“Canto 31: Mystic Empyrean—Saint Bernard”
- Again, we have a change of guides. Write a brief character analysis of Saint Bernard. Who is he, historically?
Again, we have a change of guides.
Dante looks at the Rose and at the MysticEmpyrean. He turns to Beatrice to talk to her, but she is no longer beside him:
One thing I meant, another answered me;
I thought I should see Beatrice, and saw
An Old Man habited like the glorious people.
The new guide is Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. He lived in the 12th century (1090 or 1091-1153), and he was a member of the Cistercian religious order.
Saint Bernard was a number of things that are important to Dante:
1) He was a contemplative.
2) He was a reformer. As a reformer, he wrote to the Pope. He advised the Pope to focus on spiritual things and to cease his focus on political things.
3) He was a preacher.
4) He was a poet.
Saint Bernard is Dante’s final guide.
One of the things that Saint Bernard did was to call for the Second Crusade. This is the Crusade in which Cacciaguida, Dante’s ancestor, died as a martyr. This Crusade was a failure.
Twenty-one years after his death, Bernard was canonized.
Saint Bernard helps Dante to see the beatific vision — the vision of the Trinity.
This is a definition of “beatific”:
“experiencing or bestowing celestial joy,”
Source: <wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn – Definition in context>.
- Where has Beatrice gone?
Beatrice is still present, although she is not beside Dante. Beatrice is seated among the saved souls in the Mystical Rose. Dante wonders where Beatrice is, and he asks Saint Bernard that. Saint Bernard tells him where she is.
Interestingly, the natural laws that we have to obey in the physical universe do not apply in the Empyrean. Despite Beatrice’s great distance from him, Dante is able to see her clearly: “distance made no difference, for her image / came down to me unblurred by anything” (Musa 31.77-78).
Dante gives Beatrice the praise that is due to her:
“From bondage into freedom you led me
by all those paths, by using all those means
which were within the limits of your power.”
Beatrice responds by smiling at Dante, and then she looks again at God.
- How important a guide is Saint Bernard?
Saint Bernard really does not spend much time with Dante, acting as his guide, but he is a very important guide, nevertheless.
Each of the guides helps prepare Dante:
Virgil gets Dante ready to be guided by Beatrice.
Beatrice gets Dante ready to be guided by Saint Bernard.
Saint Bernard gets Dante ready to see God.
- What do Dante’s various guides (Virgil, Beatrice, Saint Bernard) symbolize?
We can look at each of Dante’s three major guides — Virgil, Beatrice, and Saint Bernard — as symbols:
Virgil: The Symbol of the Light of Human Reason
Beatrice: The Symbol of the Light of Revelation
Saint Bernard: The Symbol of the Light of Mystical Contemplation. It is Saint Bernard who prepares Dante to see God more clearly. Only Mystical Contemplation can do that. Saint Bernard himself is said to have had a vision of God during his lifetime.
Saint Bernard begins acting as Dante’s guide immediately, telling him to look up at Mary:
“Thou son of grace, this jocund life,” began he,
“Will not be known to thee by keeping ever
Thine eyes below here on the lowest place;
But mark the circles to the most remote,
Until thou shalt behold enthroned the Queen
To whom this realm is subject and devoted.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
DANTE PDFs and LINKs
PARADISE: CANTO 30 RETELLING
PARADISE: CANTO 31 RETELLING
PARADISE: CANTO 32 RETELLING
PARADISE: CANTO 33 RETELLING
INFERNO KINDLE EBOOK
INFERNO SMASHWORDS (EBOOKS)
PURGATORY KINDLE EBOOK
PURGATORY SMASHWORDS (EBOOKS)
PARADISE KINDLE EBOOK
PARADISE SMASHWORDS (EBOOKS)
DIVINE COMEDY KINDLE EBOOK
DIVINE COMEDY SMASHWORDS (EBOOKS)
DIVINE COMEDY PAPERBACK