David Bruce: Dante’s PARADISE: A Discussion Guide — “Canto 25: Gemini — Saint James Examines Dante’s Hope”

“Canto 25: Gemini — Saint James Examines Dante’s Hope”

  • Which apostle examines Dante in the virtue of hope?

Saint James examines Dante in hope.

Dante, of course, hoped all his life to be able to return out of exile to Florence. He also hoped to be recognized as a great poet.

Saint James is another person who spent a lot of time away from home. In the Middle Ages, he was known as the great Pilgrim Saint.

Of course, we can think of Dante’s journey through the afterlife as being a kind of pilgrimage.

  • Does Dante still hope to be able to return to Florence?

For the rest of his life, Dante wanted to return to Florence, but of course he never made it.

In Canto 25, in which he will be examined on hope, he writes of his hope to be allowed to return to Florence. He writes of this hope in the first four stanzas of Canto 25:

If ever it happen that this sacred poem

to which both Heaven and Earth have set their hand.

and made me lean from laboring so long,

wins over those cruel hearts that exile me

from the sweet fold where I grew up a lamb,

foe to the wolves who war upon it now,

with a changed voice and with another fleece,

I shall return, a poet, and at my own

baptismal font assume the laurel wreath,

for it was there I entered in the faith

that counts God’s souls for Him, the faith for which

Peter just turned himself into my crown.

(Musa 25.1-12)

Dante acknowledges that writing The Divine Comedyhas been hard work. Even though his poem is “sacred” (Musa 25.1), it has made him “lean from laboring so long” (Musa 25.3).

This may seem like a digression, but it is not. Dante will be examined on hope in this canto, and he is expressing a personal hope that is of great concern to him. He hopes that his poem will allow him to return to Florence and be crowned as a poet there.

Here we see the public and the personal again, as well as the great and the small. Dante’s poem The Divine Comedyis public, and it is of great importance. His desire to return to Florence is personal, and in the nature of things, it is much smaller than his composition of The Divine Comedy.

Of course, Dante never made it back to Florence. At the Church of Santa Croce in Florence is a tomb for Dante, but the tomb is empty.

Interestingly, when Dante finished The Divine Comedy, he was living in Ravenna, and he must have known that his exile from Florence would most likely not end in his lifetime. However, his hope was still strong that he would return to Florence — or at least his desire to return to Florence was still strong.

  • How does Dante the Pilgrim do in the test that Saint James gives him about hope?

Saint James asks Dante three questions:

“Say what it [Hope] is, and how is flowering with it

Thy mind, and say from whence it came to thee.”

Thus did the second light again continue.”

(Longfellow 25.46-48)

In other words, the three questions are these:

1) What is the definition of Hope?

2) To what degree do you possess Hope?

3) What is the source of your Hope?

  • How does Beatrice answer this question: To what degree do you possess Hope? Why does Beatrice — not Dante — answer this question?

Beatrice answers the second question for Dante — very positively:

“There is no son of the Church Militant

with greater hope than his, as you can read

in Him whose radiance lights all our host;

and this is why he is allowed to come

from Egypt to behold Jerusalem

before his fighting days on earth are done.”

(Musa 25.52-57)

Beatrice does not want Dante to answer the question because it may seem as if he is proud.

By the way, the word “host” (Musa 25.54) means a multitude or a vast number.

  • How does Dante answer this question: What is the definition of Hope?

Dante then defines Hope: 

“Hope,” said I, “is the certain expectation

Of future glory, which is the effect

Of grace divine and merit precedent.”

(Longfellow 25.67-69)

Mark Musa writes this (302):

The Pilgrim now defines Hope. His definition comes from that found in Peter Lombard (see Par. X, 106-108), Liber sententiarum, III, XXVI, 1: “hope is a certain expectation of future beatitude proceeding from God’s grace and antecedent merits.” The motivation of hope springs from God’s grace alone; “precedent worth,” or merit, is necessary for the assurance of salvation.

  • How does Dante answer this question: What is the source of your Hope?

The third question is from which source has Dante received his hope. He answers that he received his hope from many sources, but he received his hope first from David, the singer of the Psalms:

“From many stars this light comes unto me;

But he instilled it first into my heart

Who was chief singer unto the chief captain.”

(Longfellow 25.70-72)

Hope is important in Christianity because all of us have sinned. The Old Testament has 613 laws, and all of us have broken many of those laws. And even if we believe that many of the laws do not apply to Christians, we have broken many of the laws that remain and that we think still are applicable to our lives.

If we focus too much on our sins, we can lose hope. We can think that we have sinned so much that we will never make it to Paradise. Faith is important to hope. If we have faith in a merciful God, then we can retain our hope.

  • How does Dante the Pilgrim do in the test that Saint James gives him about hope?

Dante the Pilgrim also passes this examination.

  • Does Saint John have a body?

A third light — Saint John — arrives. Dante has heard a tradition — which was disputed — that Saint John’s body went to Paradise along with his soul.

To see whether this is true, Dante stares at the light that is Saint John, but the light blinds him. Saint John, however, tells Dante that his body is not in Paradise:

“Even as a man who gazes, and endeavours

To see the eclipsing of the sun a little,

And who, by seeing, sightless doth become,

So I became before that latest fire,

While it was said, ‘Why dost thou daze thyself

To see a thing which here hath no existence?

Earth in the earth my body is, and shall be

With all the others there, until our number

With the eternal proposition tallies.’”

(Longfellow 25.118-126)       

In addition, Saint John tells Dante that only two people have bodies in Paradise. They are Jesus and Mary:

“Two Lights and no more, were allowed to rise

straight to our cloister clad in double robes —

explain this to your world when you go back.”

(Musa 25.127-129)

The rest of the souls in Paradise will be given their bodies on the Day of Judgment. Of course this is also true of the souls in the Inferno. The souls on the Mountain of Purgatory will receive their bodies, and they will go to Paradise.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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