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.
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.
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.
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.
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.