Chapter 1: Beatrice and Dante Rise from Eden
Dante the Poet thought, God both created all things and keeps all things in existence as long as they exist. In each moment, God is engaged in the act of creation. If God were to stop His act of creation, all of the universe, including space and time, would go out of existence. God’s glory is seen in the entire universe. In some places His glory can be seen more clearly. In some places His glory can be seen less clearly. Merit determines whether God’s glory is seen more clearly or less clearly in human beings.
I have traveled through the depths of the Inferno, I have climbed the Mountain of Purgatory, and I have risen from the Forest of Eden up through the cosmos and past it to the Mystic Empyrean, aka Paradise, the dwelling place of God. I have seen things that no person, once returned to Earth from Paradise, can tell about. Our goal is God, but after one experiences God and then returns to the mundane world, memory is powerless. Very little of the experience of God can be remembered and recounted. In Paradise, saved souls and Angels experience God continually.
What I can remember of my experience, I will recount in this, my work of art, my Paradise.
To do so, I need help. Apollo, ancient god of prophecy, please give me gifts enough to create a work of art that is worthy of a laurel crown. Previously, I have asked the Muses for their aid. I do so again, now, but I need your help as well because of the enormity and the difficulty of my task. Parnassus, the mountain of creative endeavor, has two peaks. One is dedicated to the nine Muses; the other is dedicated to you, Apollo. I ask for help in creation from all nine Muses and from you, Apollo.
Apollo, inspire me with the talent and the genius that you used to defeat Marsyas, the satyr who discovered a flute that played well by itself, without the help of living beings. Minerva had owned the flute, but she disliked the way her face contorted when she played it, and so she had discarded it. Marsyas found the flute, discovered the beauty of the sounds it made, and challenged you to a contest to see who made the best music. You defeated Marsyas. Please give me the use of the artistic gifts with which you defeated Marsyas.
Allow me to at least write the shadow of my experience of Paradise. If I can do even that, I will deserve the laurel crown that is given to persons who do great things. My lofty theme and your artistic inspiration will make me deserving of the laurel crown. Seldom are laurel leaves plucked to form a crown for politicians or for creators of works of art. Some forms of ambition are worthwhile, but are little pursued. When someone works hard to pursue such a crown, you, Apollo, should rejoice. Even if I fail in my pursuit, perhaps I may blaze the way for one who will succeed.
Now was the time of the spring equinox, a propitious time. The time was evening in the Forest of Eden.
Beatrice looked at the setting Sun. In the world of those who are still mortal, a person who did that would be blinded, but Beatrice was able to look at the Sun without harm, just as an eagle is alleged to be capable of doing. A ray of light directed straight at a mirror bounces back to its source. A pilgrim yearns to return to his or her spiritual home. Inspired by Beatrice, Dante the Pilgrim looked straight at the Sun as no one can in the land of the living.
In the Forest of Eden, saved souls can experience more than living souls can. Although Dante could not look at the Sun for very long, he did see sparks of light around the Sun. They looked like the sparks that appear when molten iron is poured. Later, in the Mystic Empyrean, Dante would again see sparks.
Suddenly, the light became much brighter, as if two Suns were shining. Beatrice continued to look at the Sun, and now Dante the Pilgrim looked at her eyes.
Beatrice thought, Dante, you do not know it yet, but you have started to rise. Your soul has been purified. It is lighter than air, and naturally it rises through the air. From the Forest of Eden you have risen through the Sphere of Air and are passing through the Sphere of Fire. Dante, you lived in medieval times, and what you will experience is reality, but it is reality as a medieval person would expect to experience it. God wants to save your soul, and He will use what He needs to, to save it. God is willing for me to appear to you and be your guide through the cosmos until you reach God’s dwelling place. Because you are a medieval person, God is willing for you to experience the cosmos as a medieval person would expect to experience it. As a medieval person, you believe that the Earth is the center of the universe. Around the Earth are first a Sphere of Air and then a Sphere of Fire, from which you believe lightning strikes the Earth. Then is the Sphere of the Moon. Although scientists will discover later that the Earth is not the center of the universe, God will let you experience the cosmos in the way that you expect it to be. God is willing to approach people through what they know or think they know. The lessons you will learn, of course, are eternal and unchanging and apply to your age as well as to much more modern ages.
As Dante the Pilgrim looked at Beatrice, he felt himself changing. The change was new, and he had never experienced it before. To describe it, he needed a new word: He was transhumanized. But such an experience of change cannot be described with a word or words. All he could do was to use as an analogy Glaucus, an ancient fisherman who noticed that fish revived when they were placed on a certain herb. Glaucus ate some of the herb, and he transformed into a sea-god and dived into the sea and experienced it as no human being has ever experienced it. Dante had changed, he had become more than human, and now he was rising to the heights of the cosmos.
Dante had changed, and he did not know that he was rising to the heights of the cosmos. Was he a soul only? Or was he a soul and a body? He did not know.
Dante had risen to the Sphere of Fire and was experiencing much light. Here he heard music: the music of the Spheres. As a medieval person, Dante believed that the boundary of the material universe was the Primum Mobile, something that a modern person might call outer space beyond the stars. In the medieval view of the cosmos, the Primum Mobile moved and imparted movement to the other Spheres of the cosmos, and that movement caused the music of the Spheres, something that living human beings normally do not hear.
Dante still did not know that he was rising. He was eager to learn the source of the music and the source of the light. Beatrice, like Virgil previously, knew Dante’s thoughts. Beatrice was a good educator, and she started to answer his questions even before he voiced them.
Beatrice said, “You are not aware of the truth because you are not thinking correctly. You think that you are still in the Forest of Eden. You are not. You are rising. You have passed through the Sphere of Air and are now passing through the Sphere of Fire. You are moving quicker than lightning ever did.”
Dante was pleased by what he had learned, but he now had a question: “How can I rise through these Spheres? How is that possible?”
Beatrice sighed. Dante did not have the knowledge that saved souls in Paradise have. She looked at Dante the way that a pitying mother looks at an ill child and said, “The universe has order, and that order is created by God and God’s influence appears and can be seen throughout the universe. God created higher creatures — those with reason and the ability to experience love. These higher creatures include the Angels, human beings living on Earth, and the saved souls now with God in Paradise. Humanity has Paradise as the main goal. However, all created things, and not just the higher creatures, have a proper position in the cosmos.
“Some Spheres can be regarded as closer to God than others. The Inferno is as far away from God as it is possible to be. Things end up where they belong; they are attracted to their particular place — a place that reveals their relationship to God. This applies to Humankind as well. God wants each person to be saved and to rise. You and I have been purified, and being purified, we rise to our proper position in the cosmos.
“But not every person will be saved. God is a perfect Artist and a perfect Creator, but people have free will. Even though every person has as his or her goal Paradise, a person can go astray and pick up sin that weighs down that person’s soul and makes it impossible to rise. Without repentance, one’s soul can be so heavy that it is able only to fall into the Inferno.
“You should not be surprised that, having repented and purged your sins, you are rising. Your rising now is as natural as water flowing down a mountain. You should be surprised only if, having repented and purged your sins, you had not risen.”
Beatrice then turned her gaze upward.
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce
This is an excerpt from Dante’s Divine Comedy: A Retelling in Prose by David Bruce, available here:
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