David Bruce: Dante’s PARADISE: A Discussion Guide — “Canto 26: Gemini — Saint John Examines Dante’s Love; Adam”

“Canto 26: Gemini — Saint John Examines Dante’s Love; Adam”

  • Why is Dante temporarily blind during the test about the virtue of love?

In Canto 25, Dante blinded himself trying to see if Saint John had a body.

Love is blind, and so is Dante — temporarily.

Dante’s sight will be restored just as Saul’s sight was restored in Acts 9:17 by Ananias (King James Version) — of course, Saul became Saint Paul:

1: And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,

2: And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.

3: And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:

4: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

5: And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

6: And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.

7: And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.

8: And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.

9: And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.

10: And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.

11: And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth,

12: And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.

13: Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:

14: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.

15: But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:

16: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.

17: And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.

Saint John tells Dante that Beatrice will be able to restore his sight just as Ananias restored the sight of Saul/Paul:

“Because the Lady, who through this divine

Region conducteth thee, has in her look

The power the hand of Ananias had.”           

(Longfellow 26.10-12)

  • How does Dante answer this question: “tell what it is that your soul / is set upon” (Musa 26.7-8)?

Dante is being examined in three things: faith, hope, and love. Love — appropriately — is presented as an experience.

Saint John asks Dante, “tell what it is that your soul / is set upon” (Musa 26.7-8).

Dante’s answer is that his soul is set on God:

“The Good, that gives contentment to this Court,

The Alpha and Omega is of all

The writing that love reads me low or loud.”

(Longfellow 26.16-18)

Saint John then asks Dante what made him set his soul on God:

And I: “By philosophic arguments,

And by authority that hence descends,

Such love must needs imprint itself in me;”

(Longfellow 26.25-27)

What made Dante set his soul on God? Dante answers that both reason and revelation did that. Reason refers to philosophical arguments, and revelation refers to sacred Scripture.

Many people believe that both reason and revelation lead to the same conclusions. C.S. Lewis, the great defender of Christianity, believed this. So did Saint Thomas Aquinas, another great defender of Christianity.

We have read about seals before in The Divine Comedy. When Saint Francis received the stigmata, this was referred to as a seal:

“then on bare rock between Arno and Tiber

he took upon himself Christ’s holy wounds,

and for two years he wore this final seal.”

(Musa 11.106-108)

The phrase “this final seal” (Musa 11.108) is interesting. It refers to the stigmata. 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. Here are a few important points made by Dante scholars William R. Cook and Ronald B. Herzman:

  1. The seal indicates that this is the genuine article. The letter has not been forged. Also, Saint Francis’ Christianity has not been faked.
  2. The letter is in a finished state. No more writing needs to be done in the letter. Similarly, Saint Francis has achieved Paradise. In addition, we can say that he has come as close to perfection as a human being who is not also divine can.
  3. The letter has been approved. If it were not approved, the seal would not be applied to it. Similarly, Saint Francis’ life has been approved — by God.
  4. The letter is officially sealed. We can say that Saint Francis is officially sealed. We may also want to consider him a fully completed work of art. In Cantos 10 and 11 of Purgatory, the souls of the proud were bent over like the works of art known as corbels. They were being formed into works of art. Now, near the end of his life, Saint Francis is a fully completed work of art.

Dante is stamped with a seal much like Saint Francis of Assisi.

Joseph Gallagher points out that Dante believes these things about love (184):

Acknowledging the authority of reason and revelation, Dante first states his thesis: goodness when recognized begets love; the greater the good, the greater the love. Therefore, the Supreme Good, whom all other goods mirror, must be supremely loved. These ideas he attributes to the philosopher Aristotle, to the book of Exodus (33:17), and to Saint John’s own Gospel. (The sublimity of this work caused John to be symbolized by a high-flying eagle.)

  • How does the Pilgrim do in the test that Saint John gives him about love?

Dante passes all of his exams, including this one. He hears music: “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus” or “Holy! Holy! Holy!” (Musa 26.69). This song comes from Isaiah 6:3 (King James Version):

1: In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.

2: Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.

3: And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.

  • How does Adam answer the four questions that Dante asks him?

Three lights (the apostles Peter, James, and John) are before Dante, but now he notices a fourth light, who is Adam, the first man.

Dante asks Adam four questions. Actually, he doesn’t even have to ask out loud the questions because Adam knows what he is thinking:

Q1: Why was Adam banished from the Garden of Eden?

A: Adam answers that he was banished for disobedience, not for the tasting of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil:

“Now, son of mine, the tasting of the tree

Not in itself was cause of so great exile,

But solely the o’erstepping of the bounds.”

(Longfellow 26.115-117)

Q2: How long did Adam spend on Earth?

A: Adam lived 930 years on Earth and 4,302 years in Limbo.

Q3: Which language did Adam speak?

A: Adam spoke a language that became extinct before the attempt to build the Tower of Babel:

“The language that I spake was quite extinct

Before that in the work interminable

The people under Nimrod were employed;”

(Longfellow 26.124-126)

Q4: How long was Adam without sin in the Earthly Paradise?

A: Adam was created at about 6 a.m. (sunrise) and he sinned and was banished from the Earthly Paradise at just after noon. Therefore, Adam lived without sin for just over six hours.

Mark Musa gives this chronology (316):

Creation of Adam: 5198 B.C.

Adam’s death and descent to Limbo: 4268 B.C.

Christ’s descent into Hell: A.D. 34

 

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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