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

Monday, April 29, 2019

Notable Quote: Blood and Fire by St. Catherine of Siena

Today, April 29th is the feast day of St. Catherine of Siena, the patron saint of this blog.  I take this quote from today’s “Meditation of the Day” in Magnificat.  It is put along side the passage John 3:18, where Christ tell Nicodemus that he must be born again by water and spirit.
I remember what Jesus once said to one of his servants.  She asked, “Once you were dead, why did you want your side to be opened and to pour out such a torrent of blood?”  And he said, “There are many reasons, but I will tell you two important ones.  First of all, I wanted this because by having my side opened I showed you the secret of my heart.  For my heart held more love for humankind than any external physical act could show.  The other reason was the baptism that was given to the human race because of the merits of my blood.”  You know that he poured out blood and water.  The water was Christian baptism, which gives us the life and form of grace, and which divine eternal Goodness provided through the merits of the blood of the Lamb as a remedy for our poverty and ignorance.
And for those who might not be able to have baptism by water, he instituted the baptism of blood and fire.  Their blood would be their baptism, as it was for the holy innocents.  It would have for them because of the blood of God’s Son; I mean the martyr’s blood had and still has worth because of his blood.
There is more, but I’ll only quote the first two paragraphs. She is such a brilliant woman, self-educated, self-motivated. I have no idea who she is referring to that's Jesus' servant who asks him the question, or where she gets Christ's response. Magnificat cites from The Letters of Catherine of Siena, Vol 1, Suzanne Noftke, O.P. translator.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Faith Filled Friday: The Exultet

As a short read at the Catholic Thought Book Club, we read “The Exultet,” the long Eucharistic Prayer and Blessing of the Paschal Candle that is prayed at the Easter Vigil Mass.  Here it is in its entirety:

Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven,
exult, let Angel ministers of God exult,
let the trumpet of salvation
sound aloud our mighty King's triumph!
Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,
ablaze with light from her eternal King,
let all corners of the earth be glad,
knowing an end to gloom and darkness.
Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice,
arrayed with the lightning of his glory,                 (10)
let this holy building shake with joy,
filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.
(Therefore, dearest friends,
standing in the awesome glory of this holy light,
invoke with me, I ask you,
the mercy of God almighty,
that he, who has been pleased to number me,
though unworthy, among the Levites,
may pour into me his light unshadowed,
that I may sing this candle's perfect praises.)             (20)
(V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with your spirit.)
V. Lift up your hearts.
R. We lift them up to the Lord.
V. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
R. It is right and just.
It is truly right and just, with ardent love of mind and heart
and with devoted service of our voice,
to acclaim our God invisible, the almighty Father,
and Jesus Christ, our Lord, his Son, his Only Begotten.  (30)
Who for our sake paid Adam's debt to the eternal Father,
and, pouring out his own dear Blood,
wiped clean the record of our ancient sinfulness.
These, then, are the feasts of Passover,
in which is slain the Lamb, the one true Lamb,
whose Blood anoints the doorposts of believers.
This is the night,
when once you led our forebears, Israel's children,
from slavery in Egypt
and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea.  (40)
This is the night
that with a pillar of fire
banished the darkness of sin.
This is the night
that even now, throughout the world,
sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices
and from the gloom of sin,
leading them to grace
and joining them to his holy ones.
This is the night,                                                          (50)
when Christ broke the prison-bars of death
and rose victorious from the underworld.
Our birth would have been no gain,
had we not been redeemed.
O wonder of your humble care for us!
O love, O charity beyond all telling,
to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!
O truly necessary sin of Adam,
destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!
O happy fault                                                            (60)
that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!
O truly blessed night,
worthy alone to know the time and hour
when Christ rose from the underworld!
This is the night
of which it is written:
The night shall be as bright as day,
dazzling is the night for me,
and full of gladness.
The sanctifying power of this night                          (70)
dispels wickedness, washes faults away,
restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners,
drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.
On this, your night of grace, O holy Father,
accept this candle, a solemn offering,
the work of bees and of your servants’ hands,
an evening sacrifice of praise,
this gift from your most holy Church.
But now we know the praises of this pillar,
which glowing fire ignites for God's honor,                (80)
a fire into many flames divided,
yet never dimmed by sharing of its light,
for it is fed by melting wax,
drawn out by mother bees
to build a torch so precious.
O truly blessed night,
when things of heaven are wed to those of earth,
and divine to the human.
Therefore, O Lord,
we pray you that this candle,                                 (90)
hallowed to the honor of your name,
may persevere undimmed,
to overcome the darkness of this night.
Receive it as a pleasing fragrance,
and let it mingle with the lights of heaven.
May this flame be found still burning
by the Morning Star:
the one Morning Star who never sets,
Christ your Son,
who, coming back from death's domain,             (100)
has shed his peaceful light on humanity,
and lives and reigns for ever and ever.
R. Amen.

First, to learn about the Exultet, you can get the history here at New Advent,  and learn its significance from Fr. Michael J. Flynn at the USCCB site, here.   

Allow me to provide a short analysis of the beautiful prayer.  Fr. Flynn speaks about the first section.  Let’s look at all the sections.  I divide the major sections into six. 

The first section is the rejoicing, comprising up through the first twelve lines.  We are here to exult, to “shout aloud” our “mighty King’s triumph” over death, over “gloom and darkness.”   

The next section, lines twelve through twenty I take to be the central theme of the prayer.  We are here to invoke God in His mercy to “pour into me [the deacon or priest performing the ceremony] his light unshadowed” so that he can sing of the “candle’s perfect praises.”  It’s quite interesting that what I take to be the central theme is in parentheses. 

The third section, by far the longest, stretches from line 21 “(V. The Lord be with you.” through line 54, “had we but been redeemed.”  I call this section the Acclamation of Redemption both through the Passover and the Crucifixion.  This section is characterized by the rhetorical repetition called anaphora of “This is the night.”  This is the night when we mystically link back to the Passover, where God’s children were freed from bondage, and back to the Crucifixion, where humanity was freed from the debt of sin, otherwise known as the Redemption. 

The fourth section, from line 55, “O wonder of your humble care for us!” through 73, “drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty” explains what the sanctifying power of redemption has done, that is, “destroyed completely” Adam’s sin “by the death of Christ.”

The fifth section, from line 74, “On this, your night of grace, O holy Father” through line 88, “and divine to the human” is the gift offering of the candle to God on this night “when things of heaven are wed to those of earth.”  How beautiful.

And finally the last section from line 89, “Therefore, O Lord” through the end is the consecration of the candle, so that as Christ has overcome death, the candle’s light will overcome darkness.  The prayer asks to mingle the candle’s light with the lights of heaven. 

Finally, here is the Exultet sung. 


Monday, April 22, 2019

Matthew Monday: Easter Sunday Alleluia

Another Easter come and gone.  Yesterday at Mass as part of the children’s choir, Matthew was asked to do the Alleluia.  The Alleluia has one of the few solos for choir at Mass, so he was excited.  Others might get nervous, but he was eager.  And he was so proud, so for a change he made sure he was spiffily dressed.  My wife got him a tie, a real tie, not a clip on, and he had me tie the knot and I slipped it over his head.  He had a new belt and dress shirt and he had his mother put on hair spray to keep his hair perfect.  First, here’s a picture of him before Mass.

Second, the altar was beautifully decorated for Easter.  Here are a couple of pictures.  First the entire altar.

And a close up of the left side lectern with the statue of the Risen Christ placed near it.  That was specially brought up for Easter.

Finally here’s Matthew with his Celtic Alleluia. 

That man in the video in the green shirt told me after Mass how wonderful Matthew does the Alleluia.  He really does.  

Friday, April 19, 2019

Faith Filled Friday: The Way of the Cross over the Brooklyn Bridge

Today, arguably the holiest day of the year, as my custom now for the last five years, I participated in the annual Way of the Cross over the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s a sort of mini Stations of the Cross procession, we only do five stations, but the distanced walked is about two and three quarter miles.  It starts in Brooklyn at the St. James Cathedral-Basilica, and then the pilgrimage ensues by crossing over the Brooklyn Bridge, stops at Manhattan’s City Hall, stops at the World Trade Center, and concludes at lower Manhattan’s St. Peter’s Church.  It’s organized by local chapter of the Communion and Liberation Movement, which is a Catholic religious organization of religious and lay members.  Fr. Richard Veras seems to be the primary coordinator, though I don’t know if that is his role.  Fr. Veras was the pastor at my parish, St. Rita’s on Staten Island, for a number of years but has moved on.  He has published a number of books and is a monthly contributor to Magnificat magazine.

The form of the events has not changed in the five years.  I detailed them in my 2014 entry, which you can read here.    

I didn’t take a lot of pictures this year.  It was overcast.  But here’s one picture of the procession ahead of me on the Brooklyn Bridge. 

You can see how far long pilgrimage of people ahead of me, and I was toward the front.  The local news lists us in the hundreds, but it seems more to my non-expert eye.

I was able to film one of the pieces sung by the wonderful—and I do mean wonderful with no exaggeration—Communion and Liberation choir.  At the St. James Cathedral, they sing “Go to Dark Gethsemane.”  Let me preface, for some reason my camera just would not focus on the choir.  The video is blurred but I did capture the singing.

We passed a little garden as you come off the Brooklyn Bridge on the Manhattan side and the tulips were in bloom. 

And of course we passed the new Liberty Tower at the World Trade Center.  I don’t know what that weird sculpture is out in front, but who understands modern art?

Finally we made the news.  Here’s a video clip.

I hope you had a blessed Good Friday.  

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Comments to Dante’s Paradiso, Cantos XV thru XVIII

Throughout what must be hundreds of characters that appear in La Commedia, Dante (the author) never brings in a single family member nor does he mention any, all except for one.  He doesn’t mention his wife nor any of his three children.  We never hear of a father or mother or siblings.  We hear of many father figures, men who in some respect “fathered” Dante.  The work of literature Dante most revered, Virgil’s Aeneid, had at its heart a trip to the underworld by the protagonist, Aeneas, to locate his father Anchises, to ask for some key advice about his future.  Here in this epic of a journey through the underworld, Dante (the author) never has Dante (the character) seek or encounter his father.  The theme of fatherhood being so important in the work, in lieu of encountering and speaking to his father, Dante has Dante encounter his great great-grandfather, Cacciaguida degli Elisei right in center of his third cantica, Paradiso.

Dante (the author) makes it quite clear that Cacciaguida is almost a parallel character to Anchises.  At the moment when Cacciaguida steps up to great his descendant, an allusion is made to the affectionate greeting Anchises gives Aeneas. 

With such affection did Anchises' shade reach out,
if our greatest muse is owed belief,
when in Elysium he knew his son. (XV. 25-27)

And so Cacciaguida greets Dante with much fatherly love.  Indeed, he greets him with pride.  He speaks in Latin, the only Latin tercet in the entire poem.  The Latin connects to Virgil’s work, and to an ancestry that goes back to the Roman Empire.  He says, “O blood of mine, O grace of God, poured down from above, to whom, as to you, have the gates of heaven ever been opened twice?”  He is proud that his blood descendent has been chosen by God to be the only person to ever enter heaven twice.  The pride blossoms just before he finally introduces himself: “O bough of my tree, in who I have rejoiced/even in expectation, I was your root.” (88-89). 

I don’t know what, if any is the significance of Cacciaguida’s name—and for some reason I have never seen any commentary on it—but Cacciaguida literally translates into “hunting guide.”  Perhaps it’s just the real name of his great great-grandfather, and so it doesn’t carry any significance.  But it is just too convenient and smacks of suggestion.  However, I can’t come up with any allusion or significance.  It’s a great name, having a sort of reverence and dignity, a sort of Hemingway-esk patriarch.  A masculine name.

That his character spans from Canto XV through the first half of XVIII, three and a half cantos, certainly suggests significance.  Also he gives his key advice right at the center of Paradiso, Canto XVII having sixteen cantos before it and sixteen cantos after it.  It is in Canto XVII, the exact center, that Cacciaguida tells of Dante’s fate in exile.  He is under the sphere of Mars, the fifth of the ten spheres of heaven.  Virgil has Aeneas meet with Anchises in the sixth of twelve books of the Aeneid, also exactly mid-way.  Having your protagonist meet with a lost father at the center of the structure to seek out wisdom is a powerful story element.  It is akin to a hero climbing a mountain or wandering through a desert to seek wisdom from some venerable sage who will set him on the right path.  When that sage happens to be your father, then all sorts of family dynamics and ancestry are intermingled. 

Cacciaguida says that he has read into The Book of Life and learned of his descendant’s history and knows his fate. 

And he went on: 'That long and welcome craving,
derived from reading in the massive book
where neither black nor white is ever altered,

'you have satisfied, my son, within this light
from which I speak to you by grace of her
who dressed you out in wings for this high flight. (XV.49-54)

By parsing through the various details of Cacciaguida’s monologue, we can piece together that he was born in 1090 in Florence, baptized in the Baptistery od San Giavanni, belonged to one of the oldest of Florentine families which traced its roots to Roman times, was knighted by the Emperor as he joined the Second Crusade, and was killed in action on crusade at the age of 57 in the year of 1147 trying to retake the Holy Land.  Since the Divine Comedy is set in the year 1300, Cacciaguida has been dead for 153 years, some six generations.

A poignant moment in the encounter is when Dante calls Cacciaguida his father.

I began: 'You are my father,
You prompt me to speak with bold assurance.
You raise me up, so I am more than I.

'My mind is flooded by such rivers of delight
that it exults it has not burst
with so much happiness and joy. (XVI.16-21)

Dante goes on to ask about his ancestors.  It is interesting that though Cacciaguida alludes to his noble ancestry, he refuses to answer Dante’s question on who his ancestors were (XVI.43). Why?  I’m not sure.  Perhaps it was just structural.  This would have been tangential and perhaps even a digression, and Dante (the author) didn’t have the space to dwell on it.  The suggestion was enough.

But he directly calls him  “his father” with such affection and joy, a burst of emotion that in human relationship is unparalleled.  My father has been deceased now for over twelve years.  What I would give to meet with him again.

Indeed, Cacciaguida is the culmination of the father theme that has run throughout the Commedia.  He speaks in three tongues, Latin (XV.28-30), a tongue Dante (the character) could not understand (XV.38-39), which could be a proto-Italian, and finally ”not in this our modern tongue” (XVI.33), which would suggest an earlier dialect.  So from Latin to early Italian, Cacciaguida spans over a thousand years of language evolution.  Dante (the author) who is so conscious of writing his poem in the colloquial language, has Cacciaguida encapsulate Italian’s etymology.  In effect his language is the great-grandfather of Italian.

Hollander cites that throughout the Divine Comedy, Dante directly refers to seven beings as “father”:  Virgil, God the Father, Cacciaguida here, St. Benedict, St. Peter, Adam, and St. Bernard.  The last four we encounter further into heaven, and so we get a sense of a journey to one’s father.  In addition to the direct addresses as fathers, Dante refers to five other beings as fathers: Brunetto Latini, Cato, the old Roman stoic, Guido Guinizzelli, St. Francis of Assisi, and the Sun.  Twelve fathers in all, a number which has much significance, one being the number of Jesus’ disciples.  Virgil and Guinizzelli are his poetic fathers, Latini his father in scholarship and learning, Cato his father in being a citizen, St. Francis for being his Franciscan father (Dante being a Lay Franciscan), the other saints for being his spiritual fathers, Adam for being his father in humanity, God for being the ultimate Father, and the Sun as analogous for God.

The search for one’s father is the search for identity, and Dante will find it in Cacciaguida.


So why doesn’t Dante (the author) have Dante (the character) meet his father in paradise instead of his great great-grandfather?  Well, the obvious answer would be that his father didn’t die in a crusade, and so wouldn’t fit the sphere of Mars.  But it’s more than that.  We don’t know of any rancor that may have occurred between Dante and his father that might have prevented Dante from including him in his cast.  But Dante is definitive in not including any of his immediate family anywhere in the Commedia.  The character of Cacciaguida, going back over 150 years, provided Dante (the author) with a number of advantages.  First he can create the character as he wishes, since no one knows what he was like.  Second, he’s free of any family dynamics, though I can’t see Dante really being worried of that.  Third, and most important—if not the single most important reason—Cacciaguida’s distance in history allows for a summation of Florence’s degeneration from an ideal past.

It is worthwhile to look at the transitions in the three and a half cantos with Cacciaguida.  (1) We meet Cacciaguida (Canto XV.25-87), (2) Cacciaguida speaks on the virtues of old Florence (XV.88-129), (3) Cacciaguida reveals his history (XV.130-148), (4) Cacciaguida speaks on the evolution of Florence through the great families (Canto XVI), (5) Cacciaguida foretells Dante’s future (Canto XVII), and (6) Cacciaguida catalogues the blessed under the sphere of Mars (XVIII.1-57).  Cacciaguida’s life from six generations back becomes an indictment against the mores of Dante’s day, the civil strife of Dante’s day, against Dante’s enemies who exiled him, and, as we see, against his comrades who were exiled along with him but ultimately abandoned him. 

In Cacciaguida’s character, we see the ideal citizen.  Obviously he is devout, noble, and patriotic.  When the need for the crusade comes up, he accepts at a fairly advanced age the Emperor’s request for recruits and leaves his beloved city and family to fight for the retaking of the Holy Land.  He provides a list of the great and honorable families of his day, and speaks on their virtues.  He shows how over time these virtues eroded, and how the influx of neighboring cities diluted the virtues of old Florence, both through the women who became obsessed with vanity and men who became obsessed with wealth.  He shows how citizens became more loyal to their political parties than to Florence herself, and how factionalism eroded the public good.

Cacciaguida’s discourse is one of the great conservative diatribes in all of literature.  Progressives place some sort of ideal in a utopian future; conservatives place the ideal in the past and rant about the decay in the present.  It doesn’t mean one is more correct than the other; it’s a matter of view.  Cacciaguida expresses a conservative’s appeal to the state of Florence in the day of his great great-grandchild.  And in turn, since Cacciaguida is really the mouthpiece of the author here, Dante is one of the great conservative writers in history.

By bringing in Conrad II, the Holy Roman Emperor, through Cacciaguida’s life, we see what a good and proper role of an Emperor was supposed to be like, and in reflection we see the good and proper role of the city-states, and by suggestion the good and proper role of the Pope.  The Holy Father identifies the religious crises of pilgrims denied a visit to the holy sites; the emperor coordinates the martial means to right the injustice; the citizens of the city-states volunteer with knightly honor to support the call to arms.  This harmonious social constitution counterpoints the social discord of Dante’s day.

Cacciaguida identifies the roots of the social discord in the murder of Buondelmonte in 1216and it has the sense of a mythic story akin to the apple of discord that was supposed to have started the Trojan War.  Buondelmonte dishonors his betrothed lady by running off with another woman.  The family of the insulted lady take revenge and murder Buondelmonte.  A feud develops, which spills over into the political parties, and the die is cast for not just factionalism, which had begun to form anyway, but for factionalism where disputes are settled through violence.

Placing the situation into history, we see how the feud between the Guelphs and the Ghibelline parties is settled through the violent expulsion of the Ghibellines.  The then dominating Guelphs shortly divide into the Black and White parties, and ultimately leads to the violent exile of the Whites of which Dante is a leader.  Dante will be exiled in 1302.  He starts to write the Commedia in 1308 but sets the date of the story back in time to 1300, two years before he is exiled.  He completes the work just short of his death in 1321, so even as he edits the work in his late years he has been in exile from his beloved Florence for nearly twenty years.

We have gotten tidbits of his exile to come throughout the Divine Comedy, but it is here with Cacciaguida that it is confirmed and explained.  Cacciaguida’s foretelling of events brings this thread in the story to a climax and conclusion.  The foretelling of Dante’s future occurs in Canto XVII, the exact center of Paradiso. 

There are some great lines from Cacciaguida’s foretelling of Dante’s future.  Lines 52 through 69 deserve explication.

The populace shall blame the injured party,
as it always does, but vengeance
shall bear witness to the Truth that metes it out.

'You shall leave behind all you most dearly love,
and that shall be the arrow
first loosed from exile's bow.

'You shall learn how salt is the taste
of another man's bread and how hard is the way,
going down and then up another man's stairs. (XVII.52-60)

The general population will blame him, but vengeance will be obtained through the “Truth,” and the capitalization implies a divine justice.  Leaving behind all he most dearly loves (his city, his honor, his property, and his family) will be the first arrow to be shot.  And then the great and memorable tercet, “'You shall learn how salt is the taste/of another man's bread and how hard is the way,/going down and then up another man's stairs.”  He will have to live in poverty in another man’s house and eat another man’s bread.  The synesthesia—providing an analogy through a sensation—of salty bread is magnificent.  Salt can make food so tasty, but if overdone can make it bitter.  Hollander also points out the salt can be a result of tears.  Cacciaguida continues:

'But the heaviest burden your shoulders must bear
shall be the companions, wicked and witless,
among whom you shall fall in your descent.

'They, utterly ungrateful, mad, and faithless,
shall turn against you. But soon enough they, not you,
shall feel their faces blushing past their brows.

'Of their brutish state the results
shall offer proof. And it shall bring you honor
to have made a single party of yourself alone. (XVII.61-69)

His “wicked and witless” companions will be ungrateful and turn against Dante.  But ultimately the honor will be his alone because Dante in the end will be a party of one.  That phrase, “party of one” has been used often since it was written. 

Finally Cacciaguida will devote some time to predicting the good fortune and future heroics of Cangrande della Scala, a nobleman from Verona, who would become Dante’s patron while in exile.  In 1300, Cangrande would only have been nine years old, so this is purely a foretelling.  Cangrande apparently was a brave warrior and conquered a number of northern city-states.  I don’t know if Cangrande’s conquests had a religious element to it, but it is fitting that they he is featured in the sphere of Mars.  Dante (the author) in gratitude for the patronage immortalizes Cangrande (which by the way translates into “big dog”) with this passage.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Dante's Paradiso Cantos XV - XVIII, Summary

Canto XV

At the sphere of Mars, Dante tells us that God has silenced heaven’s music.  He sees what seems to be a shooting star fly off the cross and fall toward Dante.  The shooting star settles in front of Dante, now appearing like a gem, speaks in Latin: “O blood of mine, O grace of God, poured down from above, to whom, as to you, have the gates of heaven ever been opened twice?”  In total joy, the spirit with ardent love blesses God for showing such favor to his descendent.  The spirit has read in the Book of Life of Dante’s salvation and has been with anticipation waiting for him.  He encourages Dante to speak and ask who he is.  Finally Dante does so, referring to him as a “living topaz.”  The spirit identifies himself as the father of Dante’s great-grandfather.  He tells Dante that he lived in a time when Florence was a simpler place, a humbler place, a more virtuous place.  The light rants against the mores and luxuries of Dante’s day, and identifies exemplar citizens of his day.  Citizens were not exiled then as now, and parents were dutiful to their children, instructing them of their origins.  When he was alive, Florence was peaceful, fair, sweet, and its citizens were patriotic and devout.  Finally he gives his name as Cacciaguida.  His wife came from the Po valley and was the source of Dante’s last name.  He was knighted by the Emperor Conrad and went on a crusade to retake the Holy Land, and it was there that he was martyred. 

Canto XVI

Dante (the author) opens with a short digression on the insignificance of noble blood.  He respectfully and joyfully  addresses Cacciaguida, calling him his father.  Dante asks him four questions: who were his ancestors, what was it like in Florence in his day, how many people lived there, and who were the noteworthy people of his day?  Being given these questions, Cacciaguida glows with delight.  Indirectly he says he was born in 1091 when Florence was about a third the size and with a fifth of the population.  But all those that lived there were fit to bear arms and yet still humble artisans.  He refuses to name his ancestry out of modesty and says the town was better with its smaller borders.  It would have kept the grifters out from the nearby towns.  The intermingling between the towns has resulted in an increased population, and that ever since has been the source of the city’s ills.  Cacciaguida goes on to catalogue the great Florentine families and their declines.  He tells Dante that from Dante’s perspective he cannot see the degeneration because one’s life is so brief.  Cacciaguida goes on to directly or indirectly identify some forty families, giving some little tidbit about each.  He ends his discourse with the death of Buondelmonte who abandoned one betrothed for another only to be murdered by the kinsman of the jilted lady at the foot of the statue of Mars.  This is in Cacciaguida’s view, the start of the feuding families and the political strife that has sunk Florence into infighting.  And Cacciaguida concludes that he was there when Florence was a glorious and tranquil place, never fighting between themselves.

Canto XVII

Still at Mars, Dante (the character) with Beatrice’s encouragement wishes to know more about the prophesies he’s heard while traveling through hell and purgatory.  These prophesies, Dante says, were grave, and he would like to prepare himself to face these afflictions.  With plain and clear speech, Cacciaguida with paternal love tells Dante his future.  Looking through God’s sight, Cacciaguida has seen a vision of things in store for Dante.  He has seen that Dante will be forced to flee from Florence in unjust exile and indicates that behind the treachery will be the corrupt Pope.  The city will turn on Dante but ultimately he will get vengeance.  Cacciaguida tells him that everything he holds dear will be left behind, and that he will taste the bitterness of eating another man’s bread.  And the most bitter burden of all will be the abandonment of his supposed friends, so Dante will be left as a party of one.  But a noble Lombard will give him much assistance and support.  This noble Lombard, Cacciaguida foretells, will earn such honor that even his enemies will have to acknowledge his greatness.  Trust him, Cacciaguida finally advises.  He concludes once again that Dante will be vindicated.  Dante responds that he will need to prepare for such a blow and asks his forefather if he thinks it’s wise to tell his tale with absolute truth.  Cacciaguida says to tell the bitter truth no matter who it hurts, and if there are some that don’t like it, then they can go scratch.  Ultimately it will do them good and Dante will gain the highest honors.


Still at Mars, while Cacciaguida and Dante ponder what has been said, Beatrice breaks the dour spell with a command to change their thoughts.  She reminds them that God lifts all burdens and that they are in heaven.  When Dante gazes into her beauty, he feels a release and the pull of eternal beauty.  Dante then realizes that his forefather wants to add something else.  He wants to name some of the souls that are on the cross.  He will go one to name eight, each a fitting soldier for the realm of Mars.  With each name a shooting star flies off the cross and propels toward Dante.  But in an instant, Dante finds that he and Beatrice have been transported to Jupiter.  Lights that appear to be birds fly about, singing and morphing into shapes of letters.  The first three letters are in the shape of “D,” “I,” and “L.”  Thirty-five letters fly around, spelling out in Latin the opening sentence from the Book of Wisdom: “Love justice you who love the earth.”  The birds settle all on the last letter, “M,”  and then scatter with a thousand other lights and when all the lights finally settle, they form a pattern of a head and neck of an eagle.  Dante (the author) goes into several digressions: the beauty of the pattern, the source of heavenly justice, and the corruption of papal justice.