David Bruce: Dante’s PARADISE, Cantos 6-11 — A Retelling

Chapter 6: Mercury — Roman Emperor Justinian (Paradise)

The saved soul spoke, “The story of the Roman Empire is the story of the Roman Eagle. The Eagle followed the course of Heaven. The Sun rises in the East and sets in the West, and Aeneas, the prince of conquered Troy, journeyed West to Italy, wed Lavinia, and became an important ancestor of the Roman people.

“Constantine, however, reversed that direction. He took the Eagle Eastward, from Rome to Constantinople. In doing so, he went against the course of Heaven — the Sun travels from East to West, and taking the Eagle to Constantinople reversed that course.

“For approximately 200 years, the Eagle remained in the East, close to Troy, and then my day came, and I and people under my command reconquered Italy for the Empire.

“I was a Roman Emperor; I am still Justinian. I, inspired by God, reformed the Roman law.”

Beatrice thought, The Roman Empire was huge, and in order to better manage it, it was divided into two centers of power. One was the Western Roman Empire, which people call the Roman Empire. Its center was at Rome. Eventually, Rome fell as Germanic tribes made war against the Western Roman Empire. However, the other Empire continued.

The other was the Eastern Roman Empire, which people call the Byzantine Empire. Its center of power was at the city named Byzantium. In Roman times, this city was known as Constantinople. Later, it will officially be known as Istanbul. The supremacy of the Eastern Roman Empire ended in 1204 C.E., when Constantinople was sacked in the Fourth Crusade.

Justinian (485-565 C.E.) was one of the Byzantine Emperors. Two centuries before, Constantine had moved to the Eastern Roman Empire, making his home in Constantinople, which of course was named after him.

Justinian is known as a lawgiver and Roman Emperor. His upbringing was humble. He was born a peasant, but he was adopted at age eight by his uncle Justin. Justin took him to Constantinople and renamed him Justinian. His original name was Petrus Sabbatius.

Justinian has a connection with Ravenna, Italy, where Dante will die. In Ravenna, Justinian ordered beautiful buildings to be created; they are decorated with mosaics. Dante will live in Ravenna at the end of his life. Justinian’s general, Belisarius, was able to conquer Rome, thus making it part of the Empire again and allowing Justinian to create magnificent buildings in Ravenna.

Justinian’s major Earthly accomplishment was having the Roman law codified — put in an orderly fashion. Before Justinian, Roman law was disorderly. Many Emperors had made many laws, and no one really knew what the law was, and so no one had any way of knowing what was legal and what was illegal. Justinian had people clean up the law — get rid of the old, outdated laws, and make sure that the current laws made sense. In addition, he had a commentary and a textbook of the law created — that way, people could study the law and so know what was legal and what was illegal.

One important effect of the Justinian Code is that people began to study it in the 12th century, as city-states and national monarchies developed in Europe. Dante studies the Justinian Code in Florence, and he believes that Italy needs a Roman Emperor to enforce the law. He feels that the Roman law of the Justinian Code is good.

Justinian continued, “Before I was able to accomplish this reform of Roman law, I needed to do other things. For example, I needed to get rid of a heresy that I believed. I believed that Jesus had only one nature. I believed that Jesus had only a divine nature. I should have believed that the incarnated Jesus is fully divine and fully human.

“Fortunately, Pope Agapetus the First was able to correct my heretical thinking. I trusted him. Pope Agapetus was a good spiritual leader, and he helped me to correct my thinking and to establish the right relationship between church and state. Pope Agapetus handled religious questions, while I handled legal, secular questions. And now that I am in Paradise, I can see clearly that Pope Agapetus got the answers to the religious questions right.

“You know that when two statements are contradictory, one statement must be true and the other statement must be false. Both cannot be true. For example, only one of these statements is true: 1) A bachelor is an unmarried man. 2) A bachelor is not an unmarried man.

“As clearly as you know this kind of logic in the living world, so clearly do I know in Paradise that Jesus is both fully divine and fully human. What is a mystery in the living world is self-evident in Paradise.

“To be a great ruler, you have to get the answers to the ultimate questions right. If you are going to be a great ruler, you have to think correctly about God. Pope Agapetus helped me to think correctly about God. After I thought correctly about God, I was able to turn my attention to the reform of the Roman law.

“I also delegated authority. I let Belisarius be my general and fight my wars. He was such an able warrior and leader that I knew that God approved of such a delegation of duty. By allowing Belisarius to wage war when needed, I was able to focus on codifying the Roman law. Belisarius really was a good general. He was able to gain control of Italy, which had been overrun by Germanic tribes, and thus I was able to build beautiful buildings in Ravenna.

“By allowing Belisarius to handle war, I was able to devote myself to something that is more valuable: law. I wanted the world to be well governed. To do that, you need to have both the right faith and the right laws.

“I allowed people to do what they do best. The Pope was and is the authority in spiritual matters, and I did not challenge him for power. Belisarius was a very competent general, and I allowed him to lead the troops into battle. I myself was the right person to codify the Roman law, and I did that.

“This answers your first question: Who am I? But now I need to add something more. God supported the Roman Empire, and God wanted the seat of the Empire to be at Rome. Even now, a true Roman Emperor should exist.

“People do not support the Roman Empire nowadays. The Ghibellines have taken the imperial standard as their own, but they do not support the ideal of the Empire. The Guelfs support the French Emperor and try to suppress the imperial standard. Neither the Ghibellines nor the Guelfs deserve praise because neither group supports the ideal of the Empire — an ideal that God supports.

“Courage consecrated the Empire. Aeneas came to Italy, and he fought a war against those who would keep him from fulfilling his God-given destiny of becoming an important ancestor of the Roman people. When Aeneas went to Italy, Aeneas was shown around Latium, which was built on the future site of Rome. Pallas, whose father was Evander, the King of Latium, was old enough to go to war, and his father entrusted him to Aeneas. Unfortunately, Turnus, the leader of the forces arrayed against Aeneas, killed Pallas in battle. Aeneas avenged Pallas’ death by killing Turnus.

“Aeneas established the imperial Eagle at Latium, but his son, Ascanius, moved the Eagle to Alba Longa, where it stayed for more than 300 years. By then, Rome had been built, and three heroes of Alba Longa fought three heroes of Rome to see which city would be superior. Two of the Roman heroes died, but the third Roman hero killed all three of the Alba Longan heroes, and the imperial Eagle went to Rome.

“The early Romans were mainly men, and they needed wives. They invited their neighbors, the Sabines, who would not allow their daughters to marry Roman men, to a festival, and when Romulus (the founder of Rome) gave a signal, the Romans fought off the Sabine men and kidnapped the young Sabine women. Romulus talked to the young Sabine women and convinced them to marry Roman men.

“Seven Kings ruled Rome over the years. Sextus Tarquinius, son of King Tarquinius Superbus, raped Lucretia, a Roman noblewoman, and as a result she committed suicide. Her brother led a rebellion that cast out King Tarquinius Superbus, the last King of the Romans. The Kingship was replaced by a republic, a kind of democracy in which leaders are elected by the people — or at least some of the people.

“The Romans fought often and won. The Eagle defeated Brennus, the leader of Gaul. The Eagle defeated Pyrrhus, the King of Epirus, who supported the Greeks.

“Titus Manlius Torquatus led the Romans to numerous victories. Lucius Quintius Cincinnatus was both a great general and a simple farmer. When the Romans ran into trouble, they requested that he leave his farm and lead the Roman soldiers against the enemy. After defeating the enemy, he retired again and worked on his farm.

“The Decii and the Fabii were prominent Roman families who produced many heroes and leaders.

“Scipio Africanus became a hero by defeating the great Carthaginian general Hannibal, who warred against Rome. When Hannibal first went to war against Rome, he achieved a notable feat: He brought war elephants to Italy by crossing the Alps from Spain into Italy. For years he roamed up and down Italy, but eventually Scipio Africanus defeated him in Africa. Again, the Eagle was triumphant.

“The story of Empire is part of your story. Catiline tried to take over political power, but the Roman orator Cicero stopped him. Catiline took refuge at Fiesole, a hill outside Florence, but he was defeated.

“All of us are a part of a much larger story. God has a plan for the world, and you are a part of that plan.

“Big events have consequences on the local level. A war of worldwide importance can definitely have an effect at the local level.

“Pompey fought Julius Caesar for power. Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River and fought many battles around the Mediterranean. Caesar finally defeated Pompey at the Battle of Pharsalia in 48 B.C.E., Pompey fled to Egypt, and Ptolemy killed him there.

“Julius Caesar defeated the rebels and invaders and gained all the power, but was then assassinated by a number of Romans, including Brutus and Cassius, both of whom are punished in the deepest part of the deepest circle in the Inferno. Brutus and Cassius tried to stop God’s plan for the Roman Empire. Following the assassination of Julius Caesar, lots of people suffered and died. Because of the action of Cassius and Brutus, civil war continued in Rome.

“Following the death of Julius Caesar, another power struggle broke out, this time between Octavian Caesar (the grand-nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar) and Mark Antony. In 43 B.C.E., at Modena, Octavian defeated Mark Antony. In 41 B.C.E., at Perugia, Octavian defeated Lucius, Antony’s brother.

“After Mark Antony and Octavian had worked together for a while, they began fighting each other. Mark Antony allied himself with Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt. In 31 B.C.E., Octavian defeated their forces at the Battle of Actium, a naval battle, Mark Antony and Cleopatra fled back to Egypt. Both of them committed suicide, Cleopatra by allowing a poisonous snake to bite her. Octavian became Caesar Augustus. He became the first Roman Emperor. With him, the Roman Republic ended. So did the civil wars.

“From roughly 27 B.C.E. to 180 C.E., Italy was at peace. Of course, fighting occurred on the edges of the Roman Empire, but Italy itself was at peace. This is known as the Pax Romana: the Roman Peace.

“Peace is a great blessing. Life during wartime is rough. Food is scarce to get. Women sell themselves to get enough to eat. Children starve. People kill and are killed.

“When Rome was at war, the doors of the temple of Janus were kept open. Because of Caesar Augustus, the doors were closed.

“Two especially important events occurred.

“First, during the reign of Tiberius, the third Caesar (that is, the second Roman Emperor; the first Caesar was Julius), Jesus Christ was crucified. This paid the price for the sin of Adam, and at the same time Christ’s crucifixion was a new sin.

“Second, in 70 C.E., Titus conquered and destroyed Jerusalem. At the time, Titus’ father, Vespasian, was the Roman Emperor. Later, Titus became Roman Emperor, serving from 79-81 C.E. The destruction of Jerusalem was just vengeance for the death of Christ.

“I began my history of the Roman Empire in the middle by telling about Constantine and myself. Then I went back in time to the beginnings. Now I will jump ahead in time to Charlemagne. From near the end of the first century, we are going 700 years ahead in time.

“Charlemagne defended the Church against a man he dethroned: King Desiderius, the Lombard. In a later age, Charlemagne is called the Holy Roman Emperor, but he called himself simply the Roman Emperor. He became Emperor in 800 C.E. Charlemagne’s story is the continuing story of the Roman Empire.

“Now let’s look at the present age: 1300 C.E. This is another big jump in time.

“The Guelfs and Ghibellines are in conflict in Florence. Both political parties are working against the Empire.

“The Guelfs are supporting the Pope against the Holy Roman Emperor. They are against the Empire. The Guelfs are allied with the French — symbolized by the yellow lilies.

“The Ghibellines want power for themselves. The Ghibellines say that they support the Holy Roman Emperor, but they are actually more concerned with getting power for themselves.

“What is needed is the formation of a competent world government. Neither the Guelfs nor the Ghibellines are helping that to happen. Neither the Guelfs nor the Ghibellines can be trusted to properly support the Empire. Political leaders of 1300 C.E. need to realize that.

“The Empire needs to be supported, but it is not being supported.

“You have two questions. I have already answered your first question. Your second question is this: Why am I showing myself to you on this planet that is often hidden from Humankind because it is so close to the Sun?

“This small planet is Mercury. The souls, including myself, who appear before you here were too concerned about lasting fame and so we are not to be found higher in Paradise.

“It is fitting for us souls to be found on Mercury because it is a planet that is often obscured by the Sun. It is much easier to see Venus in the sky — it is the Morning Star and the Evening Star. We souls wanted fame, but now the Sun and Venus often overshadow the planet we are associated with. Of course, we are really in the Mystic Empyrean, but we appear here as a courtesy to you.

“We did good works in the living world. The codification of the Roman law is a task that God wanted to be done. However, I and the other souls were too concerned about achieving Earthly fame while we performed our good works.

“All of us are happy. We see that we have received justice. We see that God doles out in proper proportion the fitting reward for each soul’s merit. We are in Paradise.

“Many voices blend together harmoniously. We souls help to produce the harmony that is seen among the heavenly Spheres.

“One of the souls here is Romeo di Villeneuve, a person who did great deeds, but whose great deeds went unrewarded. The name Romeo means ‘a pilgrim to Rome.’

“Romeo was not nobly born, but he was able to get husbands for the four daughters of a count named Raymond Berenger; in fact, each daughter married a King or the brother of a King. These are the daughters and the nobles they married:

“Margaret married Louis IX ( Saint Louis).

“Eleanor married Henry III of England.

“Sancha married Richard of Cornwall (the brother of Henry III of England).

“Beatrice married Charles I of Anjou.

“However, because of Romeo’s success other people envied him, and he lost his position. Romeo then begged for his bread in exile.

“The world praises Romeo, but if the world knew what was in Romeo’s heart as he begged, the world would praise him more.”

Dante thought, The stories of Romeo, who is in Paradise, and of Pier delle Vigne, who is among the suicides in the Inferno, are similar.

Both Romeo and Pier lost their positions due to the envy of other people.

However, Romeo’s response to losing his position was much different from the response of Pier delle Vigne. Pier, of course, committed suicide, but Romeo went begging for his bread.

Pier delle Vigne is the negative example — how not to react to political misfortune. Romeo is the positive example — how to properly respond to political misfortune.

Note also a reversal. Pier praised Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. Here we have a Byzantine Emperor — Justinian — praising Romeo di Villeneuve.

Beatrice thought, Learn from this, Dante. You will be in exile soon, and you will need to taste other people’s bread rather than commit suicide.

Chapter 7: Mercury — The Mystery of Redemption (Paradise)

Justinian sang in a mixture of Hebrew and Latin, “Hosanna, holy God of hosts, whose brightness illuminates these realms’ blessed fires.” Song is one of the arts found in Paradise; dance is another. Justinian’s soul began to dance, and the other souls joined him — the one who performed the tasks of both Emperor and Lawgiver — in the dance. Then the souls sped away and disappeared.

Dante was silent, but inwardly he was thinking, Speak! Speak! Beatrice is always willing to truthfully answer your questions.

But Dante was still in awe of Beatrice. Even the mention of one syllable of her name — “Be” or “trice” — made him lower his head.

But Beatrice knew what he was thinking, and she smiled at him. Dante thought, Such a smile would make happy even a man who was about to be burned alive.

Beatrice said to Dante, “I know that you have a question: How can just vengeance be justly avenged?

“You know that during the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius, Jesus Christ was crucified. This was just vengeance for the sin of Adam.

“You also know that in 70 C.E., Titus, who later became a Roman Emperor, conquered and destroyed Jerusalem. This was just vengeance for the death of Christ.

“How can just vengeance be required for a previous just vengeance?

“Listen carefully. This is important.

“Adam sinned. He was allowed to eat all of the fruit of the Garden of Eden except the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. He was asked to restrain his Free Will in this one matter only, but he ate the forbidden fruit. Because he ate the forbidden fruit, he was cast out of the Garden of Eden and so were Eve and every human being after them.

“Because of Adam’s sin, all Humankind was sick with sin. This illness continued for centuries. But Jesus — the Word of God — descended from Paradise to Earth.

“On Earth, Jesus added a nature to His nature. Jesus’ nature is divine, but to that nature he added a second nature: the human nature that had rebelled in the Garden of Eden. In doing so, he became fully divine and fully human.

“When the human nature was joined with Jesus’ divine nature, the human nature became pure and good, just as it was in the Garden of Eden before the rebellion.

“However, the human nature that was not joined to Jesus’ divine nature deserved to be kicked out of the Garden of Eden because of sin.

“Jesus was crucified. If we think of the Crucifixion as punishment of the human nature, the Crucifixion was entirely just and deserved.

“But if we think of the Crucifixion as punishment of Jesus’ divine nature, the Crucifixion was entirely unjust and undeserved.

“One Crucifixion occurred, but it had two different results. The Crucifixion pleased God because it paid the penalty for the sin of Adam and of Humankind. The Crucifixion also pleased a few Jews living at that time because it got rid of a Person they hated.

“The Crucifixion of Christ was just and unjust. The unjust part of the Crucifixion needed to be justly avenged. The just vengeance occurred with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.

“The debt for Adam’s sin has been paid. No one should treat Humankind badly today because of what Adam did a long time ago. That debt was paid long ago, and no one owes it today.

“The debt for the unjust Crucifixion of Jesus has been paid. No one should treat Jews badly today because of what a few Jews did a long time ago. That debt was paid long ago and no one owes it today.

“Of course, the Romans also played a role in the Crucifixion of Jesus. No one should plan a trip to Rome today so that they can slap a few Italians around.

“But now I see that you have another question. You wonder this: Why did God choose this way to pay the penalty owed by Humankind? Why did God become incarnate knowing that He would be crucified? Why didn’t God choose another way to redeem Humankind?

“Souls in Paradise know the answer. They have the inner sight and the love that enables them to know the answer.

“Many people still on Earth have tried to answer the question, but they aim arrows that miss the target. Therefore, let me explain why God’s way of redeeming Humankind was the best way.

“God is perfect. Among God’s perfections is omnibenevolence. God never sins. In God can be found this eternal beauty, as well as the other eternal beauties.

“God is also a Creator. What he creates directly is eternal, and it bears His mark. Among the things He creates directly are Angels, Adam and Eve, and the souls of human beings.

“The things that God directly creates have Free Will. God’s secondary creations have no choice but to obey the laws of physics and other sciences and nature.

“The things that God directly creates resemble Him and please Him. God has given them gifts: Free Will and the immortality of the soul. God creates these things without sin.

“Sin, however, takes away Humankind’s Free Will and Humankind’s resemblance to God. God’s glory is seen in the entire universe. In some places His glory can be seen more clearly. In some places His glory can be seen less clearly. Sin makes God’s glory less visible in Humankind.

“By sinning, Humankind loses dignity in favor of illicit joy. The only way to win back that dignity is by paying the price for sinning. This is Justice.

“When Adam sinned, Humankind lost the Garden of Eden, and it lost Paradise. Sinning results in the loss of Free Will; a habitual sinner becomes a slave to sin. If Adam had not sinned, he would have been able to stay in the Garden of Eden and never die. By sinning, he brought the experience of death to human beings.

“How could Humankind be able to pay the debt it owed because of sin? Through two ways.

“First, God could simply forgive the sin. No payment required. This is Mercy.

“Second, Humankind could — if possible — make amends for sinning. This would be Justice.

“Listen carefully.

“Given the limits of Humankind, human beings could not make amends for sin. Adam, full of the sin of pride, tried to exalt himself by disobeying God and eating the forbidden fruit. Humankind, no matter how humble it attempts to be, cannot go as low as is needed to make up for the height that Adam attempted to climb. Therefore, Humankind cannot atone for this sin without the help of God.

“And so God helped Humankind atone for this sin.

“God could have helped Humankind through Justice alone or through Mercy alone, but God chose to help Humankind through both Justice and Mercy.

“God’s incarnation and crucifixion is an act of omnibenevolence. It redeemed Humankind. From the first day of Creation until Judgment Day, no act can be as lofty or as magnificent.

“God helped Humankind through Mercy because He forgave the debt without requiring Humankind to pay it.

“God helped Humankind through Justice because the debt was repaid — Jesus on the Cross paid it. Jesus’ human nature was appropriately crucified to pay Humankind’s debt to God.

“Now let me explain a point that has arisen in my talk.

“You are thinking that God created the universe, and yet the things that are in the universe — things made of the elements — are perishable. They last for a while, and then they decay.

“As I have said, the things that God directly created — such as the Angels — will never go out of existence.

“However, the laws of nature act on the matter and energy that is in the universe and change them, and so these are indirect creations of God and they are therefore not immortal.

“Remember that God directly created your soul, and so it is immortal.

“Also remember that God directly created the body of Adam and the body of Eve. This means that on the Day of Judgment, your body will be resurrected.

“Remember these things:

“Everything that God makes, such as Angels, is incorruptible and will not decay.”

“Your soul is given to you directly by God. It is therefore immortal.

“God directly made the bodies of your first parents: Adam and Eve. Therefore, your body will be resurrected.”

Chapter 8: Venus — Charles Martel (Paradise)

The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that the goddess Venus infected Humankind with violent passion and so they offered sacrifices to her. And not just her, but also to her mother, Dione. And to her son, Cupid, who they believed had taken the shape of Ascanius, Aeneas’ son, and as he lay in her lap, had infected Dido, the Queen of Carthage, with passion for Aeneas.

Therefore, the ancients took Venus’ name and gave it to the planet that seems to woo the Sun as it stays close to it in Venus’ guises as the Evening Star and the Morning Star.

Dante was not conscious of rising through the Heavens, but he knew that he had arrived on Venus when he looked at Beatrice and saw that she had grown more beautiful. The closer she came to God, the more beautiful she became.

Dante saw lights — souls — in the light of Venus, the bright and beautiful planet. He distinguished the lights just as he could distinguish sparks in a fire or just as he could distinguish between voices when two voices are singing the same note and one of the voices starts to sing a different note.

The lights were moving at different speeds that varied according to how each soul reflected God’s glory. Lightning is fast, but each of these lights was faster than lightning as they came closer to Dante and Beatrice. The lights had been dancing in the Mystic Empyrean among the highest order of Angels — the Seraphim — but they had consented to appear before Dante and educate him.

Song and dance are present in Paradise. The souls in front sang “Hosanna” so sweetly that for years afterward Dante longed to hear it again.

One soul came close to Dante and Beatrice and said, “We are all ready to serve you and make you joyful. We have appeared together on this, the third Sphere, to serve you. You once wrote a poem that began, ‘Oh, you whose intelligence moves the Third Sphere of the Heavens.’

“We are filled with love, and we will happily stop here and stay with you for a while.”

Dante looked at Beatrice, who was filled with joy and who nodded at him to give him her approval of his asking the soul questions, and then he looked at the light who had spoken to him and asked, gently, “Who are you?”

The light who was a soul glowed more brightly and more beautifully because he was happy to serve Dante.

The soul said, “I lived for only a few years on Earth. If I had lived longer, I would have been able to avert much trouble that will afflict Earth.

“I know that you cannot see me. All you can see is this light that envelops me. This light is happiness. I am enveloped in it the way a silkworm envelops itself in silk.

“Although you cannot see me, you knew me when I was alive on Earth. We were friends. If I had lived, you would have seen much more of my friendship for you instead of just its beginning.

“My grandfather, Charles I, acquired Provence through marriage. My father, Charles II of Naples, would have passed it on to me. I also would have been heir to the Kingdom of Naples and the Kingdom of Apulia. I became King of Hungary in 1290. I would have been the ruler of Sicily except that the bad rule of my family — the House of Anjou — caused the Sicilians to rebel in the Sicilian Vespers of 30 March 1282. The Sicilians cried out against the House of Anjou, ‘Death, death to them!’ Because of the Sicilians’ uprising, the crown of Sicily passed from the House of Anjou to the House of Aragon.”

Dante thought, This is my friend Charles Martel, a French Angevin Prince. He died young at age 24 in a cholera epidemic. He visited Florence for a few weeks in 1294, one year before he died, and he and I knew and liked each other.

One need not spend a lot of time climbing the Mountain of Purgatory. Some souls spend centuries climbing the mountain, but Charles Martel died only five years ago and already his soul is in Paradise.

Charles Martel continued, “Robert of Anjou, my brother, who will one day be King of Naples, needs to wise up. His rule is poor. Although his and my father was liberal, Robert is stingy. Working under him are men who care most for filling chests up with gold. My family has contained many good people and good rulers, but it has also contained many bad people and bad rulers.”

Dante said, “I am happy to see you again, friend, and I am happy to see that you are in Paradise. I am also happy that you know how happy I am. As a saved soul in Paradise, you know about my happiness because you can read it in the place where all good begins and ends: the mind of God.

“You have made me happy; now I ask that you make me wise. Please answer these questions: How can a good father produce a bad son? How can good parents produce bad children? You have said that Charles, your father, was generous. Yet Robert, your brother, is not generous. It would seem that a generous father would produce a generous son. It would also seem that a greedy father would produce a greedy son.”

Charles Martel replied, “I will try to explain this to you. First, let me clear up a false belief. People of our time believed that the stars and planets influenced our characters and our lives. They also believed that Providence influenced our characters and our lives through influencing the stars and planets.

“A later age will know that the stars and planets have no influence on us at all; astrology is not a science. Of course, God is important to us. For one thing, God created us and the universe and God keeps the universe and us in existence. If not for God, nothing would exist.

“In addition, God created such things as sex, heredity, and — as a later age will learn — something called evolution. When God created the universe, He created the physical laws that govern the universe. In a later age, Catholic nuns will do things right. They will teach evolution in science class, and they will teach creation in religion class.

“God knew that human beings would be different, and He wanted them to be different. They have individual characteristics and potential capabilities. These individual characteristics and potential capabilities are needed in society. Neither God nor society wants all human beings to be exactly alike. Different human beings are capable of doing different things, and different things are needed to make a functioning society.

“Through inheriting different traits passed down from both male and female ancestors, humans are born with potentialities that can be developed — or not developed — through environment and education and the use of Free Will in making choices.

“It is not the case that nobility of character is always passed on from a noble father or mother to a child. The nobility of character is acquired in part through the characteristics and potential capabilities that one inherits, and in part through education and environment, but mainly it is acquired — or not acquired — through choices freely made. The most important choice that anyone can make is whether to be a good person or a bad person. A good father can have a good and/or a bad son. A bad father can have a good and/or a bad son. Good parents can have good and/or bad children. Bad parents can have good and/or bad children.

“God’s laws of heredity work well. Without them, chaos would reign. God knows what He is doing. Do I need to say more?”

Dante replied, “No. God cannot fail, and God created the physical laws of the universe.”

Charles Martel asked, “If no social order existed, would this be good for Humankind?”

Dante replied, “No. Obviously, social order is needed.”

Charles Martel asked, “Do human beings need different characteristics and different capabilities in order to have a functioning society? According to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, different characteristics and different capabilities are necessary in order to have a functioning society.

“Many characteristics and capabilities are needed. One man is born with the potential to be a giver of laws, as was Solon, who gave laws to Athens and who was one of the Seven Sages of Greece. Another man is born with the potential to be a King and war leader, as was Xerxes, King of Persia and leader of armies. Another man is born with the potential to be a priest, as was Melchizedek, whom Genesis identified as ‘the priest of the most high God.’ Another man is born with the potential to be a mechanic, as was Daedalus, who was imprisoned with his son, Icarus. To escape, Daedalus built wings for himself and his son. But in the mythic story, Icarus flew too near the Sun, the wax melted and released the feathers, and Icarus fell into the sea and drowned.

“Nature gives potential to humans without regard to familial status. A great son can be born to a base father, and a base son can be born to a great father. The same is true for females.

“Good parents can produce bad children. Bad parents can produce good children. The children can be very different from each other even when they share the same parents.

“Esau and Jacob were twins, but they were very different. Esau was a hunter in the fields, but Jacob lived in tents.

“Look at Romulus, the co-founder of Rome with his brother, Remus. His father was not royal or aristocratic, but Romulus’ deeds were so notable that people could not believe that his father was basely born, and so they believed that Romulus’ father was Mars, the Roman god of war.

“Now that you understand this, let me make a further point. One’s characteristics and potential capabilities ought to be suitable for one’s life work. If a person has characteristics and potential capabilities that are not suited to the kind of work that person does, that person will fail.

“Society should pay attention to this. If it did, both society and individual human beings would be better off.

“Unfortunately, a person who has the characteristics and potential capabilities to be a warrior is forced to be a priest, and a person who has the characteristics and potential capabilities to be a priest is forced to be a King.

“All too often, people find themselves doing work that they are not suited to do and that could be much better done by someone else.”

Chapter 9: Venus — Cuanza, Folquet, Rahab (Paradise)

Dante the Poet thought, Clemence, your relative Charles Martel told me prophecies of plots against you and your relatives. But he told me, “Don’t reveal the specifics of what I have said. Let time pass and reveal the plots.” Because I gave him this promise, I can say only that those who harm you will regret it.

But now that soul who was Charles Martel looked at the Sun. This saved soul looked at the Eternal Good, but living human beings too often look away from the Eternal Good.

And now another light came toward Dante. This saved soul glowed with the prospect of helping him.

Beatrice looked at Dante and nodded, giving her assent to his desire to speak with the saved soul.

Dante said to the saved soul, “Blessed soul, you know my thoughts because you can see into the mind of God, and God knows my thoughts. Therefore, you know my questions. Please answer them.”

The saved soul, who received joy from giving joyously to others, replied, “I lived in the March of Treviso, and my family castle was located on the hill of Romano. My mother dreamed of a burning torch before she gave birth to Ezzelino III, my brother, who was a bloodthirsty tyrant who now stands deep in the boiling river of blood in the Inferno.

“My name is Cunizza, and I appear to you here on Venus because much of my life before I repented was filled with excessive sexual desire.”

Dante thought, Cunizza, who died in 1279, is the sister of the tyrant Ezzelino, who died in 1259 and who is in the Inferno because of the blood he spilled when he was tyrant. Cunizza was the lover of Sordello, one of the late repentant in Prepurgatory. She left her husband for him. She had lots of husbands and lovers, and she had lots of sex. Cunizza fell in love easily. Of course, she still had Free Will and the ability to tell right from wrong. In later life, she was a good person and did many good deeds. Sinners can repent and end up in Paradise.

Cunizza continued, “I had many husbands and lovers while I was alive, but I repented. I can recall my sins, but I have drunk from the stream Lethe, and I do not feel the sting of my sins. All I feel is forgiveness, both forgiveness by God and forgiveness by myself. Gladly I forgive the excessive love that I had because when I repented, my excessive passionate love became caritas: love for all Humankind and for God. We saved souls in Paradise do not beat ourselves up because of our sins. We know that God has forgiven us, and we forgive ourselves.

“This soul beside me has left great fame behind on Earth. His fame will last 500 years. A person who achieves excellence in the living world can achieve a fame that will remain as a second life after the person’s physical body has died.

“And yet this soul’s remembered excellence means nothing to the people who live between the Tagliamento and the Adige rivers in Italy. These people do not repent. Not even war and the threat of war makes them repent.

“Let me make prophecies: The blood of Paduans will flow because they refuse to do what they ought to do.”

Beatrice thought, In 1314, Can Grande della Scala will defeat the Paduans outside Vicenza. The Paduans should, but do not, have allegiance to the Empire.

Cunizza continued, “An arrogant man reigns in Treviso; his fate has already been decided.”

Beatrice thought, Rizzardo da Cammino, the arrogant Lord of Treviso, will be murdered in 1312 while he plays chess.

Cunizza continued, “The godless shepherd of Feltro will commit a crime so great that the Malta, a papal prison near Lake Bolsena, has never held a criminal as bad as he. The Ferraran blood that he will spill would fill a vast vat. He will spill it only to prove that he is loyal to his party. Such actions will become common in that region.”

Beatrice thought, In 1314, a group of Ghibelline refugees will become the guests of Alessandro Novella, the Bishop of Feltro, a Guelf who will treacherously turn them over to their enemies, who will behead them.

Cunizza continued, “My words may seem harsh, but they are justified by their truth.”

She then joined the other souls, and they danced.

The soul who had been beside Cunizza and whose excellence and fame she had mentioned now glowed brightly red, like sunlight shining through a ruby.

Joy makes souls in Paradise bright. Joy makes living people smile. No joy is in the Inferno, only dark minds.

Dante said to the soul who was glowing red, “God can see all, and you can see into the mind of God, and therefore you know every thought I have. Why wait, then, to answer my questions? If our positions were reversed, I certainly would quickly answer your questions.”

The saved soul replied, “I lived in a country on the Mediterranean: Spain. In particular, I lived in Marseilles. My name is Folquet. Some people still remember my name.”

Dante thought, Folquet, who died in 1231, was a famous troubadour. Later in life, he became a Cistercian monk, and then he became the Bishop of Toulouse. He was a gifted poet.

Folquet continued, “In life, I loved passionately, and so I appear to you here on Venus. My passionate love on Earth rivaled that of famous lovers.

“The passionate love I felt rivaled that of Dido, Queen of Carthage. Pygmalion, Dido’s brother, killed her husband, Sichaeus, and she fled to North Africa, where she founded Carthage. Aeneas, blown off course by a storm sent by Juno, landed at Carthage, and Dido fell in love with him although she had pledged to remain faithful to her husband. Dido and Aeneas had a love affair until Jupiter, through Mercury, reminded Aeneas that he had a destiny to fulfill in Italy: to become an important ancestor of the Roman people. Out of grief, Dido committed suicide. Dido wronged both Sichaeus, her late husband, and Creusa, Aeneas’ late wife, who had died during the fall of Troy. Dido is in the Inferno among the lustful.

“The passionate love I felt rivaled that of Phyllis, a Thracian princess who loved Demophoön, the son of Theseus. They were supposed to be married, but when he did not show up at the altar, she hanged herself.

“The passionate love I felt rivaled that of Deianira, the wife of Hercules. He fell out of love with her and pursued Iole instead. She believed that a shirt soaked in the blood of Nessus, a Centaur (who had tried to rape her, but whom Hercules killed) would restore Hercules’ love for her. Nessus had told her that, but he tricked her. His blood was like acid to Hercules, and Hercules killed himself to escape the agony that the Centaur’s blood caused him. Deianira also killed herself. Nessus is in the Inferno. He is one of the guards at the river of boiling blood.

“But I and the other saved souls you see here repented while we were alive, and so we have no need to repent here. Instead, we smile here because we know that God has forgiven us. God wants all human beings to repent on Earth so that He can forgive them.

“All of us souls appear to you here on Venus, whose Sphere is the last that the shadow of the Earth touches. According to your medieval beliefs, the Earth is at the center of the universe, and around it are the Spheres containing the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, and so on. Imagine the Sun’s rays striking the Earth. The Earth casts a shadow that is cone-shaded. The Earth’s shadow sometimes envelopes the Moon in an eclipse and is large enough to envelop Mercury and touches the Sphere in which is Venus. God is doing you a favor by letting the universe appear to you in accordance with your medieval beliefs. A later age will know that the Sun is at the center of the solar system and that Mercury, Venus, and the Earth orbit the Sun. But God the Creator can make the universe appear to you in the way you expect it to appear. That way, you will not be overwhelmed with too much new information and will be able to retain more of the important information, such as that given to you by us saved souls who appear to you in these Spheres but who are really in the Mystic Empyrean with God.

“But now let me answer a question that I know you have. You wish to know the identity of this soul by me. This soul glows like crystal water through which sunshine streams.

“This soul was the first to rise out of Limbo when Christ harrowed Hell. This is Rahab, who was once the whore of Jericho. Joshua sent two spies to Jericho, Rahab allowed them to enter her house, and when soldiers came looking for the two spies, she hid them under bundles of flax on the roof of her house. The two spies promised that she and her family would be spared when Joshua’s soldiers conquered the city if she would hang a red cord out of a window of her house. The two spies and Jacob’s soldiers kept that promise.

“Rahab helped make possible Joshua’s first conquest in the Holy Land, an area of the world in which Pope Boniface VIII seems to have little interest.

“Your own city, Florence, was founded by Lucifer and by Mars, the god of war. Your city creates flowers of gold — the gold coins that are the Florentine florins — and these golden flowers turn priests and Popes who should be shepherds into wolves that prey on the sheep that shepherds should protect.

“Those who should study the Gospel and other books of the Bible ignore them. People study Canon Law and make notes in the margins, but they engage in this study only so they can make money.

“The Pope and the Cardinals think only about making money. They do not think about Nazareth, where the Angel Gabriel opened his wings at the Annunciation to Mary.

“But the Vatican and other places in Rome where flowed the blood of martyrs who gave their lives for God will soon be free of this adulterous passion for gold.”

Beatrice thought, Here and on the previous planets, we saw souls who were associated with a planet for negative reasons. The shadow of the Earth touched and corrupted these Spheres. First, the souls seen on the Moon did not keep their religious vows. Second, the souls seen on Mercury were excessively concerned about Earthly fame. Finally, the souls seen on Venus are those who took passionate love to an extreme. On the Sun and on the other planets we have yet to visit, the souls we will see will be associated with these Spheres for a positive reason — for something they had and have rather than for something they lacked.

Chapter 10: Sun — Saint Thomas Aquinas (Paradise)

God the Father is the Creator. The Son is the Word of God. Together, they breathe forth the Essence of Love, aka the Holy Ghost. Throughout the universe, signs of the Creator can be seen and felt.

God the Creator loves His creation and contemplates it.

Consider for a moment the planet Earth and the Sun. Imagine that the equator forms a wheel that extends into space. Imagine that the orbit of the Earth around the Sun (or, as Dante the Pilgrim believed, imagine that the orbit of the Sun around the Earth) forms a wheel.

The two wheels meet. Sometimes the Sun is above the equator, and sometimes the Sun is below the equator. This causes the seasons.

This relationship is absolutely correct. If the Sun were sometimes way above the equator and sometimes way below the equator, the Earth’s seasons would be extreme. If the Sun stayed always above the equator and did not move, the Earth’s seasons would always stay the same and would not change. The relationship of the parts and the whole is absolutely correct for seasons that will support life on Earth.

The universe is a great work of art, and we should contemplate it. God contemplates His own creation, and we should likewise contemplate it.

Pay attention to the above. It is important. What is to come is also important.

Dante was in the Sun with Beatrice. Dante had not been aware that he was rising to the Sun until he was on the Sun, just like he is not aware that a thought is coming until he has that thought.

As before, Beatrice guided their ascent, which took place instantaneously.

The Sun is the brightest thing that living human beings can see, but Dante saw saved souls on the Sun who were brighter than the Sun. In Paradise, the brightness of saved souls surpasses the brightness of the Sun.

No genius, no art, and no skill is capable of showing living human beings how bright are the saved souls of Paradise. Living people on Earth must make it to Paradise and experience this for themselves. The saved souls constantly experience God, and they constantly experience bliss.

Beatrice said to Dante, “Give thanks to God, Who is the Sun to Angels, by Whose grace you have arrived at the Sun.”

Hearing Beatrice, Dante readily and willingly and enthusiastically gave thanks to God. He thanked God so strongly that he even forgot Beatrice.

This pleased Beatrice. She smiled, and Dante saw her beauty and became aware of his surroundings.

Lights who were saved souls circled Beatrice and Dante. They were like the halo of light that sometimes surrounds Latona’s daughter: Diana, aka the Moon. They were like a crown for Dante and Beatrice.

The saved souls sang as they circled them, and that song is one of the delights awaiting the repentant after they die and go to Paradise.

The lights circled Dante and Beatrice three times and then stopped. They were like dancing ladies who stopped so they could listen to new notes and catch a new rhythm.

One of the saved souls spoke to Dante: “You are blessed by God, who kindles true love that increases the more it loves. You have been allowed to ascend into Paradise. From Paradise, no one descends unless they will later ascend again.”

Beatrice thought, Saint Paul was allowed to visit Paradise before he died. Of course, he returned to Paradise after he died. Dante will return to Paradise after he dies. He is saved.

The saved soul continued, “Because God has shown His grace to you, we will of course help you by giving you information. None of us saved souls would refuse to give your thirsty soul wine from a flask; that would be like a moving stream refusing to move to the sea.

“I know that you want to know who these souls are who are the flowers in the crown around this lady who is your guide.

“I am a Dominican monk. Saint Dominic led me and many others along a path where all may be fed if they do not stray from the path. I am Thomas Aquinas.”

Beatrice thought, Thomas Aquinas was born in 1224, and he died at age 50 in 1274. Dante was born in 1265, so he was nine years old when Thomas Aquinas died. Thomas Aquinas will become Saint Thomas Aquinas in 1323, two years after Dante will die. Thomas Aquinas is much respected now, in 1300, but he will be much more respected later. He will be the dominant Catholic theologian. He will be regarded as the greatest medieval philosopher. Saint Thomas believed in both revealed truth, such as the revelations that we have in sacred scripture, and in discovered truth, such as we find by using our reason. He argued that the two kinds of truth were compatible. Moses Maimonides, a great Jewish thinker, believed the same thing.

In this first circle are 12 souls, and they surround Dante and me like the numbers on a clock. All of the 12 souls are male. Later, a second circle of 12 souls will join the first circle. The number 24 is important in the Bible — for example, in the Book of Revelation there are 24 elders.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “I will tell you about the other souls. Look at each soul as I explain who the soul is. This soul to my right is my teacher, Albert of Cologne, aka Albertus Magnus, aka Albert the Great.”

Beatrice thought, Albert the Great died in 1280, and he will be canonized in 1931. Albert the Great is known as the Universal Doctor, a name that reflects his great knowledge. He commented widely on the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. Like Thomas Aquinas, Albert the Great was a Dominican. Thomas Aquinas went to Cologne in 1248 to study under him.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “The next soul is Gratian, who smiles brightly. He served well in two courts of law, and Paradise is happy to welcome him.”

Beatrice thought, Gratian is Italian. He was a Benedictine monk, and he is known as the father of canon law. Gratian sought to harmonize Church and civil laws, thereby allowing canon law to be correctly interpreted. His magnum opus is A Concordance of Discordant Regulations, or Gratian’s Decretals, which appeared between 1140 and 1150. Dante finds it interesting that he sees Gratian here. One of Dante’s criticisms of the Catholic Church is that it does not spend enough time studying scripture; instead, it spends too much time studying Church law. Yet here he sees Gratian, the great compiler of Church law. What can he learn from this? He can learn that Church law is important, but all of us have to be careful to use it well, neither overvaluing nor undervaluing it.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “The next soul is Peter. Like the poor widow, he offered what he had to the Church.”

Beatrice thought, Peter Lombard lived in the 12th century, and he was the bishop of Paris. He wrote Libri Sententiarum, aka The Books of Opinions, which brought together the opinions of the Church fathers on four key subjects: the Godhead, the incarnation, creation, and the sacraments. Peter Lombard called his writings his “widow’s mite,” a reference to the New Testament story (Luke 21:1-4), about a widow who brought her small offering to the temple. This is the story: “And Jesus looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury. And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither the small amount of two mites. And Jesus said, ‘Of a truth I say to you, that this poor widow has cast in more than they all: For all these have of their abundance cast in to the offerings of God: but she of her penury has cast in all the living that she had.’”

Thomas Aquinas continued, “The fifth light is the most beautiful of all of us. His love was passionate, as can be seen in his ‘Song of Songs.’ Because of his passionate love, people debated whether he is in Paradise or in the Inferno. He is the wisest of all, and no one has as much wisdom as he has. A second person has never arisen with as much wisdom as Solomon had.”

Beatrice thought, This wise soul is Solomon, David’s son by Bathsheba. Though Saint Augustine believed that King Solomon was damned, Solomon is the most beautiful in this group. Solomon had a dream in which God asked him what he wanted, and Solomon wanted wisdom: “an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and bad” (I Kings 3:9). God granted him that, as well as other things that Solomon did not ask for. Solomon used his wisdom to resolve a dispute between two women who both claimed to be the mother of a living baby. He ordered the child to be cut in half, and each mother to be given half of the child. One of the women spoke up and asked Solomon to give the child to the other woman. The other woman remained silent. Solomon knew that the woman who had spoken up is the real mother of the child because the real mother would not want the child killed.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “The soul next to him knew, while he was in the living world, what an Angel is and what an Angel does.”

Beatrice thought, This soul is Dionysius the Areopagite. In the 1st century, Saint Paul converted an Athenian named Dionysius the Areopagite (Acts 17:34). People incorrectly believed that Dionysius the Areopagite had written a highly influential book about Angels titled On the Heavenly Hierarchy, aka The Celestial Hierarchy. He did not write that book, but as Thomas Aquinas said about him, while he was in the living world, he knew what an Angel is and what an Angel does.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “Inside this light, which is tiny, is the great defender of the Christian age. Saint Augustine used his words.”

Beatrice thought, This soul is Paulus Orosius, who was a Spanish cleric and historian. He was a 5th-century contemporary of Saint Augustine. Some pagans believed that the arrival of Christianity had made the world worse than it had been, so Orosius wrote seven books opposing that belief. These books were called Seven Books of History Against the Pagans.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “You must be eager to know who this light, the eighth, is. This soul, who is now in the realm of all good, experienced much evil on Earth. He was martyred, and his remains are now at the Church of Saint Peter in Pavia, which is in Lombardy.”

Beatrice thought, This soul is Boethius, a Roman, who wrote On the Consolation of Philosophy while he was in prison. In 524 C.E., he was executed for treason — although he was innocent — after he completed the book. After my body died, Dante read On the Consolation of Philosophy and was consoled by it. Boethius is also known as Saint Severinus; his full name was Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “The next soul is Isidore.”

Beatrice thought, Isidore of Seville was a Spaniard who died in 636 C.E. He wrote a highly influential encyclopedia of the scientific knowledge of his time.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “The next soul is Bede.”

Beatrice thought, The Venerable Bede, an Anglo-Saxon monk who died in 735 C.E., is known as the father of English history. He wrote the five-volume Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “The next soul is Richard, who is known for his contemplations.”

Beatrice thought, Richard of Saint Victor died in 1173 C.E. He was called the Great Contemplator after he wrote a book titled De Contemplatione. He was an important 12th-century mystic, and he was prior of the illustrious Augustinian monastery at Saint Victor near Paris.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “This soul is Siger, who mourned the length of his mortal life. He taught at the University of Paris, before which was the Rue de Fouarre, aka the Street of Straw. He taught truths for which he was hated.”

Beatrice thought, This soul is Siger of Brabant, who was a Belgian whose beliefs opposed those of Saint Thomas. For example, Siger thought that the world could have always existed. He also doubted that the soul is immortal — since he is in Paradise, he has happily discovered that he was wrong about that. He and Saint Thomas Aquinas had philosophical disagreements while they were alive, but they get along well in Paradise. Siger of Brabant was even accused of heresy, and yet we see him in Paradise. What can Dante learn from this? He can learn that many disagreements between scholars are not between good people and bad people. He can learn that people of good will can disagree. Sometimes, people are mistaken, but they are still true seekers of wisdom.

And now the wheel of souls moved the way a clock moves, and the souls sang a song. Parts moved together, in harmony, as in the act of creation. Parts made a whole, and God’s Bride was with the Bridegroom. Joy and eternity were one.

Chapter 11: Sun — Saint Thomas Aquinas Praises Saint Francis of Assisi (Paradise)

Dante the Poet thought, People pursue many activities in such a way that keeps them rooted to the Earth rather than helping them to rise to Paradise. Some people seek to rise to material gain in law. Some people seek to rise to material gain in medicine. Some people seek to benefit by acquiring religious sinecures. Some people seek to rise to political power by using force or fraud. Some people plan thefts. Some people seek to rise to material gain by planning affairs of state. Some people seek the pleasures of the flesh. Some people are lazy.

But I did not worry about such things because I was magnificently welcomed to Paradise with Beatrice.

The saved souls were dancing, and when each soul had returned to the place it had been before the dance started, they stopped dancing and stood still like candles in a circular chandelier.

Thomas Aquinas said to Dante, “I reflect the rays of God, and I look into God’s mind and I see your thoughts. I see that you are perplexed by some of the things I said. You want me to speak plainly and clearly and explain the things that perplex you.

“Two things perplex you. One, I said, ‘Saint Dominic led me and many others along a path where all may be fed if they do not stray from the path.’ And two, I said, ‘A second person has never arisen with as much wisdom as Solomon had.’ I must speak more clearly.

“The wisdom of Providence is so great that living human beings cannot understand it. But be aware that Providence wants the Church, aka the Bride of Christ, to be able to go to her Bridegroom, aka Christ, with her faithfulness and goodness intact, and so Providence sent two princes to reform her and make her well again.

“One reformer on Earth was like one of the Seraphim, the highest order of Angels, who are symbolic of the highest love for God. This reformer stressed repentance of one’s sins to make oneself closer to God.

“The other reformer on Earth was like one of the Cherubim, the second highest order of Angels, who are symbolic of the highest kind of wisdom. This reformer stressed getting doctrine right.

“The Church needed — and needs — to be reformed, and these two saints in different but complementary ways, sought to reform it. Saint Francis stressed repentance of one’s sins to make oneself closer to God. Saint Dominic stressed getting doctrine right. Praise of one of the reformers is also praise for the other reformer because both reformers had the same goal in mind: Reform the Church to make it stronger.

“I myself will speak of only one reformer.”

Dante the Pilgrim thought, The two great reformers of the 13th century were Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Dominic. Saint Dominic is from Spain, and Saint Francis is from France. Saint Dominic’s focus is on the gifts of the mind, and Saint Francis’ focus is on the gifts of the heart. A proper Church needs both wisdom and love. Thomas Aquinas is a Dominican monk, so I expect him to talk about Saint Dominic.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “In Assisi was born a reformer. The name Assisi can be interpreted as ‘A man has arisen,’ but a more accurate name would be Orient, or ‘A Sun has arisen.’”

Dante the Pilgrim thought, I was wrong. Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican monk, is going to speak about Saint Francis of Assisi. He has said enough that I know that he will praise Saint Francis. Saint Francis was a wandering saint. He took vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. He was a missionary who visited parts of the world devoted to Islam. Thomas Aquinas is not against the Franciscans. He knows that the two orders of monks are on the same side. Down on Earth, I have seen these two orders of monks engage in a destructive kind of competition. That Saint Thomas is going to tell me about Saint Francis shows something about wisdom. Don’t be afraid to learn from other sources and from traditions other than your own. Although Saint Thomas is a Dominican, he knows that studying the story of Saint Francis can lead to wisdom. In Paradise there is no jealousy between the Dominicans and the Franciscans because they know that they are on the same side.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “This reformer, even as a youth, showed holiness. He even made his father angry, preferring doing that to leaving something undone for God.

“This reformer loved a certain lady, whom other people preferred to flee from as if she were death.

“This reformer even appeared in court, with his father present, to marry this lady. This reformer loved this lady more and more each day.

“This lady had been married before, and she remained unmarried for over 11 centuries before she married a second time. No one loved her for over 1100 years. She had been alone all that time.

“She had been alone although it was due to her that Amyclas, lying on a bed of seaweed, was able to be unfrightened when Julius Caesar, whose word could terrify the world, demanded to be ferried across the Adriatic Sea. Amyclas had no possessions, and therefore he did not worry about losing them.

“She had been alone although it was her who climbed up the Cross to be with Jesus while Mary remained at the foot of the Cross.

“No doubt you know of whom I am speaking. I am speaking of Saint Francis, who married Lady Poverty, whose first Bridegroom was Jesus Himself.”

Dante thought, When Saint Francis was still young, he decided to forego the pursuit of wealth and instead be poor. In figurative terms, he married Lady Poverty. Of course, Lady Poverty is not someone people normally choose to consort with. Saint Francis always wanted to do the right thing. In 1207, when Francis was 25 years old, he sold some possessions of his father — a horse and a loaf of bread — and he gave the money to a church. This enraged his father, who made Francis appear before the Bishop of Assisi. His father asked Francis to agree to forfeit his right of inheritance, and Francis gladly agreed, thus marrying Lady Poverty.

Poverty is not necessarily a good thing. Christians and everyone else should work to relieve poverty. It is much better that all people have food, shelter, and clothing than that some people be so poor that they have to do without. If poverty has any advantage, it is that a poor person is more likely to lack pride and more likely to turn to God than a rich person is.

But voluntary poverty can be a very good thing indeed. Saint Francis chose voluntary poverty. He renounced trying to gather as much material wealth as he could so that he could do the work that God wanted him to do.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “The marriage of Saint Francis and Lady Poverty was fruitful. Soon other people became followers of Saint Francis. Saint Francis and Lady Poverty loved each other, and their love inspired other people. One such follower was Saint Bernard. He cast his shoes off and ran to follow Saint Francis, and even though he ran he thought he was slow. Giles and Sylvester also followed Saint Francis.”

Dante thought, Saint Francis and Giles were out walking when they came across a beggar woman. Saint Francis had nothing to give her, as he was wearing a simple, much-worn habit with a bit of rope for a belt. Giles, however, was wearing a coat. Saint Francis told him, “Give it to her.” Giles handed the beggar woman the coat, and he became one of the first Franciscans.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “Saint Francis had a family. He was married to Lady Poverty, and his followers were part of his family.”

Beatrice thought, In the Inferno, Brunetto Latini was unfruitful. He did speak of Dante as his son, but Brunetto Latini’s doing so was a way for him to be remembered. If Dante becomes famous, and he will, then Brunetto Latini will be famous because he was a teacher or a mentor for Dante. A more fruitful family is one in which all do good work. Brunetto Latini wrote for fame, and his writings will perish except for scholars researching Dante. Saint Francis’ family is still doing good work. The Franciscans still do many good deeds throughout the world, and 700 years from now they will continue to do many good deeds throughout the world.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “Saint Francis and his family wore a humble cord for a belt. He was not ashamed that his father was Bernardine, a merchant. He appeared before Pope Innocent III, who provisionally approved the order of Saint Francis. His followers grew, and in 1123, Pope Honorarius III officially approved the order of Saint Francis.

“Then Saint Francis went to Egypt to speak before the Sultan and try to convert him. Saint Francis was hoping to be martyred.”

Dante thought, Yes, Saint Francis wanted to be martyred, but he was so likable that the Sultan treated him well.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “Saint Francis failed to convert the Sultan, and therefore he returned to Italy. During the two years before his death, he bore the wounds of Christ. This was his final seal.”

Dante thought, Saint Francis received the stigmata. The stigmata are the wounds of Christ. These unexplained markings are on the hands and feet and on the side of the person receiving them. In Saint Francis’ case, they are regarded as a miracle. The stigmata are Saint Francis’ final seal. A seal, of course, is used to seal envelopes. Hot wax is dropped across the folded part of the envelope and then a seal of some kind is pressed into the wax. The seal indicates that this is a genuine letter, not a fake. Saint Francis was genuine, not a fake. The seal indicates that the letter is finished and approved. Saint Francis’ life was finished and approved: He came as close to perfection as a living human being can, and he entered Paradise. Near the end of his life, Saint Francis was a fully completed work of art.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “When Francis died, he called on his followers to love Lady Poverty. When Francis died, he loved Lady Poverty.

“What other kind of person should be a reformer like Saint Francis? Who can help the Church to keep a straight course in dangerous waters? Such a person was Saint Dominic, the leader of the order of monks to which I belong. A true follower of Saint Dominic will see riches in the hold of the ship.

“But the followers of Saint Dominic have grown greedy. They stray from the true path to untrue pastures. The farther Dominican monks get away from Saint Dominic, the less milk they bring back.

“Some Dominican monks stay close to Saint Dominic, but they are few. To make cowls for each of them would take little cloth.

“I have tried to speak plainly and to make clear to you the meaning of ‘a path where all may be fed if they do not stray from the path.’ I hope that you have understood me.”

Beatrice thought, You are supposed to learn from this, Dante. Like Saint Francis, you will be poor. You will also be in exile. One thing that you have to do is to choose your reaction to what happens to you. One kind of reaction is to commit suicide. That kind of reaction, of course, will get you a place in the Inferno forever: Remember Pier delle Vigne. Another kind of reaction is to embrace your fate. Saint Francis embraced poverty. Dante, you can chose to do your best in the face of poverty and exile.

You also need to learn that wisdom is about seeing things in the right relationship. The Sun and the Earth are in the right relationship to have seasons and to support life. The Franciscans and the Dominicans need to have the right relationship, which is to be on the same side and to work for the good of the Church. The Church needs to recognize the importance of both love and wisdom.

Scholarship and wisdom are two different things, although learned scholars can be wise. Thomas Aquinas is a very learned soul here. However, Saint Francis was not known for scholarship. Nevertheless, both Thomas Aquinas and Saint Francis were and are wise. Wisdom is a broader concept than many people assume.

Let’s think about the way that we accumulate knowledge. One of Humankind’s greatest inventions has been writing because we can now write down what we learn. A person can study and acquire wisdom, but when that person dies, those insights can be lost unless that person has written down his or her thoughts. When a person writes a book that appears in a library, that person is making his or her insights available communally — someone else can read that book and learn those insights.

In addition, the other people who read that book can build on its insights. They can publish their own books that contain their own insights. These insights can build up over the years. For one thing, we don’t need to keep reinventing the wheel generation after generation. The wheel has already been invented. New generations can figure out better ways of using the wheel.

Books have a major advantage over the oral transmission of information. In Africa, storytellers, who were called griots, passed along information orally. It was said that when a griot died, a library died. It would be much better if the griots wrote down what they know. That way, a library will not die when a griot dies.

When a person can write a good book and does not write that book, it is as if a child has died.

Still, wisdom does not mean book-learning, although book-learning is important. A person such as Saint Francis is known for his love, and love can be a kind of wisdom. Love can be a way of knowing what is important.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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