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Dante’s Human Comedy

Prima sedes a nemine iudicatur: “The First See is judged by no one.”  Thus reads Canon 1404 of the current Code of Canon Law of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, and Canon 1556 of the previous code.  Romanus Pontifex a nemine iudicatur: “The Roman Pontiff is judged by no one.”  That is Canon 1058 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (those in union with the Roman See).  With these words, in either form, Dante Alighieri, the author of De Monarchia and of the Divina Commedia, would have concurred wholeheartedly, although he would have preferred the “Eastern” version as rather more precise.  On this point, at least, the Florentine would have been at one with his hated papal nemesis, Boniface VIII, and it is perhaps a bit ironic that it is the current Eastern code which offers, as a confirming authority for this canon, a footnote citing the bull Unam Sanctam of the same pope, a set of solemn pronouncements with which Dante was most certainly not in full accord.  The style of these canons is the heir of a whole juridical tradition born out of the struggles between the Roman Church and the Roman Empire that so deeply characterized the life of the Middle Ages.  Dante’s careful appreciation of the nature of this struggle in light of what he knew to be the true nature of human society has much to teach us today...

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