Dante’s Paradise: Canto 33 Retelling — Saint Bernard Prays to Mary; The Trinity and Christ’s Dual Nature

Chapter 33: Mystic Empyrean — Saint Bernard Prays to Mary; The Trinity and Christ’s Dual Nature

Saint Bernard began his prayer with the language of paradox — actually, a trinity of paradoxes: “You, Mary, are the Virgin Mother. You, Mary, are the daughter of your son. You, Mary, are the most humble and the most exalted of all creatures.”

Beatrice thought, A paradox occurs when two ideas that normally do not belong together are put together in such a way that they result in a true insight. The language of paradox is not the language that we use in everyday life. A new kind of language is needed to describe the things that are in Paradise. They are ineffable — they cannot be described adequately in words. To try to describe them, people must use language that is not ordinary language.

Saint Bernard continued, “You, Mary, ennobled human nature with your merit to such an extent that God consented to become incarnate in your womb. God had partially withdrawn from Humankind after the original sin of Adam and Eve, but in your womb God’s love for Humankind was rekindled. God’s love made the White Rose possible.

“Here in Paradise you inspire love in all of the saved souls, and on Earth, you inspire hope. In Paradise, all is love.

“Mary, you are great and powerful. People who pray look to you to give their prayers wings so that they rise upward to God.

“When people ask you for help, you give it, and often you give help without being asked.

“You are tender, you feel pity, and you are generous. You have all of the good qualities that God’s created beings can have.

“This man here — Dante — has traveled from the deepest part of the deepest circle of Hell, from the bottom to the top of the Mountain of Purgatory, and from Sphere to Sphere of the Heavens, all the while talking to and learning from souls, and now he begs you to grant him one final gift: to intercede with God so that his vision may be strengthened so that he can directly see God.

“I pray for this, also. I fervently burned to have my own vision of God, and now I fervently burn to have Dante to see God. I pray to you to grant my desire: to let Dante not be blind because of his own mortality, but instead to let Dante open his eyes and see God.

“I also pray to you, Mary, to protect his mortal senses and not let him be harmed when he sees God.

“And I pray to you to protect Dante from harm once he has returned to Earth. Protect him from such things as pride. The temptation to be proud can be strong for one who receives such a gift as the one I am asking you to grant him.

“And not just I am doing the asking. All of the saved souls in Paradise, including Beatrice, are now praying to you, Mary. Their hands are clasped in prayer, and they are praying that my prayer be granted.”

Mary looked at Saint Bernard, and her look showed that his prayer pleased her, and then she looked at God. No one can look as deeply into the mind of God as Mary.

Dante burned to see God face to face. He raised his eyes.

Saint Bernard smiled and gestured for him to look up at God, but Dante was already looking. Dante’s vision was growing clearer, and he was beginning to see into the mind of God.

Dante the Poet, back on Earth and writing The Divine Comedy, thought, What I saw reached such heights that both memory and language fail me.

I am like a person who has had a dream and has woken up. Although he cannot remember the dream, he still feels the effect that the dream had on him.

The vision I had fades, but I can still remember the sweetness I felt while having the vision.

Other things fade in the same way. Footprints made in the snow fade when sunshine strikes the snow. The Sibyl would write down her prophecies on leaves — one letter to a leaf — and their meaning would fade when the wind blew and mixed up the leaves.

Now, God, I pray to You as I write: Please give me back a small part of what I experienced when I saw You face to face in Paradise. Let me remember now a small part of what I saw then. And I pray to You to give me enough command of words to reveal to future generations even one small spark of Your Being.

God, if knowledge of Your Being can return briefly to my mind, and if my words can capture even a small part of Your Being, men will know more about Your might.

I remember looking at the Eternal Light. The Light strengthened me so that I was able to see it. If I had looked away from the Light, my senses would have been overpowered and I would have fainted.

I remember that I kept looking at the Eternal Light. My strength grew, and my vision grew.

I remember that my vision united with the Eternal Light. By the grace of God, I saw within the mind of God.

I remember that contained within the mind of God is a book bound by love; that book is the universe. And in the mind of God are all forms and all essences of things. The essence of all things is found in the mind of God. I saw also substance, aka matter, and accident, aka the phases of matter, conjoined and how the two are related. And my words now can give only a hint of what I knew then.

I remember that I saw the conjoining of the temporal and the eternal in the mind of God. I know that I saw that because now as I write this, my heart is joyful.

But in one instant I forgot more than has been forgotten in the 2,500 years since Neptune, god of the sea, looked up in the water and saw the keel of the Argo, the first ship, which took Jason and his Argonauts on their journey to find the Golden Fleece. Both Neptune and I saw something marvelous, but the journey of the Argo 2,500 years ago can be remembered with more clearness than I can remember what I saw recently when I looked into the mind of God.

But my mind looked deeply and intently, and the more it saw, the more it wanted to see.

Anyone who looks within the mind of God is transformed and never wants to look away. In the mind of God is everything that is good. If something is not within the mind of God, then that thing is defective.

But now, when I describe the little that I remember of my vision, my words are like the babbling of a baby that still feeds at the mother’s breasts. My words are mere baby talk.

God is perfect, and God never changes, but as my ability to see deeper into the mind of God grew, my experience of God’s perfection changed. Paradise is never boring. In Paradise, we experience more and more of God’s infinite perfection. That perfection never comes to an end, and no matter how much God reveals to us of His perfection, more of His perfection remains to be revealed.

I remember that I saw three circles of different colors all occupying the same space. The first circle reflected the second circle, and the first and second circles reflected the third circle. The Father begets the Son, and the Father and the Son produce the Holy Spirit.

My words as I try to describe this are weak, and “weak” is too weak a word to describe my words’ weakness!

Only God fully understands the mind of God, and God fully loves.

I remember that I looked at the three circles, and one of the circles bore the image of a Man — the incarnation. I stared.

A geometer can try to square the circle — something that is impossible. I remember that like that geometer I tried to understand this new mystery, to understand how the image of a Man can fit in the circle. But my finite human mind could not understand.

I remember that a flash of understanding hit me, and I saw and I understood. I cannot tell you what I saw and understood, but I experienced and felt the Infinite Love that moves the Sun and the other stars.

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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