Dante’s Paradise: Canto 12 Retelling — Sun — Saint Bonaventure Praises Saint Dominic

Chapter 12: Sun — Saint Bonaventure Praises Saint Dominic

The moment that Thomas Aquinas stopped speaking, the circle of souls began to revolve and dance again. Before it had revolved in a complete circle, a second circle of souls joined it.

Beatrice thought, Two facts about wisdom are that it is communal and it is cumulative. We see that it is communal because these souls are in groups. We see that it is cumulative because a second group of souls has joined the first group of souls. The two wheels of souls are interacting with each other. One of the things that this means is that wisdom consists of, in part, understanding parts and wholes. Wisdom is, in part, understanding the way that things fit together and the way that things interact with each other.

The second circle of souls interacted with the first group of souls, matching motion with motion and song with song.

The two groups fit together. They were like two rainbows — the two rainbows that appear when the goddess Juno calls Iris to appear to her. One rainbow indicates that Iris is the messenger of the gods; the other rainbow indicates Iris’ double splendor when she attends to the queen of the gods. Wisdom is doubly splendid.

The two groups fit together. They were like the voice of a caller and the voice of an echo. People of wisdom magnify and complete the voices of other people of wisdom.

The two groups fit together. They were like the rainbow that God put in the sky to assure human beings that the world will never again drown under a great flood. People of wisdom can prevent calamities and reassure human beings.

The two groups danced and sang together, and the outer circle of souls responded with love to the inner circle of souls.

The two groups ceased dancing and singing at the same moment just as two eyes will open or close at the same time according to our desire. The actions of the two groups were in harmony.

One soul from the newly arrived group of souls spoke. Dante turned to that soul; Dante was like the needle of a compass that immediately points to the North Pole and the North Star.

The saved soul spoke, “The Church has two reformers who are like the two wheels of a two-wheeled chariot. Thomas Aquinas has praised one of the reformers: Saint Francis, who was my guide. I was a Franciscan monk. Now I want to praise the other reformer: Saint Dominic. One reformer should not be mentioned without the other reformer because both sought to make the Church stronger. Both fought on the same side in the same battle. The Church needed to be reformed, and these two reformers, in different but complementary ways, rose to the challenge.

“The soldiers of the Church were few and fearful and divided although Jesus had spilled His blood for them, so God the Father sent the Church two great reformers.

“In Spain one great reformer was born. He was born at Calaroga in Old Castile. There the coat of arms is quartered. On one side a lion is above a castle. On the other side a castle is above a lion, and so one lion is subject and one lion is sovereign.

“This great reformer is God’s holy athlete. He was kind to friends but not to enemies. His mind was and is powerful and extraordinary. His mind made his mother dream when she was pregnant with him. Saint Dominic’s mother dreamed that she would give birth to a dog — a black-and-white dog that held a flaming torch in its mouth. This dream was a prophecy. Dominicans are called Domini canes, or the hounds of the Lord. Black and white are the colors of the Dominican habit — the clothing worn by the Dominicans. The flaming torch is a symbol of the zeal of the Dominican order.

“Francis of Assisi wed Lady Poverty. Saint Dominic also had a wedding; he was wedded to Christian Faith when he was baptized. Saint Dominic and Lady Faith pledged mutual salvation to each other. Because of his baptism, Saint Dominic was saved from original sin, and he devoted his life to saving Lady Faith from heresy. When he was baptized, his godmother answered for him. She had had a dream: She had dreamed that Dominic had a star on his forehead. This dream was prophetic: The star meant that Dominic would have great intelligence, and it meant that he would be a guide for Humankind just like the North Star is a guide for travelers.

“Dominic’s name reveals what he is, and it was chosen for that reason. His name means ‘belonging to the Lord.’ In my opinion, he was chosen specially by Christ to be His aide in the Church’s garden.

“From early childhood he made it known that he was a servant of Christ. He also made it known that he loved the first counsel given by Jesus: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit.’ He showed his love of voluntary poverty early. Often, his nurse would find that he had crawled out of bed and was sleeping on the floor.

“His father was well named: Felix means ‘happy.’ His mother was well named: Giovanna means ‘grace of God.’ Not everyone is well named. Some people who study so they can bear the names of Doctor or Ecclesiastical Lawyer do so because they want worldly gain — not because they want eternal gain.

“He became a remarkable theologian. Figuratively, he inspected the vineyards to make sure that the vines did not wither.

“He requested something from the Pope. At one time, Popes treated the deserving poor well, but now, in 1300, Pope Boniface VIII is corrupt.

“Saint Dominic had to plead for a long time to the Pope of his day for what he wanted. He did not want money. He did not want to disburse the Church’s money and keep two or three out of six coins for himself. He did not want a benefice. He did not want to keep the tithes that should go to help the poor. He did want to combat heresy. He did want to spread the good ideas of the souls who now surround you.

“With the permission of the Pope, he used his learning and his strong will to combat heresy. He was like a mighty torrent cleaning evil out of its path and then sending streams to water the good fields.”

Beatrice thought, Saint Dominic battled the Albigensian heresy. The Albigensians denied the Resurrection. He worked for years to persuade the Albigensians to stop believing in heresy and instead to believe in correct doctrine.

The saved soul continued, “He was one wheel of the two-wheeled Chariot that is the Church. He was excellent, and so is the other wheel of the Chariot — the wheel whom Thomas Aquinas told you about.

“Saint Francis formed his order in 1209, but the Franciscans have declined. At one time the order was like good wine, but now it is like bad wine. Now one sees mold in the wine barrel instead of the crust that good wine leaves.

“At one time the Franciscans walked confidently forward in the footsteps of Saint Francis, but now they have turned around and they are walking backwards, obliterating his footsteps by putting their heels on his toe.

“Soon the harvest time will arrive, and tares will be found and they will not be taken to the storehouse that is Paradise.

“Search through the order of Franciscans. You may find one who is what a Franciscan should be, but most are not. Certainly those who come from Acquasparta or from Casal are not.”

Beatrice thought, Franciscan monks from Acquasparta want to relax the rules of the Franciscan order too much. Matthew of Acquasparta relaxed the rules so much that abuses arose. Ubertino of Casal harshly kept the rules. A Golden Mean is needed. The rules should be neither too lax nor too harsh. Having too lax an enforcement of too few rules is wrong. Matthew of Acquasparta made this mistake. Having too rigid an enforcement of too many rules is wrong. Ubertino of Casal made this mistake.

A later age will know Mother Teresa. When Mother Teresa founded her order of nuns, the Missionaries of Charity, she at first wanted them to eat only what the poor ate: bread and salt. However, she soon realized that that was too strict. To do good work among the poor, her nuns needed to eat more than bread and salt. However, Mother Teresa was careful not to relax the rules too much. Sometimes, in some places, she thought that her nuns were living too luxuriously, so she got rid of some of the luxuries.

The saved soul continued, “I am Bonaventure. I always put spiritual concerns, not temporal concerns, first.”

Beatrice thought, Saint Bonaventure was born in Tuscony in 1221, but he was named John. He received his new name when he became ill, then recovered. Saint Francis heard of John’s remarkable recovery, and he exclaimed, “O buona ventura,” which means, “O good fortune.” Saint Bonaventure became the superior of the Franciscan friars, and he died in 1274. This is the same year that Thomas Aquinas died.

Just as Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican, tells the story of Saint Francis, so Saint Bonaventure, a Franciscan, tells the story of Saint Dominic. This is a way of showing respect for a great founder who did not found one’s own order.

Again, we see that the Franciscans and the Dominicans in Paradise are not jealous of or competitive in a bad way with each other. They know that they are on the same side.

Saint Bonaventure continued, “Here in this wheel with me are Illuminato and Augustine, both of whom wore the cord that Franciscan monks wear.”

Beatrice thought, Illuminato is an early Italian Franciscan who joined Saint Francis in 1210. Augustine is another early Italian Franciscan who joined Saint Francis in 1210. Augustine was from Assisi, like Saint Francis.

Saint Bonaventure continued, “Here is Hugh of Saint Victor.”

Beatrice thought, Hugh of the Abbey of Saint Victor near Paris lived in the 12th century. He was an influential mystic and theologian whose students Richard of Saint Victor and Peter Lombard are also known as sages.

Saint Bonaventure continued, “Here is Peter Mangiador.”

Beatrice thought, Peter Mangiador was known as Petrus Comestor, or Peter the Eater, because he metaphorically consumed books. He was born in French Troyes. In 1147, he became Dean of the Cathedral in Troyes, and later he became Chancellor of the University of Paris.

Saint Bonaventure continued, “Here is Peter the Spaniard, who wrote 12 books that Humankind studies on Earth.”

Beatrice thought, Peter the Spaniard was actually from Lisbon, Portugal. He was the only Portuguese Pope: Pope John XXI. He served less than a year as Pope. The falling ceiling of a cell killed him; the cell had been hastily built so that he could continue his scholarly pursuits there. He wrote a 12-part book on logic that was widely used.

Saint Bonaventure continued, “Here is Nathan the prophet.”

Beatrice thought, This Hebrew prophet spoke truth to power and criticized King David for arranging the death of Bathsheba’s husband. Nathan appeared before David and said, “There were two men in one city; the one was rich, and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished. The lamb grew up together with him, and with his children; it ate the food he gave it and drank the drink he gave it, and it lay in his lap, and it was like a child to him. A traveler appeared before the rich man, and the rich man provided food for the traveler, but the rich man did not butcher any of his own flock or of his own herd to provide meat for the traveler. Instead, the rich man took the lamb that belonged to the poor man and butchered it.”

Hearing the story, David was angry and said, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this thing shall surely die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” Nathan said to David, “You are the man. The Lord God of Israel said, ‘I anointed you King over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives to your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given to you much more. Why have you despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in his sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.’”

David was the rich man, and Uriah the Hittite was the poor man. To his credit, David repented.

Saint Bonaventure continued, “This is Chrysostom.”

Beatrice thought, Saint John Chrysostom, who died in 407 C.E., was a famed preacher who was called the “golden-mouthed” patriarch of Constantinople; he was noted for his honesty, self-denial, and preaching. He spent time in exile.

Saint Bonaventure continued, “This is Anselm.”

Beatrice thought, Saint Anselm lived from 1033-1109 C.E. He was an Italian archbishop of Canterbury, and he made the famous ontological argument for God’s existence.

Saint Bonaventure continued, “This is Donatus, who studied the first art.”

Beatrice thought, Donatus was the 4th-century C.E. Roman author of a famous Latin grammar. Grammar is the first art of the seven liberal arts.

Saint Bonaventure continued, “This is Rabanus.”

Beatrice thought, Rabanus was abbot and archbishop of his native Mainz from 847 to 856 C.E. Like many of the other sages in this circle, he was a great scholar.

Saint Bonaventure continued, “At my side is the Calabrian Abbot Joachim, a prophet.”

Beatrice thought, Thomas Aquinas has his in-the-living-world adversary Siger of Brabant on his left, and Saint Bonaventure has his in-the-living-world adversary the Abbot Joachim of Flora on his left. The Abbot Joachim of Flora was a Cistercian monk who predicted an approaching final age of history, which he believed would be the age of the everlasting gospel. Saint Bonaventure strove to combat this belief. Once again, we see that two scholars who were rivals on Earth are side by side in Paradise. Once again, we learn that two people of good will can disagree over what is to be regarded as truth. Once again, we see two people of good will who strove to know the truth on Earth. We see that two people of good will can both be sincere seekers after truth even if they arrive at different conclusions.

Saint Bonaventure continued, “Thomas Aquinas praised Saint Francis, and in his spirit I have praised Saint Dominic. Thomas Aquinas’ glowing words moved this wheel of souls to appear here.”

Beatrice thought, Both Saint Francis and Saint Dominic wanted the Church to be healthy, but they emphasized different things.

Saint Francis emphasized repentance and coming back to God. Christianity, according to Saint Francis, involves more than simply attending church on Sunday morning. Saint Francis emphasized making Christianity a part of your life. Saint Francis emphasized experiencing Christ rather than simply reading the Bible.

Saint Dominic emphasized thinking correctly about God. You must believe the correct doctrine, not an incorrect doctrine that will lead you astray. Saint Dominic wanted preachers to preach the right things.

Of course, both Saint Francis and Saint Dominic are correct. We need repentance. We also need correct doctrine. Without both of those, we can be led astray. Without both of those, we can go wrong.

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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