Author Archives: bobsinner

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 .

The Ultimate Canto: Paradiso 33

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars which you have established; what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”
(Ps 8:4-5).

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A l’alta fantasia qui mancò possa;
ma già volgeva il mio disio e ‘l velle,
sì come rota ch’igualmente è mossa,
l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle.
(Par, 33.142)

Here my powers rest from their high fantasy;
but already I could feel my being turned –
instinct and intellect balanced equally
as in a wheel whose motion nothing jars –
by the Love that moves the Sun and the other stars.

In the “end – that is, “In the beginning,” in the NOW, and “ultimately” in “the end,” it’s all about LOVE – all types of Love – which is really all one type – – – God’s Love.

Words fail – they fail me now much more than they ever failed the divine poet.

But it is all about LOVE.

As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his “Encyclical Letter, ‘Deus Caritas Est,’
to the Bishops, Priests and Deacons, Men and Women Religious, and All the Lay Faithful on Christian Love:”

reflecting upon 1 Cor 15:28

“Love grows through love. Love is ‘divine’ because it comes from God and unites us to God; through this unifying process it makes us a ‘we’ which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the end God is ‘all in all.’ ”

“Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Lk 17:33), as Jesus says throughout the Gospels.

In these words, Jesus portrays his own path, which leads through the Cross to the Resurrection:
the path of the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, and in this way bears much fruit. Starting from the depths of his own sacrifice and of the love that reaches fulfilment therein, he also portrays in these words the essence of love and indeed of human life itself.
– (‘Deus Caritas Est,’) ”

Fellow Pilgrims, we have arrived at Last. It has been a wonderful pilgrimage.
AGAPE


Amen. And Amen. And Hallelujah!! Thanks be to God

DEDICATED to my Brother, Paul E. Sinner


Paradiso Canto 28: Chess, Angels and Order: “THE METAPHORICAL MATHEMATICS of HEAVEN”

…As I recall, did I first stare
into the heaven of those precious eyes
in which, o trap me, Love had set his snare;

then turned, and turning felt my senses reel
as my own were struck by what shines in that heaven
when we look closely at its turning wheel.

I saw a Point of light
Of such intensity that the eye it strikes
Must close or ever after lose its sight.
– Para XXVIII, 10-18

There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat,
from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony,
I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment
for the people of Israel.

– Exodus 25: 22 (ESV)

But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”
And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock,
and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock,
and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.
Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back,
but my face shall not be seen.”

– Exodus 33:20-23 (ESV)

So, our pilgrim and Beatrice have arrived at the “Primum Mobile,” the largest sphere, and are coming ever closer to “The Face of God“:
– the Face which Moses could not bear to look upon directly;
– the Face which had to take upon itself a human form to address mankind’s deficiencies.
– That which had to undergo degradation, death and resurrection in order to make Himself fully accessible to we unworthy humans.

And we return to our first encounter with that light, during the First Canto:
“Just as we would never stare at the sun (here I’m remembering … the solar eclipse of 1972 … and our mothers’ warning never to stare directly at it), Dante does just that. Beatrice can look at it, no problem. Somehow that Dante reflexively imitates her action (a “reflection” of her action) and does not go blind (which) indicates that something has already changed in him: he is capable of seeing ‘it’ …” (See above: “The Still Point of the Turning World” by jeffvamos)

Up front and close, we are confronted with “The still point of the turning world. “

Once again, Dante first sees The Face first in a “glass darkly,” via reflection in his beloved’s eye.
The spark of light is so intense he still cannot truly bear it on his own.
But as Beatrice explains to him the angelic orders that orbit this light, he “begins” to understand what he beholds here.

He is ‘seeing’ “the “Holy of Holies,” surrounded by the nine orders of adoring angels.
And, how does our Pilgrim come to grips with this ultimate reality?
This reality which is so far beyond our human senses and feeble comprehension?
Only through the use of metaphors.

With the aid of his lady, he beholds the ethereal essence, but he can only describe it through metaphors, and through his own grasp of the abstract, using mathematics.

This all came to mind, as my wife Judy and I visited the Amish/ Mennonite country in Lancaster, PA, this past week. As I began to reflect on many different ways of understanding and worshipping God.

When we viewed the reconstruction of the Tabernacle of the Ark of the Covenant there, the image of the Temple Curtain being torn asunder on the day of the Crucifixion flashed before me.

Why was there a curtain at all ?

Why was it no longer needed after the resurrection?

Well, we are told God had had to shield mankind from His “terrible aspect” before Christ. He shielded us from Himself, the Shekeinah (The Spirit of the Lord), within the Tabernacle.

But God made flesh, and sacrificed, enabled us to known Him in a different way.

So, now We are back to paradoxical thought.

Back to the essential paradox for all Christians; to the Three-in-one – the Trinity.

Dante understood these paradoxes.
Or, rather, he understood that he could only understand through faith.

The best he could do in order to convey his understanding(s) was to use metaphors – the blinding light, spherical magnitude, the speeding orbits.

And, even there, he had to explain that everything in heaven (anywhere near God – oh, yes, even here) had to be stood on its head to BEGIN to comprehend.

Hence the reference to the chessboard problem [Near infinity; The number obtained is “2 to the power 63, plus one” (based on the 64 squares on the board)], to represent infinity for our weak minds.

Hence the angels orbiting God in reverse order and speed and size to what we would expect on earth. Hence the need for Beatrice to explain, still again, what Dante thinks he is “seeing.”

So Seraphim, and cherubim, and Thrones (in the first triad of spheres), right down to the “lowly” angels and archangels that sometimes rub shoulders with us, have their place.

But, it takes metaphors and mathematics just to begin to convey the almighty glory of Paradise wherein God meets us. There. Here? Hmmmm…


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!


Paradiso Canto 16: The Guelph, The Ghibelline, War and Fortitude

The sixteenth part of the Paradise of Dante Alighieri takes place in the sphere of Mars, where reside the spirits of those who fought and died for the faith

It seems quite strange to this reader, having been to war, though most certainly NOT a “Holy One” (Is any war truly Holy? Mine was the Second Indochina War), to find in the central canto of the central triptych of Paradise to be the “Fifth Heaven of Mars.”
We are in the heaven of Holy Warriors.

Stranger still, to find the canto revolve around a discourse on Florentine politics and a replay of the struggle between the Guelphs and Ghibellines (both Black and White) as proxies for the papacy and Dante’s beloved Holy Roman Emperor. Between the powers “spiritual” and “temporal” as it were.
Perhaps it strikes a strong chord with this reader because he was in Vietnam at the turning point (the Tet Offensive of 1968), which he has always considered the second Triptych of that war.
How the past confronts one, whether with Cacciaguida for Dante, or Dante for the reader.

Or, perhaps, Not — Not so strange.

Indeed are not these forces ever present in the realm of man? The duel between mind and body? Between spirit and reason?

Yes, true, but this is halfway up to the empyrean!
This is IN paradise.

But, then, we are in THIS world, trying to perceive THAT one with Dante’s help.

This is man’s projection of his concept of order upon the otherwise imperceptible.
We are back once again to the mystery of the incarnation; to the paradox of the Trinity.

God is God, but God is also human and God is spirit. How else are we to understand? How else are we to explain? How are we to accept God’s Will, even while we have Free Will? How are we to accept judgment, rather than to judge?

And so, we meet Cacciaguida in the sphere of Mars.

And in the second Cacciaguidan Canto, we find out that the Earth, too, is, in some respects a part of heaven. Or at least, so it must seem to us who cannot truly perceive it all until we are with the Lord.

So, … Warriors.
And where there are warriors, there has been strife – war; and often the worst type – internal unrest – civil war.

In Dante’s case, a war that has been heightened by the very powers entrusted with the welfare of its people: the supreme earthly Powers Spiritual (The Papacy) and Temporal (the Holy Roman Emperor).

Dante, himself, was no stranger to war, to combat on the field (he had fought in the Guelph cavalry at the Battle of Campaldino, 1289), and political infighting (as Cacciaguida predicts, Dante is exiled from his beloved Florence during the G & G infighting). As both Guelphs and Ghibellines (both black and white) play their parts in bringing the city low.

And so our pilgrim finds himself overjoyed, saddened, angered, perplexed as he hears his great grandfather relate the rise and fall of the Florentines in history. And, even Dante realizes “All are punished,” but “All can also be blessed. “

“With such as these I saw there in my past
so valiant and so just a populace
that none had ever seized the ensign’s mast
and hung the lily on it upside down.
Nor was the red dye of its division known.

– 151 – 155, Ciardi

OR, in another version:

“ For justice fam’d, but terrible in war,
Their military glory spread afar;
No Conqu’ror then their banner bore away
From the lost field ; the hours had not arriv’d,
When, in their fury, all the Fiends contriv’d
To stain it’s fold with blood in civil fray.

It would seem Dante allows some pride to be found in Heaven

[Dedicated to Henry Elwood Fullerton,
My “Father,” A “Reluctant, Gentle Warrior” ]


Paradiso Canto 10: Of Faith and Reason in an ICU

Down in adoration falling,
This great sacrament we hail;
Over ancient forms of worship
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith tells us that Christ is present
When our human senses fail.

– St. Thomas Aquinas
(Sing, My Tongue, The Savior’s Glory)

As I sit here writing this blog, in my ninety-eight year old father-in-law’s room, in a brand new ICU in New Jersey, it seems appropriate that my topic for consideration today is the Tenth Canto of Dante’s “Paradiso.”

In two more days, the family will face major decisions concerning my Father’s (my father-in-law’s) future.

His small, but strong, body lies dwarfed in a large hospital bed, hooked up to “who-knows-how-many” life-support systems; marvels of modern science.

Marvels, but not miracles.

The penultimate scene from the French film masterpiece “Of Gods and Men,” confronts me, as the waltz from “Swan Lake” sweeps over the me.

Some eight harried Cistercian monks in Algeria partake of their “Last Supper” and prepare for what is to come … Faith and Reason. Reason and Faith. What to do? How to accept? Why? Because.

An event of some twenty months ago also comes into focus.
Pope Benedict XVI is commenting upon the importance of both Faith and Reason, and on Thomas Aquinas in particular:
“When natural law and the responsibility … are denied, the way is thrown … open to ethical relativism at an individual level, and to totalitarianism at a political level.” A frightening thought, indeed. … “The great contribution of the ‘Angelic Doctor,’ was to underline the essential interaction between faith and reason; between theology and philosophy. … The trust St. Thomas places in these two instruments of knowledge can be explained by his conviction that both come from a single wellspring of truth, the divine Logos, which works in the area of both creation and redemption.” (Pope Benedict XVI on the Contribution of Thomas Aquinas to the world – NY Times, June 16, 2010)

I believe Dante would have concurred.

The medieval theologian Aquinas had, perhaps, the most influence on Dante’s Weltanschauung (worldview). Aquinas put the teachings of rational philosophy in the service of religious faith and doctrine. He called the natural law “the human participation in God’s eternal law.” He wrote about faith and reason, the “two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth. “ Through faith we accept Divine Revelation, and through reason we can understand basic practical principles (the ‘primary principles of natural law.’) ”

When Dante and Beatrice first arrive in the sphere of the Sun, a circle of spirits surrounds them in a dance of circling song and light. Aquinas is the spokesman for this first circle, the circle of the “twelve wise spirits.” Among these spirits we encounter many of the history’s great minds: Thomas’ teacher, Albertus Magnus of Cologne, King Solomon, (author of “Song of Songs”), Boethius (“Consolation of Philosophy”), Peter Lombard (“Sentences”), Gratian, Dionysius the Areopagite, Paulus Orosius; Isidore of Seville (“Etymologies”), the Venerable Bede, Richard of St. Victor, and a twelfth-century mystic opposed to Aquinas, called Siger of Brabant.

And, so at last, I come to the question frequently raised by many.

“Can science and religion be successfully remarried? Can a reunion of these old lovers infuse new vitality to the whole of western culture?” as Teilhard passionately asserted it would, or, as his critics suggest, does “Teilhard accomplish the reconciliation of science and religion at the expense of both partners to the marriage?” Does he fatally compromise both sides in forcing an alliance which should never have been attempted in the first place? See Pierre Teilhard De Chardin

Where does science (reason) begin and end? Where, and how, does it interact with, and lead to, and from, Faith? Can they be harmonized?

For Dante, all is harmonized in Heaven.

What say you? ????????


Paradiso Canto 4: In Luna’s Light: Truth and truth – Can God be Unjust? [ Or, The Dilemma of Perception and Reality ]


Man’s mind, I know, cannot win through the mist
Unless it is illumined by that Truth
Beyond which truth has nowhere to exist
(IV, 124-126)

In his discussion of the Second Canto, John Timpane asserted of Truth:
“Our one way even to approach the truth of the Truth is to have faith, and to see through faith — indeed, as the glad light of Intelligence shines through the living pupil.” (See C2, above)

All that, of course, presents us with the major issue of what is truth / Truth?
In “Ode to a Grecian Urn,” Keats wrote that:
‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all.
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’

And, Shakespeare’s brooding Dane stated:

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
(Hamlet, Act I, Scene V)

Neither was the first to be disturbed by this question.

The Greek Sophists argued that since nothing can be perceived except through the senses, and since all individuals sense, and therefore perceive, things differently—there is no absolute truth, only relative truth. So they believed. That IS quite a rub.

“What is Truth? Christ and Pilate, 1890” By Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge The “Horatio Question”

Truth and Will:
Many who have explored this canto in depth refer to it as a discussion of the “Risks of Free Will,” and the inherent and dangers in “Breaking Vows.” These are serious issues.

/>The implications of the tales of Piccarda and Constance indeed concern this reader as much as they did Pilgrim Dante. Something just does not seem right/fair. The judgment seems so, so … well – so unfair.

Why are these two seemingly blameless women, chaste and devoted, who were forced against their own will to break their vows, relegated to the bottom sphere of Paradise? Why do they hold lower status than the others in Heaven?

Well, one could turn to the old adages: “Ours is not to reason why,” and “God works in mysterious ways”. But, Beatrice informs us – “NOT SO.” Piccarda and Constance are as close to God as any in heaven, it just SEEMS otherwise to us – to our limited comprehension (at least that is the first argument).
They showed themselves here not because this post
was assigned to them, but to symbolize
that they stand lowest in the Heavenly host.

So must one speak to mortal imperfection
which only from the sensible apprehends
whatever it them makes fit for intellection
. (IV, 36-42)

It’s all about perception, you know, about our imperfect perception.
How do we perceive? Well, through our senses, of course. We know that the problem of misperception of reality (and REALITY) has been the basis for many a poorly made decision, right here, in this, our world of the mundane. And, if perception is a problem in the material world, then how well can one perceive in /of the spiritual? The Divine? This is a major problem for all us lesser beings. Therefore, as Beatrice explains:
“Scripture in like condescends,
describing God as having hands and feet
as signs to men of what more it portends.”
(IV, 43–45)

OMNIPOTENCE, OMNISCIENCE, AND OMNIPRESENCE – Oh My!
Indeed, in the fourth canto, Dante (the author; not the pilgrim) emphasizes the importance, and the seeming problems involved in “Free Will,” including the conundrum of “Theological Fatalism” (The “Paradox of Free Will”: If God knew how we would decide and how we would act, when he created us, how can Free Will exist at all?
Indeed, are omnipresence / omniscience and Free Will compatible?

Beatrice points out that Plato made a grievous error concerning destiny and the preordained paths of our lives. He believed in fate and predestination.
Beatrice explains to Dante (the pilgrim) that people are not “drawn to planets” (this basically meaning they were predestined to do so), as Plato asserted in his Timaeus (shades of Samuel Butler’s “Realm of the Unborn” and “Birth Formulae” in his Erewhon).
This is illusion.
It occurs to enable mortals visiting Paradise to sense souls at all.
Beatrice proceeds to tell Dante that souls only seem to be ‘located’ at particular ‘levels’ (see Ciardi 628). These souls are, in fact, fully blessed, and as close to God as are all those in heaven. None of the souls Dante sees here are actually ‘here’ (in the Lunar sphere) at all. Instead, she explains, every one of the ‘saved souls’ inhabit the highest heaven, the Empyrean. They only appear to be in different levels of heaven to Dante because that is the only way a human mind can perceive them at all. They may not all be equal in their blessedness, but they all dwell with the Lord.

And, what of Broken Vows? Of Absolute Will, Conditioned Will and Justice?
There is a reason for the existence of choice. Humans were made in God’s own image. They were given autonomy. Without choice, indeed, there is, in a sense, no good nor evil.

So, we have choice. We have Free Will. But, what is the extent of its scope? Is it relative or absolute? There would be little reason to have a unique purpose, or to hold meaning in life, if everyone’s life were predetermined. Dante (the author) was well aware of this; he believed that humans could control their own destinies. God put everyone on an even playing field: that’s justice; that’s Grace.

So, do we have truly Free Will? Or, is the “game rigged against us?” The former, according to Beatrice, because we have the ability to utilize our God-given Absolute Will. But, to succeed, we need to overrule our earthly Conditioned Will. The Absolute Will is incapable of willing evil, she asserted. But, the Conditioned Will, when coerced by violence or temptation, interacts with it and consents to a lesser harm in order to escape a greater.” (See Ciardi p 629) And, while men may not be able to control the forces that stop them from pursuing their vows, they can control their reactions to these forces.

As to the stratified nature of Heaven, every soul in Heaven rejoices equally in the bliss of God’s will. However, those who did not fully keep their vows are found in the lower ‘classes’ of the blessed. Not because they are viewed as less important to God, but quite simply because they lack capability to be closer to Him in Heaven. Therefore, in Heaven, as in Hell and Purgatory, a type of hierarchy does exist.

The second problem involves the inviolability of the will and the amount of freedom in forced actions. When one is forced to break a vow, should God hold them accountable for doing so? To what extent? Should they be diminished?
Well, yes, if they do not act to rectify the situation later. That is what absolutes are all about. That is why there are so many martyred saints (e.g. St. Lawrence and Mucius; 81-86). So said Beatrice. It is sin to break a vow to avoid danger or to “avoid the violence of others threatening them.” Committing a sin out of fear for life is understandable, but diminishes one. Beatrice called this “laziness of will,” Conditioned Will, in opposition to not the God-given Absolute Will.
A vow is a pact with God, in which one necessarily gives up his/her Free Will. Breaking a vow is just that, “Breaking a Vow.” Beatrice ventures to help Dante reconcile these incessantly frustrating theological issues of ‘Independent Action,’ ‘Free Will,’ ‘Predestination’; and the existence of ‘God’s Plan.’ She satisfies him; I’m not sure she satisfies me.

Afterword: At the conclusion of the Canto, Beatrice asserts that temporal power does exist concerning means to compensate for the transgressions of the Conditioned Will. Papal Indulgences are valid, but must be used carefully, with wisdom and authority. Future Protestants take note!
Bob Sinner


Cantos 28 & 30: Intersections of Divine and Human

Joseph: “Well, keep your eyes open. …”

Clarence: “ Where? I…I don’t see a thing.”

Joseph: “Oh, I forgot. You haven’t got your wings yet.

Now look, I’ll help you out.

Concentrate, Clarence.

Begin to see something?

Clarence: “Why, yes!  This is amazing!…”

AS WE LOOK DOWN FROM OUR CELESTIAL CLOUD TO THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE, WE SEE A TERRACED MOUNTAIN AT THE VERY ANTIPODE TO MESOPOTAMIA.

We see Dante has made major progress.  He has reached the pinnacle of Mount Purgatory.

He, Virgil and Statius have arrived in “il Giardino dell’Eden,” in “Paradiso Terrestre” (Earthly Paradise). In awe, they enter the garden.

But wait, adjusting our ‘angel sight,’ we see much more.

The poets are at the conjunction of Heaven and Hell.  Oh, of course, that is Purgatorio.

But, more particularly, they have arrived at the very intersection, the crossing point between Purgatory, and Heaven itself.

What a contradiction of realities, even of words, is this “Earthly Paradise”

– it is the quintessential oxymoron.

Eden has not existed since the dawn of human trespass; and yet, here it is.

The pilgrims have, in fact, arrived at the very convergence of a multiplicity of spheres; indeed, of many different types of spheres.

What do we see?

Now dependent, as we are here, upon the limited scope of ‘human knowledge,’ we see a number of “intersecting Venn diagrams”: and, mostly of dualities.

We see interactions between human knowledge and Divine Knowledge;

between the corporeal and the spiritual;

between Reason and Faith.

In this garden of an eternal fountain, of two rivers, of beauty almost too painful to view, we find Matilda, the ‘Lady of Innocence,’ our Eve before ‘The Fall.’ She is singing and gathering flowers.

We have reached the point of “Farewell and Hail,”

of forgetting and remembering,

of the “Active” and the “Reflective.

Joseph directs Clarence’s attention to the unfolding drama.

He points out that in the last canto of this story, Dante had had a dream, a Biblically symbolic dream of Leah and Rachel.

Dante had related that dream as follows:

“… in my dream, I seemed to see a woman

both young and fair; along a plain she gathered

flowers, and even as she sang, she said:

Whoever asks my name, know that I’m Leah,

and I apply my lovely hands to fashion

a garland of the flowers I have gathered.” [Canto XXVII, lines 97–102]

In this dream, the young, beautiful Leah gathered flowers for a garland and observed how her sister Rachel could never stop observing her reflection in a mirror.   The observers know from Genesis (29-30; 35) that Leah and Rachel acted out, respectively, examples of the active and contemplative lives.

Here, in earthly paradise, so soon after this dream, Dante beholds Matilda (although she is not named for two more cantos) as the “Lady of Innocence,” as an active presence.

In response to Dante’s questions, Matilda explains the Garden, its creation, its purpose, and it maintenance.

She also explains the two streams that flow through it. The first (where Dante finds her) is the Lethe, which empties the minds of those who drink from it of all cancelled sins.

The second one, the Eunoe, when drunk, enhances recollections of the good that one has accomplished.

Matilda also emphasizes that one must drink of the Lethe before the Eunoe for the spell to work.

Refocusing after some thought, Clarence asks “Why do Statius and Virgil hold back?“

Once again, Joseph points to the multiplicity of intersecting spheres surrounding them.

Virgil can go no further. He has reached the extreme tether of his sphere of existence.  Human wisdom can go no further.

Statius simply smiles.  It is not for him to intervene here.

“And what of this Matilda?   What of the streams?”

“Well, Clarence, remember Leah and Rachel?

“Matilda is Dante’s Leah.  She represents the active life: the life of this world in a perfected state.   Dante first must understand the human paradise that God made for mortal humanity, before he can begin to grasp the eternal paradise that God made for our spiritual selves.“

“And Rachel?”

“That comes soon.”

“The streams?”

“They are essential for humans who would move on, move up, in their quest for the good and for God.

They must purge their sins – forget the bad they have done.

But, they must also remember, cherish, and move forward toward the good.”

“What happens next?”

A bright flash and the arrival of a majestic procession that includes all sorts of symbolic characters startle Dante and his observers.

Voices are singing ‘Hosanna’.

The light comes from seven candles, their pure, steady flames leaving rainbow trails behind them as they lead the entourage.

Using their special sight, Joseph and Clarence view a grand parade including:

– 24 Elders (books of the Old Testament),

– four six-winged angels (the Gospels),

– a two-wheeled chariot (The Church),

– drawn by a griffin (Christ),

– seven dancing nymphs (the virtues),

– then two more elders (Paul and Luke),

– and lesser New Testament writers,

–   –   and finally

– an old man with undimmed eyes (John /Revelations).

This “Mystic Procession” symbolizes the “Church Triumphant.”

It suddenly stops at a crack of thunder, and there arose the song

“Come, spouse to Lebanon”, “(Benedictus gui Venis”).

BEATRICE HAS ARRIVED!

She is to be Dante’s new guide.

It is at this time Dante first notices that Virgil has disappeared.

Virgil’s work escorting Dante is at last done.

Being unable to go any further towards Heaven, he has departed.

But, asks Clarence, “Who is this Beatrice?

“She is Dante’s Rachel.”

“Did Dante seek her?”

“Oh, indeed, though not constantly and consistently enough.”

Unexpectedly, the chariotress reproves Dante for his rudeness.

When angels in the procession ask Beatrice why Dante is being chastised, she tells them that he had fallen so far in his life, only his seeing Hell had save him.

Even at this point in his long pilgrimage, Dante himself requires repentance before he can enter Heaven.

Looking closely, we see that the Beatrice who appears to Dante in the Chariot is both the real Beatrice he knew, but also is a representative, of “Divine Philosophy.”

Her very name derives from “full beatitude.

She is a symbol of spiritual love, the only path to true knowledge and understanding.

“Aha, could she then be…”

“Yes, Clarence, she sits with Rachel in Heaven, as the symbol of  ‘the light linking truth to intellect.’

She is …’the source of truth in matters of religion.’ ”

“So Clarence, you see, Dante, and we observers, have reached the structural

‘keystone of the story – the poem,’

This is not just a general convergence of spheres, it is the convergence point in the story’s plot.

This is the “climax” of his Divina Commedia: Dante’s pilgrim has at long last achieved reunion (at least the starting point of it) with Beatrice.

But, there’s still a measure of distance during which Dante (and we)  must realize he (and we) are on our own. “

For Dante still has a long road ahead; ‘his internal suffering of shame will not be done yet’  (thanks John).

Although Dante has found Beatrice, and she  represents “Divine Love” and “Perfect Peace,” he still has much to learn.

–   “As do we all,” says Clarence.

Best Wishes, Dante!  Bob S

 

"Beatrice with the Holy Grail" by Rossetti



Gluttony Redux – Reflecting Through Pictures

GLUTTONS ARE US !

“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.”  (Matthew 5. 6)

Physical and spiritual appetites are normal to healthy human beings. Yet neither the body nor the soul is self-sustaining.

Both must be fed regularly

.

BUT !!

Of course,  in canto 24, on the Terrace of the Gluttons, we are faced with the theme of misguided  love once more.


Dante is reminded of this over & over  again.

GLUTTONY   

“Dante’s Theory of Everything”Dante’s view of what’s wrong with the world and how to fix it.

“Christians are not perfect,  just forgiven.”


The Beatitudes

The Beatitudes play an integral part in explaining these

wrongs, the many aspects of the seven deadly sins.

They are our sickness; the Beatitudes are its cure.

As Dante moves upward, the Angel of   Temperance,  removes his 5th P,

while singing a new version of the Fourth Beatitude:

“Beati qui esuriunt et sitiunt iustitiam ”  –

“Blessed are they whom grace

Enlightens so, the love of taste enkindles

No overindulgent longings in their breasts,

“Hungering always only after justice!”

But, THE DANCE GOES ON, and on, and on

 


“I am here to speak for all generations to come. I am here to speak on behalf of starving children around the world whose cries go unheard.

Even when we have more than enough, we are afraid to share. We are afraid to let go of some of our wealth. Two days ago here in Brazil, we were shocked when we spent some time with children living in the streets. This is what one child told us:

‘I wish I was rich. And if I were, I would give all the street children food, clothes, medicine, shelter, love and affection.’

If child on the streets who has nothing is willing to share – why are we, who have everything, still so greedy?

How much has been changed since Severn spoke that day?

As Gandhi said many years ago, ‘We must become the change we want to see.’ I know change is possible.”

Address to the Plenary Session, Earth Summit, Rio Centro, Brazil 1992″ by Severn Suzuki, age 12.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

And this second tree is only an offshoot of the true “Tree of Knowlege of Good and Evil!”
THINK ABOUT IT!!

And a small child shall lead them.



Canto XIX: “Adhesit Pavimento Anima Mea” (“My Soul Clings to the Dust”)

As we encounter Dante in the Nineteenth Canto, he is still on the Terrace of the Slothful – the Terrace of Apathy.

Dali - Dante's Dream, Canto XIX

Falling into the Siren’s dream, Dante finds he is unable to escape on his own. He needs the help of Reason (Virgil) to unmask the Siren, and to help him awaken.  He also needs Divine inspiration (Beatrice) to communicate hope to him.

Dante soon comes to realize that the evil desires inspired by the Siren, the sins of the flesh and the excessive love of material things, are the basis for the purging that will take place on the final three terraces.

As Dante and Virgil arise to a full day’s sun, the Angel of Zeal guides them to the cleft leading to the next level.   As the angel invites them to ascend, he fans them with his wings, and pronounces the beatitude, “Benedicti qui lugent” (Blessed are they that mourn) upon Dante.

In so doing he relieves Dante of another “P” from his forehead.

As Dante continues to contemplate all the evil the Siren has caused and can cause, Virgil urges him forward,

“Let it teach your heels to scorn the earth, your eyes

to turn to the high lure the Eternal King

spins with his mighty spheres across the skies”  (61-63)

They have arrived at the Terrace of Avarice and Prodigality, where those possessed of the opposite extremes of proprietary incontinence do penance.

“My soul cleaves to the dust,” I heard them cry

over and over as we stood among them;

and every word was swallowed by a sigh.”   (73-75)

For, indeed, the pair discover this next group of repentant souls are lying face down n the dirt, weeping and reciting the psalm, “Adhesit pavimento anima mea ” (“My soul clings to the dust; Revive me according to Your word,” Psalm 119:25-32).

It is a totally fitting penance for those who had always looked toward earthly objects for fulfillment. So too, must Dante trample upon earthly enticements and turn his eyes toward Heaven.

The first of these they encounter is the recently deceased Pope (“Successor of Peter”), Adrian V (d.1276), whose few worthy weeks in office were poor compensation for his years of avarice.  Adrian explains that because he had so loved earthly goods, rather than heeding God’s call, he and the other greedy souls about him were groveling face down in the dirt as penance.

And what does all this say to us, today?

Well, is there a Madison Avenue?  Are we a consumer society? Does conspicuous consumption run riot? Are we ‘born to shop?’

Indeed, Avarice is a sin that our culture not only encourages, but one which demands commitment.

Countless messages scream at us each day:

Get more! Buy more! Have more!

And where does this lead us?

Not only to waste, spoilage, and,  worse, to “False Gods.”

It leads us to solitude, loneliness and despair.

I feel the old Simon and Garfunkle song [“The Sound of Silence”] of 1964 is as sadly true now as it was then:  “Hello, Darkness my old Friend”…

And in the naked light I saw

Ten thousand people, maybe more

People talking without speaking

People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never share

And no one dared

Disturb the sound of silence

 

“Fools”, said I, “You do not know

Silence like a cancer grows

Hear my words that I might teach you

Take my arms that I might reach you”

But my words, like silent raindrops fell

And echoed

In the wells of silence

 

And the people bowed and prayed

To the neon god they made

And the sign flashed out its warning

In the words that it was forming

And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls

And tenement halls”

And whispered in the sounds of silence

 

Allan Kaprow, "5 minutes de retard," 1993

As an anonymous blogger recently wrote:  The Sound of Silence is the contented quiet of the devil, upon receipt of all his souls.

Materialism alienates us from other people, and, especially from God.

What do I fear more than “The Sound of Silence?”

Hell isn’t brimstone; it isn’t People;

It IS the absence of God.

The absence, the silence that screams at me

– The Emptiness, the Agony,

– The very VOID itself awaits!

Adhesit pavimento anima mea.

Kyrie Eleison!!


XVIII: “Sloth & Unexpressed Love: The Central Canon of the Central Canticle”

“There is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started out with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet which fails so regularly, as love.“ 
- Erich Fromm

As we already know, “Commedia” recounts the spiritual journey of Dante Alighieri’s alter ego, a pilgrim, through three regions of the afterlife: Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. His goal was to reach spiritual maturity and a fuller understanding of God’s love.

In his central canticle, Purgatorio, Dante shows what happens when one finally turns away from the different vices.  We know that Dante’s “Purgatory” was his own construction; it was not as his own church depicted it.  Official doctrine, as it pertained to repentant sinners, provided for a realm of fiery torment, closer in most respects to his Inferno than to his Purgatorio.

On Dante’s terraced mountain, each level was designed to purge a specific mortal (remade venial by repentance) sin.  The purging was done sin by sin, to cleanse the soul of all its various vices, thereby freeing it to advance.

Love is central to the entire process.

Love is the ONLY salvation: saving Grace.

Man embraces Love, but often perverts it, misuses it, misunderstands it.

Here on the fourth terrace of Purgatory, that of “Slothful Love,” we discover a rather strange twist to the apparent scheme of things.

“The soul, being created prone to Love,

is drawn at once to all that pleases it,

as soon as pleasure summons it to move.

From that which really is, your apprehension

extracts a form which unfolds within you;

that form thereby attracts the mind’s attention,

Then if the mind, so drawn, is drawn to it,

that summoning force is Love; and thus within you,

through pleasure, a new natural bond is knit”

– Purg, XVIII Ciardi, 16-270

Love: embraced,             refused,             abused,             twisted,             ignored

is the driving force of the entire “Commedia,” Love, acting through “Free Will,” is the source both, of all human good, and all human evil (Purg XVII: 103-105).

It is the prime mover throughout the canticle, and especially within the eighteenth canto.

As the canto opens, we are on the fourth terrace.

It is a terrace that we definitely would recognize in our present, post-modern, jaded age.  This is the “Terrace of the Repentant Indolent.”

The sin here is SLOTH, which Dante defines as a total lack of sufficient love.

Venial sloth is not simple “laziness,” but rather something very close to an omnipresent “sin” of our own day, BOREDOM.!!!

Boredom

Even those who love only themselves, at least

love something.  But, the slothful do not even

love themselves.  They readily sink into self-

destructive inactivity.   Nor do these laggards

love anything or anyone outside themselves.

The tepid are bored with the world.

To Dante, Sloth is the counterpoint vice to the virtue of decisiveness and zeal, and especially zealous love.

To turn toward a thing, to move toward it, to desire it, is Love

(Purg. XVIII: 26),

while to simply fail to try to do anything is Sloth.

The Slothful Souls run about the mountain senselessly, reciting tales of success (Mary; Caesar) and failures (including the Israelites in the desert and Aeneas’ followers in Sicily) in the past. Where previously, on the lower terraces, we had seen distorted love, love of the wrong object, in this case the very presence of Love is simply too weak.

We know by now that, for Dante, one’s relationship to Love is the source of all good and evil. He views each of the seven (deadly and venial) sins is a result of some problem with Love.

We should note his list of seven virtues varies from other traditional lists:

He combines the four cardinal virtues of the classical pagan world — Wisdom, Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice, with the three New Testament virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love.  He holds that Christians overcome their tendency toward each of these sins by learning to ‘love correctly.’

One of the problems in any translation is achieving precise meaning.  A major problem for an English translation is that the word love can refer to such a wide variety of feelings, states and attitudes.  It can run the gamut from passionate desire, to intimacy, to romantic love, to erotic love, to familial love, to the platonic love of friendship, to devotional religious love.

To Dante,  “God is love” (e.g. Agape, as found in the canonical gospels), a concept central to many western religions.   Christian Love is, in fact, one aspect of, and conduit to, God Himself.  But, further, Dante constantly uses the word Amore (Romantic Love) and his beloved Beatrice, as representatives of “The Divine.”  He seems to meld the concepts.  His “Love” is similar to that of his beloved Provencal troubadours, and sometimes still is found in Western culture of the present day.

I venture so far as to wonder whether or not Dante would have a problem with Paul Stokey’s “The Wedding Song:”

He is now to be among you at the calling of your hearts.

Rest assured this troubadour is acting on His part.

The union of your spirits here has caused Him to remain

for whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name

there is love. Oh, there is love.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

“There can be no real freedom without the freedom to fail.”

– Erich Fromm

– Erich Fromm

On the Third Terrace, Dante learned that man was born with both knowledge of good and evil, and a “free wanting” (Purg. XVI: 76).

Therein lies both the road to damnation and salvation.

If Earth’s evils had their source in Heaven, then:

“Free Will would be

destroyed, and there would be no justice

in giving bliss for virtue, pain for evil”

– (Purg XVI: 70-72)

Because“Love, acting through free will, is the source both of all human good and all human evil . (Purg XVII: 103-105).

The cause of evil on Earth, therefore, comes not from Heaven, but from man.  The very concept of “Free Will,” the ability to choose to sin or not to sin, was central to medieval Catholicism.

Virtue becomes a matter of self-control.

Love takes hostages

And gives them pain

Gives someone the power

To hurt you again and again

Oh, but they don’t care

“Love is Hard,”

– James Morrison



Canto 12. Perverted Love and Undeserved Help

 

Architecture of Purgatory from La Comedia Divina de Dante Aligheri, "Il Purgatorio"

The sins caused by ‘perverted love’ set the scene for the first three terraces of Purgatory.  As the Twelfth Canto opens, we find Dante contemplating the yoked sinners about him.

These are the sins of “love’s harm” done to others. As Jake has noted in his penetrating exploration of Canto XI, the first of these sins (in order and significance) is Pride.   On this terrace, where proud souls are purged of their sins, Dante and Virgil see beautiful sculptures. These carvings present the cardinal virtue of humility, pride’s natural opponent.    Humility can be seen as ‘not thinking less of yourself, but rather, as thinking of yourself less. It is a spirit of self-examination.

Jake pointed out that “the prideful must give back what they never had in the first place, and prayer is the vehicle for returning stolen goods.” And, to do this, they first must realize that they never had them.  Tis ‘a bit of a Conundrum for the children of Eve, to say the least.

As Dante proceeds, he continues to note so many souls, all condemned by their own excessive, defiant pride – their hubris. He lists them all, from the great fallen angel, Lucifer, himself, to the magnificent wreckage of the city of Troy (‘sad, proud Ilium‘).    And, among those he noted was Nimrod and the ruins of his great tower.

 

Nimrod's Tower by Breugel The Elder

[Compare to images of Purgatory itself, above]

“I saw Nimrod in Shinar overseeing the proud builder

at the foot of his great tower.”

Dante is among the first to connect Nimrod and the Tower of Babel.

A product of his time, Dante viewed pride as inseparable from the human condition; from being virtually synonymous with the original transgression – the disobedience of Adam and Eve.   Dante is familiar with Aquinas’ great “Summa Theologiae”: “The mark of human sin is that it flows from pride.” (3a.1.5) Everything ill flows from pride.

Now Pride is normally considered a cardinal (mortal) sin, and we found it well represented among the damned of the “Inferno.”  So, why are these “overly proud souls “ here in Purgatory?  Shouldn’t they be in hell?  Ah, but these “proud souls” have repented sufficiently to have been given a second chance to save their souls.  And, hence, they carry their burdens up, around the spiral ramps of Purgatory.

Dante made progress, as well.  He ascended to the second cornice much faster than he had to the first. Why is this?   Virgil points out that the “Angel of Humility” has removed one of the peccatum from his forehead.   The angel had brushed Dante’s forehead with his wings, erasing one letter “P” (peccatum), the one representing pride.  It seems that its weight had been an extremely heavy one.

Humility's Angel (Blake)

And, the angel wondered:

Why do people so seldom respond to this invitation?

You are born to fly, so why fall down in a little wind?”

It is then that Dante notes the glorious sound of the singing of “Beati pauperes spiritu” (“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” –  Matthew 5:3.)

“We set out on the climb, and on the way

‘Beati paupers spiritu’ rang out,

more sweetly sung than any words could say. (109-111)

Dante is hearing a Beatitude being sung.

While The Ten Commandments dealt with human actions,” The Beatitudes” deal with attitudes that can lead to actions.

In essence, “Christian Law” is summarized in The Beatitudes, in Christ ‘s command to love God, and one’s neighbor as oneself  (see Matthew 5:3 – 12; Luke 6: 20-26).  Therefore, Dante is hearing Divine Law being sung – and, it is praising humility and the desperate.

In Matthew, the first and most important Beatitude is:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit:

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”

And, so, in his awe, Dante’s spirit rose,

and he moved ahead and upward, lighter afoot,

with rather undeserved assistance.


Canto 6 – Divine Justice: “Are Your Righteous Eyes Turned Elsewhere?”

“And if it is lawful to ask, O Jove on high,

you who were crucified on earth for us,

are your righteous eyes turned elsewhere,

or, in your abyss of contemplation,

are you preparing some mysterious good,

beyond our comprehension? ”  (VI, 118-126)

Salvador Dali: Purgatorio, Canto VI: "Men Who Died Violent Deaths"

In this canto, Dante deals with many issues.

The sixth canto, “Ante-Purgatory: Those who Died by Violence,” opens with Dante’s speculation about the crowding shades all about him, pushing, shoving, imploring. Why do these souls bother him so, to pray for them?

He dwells on how people gamble so foolishly with their lives, when only the winner seems to profit from it.

He then questions Virgil about the power of prayer for others.  He wonders why the poet now states prayer for others is effective (lines 25 – 28), when, in the “Aeneid,” Virgil had written: ”prayer may not alter Heaven’s fixed decree.” It would seem the poet clearly stated prayer has no effect on Heaven.  Virgil prevaricates a bit, but notes that he wrote the epic before he knew the Christian era.  The question here arises, how can Justice be served, when prayers of others are credited to the soul of one who has passed beyond the test of life?

But, then, in the final section of the canto, Dante moves into an extended rant and lament.  Justice is certainly a central question here.   Dante feels his ‘beloved Italy’ has been betrayed.  Betrayed “by Caesar” [Holy Roman Emperor Albert], and, even by God.

Dante was a supporter of a united Italy, under rule of the Holy Roman Emperor.

So, he asks: “My Caesar, why do you not keep me company?”  [Cesare mio, perchè non m’accompagni?].

In doing so, he echoes Christ calling in despair from the cross:

“My God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matt. 27:46)

And then, Dante launches into a full diatribe:

“O German Albert, who abandon her

now that she is untamed and wild,

… In that far land, both you and your father,

dragged along by greed, allowed

the garden of the empire to be laid waste.

… Come, cruel one, come and see the tribulation

your nobles suffer and consider their distress.

… Come and see your Rome and how she weeps,

widowed and bereft, and cries out day and night:

My Caesar, why are you not with me?’

Come and see your people, how they love

one another, and, if no pity for us moves you,

come for shame of your repute.” (VI, 97 – 117)

But, Dante ventures further.  The Emperor alone is not to blame.  Dante dares to question whether or not God is any longer paying attention to His “Roman” Christians.  Has Christ, perhaps, like The Father before Him (in the case of Jerusalem: The Babylonian Captivity), turned away from His people?  {see opening verses, above)

“For each Italian city overflows with tyrants

and every clown that plays the partisan

thinks he is the new Marcellus .“ (VI, 118 – 126)

In fact, Dante’s lament reminds one of those found in the Book of Lamentations (the only Book in the Bible that consists entirely, and solely, of laments).

“Lamentations”   bemoans the horrors of the Babylonian seizure of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem. This Book’s recital of the tragedies is an intricately woven fabric of “poetic wrestling” with “the ways of God,” as well as a description of His method of dealing with wayward people.  Dante sees many parallels between Judah’s fate and conditions of his beloved Italy.

“How deserted lies the city, once so full of people!

How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations!

She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave.

Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks.

Among all her lovers there is none to comfort her.

All her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies.

After affliction and harsh labor, Judah has gone into exile.

She dwells among the nations; she finds no resting place.

All who pursue her have overtaken her in the midst of her distress.”

[Lamentations 1, 1-3]

What have the Italian Christians done to be treated so?

One suspects that Dante is treading a very fine line here – he is approaching blasphemy.    These passages show how, at the nadir of his political despair [similar in some ways to that of Machiavelli some two centuries later), Dante questions even God.

He KNOWS that Italy has been abandoned by its Caesar [Albert /

Henry VII].

But, why also by Divine Providence?

Indeed?

Is there a message here for our time and place?