Dante: The Divine Comedy
Paradiso Cantos I-VII
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- Paradiso Canto I:1-36 Dante’s Invocation
- Paradiso Canto I:37-72 The Sun
- Paradiso Canto I:73-99 The Harmony of the Spheres
- Paradiso Canto I:100-142 Beatrice explains Universal Order
- Paradiso Canto II:1-45 The First Sphere: The Moon: Inconstancy
- Paradiso Canto II:46-105 The Shadows on the Moon
- Paradiso Canto III:1-33 The Spirits manifested in the Moon
- Paradiso Canto III:34-60 Piccarda Donati
- Paradiso Canto III:61-96 God’s Will
- Paradiso Canto III:97-130 St Clare: The Empress Constance
- Paradiso Canto IV:1-63 Dante’s doubts: The Spirits: Plato’s Error
- Paradiso Canto IV:64-114 Response to Violence: The Dual Will
- Paradiso Canto IV:115-142 Dante’s desire for Truth
- Paradiso Canto V:1-84 Free Will: Vows: Dispensations
- Paradiso Canto V:85-139 The Second Sphere: Mercury: Ambition
- Paradiso Canto VI:1-111 Justinian: The Empire
- Paradiso Canto VI:112-142 Romeo of Villeneuve
- Paradiso Canto VII:1-54 The Fall of Man and the Crucifixion
- Paradiso Canto VII:55-120 The Redemption: The Incarnation
- Paradiso Canto VII:121-148 Creation and Resurrection
Paradiso Canto I:1-36 Dante’s Invocation
The glory of Him, who moves all things, penetrates the universe, and glows in one region more, in another less. I have been in that Heaven that knows his light most, and have seen things, which whoever descends from there has neither power, nor knowledge, to relate: because as our intellect draws near to its desire, it reaches such depths that memory cannot go back along the track.
Nevertheless, whatever, of the sacred regions, I had power to treasure in my mind, will now be the subject of my labour.
O good Apollo, for the final effort, make me such a vessel of your genius, as you demand for the gift of your beloved laurel. Till now, one peak of Parnassus was enough, but now inspired by both I must enter this remaining ring. Enter my chest, and breathe, as you did when you drew Marsyas out of the sheath that covered his limbs.
O Divine Virtue if you lend me your help, so that I can reveal that shadow of the kingdom of the Blessed, stamped on my brain, you will see me come to your chosen bough, and there crown myself with the leaves, that you, and the subject, will make me worthy of. Father, they are gathered, infrequently from it, for a Caesar’s or a Poet’s Triumph, through the fault, and to the shame, of human will: so the leaves of Daphne’s tree, the Peneian frond, should light joy in the joyful Delphic god, when it makes someone long for them. A great flame follows a tiny spark: perhaps, after me, better voices will pray, and Parnassus will respond.
Paradiso Canto I:37-72 The Sun
The Light of the World rises, for mortals, through different gates: but he issues on a happier course, and is joined to happier stars, and moulds and stamps the earthly wax more in his manner, when his rising joins four circles in three crosses. It had made it morning there, when it was evening here: and now that hemisphere was all bright, at noon, and this one dark, when I saw Beatrice, turned towards her left, gazing at the sun. No eagle ever fixed its eyes on it so intently.
And even as the reflected ray always issues from the first, and rises back upwards, like a pilgrim wishing to return, so my stance took its form from hers, infused through the eyes into my imagination, and I fixed my eyes on the sun, beyond our custom. Much is allowed to our powers there, which is not allowed here, through the gift of that place, made to fit the human species.
I could not endure it long, but enough to see him sparkle all round, like iron poured, molten, from the furnace. And suddenly, it seemed that day was added to day, as though He who has the power, had equipped Heaven with a second sun.
Beatrice was standing, with her gaze fixed on the eternal spheres, and I, removing my sight from above, fixed it on her. In that aspect I became, inwardly, like Glaucus, eating the grass that made him one with the gods of the sea.
To go beyond Humanity is not to be told in words: so let the analogy serve for those to whom grace, alone, may allow the experience.
Paradiso Canto I:73-99 The Harmony of the Spheres
Love, who rules the Heavens, you know, who lifted me upwards, with your light, whether I was only that which you created, new, in me.
When the sphere, which you make eternal through the world’s longing, drew my mind towards itself with that harmony which you tune and modulate, so much of the Heavens seemed to me then lit by the sun’s flame, that no rainfall or river’s flow ever made so wide an expanse of lake. The novelty of the sound, and the great light, lit a greater longing in me than I had ever felt, desiring to know their cause. So that She, who saw me as I see myself, opened her lips, to still my troubled mind, before I could open mine to ask, and said: ‘You make yourself stupid with false imaginings, and so you do not see, what you would see, if you discarded them.
You are no longer on earth, as you think, but lightning leaving its proper home, never flew as quickly as you, who are returning there.’ If my first perplexity was answered by the brief smiling words, I was more entangled by a second, and I said: ‘Content, and already free of one great wonder, now I am startled as to how I lift above lighter matter.’
Paradiso Canto I:100-142 Beatrice explains Universal Order
At that, after a sigh of pity, she turned her eyes towards me, with that look a mother gives to her fevered child, and began: ‘All things observe a mutual order among themselves, and this is the structure that makes the universe resemble God. In it the higher creatures find the signature of Eternal Value, which is the end for which these laws were made, that I speak of.
In that order, I say, all things are graduated, in diverse allocations, nearer to, or further from, their source, so that they move towards diverse harbours, over the great sea of being, each one with its given instincts that carry it onwards. This instinct carries the fire towards the moon; that one is the mover in the mortal heart; this other pulls the earth together and unifies it. And this bow does not only fire creatures that are lacking in intelligence, but also those that have intellect and love.
The Providence that orders it so, makes the Empyrean, in which the ninth sphere whirls with the greatest speed, quiet, with its light: and the power of the bowstring, that directs whatever it fires towards a joyful target, carries us towards it now, as if to the appointed place. It is true that, as form is sometimes inadequate to the artist’s intention, because the material fails to answer, so the creature, that has power, so impelled, to swerve towards some other place, sometimes deserts the track (just as fire can be seen, darting down from a cloud) if its first impulse is deflected towards earth by false pleasures.
You should not wonder more at your ascent, if I judge rightly, than at rivers falling, from mountains to their foot. It would be a marvellous thing, in you, if without any obstruction, you had settled below; just as stillness would be marvellous, on earth, in a living flame.’ At that She turned her gaze back towards Heaven.
Paradiso Canto II:1-45 The First Sphere: The Moon: Inconstancy
O you, in your little boat, who, longing to hear, have followed my keel, singing on its way, turn to regain your own shores: do not commit to the open sea, since, losing me, perhaps, you would be left adrift.
You other few, who have lifted your mouths, in time, towards the bread of Angels, by which life up here is nourished, and from which none of them come away sated, you may truly set your ship to the deep saltwater, following my furrow, in front of the water falling back to its level. The glorious Argonauts who sailed to Colchis, who marvelled when they saw Jason turned ploughman, did not marvel as much as you will.
The inborn, perpetual thirst for the divine regions lifted us, almost as swiftly as you see the Heavens move. Beatrice was gazing upwards, and I at her: and I saw myself arriving, in the space of time perhaps it takes an arrow to be drawn, released, and leave the notch, there, where a marvellous thing engaged my sight: and therefore She, from whom nothing I did was hidden, turning towards me, as joyful as she was lovely, said: ‘Turn your mind towards God in gratitude, who has joined us with the first planet.’
It seemed to me that a cloud covered us, dense, lucid, firm, and polished, like diamond struck by sunlight. The eternal pearl accepted us into it, as water accepts a ray of light, though still, itself, unbroken. If we cannot conceive, here, how one dimension could absorb another, which must be the case, if one body enters another, and if I were then a body, the greater should be our longing to see that Essence, where we see how our own nature, and God’s, were once unified.
There, what we take, on trust, will be shown us, not demonstrated, but realised in ourselves, like a self-evident truth in which we believe.
Paradiso Canto II:46-105 The Shadows on the Moon
I replied to her: ‘Lady, I thank Him who has raised me from the mortal world, as devoutly as I can, but tell me what are those dark marks on this planet, that make the people down there on earth make fables about Cain?’
She smiled a moment, and then said: ‘If human opinion errs, where the key of the senses cannot unlock it, the arrows of amazement should certainly not pierce you, since you see that Reason’s wings are too short, even when the senses can take the lead. But tell me what you yourself think about it.’ And I: ‘I think what appears variegated to us up here, is caused by dense and rare bodies.’
And she: ‘You will see that your thought is truly submerged in error, if you listen attentively to the argument I will make against it.
The eighth sphere, the Stellar Heaven, shows many lights to you, which can be seen to have diverse appearance, in quantity and quality. If rarity and density alone produced that effect, there would be one quality in all of them, more or less equally distributed. Different qualities must be the result of different formal principles, and on your reasoning, only one could exist.
Again, if rarity were the cause of those dark non-reflecting patches you ask about, this planet would be short of matter in one part, right through: or, as a body layers fat and lean, it would have alternate pages in its volume.
If the first were true, it would be revealed by solar eclipses, when the light would shine, through the less dense parts, as it does when falling on anything else that is translucent. That is not so: so we must consider the second case, and if I can show this is false also, your idea will have been refuted.
If this less dense matter does not go right through, there must be a boundary, beyond which its denser opposite must prevent light travelling on, and from that boundary the rays would be reflected, as coloured light returns from glass that hides lead behind it. Now you will say that the ray is darker here than elsewhere because it is reflected from further back. Experiment can untangle you from that suggestion, if you will try it, which is always the spring that feeds the rivers of your science.
Take three mirrors, and set two equidistant from you, and let the third, further away, be visible to your eyes, between the other two. Turn towards them, and have a light behind you, reflected from the three mirrors, back towards you. Though the more distant has a smaller area, you will see it shine as brightly as the others.’
Paradiso Canto II:106-148 The Diffusion of the Divine Spirit
‘Now, I wish to illuminate you, who are stripped in mind, as the surface of the snow is stripped of colour and coldness by the stroke of the sun’s warm rays, with light so living it will tremble, as you gaze at it.
In the Empyrean, the heaven of divine peace, a body whirls, the Primum Mobile, in whose virtue rests the existence of everything it contains. The Stellar Heaven that follows next, within and below it, which shows many lights, divides this existence among diverse essences, which it separates out, and contains. The other seven, lower Heavens circling, dispose the distinct powers they have, in themselves, by various differentiations, to their own seeds and ends.
These organs of the universe fall, as you can see, from grade to grade, since they receive from above, and work downwards. Now, note well how I thread this pass, to the truth you long for, so that afterwards you may know how to keep the ford alone.
The motion and power, of the sacred lower gyres, must be derived from the Angels, who are their movers and are blessed, as the hammer’s art derives from the blacksmith. And the Stellar Heaven, that so many lights beautify, takes its imprint from the profound mind, of the Cherubim, that turn it, and from that forms the seal. And as the soul, in your dust, diffuses itself through your different members, and melds to diverse powers, so the Divine Intelligence deploys its goodness, multiplied throughout the stars, still turning round its own unity. Each separate Angelic virtue makes a separate alloy with the precious body it vivifies, in which it is bound, as life is bound in you. Because of the joyful nature it flows from, the Angelic virtue, mingled with the body, shines through it, as joy shines through the living eye.
From this, come the differences, between light and light, not from density or rarity: this is the formal principle that, according to its own excellence, produces the turbid and the clear.’
Paradiso Canto III:1-33 The Spirits manifested in the Moon
That sun, which first warmed my heart with love, had unveiled lovely truth’s sweet aspect to me, by proof and refutation: and I lifted up my head to speak, to confess myself corrected and believing, as was needed. But something appeared, that forced me to look at it, so that I stopped thinking of my confession.
As the outlines of our faces are reflected, from transparent, polished glass, or from clear, tranquil water that is not deep enough for the bottom to be darkened, and are so faint that a pearl on a white forehead is not distinguished more slowly by our eyes, so I saw many faces, eager to speak: at which I fell into the opposite error to that which sparked love between Narcissus and the pool. I was no sooner aware of them, than, thinking they were reflected images, I turned my eyes round to see whose they were: and I saw nothing, and turned them back again, straight to the light of my sweet guide whose holy eyes glowed, as she smiled.
She said: ‘Do not wonder if I smile, in the presence of your childish thought, since it does not trust itself with the truth, but turns, as it usually does, to emptiness. Those you behold are truly substantial, consigned here for failing in their vows. So speak to them, and listen, and believe, since the true light that satisfies them, does not allow them to turn their steps away from itself.’
Paradiso Canto III:34-60 Piccarda Donati
And I turned to the shadow who seemed to long to speak to me most, and, like someone whom too great a desire seizes, I began: ‘O spirit, happily created, who feels, in the rays of the eternal life, that sweetness, never understood till it is tasted, it would please me, if you would grace me with your name and your story.’
At which she replied, eagerly, with smiling eyes: ‘Our love no more closes the gate on a valid request, than does that Love which would make all its courts like itself. I was a virgin sister in the world, and if your memory is searched deeply, my greater beauty, now, will not hide me from you, but you will know me again, as Piccarda, who am blessed in this sphere that moves the slowest, placed here with these others, who are blessed. Our affections that are only inflamed by the pleasure of the Holy Spirit, delight to be informed under his guidance. And this fate, which seems so humble, is given us because our vows were neglected and missing certain cantos.’
At that I said to her: ‘In your marvellous aspect, something divine shines out again, that transmutes you from my previous concept of you. That is why I was slow to recall you to mind: now what you tell me gives me such assistance, that I remember you more clearly.’
Paradiso Canto III:61-96 God’s Will
‘But tell me, you who are happy here, do you wish for a higher place, to see further, or to make yourself dearer?’ She smiled with the other shadows first, a little, then replied to me so joyously she seemed to be burning with the first fire of love: ‘Brother, the power of love quiets our will, and makes us only long for what we have, and gives us no other thirst. If we desired to be higher up, our wishes would be at odds with his will, who assigns us here, and there is no room for that discord in these circles, if you think again about love’s nature, and that we of necessity have our being in Love.
No, it is the essence of this being blessed to keep ourselves to the Divine Will, through which our own wills are unified. So that our being as we are, from step to step, throughout the kingdom, is a joy to all the kingdom, as it is to the king, who draws our wills towards what he wills: and in his will is our peace, la sua volontate è nostra pace: it is the sea, to which all things flow, that it creates, and nature forms.’ It was clear to me then how every part of Heaven is Paradise, even though the grace of the Highest Good does not pour down to it in only one way.
But even as it happens that, if one kind of food satisfies us, while the appetite for another kind persists, and giving thanks for that one, we ask for this one, so by word and gesture I learned from her what that warp was, through which she had not drawn the shuttle, to its end.
Paradiso Canto III:97-130 St Clare: The Empress Constance
She said: ‘A life perfected, and great merit, set a lady, Saint Clare, higher in Heaven, and there are those, in your world, who dress and veil themselves, according to her rule, so that they might sleep and wake, till death, with the Spouse who accepts every vow, which Love has made conformable with his pleasure. I fled from the world, while still a girl, to follow her, and shut myself in her habit, and promised to pursue the way of her company.
After that, men, who were more used to evil than good, tore me away from that sweet cloister, and God knows what my life became then.
And this other splendour, who shows herself to you, on my right side, and who burns with all the light of our sphere, says what I say, of myself, about herself. She was a sister, and, in a similar way, the shadow of the holy veil was snatched from her head. But, turned back towards the world as she was, against her will, and against right dealings, she was never torn from her heart’s veil. This is the light of the great Constance, who by Henry the Sixth, the second stormwind of Suabia, conceived Frederick, the third and final power.’
So she spoke to me, and then began singing: ‘Ave Maria’, and, singing, vanished like a heavy weight through deep water. My vision, which followed her as far as it could, turned, when it lost her, to the mark of a greater longing, and fastened its look wholly on Beatrice: but she flashed into my gaze so brightly, that my sight could not at first endure it, and this made me slower with my questioning.
Paradiso Canto IV:1-63 Dante’s doubts: The Spirits: Plato’s Error
Death from starvation would come to a man, between two foods, equally distant and equally appetising, before a free man set his teeth in either. So a lamb would stand, equally fearful, between the appetites of two fierce wolves, or a dog stand still between two hinds. So I do not blame or commend myself for keeping quiet, caught in the same way, suspended between doubts, because I was forced to.
I kept quiet, but my longing was pictured on my face, and my questioning also, in far warmer colours than speech could show. And Beatrice took the part that Daniel took, when he lifted Nebuchadnezzar’s cloud of anger that had made him cruel, unjustly, and she said: ‘I can see clearly how this desire and that one stirs you, so that your anxiety constricts itself, and cannot breathe itself out.
You argue: ‘If the right intent is still there, how can another’s violence lessen my measure of worth?’ And you are given further cause for perplexity, by the souls returning to the stars, in Plato’s doctrine. These are the two questions that weigh equally on your will, so I will take that first which contains the most dangerous error.
He of the Seraphim nearest to God, Moses, Samuel, John, either one, you may choose, and Mary, none of them take their places in any different Heaven than the spirits who appeared to you just now, nor do they have more years or less of existence. But all beautify the first sphere, the Empyrean, and share sweet life, but differently, by feeling the eternal spirit more, or less.
They have shown themselves here, not because this sphere is theirs, but to signify the least steep celestial ascent for you. Such speech needs to match your faculties that can only make fit matter, for your intellect, from what is apprehended by your senses. So the Scriptures also bend to your capacity, attributing hands and feet to God, symbolically, and Holy Church represents Gabriel and Michael, and Raphael who made Tobit complete again, in human form.
What Timaeus argues concerning spirits, is not what can be seen here, since he seems to believe what he says, and says the soul returns to its star, thinking it was split from it, when nature gave it form, though perhaps his meaning is different than the words say, and may have an intention that should not be derided. If he means that the honour and the blame, ascribed to their influence, returns to these spheres, perhaps his arrow hits some mark of truth.
Paradiso Canto IV:64-114 Response to Violence: The Dual Will
‘The other source of doubt which troubles you, is less venomous, because its evil influence could not lead you away from me, elsewhere. That our justice appears an injustice to mortal eyes, is a question for faith, not for heretical error. But since your intellect has the power to penetrate easily to this truth, I will satisfy you, as you desire.
If violence occurs when those who suffer it do nothing to contribute to what displays force towards them, well then, these souls did not have that excuse: since, the will cannot be overcome if it does not will to be, but behaves like nature in the flames, though a thousand times wrenched away by violence. But if it wavers, more or less, it helps the force against it: and they wavered, since they had the power to return later to the sacred place.
If their will had remained entire, like that which held Saint Lawrence on the grid, and made Mucius Scaevola treat his right hand with severity, it would have pushed them back towards the path, from which they were taken, as soon as they were free: but such strong will is all too rare.
Now, if you have gleaned what you should have from these words, the difficulty that would have troubled you, many more times, has been resolved. But now another gulf across your track, meets your eyes, which would make you weary, before you crossed it, alone.
I have surely instilled in your mind that spirits who are blessed cannot tell a lie, because they live close to the First Truth, and also you might have understood, from Piccarda, that Constance maintained her devotion to the veil, so that Piccarda appears to contradict me. Brother, many times before, things have been done to escape danger, that were against the grain, and not fitting: so Alcmaeon, moved by his father’s prayer, killed his own mother, and to be pious, rendered himself impious.
At this point, I want you to remember that violence is allowed by the will, and they work together, so that the offence cannot be excused. The absolute will does not consent to evil, but it does consent, in as much as it fears that, if it does not, it will encounter worse. So, when Piccarda expresses this, she is speaking of the absolute will, and I of the practical will, so that, together, we both speak the truth.’
Paradiso Canto IV:115-142 Dante’s desire for Truth
Such was the flow, from that holy stream, that rose from the fountain from which all truth derives: and was such that it brought peace to both my desires. Then I said: ‘O divine lady, loved by the First Lover, you whose speech floods through me, and warms me, so that it makes me more and more alive, my affections have not the depth to be able to return grace for grace but may He who sees it, and has the power, respond to it.
Now I see that our intellect can never be satisfied unless the Truth, which no truth goes beyond, shines on it. It rests there, like a wild creature in its lair, as soon as it has reached it: and it can, otherwise all longing would be in vain. So inquiry grows, like a new shoot at the base of truth, a natural thing that rises towards the summit, from ridge to ridge. That invites me, and gives me confidence, to question you lady, reverentially, about another truth hidden from me.
I wish to know if Man can give you such satisfaction, by other good intentions, for his broken vows, as not to weigh short on your scales.’
Beatrice looked at me, with eyes so filled with divine sparks of love, that my faculties turned away, overcome, and I felt lost, with downcast eyes.
Paradiso Canto V:1-84 Free Will: Vows: Dispensations
‘If I flame at you, in the heat of love, beyond the degree of it seen on earth, and, in so doing, overcome the power of your eyes, do not wonder, since it arises from perfect vision, that, as it understands, advances in the good it understands. I note clearly how the eternal light, already, shines back from your intellect, that, which, once seen, always sets love alight, and if anything else seduces your love, it is nothing but a trace of this light, wrongly comprehended, that shines through in it.
You wish to know whether reparation may be made, for broken vows, by means of some other service, great enough as to render the soul secure from disputation.’ So Beatrice began this canto, and like someone who does not pause, continued the sacred progress, like this: ‘The greatest gift that God made at the Creation, out of his munificence, the one that most fitted his supreme goodness, and which he values most, is Free Will, with which intelligent creatures, all and sundry, were, and are, endowed.
Now the high value placed on vows will be clear to you, if they are made such that God consents, when you consent: since, in confirming the pact between God and Man, the guilty party is rendered such by this treasure of Free Will, just as I say, and by their own act. What can be done then, in recompense? If you thought to make good use of what you once consecrated, you would be doing good with stolen evil. You are now clear on the major point.
But since Holy Church grants dispensations, that seem to run counter to the truth I have revealed, you must still sit at table for a while, as the tough fibres, you have eaten, require further help to aid digestion. Open your mind to what I unfold for you, and fix it inwardly, since to understand and not retain, is not knowledge.
Two things appertain to the essence of this self-sacrifice: the first is its content: the second is the vow itself. The latter can never be cancelled, except by being kept: and it is about this that my previous discourse is so precise: so it was necessary, always, for the Hebrews to make sacrifice, though, as you ought to know, the thing sacrificed might sometimes be altered.
The content, the other aspect of the matter being explained to you, may indeed be such that there is no offence if it is substituted by other content. But let no one shift the burden from his shoulder at his own discretion, without a turn of the gold and silver keys (of knowledge and authority). And let him consider any change as foolish, unless the thing that is lapsed from bears a proportion of four to six, to the thing replacing it. And so whatever weighs so heavily in respect of its value, that it exceeds every scale, can never be replaced by any other means.
Human beings should never take vows lightly: be faithful, and not perverse, as Jepthath was perverse in his first vow, whom it would have been more fitting to have said: ‘Mal feci: I did wrong,’ than keep the vow and do worse: and you may accuse the great leader of the Greeks, Agamemnon, of the same foolishness, that made Iphigenia weep that her face was lovely, and made the wise and foolish weep for her, hearing tell of such a rite.
Be more cautious in action, you Christians, not like a feather blown by every wind: and do not think that all water purifies. You have the Old and New Testaments, and the shepherd of the Church to guide you: let that be enough for your salvation. If evil greed declares otherwise, be men not mindless sheep, so that the Jews among you do not deride you. Do not do as the lamb does that leaves its mother’s milk, capricious and silly, sporting with itself for pleasure.’
Paradiso Canto V:85-139 The Second Sphere: Mercury: Ambition
So Beatrice spoke to me, as I write it: then she turned, all in longing, to that region where the universe is most alive. Her silence, and her changed aspect, demanded reticence from my eager intellect that already had new questions to ask. And like an arrow, that hits the target, before the bowstring is still, we rose to the second sphere.
There I saw my Lady, so delighted, at committing herself to the light of this heaven, that the planet itself grew brighter. And if the star was altered, and smiled, what did I, who am, by my very nature, changeable in every way!
As the fish in a still, clear pool swim towards whatever falls from above that they consider something to feed on, so I saw more than a thousand radiances draw towards us, and in each one was heard: ‘Ecco chi crescerà li nostri amori: Behold someone who will increase our love.’ And as each one came to us, the shadow seemed filled with delight, judging by the bright glow that came from it.
Reader, think how you would feel an anguished craving, to know more, if what I start now did not continue, and you will see yourself how I longed to hear from them about their state, as soon as they were manifested to my sight.
‘O fortunately-born one, you, to whom grace concedes the right to see the thrones of eternal triumph, before you abandon the place of militancy, we are fired by the light that burns through all the heavens, and therefore if you want to be lit by us, satisfy yourself at pleasure.’ So one of the spirits said to me, and Beatrice said: ‘Speak, speak in safety, and believe, as you would gods.’
Turned to the light that had spoken to me first, I said: ‘Truly, I see how you are nested in your own light, and that you draw it through your eyes, since they sparkle as you smile, but I do not know who you are, noble spirit, or why you are graded in this sphere, that is veiled, for mortals, in the sun’s rays,’ at which it glowed more brightly even than before.
Like the sun, which hides itself in excess light when heat has eaten away the moderating effect of the thick clouds, so the sacred figure, through greater delight, hid himself in his own rays, and so, enclosed, enclosed, replied to me, as the following canto declares.
Paradiso Canto VI:1-111 Justinian: The Empire
‘When Constantine had turned the Imperial eagle eastwards, against the sky’s course which it had followed in the wake of Aeneas, who took Lavinia from her father, the Bird of God held court at the extremity of Europe, for two hundred years and more, near to the mountains of Troy that he had first issued from: and there he ruled the world, under the shadow of his sacred wings, from reign to reign, until by the passage of time, rule fell to me.
Caesar I was, Justinian I am, who pared excess and ineffectiveness from the Law, at the wish of the First Love I now feel: and when I first fixed my mind on that labour, I held that Christ had one nature, and no more, and I was content in that belief: but Agapetus, the blessed, who was Pope, pointed me to the true faith, by his words. I believed him, and now I see the content of his faith, as clearly as you see that in every contradictory pair, if one statement is false, the other is true. As soon as I was in step with the Church, it pleased God, in his grace, to inspire me to that high task, and I gave it my all, and committed my weapons to Belisarius, whom Heaven’s right hand was so wedded to, it was a sign that I should rest from them. Now here is the end, already, of my answer to your first question: who I am: but its context forces me to follow with some additions.
So you may know how much reason is on the side of those who oppose the sacred banner of Empire, as well as those who embrace it, see how great a nobility has made it worthy of reverence, beginning from the time when Evander’s son, Pallas, died to ensure its rule.
You know it rested in Alba Longa for more than three hundred years, until the end, when the three Horatii and the three Curiatii fought for it. And you know what it enacted, from the wrong to the Sabine women, to Lucretia’s grief, through the reigns of seven kings who conquered the neighbouring peoples.
You know what it did, carried against Brennus the Gaul, against Greek Pyrrhus, and against the other princes and powers, from which Torquatus, and Cincinnatus, named for his curling hair, the Decii, and the Fabii, earned the fame that I delight in remembering.
It threw down the Arab pride that followed Hannibal over the Alps, from which the River Po rises. Scipio and Pompey triumphed beneath it, while still young, and it was bitter to Fiesole, in those hills, under which you were born.
Then, near the time when Heaven wished to lead the world to its own peaceful mode, Caesar laid hands on it, at Rome’s wish, and the Isère and Arar, the Seine, and every valley filled by the Rhone, know what it achieved, then, from Var to Rhine.
What it did then, when he left Ravenna and crossed the Rubicon, was so great that tongue and pen could not describe it. It wheeled the armies towards Spain, and then Durazzo, and struck Pharsalia so fiercely that the pain was felt as far as the hot Nile. It saw Trojan Antandros and Simois again, from which it first came, and saw the place where Hector lies, and then, alas for Ptolemy, soared again, and afterwards swooped on Juba in a lightning flash, then wheeled to the west where it heard the Pompeian trumpets.
Brutus and Cassius howl in Hell because of its support for Augustus who followed, and it made Modena and Perugia mourn. Miserable Cleopatra still suffers because of it, who, as she fled from the eagle, took dark sudden death from the viper.
But what the Eagle, that I speak of, did before, what it was yet to do throughout the subject mortal world, becomes a dull and insignificant thing to see, if the standard is viewed, with clear eye and pure heart, in Tiberius’s, the third Caesar’s, hand, since the living Justice, that was my inspiration, granted it the glory of taking vengeance for his anger, in the hands of which I speak.
And much later when the Lombard tooth gnawed at the Holy Church, Charlemagne, victorious, sheltered her under its wings.
Now you may judge those I accused just now, and their sins, which are the cause of all your troubles. One faction, the Guelphs, oppose the golden lilies of France to the people’s Eagle, and the other, the Ghibellines, appropriate it to their party, so that it is difficult to see which one offends the most. Let the Ghibellines deploy their skills under some other banner, since he who divorces it from justice always follows it to disaster. And do not let that new Charles, of Naples, beat it down, with his Guelphs, but let him fear the talons, that have torn the hide from greater lions than him. Many a time, before now, the children have grieved for the father’s sin, and do not let Charles imagine that God will change his coat of arms for royal lilies.’
Paradiso Canto VI:112-142 Romeo of Villeneuve
‘This little planet adorns herself with good souls, who actively searched for honour and fame, and when desire, swerving, tends towards that, the rays of true love shine upwards with less life. But part of our delight is in the matching of our reward to our merit, because we see them neither magnified nor lessened. By this, the living Justice so sweetens our affections, that they may never be twisted to any malice.
On earth a diversity of voices creates sweet harmony, and in the same way the different degrees in this life make sweet harmony among the spheres.
And, here, in this pearl, the light of Romeo of Villeneuve shines, whose fine, and extensive efforts were so badly rewarded. But the Provençals who harmed him, cannot smile, and he who makes his own ruin out of another’s goodness, takes a bad road. Raymond Berenger had four daughters, and every one a queen, and this was achieved, on his behalf, by Romeo of Villeneuve, a humble pilgrim wanderer: then muttered words made Raymond demand account from this just man, who gave him twelve for every ten: and Romeo went his way again, old and poor: and if the world knew the heart he had in him, who begged, crust after crust, to stay alive, much as it praises him, it would praise him more.’
Paradiso Canto VII:1-54 The Fall of Man and the Crucifixion
‘Osanna Sanctus Deus Sabaoth, superillustrans claritate tua felices ignes horum malachoth! Hosanna, Holy God of Sabaoth, illuminating the blessed fires of these kingdoms, with your brightness from above! So I saw him, singing, to whom the double lustre, of Law and Empire, adds itself, revolving to his own note, and he and the others moved in dance, and like the swiftest of sparks, suddenly veiled themselves from me, in the distance.
I said, hesitating: ‘Speak to her, Speak,’ in myself, ‘Speak to my Lady who quenches my thirst, with the sweetest drops.’ But that reverence that completely overcomes me, even at the sound of Be or ice, bowed me again, like a man who slumbers. Beatrice only let me be like that for a moment, and began to direct the rays of her smile towards me, that would make a man happy in the flames: ‘According to my unerring perception, those words about how just vengeance was revenged, with justice, have set you thinking: but I will quickly relieve your thoughts: and listen closely since my words will grant you the gift of a noble statement.
Adam, that man who was not born, condemned his whole race because he would not suffer a rein on his will, for his own good. Therefore Humanity lay in sickness down there, and in great error, for many ages, until it pleased God’s Word to descend, when he joined that nature that had wandered from its Creator, to his own person, solely by an act of his eternal Love.
Now turn you vision to what I now say: this nature, joined to its maker, was pure and good, as it was when first created, but it had been exiled from Paradise, by its own action, by turning from the way of truth, and its own life. Measured by the nature assumed, no penalty was ever exacted so justly, as that one, inflicted on the Cross, and if we gaze at the Person who endured it, in whom that nature was incarnate, by the same measure no punishment was ever so unjust. So contrary effects came from one cause: God and the Jews were satisfied by the same death: and Earth shook, and Heaven opened at it.
Now, it should not seem a difficulty to you, to hear it said that just revenge was taken by the Court of Justice. But now I see your mind tangled in knots, from thought to thought, which it greatly longs for release from.’
Paradiso Canto VII:55-120 The Redemption: The Incarnation
‘You are saying to yourself: Yes, I understand what I hear, but why God only willed this method of our redemption, is hidden from me. Brother, this decree is buried from the sight of everyone whose intellect is not ripened in Love’s flame. But I will reveal why this method was the most valuable, since it is knowledge often aimed at, but little understood.
The Divine Good, that rejects all envy, fires out such sparks from its inner fire as to show forth the eternal beauty. What distills from it, without mediation, is eternal, because the print cannot be removed, once it has stamped the seal. What rains down from it, without mediation, is total freedom, since it is not subject to the power of transient things. It conforms more closely to the Good, and is therefore more pleasing to it: since the sacred flame that lights everything, is most alive in what most resembles it.
The human creature has all these advantages, and if one fails, then that creature falls from nobility. Sin is the only thing that disenfranchises it, and makes it dissimilar to the Highest Good, so that its light irradiates it less, and the creature may never return to dignity, unless it fills the place where guilt has made a void, with just punishment for sinful delight.
When your nature sinned in totality in the first seed, it was parted from dignity, as it was from Paradise: and they could not be regained, however subtly you search, except by crossing over one of these two fords: either that God out of his grace remitted the debt, or Man gave satisfaction for his foolishness.
Now fix your eyes on the abyss of Eternal Wisdom, following my speech as closely as you can.
Man had no power ever to be able to give satisfaction, in his own being, since he could not humble himself, by new obedience, as deeply, as he had aimed, so highly, to exalt himself, through disobedience. This was the reason why man was shut out from the power to give satisfaction by himself. Therefore God had to return Man to his perfect life in his own way: that is, through mercy or through justice, or both. And since what is done by the doer is more gracious the more it shows us the goodness of the heart it comes from, the Divine Goodness, that imprints the world, was content to act in both ways, to raise you up again.
Between the first day and the last, there never was, nor ever will be again, so high and magnificent a progress on either of those roads, since God was more generous in giving of himself, to make Man capable of rising again, than if he had only granted remission, from himself: and every other way fell short of justice, except that by which the Son of God humbled himself, to become incarnate.’
Paradiso Canto VII:121-148 Creation and Resurrection
‘Now to answer all your longings, I go back to explain a certain passage, so that you can understand it as I do. You are saying to yourself: I see the water, fire, earth, and air: and all their mixtures come to corruption, and do not last for long, and yet these things were creatures, and ought to be secure from corruption, if what I have said to you is true.
Brother, the Angels, and the pure region where you are, may be said to be created as they are, in their total being, but the elements you have named and all the compounds of them, have been inwardly formed by a created power. The matter that they hold was created: the formative power in those stars which circle round them was created.
The life of every wild creature and every plant is drawn from compounds gaining power by the rays and motion of the sacred lights. But your life is breathed into you without mediation, by the supreme beneficence that makes life love it, so that it always longs for it. And from this you can deduce your resurrection in the flesh, if you again consider how human bodies were first made, when your first parents were both made.’