Dante’s Paradise: Canto 26 Retelling — Gemini — Saint John Examines Dante’s Love; Adam

Chapter 26: Gemini — Saint John Examines Dante’s Love; Adam

Dante was blind because he had looked so intently at the bright light who is Saint John to see if he had a body. Saint John said to him, “Until you regain your sight, let us talk. Answer this question, please: On what is your soul set? And please do not worry about your sight. Your eyes are merely temporarily dazzled and are not permanently blind. Beatrice, your guide through Paradise, can restore your sight as Ananias restored Saul’s sight.”

Dante thought, Love is blind, and so am I — temporarily. Beatrice will soon restore my sight as Ananias restored Saul’s sight. While Saul was on the road to Damascus on his way to persecute Christians, he was struck blind, and he heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The voice replied, “I am Jesus Whom you are persecuting.” Saul, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Jesus Christ said, “Arise, and go into the city, and you shall learn what you must do.” The men with whom Saul traveled took him into Damascus, where he was blind for three days and did not eat. To Ananias, a disciple at Damascus, came a vision in which Jesus Christ told him to go to Saul of Tarsus. Ananias said, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man and how much evil he has done to Your saints at Jerusalem.” But Jesus Christ said, “Go to him, for he is a chosen vessel to me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and Kings, and the children of Israel.” Ananias went to Saul, put his hands on him, prayed, and cured his blindness. And Saul changed his name to Paul and started doing the work needed for him to become a saint.

Beatrice thought, Dante is being examined in three things: faith, hope, and love. Love — appropriately — is presented as an experience. Dante need not define love the way he defined faith and hope.

Dante replied to Saint John, “Whenever Beatrice wishes, whether quickly or later, she can restore my sight. I saw her, and I loved her. My eyes are the gates through which I began to love her.

“You ask on what is my soul set. I love the Supreme Good. I love God. I love the Being that gives full contentment in Paradise and that is the Alpha and the Omega.”

Saint John encouraged Dante to answer with more detail: “You love God. Why have you aimed your bow at this mark? What and who encouraged you to aim your bow? What and who made you set your soul on God?”

Dante replied, “I learned to love God through philosophic arguments and through revelation. Reason and revelation lead to the same conclusion. Reason is philosophical arguments, and revelation is sacred scripture. These are the things that have stamped me with the heavenly seal.”

Beatrice thought, When Saint Francis received the stigmata, he was marked with a final seal. The seal indicates many things.

The seal indicates that Saint Francis is the genuine article. The article has not been forged. Saint Francis’ Christianity has not been faked.

The seal indicates that the article is in a finished state. No more work needs to be done. Saint Francis achieved Paradise. He came as close to perfection as a human being who is not also divine can.

The seal indicates that the article has been approved. If it were not approved, the seal would not be applied to it. God approved Saint Francis’ life.

Saint Francis is officially sealed. He is a fully completed work of art. On the Mountain of Purgatory, the souls of the proud were bent over like the works of art known as corbels. They were being formed into works of art. Near the end of his life, Saint Francis was a fully completed work of art.

Dante’s love of God means that he is stamped with a seal much like Saint Francis of Assisi.

Dante continued, “Goodness is love, and love engenders love. The more goodness that exists, the more love that exists. The more we understand goodness, the more we are able to love. God is both the Supreme Good and the Supreme Love. Once Humankind correctly understands goodness and love, Humankind seeks and loves God.

“I have learned these things from the philosopher Aristotle, who taught me about the Unmoved Mover Who is the object of desire. I have also learned these things from Exodus 33:17, in which God said, ‘I shall now show you all of My goodness.’ I have also learned these things from the beginning of your own Gospel in which you write about the mysteries of Paradise.”

Saint John said, “Reason proves that the highest love is God. Revelation agrees with reason. But what else draws you to love God? God is your primary love, but what are the secondary loves that draw you to love God?”

Dante knew the correct answers to the question: “I love God because God’s love created the universe and myself, because Jesus Christ shed His blood on the Cross so that I might live in Paradise, and because of the hope that all the faithful and I have. All of the things, and the reason and revelation I mentioned previously rescued me from false love and directed me to True Love.

“I love each soul in Paradise. Each soul is loved in Paradise and shines with the proper measure of the brightness of this love.”

Dante stopped speaking, and immediately music sounded as the souls and Beatrice all sang, “Holy! Holy! Holy!”

Dante the Pilgrim had passed the final examination.

Dante regained his sight like one who is waking from sleep. All specks in Dante’s eyes were gone, and he saw better than he had ever seen before. He saw Beatrice’s brightness that reached a thousand miles — and more!

He also saw a fourth light who had joined Saint Peter, Saint James, and Saint John. He asked who was the fourth light.

Beatrice replied, “The fourth light is Adam, the first man. His was the first human soul created by God.”

Dante was so amazed that he bent over and nearly fell. It was if a huge gust of wind had bent him over the way it blows against the tops of trees and bends them.

Dante straightened up and said to Adam, “You are the only one who was created as an adult and was not born as a baby.”

Beatrice thought, Eve may be thought of as another human being created as an adult and not as a baby, but Dante is thinking of her as part of Adam because she was made from one of Adam’s ribs.

Dante continued speaking to Adam, “You are the father of the entire human race. I beg you to speak to me and answer those questions that you know I want to ask you.”

Adam was glad to answer Dante’s questions. His light trembled. He said to Dante, “You do not need to tell me your questions because I know them better than you know whatever seems most self-evident to you. I see your questions reflected in the mind of God. It reflects all things, but nothing can reflect it perfectly.

“You wish to know the answers to these questions:

“How long ago was it that I was put in the Earthly Paradise?

“How long was I without sin in the Earthly Paradise?

“Why was I banished from the Earthly Paradise?

“What language did I invent for myself to speak?

“I will answer your questions in the order of their importance.

“Why was I banished from the Earthly Paradise? The tasting of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is not what got me banished from the Earthly Paradise. What got me banished was disobeying God’s orders. Eventually, Eve and I would have been allowed to eat the fruit of this tree — is not such knowledge a good thing to have, provided that it is used to do good and to avoid doing evil? — but we pursued it too hastily. Some kinds of wisdom must be acquired at the right time.

“How long ago was it that I was put in the Earthly Paradise? I was 930 years old when I died. I spent 4,302 years in Limbo before being released by Jesus Christ during the Harrowing of Hell. I was created 5,200 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. I have been in Paradise for 1,266 years. Now, in the year 1300, I am 6,498 years old.

“What language did I invent for myself to speak? I spoke a language that became extinct before the attempt by Nimrod and his followers to build the Tower of Babel. The creations of the human mind are variable and do not last forever. The same is true of the things in nature. Humankind does communicate through speech, as it is part of human nature, but Humankind can choose which way to communicate through speech. The particular kind of language used is up to different groups of human beings. Language and words change. Until I descended into Hell, God was called by one name, and then God was called by another name.

“How long was I without sin in the Earthly Paradise? Not long. I came into existence at 6 a.m. By 1 p.m., God banished me from the Earthly 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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