Bernard of Clairvaux and the structure of love in Dante's Commedia
Morris, Anne C.
Master of Arts
St. Bernard of Clairvaux is not only Dante's final guide in the Commedia. but the saint's mystical theology has also provided the poet with the means to that end of the beatific vision, the process of love. Bernard’s De Diligendo Deo explains that there are four degrees of love, ranging from the carnal to the ecstatic. These four levels correspond to major divisions in the Commedia and to the characters found in each. Primary, yet sometimes puzzling figures such as Francesca, Cato, Beatrice, and Mary can be understood within the terms of Bernard's concept of love. Furthermore, the traveler Dante himself assents to the Bernardian explanation of Christian love in Canto XXVI of the Paradiso, during the second part of St. John's examination on love. The entire Commedia climaxes in Dante's mystical vision, achieved with the guidance of the character of St. Bernard and fraught with characteristics of Bernard's thought, including his Marian devotion and his emphasis upon grace.