"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Dante's Paradiso Cantos X - XIV, Summary

Canto X

At the sphere of the sun, the sphere of wisdom and learning, Dante (the author) provides a new introductory address to the reader, delineating a major segment in heaven’s divisions.  He has the reader raise his eyes to the heavenly wheel of the stars that are in motion, all the handiwork of a loving God.  Beatrice implores Dante (the character) to give thanks to He by His grace has allowed him here.  Dante, humbled, stands in wonder of the rings of flashing lights blinding brightness.  The lights are like dancing gems and one speaks out to him.  The light introduces himself as the Dominican Thomas Aquinas, and he will satisfy Dante’s thirst for understanding the encircling garland of lights.  In this garland there are twelve lights, each a spirit of a great and worthy theologian who brought wisdom with their learning.  He introduces each: (1) Albert the Great, (2) himself, Thomas Aquinas, (3) Francis Gration, (4) Peter Lombard, (5) King Solomon, the most beautiful light of the group, (6) Dionysius the Areopagite, (7) Paulus Orosius, (8) Severnius Boethius, (9) Isadore of Seville, (10) the Venerable Bede, (11) Richard of St. Victor, (12) Siger of Brabant.  As Thomas finishes speaking, Dante is overwhelmed with the beauty of the spinning wheel of stars and the celestial music that emanates. 

Canto XI

Still at the sphere of the sun, each spirit returns to their place inside the spinning wreath.  The same light who spoke before, Thomas Aquinas, speaks again.  He reads Dante’s thoughts where two doubts have formulated from what Thomas said in his catalogue of saints.  The first doubt will get addressed here but the second will have to wait until Canto XIII.  The first regards why God chose two guides to reinvigorate the Church and thereby “fatten” the sheep with grace.  Thomas will here speak on one of those guides.  He, the Dominican, chooses to speak of St. Francis of Assisi.  He describes how Francis rose like the sun and went against his father’s wishes to devote himself to lady Poverty.  Three seals were stamped on Francis.  The first when he severed his materialistic relationship with his father; the second when Pope Honorius officially approved the Franciscan Order; and third when God graced Francis with the stigmata.  It was St. Francis’ steadfast love and marriage to Lady Poverty and through the Franciscan Order’s devotion to her that strengthened not just the Order but all of Christendom.  Thomas goes on to conclude that his own Dominicans have lost their mendicant spirit and so have strayed rather than fatten spiritually.

Canto XII

As Thomas stops speaking, a second wreath of lights joins the first, replicating the first in motion and song, circling around Dante and Beatrice.  When the dance comes to an end, a voice speaks out from the new garland.  He says that heavenly love compels him to speak of that second guide that reinvigorated the Church, since the two guides were really twin knights.  He speaks of St. Dominic de Guzman, founder of the Order of Preachers, commonly known as the Dominicans, and as St. Francis was in love with Lady Poverty, St. Dominic was in love with Lady Faith.  The voice tells of Dominic’s noble but humble upbringing and his founding of an order based on learning and preaching against heresies and bringing the world the light of truth through his learned followers.  The voice concludes that Francis and Dominic were two wheels of a single chariot saving Christendom.  He laments how now the Franciscan friars of the current day have weakened in observance to their rule.  Finally the voice introduces himself as St. Bonaventure, the great Franciscan philosopher and mystic.  He introduces the spirits that reside in the second wreath, a garland of souls who in life were mystics.  Bonaventure is first followed by (2) Illuminato da Rieti, (3) Augustino, follower of St. Francis, (4) Hugh of St. Victor, (5) Petrus Comestor, (6) Petrus Hispanus, (7) Nathan the Old Testament prophet, (8) St. John Chrysotum, (9) St. Anselm, (10) Aelius Donatus, (11) Rabanus Maurus, (12) Joachim of Flora.

Canto XIII

Still at the sun, Dante (the author) asks the reader to reconfigure the two wreaths of twelve lights each into three constellations, the first of fifteen stars, the second of seven stars, and the third of two stars.  The music emanating from the whirling group of stars is a song praising the Trinity.  Then the song having ended, the voice of St. Thomas speaks again to answer Dante’s second doubt from back in Canto XI.  The doubt pertains on why St. Thomas regarded Solomon as the wisest person to have ever lived.  Thomas reads Dante’s mind and articulates what Dante is thinking.  Adam was created directly by God and resided in heaven, and Jesus was God Himself, so shouldn’t they have been wiser than Solomon?  Thomas agrees with both points and gives the theological foundations for them, but he goes on to clarify that Solomon was the wisest king to have ever lived.  The reason for this was because Solomon asked God for it.  He did not ask God for scholastic knowledge or philosophic knowledge or scientific knowledge or mathematical knowledge.  He specifically asked for practical, real world wisdom to properly administer his kingdom.  Thomas ends by cautioning Dante (the character) to not rush to judgement.  There are many truths we cannot fully comprehend with the limited knowledge we have on hand, and only fools make final judgements in that way.

Canto XIV

As the voice of Thomas goes silent and Beatrice starts to speak, Dante (the character) envisions two ripples of voices crossing each other (could Dante have known about sound waves?), one emanating from Thomas, the other from Beatrice.  Speaking to the garlands of light, Beatrice says to them that Dante will need to know what happens to the spirit’s light when the resurrection of the flesh occurs, and would the light shining from each soul damage the other’s sight.  The dancing lights react with sudden joy at the questions and burst out into a hymn to the Trinity.  The brightest of the lights, Solomon, speaks up in a humble voice to answer.  He says that when we put on the flesh again, now glorified, the brightness of the lights will actually increase because our personhood would now be complete.  The eyes of completed bodies will also have increased strength to accommodate the increased brightness.  At this, the garlands of light all chanted “Amen” in an apparent desire to receive their bodies back.  Then a third wreath of lights appears before them like the breath of the Holy Spirit, and in that increased glow Beatrice appeared more beautiful than ever.  In the midst of this light, the pilgrims rise up to the next sphere, Mars, a planet glowing red for the warriors of Christ.  Here the lights, unlike the wreaths in the previous sphere, are patterned in the shape of a cross.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Movie: Unplanned

There is a new pro-life movie coming out.  Praise heaven the pro-life cause is becoming more frequent.  Maybe we’re winning the war despite the several states that have recently expanded the legalized killing of the innocent.  Perhaps they’re expanding because they fear the pro-life message. 

Last fall I advocated for the Gosnell movie.  You can refresh your memory of my three posts on the subject here

The new movie is the biographical conversion story of Abby Johnson, the superstar pro-abortion manager of a slaughter institution who upon seeing the ultrasound of an abortion in process, witnessed the fetus’s struggle to resist.  Let me expand on that.  It wasn’t just an ultrasound of a child in the womb.  It was an abortion procedure being performed under an ultrasound because the doctor required visual confirmation of his motions.  In that moment, watching the fetus pull away from the instruments of slaughter, Abby Johnson realized all the justifications she had been told and had bought into were all a lie.  It was a lie the fetus was a human being.  It was a lie, the fetus did feel pain.  It was a lie the procedure was harmless.  In that split second moment, Abby Johnson went from a pro-abortion stalwart to pro-life.  It is an amazing story.

Here is the movie trailer.

And here is a half hour documentary on the making of the movie.  Parts of this had me in tears.  It’s worth watching the entire thing.

I plan to see the movie.  I plan to pray for its success, because its success is spreading what moves the heart, what changes the culture, and what saves innocent children’s lives.  So for this Lent, I hope you will too,

Friday, March 15, 2019

Faith Filled Friday: St. Polycarp’s Final Prayer

St.Polycarp is one of the earliest of the church fathers (69-155) and was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist.  He was born just after the martyrdom of saints Peter and Paul and he lived well into the second century.  He was martyred by being burned at the stake but his last words of prayer were recorded.  This is his prayer and makes a fitting read during Lent.

O Lord, Almighty God,
Father of your beloved and blessed Son, Jesus Christ,
Through whom we have received the perfect knowledge of you,
God of angels and hosts and of all creation
And of the whole race of saints
Who live under your eyes!
I bless you
Because you have seen fit to bestow on me
This day and hour,
That I may share, among the number of the martyrs,
The cup of your Anointed
And rise to eternal life
Both in soul and body,
In virtue of the immortality of the Holy Spirit.
May I be accepted among them in your sight today
As a rich and pleasing sacrifice,
Such as you, the true God that cannot utter a falsehood
Have prearranged, revealed in advance, and consummated.
And therefore I praise you for everything;
I bless you,
I glorify you
Through the eternal and heavenly High Priest
Jesus Christ,
Your beloved Son,
Through whom be glory to you
Together with Him and the Holy Spirit,
Both now and for the ages to come,


Sunday, March 10, 2019

Comments to Dante’s Paradiso, Cantos VI thru IX

The two full cantos on Mercury are fascinating and interconnected, though the connectivity is not apparent.  In Canto VI the Roman Emperor Justinian recounts the history of ancient Rome and links that history as an essential prerequisite to the advent and crucifixion of Christ.  God didn’t have to make it so, but He did for a reason.  In Canto VII we get a theological understanding of why God chose to have His incarnate Son undergo as a sacrificial offering as the means for the redemption of mankind.  On the surface there doesn’t seem to be any connection between the two cantos, but let’s look deeper.

Justinian (also known as Justinian I, also known as Justinian the Great) was emperor of Roman Empire from 527 to his death in 585.  If he had lived a hundred years before, he would have been known as Emperor of the Eastern Half of the Empire, and probably one of two emperors, one for the east and one for the west, but in 476 the western half collapsed and was run over by Germanic tribes and divided into individual kingdoms headed by Germanic rulers.  So Justinian was the sole emperor of what remained of the Roman Empire.  This eastern half would later be referred to as the Byzantine Empire, but even when it was referred to as such, its citizens referred to themselves as “Romanoi” or in English, Romans all the way to its final demise in 1453.  So the Roman Empire survived an incredible span from 27 BC to 1453 AD, some 1480 years.  And that doesn’t include the Roman Republic before the empire.

From Justinian’s point of view, the Roman west had only collapsed fifty years before, so it was within the realm of possibility to reconstitute its original integrity.  He assigned the job of conquering the lost lands to his great general, Belisarius (mentioned in line 25 of Canto VI), and he did a remarkable job gathering back at least half of what was lost.  By the time Justinian and Belisarius were done, they had incorporated back North Africa and the Italian peninsula.  Unfortunately troops were needed in the east to defend against the Persians and there just wasn’t enough manpower to recapture the rest of the west.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, or even in a lifetime, and Justinian wasn’t going to be able to reconstitute it in a lifetime.  Holding on to the recaptured lands would also be short lived after Justinian’s death because what held the empire together was a shared identity, and now the demographics of the old Roman west had their own specific Germanic identities.  Still Justinian’s accomplishment was stunning and ambitious, which is why Dante has him limited to the sphere of Mercury, for those who on earth overvalued ambition and justice over humility and mercy. 

Which brings us to Justinian’s other great accomplishment, the synthetization of the vast Roman law that had accumulated through the centuries, going back to Rome’s founding.  Justinian organized it and synthesized it into a harmonious up-to-date body of jurisprudence that came to be known as Corpus Juris Civilis, or sometimes referred to as the Code of Justinian.  This was perhaps just as a remarkable achievement as the conquests in the west, and it had a more lasting impact.  Most continental European law systems today are based on the Code of Justinian, as well as the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church.  It continues today to influence law systems, and so you can see why Dante places Justinian in the sphere of Mercury.

Now you can also see why Justinian is so important in Dante’s themes.  The Roman Empire in Dante’s view was critical to the advent of Christ and it showed the proper organization of human government and justice, which is one of Dante’s three overarching themes in the Divine Comedy.  Dante (the author) believed Justinian was so important that he has the character stretche from the end of Canto V all the way to the beginning of Canto VII.  Indeed he has Justinian be the sole, uninterrupted speaker of an entire canto (Canto VI), a privilege no other character is given, not Virgil, not even Beatrice.  Justinian’s canto is a recapitulation of Roman history and his life achievements, but they are cast in a theological framework which suggests so much more.

With that background, there’s no need to review Justinian’s scan of Roman history.  Its selectiveness is interesting, and one could probably do an essay on the significance of each detail he chooses to enumerate.  The symbol of the eagle as the Roman standard I believe is a motif that runs throughout the Commedia, and comes to a culmination further in Paradiso.  And we can see how Justinian’s Roman history culminates into the reigns of Augustus when Jesus is born and Tiberius when Jesus is crucified.  He goes on further in the history to the destruction of the Jewish Temple under Titus, which completes the double “vengeance” indicated in lines 92 and 93.  Personally I think “vengeance” here is a poorly chosen word but all the translations I’ve seen seem to use it.  Does God enact vengeance?  God enacts justice, but leave that as it may.  The double vengeance is the retribution to the Jews for having Christ crucified and the retribution to humanity for Adam’s sin. 

Then Justinian skips seven hundred years, including his reign and the realm of the Byzantine east, all the way to the crowning of Charlemagne as Holy Roman emperor.  It is important for Dante to get to Charlemagne because that is for him the reconstitution in the west of proper civil government.  With Charlemagne the Holy Roman Empire is established, and the politics of Dante’s day deal with the degeneration from that Holy Roman ideal, which were a reflection of the ancient Roman ideal, with the Ghibelline and Guelph factions.  The civil order of his time for Dante are a corruption of the Roman ideal.

But there’s more.  Dante (the author) has Justinian give a fascinating detail about himself which is actually not historically true.  So in referring to the “hard task” of synthesizing the ancient laws, Justinian says:

'Before I had set my mind to that hard task
I believed Christ had but a single nature,
and not a second, and was content in that belief.

'But the blessèd Agapetus,
the most exalted of our shepherds,
brought me to the true faith with his words.

'I believed him. What he held by faith
I now see just as clearly as you understand
that any contradiction is both false and true. (VI. 13-21)

Dante has Justinian claim that he believed Christ had only a single nature, the Monophysite heresy, that Christ had only one nature, not both God and man.  There is no historical evidence for this.  Now Dante was either under the wrong impression or took literary liberty here.  Either way, Dante did not have to include this detail, and if he consciously took literary leave then he intended to suggest something significant.  The various Germanic kingdoms that had taken over the western half of the empire believed in some form of Monophysitism, mostly Arianism, as Justinian says of himself.  With widespread Arianism we see a degeneration from orthodoxy.  But Justinian in the text claims that Agapetus, the Pope in Rome, converted him from the heresy.  So when Justinian creates the new law code and presumably sets Belisarius to reconstitute the old Roman Empire, he is in the orthodox belief of Christ’s two natures of both man and God.

When we get to Canto VII and Beatrice explains why God chose to redeem mankind through His incarnated Son, Dante (the author) has established a number of dualities.  We are ready then for the central tenet of Christianity to be presented:

As a result, for centuries the human race
lay sick in an abyss of error
until the Word of God chose to descend,

'uniting human nature, estranged now
from its Maker, with Himself in His own person
by a single act of His eternal Love.  (VII. 28-33)

First notice how the redemptive crucifixion occurs in line 33 of the poem.  Do you think that’s an coincidence?  Of course not.  With Beatrice’s “for centuries the human race/lay sick in an abyss of error,” she is recapitulating a history prior to Christ just as Justinian recapitulated in the previous canto.  The “abyss of error” is a decayed state from the Edenic ideal, of which God corrects with Christ, just as He corrects civil government with the formation of the Roman Empire.  And the two, Christ and the Empire, reach their pinnacle at the same moment in time.  Justice and mercy are coupled together here perfectly. 

Justinian then when he is converted from Monophysitism to orthodox Christianity is enlightened into the dual nature of Christ.  But notice who converts Justinian, the vicar of Rome, Christ’s representative on Earth.  So what we have is an ecclesiastical head coming in union with a civil head to formulate the ideal.  The two form a marriage of civil and ecclesiastical leadership.  Indeed there are a whole slew of dualities that run through these two cantos: God and man, Christ in His double nature, Pope and Emperor, justice and charity, heaven and earth, flesh and spirit, ambition and humility, religion and state, Christ and Tiberius, Guelph and Ghibelline.

The ideal for earthly governance for Dante then is a marriage of state and religion.  It is not a separation of religion and state, as we speak of today.  It is not an empowering of one over the other.  It is of an equal marriage, man and wife acting in concert, which is a reflection of Christ’s double nature of God and man.  It proposes justice and it proposes charity working in unison.  It is of heart and mind.  One leads its citizens to heaven while the other establishes a society so that its citizens can flourish to be worthy of heaven.

Which brings us to the decay of Dante’s day.  The Guelphs and Ghibellines are factions which side with one of the head entities, the Guelphs with the Pope, the Ghibellines with the Emperor.  The current state of Dante’s society has become one where a perverse fight for an immoral imbalance between what should be equal entities.  The theological abyss of error prior to Christ is now an abyss of error of civil governance.  The God willed Pax Romana stands as the ideal from which decay occurred on either side of its timeline. 


Some random thoughts on these cantos. 

Fading into the other dancing lights, Justinian sings:

            'Osanna, sanctus Deus sabaoth,
            superillustrans claritate tua
            felices ignes horum malacoth!' --  (VII.1-3)

Translation: “Hosanna, Holy God of hosts/who by Thy brightness doth illuminate from above/the happy fires of those realms.”  The integration of Hebrew and Latin words creates another duality, that of two languages.

This tercet needs to be highlighted in the Italian.

Io dubitava e dicea "Dille, dille!"
fra me, "dille" dicea, "a la mia donna
che mi diseta con le dolci stille."  (VII.10-12)

Italian is not known for alliteration but Dante decides to show off his skill here.  Hollander translates this as:

I was in doubt, saying to myself, 'Tell her,
tell her,' saying to myself, 'tell this to my lady,
who slakes my thirst with her sweet drops.'

Dante (the character) here is speaking to himself.  At this point he realizes Beatrice can read his mind so instead of speaking directly to her he speaks to himself to tell himself to let her know.  It’s rather playful by Dante (the author), both the alliterative flourish and babbling to oneself.

The third question in Canto VII is rather interesting.  Why do things that God creates degenerate and die?  I’ve never heard Beatrice’s explanation that direct creations are immortal while indirect die.  Has anyone?  It sounds like something that might come from St. Thomas Aquinas.  Or Dante made it up. 

How wonderful that Dante (the character) sees Beatrice turn more beautiful as they enter the planet Venus.

I had not been aware of rising to that star,
but was assured of being in it
when I observed my lady turn more beautiful. (VIII.13-15)

And when he enters Venus, as with the moon and Mercury, he sees dancing lights, which are spirits under that planet’s influence.  But I love the double simile he uses to describe it here:

And, as one sees a spark within a flame
or hears, within a song, a second voice,
holding its note while the other comes and goes,

so I saw within that light still other lights,
swifter and slower in their circling motions,
it seemed in measure to their inner sight. (VIII. 16-21)

As sparks inside a flame or a particular voice inside a chorus, so he sees singular lights inside the planetary light.

When one light drew near and spoke, he introduces the planetary spirits in the most loving way:

            Then one, alone, drew nearer and began:
             'All of us desire to bring you pleasure
             so that you may in turn delight in us. (VIII.31-33)

Have you ever had a friend or group of friends you just love to sit with and talk?  Each person in that group delights in each other’s company.  This is perfect friendship, and this is what the spirit is proposing.  Next time you find yourself in a delightful conversation with friends, notice how you brighten (metaphorically) just as those souls in paradise brighten (literally) in their conversations.

The spirit is Charles Martel, and as we said earlier, not the Charles Martel that was the King of the Franks and grandfather to Charlemagne, but one who lived some five hundred years later and apparently had been a friend of Dante.  Charles’ discourse on the nature of begetting a variety of children seems like a fitting subject for one on the planet of love.  But I have to admit it’s unclear to me what Charles did in his lifetime that would place him under the influence of Venus.  It doesn’t appear to be stated.

We are quite clear, however, why the next spirit who comes forward is under Venus.  Cunizza da Romano was a woman who I picture to be similar to Elizabeth Taylor, women who had many lovers and many husbands.  One of her lovers turns out to have been the poet Sordello who we met in Purgatorio.  But Cunizza apparently had a late in life conversion experience and not only reformed but gave away all her money and worldly possessions.

I think a wonderful comparison could be made between Cunizza and Francesca da Rimmi who with her adulterous lover Paolo were consigned in the second circle of hell, that of lust.  Cunizza had many lovers; Francesca but one.  Cunizza treated marriage like a stepping stone to power and wealth; Francesca was forced to marry for political reasons to a cripple.  Several of Cunizza’s lovers were used for personal gain; Francesca truly fell in love with Paolo.  Cunizza lived to an old age, giving her time to repent; Francesca was killed by her husband as a relatively young woman and suddenly, not having the time to repent.  Cunizza did truly repent; Francesca was hardened in the self-righteousness of her actions.  Cunizza is in heaven; Francesca is in hell.  “Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Heb 4:7, which is alluding to Ps 95:8).

The last light to step up to Dante in Venus is the spirit of Folco di Marsiglia, a bishop and so I assume why he is ruby red.  Folco had quite a history in his long life.  He was a love poet and a playboy, and so the rationale for being under the influence of Venus.  But he was also a Dominican friar when the order was just created by St. Dominic.  He was involved in combatting the Albigensian heresy, which is why Dominicans were first formed, but unlike St. Dominic Folco actually served as a soldier when the crusade to stomp out Albigensianism turned into a fighting war. 

When Dante (the character) first sees Folco, he sees him sparkle "in the bright rays of the sun" (l.69).  Which leads Dante to ponder:

There above, brightness is gained by joy,
as is laughter here, but down below
a shade shows dark when sadness clouds its mind. (IX.70-72)

That's an interesting tercet.  Above, meaning in heaven, joy makes one brighter; back on earth joy brings laughter, though personally I think I would translate "riso" here as smiles, joy brings us to smile.  But down below a shade grows darker when sad when he is made aware of his state.  As Hollander points out in the commentary of my translation, we never actually see that in Inferno.

Dante's address to Folco is startling:

'God sees all, and your sight is so in-Himmed,
blessèd spirit,' I said, 'that no wish of any kind
is able to conceal itself from you.

'Why then does your voice, which ever pleases Heaven,
together with the singing of those loving flames
that form their cowls from their six wings,

'not offer my desires their satisfaction?
I would not await your question
if I in-you'd me as you in-me'd you.' (IX.73-81)

It took me a while to understand that.  Dante is prodding, or perhaps lightly chiding, (does one chide in heaven?) Folco for not answering the question that are in Dante's thoughts, given that spirits in heaven can read minds.  He tells Folco that Folco's sight is "in-Himmed," meaning it works within the mind of God, and since God can read all minds, so then can Folco through God.  And then in the last two lines of that sequence Dante says, if the roles were reversed and he were in Folco's position and Folco in his, and Dante could read Folco's mind ("I in-me'd you") as he can read Dante's (you “in-you'd me") he would not be so tardy in answering.  This is great play both in poeticism and friendly jest.  Dante is creating these terms ("in-Himmed," "in-you'd," and "in-me'd" because this mind reading phenomena does not exist on earth, so there are no real language for it.  And how appropriate that one poet wordplays with another.

It is also fitting that the greatest spirit under Venus is Rahab, who though a prostitute aided Joshua (Book of Joshua) in the conquest of the Promised Land. She, like Cunizza and Folco, is redeemed by her actions.  Some have seen her as a prefiguring of Mother Mary in that she delivers Joshua into the Holy Land as the Virgin delivers Christ.  Interesting that Mary is an eternal Virgin and Rahab was a prostitute, a sort of inverse of each other.  Rahab is also listed in Matthew's genealogy as being in Jesus' lineage (Mat 1:5).

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Dante's Paradiso Cantos VI - IX, Summary

Canto VI

The soul who addressed Dante on arriving to Mercury delivers a monologue that lasts the entire canto.  This soul identifies himself as heir to the line of Caesars that governed the Roman Empire.  He is Justinian, the last of the Roman Emperors that tried to reconstitute the empire after the western half collapsed.  He answers to why he is under the sphere of Mercury with a long extended recapitulation of Roman history.  He cites Rome’s mythic founding, it’s early monarchy, it’s subsequent overthrow to establish the Republic, the defeat of foreign enemies, the collapse of the Republic, the establishment of the empire through the Caesars which created the conditions for the birth of Christ, the destruction of the Jewish Temple, and ultimately the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire under Charlemagne.  Justinian then explains how the political parties of Dante’s day, the Ghibellines and the Guelphs, are poor successors to the Roman past.  He explains how the souls under the sphere of Mercury worked for justice during their lifetime but fell short of charity.  Justinian’s reign was known for synthesizing and perfecting Roman law.  Finally Justinian introduces a neighboring spirit, Romeo di Villanove, a man who during his later years was cast into exile. 

Canto VII

Justinian still speaking breaks into a bilingual song intertwining Hebrew and Latin.  He recedes into the group of dancing spirits, leaving Dante (the character) unanswered two questions he was about to ask.  Beatrice, glowing with a radiant smile, answers them.  The first question pertains to the double nature of Christ’s crucifixion in that it was both blasphemy to kill God and redemptive for mankind.  The second question pertains to why God in all His possibilities chose the death of His son as the means to redemption.  Since the Edenic fall was the result of a man’s act (Adam), it was most fitting that the redemption should come through the act of another man.  But since mankind lacked the ability to pay this exorbitant debt, God in His generosity would pay it but would pay it through the sacrificial death of His incarnate son, and thereby satisfy the fitting redemption through mankind.  Beatrice, anticipating a third question, answers why what God creates degenerate and die, even though God Himself is eternal and perfect.  It is because God creates things both directly and indirectly.  Those that are created directly do not die and those indirectly do.  Man’s soul, which is eternal, is a direct creation of God breathing into each individual.

Canto VIII

Without any sense of awareness, Dante is transported to the next sphere, Venus.  This is the planet associated with the pagan goddess of love.  Once within the sphere Dante sees that Beatrice glows brighter and even more beautiful than before.  A group of dancing lights come before them singing “Hosanna,” and one light steps up to speak.  He, Charles Martel, describes himself as having died young, a man who Dante once knew and had affection for.  In his short life, Charles was the ruler of Hungary and other parts of southern Europe.  He contrasts his good rule against that of his brother, Robert, King of Naples, who was a greedy ruler and a collaborator with the Pope against the Holy Roman Emperor.  Dante asks how such a good father—that of Charles and Robert—produce such a bad son?  Charles answers that God created and guides the universe to influence the people on earth but also created diverse people with free will.  Children would be the same as their parents but because God shapes their lives differently and because they respond differently to stimuli, men become different than their parents, and so yield different fruit.  Not all take up professions that fit one’s talents.  It behooves a person, then, to find a profession or state that fits their natural gifts.

Canto IX

Still on Venus, Dante (the character) speaks to Clemenza, Charles’ wife or daughter (it’s unclear) and says that time will bring retribution for those that did her family wrong.  Another splendor moves forward to tell Dante she was from a “degenerate” part of Italy in the northeast where her brother, Ezzelino da Romano scourged the region.  She is Cunniza da Romano who had a long list of love affairs and marriages and who ultimately found contrition and made up for her indiscretions.  She goes on to provide three prophecies: the battle of Vicenza, the death of Riccardo de Camino, and the betrayal of the Forrarese brothers by the bishop of Feltre.  As she fades back, another spirit moves forward to speak, Folquet de Marseilles, known as Folco.  A onetime love poet and perhaps a playboy who renounced his worldly life to first become a friar, then an abbott, and finally a bishop, he was deeply involved in the Albigensian crusade.  He speaks of the brightest splendor who resides under the influence of Venus, that is, the Old Testament prostitute, Rahab, who aided Joshua in his conquest of the Holy Land.  Folco goes on to lament the sad state of Florence where churchmen all seek to enrich themselves.  He goes on to prophesy that the Vatican will soon be free of this sin.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Matthew Monday: Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade

On St. Patrick’s Day, New York City holds what I’ve heard is the largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world.  Staten Island, one of five boroughs of New York City but only 6% of the city population, has such a large Irish-American contingency it holds its own parade.  But to avoid interfering with the big parade, it holds its own St. Patrick’s Day parade a couple of weeks before. 

Most grammar schools don’t march in the parade, Catholic or not, but a woman at Matthew’s school signed the school up this year.  It was not coordinated with the school, so only four parents and their children showed up.  My wife, who is friends with the woman who signed us up, was one, and so Matthew, my wife, and I marched.  It was a lot of fun.  I’ve got some pictures and video clips to share.

The route is a good mile and a half long, and mostly with a sloping downhill grade.  However, someone had to park the car at the end of the route and then walk up to the starting point.  You guessed it, that was me!  So I walked it twice, and the first time was with the sloping uphill grade. 

Here we are at the grouping place.  There’s about a dozen of us. 

The hardest part of the entire day was the waiting.  I dropped the two off at ten thirty.  We didn’t start marching until a quarter to two, over three hours.  As you can imagine, the kids (and the parents, truth to tell) got restless.

There was snow on the ground.  Here’s a picture of Matthew eyeing a snowball retaliation.

And when I said the kids were restless, here’s a picture of one of Matthew’s school friends giving him a good swift punch.

Off on the march holding the school banner.

Here’s a look down Forest Avenue. 

We were at the back of the parade.  Most of the floats and large groups of school bands were way ahead.

Right behind us were a bagpipe group, and they played some beautiful Irish marching music.  I think they were called the United Gaelic Pipe Band.

Here’s a sample of their playing.

As you may have noticed, ahead of us was a Bassett Hound group or club which provided us some entertainment. 

They were really cute.  Here’s a few pictures.


Here’s another movie clip as we walk by the dignitary stand with the Parade Marshall.

Not all the kids got to walk.  Some got rides.

And finally a picture of all our kids at the end of the route.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Comments to Dante’s Paradiso, Cantos I thru V

The most important theological concept in these first few cantos I think is this inequality of graces that are distributed and attained.  And what I think makes it difficult to grasp, at least for me, is the multifaceted nature of it.  Let’s look at the several suggestions in the text.  First is right in the opening lines:

The glory of Him who moves all things
pervades the universe and shines
in one part more and in another less.

I was in that heaven which receives
more of His light. He who comes down from there
can neither know nor tell what he has seen,

for, drawing near to its desire,
so deeply is our intellect immersed
that memory cannot follow after it.  (Par. I.1-9)

So right at the beginning we see that God’s light permeates “in one part more and in another less.”  This appears to suggest that there is an uneven distribution of blessings.  Later in the canto Dante states “The lamp of the world rises on us mortals/at different points” (ll. 37-38) which on the surface is a simple statement of astronomical fact, but as you read further down it makes you wonder if Dante implies more.  The bright heavenly light shines into Beatrice, and Beatrice turns toward her left (l. 46) to fully face the sun, and the rays bounce off her and return to the heavens,  Dante peering into her eyes is a recipient of the light and through her can see the glory of the sun.  And then:

Much that our powers here cannot sustain is there
allowed by virtue of the nature of the place
created as the dwelling fit for man.

I could not bear it long, yet not so brief a time
as not to see it sparking everywhere,
like liquid iron flowing from the fire. (ll. 55-60)

Light is clearly more than just the external energy we experience but in the poem a symbol of God’s grace.  So he was allowed to receive this grace because he is up in heaven and not on earth, so location does seem to make a difference, but even here he could only sustain it for a “brief time.”  Again by itself, I don’t think it reaches a complete theological point, but it is accumulating force. 

Let’s continue.  And then in Canto II we get the discourse on varying spots of the moon.  Dante believes it has to do with density and rarity but Beatrice first refutes him and goes on with her experiment of three mirrors:

‘Take three mirrors, placing two at equal distance
from you, letting the third, from farther off,
also meet your eyes, between the other two.

‘Still turned to them, have someone set,
well back of you, a light that, shining out,
returns as bright reflection from all three.

‘Although the light seen farthest off
seems smaller in its size, still you will observe
that it must shine with equal brightness.

‘Now, as the substantial form of snow,
if struck by warming rays, is then deprived
both of its former color and its cold,

‘I shall now reshape your intellect,
thus deprived, with a light so vibrant
that your mind will quiver at the sight. (II. 97-111)

The location of the mirror is critical to the size of the source, and the further from the source, the less the intensity.  Also important here is how the recipient reacts to the light.  Just as snow melts from sunlight, so does one’s mind and intellect get reshaped by the light.  She goes on to explain that the source of light is behind it all and His light moves the varying spheres, which direct their distinctive influence across the universe for His purpose.  Ultimately this reaches the individual:

‘And the heaven made fair by all these lights
takes its stamp from the intellect that makes it turn,
making of itself the very seal of that imprinting.

‘And as the soul within your dust
is distributed through the different members,
conforming to their various faculties,

‘so angelic intelligence unfolds its bounty,
multiplied down through the stars,
while revolving in its separate oneness.  (II. 130-138)

It is from this “imprinting” of heavenly light that we receive grace and influence from above.  But that is still not the complete picture because a “stamping” would eliminate the free will.  “The soul within [the] dust”—that is the fundamental element of ones being—varies in faculty, and so reacts individually to that light.  Just so the moon spots.  They are reacting differently to the light.

So to sum up here, Dante is trying to capture the immense complexity of God working His will while we individuals maintain our free will.  Light, allegorically standing for grace, does not permeate evenly through the universe, and we the receptacle of that grace do not process it equally. 

We can then see it worked out in Canto III with the character of Piccarda.  She is under the influence of the moon because she has been inconstant in her vow to be a nun.  Unfortunately her brother, Corso, forced her out of the convent to marry for his political advantage.  She did not want to break her vow, but was forced to.  Same goes for her neighbor in this sphere, Constanza, ironically named because she was inconstant.  Constanza too was forced out of her convent against her will to marry the Holy Roman Emperor. 

Later, Dante (the character) in Canto IV asks Beatrice—actually more precisely intends to ask but Beatrice can read his mind and articulates it before he does—about the justice of these two spirits limited from the highest spheres of heaven because they were forced to break their vows against their will.  Beatrice clarifies:

No, all adorn the highest circle –
\but they enjoy sweet life in differing measure
as they feel less or more of God’s eternal breath.

‘Those souls put themselves on view here
not because they are allotted to this sphere
but as sign of less exalted rank in Heaven.  (IV. 34-39)

There is no injustice.  All saved souls reside in the highest circle, but they experience God’s breath (another metaphor for grace) “in different measure.”  They are here at the moon because they are “of a less exalted rank.”  This explains why the two spirits are in this sphere but it still doesn’t quite answer why a forced broken vow is inconstant.  Beatrice explains this further down in a beautiful simile:

‘For the will, except by its own willing, is not spent,
but does as by its nature fire does in flame,
though violence may force it down one thousand times.

‘Thus, if it stays bent, whether much or little,
it then accepts that force, as indeed did these,
since they could have retreated to their holy place.  (IV. 76-81)

The human will is like a flame striving upward.  If force attempts to curb it, it will either be indomitable or it will acquiesce.  There is here a subtle difference between those that resist the force and those that accept the force.  Beatrice goes on to contrast Piccarda and Constanza against St. Lawrence and Gaius Mucius Scaevola.  Someone constant will finds a way to keep their vow or dies trying. 

Each person, then, has a different capacity to receive God’s grace, which shines unequally on people.  So is the notion of unequal capacity for grace theologically sound?  St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians outlines the differences in abilities between humans:

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.  To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.  To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit; to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues.  But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.  (1 Cor 12: 4-11)

Dante aesthetically reformulates St. Paul’s differences of gifts into his influences of the spheres.  And so we will see that each sphere has a gift associated with it.  Jupiter for just rulers, Mercury for ambition, the sun for wisdom, and so on.  What about the notion that everyone receives varying degrees of light, and therefore grace?  Yes, that is Church doctrine.  God provides sufficient grace to all to attain salvation, but it is not equally distributed.  And what about the notion that each individual can only hold so much grace?  Well, look at Luke 1:28 where the angel Gabriel addresses the Blessed Virgin, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.”  If Our Lady is “full of grace,” then others are not “full.”  In Dante’s anthropology, then, humans are like cups—receptacles—holding quantities of God’s grace, some bigger, some smaller, some full, some not so full.  Picture the Blessed Mother as being one supersized cup filled to the top.  Perhaps then someone like St. Francis of Assisi is a large cup, maybe three-quarters full.  Someone like Piccarda is a regular sized cup maybe just half full.  Now perhaps sinner me is probably only a small whiskey shot glass perhaps only a quarter full.  ;)

If you’ve understood this concept, I think you’ve understood one of the most difficult concepts in the Paradiso.


Some random observations.

In the middle of the first canto, in answering Dante’s question on why he is able to move through matter, Beatrice makes what I think is a statement that captures the aesthetics of the entire Divine Comedy:

‘All things created have an order
in themselves, and this begets the form
that lets the universe resemble God.  (Par. I. 103-105)

All things have a reason for their form, which in turn is an image of God.  So too does the Commedia, an order built on the form of logical patterns—spiraling circles downward for hell based on justice, rising ringlets upward in heaven built on levels of grace.  The form of the book is the form of the universe, which resembles God.

In that passage, Beatrice in explaining why Dante is moving upward, she describes the bent of natural inclination, either upward or downward.

‘In that order, all natures have their bent
according to their different destinies,
whether nearer to their source or farther from it.

‘They move, therefore, toward different harbors
upon the vastness of the sea of being,
each imbued with instinct that impels it on its course.

‘This instinct carries fire toward the moon,
this is the moving force in mortal hearts,
this binds the earth to earth and makes it one. (I. 109-117)

Each created thing will move toward its destiny, and the created thing of man is like the flame is designed to move upward toward God like flame moves toward the moon.  She goes on to explain why not all move souls move upward.

It is true that as a work will often fail
correspond to its intended form, its matter
deaf and unresponsive to the craftsman’s plan,

‘so sometimes a creature, having the capacity
to swerve, will, thus impelled, head off another way,
in deviation from the better course

‘and, just as sometimes we see fire
falling from a cloud, just so the primal impulse,
diverted by false pleasure, turns it toward earth. (I. 127-135)

So given free will (“having the capacity/to swerve) man does not always choose to respond “to the craftsman’s plan.”  The “primal impulse” to go upward is perverted.  Sin therefore pulls us down.  The natural state of man is really to go up. 

See how this works in the conceptualizations of hell, purgatory, and heaven?  When one is fixed in sin, one spirals downward to ones fixed level of justice in hell.  The climb up the mountain of purgatory is the struggle to dispose of this sin and find one’s true natural state.  Once one reconfigures to the state one was intended, one rises to its heavenly position.

The workings of heaven are such that the spirits have very little definition.  When Dante first sees Piccarda and the other spirits in the moon, it seems to him that they are vague reflections.  He describes them as such.

As through clear, transparent glass
or through still and limpid water,
            not so deep that its bed is lost from view,

the outlines of our faces are returned
so faint a pearl on a pallid forehead
comes no less clearly to our eyes,

I saw many such faces eager to speak,
at which I fell into the error opposite to that
which inflamed a man to love a fountain.  (Par. III. 10-18)

The outlines of their faces are so faint that their heads I think look like pearls.  That is interesting.  What we’ll find is that each character’s features get less distinguishable the further into heaven Dante travels.  In a few spheres further in, the characters will be no more than just lights.  Dante later points out to Piccarda how her face shines forth.

Then I said to her: ‘From your transfigured faces
shines forth a divinity I do not know,
and it transforms the images I can recall.  (III. 58-60)

So those in heaven have achieved a “transfiguration” and the shine is of the measure of grace.  No wonder as Dante goes further into paradise the character’s faces, actually their entire bodies, have a more intense glow.

I guess the outline of Piccarda’s face is clear enough to see her smile when Dante asks her if she is content with the lowest level of paradise.  She smiles when she answers him.  The facial smile is certainly a leitmotif in these early cantos.  In addition to Piccarda here, Beatrice smiles twice in these cantos (lines I.95, III.25).  Recall how at the end of Purgatorio after Dante receives absolution he can now look into Beatrice’s face and sees her second beauty, her smile.  This was associated with love.  And there is much more smiling in heaven.  Hollander in his notes points out that Paradiso refers to twice as many smiles as in Purgatorio, and I don’t believe there were any in Inferno.

Piccarda’s answer to Dante about being content is a well-known passage, and warrants quoting the entire speech.

Brother, the power of love subdues our will
so that we long for only what we have
and thirst for nothing else.

‘If we desired to be more exalted,
our desires would be discordant
with His will, which assigns us to this place.

‘That, as you will see, would not befit these circles
if to be ruled by love is here required
and if you consider well the nature of that love.

‘No, it is the very essence of this lessed state
that we remain within the will of God,
so that our wills combine in unity.

‘Therefore our rank, from height to height,
throughout this kingdom pleases all the kingdom,
as it delights the King who wills us to His will.

‘And in His will is our peace.
It is to that sea all things move,
both what His will creates and that which nature makes.’ (III.70-87)

The power of love subdues our will so that our blessed state depends on God’s will, and “in His will is our peace.”  St. Thomas Aquinas defines love as wanting the best for the other person.  We see it here in action.  Wanting others to have the highest grace is more important than we achieving the highest.  There is no envy, even though Piccarda was denied a higher place because of her brother’s despicable action and not through of her fault.