David Bruce: Dante’s PARADISE: A Discussion Guide — “Canto 5: Moon — Compensation for Broken Vows”

“Canto 5: Moon — Compensation for Broken Vows”

  • In Canto 4, Dante the Pilgrim asks if the transgression of the breaking of one’s vow can be compensated for in some way. (Can a person substitute some other good work for an unfilled vow?) How does Beatrice answer that question in Canto 5?

Free will is important in the Paradise. It is important throughout The Divine Comedy.

Free will is the greatest gift of God to us. When we make a religious vow, we are giving back to God that gift — we are sacrificing our freedom for God. It is wrong to take back that gift. We do sacrifice free will when we make a vow. For example, we are free to make as much money as we can. However, if we make a vow of poverty, we give up part of our free will — we are no longer free to make as much money as we can.

Be aware that we can substitute another vow for the vow we made. However, the second vow must require a greater sacrifice than the first vow.

Here is a summary of some of the main points in this discussion:

  • Free will is God’s greatest gift to human beings.
  • When human beings make a vow, they give back to God a part of their free will. For example, if you take a vow of poverty, you give up the pursuit of money.
  • If we break our vow, the only way to make that up is to give up something of even greater worth than what we vowed.
  • Sometimes, what we vow is so important that we cannot substitute anything in its place. Piccarda and the Empress Constance made vows of that kind.
  • God does not accept all vows; some vows result in evil.
  • We need to be careful when we make vows because vows are so important.
  • We do not need to make vows to be saved. We have the Bible and the Church; these are enough for us to be saved.
  • What does Dante need to learn from his visit to the Moon?

Beatrice emphasizes the importance of not taking vows lightly. If you make a vow that is not sinful, keep it. Beatrice says,

“Christians, beware of rushing into vows.

Do not be like a feather in the wind,

or think that every water washes clean!”

(Musa 5.73-75)

  • Which kind of vow should not be kept?

The only kind of vow that should not be kept is a sinful vow; for example, a sinful vow is one that would result in the deaths of your children.

Beatrice gives us two examples of sinful vows:

Jephthah

This judge of Israel fought the Ammonites and vowed to God to sacrifice, if he won, the first living thing that came out from his house after the battle to greet him. That living thing turned out to be his daughter. It is unclear whether he killed her as a human sacrifice or simply gave her to God and let her die an unmarried virgin. This story is told in Judges 11:30-40 (King James Version):

30: And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,

31: Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.

32: So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands.

33: And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.

34: And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.

35: And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.

36: And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon.

37: And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.

38: And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.

39: And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel,

40: That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.

Iphigenia

Agamemnon killed a stag that was loved by Artemis/Diana, and she stopped the winds that were needed to carry the Greek ships to Troy. Calchas, Agamemnon’s seer, told him to sacrifice Iphigenia, one of Agamemnon’s daughters. Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter, and favorable winds arose.

  • What happens as Beatrice and Dante draw near to and arrive at Mercury?

Beatrice glows more brightly. In addition, more than a thousand souls come toward Dante and Beatrice, each of them saying, “Behold one more who will increase our love” (Musa Paradise5.105). One of these souls (“splendors”) talks to Dante and offers to answer any questions he may have. Dante asks who the soul is and why he is assigned to Mercury. The soul makes his answer in Canto 6.

We will see that the souls who appear on Mercury are those who sought too eagerly for fame on Earth.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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PARADISE: CANTO 4  RETELLING

https://davidbruceblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/11/dantes-paradise-canto-4-retelling-location-of-souls-the-absolute-versus-the-conditional-will/

PARADISE: CANTO 5  RETELLING

https://davidbruceblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/12/dantes-paradise-canto-5-retelling-moon-compensation-for-broken-vows/

PARADISE: CANTO 6  RETELLING

https://davidbruceblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/13/dantes-paradise-canto-6-retelling-mercury-roman-emperor-justinian/

PARADISE: CANTO  7 RETELLING

https://davidbruceblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/dantes-paradise-canto-7-retelling-mercury-the-mystery-of-redemption/

PARADISE: CANTO 8  RETELLING

https://davidbruceblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/15/dantes-paradise-canto-8-retelling-venus-charles-martel/

PARADISE: CANTO 9  RETELLING

https://davidbruceblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/16/dantes-paradise-canto-9-retelling-venus-cuanza-folquet-rahab/

PARADISE: CANTO 10  RETELLING

https://davidbruceblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/17/dantes-paradise-canto-10-retelling-sun-saint-thomas-aquinas/

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