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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

This quotation is part of a series for “The Twelve Days of Christmas” on the theme of “Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will towards men” [Luke 2:14]

It is curious to find an argument in a 16th century text in defence of monarchy these passages extolling peace as the best way human beings can achieve perfectibility in both thought and action. One would normally associate the idea of perfectibility with the 18th century enlightenment, most notably Condorcet, or the early 19th century with Wilhelm von Humboldt. Yet here Dante states that the quiet, calm, and tranquility provided by a state of peace allows the human race to “accomplish most freely and easily its given work” which is in the first instance intellectual or speculative in nature (thus literature or philosophy) and secondly by “extension” all other types of “action” in the physical world. One wonders if one might take this to mean all manner of economic activity including trade and exchange with others? Dante links these ideas to religion with the idea that this state of peace brings human beings closer to that of the angels where a situation of beatitude might be achieved as promised by the heavenly host at the birth of Christ. We include with this quotation the notes of the translator Aurelia Henry which provide a list of other passages from Dante’s works where he discusses peace, suggesting that it was of great concern to him.

Other quotes about War & Peace:

28 December, 2012

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The 4th Day of Christmas: Dante Alighieri on human perfectibility and peace on earth (1559)

Read the full quote in context here.

The Florentine poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) believed in a universal monarch who would end the squabbling and bloodshed between rival kings and lords in Europe. Only under such a regime could peace be established under which humanity could thrive and prosper:

It has now been satisfactorily explained that the proper function of the human race, taken in the aggregate, is to actualize continually the entire capacity of the possible intellect, primarily in speculation, then, through its extension and for its sake, secondarily in action. And since it is true that whatever modifies a part modifies the whole, and that the individual man seated in quiet grows perfect in knowledge and wisdom, it is plain that amid the calm and tranquillity of peace the human race accomplishes most freely and easily its given work. How nearly divine this function is revealed in the words, “Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels.” Whence it is manifest that universal peace is the best of those things which are ordained for our beatitude. And hence to the shepherds sounded from on high the message not of riches, nor pleasures, nor honors, nor length of life, nor health, nor beauty; but the message of peace. For the heavenly host said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased.” Likewise, “Peace be unto you” was the salutation of the Saviour of men. It befitted the supreme Saviour to utter the supreme salutation. It is evident to all that the disciples desired to preserve this custom; and Paul likewise in his words of greeting.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

  1. It has now been satisfactorily explained that the proper function of the human race, taken in the aggregate, is to actualize continually the entire capacity of the possible intellect, primarily in speculation, then, through its extension and for its sake, secondarily in action. And since it is true that whatever modifies a part modifies the whole, and that the individual man seated in quiet grows perfect in knowledge and wisdom, it is plain that amid the calm and tranquillity of peace the human race accomplishes most freely and easily its given work. How nearly divine this function is revealed in the words, “Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels.” Whence it is manifest that universal peace is the best of those things which are ordained for our beatitude. And hence to the shepherds sounded from on high the message not of riches, nor pleasures, nor honors, nor length of life, nor health, nor beauty; but the message of peace. For the heavenly host said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased.” Likewise, “Peace be unto you” was the salutation of the Saviour of men. It befitted the supreme Saviour to utter the supreme salutation. It is evident to all that the disciples desired to preserve this custom; and Paul likewise in his words of greeting.

    2. From these things which have been expounded we perceive through what better, nay, through what best means the human race may fulfill its proper office. Consequently we perceive the nearest way through which may be reached that universal peace toward which all our efforts are directed as their ultimate end, and which is to be assumed as the basic principle of subsequent reasoning. This principle was necessary, we have said, as a predetermined formula, into which, as into a most manifest truth, must be resolved all things needing to be proved. [footnote 7]

    [Editor’s Note 7] Some of Dante’s most eloquent exhortations in prose and some of the most perfect music of his verse are touching that peace which he knew should make man happy on earth and blessed in heaven, that peace which he went to seek “from world to world,” and which he found at last in complete obedience to the will of God.

    Purg. 3. 74: Virgil conjures the spirits “By that peace which I think is awaited by you all.”

    Purg. 5. 61: Dante here tells of “that peace, which makes me, following the feet of a guide thus fashioned, seek it from world to world.”

    Purg. 10. 34: “The angel that came on earth with the decree of the many years wept-for peace … opened Heaven from its long interdict.”

    Purg. 11. 7: “Let the peace of thy kingdom come to us.”

    Purg. 21. 13: “My brethren, God give you peace,” is the greeting of Statius.

    Purg. 28. 91: “The highest Good, which does only its own pleasure, made the man good and for good, and gave him this place for an earnest to him of eternal peace.”

    Purg. 30. 7: “That truthful folk … turned them to the car as to their peace.”

    Par. 2. 112: “Within the heaven of the divine peace revolves a body in whose virtue lies the being of all that is contained in it.”

    Par. 3. 85: “In His will is our peace.”

    Par. 27. 8: “A life complete of joy and peace.”

    Par. 30. 100: “Light is there on high, which makes visible the Creator to that creation which only in seeing Him has its peace.”

    Par. 31. 110: St. Bernard “in this world by contemplation tasted of that peace.”

    Par. 33. 1: “Virgin Mother … in thy womb was rekindled the Love, through whose warmth in the eternal peace this flower has thus sprung.”

[More works by Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321) and on War and Peace]