Dante: The Divine Comedy
Paradiso Cantos VIII-XIV
© Copyright 2000 A. S. Kline, All Rights Reserved
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- Paradiso Canto VIII:1-30 The Third Sphere: Venus: Earthly Love
- Paradiso Canto VIII:31-84 Charles Martel
- Paradiso Canto VIII:85-148 Heredity and the Influence of the Heavens
- Paradiso Canto IX:1-66 Cunizza da Romano
- Paradiso Canto IX:67-126 Folco of Marseilles
- Paradiso Canto IX:127-142 Florence: The corruption of usury
- Paradiso Canto X:1-63 The Fourth Sphere: The Sun: Prudence
- Paradiso Canto X:64-99 Thomas Aquinas: Albertus Magnus
- Paradiso Canto X:100-129 Solomon: Dionysius: Boëthius
- Paradiso Canto X:130-148 Isidore: Bede: Richard of St. Victor: Sigier
- Paradiso Canto XI:1-42 Saint Dominic and Saint Francis
- Paradiso Canto XI:43-117 The Life of Saint Francis
- Paradiso Canto XI:118-139 Saint Dominic: The Dominicans
- Paradiso Canto XII:1-36 Saint Bonaventura
- Paradiso Canto XII:37-105 Bonaventura speaks of Saint Dominic
- Paradiso Canto XII:106-145 Bonaventura names the spirits
- Paradiso Canto XIII:1-51 Aquinas answers Dante’s second question
- Paradiso Canto XIII:52-90 Creation and Emanation: Matter and Form
- Paradiso Canto XIII:91-142 Solomon’s choice: his Wisdom: Heretics
- Paradiso Canto XIV:1-66 Solomon: The Resurrection
- Paradiso Canto XIV:67-139 The Fifth Sphere: Mars: Fortitude
In its Pagan days the world used to believe that lovely Cyprian Venus beamed down fond love, turning in the third epicycle, so that those ancient peoples, in ancient error, not only did her the honour of sacrifice and the votive cry, but honoured Dione as well, and Cupid, one as her mother, the other as her son, and told how Cupid sat in Dido’s lap: and from her, from whom I take my start, they took the name of the planet, that courts the Sun, now setting in front, and now behind.
I had no sense of rising into her sphere, but my Lady’s aspect gave me faith that I was there, because I saw her grow more beautiful. And as we see a spark in a flame, and as a voice can be distinguished from a voice, if one remains fixed and the other comes and goes, so, in that light itself, I saw other lamps, moving in circles, faster or slower, in accord, I believe, with the nature of their eternal vision.
Blasts never blew from a chill cold, visibly or invisibly, so rapidly that that they would not seem slow and hindered, to whoever had seen those divine lights coming towards us, leaving the circling that has its first conception in the exalted Seraphim. And among those who appeared most in advance, Hosanna sounded, in such a manner that ever since I have not been free of the desire to hear it again.
Then one came nearer to us, and began alone: ‘We are all at your pleasure, so that you may have joy of us. We orbit with those celestial Princes in one circle, and one circling, and with one thirst, we, to whom you, from the world below, once said: Voi che intendendo il terzo ciel movete: You who by understanding move the third circle: and we are so filled with love, that a moment of rest, to give you pleasure, will be no less sweet to us.’
When my eyes had been lifted in reverence to my Lady, and she had herself given them satisfaction and assurance, they turned back to the light that had offered itself so generously, and: ‘Say, who you are.’ were my words, stamped with great affection. Oh, how I saw it grow in size and splendour, at the new joy, added to its joys, when I spoke! Altered in that way, it said to me: ‘The world held me, held Charles Martel, below for only a little while: if it had been longer, much of the evil that will happen would not happen. My joy, shining round me, keeps me hidden from you, concealing me like a silkworm cocooned in its own silk. You loved me greatly, and with good cause, since if I had stayed below I would have shown you greater love than the mere shoots of it.
That left bank, Provence, that the Rhone washes after its meeting with the Sorgue, waited for me to be its lord in time, so did Naples, that stretch of Ausonia, with its cities of Bari, Gaeta, and Catona, down from where Tronto and Verde discharge into the sea. The Crown of Hungary, that the Danube waters, when it has left its German banks, already shone on my forehead: and beautiful Sicily, Trinacria, over the gulf the east wind torments most, that is darkened between Pachynus and Pelorus, not by Typhon, but by the sulphurous clouds, would still have looked for its kings born of the line through me from Charles II and the Emperor Rudolph, if bad governance, that stirs the hearts of subject peoples, had not caused Palermo to cry out: “Death, Death.”
And if Robert of Calabria my brother had seen it in good time, he would already have avoided the greedy adventurers of Catalonia, before they do him wrong, and indeed he or another needs to make provision that a heavier load is not laid on his already laden boat. His nature, meanness descended from generosity, needs soldiers who do not care about stuffing their purses.’
I said: ‘Sir, because I believe you see the great joy your conversation floods me with, as I see it, there where every good has its beginning and end, it is more gratifying to me: and also I value that you see it by gazing on God. You have given me delight, now enlighten me, since in speaking you have stirred me to question how bitter seed can be born from the sweet.’ And he to me: ‘If I can show you a truth, you will have the thing you ask, that is behind your back, in front of your eyes.
The Good, which turns, and makes content, the whole kingdom, that you climb, makes its providence a power in these great celestial bodies, and provision is not only made for the nature of things but for their welfare too, by that Mind that is perfection in itself. So whatever this bow fires moves towards its destined end, like an arrow fired at the mark. If that were not so, the Heaven you are crossing would bring its effects into being so that they would be chaos and not art, and that cannot be unless the intellects that move these planets are defective, and the First Mover too, who failed to perfect them. Do you wish this truth to be clarified more?’
I said: ‘No, since I know it is impossible for Nature to fall short of what is needed.’ And he again: ‘Now, say, would it be worse for man if he were not a citizen, on earth, but left to his own sufficiency?’ ‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘and I do not need to ask the reason.’ ‘And can that be, unless men live various lives below, and with various tasks? Not if your master, Aristotle, wrote truly for you.’ He reached this point, deducing, and then gave the conclusion: ‘Therefore the roots of your qualities must be diverse, so that one is born Solon the lawgiver, and another Xerxes, the soldier, one Melchizedek, the priest, and another Daedalus, the inventor, who lost his son, soaring through the sky.
Circling Nature, the seal on the mortal wax, is a good maker, and does not distinguish between one house and another. So that Esau differs from Jacob in the seed, and Romulus worshipped as Quirinus, comes from so lowly a father he is assigned to Mars instead. The nature at birth would always be like its parent, if Divine Providence did not overrule it.
Now what was hidden behind you is in front of you, but so you may know I am delighted with you, I will wrap you round with a corollary. Nature makes a poor fist of things, if she finds events out of harmony with herself, like any other seed out of its proper soil. If the world below paid attention to the foundation Nature lays, and followed that, it would be satisfied with its citizens, but you drag him born to the sword into a religious order, and make a king of him who should be an orator, so that your path cuts across the road.’
Lovely Clemence, when your Charles had clarified things for me, he told me about the wrongs his seed was fated to encounter, but added: ‘Be silent, and let the years turn,’ so that I can say nothing except that well-justified grief will follow those wrongs.
And already the life of that holy light had turned towards the Sun that illuminates it, as towards the Good which is sufficient to everything. O impious creatures! O deceived spirits who twist your hearts away from that Good, turning your minds to vanities!
And see, another of those splendours came towards me, and signified its desire to satisfy me, by an outer brightening. Beatrice’s eyes, gazing at me, as before, assured me of happy assent to my wish. I said: ‘Ah, give quick satisfaction to my will, spirit who are blessed, and show proof that I can reflect what I think from you.’ At which the light which was still a stranger to me, from the depths, where it was, at first singing, continued by speaking, like one happy to do good: ‘In that region of Italy, the depraved country, which lies between Venice and the sources of the Brenta and Piave, rises a hill raised to no great height, from which, Ezzelino da Romano, the burning brand, descended, who made a vicious assault on that land. I sprang with him out of the same root: Cunizza I am called, and I shine here because the light of this star conquered me. But I grant myself indulgence for my fate, and it does not grieve me, which perhaps would seem strange to the common man.
The great fame of this dear shining jewel in our Heaven, Folco of Marseilles, who is my nearest neighbour, remains, and before it dies this centenary year will be repeated five times. See how another life follows the first if a man achieves excellence! The present crew in the March of Treviso, enclosed by the Tagliamento and the Adige, do not think of that, beaten but still unrepentant. But it will soon come to pass that Paduan blood will stain the water that bathes Vicenza, because the people rebel against their duty. And at Treviso, where the Sile meets the Cagnano, Riccardo da Camino holds sway, and goes with head held high, for whom the net to catch him is already woven.
From Feltro a wail of grief will rise yet, because of the sins of its impious pastor, Alessandro Novello, so foul, that no one ever entered the prison of Malta for their equal. The dish that would be needed to receive Ferrara’s blood, which this obliging priest will give up to show himself loyal, would be too large, and weary whoever had to weigh it ounce by ounce: and such are the gifts that suit this country’s way of life. There are mirrors above, you call them Thrones, from which God shines in judgement on us, so that these words prove good to us.’
Here she fell silent, and to me she seemed like one who turns to other things, giving herself to the wheel, so that she was as before.
The other joyful light, which I had already noted as being distinguished, shone to my sight like a fine ruby, illuminated by the sun. Brightness comes from joy up there, as a smile does here on earth, while down below the spirits are dark outside, just as the mind is saddened.
I said: ‘God sees it all, and your vision is in him, spirit of the blessed, so that no desire is hidden from you. Why then does your voice, which, with the singing of those devoted fires, the Seraphim, who make a cowl, with six wings, of themselves, gladdens Heaven endlessly, not satisfy my wishes? If I were in you, as you are in me, I would not have waited for your request till now.
Then he began to speak: ‘The Mediterranean, that greatest valley, into which water flows, from the ocean round the earth, extends so far between its opposite shores, eastwards, that its zenith is formed of what was horizon. I was an inhabitant of Marseilles’s shore, half way between the Ebro and the Macra, which, with its short course, separates the Genoese and the Tuscans. The site of Bougia in Algeria is almost alike in sunrises and sunsets to the place I come from, whose harbour Caesar once warmed with that place’s blood.
Those who knew me, called me Folco, and I imprint this Heaven as it imprinted me, since Dido, Belus’s daughter, wronging Sichaeus and Aeneas’s Creüsa, burned no hotter than I, as long as it suited my youthfulness: nor did Phyllis, the girl from Rhodope, who was deceived by Demophoön, nor Hercules when his heart enclosed Iole. But this is not a place of repentance, here we smile: not at the sin, which the mind does not dwell on, but the Power that ordained and provided.
Here we gaze at the Art, which beautified so great a creation, and discern the Good, which returns the world below to the world above. But so that you might fully satisfy all the longings born in this sphere, I must continue. You will wish to know who is inside that light that gleams next to me, like the sun’s rays in pure water. Know, now, that Rahab, the prostitute, finds peace there, and when she joined our order, it sealed itself, in the highest rank, with her. Before any other soul, she was uplifted at Christ’s triumph, by this sphere, which is touched by the shadow your Earth casts into space. It was truly fitting to leave her in one of the Heavens as a symbol of the great victory achieved by those two nailed hands: because she favoured Joshua’s first glorious campaign in the Holy Land, that land that scarcely touches this Pope’s memory.’
‘Florence, the city founded by Mars, that Satan who first turned his back on his Maker, and from whose envy such great grief has come, coins and spreads that accursed lily flower, that has sent the sheep and lambs astray, since it has made a wolf of the shepherd.
So the Gospels and the Great Doctors are neglected, and only the Decretals, the law-books are studied, as can be seen by their margins. On that, the Pope and Cardinals are intent: their thoughts do not stray to Nazareth, where Gabriel’s wings unfolded, But the Vatican and the other sacred parts of Rome, that cemetery for the soldiers who followed Peter, will soon be freed from the bond of adultery.’
The primal and unutterable Power, gazing at his Son, with the Love that both breathe out eternally, made whatever circles through mind and space with such order, that whoever knows them is not without some sense of Him. Then, Reader, raise you eyes with me to the distant wheels, directed to that point where the Celestial Equator and the Ecliptic meet, and begin to view the art of that Master who loves it so much, within himself, that he never lets his eyes leave it.
See how the Ecliptic, the oblique circle that carries the planets, slants from that Equinoctial point, to satisfy the world’s call for them: and if their path were not inclined, much of the power of the Heavens would be useless, and every potential dead on Earth: and if the slope from the level was greater or smaller, much would be lacking in Cosmic order below and above.
Now, Reader, stay on your bench, thinking back on this preamble, if you would delight in it before you weary. I have put the food in front of you, now feed yourself, since the matter I have set myself to write of, now draws my complete attention to itself.
The Sun, the greatest minister of Nature, who stamps the world with the power of Heaven, and measures time for us by his light, was circling on the spiral where he shows himself earlier every day, joined to that Equinoctial point I recalled. And I was with him: but I was no more aware of my ascent than a man is aware of his first thoughts approaching. It is Beatrice who leads me from good to better, so suddenly that her action requires no time.
How bright, in itself, must that be, that shows itself in the Sun, which I had entered, not by colour, but by light! Though I might call on intellect, art and knowledge, I could never express it so as to make it imaginable, but it may be believed, and desired to be seen. And if our imaginations are too base for such exaltation, it is no surprise, since no eye could ever transcend the Sun. Such was the fourth House of the supreme Father, who always contents it, by showing how he breathes and engenders.
And Beatrice began to speak: ‘Give thanks, Give thanks to the Sun of the Angels, who, in his grace, has raised you to this visible sun.’ The heart of man was never so disposed to devotion, and so eager to give itself to God with all its will, as I was at those words: and my love was committed to Him so completely, it eclipsed Beatrice from memory. That did not displease her: but she smiled at it so that the splendour, of her laughing eyes, scattered my mind’s coherence amongst many things.
Then I saw many lights, living and victorious, make a central point of us, and a coronet, even sweeter in voice than shining in appearance, of themselves. So we sometimes see the Moon, Diana, Latona’s daughter, haloed when the air is so damp as to retain the rainbow thread that weaves her zone. There are many jewels so dear and lovely, in the courts of Heaven I have returned from, that they cannot be moved from that region, and such was the song of these lights: he who does not wing himself to fly up to them, may as well look for news of them from the speechless.
When those burning suns, so singing, had circled round us three times, like stars near the fixed poles, they seemed as ladies do, not released from the dance, but resting, silent, listening, until they hear the notes again. And in one I heard a voice begin to say: ‘Since the light of grace glows in you, at which true love is lit, and then by loving is multiplied, so as to lead you on that stair, that no one descends except to climb again, whoever denied you the wine from his glass, to quench your thirst, would be as little at liberty to do so, as water to refuse to flow to the sea.
You wish to know with what flowers this garland is decorated that circles the lovely lady who strengthens your resolve for Heaven. I was one of the lambs, of the sacred flock, that Dominic leads on the path where there is good pasture, if we do not stray. He, who is nearest to me on the right, was my master and my brother: he was Albert of Cologne, and I, Thomas Aquinas.’
‘If you wish to know the rest as well, circling above around the garland, blessed, direct your sight according to my words. This next flamelet issues from Gratian’s smile, he who gave such help to the ecclesiastical and civil spheres as is acceptable in Paradise. The fourth, that adorns our choir next, was that Peter Lombard, who, like the poor widow, offered his wealth to Holy Church. The fifth light, which is most beautiful among us, breathes from such a love, that all the world, below, thirsts to have news of it. In there is the noble mind of Solomon, to which was granted a wisdom so profound, that if truth be known, no other ever achieved so complete a vision.
Next look at that taper’s light, Dionysius, who in the flesh down there, saw deepest into the Angelic nature and its ministry. In the seventh little light, Orosius, that pleader for the Christian Age, whose works Augustine made use of.
Now if you run your mind’s eye from light to light, following my praise, you are already thirsting for the eighth. In there, seeing every good, Boëthius, the sainted soul rejoices, who unmasked the deceitful world to those who give him a careful hearing. The body from which it was chased out, lies down below in Cieldauro, and it came from exile and martyrdom to this peace.’
‘Next, see the glowing breath of Isidore of Seville flame out, of Bede, and Richard of SaintVictor, who in contemplation exceeded Man. The one from whom your glance returns to me, is the light of a spirit, who, of profound thought, seemed to himself to reach death too slowly: it is the eternal light of Sigier, who, lecturing in the Rue du Fouarre, syllogised truths that brought him hatred.’
Then, as the clock, that strikes the hour, when the bride of God rises, to sing her Matins, to the Bridegroom, so that he might love her, where one part pulls and pushes another, making a chiming sound, of such sweet notes, that the well-disposed spirit fills with love, so I saw the glorious wheel revolve, and answer voice to voice, in harmony, and with a sweetness that cannot be known except where joy renders itself eternal.
O mindless mortal cares! How defective the reasoning that makes you beat your wings towards the earth! One person was chasing law, another medicine; one following the priesthood, another rule, by force or sophistry; one robbery, another civic business; one was involved in bodily pleasure, and another taking their ease: while I, free of all these things, was received, with Beatrice, so gloriously in Heaven.
When each spirit had returned to the place in the circle where he was before, he rested, like a candle in its holder. And I saw a smile begin inside the light that had first spoken, as it grew brighter, and Thomas said: ‘Just as I glow with its rays, so as I gaze into the Eternal Light I know the reason for your thoughts. You question, and wish to understand my words, in such open and extended speech as will match your comprehension, the words I spoke just now, where there is good pasture, and, no other ever achieved, and here we need to draw careful distinctions.
The Providence that governs the world, with wisdom, that defeats every creature’s understanding, before that creature can plumb its depths, ordained two Princes, to be guides, over there and over here, on behalf of the Church, the spouse of Him, who wedded Her, with great cries, in blessed blood, in order that She might go to Christ, her delight, secure in Herself, and more faithful to Him.
The one Prince, Saint Francis, was all Seraphic in his ardour, the other, Dominic, was a splendour of Cherubic Light, on earth. I will speak of the first, because whoever praises either, whichever he chooses, talks of both, since both their efforts were to the same end.’
‘A fertile slope falls from a high mountain, between the Tupino and the Chiascio, the stream that drops from the hill chosen by the blessed Ubaldo, a slope from which Perugia feels the cold and heat, through the eastern gate of Porta Sole, and behind it the towns of Nocera and Gualdo bemoan the Angevin’s heavy yoke. From this slope, where it becomes least steep, a Sun was born into this world, even as our sun rises from the Ganges. So that whoever speaks of that place, let him not say Ascesi, I have ascended, which is inadequate, but Oriente, if he wants to name it correctly.
He was not far from rising when he began to make the earth feel a certain comfort from his great virtue, since in his youth, he rushed to oppose his father, for such a Lady, to whom, like Death, no one opens the gate of his pleasure, and he was united to her in the spiritual court that had jurisdiction over him, and in his father’s presence, and then loved her more deeply, from day to day.
She, deprived of her first husband for eleven hundred years and more, was obscure, despised, until he stood in front of her, uninvited. And the tale that she was found safe with Amyclas, the fisherman, when Caesar’s voice sounded to terrify the world, had not helped her, nor to have been so faithful and unafraid that She mounted the Cross with Christ, when Mary remained below.
But lest I proceed too darkly, accept, in plain speech, that Francis and Poverty were these two lovers. Their harmony and their delighted appearance made love, wonder, and tender looks, the cause of sacred thought, so that the venerable Bernard first cast off his sandals, and ran to chase after so great a peacefulness, and thought himself all too slow, while he ran. O unnoted riches, O fertile Good! Egidius casts off his sandals, and Sylvester, following the Bridegroom, as the Bride delights to do.
This Master and this Father went his way, together with his Lady, and with that family already wearing the humble cord, nor did lowliness of heart weigh down his forehead, because he was Pietro Bernardino’s son, nor that he seemed to be so greatly despised. But he revealed his serious intention to Pope Innocent, and took the seal of his Order from him. When the people of poverty, who followed his path, increased, his miraculous life sung more sweetly in Heaven’s glory, then was this master shepherd’s sacred will encircled with a second crown, from Honorious’s hands, by the Eternal Spirit.
And when, thirsting for martyrdom, he had preached Christ and his followers’ message, in the proud Soldan’s presence; and, finding the people bitterly against conversion, had returned, to avoid a useless stay, to gather fruit from the Italian branches; then, on the harsh rock, between the Tiber and the Arno, he received the final wounds, from Christ, that his limbs showed for two years.
When it pleased Him, who ordained him to such good effect, to raise him to the reward, which he had earned by humbling himself, he commended his Lady to his brotherhood, his rightful heirs, and asked that they should love her faithfully, and the illustrious spirit willed himself to leave her breast, turning to his own kingdom, yet wished for no other deathbed for his body.’
‘Now think what he must be, who was a worthy colleague, to maintain the course of Peter’s boat in the right direction! Such was our founder, Dominic, so that whoever follows his commands, as you can see, freights himself with good cargoes. But his flock has grown so greedy for new food, it cannot do other than stray through strange pastures, and the more his distant, wandering sheep stray from him, the emptier of milk they return, to the fold. Indeed there are some of them who fear the loss, and keep close to the shepherd, but they are so few it needs little cloth to make cowls for them.
Now, if my words have not been weak, if you have listened closely, and if you recall what I have said, your wish must now be partly satisfied, since you can see the stem they whittle away, and can see the rebuke intended in the words: where there is good pasture, if we do not stray.’
As soon as the flame of the spirit that was blessed had spoken the last word, the sacred mill began to turn, and had not fully revolved before a second, circling, clasped it, and harmonised movement with movement and song with song: song which is as far beyond our Muses, and our Sirens, in those sweet pipings, as the first glory its reflection.
As two rainbows, parallel and identical in colour, arch through the thin mist, when Juno commands Iris her servant, the outer one born from the inner one, like the speech of Echo, that wandering nymph, whom Love consumed as the sun the vapour, making people here on earth aware, that, through the covenant God made with Noah, the world should never be drowned again: so the two garlands of those everlasting roses circled round us, and so the outer answered the inner.
As soon as the dance, and the great high-festival of song and radiance, of light with light, joyful and gentle, joined in point of time and will, had stilled them, like eyes which must close and open together to the pleasure that stirs them, a voice came from the heart of one of the fresh lights that made me seem like the compass needle to the pole star, turning me towards it, and Bonaventura began: ‘The Love that adorns me, brings me to speak of the other leader, on whose account such noble words are spoken of my leader.
It is right that wherever the one is, the other should be presented, so that, just as they fought side by side, their glory might shine together.’
‘Christ’s army, whose re-arming cost so dear, followed the standard slowly, fearfully and sparsely, when the Emperor, who reigns forever, of his own grace, and not because of that army’s worth, made provision for the soldiers who were in danger, and, as has been said, He came to the aid of his Bride, with two champions, at whose works and words, the scattered ranks re-grouped.
In Spain, towards that region, where sweet Zephyr rises, to unfold the new leaves Europe sees herself re-clothed with, not far from the crash of the waves, behind which because of their vast reaches, the sun sometimes conceals himself from all people, Calahorra, the fortunate, lies, under the protection of the noble shield of Castile, on whose arms, in the left quarters, the lion is below the castle, and on the right above.
There the loving servant of the Christian faith was born, the holy wrestler, kind to his followers and cruel to his enemies: and as soon as he was created his mind was so full of living virtue that in the womb it sent his mother a prophetic dream. When the marriage between him and the faith was completed at the holy font, where they dowered each other with mutual salvation, the lady, who gave the assent for him, saw, in her sleep, the marvellous harvest destined to issue from him and his heirs, and so that this might be known, in his very name, a spirit from above moved them to call him after the Lord, whose he was completely. Dominic, he was named: and I talk of him as I would of a labourer, whom Christ chose to nurture his orchard.
He showed himself truly a companion and messenger of Christ, since the first love he showed was for the first counsel of Christ, that of Poverty. Often his nurse found him, on the floor, silent and wakeful, as if to say: It was for this I came. Truly his father was Felice, favoured, and his mother, Giovanna, graced by the Lord, if the interpretation of their names is valid!
Soon, for love of the true manna, and not of the world, for whose sake men labour after Henry of Susa, Ostia’s bishop, and Taddeo Alderotti’s doctrines, he became a powerful teacher, so that he set himself to a circuit of the vineyard, which soon withers if the vine-dresser is at fault: and from the Apostolic See, that once was more generous to the rightful poor, not because it has altered in itself, but because of the one who holds it, degenerately, he demanded not a profit of a third or a half, not the grant of the next vacancy, not decimas quae sunt pauperum Dei, the tithe that belongs to God’s poor, but leave to fight against the heretical world for that seed from which these twenty-four plants en-leaf you.
Then he went forward, teaching and will as one, with the blessing of the Apostolic Office, like a torrent driven out of a deep fissure, and his force struck the roots of heresy most fiercely where the resistance was most obstinate. Then many streams sprang from his, so that the Catholic garden is watered, and its shrubs achieve a fuller growth.’
‘If this was one wheel of the chariot in which Holy Church defended herself, and won her civil war in open battle, the excellence of Francis, the other, should be clear to you, about whom Thomas was so courteous, before I came to you. But the orbit, that touched the highest points of its circumference, is derelict, and now there is mould where there was once bread. His family, who walked directly in his footprints, have turned so that their toes strike his heel-prints, and soon the harvest of poor cultivation will be seen, when the tares will bemoan that the barn is closed to them.
I accept in truth that those who search page after page of our book, might still find one page, reading: I am as I was, but it will not be one of Ubertino da Casale’s or Matteo d’Acquasparta’s, from whom men come to our discipline, by relaxing it, or making it more severe.
I am the life of Bonaventura of Bagnoregio, who in the great offices always placed temporal cares behind. Illuminato and Agostino are here, who were Francis’s first poor shoeless brothers, who made themselves friends of God by the cord.
Hugh of Saint Victor is here with them, Pietro Mangiadore, and Pietro Ispano, who gave Logic light, below there, in his twelve books; Nathan the Prophet, the metropolitan Chrysostom, Anselm, and that Donatus who deigned to set his hand to the first art of Grammar. Rabanus is here, and Joachim of Flora, the Calabrian abbot, imbued with prophetic spirit, shines by my side,
The bright courtesy of brother Thomas, and his well-judged speech, stirred me to praise of so great a knight, and stirred this company with me.’
Let him, who would grasp correctly what I now saw (and let him retain the image while I speak, as he holds a piece of rock) imagine fifteen of those stars, which, in various regions, vivify the Heavens, with such brightness as to pierce the interwoven air; let him also imagine Ursa Major, that rests on the breast of our sky, night and day, so that it is never absent from the polar circle; and let him imagine the mouth of that horn, Ursa Minor, that starts from the axle of the primal circling, all making two wreathes in Heaven such as Ariadne, Minos’s daughter made, when she felt the cold of death; and one ring of light, to lie inside the other, and both to revolve, in such a way that one leads and the other follows, and he will have only the shadow of the real constellation, and the twofold dance, that circled round the point where I was, since it goes as far beyond what we know, as the movement of the quickest sphere, exceeds our sluggish Chiana.
There they sang, not Bacchus and the Paean, but three Persons in one Divine Nature, and It, and Human Nature, in one Person. The singing and circling had completed their measure, and those sacred flames turned their attention to us, rejoicing as they turned, from one care to another. Then amongst the harmonious divinities, the silence was broken by that light, in which the wonderful life, of the poor man of God, had been described to me, saying: ‘Since the one sheaf has been threshed, and its seed already stored, sweet love invites me to thresh the other.
You know that whatever light human nature can receive was all infused, into that chest from which the rib was taken, to form the lovely face, for whose taste of the forbidden fruit all the world pays, and into that which, pierced by the lance, gave satisfaction for the Past and the Future, so as to weigh the scales against all Sin, by that same Power that made them both.
And so you wonder at what I said before, when I said the good that was enclosed in the fifth light, Solomon, never had an equal. Now open your eyes to my answer, and you will see your belief and my words, hit the truth, like the centre of a target.’
‘That which does not die, and that which can perish, is nothing but the glow of that Idea, which our Father engenders by Loving, since that living Light, which goes out from its source, in such a way that it does not separate from it, nor from the Love which makes Trinity with those two, through its own goodness, focuses its rays, as though reflected in nine emanations, eternally remaining One.
So it descends to the lowest powers, down from act to act, becoming what forms the briefest of contingencies, by which I mean the things generated from seed, or seedlessly, by the moving Heavens. The wax, there, and what moulds it, is not in only one state, and so is more, or less, transparent, under the ideal seal, so that it happens that the same kind of tree fruits better or worse, and you are all born with varying genius. If the wax was moulded precisely, and the Heaven at its supreme point of Power, the light of the seal would be completely apparent: but nature always makes it imperfectly, acting in a similar manner to the artist, who has the skill of his art, but a trembling hand.
Then, if warm Love places, and stamps, a clear vision of the primal Power, complete perfection is attained there. So your clay was once made worthy of utter physical perfection, and so the Virgin was made pregnant. From this I sanction your opinion that human nature never was, or will be, equal to those two persons. Now if I went no further’ ‘How then was he without equal?’ would still be your first words.’
‘But so that you now see, what is not obvious, think who Solomon was, and what the motivation was, when he was told: ‘Choose’, to make his request. I have spoken so that you may see he was a king, who chose such wisdom as would make him an adequate king, not knowledge of the number of moving spirits here above; nor if a necessary premise, and a contingent premise, can ever give a necessary conclusion; nor whether we must accept a first movement, a primum motum; nor whether a triangle without a right angle in it can be constructed in a semicircle.
So, if you note this, and everything I have said, it is royal prudence, worldly wisdom, that is the unequalled insight that the arrow of my intent strikes. And if you turn your clear eyes to achieved, you will see it only applies to kings, of whom there are many, and the good ones rare. Take my words, according to these distinctions, and then they will agree with what you hold concerning the first Father, and our Delight.
And let this always weight your feet down with lead, and make you go slowly, like a tired man, approaching the yes or no you do not grasp, since he is truly down there among the fools, who affirms or denies without distinguishing between cases, so that it often happens that a quick opinion leans to the wrong side, and then Pride entangles the intellect. He leaves the shore less than uselessly, since he does not even return as he went, fishing for truth without the angler’s skill, and open proof of this in the world, are Parmenides, Melissus, Bryson, and the crowd who still went on, without knowing where.
So did Sabellius and Arius, and those fools who were like gleaming swords applied to Scripture, in making straight faces crooked. Do not let people be too secure in their judgements, like those who count the ears of corn in the field before the crop ripens, since I have seen, all winter long, the thorn display itself, sharp and forbidding, and then on its summit bear the rose; and before now I have seen a ship run straight and sure over the sea for her entire course, and sink in the end, entering the harbour mouth. Do not let Jack and Jill think, that if they see someone steal or another make offering they therefore see them as Divine Wisdom does, since the one may still rise, and the other fall.’
The water in a rounded dish vibrates from the centre to the rim, or from the rim to the centre, depending on how it is struck, from inside or out. Just as the glorious spirit of Thomas fell silent, this thought suddenly came into my mind, because of the analogy that sprang from his discourse, and Beatrice’s, whom it pleased to begin speaking, after him: ‘This man has a need he has not told you, with voice or thought, namely to track another truth to its source.
Say if the light, with which your substance blossoms, will remain yours as it is now, and if it will, say whether, when you are visible again, at the last day, it will not cloud your vision.’ As if pierced, and drawn out by excess joy, those who circle in the dance, immediately lift up their voices, and gladden their aspect, so, at this eager and devout request, the sacred circles revealed new joy in their whirling, and their marvellous sound.
Whoever grieves that we must die here in order to live there, does not see, here, the refreshment from the eternal rain. Three times, each of those spirits sang that One and Two and Three who lives forever, and reigns in Three and Two and One, not circumscribed, but circumscribing all things, sang with such melody as is a just reward for every kind of merit.
And I heard a modest voice, in the most divine light of the smaller circle, perhaps like Gabriel’s voice to Mary, replying: ‘Our Love will cast the rays of such a veil around us, as long as the festival of Paradise exists. Its brightness will match our ardour, our ardour our vision, as great as the grace of it exceeds our true worth.
When the cloak of the glorious and holy flesh shall be taken on again, our person will be more pleasing by being fully complete. So that the undeserved brightness which the Supreme Good gives us, that light which allows us to see him, will grow: and then the vision must grow, and the ardour, also, which is lit by it, and the rays that leave it. But like the coal that gives out flame, and, by its own lively glow, shines through it, so that its own identity is maintained, so this glow which already veils us, will be penetrated by the glow of the flesh, which now the earth covers: and such intensity of light will not have strength to overpower us, since the body’s faculties will be strong enough to withstand everything that delights us.’
The inner and outer choirs seemed so quick and eager to shout: ‘Amen’, that they indeed revealed desire for their dead bodies, not only for themselves, perhaps, but for their fathers, mothers, and others dear to them, before they became eternal flames.
Look around! A shining dawn, of equal brightness, beyond what was there, like a whitening horizon. And, as at twilight new things to see begin to appear, in the heavens, so that the vision seems real, and unreal, so, there, I began to see newly arrived beings, making a third circle, out beyond the other two rims. O true sparks of the sacred exhalation, how sudden and glowing, in front of my eyes, which, overcome, could not withstand it!
But Beatrice showed herself so lovely and smiling to me, it must be left among those sights that my memory cannot follow. From that my eyes recovered their power to raise themselves, and I saw myself carried, along with my Lady, to a higher fortune. I saw clearly that I was lifted higher, by the burning smile of that planet, which seemed to me redder than usual.
I made sacrifice to God, of my heart, and in that speech which is the same for all of us, as fitted this newly given grace: and the ardour of the sacrifice was not yet gone from my chest, before I knew the prayer had been accepted, and with favour, since splendours appeared to me, inside two rays, so radiant and red, that I exclaimed: ‘O Helios, who glorifies them so!’ As the Milky Way gleams between the poles of the Universe, decked with greater and lesser lights, so white as to set the very sages questioning, so those constellated rays made the ancient sign, in the depth of Mars, that crossing quadrants make in a circle.
Here my memory outruns my ability, since Christ flashed out so on that Cross, that I can find no fitting comparison. But whoever takes up his cross and follows Christ, will forgive me for what I leave unspoken, when he sees Christ white within that glow. From cusp to cusp, from summit to base, there were lights moving, that sparkled intensely, in meeting one another, and passing. So we see, here, motes moving through a ray, that sometimes penetrates the shadow people contrive, with art and ingenuity, against the sunlight, straight, curved, fast or slow, long or short, changing in appearance.
And as harp and viol, tuned in many-chorded harmony, make a sweet chime, to one who cannot separate the notes, so a melody enraptured me, from the lights that appeared, gathered along the Cross, though I could not follow the hymn. I clearly knew it was of high praise, since there came to me the words: ‘Rise and conquer,’ as to one who hears but does not understand. And I was so enamoured of it, there, that there had been nothing, till then, that tied me in such sweet chains.
Perhaps it may be too bold to say so, as if it slighted the joy of those lovely eyes, gazing into which my longing finds rest, but he who recognises how those living seals of all beauty have ever greater effect the higher the region, and that I had not yet turned towards them, may excuse me from my self-accusation, and can see I speak the truth: for that sacred joy is not excluded here, that as it climbs grows purer.