Dante’s Paradiso – Canto 27

Dante begins this Canto in a state of near ecstacy as he hears all the souls in Heaven sing out in praise of the Trinity. Soon, the light of St. Peter gets brighter and the singing stops. He begins a stinging reproach of the current state of the papacy and all of Heaven blushes as he speaks. When he finishes he tells Dante to make sure he repeats everything he’s seen and heard. Then, like rising snowflakes, all the souls slowly rise into the Empyrean until Dante can no longer see them. For a second time, Beatrice tells Dante to look down through the heavens to see how much farther they have come. Looking back into her magnificent and powerful eyes, Dante finds the two of them rising at great speed up to the highest and fastest-spinning sphere in the heavens, the Primum Mobile. There, Beatrice gives Dante a basic understanding of this place, and then begins a lament against worldly greed. She blames the disorder in the world on poor leadership and notes that a change is coming that will set things aright.

“Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit!” sang out all of Heaven in one voice, carrying me away with the beauty of such sweet sound. At that moment, it seemed to me that the entire universe smiled, and I became inebriated as my eyes and ears drank me into ecstacy. O joy! O ineffable happiness! O fullness of life, perfected in love and peace! O eternal richness, complete and without want!

            There before me were those four great blazing lights, and soon that first one who had come down to me started to glow more radiantly than the others. It was a glow as if Jupiter and Mars had become great birds that exchanged their lovely plumes. Then that Power Who assigns to all of Heaven’s souls their proper role commanded those blessèd choirs to be silent, and that glowing light said: “Do not be amazed to see me change color, for all of these souls will also change color as they hear what I have to say. He who usurps my place on earth, my place, that place of mine which, in the eyes of Christ, the Son of God, stands vacant, that one has turned my holy tomb into a cesspool of bloody filth, which causes the Evil One who fell from this great height to rejoice exceedingly.”

            As clouds turn a reddish color at sunrise and sunset, I saw that same color spread over the heavens. And as a woman, modest and virtuous, will blush at just the mention of someone else’s faults, in the same way did Beatrice’s face change then. I think the heavens blushed like that when the Son of God died for our sins.

            Then that chief Apostle continued speaking, the look on his face as dark as his words: “The Bride of Christ was not nurtured by my blood, nor that which came from Linus and Cletus, so that she could be swayed by love for gold. No, it was for their love of this sacred place that Sixtus, Pius, Calixtus, and Urban – after torture – gave up their lives. It was not our intention that Christianity be divided, with some standing on this side or that side of our holy successors; or that the keys given to me by Christ Himself should become an emblem on a flag carried in battle against baptized Christians; or that the image of my head should become a seal by which fraudulent privileges are bought and sold. I blush with shame and anger to think of it!

            “From up here we look down and see in your fields ravenous wolves dressed in shepherds’ clothing. O God Almighty, what are You waiting for? Successors of ours from Cahors and Gascony are ready to drink our blood. From such a holy beginning, look to the foul doom that awaits you! Nevertheless, I know that the high Providence which, through Scipio’s victory, saved Rome for glory, will once again rise up and save you. My son, you whose mortal flesh will bring you down to earth again, speak out when you return and do not hide these things I have told you.”

            Then, as snow begins to fall from the skies during that season when Capricorn’s horn touches the sun, so I saw the heavens glow with all the triumphant souls there like countless snowflakes softly rising upwards. I followed them with my eyes as they rose higher and higher into space until I could no longer fathom such heights. Then Beatrice, who saw that I could no longer follow those glorious souls in their ascent, said, “Let your eyes look downward now and see how far around you have traveled.”

            Since the last time I had gazed below my feet I saw clearly that I moved across one entire arc of the heavens, from the middle to the end of the first clime. From where I stood I could see beyond Cadiz and follow Ulysses’ mad southward course, and to the east that shore where Jupiter disguised as a bull carried Europa on his back. I would have seen more of this small world of ours but for the movement of the sun beneath me, which had moved into the next sign, leaving part of our globe in shadow.

            My mind, enraptured with Beatrice and longing for her, burned more than ever for her to cast her stunning glance upon me. But if all that art and Nature might create to ensnare the eyes and thus possess the mind by a living subject or a portrait – all of this combined would be nothing compared to the divine beauty that shone upon me when once again I looked into her smiling face. The power her loving gaze now granted me drew me from the comfort of Leda’s soft nest and sped me up into Heaven’s highest and swiftest sphere. The parts of this grand place are all alike and I could not tell exactly where we had stopped. But she, who knew what I wished, smiling, began to speak with such happiness that I was sure the joy of God was reflected in her face.

            “In the nature of the universe, when you consider where the center point is still and all the spheres revolve around it, this place is its starting-point. There is no other ‘Where’ that contains this sphere except the Mind of God, because within that Mind is kindled the love that makes it spin and gives it the power of motion it sends out to the other spheres. Just as it contains all the rest, this sphere is contained only by the light and love of God, and only He knows how they are all bound together. This place takes its motion from no higher sphere, and all those below this one measure their precise speed by this one, just as ten is the product of two and five. It should be clear to you by now how time’s roots are hidden in this sphere and yet its leaves can be seen through all the rest.

            “O Greed! How quick you are to sink mortals so far into your depths that no one has the strength to keep their eyes above your raging torrents! The human will blossoms forth beautifully, but too much rain ruins and rots good fruit. In a small child one will always find faith and innocence, but these disappear even before he begins to grow a beard. While still young, he honors the fast-days, but as soon as he’s grown somewhat he gorges himself with all he can eat at any time in the year. Still young, he loves and obeys his caring mother’s words. But soon enough, he tells her in grown-up talk that he’d be happy to see her dead and buried! Sadly, the innocent white skin of childhood turns black when exposed to the corrupting temptations of adulthood.

            “But do not be surprised to hear what I am telling you. With no one on earth to lead you in the right ways, is it any wonder that the human flock goes astray? Before January is no longer a winter month – because men neglect to correct the calendar regularly – the heavens here will shine out the bright light of change that will force the errant fleet to turn around and follow the straight course again. Then shall good fruit blossom from the trees.”