David Bruce: Dante’s PARADISE: A Discussion Guide — “Canto 19: Jupiter — Symbolic Eagle”

“Canto 19: Jupiter — Symbolic Eagle”

  • What about the salvation of pagans, and how does that relate to the idea of a just God?

In this sphere, no soul speaks individually. Instead, the eagle, which is composed of many souls, speaks.

Dante wishes to know about justice. For example, Christians believe that having faith in Christ is necessary if one wishes to be saved. However, what about the pagans who never have heard of Christ? Should they be damned? Is that just? Does a person have to be explicitly Christian in order to be saved?

Some of us may think that it is unjust to damn a good person who has never heard of Christ. This canto addresses this problem.

The problem is laid out here:

“For saidst thou: ‘Born a man is on the shore

Of Indus, and is none who there can speak

Of Christ, nor who can read, nor who can write;

And all his inclinations and his actions

Are good, so far as human reason sees,

Without a sin in life or in discourse:

He dieth unbaptised and without faith;

Where is this justice that condemneth him?

Where is his fault, if he do not believe?’”

(Longfellow 19.70-78)

Is it just to condemn people who did not become Christians because they never a chance — knowledge of Christ had never come to their part of the world?

Of course, we are aware of Inferno, Canto 4, which gave us information about Limbo. In Limbo resided the souls of the virtuous pagans and unbaptized infants. Here we have additional information. It is not always the case that a virtuous pagan goes to Limbo. In fact, we will see two pagans (or two people who werepagans) on this planet.

By the way, a pagan does not hold the religious beliefs of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. A pagan does not believe in what the followers of these religions would call the one true God.

This part of Dante’s Paradiseshows that readers need to read more than the Infernoto get the full story. Anyone who reads the Infernoonly would think that all pagans would go to the Inferno; the best place they can end up is in Limbo. Here, however, we find out that pagans can end up in Paradise.

By reading the Inferno, we can get a proper foundation for understanding Purgatoryand Paradise, but to get the full story — or as much of it as we can know — we have to also read Purgatoryand Paradise.

  • Can mortals understand the mystery of Eternal Judgment? What does it mean that the Eternal Judgment is a mystery?

The Eagle points out a few things to Dante, one of them being that Humankind cannot be a good judge of God because Humankind has limited knowledge:

“Now who are you to sit in judgment’s seat

and pass on things a thousand miles away,

when you can hardly see beyond your nose?”

(Musa 19.79-81)

The Eagle explicitly says that Humankind is unable to understand Eternal Judgment:

Circling, it sang, then spoke: “Even as my notes

are too high for your mind to comprehend,

so is Eternal Judgment for mankind.”

(Musa 19.97-99)

Our finite human minds are simply unable to understand God’s infinite mind. We underestimate God’s mind if we assume that we can understand the things that God knows.

In Paradise, we will learn that we can’t understand everything. Dante is going to have some experiences that he simply will not be able to put into words.

Dante is going to have to say that some things are a mystery. A mystery is something that human reason cannot understand and cannot explain. Some of what Dante experiences at the end of Paradisewill be a mystery. All we can do is to accept mystery because we cannot explain it.

God created Limbo, and he created the rest of the Inferno. We have to assume that He had a good reason for doing this.

Here is an example of someone who may very well be in Paradise even though some pious people may be surprised to see him there:

  • Comedian Jackie Gleason was raised Catholic, but as an adult he seldom attended Mass or made a confession. His friend Jack Haley was also Catholic, and he wanted to return Mr. Gleason to the Church. One day Mr. Haley told Mr. Gleason, “I know a priest who will forgive anything in confession — and no lectures, sermons, or questions.” Another friend, Max Kaminsky, heard this and commented, “I’d pay ten thousand bucks to hear that first confession.” Mr. Gleason simply replied, “One of these days, pal.” Mr. Haley then asked Mr. Gleason to pay $100 each for two tickets to a fundraising dinner for Father Patrick Peyton and his Family Rosary Crusade, whose slogan was, “The Family That Prays Together Stays Together.” Mr. Gleason wrote a check for $10,000, handed it to Mr. Haley, and said, “Use it to buy tickets for priests and nuns who can’t afford a C-note for dinner.” (Mr. Gleason once went to Mass with Mr. Haley, but he said, “Haley and I are walking in the church and Loretta Young and Irene Dunne, both Catholics, saw me, turned around and walked out. They thought the roof would cave in.”)(Source: James Bacon, How Sweet It Is: The Jackie Gleason Story, pp. 144-145, 160.)
  • Both Jackie Gleason and Tommy Dorsey led lives that in some ways were not conventionally moral. Mr. Dorsey died in 1956, and Mr. Gleason took care of the funeral arrangements for his friend. Both men were Catholic, but since Mr. Dorsey had been married three times, Mr. Gleason was unable to arrange for Mr. Dorsey to be buried by the Catholic Church, despite Mr. Gleason’s best efforts. He even complained to a priest, “How can you call yourself a man of God if you can let a baptized Catholic go to his Maker without even a prayer from his own faith?” Hearing that, the priest promised Mr. Gleason that he would himself go to the funeral home during the services and recite the rosary while standing outside on the sidewalk.(Source: James Bacon, How Sweet It Is: The Jackie Gleason Story, pp. 142-143.)
  • Was it possible to have faith in Jesus Christ before He was born?

The Eagle continues to speak:

It recommenced: “Unto this kingdom never

Ascended one who had not faith in Christ,

Before or since he to the tree was nailed.”

(Longfellow 19.103-105)

Some people, of course, had faith in Christ before He was crucified — in fact, they even had faith in Him before He was born.

Of course, these are the people who were released from Limbo by Christ in the Harrowing of Hell.

We will learn in Canto 20 that at least two pagans had implicit faith in Christ and made it to Paradise.

  • Is just saying that you are Christian enough to get you in Paradise?

It seems that being Christian is enough to get you into Paradise, but is just saying that you are Christian enough to get you into Paradise?

The Eagle says,

“But look thou, many crying are, ‘Christ, Christ!’

Who at the judgment shall be far less near

To him than some shall be who knew not Christ.”

(Longfellow 19.106-108)

We should know already that just saying that you are Christian is NOT enough to get you into Paradise. All you have to do is look in the Inferno and see all the Popes there. Many of the unrepentant sinners in the Inferno said that they were Christian. Guido da Montefeltro attempted to scam God into thinking that he was a Christian, but Guido’s scam did not work.

We also read that some pagans are much better qualified for Paradise than some so-called “Christians.” Perhaps it is possible for them to be saved:

“Such Christians shall the Ethiop condemn,

When the two companies shall be divided,

The one for ever rich, the other poor.”

(Longfellow 19.109-111)

The day when the two companies shall be divided is the Day of Judgment. It certainly sounds as if some pagans, represented here by the Ethiop, will be “rich […] forevermore” (Paradise19.111). The only kind of “rich” that will be meaningful after the Day of Judgment will be a residence in Paradise.

In Matthew25:31-46(King James Version), we read about the Day of Judgment. It is a separation like the one we read in this canto:

31:When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

32:And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats

33:And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

34:Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

35:For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

36:Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

37:Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

38:When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

39:Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

40:And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

41:Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

42:For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

43:I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

44:Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

45: Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

46: And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

The pagans who do the right thing may be going to be among the rich forevermore. What is the right thing to do? The right thing to do is to feed the hungry, give something to drink to the thirsty, give clothing to the naked, and help those who are ill or in prison.

  • Who are some of the Christians named in Canto 19 who have done terrible things?

Many so-called Christians have behaved badly, and Dante lists a few of them here.

A “Christian” can divide the world into the good guys and the bad guys, and then say that because you are a good guy you can do whatever you want to the bad guys. That kind of “Christian” is a bad Christian.

In this section, Dante uses another acrostic. In Purgatory, Canto 12, he used the acrostic OMO for Humankind. Here he uses the acrostic LVE. The ‘V’ means ‘U,’ and in Italian LUE means “pestilence.” Pestilence is what Dante writes about here.

Here are some of the Christians whom Dante mentions who behave badly:

The Emperor Albert.

Albert of Austria devastated Prague.

Philip the Fair.

Philip the Fair of France debased his country’s currency in order to pay for his wars. He died when he fell from his horse after a wild boar had run between its legs. To debase currency or money means to lessen the value of the money.

Robert the Bruce and William Wallace, and Kings Edward I and Edward II of England

The English and the Scots warred often, venturing into each other’s territory. Dante prefers that the Scottish leaders stay in Scotland, and the English leaders stay in England.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved





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