Dante’s Paradiso – Canto 26

Having stared so intently at the Apostle John in the previous canto, Dante was temporarily blinded. Assuring him that his sight will return, St. John now initiates a conversation/examination with the Pilgrim about the virtue of Love. Dante tells the Apostle that God is the beginning and end of his love, but St. John asks him why he sets his goal so high. Dante replies that he has learned about love from reading philosophical texts and those which came down from Heaven – namely, the Scriptures.  Good kindles good, Dante tells him, and good also begets love. This love can also lead a person to God. Dante cites God revealing himself to Moses and St. John’s own Gospel as proof-texts. Happy with Dante’s answers, the Apostle probes deeper and Dante offers more proofs of his great love. Then all of Heaven sings out with joy and a flash of light from Beatrice’s eyes restores Dante’s sight. The first thing he sees is a fourth brilliant flame that has joined Sts. Peter, James, and John. Beatrice tells him that this is the soul of Adam. Dante is filled with desire to speak with Adam, who already knows his questions and happily proceeds to answer him. 

            Blinded, I stood there fearful and confused. But in a moment there came a voice from out of the brilliant flame that had stolen my sight. It said: “Let conversation between us make up for the sight you lost staring at me so intently. So, then, tell me what goal you have your heart set upon – and do not worry about your eyes. Your sight, dazzled for a while, will return to you. Be assured that she who guides you through these heavens has the same power in her glance that enabled Ananias – with his hands – to restore the sight of our brother, Paul.”

            I said in reply: “As it pleases her, now or later, may she restore my eyes that were but the gates by which she entered with such fire that I still burn. The Good which fully satisfies this realm with joy – that is the Alpha and Omega of all the texts Love has read to me.”

            Once again, the voice that had calmed my earlier fear of being blind, encouraged me to say more. “Surely, you need to refine what you have stated by further explanation,” he replied. “Tell me why you take aim at such a high mark?”

            I told him: “Both philosophical reasoning and the authority that comes down to us from this realm print the stamp of this Love upon me. That is because the good, insofar as we can understand it, kindles even more good; and with more good comes more love. Thus the mind of anyone who can see the truth of this must be moved by love to love God, which is the greatest love of all – every other kind of love is merely a reflection of this. The truth of this has been made clear to me by those great thinkers who point to the God of Love as the First Mover of all things. This was made plain by God, when he said – speaking of Himself to Moses: ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you.’ Furthermore, you yourself reveal this to us in the first words of your Gospel which, more than any other proclamation, tells us on earth about the mystery of Heaven.”

            The voice then said: “Human reason and divine revelation agree here – the highest aim of all your loves is the love of God. But say more about this: are there other things that draw you to Him? Tell us of Love’s many teeth that hold you fast.”

            The holy purpose of these questions from Christ’s great eagle was clear to me, and I now knew how to frame my answer. Replying, I said: “The bite of those teeth can move a man to love God, and I have been bitten that way. The existence of the world and my own being, the death He willingly endured that I might have eternal life, the hope of all faithful believers, all this, with the great truths I spoke of earlier, have saved me from the sea of false love and brought me to the shore of True Love. I love every leaf in the garden of the Eternal Gardener to the extent that His goodness grows within it.”

            The very moment I stopped speaking the whole of Heaven was filled with the sweetest singing, and Beatrice joined those celestial choirs who chanted: “Holy! Holy! Holy!” And then, just as a sudden flash of light will startle us from sleep as our sense of sight rushes toward the light it perceives, and just as the startled sleeper shies away from that rude awakening until his judgment sets it all aright, just so, Beatrice drove the blindness from my clouded eyes with those dazzling orbs of hers, whose brilliance shines out for more than a thousand miles. And seeing far better than I had before, the first thing I saw was a fourth blazing light who had joined the other three.

            Beatrice said to me: “There within those rays of blazing light you now see, looking with love upon his Creator, is the first soul the First Power made.”

            As in strong winds trees bend and then straighten again, so I had bent when she spoke to me. But my confidence soon returned and with it the burning desire to speak to him, so I said: “O fruit – the first and only one created fully ripe, O oldest of fathers, every woman’s father and father-in-law, as devoutly as I can, I beg you to speak with me. You see how much I wish it, and to hear you more I will stop and listen.”

            At times an animal’s covering might quiver in accord with its inner feeling. Just so, that first human soul shook with joy within his brilliant glow and brought me joy as well. Then he spoke to me, saying: “Without your having to tell me, I already know your ardent desire, even better than you do, because I see it in that divine Mirror of Truth which perfectly reflects all things, but which no created thing can reflect back as perfectly. You wish to know how long ago it was that our Creator placed me in that Garden of Paradise where Beatrice prepared you for your journey up into our heavens here. You also desire to know long I was there, what was the true reason for God’s anger, and what language I created and spoke while I was there.

            “My son, it was not the tasting of that tree’s fruit itself that was the cause of our long exile; rather, it was in trespassing beyond the boundaries God had set for us. Then, in that place where your lovely guide commissioned Virgil to assist you, I spent four thousand three hundred and two years longing to join this  holy assembly. While I lived on earth, I saw the sun run its annual course among the stars nine hundred and thirty times. And while alive there I spoke a language that was already long forgotten by the time Nimrod and his followers had set their minds to that impossible task. As with all things in Nature, nothing a man sets his mind to will last forever because his nature shifts with the stars in the heavens. It is only natural that he should speak, but Nature leaves to him how he should speak and in what way. While I lived on earth, the Highest Good Who clothes me in such joyful brilliance was called I. Later, he was called El, for the ways of mortals are like the trees whose leaves Nature changes from season to season. In the end, atop that Mountain you climbed, I lived in innocence until tainted with disgrace from my first day’s first hour until the sixth when it shifts quadrant to the seventh.”