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Spiritual Journeys

EN 318

Spiritual Journeys

Description and Objectives

“Love is the seed in you of every virtue.”–Purgatorio, XVIII, 104.

Course Description: To read any canticle of Dante’s Divine Comedy (1308-1321) is practically to embark on a liberal arts education in the process. Dante Alighieri’s learning, as transfused into his poem, is deeply conversant with many areas of knowledge: ancient philosophy (Greek and Roman), sacred scripture (Old and New Testament), the Fathers of the early Church, the poetry of the ancient world, notably Homer and Virgil, and the poetry of his contemporaries, theology, especially in its Thomistic formulation from the previous century, cosmology (ancient and original), all interwoven in an epic tale also immersed in the civil and ecclesiastical politics of his day. His poetry does indeed sing. But it sings with such beauty because it enlists so much insight into the essential elements of every human life’s journey to God.

So in order to accompany Dante through his spiritual journey, we’re going to have to read him with extraordinary care and attention. We’re going to have to embark on a journey that will challenge us in myriad ways. Only with this effort we will be able to follow Dante on his trip to the edge of the created world.

Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain (1948) is somewhat based on Dante’s original imaging of the Purgatorio but set in the 20th century. While containing many passages that are profound, it won’t present the challenges of Dante’s poem, yet in its own way to read it properly will require attention and care. The over-arching theme of this course is therefore this: Both books we are reading, along with supplementary material, will ask some very serious questions about our path to God in this life and the next. In order to do well in this class, you must not only show a familiarity with the text as you did in middle school. You must become conversant with the themes, the conflicts, the challenges, the hardships of Dante’s and Merton’s search for God which is also necessarily a search for purification, both moral and spiritual.


Texts: Dante’s Purgatorio, translated by John Ciardi

Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain

Aquinas’ On Grace: First Part of the Second Part (QQ. 109-114)

On the Contemplative and the Active Life: Second Part of the Second Part (QQ. 179-184)

Course Requirements

Course Requirements: The main grade will be based on eight in-class essays based on the readings. There will be approximately two or three a month. There will also be short weekly quizzes (one paragraph–no fill-in the blanks).

Successful Students

See above.