Dante the Philosopher, by Etienne Gilson; translated by David Moore (Sheed and Ward, 15s.).
Reviewed by " VIATOR " COMMENTARIES on Dante
have no end, but Professor Etienne Gilson has written one of special interest to those who have knowledge of scholastic philosophy. Gilson sets out to answer a thesis propounded some years ago in France by the Dominican -Thomist Pere Mandonnet, O.P. Mandonnet was one of the "extremist" commentators on Dante. His theory was that Beatrice had never existed, that she was exclusively allegorical and Dante's whole work—the Vita Nuova, the Banquet and the Divine Comedy—contained a full explanation of Dante's life. Reading between the lines, Mandonnet said, one could deduce that Dante had had a vocation to theology and had taken minor orders. but had tailed to complete his studies. But he was always afflicted with nostalgia for the clerical life. He was an ardent
Thomist. And he joined the Third Order of St. Dominic.
Gilson examines this theory and breaks it up detail by detail. He is in my opinion undoubtedly right. But the greatest interest of the book lies not in his refutation of Pere Mandonnet but in the conclusions he draws about Dante's philosophy and above all Dante's philosophy of politics. Gilson's view is not new. But his almost unique cornmend of scholastic philosophy and medieval theory makes his book a substantial addition to Dante-lore.
Dante, for Gilson, was no Thomist. This is apparent as soon as we examine his political theory. Whereas St. Thomas affirmed the subordination of the temporal order to the spiritual, Dante separated these two kingdoms. The Empire, in Dante's theory, should be the highest authority in the temporal order just as the Church should be the highest authority in the spiritual order. And corresponding to these two authorities—the universal Empire and the universal Church -man in Dante's eyes had two ends, not one as St. Thomas taught. He sad a supernatural end—that of the Beatific Vision: and a natural end –happiness and order in this life. The Church was the means to the firmer. The Empire and the philosophers were the means to the latter.
Professor Gilson sometimes lushes his interpretation of Dante's philo
sophy rather far. One sometimes feels that against his will and determination he treats, Dante too much as art original philosopher— whereas beyond a certain point there are objections to ascribing an original philosophical system thought out in every detail to the greatest of poets. Yet he is careful not to join the camp of those who have questioned Dante's orthodoxy in matters of faith—Dante himself said that in the matter of faith. as dis tinct front morals, he had nothing to reproach himself with. Gilson's commentary also helps us to realise the extent to which, already in the thirteenth century, a problem about the relation between Christian revelation and classical Greco-Roman culture showed signs, though small ones, of arising—the thing which. with the Renaissance, and secularism, led to the divorce from which we suffer nowadays. Yet Dante's effort to make a synthesis between the two, and what another Dante writer, the late Charles Williams, called his "Way of Affirmation," still stands as one of the greatest of all monuments of any human mind.
Four Favourites. By D. B. Wynds ham Lewis, (Evans, 9s. 6d.).
MR. Wyndham Lewis's Four Favourites are Madame de Pompadour, Lord Melbourne, Don Manuel Godoy, and Potemkin. a Frenchwoman, an Englishmen, a Spaniard and a Russian, all pi °ducts of the 18th century, and dominating respectively Louis XV, Victoria, Carlos IV and Catherine the Great. " They have in common," writes the author in a prefatory note e (apart from Lord Melbourne, born to the purple and a class apart), a swift upward trajectory from more or less obscure origins, due to personal magnetism and a considerable skill in manipulating the policy of the Crown they serve, in the teeth of rivals and enemies." Convinced that such " specialists in careerism " should not be dismissed " with the contempt they often inspire in high-minded Mei-ileitis,the author aims at surveying e the entertaining trajectory of this international quartet." and he does. so in light. eminently readable prose. Added to the charms of this book is its exceptional cheapness for a work of this category.
Palette and Plough. By Lennox Rubinson. (Browne & Nolan, 12s. 6d.). This is not a book about a back-to-the-Lander who also paints ! 11 is the story of Dermod O'Brien, grandson of William Smith O'Brien of the Young Ireland Movement. He became a painter of distinction and was president of the Royal Hibernian Academy, but he was also a County Limerick farmer. Lennox Robinson, his intimate friend. has access to many fascinating letters_