Recently, I learned that due to the religious politics of the day, early in the 14th century the Italian poet, Durante degli Alighieri, better known as Dante, was banished from Florence, Italy – the city of his birth.
Dante and his “side” wanted Florence to be independent of the Vatican. Indeed, in the attempt to avoid conflict and craft a compromise with Rome, Dante travelled to the Vatican and was returning when the other “side” gained control back home in Florence.
Just before reaching the city limits of Florence, Dante was informed that he was no longer welcome there.
In fact, the new government of his favorite city announced that if he should set foot in the city, he would be buried alive.
With his wealth and his family held captive in the city of Florence, Dante was required to wander alone between cities in the north of Italy.
He would never regain his property and would only reunite with his family briefly, months before his death, nearly 20 years later.
Banishment has been a powerful form of punishment for some time. Originating in Greek and Roman cultures, it has also been employed in countries such as China, Russia and England as well as the United States.
In past times, banishment was effective precisely because it separated a person from his settled community and means of maintaining a livelihood.
The family of the banished was expected to join the authorities in the ban, bearing the shame and having no further contact with the banned person.
In modern times, especially in religious or political disagreements, a less formal, but no less effective, form of banishment is used. Today, when we have personal disagreements, we tend to simply “write off” those with whom we disagree.
We feel uncomfortable around those who do not agree with us, so we downgrade their opinions in general, try to avoid all contact with or influence from them and choose to continue living our life as if the other person does not exist.
If you have ever been active in a church or a social organization, you have probably been party to one of these informal banishments or at least have witnessed one.
Short-term religious, theological or political disagreements often, sadly, have long-term consequences.
Even after the original differences are forgotten, the distance, separation and emotional banishment may continue.
Enmity between Christians, for example, over differences in theological persuasion or political outlook can be a deathblow to a vibrant, affirming, continuing friendship.
Sometimes, persons “freeze out” the other person, denying him or her normal social relationships without explaining or acknowledging the issue that caused the split.
Many times, the “offended” and the “offender” can scarcely recall the nature of the offense, but just “know” that the other does not, in reality, exist to them any longer.
Interestingly, the banishment against Dante by the city of Florence was, at last, revoked in 2008 – nearly 700 years after the man died.
I’m reasonably certain that few in modern Florence know, and even fewer care, why Dante was banished hundreds of years earlier.
While we might be impressed that contemporary Florence has, at last, recanted its banishment of Dante, how much better would it have been if that decision could have come in Dante’s lifetime, when reparations and forgiveness could have been extended in a personal and relationally meaningful way?
If there is someone whom you have “frozen out,” someone about whom you would say, “he or she is dead to me,” someone who has been banished from the city limits of your soul, perhaps there is still time to remove the ban, restore the relationship and redeem the separation.
Maybe, at least, there is time to be caught trying. Do it, if not for Dante’s sake, for your own.