Chapter 25: Gemini — Saint James Examines Dante’s Hope
Dante the Poet thought, I am writing a divine poem: The Divine Comedy. Both Heaven and Earth have played a part in my writing of it, and I have grown thin through the effort of writing this poem.
I hope that the people who exiled me from Florence will read this poem and allow me back into Florence. I grew up there. I was a foe to the people who rule Florence now.
I would return as a different kind of poet. No longer am I a writer of love poetry. I am now a writer of sacred poetry about God. I am now fully mature. I would like to be crowned as a poet in my own city.
I became a Christian in Florence, and I was baptized there. I hope to return there one day.
In Paradise, Beatrice thought, Dante hopes that his poem will allow him to return to Florence and be crowned as a poet there. Dante will never make it back to Florence. The Church of Santa Croce in Florence will have a tomb for Dante, but the tomb will be empty. Dante’s body will be in a tomb in Ravenna.
In Paradise, a light started to move toward Dante the Pilgrim and Beatrice. It came from the Sphere from which the light who is Saint Peter came.
Beatrice saw the light, and ecstatic, said, “Look! Here is Saint James! On Earth, he drew souls to Galicia!”
On Earth, a dove will settle by its mate, and the dove will coo its love for the other dove and circle around it.
Much like that, Saint James greeted Beatrice, and the two sang praises for the goodness of Paradise.
After the two souls had exchanged greetings, they stood before Dante. They were so bright that Dante could not look at them.
Smiling, Beatrice said to the light, “Illustrious soul, you are the author of the Epistle of James, in which you wrote about divine benevolence and generosity. You know about hope. You, Peter, and John were the disciples in whom Jesus placed special trust. You three are proper representatives of faith, hope, and love.”
Dante thought, Saint James spent a lot of time away from home. He is known as the great Pilgrim Saint.
Saint James said to Dante, whose eyes were lowered because of the brilliance of the lights who were Saint James and Saint Peter, “Lift up your head and look at us. The light in Paradise will strengthen you, not harm you.”
Dante lifted up his eyes.
Saint James said to him, “You have been blessed by God in being allowed to visit Paradise before you die. So that Humankind may understand what hope is, answer these questions:
“What is the definition of hope?
“To what degree do you possess hope?
“What is the source of your hope?”
Dante’s guide in Paradise, Beatrice, spoke up and answered the second question for Dante — very positively. She did not want Dante to answer the question because it could seem as if he were proud.
Beatrice said, “No son of the Church Militant — living Christians — has greater hope than Dante. You can see into the mind of God, and so you know that what I say is true. Dante’s hope is why he has been allowed to travel to Paradise before his living days on Earth are done.
“You asked two other questions so that Dante may educate Humankind still on Earth. He can answer these questions without self-praising himself. So let us allow Dante to speak, and may God’s grace help him to answer well.”
Dante was like a student who has studied hard and knows his subject. He said to Saint James, “Hope is being sure of future bliss in Paradise. The future bliss will come from the grace of God and from the good that one has done or attempted to do on Earth. Because of these things, we hope for salvation.
“I have received my hope from many sources, but I received my hope first from David, the singer of the Psalms. David sang, ‘They who know Your Name will have hope in You.’ All who have faith as I do know that Name.
“And in your own epistle, Saint James, you taught me to hope.”
Dante the Poet thought, Hope is important in Christianity because all of us have sinned. The Old Testament has 613 laws, and all human beings who reach the age of reason break many of those laws. And even if we believe that many of the laws do not apply to Christians today, we have broken many of the laws that remain and that we think still are applicable to our lives.
If we focus too much on our sins, we can lose hope. We can think that we have sinned so much that we will never make it to Paradise. Faith is important to hope. If we have faith in a merciful God, then we can retain our hope.
Within the light who is Saint James repeatedly flashed a flame like strikes of lightning.
Saint James said, “Love always was inside me, and it hoped. Love was with me when I was martyred and when I left the Militant Church and joined the Triumphant Church. This love leads me to ask you this: What is the goal of hope? What do you hope for?”
Dante replied, “The goal of hope is written about in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Jesus promised something to the souls who were His friends.
“The goal of hope is eternity in Paradise. Isaiah said that saved souls will wear a double raiment in Paradise: soul and body. Paradise is a place of eternal bliss.
“Your brother, Saint John, in Revelation, writes about the white robes that denote saved souls. He makes clear the object of hope.
“I hope for my soul to be immortal and for my body to be resurrected.”
The souls above Dante’s head were happy with his answer, and they sang, “Sperent in Te,” aka “They Trust in You.”
Dante the Pilgrim had passed this examination.
One of the lights above Dante’s head became very bright. If the Constellation of Cancer the Crab had just one star as bright as this light, then winter — a time when the constellation is visible all night — would have a month of all days and no nights because the star would be as bright as the Sun.
Much like a young girl who rises and dances to honor a bride and not to draw attention to herself, the brilliant light rushed to join Saint James and Saint Peter.
They all danced and sang, and Beatrice watched them.
Beatrice said to Dante, “This soul lay upon the breast of the Pelican, and Jesus Christ on the Cross told him to take care of Mary after Jesus died. This soul is Saint John.”
Beatrice thought, In the Middle Ages, believers sometimes referred to Jesus Christ as the Pelican because the pelican was thought to allow its young to feed upon its blood. The pelican shed its blood for its young, and Jesus Christ shed His blood for Humankind.
As Beatrice said these words to Dante, she continued to look at the lights who are Saint Peter, Saint James, and Saint John.
Dante had heard a tradition — which was disputed — that Saint John’s body had gone to Paradise along with his soul. He stared at the light who is Saint John.
Saint John said to them, “Why blind yourself by looking for something that is not there? My body is on Earth and not yet in Paradise. My body lies with other bodies until such a time as the allotted seats in Paradise are filled and Judgment Day arrives.”
Dante thought, The rest of the souls in Paradise will be given their bodies on the Day of Judgment. Of course, this is also true of the souls in the Inferno. The souls on the Mountain of Purgatory will also receive their bodies, and they will go to Paradise.
Saint John continued, “Only two Lights are at present allowed to have both soul and body in Paradise: Jesus and Mary. Be sure to tell this to Humankind when you return to Earth.”
The dance of the lights had stopped with his words, and the song had stopped. Similarly, oars rowing in water stop at the sound of the whistle of their leader, who sounds the whistle when danger is present or when necessary to prevent exhaustion.
Dante turned to Beatrice, and he discovered that he was blind. He could not see her, although the two were close to each other and they were in Paradise!
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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