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Introduction. The Paradise of Dante consists of nine crystalline spheres of different sizes, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Fixed Stars, and the Empyrean, enclosed one within the other, and revolved by the Angels, Archangels, Princedoms, Powers, Virtues, Dominations, Thrones, Cherubim, and Seraphim. Beyond these orbs, whose whirling motions cause "the music of the spheres," lies a tenth circle, the real heaven (a Rose), where "peace divine inhabits," and of which the Divine Essence or Trinity forms the very core.

Canto I. Paradise opens with Dante's statement that in heaven he was "witness of things, which to relate again, surpasseth the power of him who comes from thence." He therefore invokes the help of Apollo to describe that part of the universe upon which is lavished the greatest share of light. Then, while gazing up into Beatrice's eyes, Dante, freed from earth's trammels, suddenly feels himself soar upward, and is transferred with indescribable swiftness into a totally different medium.

Canto II. Perceiving his bewilderment, Beatrice reassures him in a motherly strain, and, gazing around him, Dante realizes they have entered the translucent circle of the moon (revolved by angels). After warning his fellow-men "the way I pass ne'er yet was run," Dante goes on to relate what Beatrice teaches him in regard to the heavenly spheres and spiritual evolution, and how she promises to reveal to him "the truth thou lovest."

Canto III. In the pearl-hued atmosphere of the moon, Dante beholds, "as through a glass, darkly," shadowy, nun-like forms, and is told by Beatrice to communicate with them. Addressing the form nearest him, Dante learns she is Piccarda (sister of Forese), who was kidnapped by her husband after she had taken the veil. Although she would fain have kept her religious vows, Piccarda proved a faithful wife, and declares she and her fellow-spirits are content to remain in their appointed sphere until called higher by the Almighty.

      "She with those other spirits gently smiled;
  Then answer'd with such gladness, that she seem'd
  With love's first flame to glow: 'Brother! our will
  Is, in composure, settled by the power
  Of charity, who makes us will alone
  What we possess, and nought beyond desire.'"

All her companions also wished to be brides of Christ, but patiently did their duty, and, knowing that "in His will is our tranquillity," they now spend all their time singing "Ave Maria." When these nun-like forms vanish, Dante gazes at Beatrice in hopes of learning more.

Canto IV. In reply to Dante's inquiring glance, Beatrice explains that those compelled to sin against their desire are ever held blameless in Heaven. Then, stating:

  "Not seldom, brother, it hath, chanced for men
  To do what they had gladly left undone;"

she adds that "the will that wills not, still survives unquenched," and that by will power only St. Lawrence and Mucius Scevola were enabled to brave fire. Then she makes him see how truth alone can satisfy a mind athirst for knowledge.

Canto V. Beatrice asserts that the most precious gift bestowed upon mankind was freedom of will, and that "knowledge comes of learning well retain'd." She concludes that when man makes a vow he offers his will in sacrifice to God, and that for that reason no vow should be thoughtlessly made, but all should be rigidly kept. Still, she admits it is better to break a promise than, like Jephthah and Agamemnon, to subscribe to a heinous crime, and states that either Testament can serve as guide for Jews or Christians. Again drawing Dante upward by the very intensity of her gaze, she conveys him to the second circle, the heaven of Mercury (revolved by Archangels). Here, in an atmosphere as pellucid as water, Dante perceives thousands of angels, coming toward him, singing "Lo! one arrived to multiply our loves!" These spirits assure Dante he was born in a happy hour, since he is allowed, ere the "close of fleshly warfare," to view the glories of heaven,—and express a desire to share their lights with him. So Dante questions the spirit nearest him, which immediately glows with loving eagerness to serve him, until it becomes a dazzling point of light.

Canto VI. This spirit announces he is Justinian, chosen to clear "from vain excess the encumbered laws," five hundred years after the Christian era began, and that it was in order to devote all his time to this task that he consigned the military power to Belisarius. He proceeds to give Dante a résumé of Roman history, from the kidnapping of the Sabines to his own day, laying stress on the triumphs won by great generals. He also specially mentions the hour "When Heaven was minded that o'er all the world his own deep calm should brood," the troublous days of the empire, and the feud of the Guelfs and Ghibellines, the two principal political factions of Dante's time. Next he explains that Mercury is inhabited by "good spirits whose mortal lives were busied to that end that honor and renown might wait on them," and quotes in particular Raymond Bérenger, whose four daughters became queens.

Canto VII. After this speech Justinian vanishes with his angelic companions, and Dante, duly encouraged, inquires of Beatrice how "just revenge could be with justice punished!" She informs him that, as in Adam all die through the power of sin, all can by faith live again through Christ, thanks to God's goodness.

Canto VIII. Although unaware of the fact, Dante, whose eyes have been fixed on Beatrice, has during her exposition been wafted up to the third heaven, that of Venus (revolved by Princedoms). In the planet of love—where Beatrice glows with increased beauty—are innumerable souls "imperfect through excess of love," which are grouped in constantly revolving circles. All at once one of these luminous spirits approaches Dante, and, after expressing great readiness to serve him, introduces himself as Charles Martel, King of Hungary, brother of Robert of Naples. Thirsting for information, Dante inquires of him "how bitter can spring when sweet is sown?" In a lengthy disquisition in reply, this spirit mentions how children often differ from their parents, quotes Esau and Jacob as marked examples thereof, and adds that nature, guided by Providence, produces at will a Solon, Xerxes, Melchisedec, or Daedalus. Canto IX. The next spirit with whom Beatrice converses is the fair Cunizza, who like the Magdalen "loved much," and therefor obtained pardon for her sins. Before vanishing, she foretells coming political events, and introduces the Proven?al bard Folco, whose poems on love were to be republished after five hundred years of oblivion. After relating his life, this poet informs Dante the harlot Rahab was admitted to this heaven in reward for saving Joshua's spies. This spirit concludes his interview by censuring the present papal policy, declaring it far too worldly, avaricious, and time-serving to find favor in heaven.

Canto X. Drawn upward this time by the attraction of the sun, Dante finds himself in a dazzling sphere (revolved by Powers), where he and Beatrice behold consecutive moving wreaths, each composed of twelve blessed spirits who while on earth were noted as teachers of divinity and philosophy. One of these singing, revolving wreaths encompasses our travellers, until one of its members, St. Thomas Aquinas, ceases his ineffable song long enough to present his companions and explain their titles to immortal glory.

Canto XI. St. Thomas Aquinas, in his conversation with Dante, relates the life of St. Francis of Assisi, dwelling particularly upon his noble character, and describing how, after becoming wedded to Poverty, he founded the order of the Franciscans, received the stigmata, and died in odor of sanctity, leaving worthy disciples and emulators, such as St. Dominic, to continue and further the good work he had begun. He adds that many of the saint's followers are represented in the innumerable glowing wreaths which people the heaven of the Sun.

Canto XII. Still encompassed by one rainbow circle after another, Dante is told by St. Buonaventura of Dominic's inestimable services to mankind, and hears about his fervent zeal and deep faith.

Canto XIII. While Dante and Beatrice gaze with awe and admiration upon the circles of light which revolve through all the signs of the zodiac, St. Thomas Aquinas solves sundry of Dante's doubts, and cautions him never to accede to any proposition without having duly weighed it.

     "Let not the people be too swift to judge;
  As one who reckons on the blades in field,
  Or e'er the crop be ripe. For I have seen
  The thorn frown rudely all the winter long,
  And after bear the rose upon its top;
  And bark, that all her way across the sea
  Ran straight and speedy, perish at the last
  E'en in the haven's mouth."

Canto XIV. Proceeding from circle to circle, Dante and Beatrice reach the innermost ring, where the latter bids Solomon solve Dante's doubts by describing the appearance of the blest after the resurrection of the body. In words almost as eloquent as those wherewith St. Gabriel transmitted his message to Mary, Solomon complies.

  "Long as the joy of Paradise shall last,
  Our love shall shine around that raiment, bright
  As fervent; fervent as, in vision, blest;
  And that as far, in blessedness, exceeding,
  As it hath grace, beyond its virtue, great.
  Our shape, regarmented with glorious weeds
  Of saintly flesh, must, being thus entire,
  Show yet more gracious. Therefore shall increase
  Whate'er, of light, gratuitous imparts
  The Supreme Good; light, ministering aid,
  The better to disclose his glory: whence,
  The vision needs increasing, must increase
  The fervor, which it kindles; and that too
  The ray, that comes from it."

As he concludes his explanation, a chorus of spiritual voices chant "Amen," and Solomon, directing Dante's glance upward, shows him how the bright spirits of this sphere group themselves in the form of a cross,—glowing with light and pulsing with music,—whereon "Christ beamed," a sight none can hope to see save those who "take up their cross and follow him."

Cantos XV, XVI. In the midst of the rapture caused by these sights and sounds, Dante is amazed to recognize, in one of the angels which continually shift places in the glowing cross, his ancestor Cacciaguida, who assures him Florence proved happy as long as its inhabitants led simple and virtuous lives, but rapidly degenerated and became corrupt when covetousness, luxury, and pleasure took up their abode within its walls.

Canto XVII. Encouraged by Beatrice, who stands at a short distance to leave him more freedom, Dante begs his great ancestor to reveal what is about to befall him, so that, forewarned, he may most wisely meet his fate. In reply Cacciaguida tells him he will be exiled from Florence, and compelled to associate with people who will turn against him, only to rue this fact with shame later on. He adds Dante will learn how bitter is the savor of other's bread and how hard to climb another's stairs.

  "Thou shalt leave each thing
  Beloved most dearly: this is the first shaft
  Shot from the bow of exile. Thou shalt prove
  How salt the savor is of other's bread;
  How hard the passage, to descend and climb
  By other's stairs."

Then Cacciaguida goes on to state that Dante shall finally find refuge in Lombardy, with Can Grande, and while there will compose the poems depicting his memorable journey down through sin to the lowest pit and upward through repentance to the realm of bliss.

  "For this, there only have been shown to thee,
  Throughout these orbs, the mountain, and the deep,
  Spirit, whom fame hath note of. For the mind
  Of him, who hears, is loath to acquiesce
  And fix its faith, unless the instance brought
  Be palpable, and proof apparent urge."

Seeing Dante's dismay at this prediction, Beatrice comforts him by a smile, and, seeing he is again wrapped in contemplation of her, warns him that "these eyes are not thy only Paradise."

Canto XVIII. Then Beatrice leads her charge into the fifth heaven, that of Mars, revolved by Virtues and inhabited by transfigured martyrs, confessors, and holy warriors, such as Joshua, the Maccabees, Charlemagne, Orlando, Godfrey of Bouillon, and other men of note. These worthies form a part of the mystic cross, and each glows with transcendent light as Beatrice points them out one after another. Then Beatrice wafts her change into the sixth heaven, that of Jupiter (revolved by Dominations). Here the spirits of rulers famous for justice, moving with kaleidoscopic tints and rapidity, alternately form mystic letters spelling "Love righteousness ye that be judges of the earth," or settle silently into the shape of a gigantic eagle. This sight proves so impressive that Dante sinks to his knees, fervently praying justice may indeed reign on earth as in heaven.

Canto XIX. To his intense surprise Dante now hears the mystic eagle proclaim in trumpet tones that justice and pity shall be exacted, and that no man shall be saved without them. He adds that eternal judgment is incomprehensible to mortal ken, that mere professions are vain, and that many so-called Christian potentates (some of whom he names) will present a sorry figure on Judgment Day.

Canto XX. After a period of silence, the same Eagle (an emblem of the Empire) proceeds to exalt certain rulers, especially those glorified spirits which form the pupil of his eye (David), and his eyelids (Trajan, Hezekiah, Constantine). As he mentions their names they glow like priceless rubies, and he explains that, although some of them lived before Christ was made flesh, all have been redeemed because Faith, Hope, and Charity are their sponsors.

                     "The three nymphs,
  Whom at the right wheel thou beheld'st advancing,
  Were sponsors for him, more than thousand years
  Before baptizing. O how far removed,
  Predestination! is thy root from such
  As see not the First Cause entire: and ye,
  O mortal men! be wary how ye judge:
  For we, who see our Maker, know not yet
  The number of the chosen; and esteem
  Such scantiness of knowledge our delight:
  For all our good is, in that primal good,
  Concentrate; and God's will and ours are one."

Canto XXI. Meantime Beatrice, who has grown more and more beautiful as they rise, explains, when Dante again gazes upon her, that she no longer dares smile, lest he be consumed like Semele when she beheld Jove. The magnetic power of her glance suffices again, however, to transfer him to the seventh heaven, that of Saturn (revolved by Thrones). This sphere is the abiding place of contemplative and abstinent hermits and monks. There our poet beholds a ladder, up whose steps silently ascend those whose lives were spent in retirement and holy contemplation. Amazed by all he sees, and conscious he no longer hears the music of the spheres, Dante wonders until informed by one of the spirits, coming down the steps to meet him, that at this stage the heavenly music is too loud and intense for human ears. Seeing his interlocutor suddenly become a whirling wheel of light, Dante inquires what this may mean, only to be told spirits obscured on earth by fleshly garments shine brightly in heaven. The spirit then gives his name (St. Peter Damian), vividly describes the place where he built his hermitage, and declares many modern prelates have sinned so grievously through lechery or avarice that they are now detained in Inferno or Purgatory. As he speaks, spirit after spirit flits down the stairs, each bound on some errand of charity to the spheres below.

Canto XXII. Startled by a loud cry, Dante is reassured by St. Damian's statement that no harm can befall him in heaven. Next Beatrice directs his attention to some descending spirits, the most radiant of which is St. Benedict, who explains how blissful spirits often leave the heavenly abode "to execute the counsel of the Highest." He adds that Dante has been selected to warn mortals, none of whom will ever be allowed to venture hither again. Then St. Benedict describes his life on earth and inveighs against the corruption of the monks of Dante's time.

His speech ended, St. Benedict vanishes, and Beatrice wafts Dante up the mystic stairs, through the constellation of the Gemini, to the eighth heaven, that of the Fixed Stars (revolved by the Cherubim). Declaring he is so near "the last salvation" that his eyes should be unclouded, Beatrice removes the last veil from his sight, and bids him gaze down at the spheres through which they have passed, and "see how vast a world thou hast already put beneath thy feet." Smiling at the smallness of the earth left behind him, Dante, undazzled by the mild light of the moon or the glow of the sun, gazes at the seven revolving spheres until all the scheme of creation is "made apparent to him."

Canto XXIII. Beatrice, who is still standing beside him, finally tears him away from his contemplation of what is beneath him, and directs his glance aloft, where he catches his first glimpse of Christ, escorted by his Mother and by the Church triumphant. Too dazzled and awed at first to grasp what he sees, Dante feels heart and mind expand, as he listens enraptured to sweeter music than was ever made by the nine muses. Meantime the spirits escorting Christ crown the Virgin with lilies, and all sing the praises of the Queen of Heaven.[19]

Canto XXIV. Beatrice and Dante are now joined by the spirit of St. Peter, who examines Dante on faith, receiving the famous reply: "Faith is the substance of the thing we hope for, and evidence of those that are not seen." Not only does St. Peter approve Dante's definition, but he discusses theological questions with him, leading him meanwhile further into this sphere.

Canto XXV. Presently a spirit approaches them which is designated by Beatrice as St. James. After greeting St. Peter and smiling upon Beatrice, St. James reveals he has been sent hither by Christ to examine Dante upon hope, whereupon our poet, lifting his eyes "to the hills," gains courage enough to answer thus: "Hope is the certain expectation of future glory, which is the effect of grace divine and merit precedent." St. James is so pleased with this answer that he glows even more brightly, as St. John, "who lay upon the breast of him, our Pelican," appeared, shining so brightly that Dante, turning to ask Beatrice who he is, discovers he can no longer see her although she is close beside him.

  "I turn'd, but ah! how trembled in my thought,
  When, looking at my side again to see
  Beatrice, I descried her not; although,
  Not distant, on the happy coast she stood."

Canto XXVI. Dante now ascertains he has merely been temporarily blinded by the excess of light which emanates from St. John, who proceeds to examine him in regard to Charity. His answers are greeted by the heavenly chorus with the chant "Holy, holy, holy," in which Beatrice joins, ere she clears the last mote away from Dante's eyes and thus enables him to see more plainly than ever. Our poet now perceives a fourth spirit, in whom he recognizes Adam, father of mankind, who retells the story of Eden, adding that, 4232 years after creation, Christ delivered him from hell, and enabled him to view the changes which had taken place in the fortunes of his descendants during that long space of time.

Canto XXVII. After listening enraptured to the melody of the heavenly choir chanting "Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost," Dante gazes upon the four worthies near him, who glow and shine like torches, while "silence reigns in heaven." Then St. Peter, changing color, holds forth against covetousness, and expounds the doctrine of apostolic succession. Because the early popes died as martyrs, he considers it a disgrace that their successors should be guilty of misgovernment. He adds that the keys bestowed upon him should never figure on banners used in waging unrighteous wars, and that his effigy on the papal seal should never appear on worldly documents.

Then Beatrice affords Dante a glimpse of the earth from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Bosphorus, and, when this vision ends, wafts him up into the ninth heaven, the Primum Mobile, or spot whence all motion starts, although itself remains immovable.

  Here is the goal, whence motion on his race
  Starts: motionless the centre, and the rest
  All moved around.

Canto XXVIII. From this point Dante watches the universe spin around him, until "she who doth emparadise my soul" draws aside the veil of mortality, and allows him to perceive nine concentric spheres of multitudinous angels constantly revolving around a dazzling point while singing "Hosanna!" These are the heavenly host, the hierarchy of angels, Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominations, Virtues, Powers, Princedoms, Archangels, and Angels, in charge of the various circles which compose Dante's Paradise.

Canto XXIX. Able to read Dante's thoughts, Beatrice explains some of the things he would fain know, and disperses his doubts, cautioning him, if he would be blessed, to rid himself of every atom of pride, since that caused even angels to fall!

Canto XXX. Once more Dante's eyes are fixed upon Beatrice, whose beauty far transcends his powers of description, and is by her conveyed into the next circle, the Empyrean, or heaven of pure light, into which he is told to plunge as into a river. Eagerly quaffing its ethereal waters to satisfy his ardent thirst for knowledge, Dante beholds the court of Heaven, and descries its myriads of thrones, all occupied by redeemed spirits. These thrones are grouped around a brilliant centre (God) so as to form a dazzling jewelled rose.

Canto XXXI. Robed in snowy white, the redeemed—who form the petals of the Eternal Rose—are visited from time to time by ruby sparks, which are the angels hovering above them, who plunge like bees into the heart of this flower, their glowing faces, golden wings, and white robes adding charms to the scene. After gazing for some time at this sight in speechless wonder, Dante, turning to question Beatrice, discovers she is no longer beside him! At the same time a being robed in glory near him bids him look up at the third row of thrones from the centre, and there behold her in her appointed seat. Eagerly glancing in the direction indicated, Dante perceives Beatrice, who, when he invokes her, smiles radiantly down upon him, ere she again turns her face to the eternal fountain of light.

                    "So I my suit preferr'd:
  And she, so distant, as appear'd, look'd down,
  And smiled; then towards the eternal fountain turn'd."

Meanwhile the spirit informs Dante he has been sent by Beatrice to help him end his journey safely, for he is St. Bernard, who so longed to behold the Virgin's countenance that that boon was vouchsafed him. Knowing Dante would fain see her too, he bids him find, among the most brilliant lights in the Mystic Rose, the Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven.

Canto XXXII. Because the dazzled Dante cannot immediately locate her, St. Bernard points her out, with Eve, Rachel, Beatrice, Sarah, Judith, Rebecca, and Ruth sitting at her feet, and John the Baptist, St. Augustine, St. Francis, and St. Benedict standing close behind her. He also explains that those who believed in "Christ who was to come" are in one part of the rose, while those who "looked to Christ already come" are in another, but that all here are spirits duly assoiled, and adds that, although occupying different ranks, these spirits are perfectly satisfied with the places awarded to them. Told now to look up at the face most closely resembling Christ's Dante discovers it is that of St. Gabriel, angel of the annunciation, and he descries further on St. Peter, Moses, and St. Anna, as well as Santa Lucia who induced Beatrice to send for him.

Canto XXXIII. This done, St. Bernard fervently prays the Virgin, who not only "gives succor to him who asketh it, but oftentimes forerunneth of its own accord the asking," to allow Dante one glimpse of Divine Majesty. Seeing this prayer is graciously received, St. Bernard bids Dante look up. Thanks to his recently purified vision, our poet has a glimpse of the Triune Divinity,—compounded of love,—which so transcends all human expression that he declares "what he saw was not for words to speak."

He concludes his grand poem, however, by assuring us that, although dazed by what he had seen, his

"will roll'd onward, like a wheel In even motion, by the love impell'd, That moves the sun in heaven and all the stars."


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