/ The Divine Comedy /
The Way to Heaven
Paradiso opens with Dante and Beatrice ascending towards Heaven. On his way up he sees some incredible sights, sights that mortal men would forget upon returning to Earth. Despite the difficulty, Dante says he’s going to try and put in mortal terms something that is beyond human comprehension.
To help him do this, he calls upon God to assist him. He implores Apollo to help describe “a shadow of the blessed realm.” It’s noon and Beatrice stares directly at the Sun. Dante, wanting to emulate her, does so as well. For Beatrice this is no trouble at all; she’s no longer a mortal and the brightness has no effect on her. Dante finds that despite being mortal, he too can look at the Sun much longer than usual; this is because they are so close to Heaven. The poet is suddenly overcome with the extreme beauty of the Sun and cannot stand the brightness any more. He turns to look at Beatrice and becomes invigorated by seeing her.
Looking at her makes him feel almost God-like. Dante describes the feeling as the tale of Glaucus, the man that transformed from a fisherman into an Ocean God. The brightness of the Sun makes Dante question his own mortality. He wonders if he is still housed within a mortal frame or if his soul has been freed from his body. Ascending up he begins to finally hear the music of the spheres. In ancient times, people believed in an Earth-centric Solar System. In Dante’s description, each planet (and the Sun) express a different musical note as they orbit the Earth. He calls them the spheres or Paradises of Heaven. Dante turns to Beatrice and is about to ask her where the music and light is actually coming from when suddenly Beatrice calls him a fool.
He is now lightning rising to Heaven, she says, his old reasoning has no place any more. Ancient scholars believed that the four elements of Earth, Wind, Water and Fire were visible on Earth. The northern hemisphere represents Dante’s Earth, with all of the land mass. The southern hemisphere represents all of the seas and Water. Above all of this is the layer of Air and then higher still the layer of Fire (the Sun). Lightning was believed to be a supernatural phenomena that arose from the ground in trying to reach for its creator, God. Dante is still confused. He is heavier than both Air and Fire, how can he be rising upwards? Beatrice, frustrated with Dante’s ignorance, explains that the universe is arranged with order. Everything is placed at different distances from God by his own decree and all things reach for him. Dante’s soul has been across the gulf of life and death and reaches for God greatly, he is being drawn to God. Beatrice calls God the “Primum Mobile”, the only sphere which does not move.
Beatrice looks at Dante, the poet is still quite surprised to be flying. She says to him that she would both be more surprised if he were not flying after being purified in Purgatory. With that she focuses intently on Heaven. Dante warns his passengers (us readers) to make sure we not turn to ‘see the shore’ again. He is worried that if we don’t stick by him, we may become lost between worlds. He urges the readers to go back and read Inferno and Purgatorio if they are not fully cleansed. Dante says that Apollo and the Muses guide his path, so only special people may understand his descriptions of Heaven. Finally, he asserts that those whom continue to read and understand will be more dazzled than The Argonauts when Jason tamed fire breathing Bulls.
Sphere 1 – The Moon
The travellers reach the first sphere, which Beatrice names the “first star”. It is The Moon. Dante describes it like a Diamond struck by the Sun and morphed into clouds. Its light is like the reflection of the Sun on water. Beatrice and Dante float uncontested right onto the Moon and Dante is amazed at how easy they do so. Beatrice says that it presents quite well how God and nature were made as one, their ease of passage is to do with God’s command of the Universe. The poet looks around and then asks Beatrice why there are dark marks on the Moon’s surface. She smiles and proclaims that human senses can’t possibly come up with an explanation for the dark patches. She asks Dante to speculate on why. Dante says that he believes they are denser material scattered over the surface. Beatrice tells him he is incorrect.
This logic would then assume some stars have more material than others. In turn this means that God’s power would govern more in some places than others. The opposite is also false, she says, they are not holes. When there is a Lunar eclipse, the Sun cannot be seen between the patches. Dante attempts to solve the problem by saying that it is all smoke and mirrors. Beatrice gestures to him she will explain the actual solution. The highest level of heaven receives undifferentiated power from God.
That power is distributed amongst the spheres by way of Angels. Spheres closer to God receive more power and thus spin faster around the Earth. Just like every organ in the body has a different function, each sphere has a different power, inspired by the Angels which govern it. The Angels sit on these spheres, directing it’s movement and shining gladness from God to Earth. The power of Heaven joins with the spheres themselves and the alchemy between them both manipulates the luminosity seen on the spheres surfaces. Dante accepts being corrected on the matter and suddenly sees shapes of people all around him. They rise up like crystal smoke, faint to see. Dante describes them like a reflection in a pearl and turns around expecting to see them. There is nobody there. Beatrice smiles and tells him that she is amused at how he still reasons like a child. They are the truest form of a soul sitting in the lowest region of Heaven, she says.
They reside here because they broke their vows. She urges Dante to listen to their tales so that he may learn about being truthful. An eager woman approaches the pair and speaks that the lowest sphere, with greatest charity, would never deny answers to Dante. The soul says that she is Piccarda, a virgin nun and the sister of Forese Donati (whom Dante met in Purgatory). She says that she delights in the lowest sphere of Heaven and not to worry for her, she deserves to be there for breaking her vows in life. Dante replies to her asking if she is truly happy in this place. Doesn’t she wish to be closer to God? Piccarda and her companions smile. She says that she is happy in her place because she trusts the will of God to decide for her what’s best. To want more is to go against God’s will and would cause discord. The secret of being happy in Heaven is to conform to God’s will. Dante understands. Although varying good is bestowed on the spheres, all of the people are still happy wherever they are. It is, after all, Heaven. Piccarda says that she was a pampered child who left for the order of St Clare. She made vows to follow God’s laws, remain a virgin and stay as a nun. However, evil men led by Corso (whom was in Hell) abducted her on orders from her brother and forced her to marry. In doing so she broke her vow to God. Piccarda introduces ‘the brighest light on the moon’ and a fellow nun, there under similar circumstances. She names her Empress Constance of Sicily. Her marriage produced the last heir of her royal line. The Empress begins to sing ‘Ave Maria’. Dante turns to Beatrice and the Empress disappears.
Dante has so many questions but, like David anticipated the questions of Nebuchadnezzar, Beatrice answers them without him speaking. The basic problem Dante has trouble understanding is how the nuns present could be held responsible for the actions of others. If someone has the will to do good, then what is the problem? Also, if humans are so governed by the Heavens (as medieval people believed the planets encouraged various personalities) and return to the powers that influenced them in life, how can they have free will at all? Finally can a person atone for breaking their vows? Beatrice answers the second question first. The spheres, she says, are for Dante’s benefit. These souls are not actually in these spheres, she explains. All of the souls are embraced with God in the highest heaven, the Empyrean, the court of Mary, the Rose.
However the spheres are necessary to explain the intermediary detachment of God from some souls to Dante. She continues answering the first question. The nun’s gave into breaking their vows in fear of their lives. They didn’t do everything they could to deny their abductors. This is a trait solely compatible with the will of a Human. It does not mesh with the will of God. Finally, Beatrice tells him that anything he says is beautiful is simply a lesser expression of himself. God’s greatest gift to man is free will. When you become a nun you willingly give up that gift for God. The church reserves a right to release someone from their vows. What is important is that a vow can be circumvented if another more valuable vow is given in it’s stead. Vows with infinite worth, like a vow of will, is almost impossible to circumvent.
She warns Christians explicitly to not expect forgiveness just by being a good Christian. Dante thanks Beatrice for answering his questions and says how wonderful doubt is as it leads to asking questions. Beatrice turns her head towards the highest heaven, the Empyrean and Dante notices they have begun to float on to the second sphere, Mercury.
Sphere 2 – Mercury
Dante can see thousands of souls from his vantage point. They seem to wander aimlessly and gather around anything new they see. They all proclaim the new things will “increase their love”. One soul steps forth and names Dante as the man whom is allowed to see the triumphant thrones of Heaven before his “war of life” has ended. He welcomes the poet to ask his burning questions. Dante asks him immediately what level of the Empyrean he lives in (they don’t actually live on Mercury, remember).
In response the soul starts by shining as bright as the Sun clearing a morning mist… almost formless. The soul gives a brief history of Rome. In the past, Emperor Constantine forced the Roman Empire away from Rome and into Byzantium. This drove the Empire against Heaven and centuries of good leadership. The soul names himself as Justinian, Rome’s leader after hundreds of years. He created many reforms to Roman laws and, by Gods will, created a giant list of all laws without contradictions.
This list, the Justinianus, gave Rome a brief period of peace. Justinian goes in to great detail about Rome’s history and the internal strife within it. He speaks from it’s founding, to the assassination of Julius Caesar, to the just Crucifixion of Jesus and eventual Wrathful revenge by God on the Jews, to modern times. He states that many Roman’s support the Holy Roman Church whilst also going against it. Justinian feels great contempt towards the hypocritical Guelphs. Mercury is a place where people go that value fame, Justinian continues. They accept their place in heaven as just reward for their values.
He praises Romeo of Villaneuve, a poor pilgrim whose virtue got him appointed as minister to Count Raymond Berenger, Provence. Romeo was a favoured person among the court but was accused of swindling money by jealous people. He quit his position with the Count begging for his return. Justinian and his companions begin to sing a Latin hymn before turning and leaving. Dante still has questions and Beatrice, ever the oracle, answers them. If the crucifixion of Jesus was considered just and wiped away man’s sins, then why were the Jew’s held accountable for their actions by God? Why did Christ have to die and in what way did it redeem mankind? Firstly, Christ was both Man and God, Beatrice says. The crucifixion was just in that it was punishment for the sins of Adam, but also unjust as it offended Christ’s divine half. God was happy that mankind was once more allowed in Heaven, but upset with the Jews for murdering his son.
Mankind could only be forgiven if God forgave everyone or mankind offered something in return. The serpent made Eve believe that mankind was as mighty as God. In doing so their sin was so enormous there was nothing they could offer in return, so God had to forgive them out of mercy. He gave himself to the world to pay penance for mankind’s sins. Dante asks why everything created by God is not immortal, Fire, Water etc. God made the human soul with his breath and human body with his hands. The soul is obviously immortal. Beatrice answers that only Heaven, The Angels and Mankind were created by God and are immortal.
Everything else were made by Angels and are not. It is implied here that the death of a human body must undoubtedly lead to it’s resurrection. Dante sees that Beatrice is growing more beautiful and correctly assumes that they are ascending towards the third sphere, Venus.
Sphere 3 – Venus
On Venus, Dante sees a bunch of lights dancing in harmony together. They are souls. He compares them to a spark about to produce a flame. They are singing the hymn “Hosanna”. One of them breaks away from the group and approaches Dante. The soul tells Dante they they all dance around a “celestial prince” whom the poet mentioned in another one of his works. He promises to bring Dante joy.
With Beatrice’s consent, Dante asks who the soul is. The soul says that he lived a short life and if had he lived longer he would have rid the world of evil. He was once a King of France ( Charles Martel, but never named). His sons would have ruled Sicily if the leader there didn’t incite a revolt through bad rule. Charles predicts that his brother should run from Catalonia, he is a greedy man that uses mercenaries. Dante is happy to hear from the soul and asks how bad sons can come from virtuous fathers (Charles II in this case). The soul replies that God rules through providence to prevent chaos. He only cares for the overall well being of mankind, not individual cases. The soul asks Dante whether its a good thing mankind resides on Earth and Dante says yes. He then asks Dante if it would be better if all men were the same and Dante says no.
Providence makes people different, Charles says, it is important that people are different so that society can exist. Everyone would be more worthy and kind if they were able to do the things they were naturally inclined to do. The world tries to make natural warriors into priests and natural priests into merchants. Dante starts speaking about Charles Martel’s wife and the bad luck of their bloodline. He says he cannot speak more about this as Charles’s soul swore him to secrecy on the matter.
Another soul approaches Dante and begins to speak. She says she comes from the hills of Romano. A “firebrand descended there” and brought grief to the place. She names herself as Cunizza, a lover. It is why she resides on Venus. The firebrand was her kin, she says. She introduces the soul next to her as the man who will be famous for many centuries. Before he can speak, she forsees the people of Treviso and predicts the murder of despots and the ransom of King’s men. A lot of blood will be spilt and the Paduan Guelphs will be right in the middle of it all. She cites the authority of Angels as her right to speak the truths before dancing away into the crowd.
The man Cunizza introduced finally gets his chance to speak. He says that he is from Marseilles, France. and his name is Folco. He cites that in life he was a great lover, with love to rival that of Heracles, Phyllis and Dido. He is glad that God placed him right where he is. Falco introduces yet another soul beside him as Rahab (the prostitute from the book of Joshua). He says she has the highest rank on Venus, being the first soul that Christ raptured from Hell. Folco tells the poet that Dante’s home, Florence, was founded by Lucifer himself. The emblem of the city, Golden Lillies, turn holy men into greedy men. Don’t worry though, he says, because Florence will soon be rid of corruption.
With sudden movement, Dante finds he is lifting to the fourth circle, The Sun.
Sphere 4 – The Sun Part 1 (Halo of Souls)
Dante tells the readers to gaze at the majesty of the planetary orbits. If they were not so perfect, the universe would crumble. He and Beatrice fly so swiftly that they arrive at the Sun very suddenly. Dante says that the souls that reside on the Sun are so beautiful that he can’t describe them.
Beatrice instructs Dante to thank God for lifting him up so high and he does. He gets so caught up in his prayers that it eclipses his admiration of Beatrice. A first. The souls of the Sun begin to gather around the pair, forming a giant halo/ glowing crown above them. They begin to sing and dance following the circle. After three full laps, they fall silent and one of them steps forward. He starts by complimenting Dante, he tells him he shines with the light of God. Everyone that doesn’t adhere to Dante’s wishes should be punished, he says. He introduces himself as St Thomas of Aquinas.
He is in the Dominican order. The soul tells Dante the names of others dancing around him. He points out Albert of Cologne, Gratian (helped develop law), Peter Lombard (theology professor), King Solomon, Dionysius the Areopagite (writer), and Paulus Orosius (historian). Boethius (philosopher) comes next, St. Isidore of Seville (wrote an encyclopedia), Venerable the Bede (father of English history), Richard of St. Victor (a mystic), and Siger de Brabant (proponent of Averroist interpretation of Aristotle). They all start singing and dancing again after being introduced.
Sphere 4 – The Sun Part 2 (St Francis and St Dominic)
Thomas says that providence degreed the Church was formed by two Princes, St Francis and St Dominic. Thomas says he will talk about St Francis, though both had equally Angelic qualities. Francis abandoned his father as a young man in Assisi to be with his lover. A strange woman, most men feared her and stayed away. Francis’ father in particular scorned his son for choosing her. She was a brave and courageous woman, actually with a former husband; Christ. After Mary had already abandoned Jesus she remained with him. Her name is Lady Poverty.
Upon witnessing Francis’ vow of poverty, Pope Innocent was so impressed that he gave St Francis his own papal seat and authority to form a religion… the Franciscans. A second pope gave the Franciscans another honour later on. After visiting Egypt to try and convert a Muslim sultan to Christianity, he received his final honour, from Christ himself. St Francis received the Stigmata, the symbol of wounds on his hands that Christ himself had. Upon his death, Francis asked his followers to simply strip him bare and lay his body on the Earth. He told his followers to value poverty more than anything and was lifted to Heaven.
The circle begins to orbit around them with dancing once more. Another circle appears, and they rotate around each other. Dante compares them to the double rainbow that God showed Noah after the flood. A second soul approaches and wishes to talk about St Dominic. Born in Calaroga, his forceful baby mind gave his mother prophetic powers. In her visions she saw a black and white dog set the world on fire with a torch in its mouth. Black and white was seen as a sign of salvation and became the cloak of colours for the Dominicans. Because of the dream, his mother named him “God’s Own” in Latin. Dominic was a perfect Christian in that he believed in Christ’s first injunction… to be poor. His carer often found him praying with his head on the ground. Dominic later became a very gifted teacher and worked to oversee the Church.
When faced with the Pope, he asked to merely preach against heresy. He was so successful in this that streams of souls were saved. The soul says that St Francis and St Dominic are the wheels of the church, but both orders are faltering. He introduces himself as St Bonaventure and names some of the souls in the second ring. Illuminato da Rieti and Augustine of Assisi (two of St. Francis’; first followers), Hugh of St. Victor (a theologian), Peter of Spain (logician), Nathan the prophet, Anselm, St. John Chrysostom (preacher), Aelius Donatus (grammarian), Rabanus Maurus (archbishop), and Abbott Joachim of Flora. Bonaventure pays a final respect to St Thomas for telling the tale of St Francis so well.
Sphere 4 – The Sun Part 3 (King Solomon)
Thomas stops the dancing to answer Dante’s second burning question that he never actually asked. Why can’t anyone match King Solomon’s wisdom? How can Solomon’s wisdom be greater than Adam or Eve when it is only those two whom were created by God directly. St Thomas says that both mortals and immortals are only reflected light of God’s thoughts. The nine essences (The Angelic Intelligences) act as mirrors reflecting God’s light from one sphere to another. When the lights hit matter they create “brief contingent things” such as plants, animals etc.
It is like wax, sometimes perfect sometimes imperfect. The blame falls to the imperfect artist of nature with a trembling hand whom cannot stamp the wax as perfectly as she should. Some trees bare better fruit, some men have better sons etc. When God prepares the wax himself his perfection is passed on, as is the case with Adam and Christ. God went to Solomon in a dream and offered to answer any question Solomon wanted an answer to. Solomon, instead of looking for answers to Earthly pursuits and riddles of intelligence, asked how to best distinguish right from wrong. This decision to determine a question based on morality is what made Solomon unmatched in wisdom. Thomas warns Dante not to read too much into things or jump to conclusions on things he doesn’t truly understand. Hasty opinions can be wrong.
Thomas points out some scholars who jumped to conclusions. Parmenides, Melissus, Bryson, Sabellius, Arius, Dame Bertha, and Master Martin. As Thomas falls silent Beatrice tells Dante he must reach the root of yet another Truth. She asks the souls to explain whether the light of a soul is ignited forever. How will they react when they receive their bodies back? Won’t it be too bright for them? All of the souls sing out about the Holy Trinity in joy and King Solomon steps forth. He proclaims that so long as they remain in Heaven, their bodies will remain a brilliant brightness.
Their bodily flaws were related to their love for God. The more they love God, the more they will be able to see. On judgment day they will become whole and God will love them for their perfection. In answer to the second question, he says that becoming whole will make them even stronger. As Dante’s eyes survey the light around him, the rest of the souls in the Sun shout “Amen!” and excitedly sway in anticipation for judgement day. Beatrice, defying the impossible, becomes even brighter and more beautiful.
Suddenly Dante looks around and sees he is standing on Red ground. They have arrived at the sphere of Mars.
Sphere 5 – Mars Part 1 (The Cross)
Dante thanks God again for lifting him higher and sees that his prayers of thanks would be answered immediately. He sees two bright lights before him and they form… a cross. THE cross. The souls in the sphere wrap themselves around it and float too and from it. They sing a Hymn that Dante doesn’t recognise. He apologises to the reader for appearing presumptuous about something he cannot truly comprehend. The singing stops. Like a shooting star, a figure appears emanating from the cross.
He speaks in latin to Dante directly. “O blood of mine… unto whom… was Heaven’s gate twice open.” He is a member of Dante’s family and the poet compares the meeting to Anchises and Aeneas in the Aeneid (by Virgil). The soul is so happy to see Dante that he speaks a language the poet cannot understand. After the excitement subsides he tells Dante, in a way that he can understand that he had heard of Dante’s coming in the great volume of God’s providence. He thanks Beatrice for fulfilling her prophecy. The soul, like all the others in Heaven, correctly predicts what Dante is going to say. He tells the poet he knows that he does not speak because he no longer needs to.
All souls can look into the mirror of providence provided by God and see the thoughts of mortals. Out of sheer love, he asks Dante to speak so that he can hear his words. Dante looks to Beatrice for approval and she smiles in acceptance. The poet starts by thanking the soul for his fatherly welcome. Dante asks the figure whom he is and compares him to a “living topaz”. “I am your root.” The soul says, avoiding answering. He calls Dante’s attention to the man whom gave his family its name. The ancestor he speaks of is on the threshold of Purgatory. Dante should pray for him so that he can reach Heaven. The soul speaks of early ancient Florence.
A place of tranquility, chaste and soberness. In this time, everything was balanced. All families had children, marriages were celebrated and there was no improper lust to be found. Furthermore, women didn’t wear make up or mask themselves. Men were men, women were women. Simple. In this time the soul Dante currently sees was born. He identifies himself as both Christian and by the name Cacciaguida. Cacciaguida served Emperor Conrad, fighting for him in the crusades. He gained so much favour that the Emperor knighted him. It was there that he met his glorious death at the hands of the Muslims. Because he died a martyr to the Christian cause, he received his reward in Heaven. Dante takes a break to bask in his presence.
He refers to Cacciaguida in a very rare and formal “you”, normally reserved for nobility. He calls the soul “my father” and says his nobility has given the poet the confidence to ask more questions.
Sphere 5 – Mars Part 2 (Cacciaguida)
Dante wants to know who Cacciaguida’s ancestors were, when he lived, and who followed St. John (patron saint of Florence) at the time. Cacciaguida glows with gladness and answers Dante’s second question first. He says he lived 530 revolutions of Mars past the date of Christ’s conception (around 1091 AD). He cryptically says that Dante’s ancestors were only born “at the point where the competitors in the annual horse race enter the field” and then remains silent about them. St John’s followers included 1/5 of the Florentine population, Cacciaguida says. Florentine used to have smaller boundaries, the soul explains. He suggests that interracial breeding has corrupted Florence and is the root of all its evil. Generally clerics of his time were honourable and good people.
Cacciaguida tells Dante that the clergy has become corrupt since he died. In reference to his homeland, the Soul proclaims that “there was nothing to have caused Florence sorrow.”. Cacciaguida says the Red lily emblem of Florence was never bloodied by infighting and war in his time. Neither was the emblem reversed in colour like the Guelphs have done against Ghibellines. Dante has been bothered for quite some time by something. He compares himself to Phaethon (son of Helios who got his wish of commanding his father’s Sun chariot and smashed it into a desert) trying to talk to his mother about his wishes. Beatrice tells Dante to speak his mind.
Both herself and Cacciaguida know both his question and the answer already. Dante asks tells the soul that whilst journeying through Inferno and Purgatorio, Virgil told him that his destiny would be difficult. With such a high ranking Heavenly seat and wisdom at his disposal, can he tell him what these difficulties are that he should be wary of? Cacciaguida tells Dante plainly that a prediction is not absolute, God does not make actions and there are many contingencies in time. As far as he can tell, Dante will be forced into exile from Florence. The poet will be forced to serve others and his compatriot exiles will be so insane that he will endure alone. Fear not though, Cacciaguida says, Dante will find friends eventually. A great Lombard called Bartolemmeo dello Scala will house him. Batolemmeo’s brother will become a great military power and Dante will earn a reputation of absolute generosity and hard labour. Dante will earn salvation.
Dante promises to hold course and continue to write poetry. He says he is prepared for the hard times ahead. He reflects on his adventure so far and ponders whether all men would have made it this far. Not all men can see the truth, he thinks to himself. The poet vows not to be a “timid friend of truth”. Cacciaguida states that although Dante’s poetry now seems harsh, people will soon find wisdom and truth in his words. Dante will gain honour for daring to speak harsh truths against the highest corrupt powers. Beatrice chimes in, saying Dante has God on his side. Dante looks at her and her immense beauty makes him forget his troubles. Cacciaguida wants to introduce the other souls encircling the cross. He says that their great names would be wonderful additions to Dante’s poem. As the soul speaks, their namesakes snap into view.
Joshua (led the Hebrews to conquer the Jericho), Maccabeus (Hebrew warrior who freed the Jews from a tyrant), Charlemagne (restorer of the Holy Empire), William of Orange (warrior turned cleric), Renouard (Saracen giant who converted to Christianity), Duke Geoffrey of Bouillon (successfully led the First Crusade), and Robert Guiscard (defender of Pope Gregory VII). Cacciaguida rises to the other souls and begins to sing with them. With that, Beatrice begins to glow and Dante understands this is the signal to ascend higher. In front of the poet is Jupiter.
Sphere 6 – Jupiter
Dante compares the souls of Jupiter to flocks of birds. He sees that they are forming letters in the air. As soon as one letter has formed, another then forms. Dante remembers all of the letters in sequence and finds that together they read “DILIGITE IUSTITIAM, QUI IUDICATIS TERRAM” or “Love justice, you who judge the Earth.” After the final M is formed, the souls making up the letter spready outwards like a fire releasing a shower of sparks. The M has morphed into that of an Eagle’s head. Lights of souls flock to the head and form a body for it. Noticing that the Eagle resembles the emblem of Rome, Dante thanks God for justice in Heaven.
Dante asks God to turn his attention to Rome and its corruption. He attacks the Clerics for being driven by money and Earthly desires and men who only play at being virtuous. He directs a scathing attack at Pope John XXII, reminding him he will burn in Hell. With the Eagle complete, Dante sees that every soul looks like a Ruby in the sky. The souls reflect the light of the Sun, almost blindingly so. As if by some strange vision, the shape of the Eagle actually begins to speak. The Eagle says that it is honoured in heaven because it is merciful and just. The voices of all the souls that make up the Eagle form one voice. Dante starts to ask a question and then remembers the Eagle can probably read his mind. The Eagle flaps its wings and begins to talk.
When God made the universe he didn’t imprint all of his power into it, the universe cannot contain all of his love and goodness. This is proven by Adam’s fall and Dante’s mortal sight. Humans, with only small flitters of intelligence, cannot possibly perceive the totality of divine Justice. The Eagle explains Dante’s question for him. If a man is virtuous, lives a good honest life but hears nothing of Jesus or God, how can God justly condemning the man to Hell? The Eagle continues its answer, simply stating that only God can resolve that question. The Eagle goes on to scorn evil Christian rulers. Nobody has ever risen this high up in Heaven without belief in Christ and nobody ever will, it says. Even those who do not believe in Jesus will be more easily forgiven than those who cry out Christ’s name in falsehood.
The Eagle goes on to name corrupt christian rulers. Albert of Austria, Philip the Fair, Ferdinando IV of Castile, Wenceslaus IV, Charles of Anjou (called the “Cripple of Jerusalem”), Fredrick II of Aragon, Dionysius of Portugal, Hakaam V of Norway and Stephen Urosh II of Serbia. The souls making up the Eagle begin to sing and Dante compares it to the Sun being broken up into Stars. The singing eventually stops and the Eagle begins to murmur. The murmur crawls up the Eagle’s throat and explodes outwards in a single thundering voice. The words are so powerful they get burned into Dante’s mind. The Eagle tells Dante to look at its eye. 6 souls comprise the eye, one for the pupil and 5 for the eyebrow. The Eagle introduces each one. The eye is King David, singer of the holy spirit and bearer of the Ark of the Covenant. On the eyebrow is Roman emperor Trajan, Hezekiah, Constantine, William II of Hauteville and Ripheus. Dante blurts out to the Eagle if such things are actually possible. The Eagle flashes it’s light wildly. He tells Dante that the poet believes what he has been told but doesn’t truly understand.
God chooses whom he saves, the Eagle says. Dante doubts as to how Emperor Trajan and Ripheus are there, known non-believers. The Eagle interjects, saying that they are in fact Christian. Emperor Trajan went to Hell, but God gave him a second chance in life so that he could repent. Trajan then accordingly went to Purgatory and in turn, Heaven. Ripheus died many years before Christ but God sent Faith, Hope, and Charity during his life to baptize him. Dante cries out at how unfathomable God’s plans are and then says that this is not altogether a bad thing. The incompleteness of man’s knowledge gives room for free will and men to choose to be virtuous. Everyone has the same shot of getting into heaven. The poet says that the Eagle has shown him how short sighted he has been and how he should never assume to understand God.
He thinks back to the souls in question (Emperor Trajan and Ripheus) and notices that they are smiling and waving to him playfully. Dante turns to Beatrice but she isn’t smiling. She tells him if she smiles, it would be so bright at this point he would turn to ashes. She announces they are now in Sphere 7, Saturn.
Sphere 7 – Saturn
Dante looks into Beatrice’s eyes and sees the reflection of Saturn. Springing out of the surface is a gigantic golden ladder reaching higher than the poet can see. Thousands of souls climb down it. Dante sees a very bright soul and awaits permission to ask him questions. Beatrice signals Dante to speak. Dante asks the soul why he approached so close. He also enquires why, when every other sphere is full of music, Saturn is mostly silent. The soul answers the second question first. He tells Dante that should the souls sing at this heavenly height, Dante’s mortal eardrums would burst. The soul continues that he approached Dante from the ladder not because he is in some way special as a soul or famous, but because God willed him to.
Still confused, Dante watches the soul suddenly begin to spin quickly and grow more brightly. The soul tells Dante not to try and understand why God made this particular decision for the two of them to meet. He tells the poet to remind the other mortals that nobody can know the mind of God. Dante is humbled and takes a step back. The soul explains that he once worshipped in The Monastery of Santa Croce di Forte, Avellana. He was happy to live on olive juice cooked vegetables. The Monastery, he says, used to churn out many virtuous souls like an army, but that was a long time ago.
He names himself Saint Peter Damian. Originally nicknamed Peter the Sinner, he was dragged into the Monastery and eventually became a Cardinal. Peter goes on a rant about the Papal seat. Popes were once good, he says, but now they are so fat and corrupt they need people to prop them up and hoist them around. After speaking, many more souls descend downwards and cry out in agreement. The combined voices are so powerful Dante drops to the floor unconscious. Beatrice cradles him awake and explains that the souls in Saturn are devout and zealous Christians.
She tells Dante not to worry, the Popes will soon reap their just desserts. Lastly, she directs Dante to mingle with some of the celebrities hiding out in Saturn. A soul approaches them and names himself as St. Benedict. Benedict tells Dante that all of the souls in this area meditated on God in their lives. He introduces one of St Anthony’s followers, Macarius. Dante asks Benedict if he can see his human face and Benedict declines. However, Dante will see his face when he reaches the Empyrean, the soul says. Benedict goes on a rapturous rant about the Empyrean, stating how it is a space without poles and the ultimate ending of the golden ladder. He tells Dante that Jacob was the only one who could see to the top of the ladder but now nobody is worthy of climbing it. Benedict says he feels bad that his Benedictine order has become so corrupt and laments about the corrupt church. Clerics are way too greedy, he proclaims. After this, the Saint returns back to the group of souls. Beatrice makes a mysterious sign and suddenly the pair are moving on to the 8th sphere, The Fixed Stars.
Beatrice tells Dante that they will be so close to the Empyrean at this point that he will need to have a clear vision and look back to remind himself as to what he has overcome. Dante looks down the dizzying heights of 7 spheres and the Earth. He complains that the Earth is clearly a deathly floor that incites savagery.
Sphere 8 – Fixed Stars Part 1 – St Peter and St James
Beatrice is facing East waiting for the sunrise. Dante compares her to a perched bird waiting to leave her nest and find food for her young. As the light creeps over the horizon she immediately points to the distance. “There you see the troops of the triumphant Christ!”, she yells with sheer joy. On the horizon Dante sees Christ, the Sun of this sphere. He is almost blinded. Beatrice tells dante he is looking at an irresistible power, a power that joined Heaven and Earth for the first time after Adam’s fall from Paradise. Dante feels his mind opening outwards at the sight of him, like lightning separating a cloud. Beatrice tells him that since he now now witnessed Christ, he can bare her smile. She smiles at him. Dante describes her smile as burning into his mind, unfathomable.
Dante witnesses a garden blooming around Christ as he walks. Beatrice describes that the Roses being bloomed are the word of God made flesh. Also pointed out are Lilies, whose smell guides worthy souls to heaven. Dante looks towards Christ and sees a green meadow with figures being shadowed by the light of Christ. Dante can make out Mary, The Rose, whom appears a living star. Around her is a ring of pure light which other souls dance and sing around. Dante strains to figure out what they are singing. The melody is so sweet that the sweetest music on Earth would sound like rigid and unendurable growling.
The souls are calling themselves angelic love, the same angelic love that protected Mary during the conception of Christ and wheeled around her as she ascended to heaven. They all sing “Mary” powerfully and loud. Christ floats upwards towards the ninth sphere and Mary follows him. After a moment Dante can no longer see her from his vantage point. She is too high. The souls below raise their hands up sing out in praise for Christ’s mother. They sing “Regina coeli” or “Queen of heaven”. Dante praises the saved souls in this sphere for resisting material riches on Earth and obtaining endless riches in Heaven for doing so. He sings a hymn for St Peter, the keeper of Heaven’s keys. Beatrice begins to speak to the souls and asks them if Dante can taste Christ’s supper. One of the souls approaches the pair and gleefully dances around them singing.
The music paralyses Dante. Beatrice names him St Peter and beckons the Saint to test Dante’s faith. Peter asks Dante very simply “What is faith?”. Dante responds that faith is the evidence of things not seen and the substance of hopes. Peter nods and asks for elaboration on why faith is both substance and evidence. Dante responds that faith speaks of things hidden from sight (like Heaven) and being invisible to mortals they have to be taken on blind faith. This also explains why faith is evidence, as mortals must reason from this blindness the existence of unseen things. St Peter calls faith a coin with alloy and weight. Saying they’ve now determined both in Dante. He asks the poet if he carries such a coin and gets a confirmation from him. “Where does faith come from?”, St Peter asks. Without any hesitation, Dante says that it comes from inspiration of the Holy Ghost implanted into the scriptures of the Bible. “How do you know the scriptures are the word of God?”, Peter continues.
Dante says that nature cannot achieve most of the miracles in the scriptures, therefore they must have been created by God. Peter catches Dante out in his logic. He says that if the scriptures attest miracles and the miracles prove the legitimacy of the scriptures, then how can Dante know they are true? The logic is circular. Dante simply answers “Through Faith”. With that andswer, all of the souls nearby begin to cheer and sing and dance. “Te Deum laudamus” or “We Praise You, O God” can be heard. St Peter congratulates Dante on his faith and more so that his answers were so articulate. He asks Dante one final question, “What do you believe?”. Dante says that he believes in the holy trinity and one God that moves the Heavens with his love.
This is based on evidence presented in the holy scriptures. St Peter embraces him and then celebrates by dancing around and blessing him. Dante reflects that if he ever completes the poem, he would like to pay homage to Florence, as it is where his faith in God began. Another soul approaches and greets his friend St Peter. It is St James. Their reunion is blissful and caring. They both turn to look at Dante. Beatrice asks St James to examine the poet about hope. St James feels a little pity for Dante and states that he will lessen the severity of the questions as God has blessed him to see Heaven before his time. He must already know what hope is. St James asks “What is hope? Do you have hope? Where does hope come from?”. Beatrice interjects and says that Dante already has plenty of hope by God’s grace and by his current position as visitor. Dante finishes the other two questions himself. He says that hope is the expectation of future glories and is a result of God’s grace. As to where it comes from, Dante says that there are scriptures that confirm its existence.
St James approves with a burst of light and asks the poet what he hopes for. Dante answers that other than going to heaven, that the elect of the mortal realm shall be conscientious in both body and soul. The singing changes to “Sperent in te” or “Let them hope in you”.
Sphere 8 – Fixed Stars Part 2 – St John and Adam
Suddenly yet another soul appears. This one greets the other two. Beatrice proclaims him as St John, whom Christ entrusted with the safety of his mother whilst on the cross. Dante strains to see him through his bright visage but can’t. St John asks Dante why he tries to see something which he cannot. As if unrelated he tells Dante that contrary to popular belief, only Christ and Mary may carry their bodies into Heaven, he like all others is merely soul alone. The three Saints begin to celebrate but Dante notices something very wrong. He has gone blind.
St John tells Dante that he has to talk his way through this until his sight returns. Beatrice can cure Dante of his blindness, St John says, but first he asks Dante to explain what he wishes for. Dante responds, realising it is another examination, that all he wishes for is God’s love. Slightly annoyed with the answer, St John asks Dante who directed his love towards God. Dante says that he himself did so, that the love of God exists within all and that good people will irresistibly come to love God. Dante says that God confirmed this when he told Moses “I shall show you goodness”. St John presses Dante further, asking if there are any other reasons he loves God.
The poet responds that he loves God because he created the world, that Christ died so that he may live and reach heaven. With that the group burst into song, they sing of the four animals of the apocalypse. Dante begins to see glimmers of light again, more and more until he realises he can see better than he ever did before. A fourth soul is with the Saints. It is Adam, THE Adam. Dante is anxious to speak to Adam and wastes no time asking his questions. He inquires as to how long Adam was in Eden, how long has it been since he was in Eden, what was the true cause of God’s anger and what language Adam spoke. Adam answers the questions in the wrong order. He says that God wasn’t angry that he ate the forbidden fruit but because he stepped outside the bounds God had set for him. Adam hasn’t seen eden in 6498 years and the language he spoke is long dead. Nothing created by man lasts very long, he says.
He states that God doesn’t mind which language a man chooses to speak, in his language God was called I, then Ei. Adam says that he lived in Eden for 7 hours. The souls begin to sing “Gloria”. St Peter suddenly changes from glowing white to red. All of the souls stop singing and look at him shocked. St Peter explains that Pope Bonefice III is usurping St Peters position as Pope and doing a very poor job at it. Peter says Bonefice has turned his position into a sewer of blood, hence the colour.
The sky itself turns a reddish hue, and Beatrice appears blushed red. Peter rants about how he and the good popes never spilt blood trying to divide people. The shepherds of man are wolves in disguise, he proclaims. Peter tells Dante to bring the truth of the papal seat to the people before naming crooked Popes with disgust.
Sphere 9 – The Primum Mobile
Dante witnesses souls rising towards the Empyrean, he tries to follow them all the way up with his eyes but cannot see that far. Beatrice tells him to look down on the Earth once more. The poet sees it in even greater detail than last time, even though he’s higher up. He can see the seas that Ulysses traveled and the island of Crete. Dante looks back at Beatrice and her beauty has become more dazzling. This indicates to Dante that they are ascending higher to “heaven’s swiftest sphere”.
Upon landing, the poet’s guide begins to speak. This sphere is the center of the universe, she explains. The Primum Mobile was created first. The where of this place is God’s mind and the light is his love. The Primum Mobile spins the fastest of all the spheres and time began right here. Beatrice begins a scorning of the sins of man. She proclaims that free will inspires the goodness of man, but also leads them to self destruction. Man needs to be ruled, she says. Providence will set things right before another thousand years and the ship of mankind will be righted and the fleet will flow straight. Dante sees the reflection of what looks like a double candle in Beatrice’s eyes and peers around to find the source. He sees a blinding point of light larger than any star. Around it orbits 9 flaming rings. The closest ring to it circles the fastest and the furthest is the slowest. Turning to look at it herself, Beatrice describes that all nature relies on this.
The closest ring has the most desire for God, she explains. Dante asks Beatrice why the universe is not constructed in this manner, with the Earth the closest and purest to God. Beatrice explains that in the material universe, power is proportional to size. The bigger it is the closer it naturally moves to God. However, in this non-material world representing Angelic intelligence, only power matters. In the material world the circles may well be inverted. Dante starts to understand. Beatrice tells Dante that the rings contain first the Seraphim, then Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels, and finally Angels. Dionysius originally wrote of this hierarchy though St Peter’s inspiration, she says. Dante observes the model and remains silent for a moment. Beatrice tells the creation story to Dante. She says she is uniquely qualified to do so having seen the mind of God. God did not create the universe to acquire more goodness, she says, he did it to see himself reflected in his creation.
It was an outpouring of God’s love and also marked the beginning of time. He created three substances first of all, pure form, pure matter and a combined substance made from the two. All of these exploded into existence at the same time in a flash of light. The substances were divided into an orderly hierarchy of pure form at the top and pure matter at the bottom, the combination substance split the two. Very soon after the creation of the Universe, a group of Angels led by Lucifer revolted against God and were cast down to Earth, the lowest of the spheres. The rest of the Angels rejoiced and then got to work getting the Universe in motion. So that their will would conform with God forever, God rewarded them with knowledge to move the Universe. Angels always face God, Beatrice continues, and because of this require no memories.
They always stare at perfection. There are an infinite number of Angels representing the infinite ways that God can express his love. Dante and Beatrice begin to rise further. The poet explains that the need for his vision is pretty much useless now. He looks at Beatrice and says that her beauty is so striking that his mind will never be able to record it anyway. The pair have arrived on the highest and final plane of the spheres, the Empyrean.
Sphere 10 – The Empyrean Part 1 – The Rose
Dante can see the Virgin Mary in all of her complete form, her body and soul. Suddenly the Empyrean envelopes Dante, and he finds it almost impossible to see in the brilliance of the light. the poet compares it to lightning striking in front of the eyes. Beatrice reassures Dante and says that this is how the Empyrean welcomes all who enter, to prepare them for the ultimate light. Dante is floating. He sees a river of gold and red light between banks adorned in flowers. Sparks fly from the water and hit the flowers and others fly back into the light. Beatrice’s voice tells Dante to drink from the river.
These forms he sees are just shadows of their true selves and he must see better if he is to perceive them fully. The poet rushes over to the river and drinks from it. The river itself changes before Dante’s eyes. It is no longer straight but circular and the flowers are Angels and souls sitting in Heavens court, the Rose. Dante prays to God to let him remember what he is seeing. He looks up and sees a single beam of light coming from God himself, reflecting from the top of the Primum Mobile and powering the entire universe. At the top of the dome, as if a mirror, Dante can see the entirety of the Celestial Rose. As a result of his now perfect vision, he can see everything regardless of how near or far. Beatrice leads Dante into the Rose, gleaming under the endless light of the Sphere’s Sun, God. Beatrice explains that there are so many people in this huge city and very few seats left. She shows him one seat reserves for King Henry VIII of Luxembourg (whom Dante believed at the time would reunite Italy).
Beatrice scorns Pope Clement, saying that God will seek revenge on him and place him in place of Pope Benefice III in the third pouch of the eighth circle of Hell (Simonists). Dante sees the blessed spirits in the Rose and the Angels swooping around sharing the joys of the highest Heaven. The Angels fly from God to the rose, clad in brilliant white. Nothing can cover the light from above. The spirits stare at the threefold light of God. Dante compares the experience like that of Barbarians peering at the grand city of Rome. He is so impressed that he cannot speak, he just stares around open mouthed. All he tried to do is take in and remember as much as he can. He turns to Beatrice to ask her some questions but in her place he sees an elderly father figure of a man. Dante asks where Beatrice has gone and the man replies that she has taken her rightful seat in the Rose, he has been sent to assist on the last leg of Dante’s journey.
Dante looks up and sees her shining with the other souls. Dante prays to her to thank her for all she has done for him, finding Virgil in Hell to lead him and then guiding him herself to this wondrous place. He prays to her to be as generous when he dies so that she may welcome him again. Beatrice looks down at Dante and nods, smiling. With that she turns and faces God once more. The elderly man tells Dante to wander around and explore the Rose. What he sees will prepare him for the light of God himself. He introduces himself as St Bernard, a devotee to the Virgin Mary. Dante is awestruck and Bernard attempts to keep Dante’s attention on the Rose. Bernard tells Dante to examine every crevice of the Rose and most importantly the Queen of Heaven, Mary. Dante’s eyes travel up the Rose and he sees one point more glorious that the rest, he calls the brightest bit at its center “oriflamme”. Around the light swarm thousands of Angels. Mary smiles and Dante becomes overwhelmed with adoration for her, he looks at Bernard and finds the Saint doing the same. Bernard explains the structural hierarchy of the Rose. At the top is Mary, then Eve kneeling at her feet, then Rachel and Beatrice in the third rank.
Then Sarah, Rebecca, Judith, and Ruth and beneath those from 7 ranks downwards, hebrew women make up the the rest of the vertical radius. The radius splits the Rose in half, on the left sit souls that believed in Christ before he was born and the right those whom believed in Christ after he came. On the opposite side of Eve sits John the Baptist, then St Francis, St Benedict and St Augustine. The bottom of the Rose sits row upon row of children whom were saved due to their innocence. Dante asks Bernard how children, whom are innocent, can be ranked as such. Bernard answers that Dante shouldn’t assume to understand the reasoning of God in regards to this.
He cites some twins as examples of how God assigned different hair colours to the children at his pleasure. Bernard explains that before Christ, children were saved automatically due to their innocence. However, after Christ, children had to be baptised and circumcised as there was no longer an excuse for them. Bernard tells Dante to look upon Mary, with the face most like that of Christ. Dante does so and sees the same Angels flocking around her that he had seen in the 8th sphere. One of them sings “Ave Maria” and the music inspires all in the Rose to pick up singing.
Dante asks Bernard whom the flaming Angel is with Mary. St Bernard replies that it is Gabriel, the one whom brought news of Christ’s coming and pregnancy to Mary. Bernard points out more souls in the Rose. He shows Dante the first man Adam, St John the Evangelist, Moses, Anna (Mary’s mother) and Lucia.
Sphere 10 – The Empyrean Part 2 – God
Bernard says that time is running short so they must direct their attention to God. He prays to Mary on Dante’s behalf. First he praises her for allowing mankind to redeem itself through her son, Christ. Her love was the foundation that this Rose was built upon. Here she is the torch of charity, Bernard prays, and on Earth she is a torch of hope. Bernard appeals to her compassion. He explains that nobody may climb higher without her love and support.
The man before her, Dante has traversed all of the planes of Earth, Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. Would she help him to rise a little further and to see the face of God? The entire host of Heaven joins in on the prayer. Beatrice can be seen to be doing the same. Mary looks down on Dante and appears to approve. She looks up to the light above. Dante looks up as well. Dante describes to the reader that everything after this point appears as a dream in his memory as it is too great to remember fully.
Dante prays to God to ask him to remember a glimmer of what he saw to complete his poem. The light which Dante saw was so bright that he was afraid to turn away from it and lose it forever. In his sight he sees a book bound by love which lists scattered information about the entire Universe. Dante argues that 25 centuries of the retelling of the Argonauts story has not produced as much forgetfulness than he is experiencing, however. The light is so perfect that Dante doesn’t want to look at anything else, it would seem defective in comparison. As he gazes at God, the image alters. Three circles appear in different colours but of the same size.
The second circle reflects the first. The third is fiery with the love created by the first two. Dante sees that the second circle is within itself the same colour as it’s surroundings but also not at the same time. Dante tries to figure out why this is but his efforts are very futile. He cannot understand the image he is seeing and ponders greatly about what the solution is. With one final flash of divine knowledge Dante understands completely. Dante finishes up his poem by explaining we are not allowed this final solution to God’s visage because with a final burst of God’s love his memory disappeared.
Within God’s presence he was conscious of nothing but his own free will. Dante rejoices that his will was, for that brief moment, in complete harmony with God’s will.
– INDEX –