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Un cammino attraverso la Commedia (Par. 21-27)

Choosing a favorite canto in the Commedia is an impossible task. I can say, though, that Canto 23 in the Paradiso always takes my breath away. It's appropriate that a canto devoted to the beauty of Beatrice and the flames love for Mary reaches such poetic heights. Here Dante sees Beatrice as she is. Here he notes the impotence of his words. Here he witnesses the heavenly host surrounding Mary. Sometimes the best we can do when commenting is get out of the way. In that spirit, here are my favorite lines from that canto:

Beatrice said: 'Behold the hosts / of Christ in triumph and all the fruit / gathered from the wheeling of these spheres!' / It seemed to me her face was all aflame, / her eyes so full of gladness / that I must leave that moment undescribed
(Par. 23:19-24)

O Beatrice, my sweet belov'd guide! / To me she said: 'What overwhelms you / is a force against which there is no defense.' / Here is the Wisdom and the Power that repaired / the roads connecting Heaven and the earth / that had so long been yearned for and desired
(Par. 23:34-39)

Open your eyes and see me as I am. / The things that you have witnessed / have given you the strength to bear my smile. / I was like a man who finds himself awakened / from a dream that has faded and who strives / in vain to bring it back to mind / when I heard this invitation, deserving / of such gratitude as can never be erased / from the book that registers the past. / If at this moment all the tongues / that Polyhymnia and her sisters nurtured / with their sweetest, richest milk / should sound to aid me now, their song could not attain / one thousandth of the truth in singing of that holy smile / and how it made her holy visage radiant. / And so, in representing Paradise, / the sacred poem must make its leap across, / as does a man who finds his path cut off. / But considering the heavy theme / and the mortal shoulder it weighs down, / no one would cast blame if it trembled with its load. (Par. 23:46-66)

And,

Like a baby reaching out its arms / to mamma after it has drunk her milk, / its inner impulse kindled into outward flame, / all these white splendors were reaching upward / with their fiery tips, so that their deep affection / for Mary was made clear to me.Then they remained there in my sight, / singing Regina Coeli with such sweetness / that my feeling of delight has never left me. / Oh, how great is the abundance / that is stored in granaries so rich above, / that down on earth were fields ripe for the sowing! / There they live, rejoicing in the treasure / they gained with tears of exile, / in Babylon, where they spurned the gold. / Beneath the exalted Son of God and Mary, / up there he triumphs in his victory, / with souls of the covenants old and new, / the one who holds the keys to such great glory.
Par 23:121-139)

I can't believe we've almost made it through the entire Commedia. I'll post again on Sunday, and I'll try to tie things together.

[For part one of our discussion of the Paradiso, see here. For our discussion on the Purgatorio, see here, and for the Inferno, see here.]  

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In this group of cantos, XXI-XXVII a significant amount of time is spent with the examination of Dante on his knowledge of Faith, Hope and Love by Peter, James, and John respectively. I would surmise that the choice of these three apostles has to do with the fact that they were especially close to Christ and witnesses of His Transfiguration. (Interestingly, Dante had three sons named Peter, James, and John.) Apparently, the content of their respective examinations is related to the content of their epistles in the New Testament despite the fact that later biblical scholarship has shown that the letters are only attributed to these apostles and it is debatable which one of the three persons named James in the Gospels is associated with the epistle of James.I can understand how Peter and John would be the examiners of Faith and Love. Peters first epistle presents teachings about the content of the faith, e.g., the Trinity, the death and resurrection of Jesus. (Dantes responses to Peter are almost like a creedal statement.) Johns epistles have some of the most well known remarks about love of God and neighbor in the New Testament. I was baffled by St. James being connected with hope until I read his admonition about being patient, which seems to me to be an attribute of hope. I have some problem with Adam being the fourth member of this trinity. Adam does not examine Dante but answers Dantes questions about his time in the Garden of Eden. (Adam tells Dante that he lived in the Garden of Eden for only 7 hours a short time to have caused such consequences for the entire human race.) I cannot get into the head of Dante about Adams presence here. Since Dante has passed his comprehensives with flying colors, it does, however, give him a chance to switch hats and be the examiner.

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About the Author

Scott D. Moringiello is a Lawrence C. Gallen fellow in the Humanities at Villanova University, where he teaches the Augustine and Culture Seminar and courses in the theology department.