Parallels between Islam and Arianism
After surveying a variety of apologetical and polemical Christian texts on Islam which circulated in medieval Eastern and Latin Christendom, this study traces the changing Christian perceptions of, and responses to, Islam. The trajectory followed in this study shows a progression from widespread — with few, precious exceptions — views of Islam as barbarism and idolatry, doomed to soon disappear, to more serious considerations of Islam as the theological ones that emerged in the late Middle Ages, when Ecclesiastic authorities began to address it on adoctrinal basis, as a Christological heresy. This study argues that, within a faulty understanding of Islam and of his Prophet, but outside the prevailing views at his time, Dante’s portrayal of Islam and his Prophet in Inferno 28 is the expression Dante’s own peculiar understanding of the Islamic faith and of Muhammad’s life. Subtly distinguishing between heresy and schism, Dante’ s Muhammad concludes that the image of the Prophet in the eighth circle of Hell is reminiscent of Arius, a controversial figure connected with a long history of theological division within Christendom. Additional arguments pointing at Dante’s references to Arius in Paradiso 13, and at the strong influence on Dante of Boethius’s writings and vicissitudes — especially his martyrdom by decree of the Arian king Theodoric — further explain the violation of the unity of the Christian community, which is the center of Inferno 28.
Keywords: Arius, Medieval Eastern-Latin Churches, Inferno 28, Paradiso 13, Boethius, Paradiso 10