The pilgrimage described by Dante Alighieri in the Divine Comedy is one whereby the pilgrim is raised up by the means of grace. Dante employs the aide of a pagan poet and perceives divine mysteries through the eyes of Beatrice whose beauty increases by levels of ascent. Finally, the Blessed Virgin Mary intercedes so that Dante might contemplate the essence of God. Nature, beginning in the dark wood outside the gates of hell, is progressively perfected until Dante perceives the Blessed Trinity interposed with “man’s very image”. Dante illustrates the mystical journey of the soul in a kataphatic or positive way. This earthy, sacramental way that holds that grace perfects nature. Philosophy, reason, even earthly love—each is a stepping stone by which grace draws humanity toward God.
John Milton, on the other hand, expresses mystical union and redemption in a apophatic or negative way. His epic begins with reminders that he is a blind man grasping for the only tool left for him: words. Milton depicts humanity as torn between two loyalties. On the side stands natural reason with its promise of divine similitude. On the other side stands supernatural revelation with its promise of beatitude and restoration. Whereas Dante depicts grace and revelation as restorative of nature and reason, Milton depicts grace and revelation as replacements for nature and reason. Since Milton mistrusts natural means, he presents the sinner’s love for God as a path of energetic negation—a road on which the soul closes its eyes in blindness to reality so that it can ascend to God without distraction.