Dante’s Paradise: Canto 19 Retelling — Jupiter — Symbolic Eagle

Chapter 19: Jupiter — Symbolic Eagle

Before Dante’s eyes was the figure of the Eagle, a figure that was formed by the joyful souls of the just.

Each soul of the just was like a ruby through which a ray of the Sun was passing and then striking Dante’s eyes.

And what Dante saw was something that no other living person else has ever spoken or written about, or even imagined.

Dante saw the beak of the Eagle move, and the Eagle spoke. The Eagle used the singular — “I” and “Mine” — but because all the souls of the just were speaking as one, it could have used the plural — “We” and “Ours.”

The Eagle said, “On Earth I was just and pious, and so I am in Paradise and I am appearing before you on this Sphere. I feel as much glory as it is possible for me to feel. On Earth, the memory of me is such that even evil people praise me although they will not follow my example.”

Many burning coals produce one glowing heat, and the many souls of the just produced one voice.

Dante said, “You are like many flowers whose fragrances produce one perfume; please breathe forth more words and satisfy my craving to have my questions about justice answered. You are able to directly see the justice that is within the mind of God.

“You know that I am eager to hear you answer my questions, and you know what my questions are that I have wished for a time to have answered.”

A falcon that is freed from the hood covering its eyes will stretch its neck and beat its wings in its eagerness to take flight. The Eagle moved similarly and sang a hymn to God.

The Eagle then said to Dante, “God is the One Who created the universe and marked its limits and brought order out of chaos, but even God cannot create something that has His perfection. All that God creates is less perfect than God.

“This is shown with the first Prideful Power, Lucifer, who, although he was the most beautiful and he was the closest to God, used his free will to rebel against God. Lucifer should have waited for grace from God to ripen his understanding. Instead, Lucifer wanted to immediately become God’s equal, and he plunged to Earth green and unripe.”

Beatrice thought, If God’s greatest created creature can rebel and fall, then it is possible for all of God’s other created creatures to rebel and fall. Any creature who rebels against God lacks understanding.

The Eagle continued, “Humankind has knowledge, but the knowledge of Humankind is only a small fraction of the knowledge that God has. Although Humankind lacks the knowledge that God has, Humankind does have enough knowledge to know how much knowledge Humankind lacks.

“Humankind cannot comprehend the mind of God any more than it can see the deep bottom of the ocean. Yes, Humankind can see the bottom near the shore, but further out into the ocean, Humankind cannot see the bottom of the ocean. But even though Humankind cannot see it, it still exists.

“Truth and light come from God; all else is falsehood and darkness. The answer you seek is hidden in the mind of God.

“The questions that you want to have answered are these: ‘Consider a human being who is born in a country in which no one knows about Christ. No one can speak or write about Him because no one knows Him. This human being, as far as human reason can tell, always acts correctly and always desires correctly. This human being, who has never been baptized, dies. This human being is then denied Paradise. Is it just for this human being to be denied Paradise? Is this human being at fault for never having known Christ?’

“Who are you to condemn God’s judgment? It is as if you can barely see beyond your nose and you want to pass judgment on something that happened a thousand miles away!

“Human reason cannot know many things, but fortunately, reason has holy scripture to use as a guide to aid its understanding.

“Humankind needs to remember that God is all-good. What God desires is always just. What God does is always just. If something is in accordance with the will of God, it is just.”

Dante thought, Our finite human minds are simply unable to understand God’s infinite mind. We underestimate God’s mind if we assume that we can understand the things that God knows. Some things are a mystery. A mystery is something that human reason cannot understand and cannot explain. All we can do is to accept mystery because we cannot explain it. God created Limbo, and He created the rest of the Inferno. We have to assume that He had a good reason for doing this.

After feeding its young, a stork will fly around the nest and its chick will raise its head to look at it. Much like that, the Eagle took flight — the souls who made up its wings worked together — and Dante raised his head to look at it.

Circling around Dante, the Eagle sang, “What I sing cannot be understood by human beings on Earth: the harmonics and language are too difficult for them to understand. And so it is with Eternal Judgment.”

The souls stopped singing, and then, still in the form of the Eagle, they said as one, “In Paradise, everyone has had faith in Christ, whether they had faith before He was crucified or after.

“But many people who cry ‘Christ! Christ!’ frequently and loudly on Earth will not be as close to God on the Day of Judgment as will many people who have never heard of Christ.

“Pagans in Ethiopia and elsewhere will condemn such Christians who are Christians in name only.”

Dante thought, Being Christian is enough to get you into Paradise, but just saying that you are Christian is not enough to get you into Paradise. To know this, all you have to do is look into the Inferno and see all the Popes there. Many of the unrepentant sinners in the Inferno said that they were Christian. Guido da Montefeltro attempted to scam God into thinking that he was a Christian, but Guido’s scam did not work.

The Eagle continued, “On the Day of Judgment, souls will be divided into two groups. One group of souls will be rich forever after; the other group of souls will be poor forever after.”

Dante thought, In Matthew 25:31-46., we read about the Day of Judgment:

31: When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy Angels with Him, then shall He sit on the throne of His glory:

32: And before Him shall be gathered all nations: and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats,

33: And He shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

34: Then shall the King say to them on His right hand, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

35: “For I was hungry, and you gave me food: I was thirsty, and you gave me drink: I was a stranger, and you took me in.

36: “I was naked, and you clothed me: I was sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to visit me.”

37: Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, “Lord, when saw we You hungry, and fed You, or thirsty, and gave You drink?

38: “When did we see You as a stranger, and took You in, or naked, and clothed You?

39: “Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and came to visit You?”

40: And the King shall answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these My brethren, you have done it to Me.”

41: Then shall He say also to them on the left hand, “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his Angels.

42: “For I was hungry, and you gave Me no food: I was thirsty, and you gave Me no drink.

43: “I was a stranger, and you took Me not in: naked, and you did not clothe Me: sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.”

44: Then shall they also answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or as a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to You?”

45: Then shall He answer them, saying, “Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to Me.”

46: And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.

Beatrice thought, What is the right thing to do? The right thing to do is to feed the hungry, give something to drink to the thirsty, give clothing to the naked, visit those who are ill, and visit those in prison.

The Eagle continued, “What will the pagans in Persia and other countries say to the Kings of Christian countries when the pagans see the Book of Judgment that God keeps and read about the bad deeds of ‘Christian’ Kings?

“Holy Roman Emperor Albert the First is on the verge of committing the evil deed of invading Bohemia and devastating Prague. The pen is over God’s book as it waits to record the evil deed. War kills many people, including innocent people.

“Philip the Fair will be in God’s book because he brought misery to France. To finance his wars, Philip will inflate French currency and ruin many people. A sound currency is necessary to avoid misery. Philip will be thrown from his horse when a wild boar startles his horse during a royal hunt. Philip will die of the injuries incurred during the fall.

“The English and the Scots warred often, venturing into each other’s territory. The Scottish leaders should stay in Scotland, and the English leaders should stay in England. Edward I and Edward II fought with William Wallace and Robert the Bruce.

“Charles II of Naples, aka Charles the Lame, aka the Cripple of Jerusalem — he was the titular King of Jerusalem and had no power there — will have his virtues and vices marked in the Book of Judgment. The Roman number I — for 1 — will be by ‘Virtues’ and the Roman number ‘M’ — for 1,000 — will be by ‘Vices.’

“Frederick II of Sicily is so paltry a man that he will be allotted little space in the Book of Judgment, but the Recording Angel will need to write in shorthand in order to fit in the tiny space the records of his numerous evil deeds.

“Also recorded in the Book of Judgment among the bad Kings will be Frederick II’s brother and uncle: King James of Majorca and King James II of Aragon. Both Kings disgraced their family and their kingdoms.

“Also recorded in the Book of Judgment among the bad Kings will be Orosius II of Rascia, another debaser of the coinage.

“A good king now rules in Hungary, and Hungary will be happy if it continues to escape evil.

“Navarre is happy now, and it will continue to be happy if it uses its mountains as a barrier to keep out the French.”

Beatrice thought, This will not happen. Navarre will become a part of France and will suffer under French rule just as the two principal cities of Crete suffer under Henry II, who is from a French family and who has many debaucheries that make citizens suffer. He is evil, but he is small fry. He does not run in the midst of the pack of evil beings; instead, he runs outside and beside the pack.

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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