Dante’s Paradise: Canto 7 Retelling — Mercury — The Mystery of Redemption

Chapter 7: Mercury — The Mystery of Redemption

Justinian sang in a mixture of Hebrew and Latin, “Hosanna, holy God of hosts, whose brightness illuminates these realms’ blessed fires.” Song is one of the arts found in Paradise; dance is another. Justinian’s soul began to dance, and the other souls joined him — the one who performed the tasks of both Emperor and Lawgiver — in the dance. Then the souls sped away and disappeared.

Dante was silent, but inwardly he was thinking, Speak! Speak! Beatrice is always willing to truthfully answer your questions.

But Dante was still in awe of Beatrice. Even the mention of one syllable of her name — “Be” or “trice” — made him lower his head.

But Beatrice knew what he was thinking, and she smiled at him. Dante thought, Such a smile would make happy even a man who was about to be burned alive.

Beatrice said to Dante, “I know that you have a question: How can just vengeance be justly avenged?

“You know that during the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius, Jesus Christ was crucified. This was just vengeance for the sin of Adam.

“You also know that in 70 C.E., Titus, who later became a Roman Emperor, conquered and destroyed Jerusalem. This was just vengeance for the death of Christ.

“How can just vengeance be required for a previous just vengeance?

“Listen carefully. This is important.

“Adam sinned. He was allowed to eat all of the fruit of the Garden of Eden except the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. He was asked to restrain his free will in this one matter only, but he ate the forbidden fruit. Because he ate the forbidden fruit, he was cast out of the Garden of Eden and so were Eve and every human being after them.

“Because of Adam’s sin, all Humankind was sick with sin. This illness continued for centuries. But Jesus — the Word of God — descended from Paradise to Earth.

“On Earth, Jesus added a nature to His nature. Jesus’ nature is divine, but to that nature he added a second nature: the human nature that had rebelled in the Garden of Eden. In doing so, he became fully divine and fully human.

“When the human nature was joined with Jesus’ divine nature, the human nature became pure and good, just as it was in the Garden of Eden before the rebellion.

“However, the human nature that was not joined to Jesus’ divine nature deserved to be kicked out of the Garden of Eden because of sin.

“Jesus was crucified. If we think of the Crucifixion as punishment of the human nature, the Crucifixion was entirely just and deserved.

“But if we think of the Crucifixion as punishment of Jesus’ divine nature, the Crucifixion was entirely unjust and undeserved.

“One Crucifixion occurred, but it had two different results. The Crucifixion pleased God because it paid the penalty for the sin of Adam and of Humankind. The Crucifixion also pleased a few Jews living at that time because it got rid of a Person they hated.

“The Crucifixion of Christ was just and unjust. The unjust part of the Crucifixion needed to be justly avenged. The just vengeance occurred with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.

“The debt for Adam’s sin has been paid. No one should treat Humankind badly today because of what Adam did a long time ago. That debt was paid long ago, and no one owes it today.

“The debt for the unjust Crucifixion of Jesus has been paid. No one should treat Jews badly today because of what a few Jews did a long time ago. That debt was paid long ago and no one owes it today.

“Of course, the Romans also played a role in the Crucifixion of Jesus. No one should plan a trip to Rome today so that they can slap a few Italians around.

“But now I see that you have another question. You wonder this: Why did God choose this way to pay the penalty owed by Humankind? Why did God become incarnate knowing that He would be crucified? Why didn’t God choose another way to redeem Humankind?

“Souls in Paradise know the answer. They have the inner sight and the love that enables them to know the answer.

“Many people still on Earth have tried to answer the question, but they aim arrows that miss the target. Therefore, let me explain why God’s way of redeeming Humankind was the best way.

“God is perfect. Among God’s perfections is omnibenevolence. God never sins. In God can be found this eternal beauty, as well as the other eternal beauties.

“God is also a Creator. What he creates directly is eternal, and it bears His mark. Among the things He creates directly are Angels, Adam and Eve, and the souls of human beings.

“The things that God directly creates have free will. God’s secondary creations have no choice but to obey the laws of physics and other sciences and nature.

“The things that God directly creates resemble Him and please Him. God has given them gifts: free will and the immortality of the soul. God creates these things without sin.

“Sin, however, takes away Humankind’s free will and Humankind’s resemblance to God. 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. Sin makes God’s glory less visible in Humankind.

“By sinning, Humankind loses dignity in favor of illicit joy. The only way to win back that dignity is by paying the price for sinning. This is Justice.

“When Adam sinned, Humankind lost the Garden of Eden, and it lost Paradise. Sinning results in the loss of free will; a habitual sinner becomes a slave to sin. If Adam had not sinned, he would have been able to stay in the Garden of Eden and never die. By sinning, he brought the experience of death to human beings.

“How could Humankind be able to pay the debt it owed because of sin? Through two ways.

“First, God could simply forgive the sin. No payment required. This is Mercy.

“Second, Humankind could — if possible — make amends for sinning. This would be Justice.

“Listen carefully.

“Given the limits of Humankind, human beings could not make amends for sin. Adam, full of the sin of pride, tried to exalt himself by disobeying God and eating the forbidden fruit. Humankind, no matter how humble it attempts to be, cannot go as low as is needed to make up for the height that Adam attempted to climb. Therefore, Humankind cannot atone for this sin without the help of God.

“And so God helped Humankind atone for this sin.

“God could have helped Humankind through Justice alone or through Mercy alone, but God chose to help Humankind through both Justice and Mercy.

“God’s incarnation and crucifixion is an act of omnibenevolence. It redeemed Humankind. From the first day of Creation until Judgment Day, no act can be as lofty or as magnificent.

“God helped Humankind through Mercy because He forgave the debt without requiring Humankind to pay it.

“God helped Humankind through Justice because the debt was repaid — Jesus on the Cross paid it. Jesus’ human nature was appropriately crucified to pay Humankind’s debt to God.

“Now let me explain a point that has arisen in my talk.

“You are thinking that God created the universe, and yet the things that are in the universe — things made of the elements — are perishable. They last for a while, and then they decay.

“As I have said, the things that God directly created — such as the Angels — will never go out of existence.

“However, the laws of nature act on the matter and energy that is in the universe and change them, and so these are indirect creations of God and they are therefore not immortal.

“Remember that God directly created your soul, and so it is immortal.

“Also remember that God directly created the body of Adam and the body of Eve. This means that on the Day of Judgment, your body will be resurrected.

“Remember these things:

“Everything that God makes, such as Angels, is incorruptible and will not decay.”

“Your soul is given to you directly by God. It is therefore immortal.

“God directly made the bodies of your first parents: Adam and Eve. Therefore, your body will be resurrected.”

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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