Hero and Saint an Analysis of the Essay

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Hero and Saint

An Analysis of the Hero and the Saint from St. Francis to Kierkegaard's Abraham

Francis of Assisi is one of the most famous saints of the Church and Dante is one its most famous literary heroes. St. Francis received his vocation at the beginning of the 13th century, while Dante had his celestial vision roughly some hundred years later. One was a friar, the other a poet. Yet both grow out of a vision of the Church, the world, and man's place in it and his relation to God. St. Francis was officially declared a saint two years after his death; Dante has been revered ever since his Comedy appeared. St. Francis was recognized as a saint because he embodied all the virtues of sanctity -- perfect humility, perfect charity, perfect love of God; and Dante was recognized as a literary hero because of his epic journey, his grand vision, his participation in the battle between Heaven and Hell for his soul. The two were, in other words, products of Christendom -- the Old World, which held the Catholic religion to be the one, true religion. When Christendom fell following the rise of Protestantism and Liberalism, the concept of the hero and the saint also underwent a change. This paper will analyze that evolution.

St. Francis and Dante may be called Romantic but only in the same sense that one might call the poetry of the English Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins Romantic. They each strive for an ideal (and Romanticism is a form of idealism), but St. Francis and Dante (and Hopkins) all saw the Catholic hero/saint ideal as universal -- just like their religion. The ideal was not based on Liberalism or on Naturalism or Individualism but on the truths of revelation, of their Catholic religion.
While the Romantics who emerged in the wake of the Enlightenment patterns of cultural mutation conformed to no Creed or doctrine, but rather joined in with Jean Jacques Rousseau (1762) in proclaiming that "man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains" (p. 14), the Catholics in St. Francis's day and Dante's and even of Michelangelo's (15th -- 16th c.) professed one Creed, which was centered on the Trinity and holy sacraments of the Church.

The Humanism of the Renaissance (and the Scientific Revolution that followed), however, began to change the focus of the hero/saint from God to Man. Michelangelo was a firm believer in the Church's teachings, but his artwork was predominantly focused on God's creation -- Man -- and the glory of that creation. The hero and the saint is seen in Michelangelo, as described in The Agony and the Ecstasy, as a kind of Romantic hero at odds with authority -- Pope Julius -- obsessed with a heavenly vision or inspiration that no one else has been given; he is full of talent and creativity and is constantly chafing at the bit to assert his independence. In other words, he is eager to break free. And yet, Michelangelo's work, despite its being man-centered, is still man-centered in such a way as to view man as a creation of God. In short, Michelangelo's man reflects God. The Sistine Chapel is a work of catechesis, a ceiling filled with prophets and scenes from both Testaments, complete with a final vision of the Last Judgment. Michelangelo's David, on the other hand, is a representation of manhood in the Ideal -- meant to be admired. In Michelangelo's agony and ecstasy, the shift….....

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