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

Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Letters of St. John, Part 2

The beginning of the fourth chapter of the first letter strikes me as odd. Here are the six verses:

1 Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
2This is how you can know the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ come in the flesh belongs to God,
3 and every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus does not belong to God. This is the spirit of the antichrist that, as you heard, is to come, but in fact is already in the world.
4 You belong to God, children, and you have conquered them, for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
5 They belong to the world; accordingly, their teaching belongs to the world, and the world listens to them.
6 We belong to God, and anyone who knows God listens to us, while anyone who does not belong to God refuses to hear us. This is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit.

Again we get a strong dichotomy, those spirits that acknowledge Jesus and those that don’t. We are told that we need to test the spirits to make sure we are “trusting” a spirit that belongs to God. I don’t have answers but I have a few questions. How do you test these spirits? Does John literally mean spirit or is this a metaphor for inspiration? Are these spirits angels, good and bad angels? How are these spirits different than the Holy Spirit?

Joseph Commented:
This seems to be particularly a warning against Gnosticism, which denied that Christ had a corporeal body. So, the spirit St. John is warning against is the spirit of heresy, which is one of the forms the anti-christ takes to fight against the Church. The way you test someone for the spirit of heresy is by comparing what they say to Church doctrine. And, if spirit can be understood as inspiration, one needs to check others’ or one’s own ideas in light of Catholic theology.

My response:
Good points Joseph. I lean to agreeing with you. Where I have trouble is deciding whether he means "spirits" literally or as you suggest, metaphorically.

Interesting you bring up Gnosticism. Was Gnosticism an issue already in the first century? The only false prophet directly identify in the New Testament (that I recall, perhaps I missed someone) was Simon Magus in Acts. He was a magician, so I tend to identify the false prophets as such. Perhaps John does mean those who are in theological error. I'm not sure.

By the way, that's why I'm taking "spirits" as literal. Magicians call up evil spirits.

Joseph Replies:
Hi, Manny! Going off of the School and Church Edition of the NAB’s introduction to the First letter of John, the heresy mentioned here is taken to be either docetism or gnosticism. Gnostic schools of thought began to exist before the Christian Era and started to latch onto Christianity in the first and second centuries according to New Advent’s Encyclopedia. So, that’s why I think that John is warning against Gnosticism, which claimed that Christ was a phantom without a real human nature.

The idea of magic being related to the spirit mentioned here is possible. I would not be surprised to learn that Gnostics dealt in magic, but all I really know about them is their flawed Soteriology.

I’m trying to remember whether Catholic tradition states that Simon Magus really repented of his ways or persevered in using magic.

My Reply:
Thank you Joseph. That is very helpful. I just looked up Simon Magus in Wikipedia and and they cite that some considered him the founder of Gnosticism. But that is disputed. Here is the Wikipedia link:


Joseph Replies:
Thanks! It sounds like Simon Magus probably met a bad end. I did not know of his connection to Gnosticism, but it makes sense that a magician would be connected to a sect boasting of hidden knowledge:


One last point on the first letter. I found this reference to Christ’s coming in the fifth chapter intriguing.

6 This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ, not by water alone, but by water and blood. The Spirit is the one that testifies, and the Spirit is truth.
7 So there are three that testify,
8 the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and the three are of one accord.

Actually I was baffled by the coming of water, blood, and spirit until I read an explanation. Here is the explanatory note on that passage from the NAB:

* [5:6–12] Water and blood (1 Jn 5:6) refers to Christ’s baptism (Mt 3:16–17) and to the shedding of his blood on the cross (Jn 19:34). The Spirit was present at the baptism (Mt 3:16; Mk 1:10; Lk 3:22; Jn 1:32, 34). The testimony to Christ as the Son of God is confirmed by divine witness (1 Jn 5:7–9), greater by far than the two legally required human witnesses (Dt 17:6). To deny this is to deny God’s truth; cf. Jn 8:17–18. The gist of the divine witness or testimony is that eternal life (1 Jn 5:11–12) is given in Christ and nowhere else. To possess the Son is not acceptance of a doctrine but of a person who lives now and provides life.

Until I read the explanation I thought water and blood referred to His human birth and the spirit to His divine nature. I think that’s still a plausible reading, but defer to the theologians.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Notable Quote: In the Mirror of the Cross by St. Anthony of Padua

June 13th was the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua, a Franciscan friar originally from Lisbon, Portugal, not Padua Italy.  But he made his way to Italy and ultimately died in Padua.  He was known for his preaching and even apparently out shined the Dominicans in one particular event.  His sermons are supposed to be so extraordinary that on that basis he was made a Doctor of the Church.

The devotional magazine, Magnificat, had this quote attributed to him on his feast day entry.  It really caught my attention.

“Christ who is your life is hanging before you, so that you may look at the cross as in a mirror.  There you will be able to know how mortal were your wounds, that no medicine other than the Blood of the Son of God could heal…Nowhere other than looking at himself in the mirror of the cross can man better understand how much he is worth.”

That is an astonishing insight.  When you are gazing on a crucifix, you are looking at yourself in a mirror at your suffering humanity.  Wow!

By the way, my father, who was not a religious man, had a particular liking to St. Anthony.  He is in the local lore of Italians, and they have brought that devotion here to the United States.  I always find it amazing that I see so many garden statues of St. Anthony in the New York City Italian-American neighborhoods.  Indeed, if you read his Wikipedia entry you will find that Italian-American neighborhoods across the country revere him.  I’m pretty sure that’s why “Anthony” is such a popular name among Italians.  I grew up thinking he was Italian only to find he was actually Portuguese.  I wonder how many Italians and Italian-Americans actually know that.  I don’t think my father did. 

St. Anthony is usually invoked as the patron saint of lost items.  Perhaps many of you have heard the prayerful appeal to St. Anthony when searching for a lost item: “Tony, Tony, look around.  Something’s lost and must be found!”  You can read about that at Aleteia.  

There is also a legend of St. Anthony holding the child Jesus, and that is why you see his images and statues holding a child.  You can read about that at Franciscan Media.  

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Letters of St. John, Part 1

Here are some thoughts from my reading the three Letters of John.  We are also reading them at my Goodreads Catholic Thought book club, so you might see some back and forth exchanges.

What strikes me early on in the first letter is how the motifs are similar with John’s Gospel.  Here’s the first chapter.

1 What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life— 
2 for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us—
3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 
4 We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.  God is Light. 
5 Now this is the message that we have heard from him and proclaim to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.
6 If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth. 
7 But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin. 
8 If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 
9 If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. 
10 If we say, “We have not sinned,” we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Compare with the opening lines of John’s Gospel:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 
2 He was in the beginning with God. 
3 All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.  What came to be 
4 through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race;
5 the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

“Beginning,” “Word,” “light,” “darkness,” “God is light.”  The words overlap.  I’m not going to copy back and forth, but read chapters 15 and 17 where Jesus gives his discourses and see how many themes and phrasing are shared between the Gospel and this letter.  Now this is in translation, so one can't be definitive about rhythm, but even the rhythm of the language seems to be very similar. 

Presumably there are always questions to who actually wrote the Gospels, and of course we don’t know for sure that the author of the fourth Gospel and these letters was actually St. John, but I don’t think there can be any doubt that it’s one and the same person.  By the way, I’m convinced it’s St. John the Evangelist.

Rhetorically I find that first chapter fascinating.  Here’s that sentence without any line breaks:

“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life—for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”

Four parallel noun phrases beginning with “what” starts the sentence.  The last three emphasize that “we”—and who “we” is supposed to include is undetermined—physically knew and can testify to the “Word” having come to earth and was made “visible.”  And then tells you why: so that “you” too—and “you” also being undetermined—may have fellowship with God.  He actually testifies three times in that sentence.  The first leading up to the dashed off section, the second inside the dashed section, and then even a third time at the beginning of the clause after the dashed section.

Indeed, repetition is a wonderful, poetic device here.  How many times does he repeat phrasings and words: “heard,” “seen,” “visible,” “fellowship,” “light,” “darkness,” “God is light,” “sin,” and so on.  And yet it never feels like boring writing.


The first letter is just packed with theological points. I tend to reduce John’s letters down to love, love, love. And rightly so because love is at the central part of his theology. Love is so central, he could have been one of the Beatles. “All you need is love.” Haha, but that’s simplifying. John makes some complex theological points, and I’m probably not qualified to fully elucidate them. Look at the opening verses from chapter three.

1 See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
3 Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure.

Through our baptism—or perhaps something less formal, such as identifying ourselves as Christians—we have become children of God, which elsewhere I think is referred to as adoption. We then become the heirs of God and ultimately joined with Him.

It is said that in John (both the Gospel and Letters) creates strict demarcations, perhaps even polarized dichotomies. Here he divides children of God with those who are not, those that know Him and those that don’t, those that are pure and those that are not.

4 Everyone who commits sin commits lawlessness, for sin is lawlessness.
5 You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.
6 No one who remains in him sins; no one who sins has seen him or known him.
7 Children, let no one deceive you. The person who acts in righteousness is righteous, just as he is righteous.
8 Whoever sins belongs to the devil, because the devil has sinned from the beginning. Indeed, the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil.
9 No one who is begotten by God commits sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot sin because he is begotten by God.
10 In this way, the children of God and the children of the devil are made plain; no one who fails to act in righteousness belongs to God, nor anyone who does not love his brother.
11 For this is the message you have heard from the beginning: we should love one another,
12 unlike Cain who belonged to the evil one and slaughtered his brother. Why did he slaughter him? Because his own works were evil, and those of his brother righteous.

Look at the demarcations here: Those who commit sins and those that do not. Those who were privileged to have Him revealed and those who were not. Those who are righteous and those who are not. Those who belong to the devil (because they sin) and those who do not. Those who love one another and those who do not. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. I don’t know about you, but I still sin. Perhaps he’s referring to mortal sin. He goes on to augment his point.

13 Do not be amazed, [then,] brothers, if the world hates you.
14 We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. Whoever does not love remains in death.
15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him.
16 The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
17 If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?
18 Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.

There is another dichotomy: those who are in death (because they do not love) and those that are in life. And that leads to his central point.

19 [Now] this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts before him
20 in whatever our hearts condemn, for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.
21 Beloved, if [our] hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God
22 and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
23 And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.
24 Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit that he gave us.

How do we know if we are children of God? Because if we have love in our hearts, then we will follow His commandment to love one another as He loved in the world. We will know this through the Holy Spirit.

I’m not sure if my exegesis is correct or complete, but I hope I’ve at least highlighted the complexity of John’s thought. It’s more complicated than a Beatles song. ;)

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Comments to Dante’s Paradiso, Cantos XXVII thru XXX

These four cantos fill in Dante’s (the author) vision of the cosmos.  Let’s walk through this to see how stunning and beautiful it actually is. 

The Crystalline Sphere comprises the ninth circlet of either orbits of celestial planets (moon through Saturn) or circumscribing regions such as the Starry Sphere, which are constellations of stars, and the Crystalline Sphere.  The earth is the center of the physical universe as commonly thought then.  What is the Crystalline Sphere?  We learn it is the swiftest circling of the spheres (XXVII.99) and Beatrice explains its nature.

'This heaven has no other where
but in the mind of God, in which is kindled
the love that turns it and the power it pours down.

'Light and love enclose it in a circle,
as it contains the others. Of that girding
He that girds it is the sole Intelligence. (XXVII.109-114)

It doesn’t have a physical existence and exists in the mind of God.  It’s made up of light and love and it wraps the entire universe into a sort of encompassing ball if you can imagine it three dimensionally.  Dante uses the metaphor of a flowerpot to describe how it wraps the entrails of the physical universe.  While it is in the mind of God, I think the implication is that is actually part of the mind of God. 

If the Crystalline Sphere is part of the mind of God, in the next canto Dante is allowed to see God Himself, albeit from a far distance.  At first Dante sees God reflected in Beatrice’s two eyes.  It is a beam of light which he refers to as a “double-candle lamp’ (XXVIII.4).  It’s double because it’s reflecting in each eye, but when he turns around he can see it’s a single pinpoint beam of light.

When I turned back and my eyes were struck
by what appears on that revolving sphere --
if one but contemplates its circling –

I saw a point that flashed a beam of light
so sharp the eye on which it burns
must close against its piercing brightness.  (13-18)

He goes on to describe the size of that point.  He says if you take the smallest star that one sees and puts it beside this point, the star would seem the size of our moon relative to the point (19-20).  In other words, that point is infinitesimally small.

Now contemplate the wonder of this.  God is simultaneously an infinitesimal point—which is one dimensional, not even two and certainly not three—and infinitely huge when you consider that the mind of God, the Crystalline Sphere, enwraps the entire universe.  Dante has conceptualized the infinite from both ends of size simultaneously in God.  Next time a snotty atheist ridicules you for believing in an “old man in the sky,” present this as the nature of God.

That pin point which is God also has nine ringlets around it, just like the physical universe.  Each ring is made up of a multitude of angels, a huge number, gathered in a queue and circling about the point which is God.  There are nine types of angels and each ring is comprised of a particular type.  From the inner ring to the out, they are Seraphim, Cheraphim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels, and Angels.  I don’t understand enough about angels to understand the progression, but I am sure there is a logic to the progression. 

While the concentric circles of the physical universe increase in rotating speed the further you go out, the concentric circles surrounding God increase in speed the further in toward God you go.  It is explained that the inner circle is “spurred on by flaming love” (XXVIII.45).  The outer circle of angels is in contact with Crystalline Sphere, and the motion of the angels drives the motion of the physical universe.  It’s almost as if it is two gears are in contact with each other, one driving the other.  So God at the center propels the energy of its gear wheel which drives the second gear wheel.  God’s bursting love is the energy that makes the cosmos move.

Side note.  T. S. Eliot in his great The Four Quartets, refers to a “still point point of the turning world.”  This is what he is alluding to, Dante’s vision of God as a point in the center of the universe that propels everything.

I’m not completely sure, but I don’t think the Crystalline Sphere and the Primum Mobile are the same thing.  Or perhaps the Primum Mobile may be a subset of the Crystalline Sphere.  I’m speculating a little here, but I think the contact surface between the outer ring of angels and the Crystalline Sphere is Dante’s conception of the Primum Mobile.  The Primum Mobile was not a Dantean invention but something conceptualized as far back as classical astronomy.  It is the point from which God moves the universe, the first cause of a link of causes that enacts God’s will.  So here is Dante’s total cosmic conception: God causes the angels to metaphysically enact His will which transfers to a physical act at the Primum Mobile, which effects events down at the earth.  Beatrice explains it thus:

'Greater goodness makes for greater blessedness,
and greater bliss takes on a greater body
when all its parts are equal in perfection.

'This sphere, therefore, which sweeps into its motion
the rest of the universe, must correspond
to the ring that loves and knows the most,

'so that, if you apply your measure,
not to their appearances but to the powers themselves
of the angels that appear to you as circles,

'you will see a marvelous congruence,
larger with more, smaller with less, in each sphere
according to its celestial Intelligence. (XXVIII.67-78)

Now one can fully picture the journey through Paradiso that Dante (the character) has been on.  There are two groups of concentric circles, almost as if two pebbles have been dropped in a lake, each having ripples of circles emanating outward.  Dante starts at the center of the first, the earth, and traverses outward until he reaches the end and has to traverse into the other group of ripples.  And from there he is projected into the center of the second group, the center which is God.  This is not only Dante’s journey, but the journey of all saved souls who will come to rest in heaven.

It is a vision of cosmic creation, function, and harmony worthy of any mystic.  It is beautiful and complete.


These are very rich cantos.  Let me provide some more thoughts.

Canto XXIX is almost entirely spent on the creation and nature of angels.  It reminds me of medieval philosophical arguments on angels, the common joke being that they argued over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, It is pointed out that God did not need to create angels to enact His will.  He can do it through His word.  So why did He?  Beatrice explains:

'Not to increase His store of goodness,
a thing impossible, but that His splendor,
shining back, might say Subsisto,

'in His eternity, beyond time, beyond
any other limit, as it pleased Him,
in these new loves, Eternal Love unfolded. (XXIX.13-18)

Through the creative act, God unfolded the love that He is into other substances, so that shining back they gave existence to love, all for His pleasure.  How many angels did He create?  Dante (through Beatrice) decidedly stipulates that it is a finite number but a number that is huge.  It’s greater than two to the sixty-fourth power (a doubling of each square of a chess board) which amounts to 18 followed by 18 zeros.  Why so many?  Because God in His abundant love creates abundantly.  Cureently it’s spring time here and all the little buds and leaves are starting to open green, and when one steps back one can see such an abundance of new life.  That’s God in action creating angels, like the blossoming of every new bud or leaf or blade.

It is interesting that the rebellion and defeat of the bad angels happened almost immediately after their creation.  Time seems to always be conflated in Dante’s heaven.  Remember that Adam back in Canto XXVI says that his fall from grace happened six hours after creation.  Dante’s (the character) trip through Paradiso amounts to a single day.  Is eternity in the Dantean cosmology the living out of a single day forever?  I don’t know.

While these four cantos capture the most sublime visions and conceptions of God and the heavens, there are several moments where Dante (the author) contrasts such beauty and divine with the fallen and sordid.  In Canto XXVII we see St. Peter, the first Pope, angrily rant against Pope Boniface VIII, Dante's nemesis. 

'He who on earth usurps my place,
my place, my place, which in the eyes
of God's own Son is vacant,

'has made my tomb a sewer of blood and filth,
so that the Evil One, who fell from here above,
takes satisfaction there below.' (22-27)

St. Peter says it three times, Boniface VIII has desecrated "my place/my place, my place,"  making it a sewer.  Putting the words in the mouth of the most important Holy Father ever makes the condemnation of Boniface even more forceful. 

Later in Canto XXVII, when Beatrice and Dante are half way up the Crystalline Sphere and they stop to look back on earth, Dante (the character) identifies not some noble earthly spot but the locations where some disreputable events occurred.

Since the last time I looked down
I saw I had traversed all of the arc
from the midpoint of the first clime to its end,

so that on the one side I could see, beyond Gades,
the mad track of Ulysses, on the other, nearly
to the shore where Europa made sweet burden of herself. (79-84)

The "mad track of Ulysses" beyond Gades refers to Ulysses' last voyage to penetrate God's domain (see Inferno, Canto XXVI) and the shore where Zeus seduced Europa.  Both these stories trace back to the earliest roots of civilization, perhaps indicating intrinsic qualities to mankind, pride for Ulysses and lust for Europa.

Other examples of contrasting baseness are the fallen angels, the bad preachers who in their pride drift into heresy and buffoonery (XXIX.83-117), and Beatrice's last words where once again Pope Boniface is denigrated:

'But short shall be the time God suffers him
in holy office, for he shall be thrust
down there where Simon Magus gets what he deserves,
and push that fellow from Anagni deeper down.' (XXX.145-148)

The contrast for the fallen is just as important as the sublime.  It accentuates the sublime. 

Allow me this one personal opinion.  Far be it from me to tell Dante how to write the greatest work of literature, but at this point in heaven I think it would have been best for Dante to let go the bitterness of Boniface VIII's treacherous actions that led to Dante being exiled, but if he could not forgive him, at least be at peace with him.  He is before the Divine Being, where forgiveness is mandated for Christians.  Consider this.  If it wasn't for Dante being exiled, he would most likely not have written the Divine Comedy.  He would probably be remembered as a good poet who was a bureaucrat in the Florentine government.  The Commedia would never have existed.

When Dante (the character) passes into the Primmum Mobile, he goes blind again.  When his eyes adjust he sees a flowing river of light.  Beatrice explains his final baptism: 'But you must drink first of these waters before your great thirst may be satisfied’ (XXX.74-75).  Notice the echo of Christ words to the Samaritan woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).  Dante creates that spring in the Empyrean. 

When Dante lifts his head out of the flowing light, he now can see everything.  He sees the river actually flows circularly.  He sees what he thought were flowers to be saints and what he thought to be sparks to be angels.  He sees the light of God above and vast court of heaven beyond him, which is in the shape of a rose. 

There is a light above that makes the Creator
visible to every creature
that finds its only peace in seeing Him.

It spreads itself into so vast a circle
that its circumference would be larger
than the sphere that is the sun. (XXX.100-105)

Beatrice welcomes him to the rose where the blessed reside.

I, like a man who is silent but would speak,
was led by Beatrice, and she said: 'Behold
how vast the white-robed gathering!

'See our city, with its vast expanse!
See how many are the seats already filled --
few are the souls still absent there! (127-132)

This city is akin to a huge stadium where each of the blessed have a seat, and at the center, equidistant to any seat is God. 

It is striking how many images of circles we have been given in heaven, with a crescendo of circlets here at the inner regions; the planetary orbits, the crystalline sphere, the rose, the pinpoint that is God, the nine circles of angels rotating about God, the universe circling about the pinpoint, the circular river of light.  The circle is the symbol of eternity, of perfection, and of wholeness.  The circle makes things complete, which is what heaven does to us.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Matthew Monday: Father’s Day Adventure, Bear Mountain

Yesterday was Father’s Day, and I may have mentioned this before but Matthew and I have a tradition of going on what we call our “Father’s Day adventure” together.  This year we decided to go for a real adventure, a hike on a real hiking trail.  We went to Bear Mountain, a state park with lots of hiking trails.   The park is part of the Hudson River valley, about an hour and a half drive north from Staten Island.    

Part of the fun for this was planning the trip and getting the gear together.  We planned this out for a week, gathering our pocket knives, whistles, knapsacks, and handy tools.  They were calling for rain, so we also got some rain ponchos.  We packed some sandwiched, some bottles of water, and right after this morning’s Mass we hit the road.  We got there by mid day.

It took us a little bit to get oriented, and figure out where the trails were. We had planned to do a moderate trail that circled the mountain.  It was classified as a trail moderate in difficulty.  Frankly I would have been glad to do an easy trail but little Mister insisted on the moderate.  Well, after about a 100 yards of inclined slope on the moderate, Matthew changed his mind and we turned around and hiked the easy.  The easy trail is called the Hessian lake Loop, and it just circles Hessian lake at the base of the mountain.

Here are some pictures.  Matthew with all his gear.  That’s his whistle in his mouth.

He insisted on wearing camouflage—“camo” as he called it.

Well, it did rain for a good forty-five minutes, so we did have to pull put the ponchos.

He insisted on taking a picture of me.

Matthew the scout.

Matthew looking like a tough guy.

And finally just being a little boy.

That rock cliff on the other side of the lake is where we sat and ate lunch.  We had a lot of fun.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Dante's Paradiso Cantos XXVII - XXX, Summary


Still in the Starry Sphere and Adam having completed his explanation of his transgression, all the souls in Paradise sing the Glory Be.  The beauty of the song fills Date (the character) with immense joy and peace.  The four souls in front of him (Peter, James, John, and Adam) are now aflame like four torches, and Peter stepping forward turns red.  He angrily goes into an invective on the corruption of the current holder of the See of Rome, Dante’s arch enemy Pope Boniface VIII.  St. Peter is so angry that even the heavens turn red, and Beatrice too turns color.  Peter goes on to further deplore Boniface, calling him a ravenous wolf and prophesies that Providence will soon punish him.  He tells Dante directly that Dante has a burden to tell the world the truth about Boniface.  Once Peter is finished, Dante and Beatrice start rising to the next sphere—the Crystalline Sphere—and half way there Beatrice has Dante once again look back to see the smallness of the earth and remnants of  past sins.  When they finally reach the Crystalline Sphere, Beatrice reading Dante’s mind, answers his questions on the nature of the universe.  She explains that the Crystalline Sphere does not have a physical existence but resides as part of the mind of God.  It is this light and love that wraps around the physical universe like a “flowerpot.”  Beatrice goes on to decry the sinful state of man that fails to realize the love of God, mostly because of failed human leadership.


Now in the Crystalline Sphere, Dante looks into Beatrice’s eyes and sees reflected the center point of the revolving universe.  When he turns to look at the point directly, the beam of light is so sharp, bright, and piercing that he momentarily goes blind again.  The point of light, so incredibly small but so intensely bright, is God.  Around the pinpoint which is God are nine circles, and each circle is comprised of a queue of angels burning bright and rotating around the center point.  Each circle is made up of a particular type of angel.  The innermost is made up of Seraphim; the next Cheraphim followed by Thrones, then Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels, and Angels.  Beatrice divines Dante’s befuddlement and explains.  The innermost circle spins the fastest because it is powered by flaming love.  Each subsequent circle spins slower than the previous, the outermost the slowest.  Dante (the character) responds that this runs counter to earthbound spinning wheels where the farthest from the center, the faster the velocity.  Finally Dante understands that the speed is relational to love.  At this the circles sparkle with flame.  All these angels look upward toward God, though their actions effect those below.

Canto XXIX

Still in the Crystalline Sphere, Beatrice perceives that Dante wonders how many angels there are, why did God feel the need to create angels, and why so many?  Beatrice explains the number of angels is finite, answering a long debated question, but of an astronomical number (two the 64th power) and that God didn't need to make angels but made them to express and expand love.  The more one creates with abundant love, the more abundant is love, and so God shows his creative generosity in the large number.  She goes on to explain the nature of angels.  She says that St. Jerome was wrong about angels being created before the universe.  All creation happened in a flash of light at the same time.  At that time things of only form, things of only matter, and things of mixed form and matter were all created.  Angels are of form only.  She explains that the bad angels fell almost immediately through their pride.  Good angels are humble.  Similar to the fallen angels, Beatrice explains that bad preachers on earth concoct some new, trendy theology to impress people and attract followers.  She says that this is a violation of Christ's mandate to humbly preach the Gospel, not idle nonsense.  It's precisely because of this foolishness that people on earth have lost their way.  She redirects his attention back to the angels.  She points out how God's love is what causes them to glow.

Canto XXX

Still at the Crystalline Sphere and at mid-day, the pilgrims begin rising upward toward the Empyrean.  Dante (the character) unable to look at the center light, turns his eyes toward Beatrice.  Her beauty has once again increased and now transcends to a level that only God could fully appreciate it.  Dante as a poet cannot capture it in words.  He realizes that he has been trying to capture her beauty since he first saw her at nine years old, but now, defeated as a writer, he has to quit.  She explains that the Empyrean is a place of pure light, of love, of joy, and of sweetness.  As Dante enters, he is once again blinded.  In his blindness he sees a flowing river of light with sparks flying off onto the flowers on the banks.  He is told his eyes must drink of this light, and he places his face into it so that his eye lashes are washed.  When he lifts his head, he can now see and sharper than ever.  He can now see that the river runs in a circle and all those sparks flying off are angels and all those flowers on the banks are human souls.  He can now see all.  He can see the creator's light, reflected across the heavens from which moves all motion.  He sees across the Empyrean a structure that is in the form of a rose, with the point of light that is God at the center.  With her last words, Beatrice invites him to see the City of God with all its heavenly goodness, which, she says, contrasts with Florence, that city of greed and strife.