Chapter 5: Moon — Compensation for Broken Vows
Beatrice said to Dante, “You see that I have become more radiant. You will continue to see this. My radiance comes from the joy I feel as I come closer to God and as I see others, such as you, come closer to God. I can see that in your mind Eternal Light shines. One who comes closer to God comes closer to the perfect sight that sees the Eternal Good.
“Sometimes, people pursue the wrong thing through a misunderstanding of the right thing. The right thing should be understood, and it should be pursued.
“You wish to know whether a broken vow to God can be fixed with a substitution such as good deeds for what was vowed. You wish to know whether such a substitution would be acceptable in the eyes of God.
“Be aware that the greatest gift that God has given Humankind is free will. This is a gift that is most like God. This is the gift that God most cherishes. God gifted only intelligent beings such as human beings and Angels with free will.
“When we make a religious vow, we are giving back to God that gift — we are sacrificing our freedom for God. It is wrong to take back that gift. We sacrifice free will when we make a vow. For example, we are free to make as much money as we can. However, if we make a vow of voluntary poverty so that we can serve God better, we give up part of our free will — we are no longer free to make as much money as we can.
“When we make a vow, God can either consent to it or not consent to it. If the vow is evil, God will not consent to it. But if the vow is good, God will consent to it, and it becomes binding.
“Because free will is your most precious possession, nothing can make up for it because nothing is as precious as it is. Nothing can compensate for the free will that the person making a religious vow to God has sacrificed. The person making a religious vow is giving God the greatest gift possible: the sacrifice of free will by substituting dedication to God for free will. Someone who breaks that kind of vow is taking back something that no longer belongs to him or her.
“However, the Church does grant dispensations for vows. Let me explain why and how. Pay attention. Be sure to retain this information.
“Vows consist of two parts. First is the act of promising, and second is what is promised. The act of promising cannot be annulled. However, what is promised can be changed in special circumstances.
“For example, Jews would make a vow to sacrifice to God. This is a vow that had to be kept, but the substance of the sacrifice could change. Instead of sacrificing one particular kind of crop, another kind of crop could be sacrificed.
“But whenever some substitution is made, it cannot be made simply by one’s own choice. This is something that the Church must approve. Remember the gold and silver keys of Saint Peter.
“In addition, the substitution must be of greater value than what was originally promised. If someone vowed four, then got the approval of the Church to make a substitution, that person must pay six. A person may have vowed to volunteer a certain number of hours to a charity each year. Should that person fall into circumstances that make volunteering impossible, the Church may approve the donation of money as a substitute, but the value of the money to be donated must be more than the value of the volunteer hours that were vowed.
“In addition, be aware that some vows admit of no substitution. What can substitute for a vow of a lifetime of service?
“Therefore, Humankind must be careful to take vows seriously and not make vows rashly. Also, vows must be made rightly and ethically and must not result in evil. God does not accept all vows; God rejects those vows that result in evil.
“Remember the rash vow that Jephthah made. This King of Israel went off to fight the Ammonites. He vowed to God that if he were victorious that he would then sacrifice to God the first thing that he saw coming out of the door of his house when he returned from battle. The first thing that he saw coming of the door of his house was his daughter, and he sacrificed her. Jephthah’s vow was blind and rash, and he did evil by keeping it. Far better would have been for him to say, ‘My vow was wrong,’ and not keep it. Such a vow is not the kind that God approves.
“Remember the rash vow that Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek forces against Troy, made. He vowed to sacrifice to Artemis the loveliest creature born in a certain year. That year saw the birth of his daughter Iphigenia, and she was the loveliest creature born that year. He did not sacrifice her then, but years later, when bad winds kept the Greek ships from sailing to Troy, other people blamed the bad winds on Agamemnon’s failure to keep his vow. Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter, good winds began to blow, and the Greek ships sailed to Troy.
“When interpreting the worthiness of vows, or sacred scripture, remember that God is omnibenevolent. God always wishes good; God never wishes evil.
“Learn from the rash vows, Christians. Be wary of rushing to make vows. You need a good, weighty reason to make a vow. You need more than a feather in the wind. And don’t think that making reparations for a broken vow is easy. It will take more than a few drops of holy water!
“You do not need to make vows to wash away your sins. You have the Old Testament and the New Testament, and you have the Church. With these, you can save your soul. I repeat: You do not need to make vows to be saved. You have the Bible and the Church; these are enough for you to be saved.
“Some people may try to sell you releases from your vows. This is a scam. Don’t fall for it! Jews keep their vows although they lack the New Testament, and they will laugh at you if you fall for such scams although you have both the Old Testament and the New Testament and also the Church to guide you. Stick with the trusted guides and ignore the scammers.”
Beatrice then looked upward, and she and Dante rose to the next Sphere: Mercury. Beatrice, now closer to God, glowed more brightly, and the planet reflected her brightness. Mercury is a planet that reacted to Beatrice’s brightness. Dante, who has a soul and is coming closer to God, reacted more strongly to Beatrice’s brightness.
The fish in a pond will investigate whatever is new, thinking it may be nourishing. Here on this planet, over a thousand souls came toward Dante and Beatrice, saying, “Behold another who will increase our love.” Love in Paradise is something that increases the more it is shared.
Each of the souls shone with the brightness of love.
Dante the Poet thought, If I were to stop writing here and not describe what happened next, you, Reader, would crave to know what happened. You would then understand how keen I was to learn from these souls.
One of the souls said to Dante, “Blissful one, whom God allows to travel through Paradise although you are still alive, please ask us anything you want. The light of God shines in us as it shines throughout the Heavens.”
Beatrice encouraged Dante to do as the soul asked: “Ask whatever you want to ask. These souls are helpful, and they are trustworthy.”
Dante said to the soul, “You, saved soul, are bright with light. I do not know who you are, or why you are showing yourself to me on this planet that is often hidden from Humankind because it is so close to the Sun.”
The saved soul heard Dante and then glowed with much more brightness than previously. The Sun usually glows so brightly that Humankind cannot look at it and see its mass; the saved soul was hidden from Dante because of the soul’s brightness.
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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