Following his long speech in the previous Canto, Justinian begins to sing and dance as he and all the souls in Mercury fly up into the heavens like countless sparks from a great fire. Seeing him standing there in awe, Beatrice, who can read Dante’s mind, clarifies for him Justinian’s earlier reference to a just vengeance avenging the sin of Adam.
“Hosanna, holy God of hosts! You illumine with your brightness the happy spirits of these blessed realms.” As he sang this glorious hymn, I watched the joyful soul of Justinian dance to the rhythm of his tune as his brilliance merged as one into the glory of the God he praised. And at that moment, all the other souls there joined in the dance, and then, like sparks flying out of a great fire, they rose into the heavens and disappeared.
I stood there dumbfounded, my inner voice pressing me: “Speak! Tell her. Speak to this lovely woman here who, with the sweet drops of her words, quenches your thirst.” But I could not, so great was the awe that filled me just saying BE or ICE. So, I lowered my head in reverence. She, however, seeing me suffer like that, spoke with such a glowing smile that a man condemned to the flames would have rejoiced!
“My insight, which is always correct, tells me that you didn’t understand what Justinian meant when he spoke of how a just vengeance can be justly avenged. I will settle your doubts now, so listen carefully because what I will tell you contains important truths.
“Unfortunately, Adam disobeyed the command of God, and in condemning himself by this, he also condemned everyone else in the future. As a result, the human race bore the weight of his terrible error for centuries, until the Word of God became flesh in an act of infinite Love, taking into His own Being our soiled human nature.
“Attend to what I now tell you: once our human nature was taken into Himself by the Son of God, it returned to its original state of purity and goodness. Before this, along with Adam, it had been expelled from the Holy Garden because it had abandoned the true life through its disobedience.
“Then, if you consider that the crucifixion of Jesus was a punishment on the human nature he had assumed, no other penalty could have been handed down with greater justice. At the same time, no other penalty could have been more unjust, considering the One who endured it, and whose divine nature had combined with ours.
“But the crucifixion of the Son of God resulted in different effects: both God and the Jews were satisfied by this death which shook the earth and re-opened Heaven for us. So, it shouldn’t be difficult to understand the concept of God’s just vengeance against the sin of Adam being avenged much later in time by the destruction of Jerusalem.
“Nevertheless, I clearly see the snares that entangle your thoughts, and you’re waiting for me to loosen them. ‘I understand clearly what you’re saying,’ you think, ‘but couldn’t God have chosen some other way to redeem us?’
“My dear brother, the reason for God’s choice is buried out of sight from men until their inner spirits grow ripe in the warmth of His love. However, since people always aim at this target but rarely hit it, let me explain why God’s choice was the best one. The divine Goodness of God, rejecting every form of envy, burns so brightly with Love that It creates eternal beauty and fills its creations with the light of this same glory. Angels and human souls flow directly from God and are eternal; they are eternally sealed with His stamp which nothing can remove. Furthermore, emanating directly from God, these beauteous creations are completely free and not subject to the laws of change. In this way, we most closely resemble God and most please Him. That Holy Flame Who illuminates all creation burns brightest in those who most resemble Him.
“So, you can now see the great gifts with which humanity was endowed, and that if one misuses any of them, he falls from the high state to which he was created. And this is sin: it’s the only thing that takes away our true freedom and likeness to our Creator and makes us shine less brightly in His own light. Thus the nature of Adam’s sin was such that we could not recover the eternal nobility that was lost to us unless a just penalty was paid. Human nature, when it sinned by Adam’s disobedience, was cut off from the dignities bestowed on it by God, and was exiled from Paradise. If you think carefully about this, you will see that humankind could not regain what Adam had lost for it except for two possible remedies: either that God in his mercy simply forgive the sin, or that man himself pay the debt for his disobedience.
“But now turn your eyes toward the depth of God’s Judgment and consider well what I am about to tell you. Because of his human limitations, man could never have made amends for Adam’s sin. Even if, in his humility, man fell as far down as Adam tried to climb in his pride, he could never repay the debt. And so it was up to God, both by justice and mercy, to bring humankind back to its original wholeness.
“But, since this deed, in the depth of its goodness, manifested the good heart of the One from whom it sprang, so the everlasting Goodness of God, which had already imprinted itself upon creation, was pleased to use every means at Its disposal to restore you back to your original self. I tell you, between the end of time and its very beginning, there never was, nor shall there ever be, an act so utterly magnificent and magnanimous as what God Himself chose to do. More than simply forgiving the debt, he gave Himself! Anything less would have been unthinkable if the only Son of God had not humbled Himself and taken on our human nature.
“But now I see that there is still more I need to untie among your tangled thoughts, so let me go back a ways so that you’ll understand everything as I do. You’re thinking: ‘I know that earth, air, fire, and water – and all that they make – is only temporary and then it decays. Yet, these are all creations of God, and if what you said earlier about God’s creations is true, then they should be free from decay.’
“My dear brother, the angels and all the heavens around us were created exactly as you see them – whole and unchanging in their nature. But those prime elements you named, and everything that comes from them are created by powers that are themselves created. Everything within them was created, and the forming power within the stars circling around them was also created. Every plant and animal soul is created from a complex of potentials within the stars’ sacred light and motion. But it is the Highest Goodness of God which directly breathes your life into you, thus filling it with such love for Him that it desires nothing more than to be one with Him forever. So, from all that I have told you, you should be able to comprehend the necessity of your resurrection if you recall how you came into being when your first parents were created.”