Paradiso Canto 22: From the “Little Threshing Floor” to “The Harmony of the Spheres”

“I danced in the morning when the world was young.
I danced in the moon, and the stars and the sun.
I came down from heaven, and I danced on the earth.
At Bethlehem I had my birth.”

“Dance, dance, wherever you may be
I am the lord of the dance,” said He.
“And I lead you all, wherever you may be
And I lead you all in the dance,” said He.

“I danced for the scribes and the Pharisees.
They wouldn’t dance, they wouldn’t follow me.
I danced for the fishermen, James and John,
They came with me, so the dance went on.”

“Dance, dance, wherever you may be
I am the lord of the dance,” said He.
And I lead you all, wherever you may be
And I lead you all in the dance,” said He.

“I danced on the Sabbath and I cured the lame.
The holy people said it was a shame.
They ripped, they stripped, they hung me high;
Left me there on the cross to die.”

“Dance, dance, wherever you may be.
I am the lord of the dance,” said He.
“And I lead you all, wherever you may be
And I lead you all in the dance,” said He.

“I danced on a Friday when the world turned black.
It’s hard to dance, with the devil on your back.
They buried my body, they thought I was gone
But I AM THE DANCE, and the dance goes on.”

“Dance, dance, wherever you may be.
I am the lord of the dance,” said He.
“And I lead you all, wherever you may be
And I lead you all in the dance,” said He.

“They cut me down, and I leapt up high.
I am The Life that will never, never die.
I’ll live in you, if you’ll live in me.
I am the Lord of the Dance,” said He.

“Dance, dance, wherever you may be.
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He.
And I lead you all, wherever you may be.
And I lead you all in the dance,” said He.
(Sydney Carter, The Lord of the Dance; sung to Simple Gifts)

** We are still in the Seventh sphere, Saturn, the “Sphere for the Contemplatives. ” **
Soon Dante will move up into the “Sphere of the Fixed Stars”
through Gemini, the constellation under which Dante was born, and, to whose powers he has attributed his talent (see Par. 22.112-20).

But, for now, Dante is overwhelmed by the expansive thundering sound of the heavenly host.

My sense reeled, and as a child in doubt runs always to
the one it trusts the most, I turned to my guide, still
shaken by that shout;

and she, like a mother, ever prompt to calm her pale and
breathless son with kindly words, the sound of which is
his accustomed balm,

said: Do you not know you are in the skies of Heaven
itself? That all is holy here? That all things spring from
love in Paradise?” [Par 22, 1-9]

When he recovered via Beatrice’s ministrations, Dante beholds another brilliant orb amongst the heaven’s saints.

Although the beauty overwhelms him, Dante asks whether he may see the Saint fully, clearly.
He is told he must wait until he reaches the Empyrean (the final sphere), where all the spirits truly are, to do so.

He soon learns that it is Benedict, the father of the Western monastic tradition.

“Hence, brethren,
if we wish to reach the very highest point of humility
and to arrive speedily at that heavenly exaltation
to which ascent is made through the humility of this present life,
we must by our ascending actions erect the ladder Jacob saw in his dream, on which Angels appeared to him descending and ascending.

By that descent and ascent we must surely understand nothing else than this, that we descend by self-exaltation and ascend by humility.
And the ladder thus set up is our life in the world,
which the Lord raises up to heaven if our heart is humbled.
For we call our body and soul the sides of the ladder,
and into these sides our divine vocation has inserted
the different steps of humility and discipline we must climb.”
– St. Benedict of Nursia ca. 480-547, Rule of St. Benedict Chap. 7

Benedict identifies this “ladder of contemplation” as being the biblical ladder that appeared in a dream to Jacob. (22.70-2)

We are climbing Jacob’s ladder
Soldiers of the cross.
Every rung goes higher and higher
Do you think I made the soldier
Rise, shine, give God your glory
Keep on climbing, we will make it
Children do you want your freedom
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
Every round goes higher, higher,
Sinner, do you love my Jesus?
If you love Him, why not serve Him?

Benedict vs the Benedictines

Here in the ”Sphere of Temperance,” Benedict represents the self-control and discipline, obedience and simplicity, of this virtue.
It is not strange, therefore, that the saint laments the state of his own order.

He realizes his monks show greed worse than even than that of Rome.
The Rule of his order demands poverty, chastity and obedience, manual labor, and irrevocable vows.
Dante’s has always admired the poverty and purity of the early Church, and this contrast which he sees in contemporary religion horrifies him.

“For all the goods of the Church, tithes and donations,
are for the poor of God, not to make fat the families of
monks—and worse relations.
[Par XXII, 82 – 84]

“Yet Jordan flowing backward, and the sea parting as God
willed, were more wondrous sights than God’s help to
His stricken Church would be.”
[Par XXII, 94-96]

Beatrice tells Dante to prepare himself for the celestial joy that lies ahead by looking down.

She encourages him to look at Earth and all its smallness, down, down through all the seven spheres (the seven ‘planets,’ representing the seven virtues).

In contrast to these impressive, wheeling spheres, the earth, is no more than a “little threshing-floor (aiuola),” which by its very petty scale incites humanity’s ferocity (See Par. 22, 151).

Together, they enter the stellar heavens through the constellation of Gemini, Dante’s birth-sign

and instantaneously (at warp speed?) are transported to the “Stellar Sphere.”

“Therefore, before you enter further here look down and
see how vast a universe I have put beneath your feet,
bright sphere on sphere.” . .

“My eyes went back through the seven spheres below,
and I saw this globe, so small, so lost in space, I had to
smile at such a sorry show.”
[Par. 22, 127-129 & 133 -135]

Once again Dante is faced with the sinful and insignificant nature of man.
But, his hope returns as he is transported to the stellar sphere.

Afterword:

I am sure Dante would be perplexed (dismayed?) by the following poem, but I find it a delightful description of how I think Empyrean would seem to me:

“Heavenly Playground” by Adrian Plass

Oh God, I’m not anxious to snuff it,
but when the Grim Reaper reaps me,
I’ll try to rely on
my vision of Zion,
I know how I want it to be.

As soon as you greet me in Heaven,
and ask what I’d like, I shall say,
“I just want a chance
for my spirit to dance,
I want to be able to play.?”

Tell the angels to build a soft playground,
designed and equipped just for me,
with a vertical slide
that’s abnormally wide,
and oceans of green PVC.

There’ll be reinforced netting to climb on,
and rubberized floors that will bend,
and no one can die,
so I needn’t be shy
if I’m tempted to land on a friend!

I’m gonna go mad in the soft, squashy mangle,
and balmy with balls in the swamp,
colored and spherical,
I’ll be hysterical!
I’ll have a heavenly romp!

There’ll be cushions and punch bags and tires
in purple and yellow and red,
and a mushroomy thing
that will suddenly sing
if I kick it or sit on its head.

There’ll be fountains of squash and ribina
to feed my continual thirst,
and none of that stuff
about “You’ve had enough,”
surely heavenly bladders won’t?’ burst.

I suppose I might be too tall for the entrance,
but Lord, chuck the rules in the bin.
If I am too large,
tell the angel in charge
to let me bow down and come in.

COME JOIN IN THE PLAY!

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About bobsinner

I am a retired educator: Administrator [Academic Dean; Director of Admissions] and History Teacher [Grades 9-Graduate School]. Recently of The Montclair Kimberley Academy, NJ. Presently a ruling elder of The Lawrenceville Presbyterian Church, NJ . View all posts by bobsinner

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