Dante’s Paradise: Canto 27 Retelling — Gemini — Heaven’s Wrath at the Sinful Church; The Primum Mobile

Chapter 27: Gemini — Heaven’s Wrath at the Sinful Church; The Primum Mobile

All the souls sang, “Glory to Father and Son and Holy Spirit!” This song gladdened Dante.

The entire universe seemed to smile, and it seemed as if Dante were drunk with happiness.

Dante thought, O joy! O ecstasy! O life completely filled with love and peace! O wealth without cease and without want!

Beatrice, who always knew what Dante was thinking, thought, That is practically a definition of Paradise.

The four lights in front of Dante — Saint Peter, Saint James, Saint John, and Adam — blazed, and then the light who is Saint Peter grew more intense.

Saint Peter’s white light grew red. It was as if the whiteness of Jupiter had changed to the redness of Mars. It was as if a white firebird and a red firebird had exchanged feathers.

Providence then silenced all the other souls, and Saint Peter said to Dante, “Do not wonder at my change of color. The other souls will soon change color, too, as they hear my words.

“Pope Boniface VIII is called pope on Earth, but his corruptness means that the papal seat is in reality vacant. Pope Boniface VIII is a usurper of the place that is mine. He has turned Rome — the resting place of my body — into a sewer of stink and blood. Lucifer rejoices at what Pope Boniface VIII has done.”

At dawn and in the evening, clouds are colored red. The souls in the Sphere of the Fixed Stars turned red. Even Beatrice turned red, just like a virtuous lady blushes with shame when hearing of the moral failings of another.

Colors also changed when Christ was crucified and the Earth darkened.

Saint Peter — his complexion colored red with anger — spoke, “I did not nourish the Bride of Christ — the Church — with blood from my martyrdom so that the Church could pursue money. The other early popes such as Linus and Cletis did not suffer so that the Church could pursue money. We endured this suffering — as did Sixtus, Pius, Calixtus, and Urban — so that we could live in Paradise.

“We early popes did not want the Church to be divided — some supporting the pope, and some supporting the Holy Roman Emperor.

“I never intended for my keys to be displayed on a pope’s war banners carried by an army who war against Christians.

“I never intended for a likeness of my head to be put on a papal seal used on indulgences and on paid-for reinstatements after excommunication.

“I am both angry and ashamed when I think of these things. I and the other early popes did not engage in hurtful political practices, and we did not covet gold.

“From our place in Paradise, we look down at the Earth and we see shepherds’ clothing, inside of which are greedy wolves.

“God, why do You restrain Your power and not immediately punish these evil people?

“A man from Gascony and a man from Cahors will soon drink our blood and fill your court with greedy men.”

Saint Peter thought, I am referring to Pope Clement V from Gascony and Pope John XXII from Cahors.

Saint Peter continued, “But God will save the Church, I know, the way that He saved Rome through the hero Scipio Africanus and made it safe so that the papacy could be in Rome.

“You, Dante, when you return to Earth, make sure that you tell people what I have said.”

And now the lights of the saved souls rose in the Sphere like a reversing snowfall. Dante watched them as long as he could, and eventually they had risen so high that he could no longer see them.

Beatrice said to him, “Look down, now, and see how far you have traveled.”

While Dante had been in the Sphere of the Fixed Stars, time had passed and the Sphere had moved. He saw the Mediterranean. He saw Cadiz in Spain, and he saw the route that mad Ulysses had taken to the Mountain of Purgatory. He also saw Phoenicia on the Eastern coast, where Zeus, in the form of a bull, had found Europa and had then taken her to Crete on his back.

Because of the movement of the Sphere, part of the Earth was in darkness, or he could have seen more of this tiny patch of dust.

Dante, in love as ever with Beatrice, wanted to look at her. He glowed as he looked at her — nothing in nature or art could compare to her smiling face.

She smiled at him, and he rose from the constellation of Gemini, which features Castor and Pollux, the twin sons of Leda and Zeus.

They entered the Primum Mobile, but Dante could not say at what point because the Primum Mobile is uniform and undifferentiated. Dante was at the outermost of the physical universe. Beyond it — although ‘beyond’ and ‘outside’ are words that apply only to the physical universe — is the Mystic Empyrean, which lies outside time and space.

Happiness was in Beatrice’s smile, and the joy of God shone on her face.

She said to Dante, “The rest of the universe derives its movement from this Sphere, which derives its movement from the mind of God, which is motivated by Love. God’s mind encompasses all the Spheres, including this one. It also encompasses the Earth. Only God understands the workings of this Sphere. Humankind measures time by using the movement of heavenly bodies such as planets and stars; their movement comes from this Sphere, as I hope is clear to you.

“Saint Peter criticized greedy Popes. I will now criticize greedy people.

“Humankind is greedy today. People sink and drown in greed, and they cannot keep their head above the waters of greed.

“The will of a human being is always good at first, when the human being is very young, but the will becomes corrupt from the waters of greed just like plums become rotten when drowned by too much water.

“Little children have true faith and true innocence, but their true faith and true innocence are gone by the time a boy enters puberty and begins to grow facial hair.

“A child who still lisps will observe a religious day of fasting, but when he grows a little and can speak clearly, he stuffs his face even on religious days of fasting.

“A child who still lisps will love his mother and obey her words, but when he grows up, he prefers to see her in her grave.

“An innocent person becomes corrupt when exposed to the corruption of the Church, an institution that ought to be pure and innocent.

“Why do the sheep go astray? Because they lack good shepherds.

“My words should not surprise you — you know that you have no proper leaders on Earth. When no proper leaders exist, the people will go astray.

“But in less than 90 centuries — when January is no longer a winter month in the inaccurate Julian calendar established by Julius Caesar — a storm shall make all to rights again.”

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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