Dante’s Paradise: Canto 13 Retelling — Saint Thomas Aquinas Discusses Solomon

Chapter 13: Sun — Saint Thomas Aquinas Discusses Solomon

To imagine what Dante saw next, think of the 15 brightest stars in the night sky. Now think of the seven stars that make up the Big Dipper. That makes 22 stars. Add to them the two bright stars of the Little Dipper’s mouth for a total of 24 stars, matching the total of 24 bright souls who formed two constellations around Dante and Beatrice. Imagine that the 24 stars form two moving circles around Dante and Beatrice. That will give you some idea of what Dante and Beatrice were seeing.

The two circles of souls whirled and danced, and this sight outstripped a living person’s ability to understand in the same way that the fast-moving Primum Mobile outraces the sluggish stream of Chiana as it flows through swamps.

Beatrice thought, In a later age, the Chiana will flow much faster because the swamplands will have been drained. Of course, the Primum Mobile will still be much, much faster.

As the souls moved and danced, they sang. They did not sing a hymn to Bacchus. They did not sing a song to Apollo. They sang of the three natures in a triune God, and they sang of the two natures of a Jesus Who was fully human and fully divine.

When the souls had finished their dance and their song, they, rejoicing, turned to Dante and Beatrice.

Thomas Aquinas said, “Two things perplexed you. One, I said, ‘Saint Dominic led me and many others along a path where all may be fed if they do not stray from the path.’ This I have explained to you. And two, I said, ‘A second person has never arisen with as much wisdom as Solomon had.’ This still perplexes you. Let me explain what I meant.

“You know that God directly created Adam, from whose rib Eve was created. Eve was lovely, but she sinned, and she tempted Adam to sin.

“You also know that Jesus became fully human in order to save Humankind. That happened as a direct creation of God. Jesus saved Humankind by being crucified and by being wounded with a lance. Jesus paid the price for the past, present, and future sins of Humankind.

“You know that God’s light shone brightest in Adam, the first man, and in Jesus Christ.

“And so you are wondering what I meant when I said that no one has ever arisen with as much wisdom as Solomon had.

“Listen carefully. Both you and I believe correctly. What you believe and what I believe are not contradictory.

“Jesus is never parted from the Father or from the Holy Spirit, Who is Love. All creation reflects God. 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.

“Creation can be direct, or it can be indirect. When God works through nature, which He created, and through the laws of nature, which He also created, the creation is indirect. The creation is also contingent. It can go out of existence. In our everyday existence, we see things go in existence and we see things go out of existence. Things are born, and they die.

“Indirect creation is not as good as direct creation. Human souls are direct creations of God and do not go out of existence. Human bodies are indirect creations of God (using the physical laws of nature, which He created) and human bodies can and do die and go out of existence (although they will be resurrected on the Day of Judgment).

“What is indirectly created is inferior to what is directly created. When God acts directly, as when he created Adam and as when Christ acquired His human nature, the result is perfect. Love (Holy Spirit) and Vision (God’s Son) and Power (God the Father) work together to infuse spirit into matter, and the result is perfect. Therefore, the wisdom of Adam and of Jesus was and is perfect. The same is true of Angels. Human wisdom in the material world can never be as perfect as the wisdom of Adam.

“Of course, now you need an explanation of why I stated that a second person has never arisen with as much wisdom as Solomon had.

“To understand what I meant, consider the context of the historical situation. Ask yourself, Who was Solomon? Ask yourself, What did Solomon ask for when God said to him, ‘Ask for whatever you want’?

“Of course, Solomon was a king, and he asked God for the wisdom that would make him a good king.

“Solomon did not ask for theological wisdom so that he could answer this question: How many Angels exist?

“Solomon did not ask for logical wisdom so that he could answer this question: Can an absolute premise together with a contingent premise yield an absolute conclusion?

“Solomon did not ask for scientific and philosophic wisdom so that he could answer these questions: Is there a First Mover? Can a motion exist without a cause?

“Solomon did not ask for mathematical wisdom so that he could answer this question: Can a triangle without a right angle be made to fit in a semicircle?

“What did Solomon ask for? He asked for the practical wisdom that would enable him to be a good and a wise king. Solomon was without equal in the particular gift of wisdom that he received from God. Solomon asked for wisdom to rule well as a king, and he received it.

“In addition, I said that a second person has never arisen with as much wisdom as Solomon had. Adam and Jesus did not arise in the sense that Solomon and other human beings arise. Solomon and other human beings arose from the physical matter of the universe in conjunction with the laws of nature that govern matter and energy. God directly created Adam and Jesus.

“Solomon was the wisest of all Kings. Unfortunately, few Kings are good Kings.

“Be wary when you make judgments. Wisdom is difficult to acquire. You can see this in your perplexity when I stated that a second person has never arisen with as much wisdom as Solomon had.

“Fools make judgments quickly. Fools do not consider the evidence.

“Judgments quickly made without evidence are often wrong, and Human beings can be so proud that they will not correct a wrong judgment that they have made.

“Sometimes, human beings try to make judgments that they are not ready to make. The ancient Greek philosopher Parmenides believed that the Moon is the source of all things and that all things return to the Moon. His disciple Melissus believed that no motion exists — only the appearance of motion. Bryson, another Greek philosopher, tried to square the circle — something that is impossible.

“Errors of judgment in theology, aka heresies, also occur. Sabellius denied the doctrine of the trinity. He believed that the terms ‘Father,’ ‘Son,’ and ‘Holy Ghost’ were simply different names for the same single God. Arius believed that Jesus was created after the Father and was inferior to the Father. Arius created the Arian heresy.

“No one should trust his or her judgment too quickly.

“Do not be like a farmer who counts his ears of corn before he has harvested them.

“After all, a brier can be prickly for months and then produce a rose.

“And a ship can safely cross the sea and safely return to outside its harbor and then sink in the harbor.

“People should think themselves so wise that when they see one human being steal and another human being donate money to charity that they know who will end up in Paradise and who will end up in the Inferno. A once-bad person can repent at or near the end of life. A once-good person can sin and not repent at or near the end of life.”

Beatrice thought, When we judge a life, we need to judge an entire life. An evil man can repent at the last minute, just as a brier can eventually produce a rose. A good person can become evil at the end of his life, just as a ship that has made a long voyage can end up sinking back home in its own harbor. Aristotle said that in order to determine whether a man was happy, we need to look at the whole of that man’s life. After he has died, we will be able to tell if he was happy. God sees the whole picture — we don’t. God knows the end of a person’s life and whether or not they repented. Chances are, most or all people will be surprised by some of those who make it to Paradise, and by some of those who end up in the Inferno.

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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