes the church is by placing specific members of the church in the most severe positions in the Inferno.  Dante is strict on the idea that institutional religion that loses its way is even worse than not having religious backgrounds. For example, the souls in limbo have failed to embrace a religious identity.  It is interesting to see Dante believe that sins of ignorance are not as bad as direct sins of knowledge.  In contrast to the church institution that condemned those who were not baptized, Dante takes a more lenient approach to the unbaptized.  Their crimes are not as bad as those who have lied in the name of the Church or have engaged in simony (Canto XIX.)  Dante's criticism of the church's practice of simony is blistering. He condemns Pope Nicholas III for his self- interested sale of holy items.  Pope Boniface VIII receives the same condemnation.  This feeds the theme that Dante has developed throughout the work:  Those in the position of power have a higher obligation and imperative to embody good and righteousness.  When they do not, their condemnation should be harsher and swifter than anything else.  People who use elevated positions in society- civil or sacred- receive the worst of punishments.

In a larger sense, Dante's premise as the pilgrim or "the wanderer" is a criticism of the Church.  The established condition of religion has left someone as spiritual as Dante out of its sights.  It is deliberate that Dante opens the work as one "in a dark wood."  In the progression through Hell, it is clear that part of the reason that Dante is lost is because he feels estranged from the institution of religion.  Formal religious structures have not embraced the individual who searches for meaning and understanding.  This becomes one of Dante's key criticism.  If there was a spiritual understanding of the needs of its congregants, perhaps Dante would not be as lost as he is.  The entire need to endure what he does is because traditional religion in the form of the Church has "lost its way" causing pilgrims like Dante to be in a "dark wood."  Dante's exploration is as much the failings of the Church as it is his own.


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