How we cite our quotes:
[Cacciaguida]: "Such were the ancestors of those who now,
whenever bishops' sees are vacant, grow
fat as they sit in church consistories.
The breed – so arrogant and dragonlike
in chasing him who flees, but lamblike, meek
to him who shows his teeth or else his purse –
was on the rise already, but of stock
so mean that Ubertin Donato, when
his father-in-law made him kin to them,
was scarcely pleased." (Par. XVI, 112-121)
From this passage, one may infer that Dante considers the corruption of the Church to be one of the main causes of society's increasing degeneracy over the ages. Dante calls the corrupt clerics "dragonlike" to evoke remembrance of the very first evil, Lucifer, who is often represented by a dragon. Ever since the "Donation of Constantine," when the clerics first got their taste of money, human greed has become institutionalized in the Church, in the form of simony (the selling of pardons or Church positions).
[Dante to Cacciaguida]: …"I clearly see, my father,
how time is hurrying towards me in order
to deal me such a blow as would be most
grievous for him who is not set for it;
thus, it is right to arm myself with foresight,
that if I lose the place most dear, I may
not lose the rest through what my poems say." (Par. XVII, 105-111)
Dante is given the privilege of hearing his future foretold . But the way he reacts to the dire news is in line with how medieval artists thought of themselves. Dante will make sure that though he may lose his home, his poetry will help him gain immortality, even though material things will be gone.
[St. Benedict]: "Up to that sphere, Jacob the patriarch
could see that ladder's topmost portion reach,
when it appeared to him so thronged with angels.
But no one now would lift his feet from earth
to climb that ladder, and my Rule is left
to waste the paper it was written on.
What once were abbey walls are robbers' dens;
what once were cowls are sacks of rotten meal." (Par. XXII, 70-77)
Only in the virtuous old days could a mortal see, as Jacob did, up the whole length of the golden ladder. In the corrupt modern world "no one…would lift his feet from earth / to climb that ladder." This seems to imply that everything man does leads to more corruption. Since nothing can be more perfect than God, everything man does leads to more corruption.