Dante’s Paradise: Canto 10 Retelling — Sun — Saint Thomas Aquinas

Chapter 10: Sun — Saint Thomas Aquinas

God the Father is the Creator. The Son is the Word of God. Together, they breathe forth the Essence of Love, aka the Holy Ghost. Throughout the universe, signs of the Creator can be seen and felt.

God the Creator loves His creation and contemplates it.

Consider for a moment the planet Earth and the Sun. Imagine that the equator forms a wheel that extends into space. Imagine that the orbit of the Earth around the Sun (or, as Dante the Pilgrim believed, imagine that the orbit of the Sun around the Earth) forms a wheel.

The two wheels meet. Sometimes the Sun is above the equator, and sometimes the Sun is below the equator. This causes the seasons.

This relationship is absolutely correct. If the Sun were sometimes way above the equator and sometimes way below the equator, the Earth’s seasons would be extreme. If the Sun stayed always above the equator and did not move, the Earth’s seasons would always stay the same and would not change. The relationship of the parts and the whole is absolutely correct for seasons that will support life on Earth.

The universe is a great work of art, and we should contemplate it. God contemplates His own creation, and we should likewise contemplate it.

Pay attention to the above. It is important. What is to come is also important.

Dante was in the Sun with Beatrice. Dante had not been aware that he was rising to the Sun until he was on the Sun, just like he is not aware that a thought is coming until he has that thought.

As before, Beatrice guided their ascent, which took place instantaneously.

The Sun is the brightest thing that living human beings can see, but Dante saw saved souls on the Sun who were brighter than the Sun. In Paradise, the brightness of saved souls surpasses the brightness of the Sun.

No genius, no art, and no skill is capable of showing living human beings how bright are the saved souls of Paradise. Living people on Earth must make it to Paradise and experience this for themselves. The saved souls constantly experience God, and they constantly experience bliss.

Beatrice said to Dante, “Give thanks to God, Who is the Sun to Angels, by Whose grace you have arrived at the Sun.”

Hearing Beatrice, Dante readily and willingly and enthusiastically gave thanks to God. He thanked God so strongly that he even forgot Beatrice.

This pleased Beatrice. She smiled, and Dante saw her beauty and became aware of his surroundings.

Lights who were saved souls circled Beatrice and Dante. They were like the halo of light that sometimes surrounds Latona’s daughter: Diana, aka the Moon. They were like a crown for Dante and Beatrice.

The saved souls sang as they circled them, and that song is one of the delights awaiting the repentant after they die and go to Paradise.

The lights circled Dante and Beatrice three times and then stopped. They were like dancing ladies who stopped so they could listen to new notes and catch a new rhythm.

One of the saved souls spoke to Dante: “You are blessed by God, who kindles true love that increases the more it loves. You have been allowed to ascend into Paradise. From Paradise, no one descends unless they will later ascend again.”

Beatrice thought, Saint Paul was allowed to visit Paradise before he died. Of course, he returned to Paradise after he died. Dante will return to Paradise after he dies. He is saved.

The saved soul continued, “Because God has shown His grace to you, we will of course help you by giving you information. None of us saved souls would refuse to give your thirsty soul wine from a flask; that would be like a moving stream refusing to move to the sea.

“I know that you want to know who these souls are who are the flowers in the crown around this lady who is your guide.

“I am a Dominican monk. Saint Dominic led me and many others along a path where all may be fed if they do not stray from the path. I am Thomas Aquinas.”

Beatrice thought, Thomas Aquinas was born in 1224, and he died at age 50 in 1274. Dante was born in 1265, so he was nine years old when Thomas Aquinas died. Thomas Aquinas will become Saint Thomas Aquinas in 1323, two years after Dante will die. Thomas Aquinas is much respected now, in 1300, but he will be much more respected later. He will be the dominant Catholic theologian. He will be regarded as the greatest medieval philosopher. Saint Thomas believed in both revealed truth, such as the revelations that we have in sacred scripture, and in discovered truth, such as we find by using our reason. He argued that the two kinds of truth were compatible. Moses Maimonides, a great Jewish thinker, believed the same thing.

In this first circle are 12 souls, and they surround Dante and me like the numbers on a clock. All of the 12 souls are male. Later, a second circle of 12 souls will join the first circle. The number 24 is important in the Bible — for example, in the Book of Revelation there are 24 elders.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “I will tell you about the other souls. Look at each soul as I explain who the soul is. This soul to my right is my teacher, Albert of Cologne, aka Albertus Magnus, aka Albert the Great.”

Beatrice thought, Albert the Great died in 1280, and he will be canonized in 1931. Albert the Great is known as the Universal Doctor, a name that reflects his great knowledge. He commented widely on the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. Like Thomas Aquinas, Albert the Great was a Dominican. Thomas Aquinas went to Cologne in 1248 to study under him.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “The next soul is Gratian, who smiles brightly. He served well in two courts of law, and Paradise is happy to welcome him.”

Beatrice thought, Gratian is Italian. He was a Benedictine monk, and he is known as the father of canon law. Gratian sought to harmonize Church and civil laws, thereby allowing canon law to be correctly interpreted. His magnum opus is A Concordance of Discordant Regulations, or Gratian’s Decretals, which appeared between 1140 and 1150. Dante finds it interesting that he sees Gratian here. One of Dante’s criticisms of the Catholic Church is that it does not spend enough time studying scripture; instead, it spends too much time studying Church law. Yet here he sees Gratian, the great compiler of Church law. What can he learn from this? He can learn that Church law is important, but all of us have to be careful to use it well, neither overvaluing nor undervaluing it.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “The next soul is Peter. Like the poor widow, he offered what he had to the Church.”

Beatrice thought, Peter Lombard lived in the 12th century, and he was the bishop of Paris. He wrote Libri Sententiarum, aka The Books of Opinions, which brought together the opinions of the Church fathers on four key subjects: the Godhead, the incarnation, creation, and the sacraments. Peter Lombard called his writings his “widow’s mite,” a reference to the New Testament story (Luke 21:1-4), about a widow who brought her small offering to the temple. This is the story: “And Jesus looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury. And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither the small amount of two mites. And Jesus said, ‘Of a truth I say to you, that this poor widow has cast in more than they all: For all these have of their abundance cast in to the offerings of God: but she of her penury has cast in all the living that she had.’”

Thomas Aquinas continued, “The fifth light is the most beautiful of all of us. His love was passionate, as can be seen in his ‘Song of Songs.’ Because of his passionate love, people debated whether he is in Paradise or in the Inferno. He is the wisest of all, and no one has as much wisdom as he has. A second person has never arisen with as much wisdom as Solomon had.”

Beatrice thought, This wise soul is Solomon, David’s son by Bathsheba. Though Saint Augustine believed that King Solomon was damned, Solomon is the most beautiful in this group. Solomon had a dream in which God asked him what he wanted, and Solomon wanted wisdom: “an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and bad” (I Kings 3:9). God granted him that, as well as other things that Solomon did not ask for. Solomon used his wisdom to resolve a dispute between two women who both claimed to be the mother of a living baby. He ordered the child to be cut in half, and each mother to be given half of the child. One of the women spoke up and asked Solomon to give the child to the other woman. The other woman remained silent. Solomon knew that the woman who had spoken up is the real mother of the child because the real mother would not want the child killed.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “The soul next to him knew, while he was in the living world, what an Angel is and what an Angel does.”

Beatrice thought, This soul is Dionysius the Areopagite. In the 1st century, Saint Paul converted an Athenian named Dionysius the Areopagite (Acts 17:34). People incorrectly believed that Dionysius the Areopagite had written a highly influential book about Angels titled On the Heavenly Hierarchy, aka The Celestial Hierarchy. He did not write that book, but as Thomas Aquinas said about him, while he was in the living world, he knew what an Angel is and what an Angel does.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “Inside this light, which is tiny, is the great defender of the Christian age. Saint Augustine used his words.”

Beatrice thought, This soul is Paulus Orosius, who was a Spanish cleric and historian. He was a 5th-century contemporary of Saint Augustine. Some pagans believed that the arrival of Christianity had made the world worse than it had been, so Orosius wrote seven books opposing that belief. These books were called Seven Books of History Against the Pagans.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “You must be eager to know who this light, the eighth, is. This soul, who is now in the realm of all good, experienced much evil on Earth. He was martyred, and his remains are now at the Church of Saint Peter in Pavia, which is in Lombardy.”

Beatrice thought, This soul is Boethius, a Roman, who wrote On the Consolation of Philosophy while he was in prison. In 524 C.E., he was executed for treason — although he was innocent — after he completed the book. After my body died, Dante read On the Consolation of Philosophy and was consoled by it. Boethius is also known as Saint Severinus; his full name was Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “The next soul is Isidore.”

Beatrice thought, Isidore of Seville was a Spaniard who died in 636 C.E. He wrote a highly influential encyclopedia of the scientific knowledge of his time.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “The next soul is Bede.”

Beatrice thought, The Venerable Bede, an Anglo-Saxon monk who died in 735 C.E., is known as the father of English history. He wrote the five-volume Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “The next soul is Richard, who is known for his contemplations.”

Beatrice thought, Richard of Saint Victor died in 1173 C.E. He was called the Great Contemplator after he wrote a book titled De Contemplatione. He was an important 12th-century mystic, and he was prior of the illustrious Augustinian monastery at Saint Victor near Paris.

Thomas Aquinas continued, “This soul is Siger, who mourned the length of his mortal life. He taught at the University of Paris, before which was the Rue de Fouarre, aka the Street of Straw. He taught truths for which he was hated.”

Beatrice thought, This soul is Siger of Brabant, who was a Belgian whose beliefs opposed those of Saint Thomas. For example, Siger thought that the world could have always existed. He also doubted that the soul is immortal — since he is in Paradise, he has happily discovered that he was wrong about that. He and Saint Thomas Aquinas had philosophical disagreements while they were alive, but they get along well in Paradise. Siger of Brabant was even accused of heresy, and yet we see him in Paradise. What can Dante learn from this? He can learn that many disagreements between scholars are not between good people and bad people. He can learn that people of good will can disagree. Sometimes, people are mistaken, but they are still true seekers of wisdom.

And now the wheel of souls moved the way a clock moves, and the souls sang a song. Parts moved together, in harmony, as in the act of creation. Parts made a whole, and God’s Bride was with the Bridegroom. Joy and eternity were one.

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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