Chapter 14: Sun — Solomon; Mars — Symbolic Cross
When Thomas Aquinas spoke in his circle of souls, words rippled inward to the center, where Dante and Beatrice stood. Now Beatrice spoke, and words rippled outward to the circles of souls.
Beatrice was such a good guide and such a good teacher that she anticipated the questions that Dante would have even before he formulated them in his mind.
Beatrice said to the two circles of souls, “This man has another question, although he has not formulated it yet in his mind and therefore cannot ask it. He needs to know about the radiance that clothes you.
“Will you souls retain your brilliant light eternally?
“If you will retain your brilliance, then when you are reunited with your bodies at the Day of Judgment and begin again to see with your eyes, how will your eyes be able to withstand such brilliance of your own body and of the bodies of other souls?”
Joy can make dancers dance more quickly and can make singers raise their voices. Much like that, the souls in the circle showed their increased happiness in their dance and in their song. They were happy to be able to enlighten Dante.
People on Earth are afraid of dying. If they are right with God, they ought not to be afraid of dying. If they could witness the joy that awaits saved souls in Paradise, they would no longer regret the fact that they must one day die.
The souls sang of the Three that make One: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost that make one omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God. This God is enclosed by nothing; instead, it encloses everything.
The souls sang the song three times, and this beautiful song is one of the rewards of Paradise.
Then the brightest of the stars in the circle of Thomas Aquinas — the star that is Solomon — began to speak. Although Solomon’s star is the brightest, he spoke with a modest tone: “We will wear this brilliance as long as Paradise lasts: forever. Our love, our caritas, gives us this brilliance, and our brilliance is in proportion to the amount of love we have and are capable of experiencing.
“On the Day of Judgment, we will be reunited with our bodies, and then we will be more complete and more perfect and therefore more pleasing to ourselves and to God. Our brilliance will increase.
“Our vision of God will increase. We will be able to see more clearly, and we will be able to love even more. Our radiance comes from our love of God.
“Our bodies, which have long been buried, will be even brighter than the brilliance that clothes us now.
“This new brilliance will not be hard to bear. God will strengthen our eyes so that we are able to withstand the radiance of each other. God wants us to be able to bear all that will give us joy.”
The souls in the two circles cried, “Amen!” Clearly, they looked forward to being reunited with their bodies, and they looked forward to mothers, fathers, and other loved ones to also get their bodies back. Those things — including bodies — that made you and your loved ones distinctive on Earth are not taken away in Paradise.
And now a third ring of lights appeared. These lights encircled the other two rings of lights, and they glowed as brightly as all those other lights. Dante’s eyes were overwhelmed.
Beatrice smiled at Dante, and he was able to raise his eyes again. He saw that Beatrice and he had ascended to another Sphere. This Sphere glowed red, and Dante made a silent prayer of thanks and devotion and gratitude. Dante knew that his prayer was accepted.
Dante and Beatrice were in the Fifth Sphere, which is that of Mars. In the Sphere that was Mars appeared two rays of light of such brilliance that Dante cried out, “O Helios, who adorns the sky!” Helios is both the Sun and a symbol of God.
The two rays of light formed a Cross. The Symbolic Cross is the Cross of the Crusaders. It is a Greek Cross — the two parts that make up the Cross are of equal length. The Symbolic Cross was made up of the saved souls who are associated with the planet Mars. Mars is the planet that we associate with courage and especially with courage during times of war.
Within the Symbolic Cross, Dante saw an image of Christ.
When Dante the Poet tried to write about this later, after returning to Earth, he found himself unable to describe what he had seen. What he remembered defeated his art as a poet. But anyone who reaches Paradise will be able to see the Symbolic Cross and will forgive Dante for what he was not able to write about it.
The lights that made up the Cross moved from arm to arm and from top to base. The lights sparkled, and they were brilliant.
Humankind makes things such as blinds and curtains to keep out the light, but sometimes a streak of light makes its way through shade, and our eyes see specks floating in the air. Some specks move in a straight line. Some specks move in a slanted line. Some specks move swiftly. Some specks move slowly. The specks create a scene that changes constantly. The lights that made up the Cross were like those specks.
Humankind also creates musical instruments such as the viol and the harp. They have many strings, and the notes they make sound sweet.
The souls who made up the Cross sang a song that entranced Dante the Pilgrim so much that he did not even look at Beatrice. He heard a hymn that contains the words “Arise” and “Conquer,” but other than that he knew only that the song sang the highest praise.
Dante felt love as he listened to that song. He thought that nothing could be sweeter than that hymn.
But then he thought, I may be too rash when I think that nothing could be sweeter than that hymn. Since I have reached the planet Mars, I have not yet looked at Beatrice’s eyes. As we ascend the Spheres and we grow closer to God, Beatrice and her eyes become more and more beautiful.
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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