Dante: The Divine Comedy

Paradiso Cantos XXII-XXVIII

© Copyright 2000 A. S. Kline, All Rights Reserved

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Contents


Paradiso Canto XXII:1-99 Saint Benedict

I turned, oppressed by stupor, to my guide, like a little child who always goes for help where he has most confidence, and She, like a mother who, with her voice, which sets him right, quickly aids her pale and breathless child, said, to me: ‘Do you not know you are in Heaven? And do you not know that Heaven is wholly sacred, and that which is done here is done from righteous zeal? Now you can understand how the song, and my smiling, have transmuted you, since, that cry has so moved you, in which the vengeance you shall see taken, before you die, would already be known to you, had you understood their prayers.

The sword from above does not strike hastily, or reluctantly, except to his perception, who waits for it with longing, or in fear. But turn now to the others: since you will see many renowned spirits, if you direct your look according to my words.’ I turned my eyes, as her wish commanded, and saw a hundred smaller spheres, which were made more beautiful by their collective rays.

I stood, like someone who represses the stirrings of desire in himself, who does not presume to ask, because he fears to exceed due bounds. And the greatest and most lustrous of these pearls came forward, to satisfy my wish about him, Then I heard, inside there: ‘If you could see, as I can, the love which burns among us, your thought would have been spoken, but so that you do not miss the goal, by delay, I will answer only the thought which you were so cautious about.

That mountain, Monte Cairo, on whose slopes lies Monte Cassino, was once thronged by deceived and wrongly-directed worshippers of the Pagan gods. And I am Benedict, who first carried His name up there, He who brought that Truth, which raises us up so high, and such great grace shone over me, that I weaned the surrounding villages from the impious cults that seduced the world.

These other flames were all contemplatives, lit by the warmth that bears sacred fruits and flowers. Here is Maccarius, here is Romoaldus, here are the brothers who stayed inside the cloisters and kept their hearts intact.’ And I to him: ‘The love you show, by speaking with me, and the benign aspect I see, and note, in all your fires, has increased my confidence as the Sun expands the rose, when it opens as far as is within its power, so that I beg to know, assure me father, as to whether I might receive such grace as to see your unveiled form.’

At which he said: ‘Brother, your noble desire, will be fulfilled in the last sphere, the Empyrean, where I, and all the rest, find fulfilment. There every desire is perfect, full and ripe: in it alone every part is where it always was, since it is not in space, and has no poles, and our ladder reaches it at last, vanishing out of sight. The patriarch Jacob saw its upper rungs stretch up there, when he saw it filled with Angels. But no one leaves Earth to climb it now, and my rule, down there, remains a waste of parchment. The walls, that used to be a House of Prayer, are dens, and the cowls are sacks full of mouldy grain.

But even gross usury is not as contrary to God’s wishes as the fruit, which maddens the monks’ hearts. Since what the Church holds, in its keeping, belongs to the people who pray to God, not to kin, or to other viler uses. The flesh of mortals is so easily seduced, that down there, a good beginning does not last the time from the oak’s sprouting to the acorn harvest. Peter began his flock, without gold or silver, I mine with prayers and fasting, and Francis his with humility. And if you gaze at the start of each order, and look again at where it has failed, you will see the white darken.

But Jordan being rolled back, and the Red Sea separating when God willed, would be a less marvellous sight than alteration here.’ So he spoke to me, and then returned to his companions, and the companions drew close together, then were all gathered upwards in a whirlwind.

Paradiso Canto XXII:100-154 Dante enters Gemini

The sweet Lady drove me, behind them, up the ladder, merely with a gesture, her power so conquered my nature: and motion was never so quick down here, where we climb and fall by nature’s law, as to match my flight.

O Reader, I swear by my hopes of ever returning to that sacred triumph, for which I, many a time, regret my sins, and beat my breast, you would not have put your finger in the fire, and drawn it back, in so short a time as it took me to see the sign of Gemini, that follows Taurus, and to be inside it.

O glorious stars, O light pregnant with great power, from which I derive all my genius, whatever of it there is, He who is father of every human life, was rising and setting in your sign, when I first felt the air of Tuscany: and then, when grace was granted me, to enter the distant sphere where you revolve, your region was assigned to me.

To you my soul breathes, devoutly, to gain the strength for the difficult passage, which draws her towards itself. Beatrice began to say: ‘You are so near the highest blessedness, that your eyes should be sharp and clear. So, before you make your way deeper into it, look down, and see how great a world I have placed under your feet: in order that your heart may be presented, as joyfully as it can to the triumphant crowd which comes, delightedly, through this ethereal sphere.’

I turned my gaze back through each and every one of the seven spheres, and saw this globe, so that I smiled at its pitiful semblance, and I approve that wisdom greatest which considers it least: since he whose thoughts are directed elsewhere may be called truly noble.

I saw the Moon, Artemis, daughter of Latona, lit without that shadow which gave me reason before to consider her rare or dense. I endured the face of Helios, your son Hyperion, and saw how Mercury, son of Maia, and Venus, daughter of Dione, move around and near him. Next, Jupiter appeared, moderate between Saturn his father’s cold, and Mars’s his son’s heat, and the changes in their position were clear to me. And all the seven were revealed to me, how large, how fast they are, and how distant from each other in orbit.

The threshing-floor that makes us so fierce, appeared to me from mountains to river-mouth, as I revolved with the eternal Twins: then I turned my eyes to the lovely eyes again.

Paradiso Canto XXIII:1-48 The Vision of Christ

Like a bird among the beloved leaves, who has brooded over the nest of her sweet chicks, in the night that hides all things from us, and who, prematurely, takes to the open branch, eager to see their longed-for aspect, and to find food to feed them, waiting the sun with ardent love, watching fixedly for the dawn to break, so was my Lady, standing, erect and ready, turned towards the region of the south where the sun moves slowest, so that as I looked at her in her anticipation and longing, I became like him, desiring, who wishes something new, and delights in hope.

But the time between one when and the next, for fixing my attention I mean, and for seeing the Heavens grow brighter and brighter, was short. And Beatrice said: ‘See the procession of Christ’s triumph, and all the fruits gathered by the wheeling of these spheres.’ Her face seemed alight, and her eyes so full of joy, that I have to pass it by, without description.

As Diana Trivia in the calm of full moons, smiles among the eternal nymphs who clothe the Heavens in every space, I saw one Sun, above a thousands lights, firing each and all, as our own sun does the things we see above: and the glowing substance shone so brightly through the living light that my vision could not endure it. O Beatrice, sweet, dear guide! She said to me: ‘Nothing has defence against what overpowers you. Inside are the wisdom and the power that opened the path between Heaven and Earth, for which there had been such great desire before.’

Even as fire is released from cloud, because it expands so that there is no space inside, and rushes down to earth against its nature, so my mind, expanded by these feasts, issued out of itself, and cannot remember what it became.... ‘Open your eyes, and look at what I am: you have seen things that have made you strong enough to endure my smile.’

Paradiso Canto XXIII:49-87 The Virgin and the Apostles

When I heard that gift, worthy of great thanks, that can never be erased from the book that records the past, I was like someone who returns to himself, from an unremembered dream, and tries vainly to recall it to mind. If all of those tongues that Polyhymnia, and her sister Muses, enriched with their sweetest milk, sounded, the sound would not reach, to a thousandth part of the truth, in helping my singing of the sacred smile, and how it brightened her sacred face.

And so the sacred Poem must take a leap, in describing Paradise, like someone finding his way obstructed. But whoever thinks about the weighty theme, and the human shoulder that has burdened itself with it, will not cast blame if the shoulder trembles beneath it. It is not a path for a little boat, that my bold keel cuts as it goes, nor a pilot who spares himself.

Beatrice spoke: ‘Why does my face so entrance you that you do not turn to the lovely Garden that flowers below the rays of Christ? There is the Rose, in which the Divine Word made itself flesh: there are the Lilies within whose perfume the good way was taken.’ And I, who was eager for her wisdom, surrendered again to the struggle of my weak vision.

As I have seen, before now, a meadow filled with flowers, under the sun’s rays, shining pure through broken cloud, themselves covered in shadow, so I saw many crowds of splendours, shone on from above by ardent rays, not seeing the source from which the glow came. O benign Power that so forms them! You had risen yourself, to make space for my vision that lacked strength.

Paradiso Canto XXIII:88-139 Gabriel: The Redeemed: The Apostles

The name of that lovely flower which I invoke, always, morning and night, drew my mind to gaze at the greatest flame, And when the quality and might of the living star, that overcomes there as it did down here, had been pictured in both my eyes, an encircled flame, formed like a coronet, fell from the Heavens and clothed her, and surrounded her.

Whatever melody sounds sweetest here, and draws the spirit most towards itself, would seem the thunder from a torn cloud, compared to that lyre, to whose sound the lovely sapphire was crowned, who en-sapphires the brightest Heaven. The circling melody named itself: ‘I am Gabriel, the Angelic Love, who circles the noble joy, that takes breath from the womb, that was the Inn of our Longing: and Lady of Heaven, I will circle, until you follow your Son, and render the Highest Sphere more divine, by entering it.’ Then all the other lights rang out with the name of Mary.

The Primum Mobile, that royal mantle of all the folds of the Universe, that burns brightest, and is most alive, with the breath and manner of God, had its inner shore so far above us that its appearance was not yet visible to me. So my eyes had not the power to follow the crowned flame as She climbed after her own Child. And like the babe, who stretches his arms up towards his mother, when he has suckled, because his mind flames out in external gesture, so each of those fires tapered its flame, so that the deep love they had for Mary was made clear to me. Then they rested there, in my sight, singing Regina Coeli: Queen of Heaven, so sweetly, that the delight has never left me.

O how great the wealth is, filling those rich coffers, spirits, which, on earth, were good sowers of its seed! Here they have life and joy, even from that treasure that was earned, weeping, in Exile, in Babylon, where gold was rejected. Here he triumphs, with the ancient and the new synod, under the noble Son of God, and Mary, that Peter who holds the keys to such great glory.

Paradiso Canto XXIV:1-51 Saint Peter

O company, elected to the great feast of the Blessed Lamb, who feeds you in such manner that your hunger is always sated, if, by the grace of God, this man tastes what falls from your table before death has determined his time, take heed of his immeasurable yearning, and sprinkle him a little, you who always drink at the fountain, from which flows that on which his thought is fixed.’ So Beatrice spoke: and those joyful souls, made spheres, of themselves, with fixed axes, flaming out like comets.

And as wheels, in harmonious clockwork, turn so that the first seems still, to whoever inspects it, but the last to fly, so these dancers with their various gyres, fast or slow, made me consider their riches. I saw a blissful flame shoot from the one I thought most beautiful, such that none brighter remained: and it swept three times round Beatrice, with a song so divine that my imagination cannot repeat it, and my pen passes on, and I do not write, since our thought, and speech, is too grossly coloured to trace such folds.

‘O my holy sister, who begs us, so devotedly, you free me from this lovely sphere by your glowing love.’ As soon as the blessed flame had rested, the breath that spoke the words I wrote, turned to my Lady. And she replied: ‘O eternal light of that great man to whom our Lord left the keys of this marvellous joy, which he brought to earth, test this man here on the points of faith, lesser or greater, as you choose, the faith that enabled you to walk the waves. Whether he loves well, and hopes truly, and believes, is not hidden from you, since you have sight of that place where everything is brought to light. But since this kingdom has made its citizens from those of true faith, it is fitting that he should be allowed to speak of it, to give it glory.’

Even as the student equips himself, but does not speak until the master sets out the question, to sanction it, and not decide it, so I armed myself with every thought, while she spoke, so that I might be ready for such questioning and response.

Paradiso Canto XXIV:52-87 Faith: Saint Paul

‘Speak, good Christian, reveal yourself: what is Faith?’ At which I raised my forehead to the light that breathed those words: then turned to Beatrice, and she eagerly signed to me to pour out the water of my inner fountain. I began: ‘May the grace that allows me to confess myself to the noble fore-runner, make my thought achieve expression!’ And I went on: ‘As the true pen of your dear brother, Paul, who with you set Rome on the better path, wrote for us: Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen: and this I take to be its essence.’ Then I heard: ‘You understand it truly, if you understand why he placed it among the substances, and then cited it as evidence.’ And I to that: ‘The deep things which grant me the privilege of appearing, in front of me, here, are hidden from the sight of those below, so that their existence is only a belief, down there, on which is built a high hope: and so it justifies the meaning of substance. And from this belief we need to reason, without any further insight: so it satisfies the meaning of evidence.’

Then I heard: ‘If everything that is learnt down there by teaching, were understood so clearly, there would be no room left for sophistry.’ So it breathed out from that burning love: then it added: ‘This coin’s weight and alloy has been well tried: but tell me if you have it in your purse.’ At which I said: ‘Yes, I have it there, so bright and round, that there is no perhaps for me in its stamp.’

Paradiso Canto XXIV:88-114 The Source of Faith

Then this issued from the deep light that was burning there: ‘From where did that dear gem, on which all virtue is founded, come to you?’ And I: ‘The profuse rain of the Holy Spirit which is poured over the Old and the New pages, is the reasoning that brought it to so clear a conclusion for me, so that compared with it, all argument seems coarse to me.’ Then I heard: That Old and New proposition, which leads to your conclusion, why do you take it for Divine discourse?’ And I: ‘The proof which reveals the truth to me, is in the miracles that followed, which nature never heated the iron for, or struck the anvil.’

The answer was: ‘Tell me, who assures you that these miracles took place? The writing, that seeks to be the proof of itself, no other, attests to them.’ I answered: ‘If the world turned to Christianity, without miracles, that would be such a miracle that the others would not rate a hundredth of it, since you entered, poor and hungry, on the field, to sow the plant that was once a vine, and is now a thorn.’

So ending, the high sacred court rang out a Dio laudamo: We praise God, through the spheres, with that melody that is sung up there.

Paradiso Canto XXIV:115-154 Dante’s Belief

That spirit, who had drawn me from branch to branch with his questioning, now we were near to the topmost leaves, began again: ‘The grace, which holds loving speech with your mind, has opened your mouth, till now, as was appropriate, so that I sanction what emerged: but now you must say what you believe, and how it was offered to your belief.’

I began: ‘O holy father, you spirit, who see now, what you once so believed, that you outstripped younger feet in entering the sepulchre, you would have me declare the form of my eager faith, and also ask the source of it: to which I answer: I believe in one God, sole and eternal, who moves all the Heavens with love and desire, Himself unmoving. And I do not merely have physical and metaphysical proofs for such belief, but it is shown me also by the truth that flows from it, through Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms, through the Gospel, and through you, who wrote, when the ardent Spirit had made you holy. And I believe in three Persons, eternal, and I believe they are One essence, and Threefold, in such a way as to allow are and is to be joined.

My mind is stamped more than once, by the evangelic teaching, with the profound Divine condition of which I speak. This is the Source: this is the spark which then expands to living flame, and shines in me like a star in Heaven.’ Like the Master who hears what please him, and so clasps the servant, thanking him for his news, when he falls silent: so the apostolic light at whose command I had spoken circled me three times, blessing me as it sang, as soon as I had ceased, I pleased him so with my words.

Paradiso Canto XXV:1-63 Saint James and Saint Peter

If it should ever come to pass, that the sacred poem, to which Heaven and Earth have set their hand, so that it has made me lean through many a year, conquers the cruelty that bars me from the lovely fold, where I used to sleep as a lamb, enemy of the wolves that war on it, I will return a poet, now, with altered voice and fleece, and will assume the wreath at my baptismal font, since it was there I entered the faith which makes souls visible to God, and afterwards Peter, for its sake, so encircled my brow. After which a light moved towards us, from the sphere out of which the first fruits of the vicars left by Christ on earth came. And my Lady, full of joy, said to me: ‘See! See! Behold James, the Saint for whose sake, down there, they search out Galicia.’

As a dove, taking his perch next to his companion, pours out his love for the other, billing and cooing, so I saw one great and glorious prince received by the other, praising the food that feasts them there. But when the greeting was over, each one rested, silently, coram me:in my presence, so fiery, that they overcame my gaze. Then Beatrice, smiling, said: Noble life, by whom the generous gifts of our court were recorded, let Hope be sounded in this altitude: you know it, who described it all those times, when Jesus gave greater light to you three.’

‘Lift your head, and reassure yourself, since whatever comes here from the mortal world must ripen in our rays.’ Such comfort came to me from the second flame, at which I lifted up ‘mine eyes unto the hills’, which had been bowed before with excessive weight. The second light continued: ‘Since our Emperor, by his grace, wishes you to be confronted with his Saints, in his most secret court, before you die, so that having seen its truth, you might increase the hope in yourself and others, which makes people on earth love the good, say what Hope is, and how your mind is en-flowered by it, and say from where it comes to you.’

And that gentle one, Beatrice, who guided my feathered wings to so high a soaring, anticipated me in speaking, saying: ‘The Church militant does not have a child more full of hope, as it is written in the Sun who shines on all our host, so it was granted to him to come out of Egypt to Jerusalem, to gaze on her, before the proper end of his struggle. Those two points, of hope and love, asked about not so that you might learn anything, but so that he can take back word of how much they give pleasure to you, I leave to him, since they will not be difficult for him, or a matter of boast: so let him answer to them, and may God’s grace allow him this.’

Paradiso Canto XXV:64-96 Hope: Saint James

Like a pupil following after his teacher, in what he is expert in, pleased and eager, for his knowledge to be shown, I said: ‘Hope is the certain expectation of future glory, the product of Divine Grace and previous worth. This light comes to me from many stars: but David, the highest singer of the highest leader, first distilled it in my heart. Let those who know your name, hope in you, he says in his divine song, and who does not know it, if they have my faith? You then rained it on me, with his rain, in your Epistle, so that I am drenched and pour your shower again over others.’

While I was speaking, a sudden flash like lightning trembled in the living heart of that flame. Then it breathed out: ‘The love, with which I am still on fire for virtue, that followed me to the palm of martyrdom and the leaving of the field of life, wills me to breathe on you who delight in her, and it is my further wish that you tell of what it is hope promises to you.’ And I: ‘The Old and the New scriptures display the sign, that points me once more to the thing itself. Isaiah says that, of the souls that God has made his friends, each one will be robed with double robes, in its own land, and its own land is this sweet life. And your brother John sets out this revelation for us, more clearly worked through, where he treats of the white robes.

Paradiso Canto XXV:97-139 Love: Saint John

And not long after the ending of these words, ‘They hope in you’ rang out above us, to which all the singers responded: then a light flashed out from among them, so that if Cancer, the sign of the Crab, contained a star like it, winter would have one month with unbroken daylight. And as a joyful virgin rises, and goes to join the dance, not from wrong motives, but only to honour the bride, so I saw that illumined splendour join the other two, who were turning in a ring, in such a manner as fitted their ardent love.

There it entered their song and its words, and my Lady fixed her gaze on them like a bride, silent and motionless, and my Lady said: ‘This is John, who at the last supper leaned on the breast of Christ, the Pelican, who chose him from the cross, and committed Mary to his care.’ So she spoke, but no more moved her eyes, from their fixed intent, afterwards than before.

Like one who strains and gazes at the sun’s brief eclipse, who loses his sight by looking, so was I at this last flame, until a word came: ‘Why does it dazzle you to see that which has no place here? My body is earth in the earth, and there it will be with the others, until our time suits the eternal purpose. Only the two lights which rose, Christ and the Virgin, wear both robes in this blessed cloister, and this you can take back to your world.’

The inflamed circle quieted itself at this voice, together with the sweet harmony made by the sound of that triple breath, as oars, striking the water until, then, all pause at the whistle’s sound, so as to stave off weariness or danger.

O, how I was stirred in my mind, turning to search for Beatrice, whom I was blind to, though I was near her, and in the world of bliss!

Paradiso Canto XXVI:1-69 Dante blinded temporarily speaks of Love

While I was doubtful of my darkened sight, I was made attentive by a breath that came from the glowing flame that had darkened it, saying: ‘Until you regain the sense of sight you have spent on me, it would be well to compensate for it by speaking. Begin then, and say on what your mind is focused, and be assured that your vision is dazzled, and not destroyed: since the Lady who leads you through this divine region has the power to heal it, in her gaze, that Ananias had in his hands.’

Gustave Doré Illustration - Purgatorio Canto 26, 7

I said: ‘Let help come sooner or later, at her wish, to these eyes that were the gates where she entered with the fire I always burn with. Love, the good, that satisfies this court, is the Alpha and Omega of all the scriptures which Amor reads to me, shallowly or deeply.’ That same voice which had erased my fear at the sudden dazzling, set my mind again to speech, and said: ‘Truly, you must strain through a finer sieve: you must tell me what it was that aimed your bow at such a target.’

And I replied: ‘Such love must stamp itself on me, by philosophical arguments, and by authority that descends from them, since good, as good, in my understanding, lights the fire of love, and the more so, the more excellence it finds in itself. So the mind, of whoever sees the truth, on which this proof depends, must move, in love, towards that Essence, which has such advantage, that whatever is found good outside it, is nothing but a ray of its own light. And this same truth is made known, to my intellect, by Aristotle, who shows me the primal love, of all eternal beings. It is made known to me by the voice of that true Author who says to Moses, speaking of himself: I will cause thee to see all worth. It is made known to me by you as well, where you open the noble Revelation, that cries out the secrets of this place, to Earth, beyond all other speech.

And I heard: ‘Keep the highest of your loves for God, as urged by human reason, and by the authorities that concur with it, but tell me if you feel other strings drawing you towards Him, and say how many teeth this love grips you with.’ The sacred purpose of Christ’s eagle was not hidden but rather I saw in which direction he wished to lead my statements. So that I began again: ‘All those bitings that have power to make the heart turn towards God, work together on my love, since the world’s being and my own being, the death that He suffered so that I might live, and what each believer hopes, as do I, together with the living consciousness I spoke of, have drawn me out of the sea of the perverse, and set me on the shore of true love. I love the leaves with which the whole Garden of the eternal Gardener is leafed, as greatly as good has been offered to them, by Him.’

As soon as I fell silent, the sweetest song resounded through the Heavens, and my Lady cried: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy,’ with them all.

Paradiso Canto XXVI:70-142 Dante regains his sight: Adam

And as a man wakes from sleep at a bright light, because his spirit of sight runs to meet the glow, that pierces veil after veil of the eye, and he, waking, confuses what he sees, his sudden vision being so clouded, until thought comes to its aid, so Beatrice made the scales fall from my eyes, with the rays from hers, that would cast their glow a thousand miles, so that I saw more clearly afterwards than before, and, almost stupefied, I questioned as to a fourth light that I saw with us. And my Lady said: ‘In those rays, Adam, the first soul that the primal Power ever made, holds loving converse with his Maker.’

As the branch bows its head when the wind passes over it, and then lifts itself by its own strength that holds it up, so I did, all dazed, while she was speaking, and then was re-collected by a desire to speak, with which I burned, and I began: ‘O ancient Father, who has a daughter and a daughter-in-law in every bride, you, the only fruit of the harvest created fully mature, I beg you, devoutly as I can, to speak to me: you see my wish, and I do not say it, so that I can hear you sooner.’

Sometimes a creature struggles under a cloth, so that its intent is visible, because what covers it follows its movement: and similarly that primal soul made the joy, with which it came to serve my pleasure, apparent through its surface. And from it breathed: ‘Though you do not say it, I see your will, more clearly than you see what you are most certain of, because I view it in the true Glass, who makes Himself the Mirror of all things, and makes nothing which completely reflects Him.

You wish to know how much time has passed since God set me in the exalted Garden in which She prepared you for this long stairway, and for how long its delights endured my presence, and the true cause of the great wrath, and about the language that I used, and made myself.

Know my son that it was not the eating of the Tree that was the cause, in itself, of such harsh exile, but solely the going beyond the bounds set. In that place, Limbo, from which your Lady sent Virgil to you, my longing for these courts lasted four thousand three hundred and two revolutions of the sun, and I had seen him pass through all the stars along his track nine hundred and thirty times, while I was on Earth. The language, I spoke, was spent, long before the tower, that was never completed, was built, by Nimrod’s people: since the products of Reason never last forever, because of human taste, that alters with the movement of the skies. It is nature’s doing that Man should speak, but nature allows you to do it this way or that, as seems best to you.

Before I went down to infernal anguish, Jah was the name on earth of that Supreme Good, from which the delight comes, that clothes me: He was called El thereafter, and that is fitting, since mortal usage is like the leaf on the twig, that falls, and another opens.

In life, pure, and then disgraced, I was on the Mount, rising furthest from the sea, from the first hour to that which follows the sixth hour, when the sun changes quadrant.’

Paradiso Canto XXVII:1-66 Saint Peter denounces the Popes

‘Glory, to the Father, to the Son, to the Holy Spirit,’ began through all of Paradise, so that the sweet song intoxicated me. I seemed to see the Universe’s smile: so that my drunkenness entered sight and hearing.

O joy! O ineffable happiness! O life of love and peace combined! O safest riches that are beyond longing! The four torches stood burning in front of my eyes, and the first one, that had neared me, began to grow more intense: and became like Jupiter, if he and Mars were birds, and exchanged plumage, his silver-white for Mars’s warlike red.

Gustave Doré Illustration - Purgatorio Canto 27, 1

The Providence which assigns roles and offices there, had imposed silence on the choir of the blessed, on every side, when I heard: ‘Do not wonder if I transform the colour of my light, since you will see all these others do the same, as I speak.

He who, on Earth, usurps my place, my place, my place, vacant in the presence of the Son of God, has made my burial-ground a sewer for that blood and filth whereby the perverse Angel who fell from above, is placated down there.’ Then I saw Heaven tinged with that colour which paints the clouds at dawn or evening, from the opposing sun, and like a modest woman, who is certain of herself, but feels fear only at the hearing of another’s fault, so Beatrice changed in appearance, and such, I take it, was the eclipse in Heaven, when the Supreme Power suffered.

Then his speech continued, in a voice so far altered from itself, that even his appearance had not altered more greatly, saying: ‘The Church, the spouse of Christ, was not fed on my blood, and that of Saints Linus and Cletus, so that she might be used to acquire gold: but it was to gain this joyful life that Sixtus, Pius, Calixtus and Urban gave their blood after many tears.

It was not our purpose for one part of Christianity to sit on the right side, and the other on the left of our successors; or that the keys given in trust to me should become the insignia on a banner making war on the baptised; or that I should become the head on that seal which stamps false and mercenary privileges, at which I often blush and shoot out flames. From above, here, the ravening wolves are seen, dressed as shepherds, in all the pastures. O Help to God, why are you down? Gascons and Cahorsines prepare to drink our blood. O good beginning, what evil end must you fall to! But the high Providence, that defended the glory of the world for Rome, in Scipio, will soon bring aid, I think. And you, my son, who will return below, because of your mortal heaviness, open your mouth, and do not hide the things I do not hide.’

Paradiso Canto XXVII:67-96 Dante’s view of Earth

As our air snows down frozen moisture in flakes when the horn of Capricorn, the heavenly Goat, is touched by the sun, so I saw the ether clothe itself and snow the flakes, of the triumphant lights that had rested with us, upwards. My vision was tracing their form, and followed them, until excess of space inhibited its power to see further. At which the Lady who saw me free now of straining upwards, said to me: ‘Look down, and see how you have orbited.’

I saw that, since the hour when I had first looked down, I had moved through the whole quadrant, which Gemini, in the upper part of the first clima, or division of latitude, makes from noon to evening, so that I could see beyond Cadiz that foolish track Ulysses took, and, on this side, at evening, the near shore where Europa became the bull’s sweet burden.

And the site of the threshing-floor would have been unfolded further to me, except that the sun was in advance under my feet, separated by a sign, Taurus, and more from me. My enamoured mind, which always held loving speech with my Lady, burned, more than ever, to bring my eyes back to her, and whatever food art, or nature, makes, to captivate the eyes, and so possess the mind, whether in human form, or in paintings, all brought together would seem nothing, compared to the divine delight which shone on me, when I turned towards her smiling face.

Paradiso Canto XXVII:97-148 The Primum Mobile: Time: Degeneracy

And the power which that look gifted me with, plucked me out of Leda’s fair nest, of the Twins, and thrust me into the swiftest Heaven. Its regions, highest and most alive, are so alike, that I cannot say in which one Beatrice chose to place me. But She, who saw my longing, began to speak, smiling, so delightedly that God seemed shining in her face: ‘The nature of the universe which keeps the centre fixed and moves the rest around it, begins here, as if from its goal.

And this heaven has no other place than in the Divine Mind, in which the Love that moves it is fired, and the Power that it disperses. Light and Love clasp it in one circle, as it does all the other spheres, and only He who embraces it, understands this embrace. Its movement is not measured by any other: but all the rest are measured by it, as ten by halves and fifths. And it may now be clear to you how Time has its roots in this same sphere, and its leaves in the rest.

O Greed, that so corrupts mortals below, that not one of them has strength enough to draw his eyes away from your depths! It is true that human will is still strong: but the continuous rain turns ripe plums to cancerous growths. Faith and innocence are only found in little children: then both vanish before the cheeks are downy. Many a lisping babe keeps the fast, who when his tongue is free, afterwards, eats any food, in any month: and many a lisping babe loves and listens to its mother, who when his speech is entire, afterwards, longs to see her buried.

So, at the first appearance, the white skin blackens, of the lovely daughter, of Him who brings the dawn, and leaves us evening. And you, lest you wonder at it, consider: there is no one governing on earth, so the human household wanders from the path.

But before January is all un-wintered, by that hundredth of a day in the calendar year, ignored on earth, these upper spheres shall roar, so that the fated season, long awaited, will reverse stem to stern, so that the fleet can sail true: and ripe fruit will follow the flower.’

Paradiso Canto XXVIII:1-57 The Angelic Circles

When the truth had been revealed, by her who emparadises my mind, a truth in opposition to the present life of miserable humanity, my memory recalls that, gazing on the lovely eyes, from which Love made the noose to capture me, I saw, as a candle flame lit behind a man, is seen by him in a mirror, before it is, itself, in his vision or thought, so that he turns round, to see if the glass spoke true, and sees them agreeing, as song-words to their metre: and when I turned, and my own eyes were struck by what appears in that space, whenever the eyes are correctly fixed on its orbiting, I saw a point that beamed out a light so intense, that the eye it blazes on, must be closed to its fierce brightness, and whatever star seems smallest from down here, would be a moon if it were placed alongside it, as star is placed alongside star.

Perhaps as near as a halo appears to be to the light that generates it, when the vapour in which it glows is thickest, at such a distance as that, round that point, a circle of fire revolved so quickly, it exceeded the speed of the fastest sphere, that surrounds the universe, and this circle was surrounded by another, that by a third, the third by a fourth, the fourth a fifth, the fifth a sixth.

After it the seventh followed, already so broad in its reach that if Juno’s rainbow messenger were complete it would be too small to contain it. And so the eighth and ninth, and each one moved more slowly as its number was further from unity: and the one from which the pure light source was least distant, had the clearest flame, because, I believe, it is more embedded in the light’s truth.

My Lady, who saw me labouring in profound anticipation, said; ‘Heaven and all Nature hangs from that point. Look at the circle which is most nearly joined to it, and learn that its movement is so fast because of the burning love which it is pierced by.’ And I to her: ‘If the universe was ordered in the sequence I see in these circlings, then I would be content with what I see in front of me. But, in the universe of the senses, we see the spheres as more divine the further they are distant from Earth, the centre. So, if my desire is to find its goal in this marvellous, angelic Temple, that only has love and light as its limits, I must hear why the copy and the pattern are not identical in form, since, myself, I cannot see it.’

Paradiso Canto XXVIII:58-93 Beatrice reconciles the two orders

‘And if your fingers are not skilled in untying such a knot, it is no wonder, it has become so difficult to achieve, from never being tried.’ So my Lady spoke, and said: ‘If you wish to be satisfied on this, take what I tell you, and wrap your mind around it.

The earth-centred circles are wide or narrow, according to how much virtue spreads through their region. Greater excellence has power to work greater benefit: and greater benefit is conferred, by the largest sphere, if all parts of it are equally perfect. So the sphere, that sweeps with it all the rest of the universe, corresponds to the circle that loves and knows most. Therefore, if you take your measure from the virtue, not the appearance, of the substances which appear to you in these circles, you will see a marvellous correspondence between greater and more, smaller and less, between every Heaven and its angelic Intelligence.’

As the hemisphere of air, shines serenely when Boreas blows a north-easterly, from his gentler cheek, so that the layer that covered it is purged and dissolved, and the sky laughs with the beauties of all its regions, so I, when my Lady had replied to me with her clear answer, and the truth was seen as a star is in the sky.

And when her words ceased, the circles glittered as iron shoots outs sparks when it is poured, and every scintillation followed their fire, and the quantity of sparks were thousands more than the doubling of the chessboard at every square.

Paradiso Canto XXVIII:94-139 The Angelic Hierarchies

I heard Hosanna sung from choir to choir, towards the fixed point, which holds, and will hold them forever, to the where, in which they have ever been: and She who saw the questions in my mind, said: ‘The first circles have shown you the Seraphs and the Cherubs. They follow their loops so fast so that they can identify themselves as closely with the point as possible, and they succeed according to their sublimity of vision.

Those other Loves which circle round them are called Thrones of the Divine Aspect, because they bring the first triplet of circles to completion. And you must know that they all take delight, according as their vision sinks more deeply into the truth where every mind is stilled. So you can see how being blessed is founded on the act of seeing, not of loving, which follows from it: and the extent of vision is measured, by the merit that grace, and the right will, create: and so it goes from rank to rank.

The second triplet which flowers like this, in this eternal Spring, that Aries, by night, does not despoil, as it does in our autumnal and wintry skies, perpetually sing Spring’s Hosannas, with three melodies that sound in the three ranks of joy, by which it is triply formed. In that hierarchy are the three divinities, the Dominations and Virtues, and the third order, Powers.

Gustave Doré Illustration - Purgatorio Canto 28, 80

Then in the two penultimate dance-circles the Principalities and Archangels whirl: and the last consists all of Angelic play. These orders all gaze upwards, and have such all-conquering power downwards, that all are drawn towards God, and in turn draw. And Dionysius set himself to contemplate these orders with such longing, that he named them and separated them as I do. But Gregory afterwards differed from him, such that when he opened his eyes in this Heaven, he smiled at himself.

And if such hidden truth was uttered by a man, on Earth, do not wonder at it, since Paul, who saw it here, revealed it to him, with other truths about these circles.