The unity of all things

A message from the Executive Dean of Theology and Philosophy Professor Dermot Nestor:

… e quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle …
(“and thence we came forth to see again the stars

Divine Comedy Inf. 34.139 Dante Alighieri

The celestial bodies that astronomers describe as luminous spheroids of plasma play a significant, almost prophetic, role in Dante’s Divine Comedy. They signal a note of brilliant optimism; one that contrasts sharply with the confusion and the calamity the author has endured both during and prior to his three-day journey. The transformation and the possibilities they herald are not simply the reward for the hero’s endurance but in many ways, the motivation for it.

At one level, the journey is an allegorical one. More profoundly, it is an existential one that surveys the depths and the heights of all that humanity is capable of. Over the past three weeks we have seen myriad examples of the former but equally, many more that evidence the latter. Where the crisis in Ukraine, like all war, points to the loss of humanity, local responses to flooding have signified a more fundamental commitment to an experience, and an expectation, of a shared humanity.

This sense of connectedness was not lost on Dante. Indeed, the medieval mind was inherently predisposed to comprehend the unity of all things. Though challenged by gains in scientific knowledge and diminished by an Enlightenment appeal to doubt as the fundamental orientation of philosophical inquiry, an understanding of our world as integrated and interconnected, as participated in variously and diversely by a myriad of peoples and cultures persists. It is the defining principle of Laudato Si’. It is also one of the central features of this university.

ACU is most fundamentally, a community. We see ourselves as part of, and as participating in something always beyond ourselves. Our destination may not be the sun-bathed mountain glimpsed by Dante, but the journey, punctuated by obstacles, hurdles and impediments is all too familiar. These are not things we can avoid, escape or deny. On the contrary, the ability to admit of them, to embrace them or to navigate them is what makes the journey a success and the destination a triumph. It is only in looking into ourselves, and at each other that we can, like Dante, see the stars. The journey does not begin with a single step, but an inward glance. A moment of reflection that heralds renewal.

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