Circumcision

Saint Bernard guides the pilgrim on a visual tour of the rose, pointing out by name some of the great souls whom Dante can now see in their places in the heavenly ranks. Saint Bernard gives not only their names, but also their placement in the divine order, so that we are made cognizant of the ranking or hierarchy of a section of the Empyrean. Below is my flat diagram of the circular rose and the much more elegant diagrams from Giuseppe Di Scipio’s The Symbolic Rose in Dante’s ‘Paradiso’ (Ravenna: Longo, 1984).

The rose turns out to be riddled with difference, with individuality. It is arranged in a vertical hierarchy:

puoi tu veder così di soglia in soglia
giù digradar, com’io ch’a proprio nome
vo per la rosa giù di foglia in foglia. (Par. 32.13-15)
these you can see, from rank to rank as I,
in moving through the Rose, from petal
unto petal, give to each her name.

And the rose is divided horizontally as well. Its bottom half contains the souls of innocent children who died before they had power of choice:

ché tutti questi son spiriti asciolti
prima ch'avesser vere elezioni.
Ben te ne puoi accorger per li volti
e anche per le voci puerili,
se tu li guardi bene e se li ascolti. (Par. 32.44-48)
for all of these are souls who left their bodies
before they had the power of true choice.
Indeed, you may perceive this by yourself—
their faces, childlike voices, are enough,
if you look well at them and hear them sing.

In this section of the rose, therefore, seating is in no way related to one’s individual merit, but depends on the merit of others and “certain conditions”:

per nullo proprio merito si siede
ma per l’altrui, con certe condizioni . . . (Par. 32.42-43)
sit souls who are there for merits not their own
but—with certain conditions—others’ merits . . .

The specific merits of others and specific conditions that have given these infants their seats in the rose will be presented in verses 73-87, where we shall arrive in due course. For now, it is important to know that the merits of others under certain conditions are such as to free these infants from original sin, and therefore to guarantee them salvation. Had they not been saved, the issue of how to arrange them hierarchically in heaven would not have been posed, since infants who have not been exempted from original sin are in Limbo.

So, here, in the rose, despite their lack of merit, the infants are hierarchically arranged, some lower and some higher, some più and some meno. This is the fact that engages the pilgrim in a final bout with a deeply disturbing dubbio, a dubbio whose hold on his imagination is indicated by Bernard’s repetition: “Or dubbi tu e dubitando sili” (But now you doubt and, doubting, do not speak [49]).

I find it extremely impressive that Dante manages to have a dubbio, that he can still be dubitando, even this high up in paradise, at the very threshold of the beatific vision. What is Dante’s final dubbio? It is a variant of his nagging obsession with fairness and justice, expressed all through paradise, starting with his asking Piccarda in Paradiso 3 whether she wishes she were higher up, and finding most poignant expression in the heaven of justice, where in Paradiso 19 he voices his concern about the justice that could condemn a perfectly virtuous man born on the banks of the Indus who had no way of knowing about Christ. His concern in Paradiso 32 relates to the justice inherent in diversity of grace, with respect to placing the infants in a hierarchy: how can it be just to order them hierarchically, when they did not live long enough to have any merit?

The final dubbio of the Paradiso is essentially its first, and exhibits the same preoccupation with unequally proportioned grace that has troubled the pilgrim throughout his ascent. But the issue has never been more starkly raised than here, because never before has individual merit been totally excluded from the equation, leaving only the inexplicable variable, the incomprehensible component: God’s grace.

The theological context around this issue is interesting: see page 249 of The Undivine Comedy, for the fact that both Thomas and Bonaventure posit equality in degrees of grace for infants, while Dante differs in positing diversity of grace. Dante frequently comes to what seems like a radical or at least unusual position simply by following the logic of an argument to its extreme. He follows the logic of diversity of grace to its extreme and thereby extends diversity of grace—and his concerns about that principle—to saved infants. Similarly, he follows the logic of implicit faith to its extreme, and thereby extends salvation to selected virtuous pagans.

All through Paradiso Dante has emphasized the formula for salvation: merit + grace. His concern with the saved infants allows us to see a connection to virtuous pagans and to realize that, in fact, Dante has been studying the twin components of beatitude—merit plus grace—from every possible perspective. He found in the virtuous pagans and the saved infants an opportunity to ponder the two extreme cases: while a virtuous pagan poses an instance of an exceptionally meritorious soul who is lacking in grace, a saved infant presents the opposite configuration, a soul that is lacking merit and possesses only grace.

We can think of the two extremes like this:

LIMBO: adult virtuous pagans: 100% merit, 0% grace

                                               VERSUS

ROSE: infants cleansed of original sin: 0% merit, 100% grace

Both these extreme cases claim Dante’s attention because of possible injustice: the injustice of a virtuous person condemned to Limbo is, not illogically, connected to the injustice inherent in any unjustified hierarchy, which in this case is the hierarchy that arranges saved infants entirely based on the grace meted out to them.

A further indication of the link between the two extreme cases might be seen in the fact that virtuous pagans who are not saved by grace, as Ripheus was in Troy (see the Introduction to Paradiso 20), and the infants who do not meet the conditions for salvation outlined in Paradiso 32, reside together in Limbo.

Saint Bernard’s “resolution” of Dante’s dubbio consists of a series of assertions, not proofs. He asserts that within the divine realm no arbitrariness can exist, for in God’s domain nothing can be a matter of chance:

Dentro a l’ampiezza di questo reame
casüal punto non puote aver sito . . . (Par. 32.52-53)
Within the ample breadth of this domain,
no point can find its place by chance . . .

Having thus stated as fact what he does not prove, Saint Bernard derives as a corollary of his unproven assertion the justness of the children’s collocation. Given that there is no arbitrariness in God’s realm, the children cannot have been arranged arbitrarily, “sine causa” (59). A cause for their being more and less excellent among themselves must therefore exist:

e però questa festinata gente
a vera vita non è sine causa
intra sé qui più e meno eccellente. (Par. 32.58-60)
and thus these souls who have, precociously,
reached the true life do not, among themselves,
find places high or low without some cause.

Now Saint Bernard has baldly said it: the infants are, through no merit of their own, più e meno eccellenti.

One last time, più e meno is the herald of difference, as it was in the first terzina of Paradiso. Now it ushers in a passage that offers the poem’s last use of diversamente, its last use of differente, and its last use of differire:

Lo rege per cui questo regno pausa
in tanto amore e in tanto diletto,
che nulla volontà è di più ausa,
le menti tutte nel suo lieto aspetto
creando, a suo piacer di grazia dota
diversamente: e qui basti l’effetto.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
Dunque, sanza mercé di lor costume,
locati son per gradi differenti,
sol differendo nel primiero acume. 
(Par. 32.61-66 and 73-75)
The King through whom this kingdom finds content
in so much love and so much joyousness
that no desire would dare to ask for more,
creating every mind in His glad sight,
bestows His grace diversely, at His pleasure—
and here the fact alone must be enough.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Without, then, any merit in their works,
these infants are assigned to different ranks—
proclivity at birth, the only difference.

Bernard follows these assertions with an explanation of the conditions that allow for the salvation of infants. As though to manifest the arbitrariness that Bernard just denied, these verses are among the Commedia’s most dogmatic, outlining the historical conditions that govern the salvation of infants. From the time of Adam to Abraham the faith of the parents is required, from the time of Abraham to Jesus circumcision is a prerequisite, and after Christ, in “the time of grace” (82), salvation depends on baptism:

Bastavasi ne’ secoli recenti
con l’innocenza, per aver salute,
solamente la fede d’i parenti;
poi che le prime etadi fuor compiute,
convenne ai maschi a l’innocenti penne
per circuncidere acquistar virtute;
ma poi che ’l tempo de la grazia venne,
sanza battesmo perfetto di Cristo
tale innocenza là giù si ritenne. (Par. 32.76-84)
In early centuries, their parents’ faith
alone, and their own innocence, sufficed
for the salvation of the children; when
those early times had reached completion, then
each male child had to find, through circumcision,
the power needed by his innocent
member; but then the age of grace arrived,
and without perfect baptism in Christ,
such innocence was kept below, in Limbo.

Hence, the salvation of infants depends, as we learned at the beginning of this discourse, on “certe condizioni” (43). These conditions seem capricious as justification for exclusion from salvation—much as does birth on the banks of the Indus. Once more Dante has rotated the axis, moving from the geographical axis of Paradiso 19 back to the temporal axis, but now shifting it from pagans of antiquity to children through history from antiquity to the present. If a child lived during the earliest times, the faith of the parents is sufficient justification; beyond those times and before the time of Christ, circumcision is required.[1]

In this passage Dante draws attention to the nub of his concern; by laying stress on the apparent arbitrariness of God’s law, as of God’s choice of Jacob over Esau (67-72), Dante confronts his worst nightmare and affirms his belief in a grace that, by eternal law (“etterna legge” [55]), is allotted as justly—“giustamente” (56)—as the ring fits the finger (55-57). God bestows His grace as He pleases, “a suo piacer” (65); on the basis of God’s assignment, which we must assume to be just, and irrespective of any personal merit, we differ among ourselves.

***

Having thus taken care of Dante’s last dubbio, Saint Bernard in verse 85 instructs Dante to look at the Virgin, celebrated by the angel Gabriel, described in courtly language with the terms baldezza and leggiadria (109). In verse 115 Bernard resumes the tour of the rose. Toward the end of the canto Saint Bernard makes a fascinating reference to Dante’s visionary sleep: the verse “perché ’l tempo fugge che t’assonna” (139) and its fraught reception is discussed in detail in The Undivine Comedy, pages 144-47.

Because the time of Dante’s visionary sleep is coming to an end, it is time for him to turn his eyes directly on the “primo amore” (142) and to penetrate the divine light as far as he can with his gaze:

e drizzeremo li occhi al primo amore,
sì che, guardando verso lui, penètri
quant’è possibil per lo suo fulgore. (Par. 32.142-44)
and turn our vision to the Primal Love,
that, gazing at Him, you may penetrate—
as far as that can be—His radiance.

Dante will penetrate the radiance “quant’è possibil”: as much as is possible for him, in other words, as much as may be achieved by his specific and eternally differentiated historical self. Here is history again, less stark and dogmatic than in its scansion of the requirements for infant salvation, but rooted in the same principle of ontological difference.

But, in order for the pilgrim to achieve anything at all, they must first pray. Otherwise, if he relies on his own powers—on his own wings—he risks falling back rather than moving beyond: “ne forse tu t’arretri / movendo l’ali tue, credendo oltrarti” (But lest you now fall back when, even as you move your wings, you think that you advance [145-46]). To that end, they will pray for help to the one who can help him, the intercessor per eccellenza of Catholic theology, the Virgin Mary. But the prayer to the Virgin itself does not begin until Paradiso 33. And so this canto concludes suspended, the only canto of the Commedia to end with a colon in modern editions. In fact, Paradiso 32 is the only canto in the poem to end without benefit of a conceptual full stop. In the last verse Saint Bernard begins to pray, so that the canto ends thus:

E cominciò questa santa orazione: (Par. 32.151)
And he began this holy supplication:

Canto 32 is enjambed—it jumps!

para32para32_2

 

 

 

[1] There is a debate about “penne”, which most take metaphorically, as feathers. The commentator Daniello opted more cogently for “pene” (penis), followed in Mandelbaum’s translation.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 10, “The Sacred Poem Is Forced to Jump: Closure and the Poetics of Enjambment,” pp. 247-51; on Par. 32.139, see The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 7, “Nonfalse Errors and the True Dreams of the Evangelist,” pp. 144-47.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Paradiso 32: Circumcision.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/paradiso/paradiso-32/

About the Commento

1Affetto al suo piacer, quel contemplante
2libero officio di dottore assunse,
3e cominciò queste parole sante:

4«La piaga che Maria richiuse e unse,
5quella ch’è tanto bella da’ suoi piedi
6è colei che l’aperse e che la punse.

7Ne l’ordine che fanno i terzi sedi,
8siede Rachel di sotto da costei
9con Bëatrice, sì come tu vedi.

10Sarra e Rebecca, Iudìt e colei
11che fu bisava al cantor che per doglia
12del fallo disse ‘Miserere mei’,

13puoi tu veder così di soglia in soglia
14giù digradar, com’ io ch’a proprio nome
15vo per la rosa giù di foglia in foglia.

16E dal settimo grado in giù, sì come
17infino ad esso, succedono Ebree,
18dirimendo del fior tutte le chiome;

19perché, secondo lo sguardo che fée
20la fede in Cristo, queste sono il muro
21a che si parton le sacre scalee.

22Da questa parte onde ’l fiore è maturo
23di tutte le sue foglie, sono assisi
24quei che credettero in Cristo venturo;

25da l’altra parte onde sono intercisi
26di vòti i semicirculi, si stanno
27quei ch’a Cristo venuto ebber li visi.

28E come quinci il glorïoso scanno
29de la donna del cielo e li altri scanni
30di sotto lui cotanta cerna fanno,

31così di contra quel del gran Giovanni,
32che sempre santo ’l diserto e ’l martiro
33sofferse, e poi l’inferno da due anni;

34e sotto lui così cerner sortiro
35Francesco, Benedetto e Augustino
36e altri fin qua giù di giro in giro.

37Or mira l’alto proveder divino:
38ché l’uno e l’altro aspetto de la fede
39igualmente empierà questo giardino.

40E sappi che dal grado in giù che fiede
41a mezzo il tratto le due discrezioni,
42per nullo proprio merito si siede,

43ma per l’altrui, con certe condizioni:
44ché tutti questi son spiriti ascolti
45prima ch’avesser vere elezïoni.

46Ben te ne puoi accorger per li volti
47e anche per le voci püerili,
48se tu li guardi bene e se li ascolti.

49Or dubbi tu e dubitando sili;
50ma io discioglierò ’l forte legame
51in che ti stringon li pensier sottili.

52Dentro a l’ampiezza di questo reame
53casüal punto non puote aver sito,
54se non come tristizia o sete o fame:

55ché per etterna legge è stabilito
56quantunque vedi, sì che giustamente
57ci si risponde da l’anello al dito;

58e però questa festinata gente
59a vera vita non è sine causa
60intra sé qui più e meno eccellente.

61Lo rege per cui questo regno pausa
62in tanto amore e in tanto diletto,
63che nulla volontà è di più ausa,

64le menti tutte nel suo lieto aspetto
65creando, a suo piacer di grazia dota
66diversamente; e qui basti l’effetto.

67E ciò espresso e chiaro vi si nota
68ne la Scrittura santa in quei gemelli
69che ne la madre ebber l’ira commota.

70Però, secondo il color d’i capelli,
71di cotal grazia l’altissimo lume
72degnamente convien che s’incappelli.

73Dunque, sanza mercé di lor costume,
74locati son per gradi differenti,
75sol differendo nel primiero acume.

76Bastavasi ne’ secoli recenti
77con l’innocenza, per aver salute,
78solamente la fede d’i parenti;

79poi che le prime etadi fuor compiute,
80convenne ai maschi a l’innocenti penne
81per circuncidere acquistar virtute;

82ma poi che ’l tempo de la grazia venne,
83sanza battesmo perfetto di Cristo
84tale innocenza là giù si ritenne.

85Riguarda omai ne la faccia che a Cristo
86più si somiglia, ché la sua chiarezza
87sola ti può disporre a veder Cristo».

88Io vidi sopra lei tanta allegrezza
89piover, portata ne le menti sante
90create a trasvolar per quella altezza,

91che quantunque io avea visto davante,
92di tanta ammirazion non mi sospese,
93né mi mostrò di Dio tanto sembiante;

94e quello amor che primo lì discese,
95cantando ‘Ave, Maria, gratïa plena’,
96dinanzi a lei le sue ali distese.

97Rispuose a la divina cantilena
98da tutte parti la beata corte,
99sì ch’ogne vista sen fé più serena.

100«O santo padre, che per me comporte
101l’esser qua giù, lasciando il dolce loco
102nel qual tu siedi per etterna sorte,

103qual è quell’ angel che con tanto gioco
104guarda ne li occhi la nostra regina,
105innamorato sì che par di foco?».

106Così ricorsi ancora a la dottrina
107di colui ch’abbelliva di Maria,
108come del sole stella mattutina.

109Ed elli a me: «Baldezza e leggiadria
110quant’ esser puote in angelo e in alma,
111tutta è in lui; e sì volem che sia,

112perch’ elli è quelli che portò la palma
113giuso a Maria, quando ’l Figliuol di Dio
114carcar si volse de la nostra salma.

115Ma vieni omai con li occhi sì com’ io
116andrò parlando, e nota i gran patrici
117di questo imperio giustissimo e pio.

118Quei due che seggon là sù più felici
119per esser propinquissimi ad Agusta,
120son d’esta rosa quasi due radici:

121colui che da sinistra le s’aggiusta
122è il padre per lo cui ardito gusto
123l’umana specie tanto amaro gusta;

124dal destro vedi quel padre vetusto
125di Santa Chiesa a cui Cristo le chiavi
126raccomandò di questo fior venusto.

127E quei che vide tutti i tempi gravi,
128pria che morisse, de la bella sposa
129che s’acquistò con la lancia e coi clavi,

130siede lungh’ esso, e lungo l’altro posa
131quel duca sotto cui visse di manna
132la gente ingrata, mobile e retrosa.

133Di contr’ a Pietro vedi sedere Anna,
134tanto contenta di mirar sua figlia,
135che non move occhio per cantare osanna;

136e contro al maggior padre di famiglia
137siede Lucia, che mosse la tua donna
138quando chinavi, a rovinar, le ciglia.

139Ma perché ’l tempo fugge che t’assonna,
140qui farem punto, come buon sartore
141che com’ elli ha del panno fa la gonna;

142e drizzeremo li occhi al primo amore,
143sì che, guardando verso lui, penètri
144quant’ è possibil per lo suo fulgore.

145Veramente, ne forse tu t’arretri
146movendo l’ali tue, credendo oltrarti,
147orando grazia conven che s’impetri

148grazia da quella che puote aiutarti;
149e tu mi seguirai con l’affezione,
150sì che dal dicer mio lo cor non parti».

151E cominciò questa santa orazione:

Though he had been absorbed in his delight,
that contemplator freely undertook
the task of teaching; and his holy words

began: “The wound that Mary closed and then
anointed was the wound that Eve—so lovely
at Mary’s feet—had opened and had pierced.

Below her, in the seats of the third rank,
Rachel and Beatrice, as you see, sit.
Sarah, Rebecca, Judith, and the one

who was the great—grandmother of the singer
who, as he sorrowed for his sinfulness,
cried, ‘Miserere mei’—these you can see

from rank to rank as I, in moving through
the Rose, from petal unto petal, give
to each her name. And from the seventh rank,

just as they did within the ranks above,
the Hebrew women follow—ranging downward—
dividing all the tresses of the Rose.

They are the wall by which the sacred stairs
divide, depending on the view of Christ
with which their faith aligned. Upon one side,

there where the Rose is ripe, with all its petals,
are those whose faith was in the Christ to come;
and on the other side—that semicircle

whose space is broken up by vacant places—
sit those whose sight was set upon the Christ
who had already come. And just as on

this side, to serve as such a great partition,
there is the throne in glory of the Lady
of Heaven and the seats that range below it,

so, opposite, the seat of the great John—
who, always saintly, suffered both the desert
and martyrdom, and then two years of Hell—

serves to divide; below him sit, assigned
to this partition, Francis, Benedict,
and Augustine, and others, rank on rank,

down to this center of the Rose. Now see
how deep is God’s foresight: both aspects of
the faith shall fill this garden equally.

And know that there, below the transverse row
that cuts across the two divisions, sit
souls who are there for merits not their own,

but—with certain conditions—others’ merits;
for all of these are souls who left their bodies
before they had the power of true choice.

Indeed, you may perceive this by yourself—
their faces, childlike voices, are enough,
if you look well at them and hear them sing.

But now you doubt and, doubting, do not speak;
yet I shall loose that knot; I can release
you from the bonds of subtle reasoning.

Within the ample breadth of this domain,
no point can find its place by chance, just as
there is no place for sorrow, thirst, or hunger;

whatever you may see has been ordained
by everlasting law, so that the fit
of ring and finger here must be exact;

and thus these souls who have, precociously,
reached the true life do not, among themselves,
find places high or low without some cause.

The King through whom this kingdom finds content
in so much love and so much joyousness
that no desire would dare to ask for more,

creating every mind in His glad sight,
bestows His grace diversely, at His pleasure—
and here the fact alone must be enough.

And this is clearly and expressly noted
for you in Holy Scripture, in those twins
who, in their mother’s womb, were moved to anger.

Thus, it is just for the celestial light
to grace their heads with a becoming crown,
according to the color of their hair.

Without, then, any merit in their works,
these infants are assigned to different ranks—
proclivity at birth, the only difference.

In early centuries, their parents’ faith
alone, and their own innocence, sufficed
for the salvation of the children; when

those early times had reached completion, then
each male child had to find, through circumcision,
the power needed by his innocent

member; but then the age of grace arrived,
and without perfect baptism in Christ,
such innocence was kept below, in Limbo.

Look now upon the face that is most like
the face of Christ, for only through its brightness
can you prepare your vision to see Him.”

I saw such joy rain down upon her, joy
carried by holy intellects created
to fly at such a height, that all which I

had seen before did not transfix me with
amazement so intense, nor show to me
a semblance that was so akin to God.

And the angelic love who had descended
earlier, now spread his wings before her,
singing “Ave Maria, gratia plena.”

On every side, the blessed court replied,
singing responses to his godly song,
so that each spirit there grew more serene.

“O holy father—who, for me, endure
your being here below, leaving the sweet
place where eternal lot assigns your seat—

who is that angel who with such delight
looks into our Queen’s eyes—he who is so
enraptured that he seems to be a flame?”

So, once again, I called upon the teaching
of him who drew from Mary beauty, as
the morning star draws beauty from the sun.

And he to me: “All of the gallantry
and confidence that there can be in angel
or blessed soul are found in him, and we

would have it so, for it was he who carried
the palm below to Mary, when God’s Son
wanted to bear our flesh as His own burden.

But follow with your eyes even as I
proceed to speak, and note the great patricians
of this most just and merciful empire.

Those two who, there above, are seated, most
happy to be so near the Empress, may
be likened to the two roots of this Rose:

the one who, on her left, sits closest, is
the father whose presumptuous tasting
caused humankind to taste such bitterness;

and on the right, you see that ancient father
of Holy Church, into whose care the keys
of this fair flower were consigned by Christ.

And he who saw, before he died, all of
the troubled era of the lovely Bride—
whom lance and nails had won—sits at his side;

and at the side of Adam sits that guide
under whose rule the people, thankless, fickle,
and stubborn, lived on manna. Facing Peter,

Anna is seated, so content to see
her daughter that, as Anna sings hosannas,
she does not move her eyes. And opposite

the greatest father of a family,
Lucia sits, she who urged on your lady
when you bent your brows downward, to your ruin.

But time, which brings you sleep, takes flight, and now
we shall stop here—even as a good tailor
who cuts the garment as his cloth allows—

and turn our vision to the Primal Love,
that, gazing at Him, you may penetrate—
as far as that can be—His radiance.

But lest you now fall back when, even as
you move your wings, you think that you advance,
imploring grace, through prayer you must beseech

grace from that one who has the power to help you;
and do you follow me with your affection—
so may my words and your heart share one way.”

And he began this holy supplication:

ABSORBED in his delight, that contemplator
Assumed the willing office of a teacher
And gave beginning to these holy words:

“The wound that Mary closed up and anointed,
She at her feet who is so beautiful,
She is the one who opened it and pierced it.

Within that order which the third seats make
Is seated Rachel, lower than the other,
With Beatrice, in manner as thou seest.

Sarah, Rebecca, Judith, and her who was
Ancestress of the Singer, who for dole
Of the misdeed said,_ ‘ miserere mei,’_

Canst thou behold from seat to seat descending
Down in gradation, as with each one’s name
I through the ose go down from leaf to leaf.

And downward from the seventh row, even as
Above the same, succeed the Hebrew women,
Dividing all the tresses of the flower

Because, according to the view which Faith
In Christ had taken, these are the partition
By which the sacred stairways are divided.

Upon this side, where perfect is the flower
With each one of its petals, seated are
Those who believed in Christ who was to come.

Upon the other side, where intersected
With vacant spaces are the semicircles,
Are those who looked to Christ already come.

And as, upon this side, the glorious seat
Of the Lady of Heaven, and the other seats
Below it, such a great division make,

So opposite doth that of the great John,
Who, ever holy, desert and martyrdom
Endured, and afterwards two years in Hell.

And under him thus to divide were chosen
Francis, and Belledict, and Augustine,
And down to us the rest from round to round;

Behold now the high providence divine;
For one and other aspect of the Faith
In equal measure shall this garden fill.

And know that downward from that rank which cleaves
Midway the sequence of the two divisions,
Not by their proper merit are they seated;

But by another’s under fixed conditions;
For these are spirits one and all assoiled
Before they any true election had.

Well canst thou recognise it in their faces,
And also in their voices puerile,
If thou regard them well and hearken to them.

Now doubtest thou, and doubting thou art silent ;
But I will loosen for thee the strong bond
In which thy subtile fancies hold thee fast.

Within the amplitude of this domain
No casual point can possibly find place,
No more than sadness can, or thirst, or hunger;

For by eternal law has been established
Whatever thou beholdest, so that closely
The ring is fitted to the finger here.

And therefore are these people, festinate
Unto true life, not _sine causa_ here
More and less excellent among themselves.

The King, by means of whom this realm reposes
In so great love and in so great delight
That no will ventureth to ask for more,

In his own joyous aspect every mind
Creating, at his pleasure dowers with grace
Diversely; and let here the effect suffice.

And this is clearly and expressly noted
For you in Holy Scripture, in those twins
Who in their mother had their anger roused.

According to the colour of the hair,
Therefore, with such a grace the light supreme
Consenteth that they worthily be crowned.

Without, then, any merit of their deeds,
Stationed are they in different gradations,
Differing only in their first acuteness.

‘Tis true that in the early centuries,
With innocence, to work out their salvation
Sufficient was the faith of parents only.

After the earlier ages were completed,
Behoved it that the males by circumcision
Unto their innocent wings should virtue add;

But after that the time of grace had come
Without the baptism absolute of Christ,
Such innocence below there was retained.

Look now into the face that unto Christ
Hath most resemblance ; for its brightness only
Is able to prepare thee to see Christ.”

On her did I behold so great a gladness
Rain down, borne onward in the holy minds
Created through that altitude to fly,

That whatsoever I had seen before
Did not suspend me in such admiration,
Nor show me such similitude of God.

And the same Love that first descended there,
_”Ave Maria, gratia plena,”_singing,
In front of her his wings expanded wide.

Unto the canticle divine responded
From every part the court beatified,
So that each sight became serener for it.

“O holy father, who for me endurest
To be below here, leaving the sweet place
In which thou sittest by eternal lot,

Who is the Angel that with so much joy
Into the eyes is looking of our Queen,
Enamoured so that he seems made of fire ?”

Thus I again recourse had to the teaching
Of that one who delighted him in Mary
As doth the star of morning in the sun.

And he to me: “Such gallantry and grace
As there can be in Angel and in soul,
All is in him; and thus we fain would have it;

Because he is the one who bore the palm
Down unto Mary, when the Son of God
To take our burden on himself decreed.

But now come onward with thine eyes, as I
Speaking shall go, and note the great patricians
Of this most just and merciful of empires.

Those two that sit above there most enrapture
As being very near unto Augusta,
Are as it were the two roots of this Rose.

He who upon the left is near her placed
The father is, by whose audacious taste
The human species so much bitter tastes.

Upon the right thou seest that ancient father
Of Holy Church, into whose keeping Christ
The keys committed of this lovely flower.

And he who all the evil days beheld,
Before his death, of her the beauteous bride
Who with the spear and with the nails was won,

Beside him sits, and by the other rests
That leader under whom on manna lived
The people ingrate, fickle, and stiff—necked.

Opposite Peter seest thou Anna seated,
So well content to look upon her daughter,
Her eyes she moves not while she sings Hosanna.

And opposite the eldest household father
Lucia sits, she who thy Lady moved
When to rush downward thou didst bend thy brows.

But since the moments of thy vision fly,
Here will we make full stop, as a good tailor
Who makes the gown according to his cloth,

And unto the first Love will turn our eyes,
That looking upon Him thou penetrate
As far as possible through his effulgence.

Truly, lest peradventure thou recede,
Moving thy wings believing to advance,
By prayer behoves it that grace be obtained;

Grace from that one who has the power to aid thee;
And thou shalt follow me with thy affection
That from my words thy heart turn not aside.”

And he began this holy orison.

Though he had been absorbed in his delight,
that contemplator freely undertook
the task of teaching; and his holy words

began: “The wound that Mary closed and then
anointed was the wound that Eve—so lovely
at Mary’s feet—had opened and had pierced.

Below her, in the seats of the third rank,
Rachel and Beatrice, as you see, sit.
Sarah, Rebecca, Judith, and the one

who was the great—grandmother of the singer
who, as he sorrowed for his sinfulness,
cried, ‘Miserere mei’—these you can see

from rank to rank as I, in moving through
the Rose, from petal unto petal, give
to each her name. And from the seventh rank,

just as they did within the ranks above,
the Hebrew women follow—ranging downward—
dividing all the tresses of the Rose.

They are the wall by which the sacred stairs
divide, depending on the view of Christ
with which their faith aligned. Upon one side,

there where the Rose is ripe, with all its petals,
are those whose faith was in the Christ to come;
and on the other side—that semicircle

whose space is broken up by vacant places—
sit those whose sight was set upon the Christ
who had already come. And just as on

this side, to serve as such a great partition,
there is the throne in glory of the Lady
of Heaven and the seats that range below it,

so, opposite, the seat of the great John—
who, always saintly, suffered both the desert
and martyrdom, and then two years of Hell—

serves to divide; below him sit, assigned
to this partition, Francis, Benedict,
and Augustine, and others, rank on rank,

down to this center of the Rose. Now see
how deep is God’s foresight: both aspects of
the faith shall fill this garden equally.

And know that there, below the transverse row
that cuts across the two divisions, sit
souls who are there for merits not their own,

but—with certain conditions—others’ merits;
for all of these are souls who left their bodies
before they had the power of true choice.

Indeed, you may perceive this by yourself—
their faces, childlike voices, are enough,
if you look well at them and hear them sing.

But now you doubt and, doubting, do not speak;
yet I shall loose that knot; I can release
you from the bonds of subtle reasoning.

Within the ample breadth of this domain,
no point can find its place by chance, just as
there is no place for sorrow, thirst, or hunger;

whatever you may see has been ordained
by everlasting law, so that the fit
of ring and finger here must be exact;

and thus these souls who have, precociously,
reached the true life do not, among themselves,
find places high or low without some cause.

The King through whom this kingdom finds content
in so much love and so much joyousness
that no desire would dare to ask for more,

creating every mind in His glad sight,
bestows His grace diversely, at His pleasure—
and here the fact alone must be enough.

And this is clearly and expressly noted
for you in Holy Scripture, in those twins
who, in their mother’s womb, were moved to anger.

Thus, it is just for the celestial light
to grace their heads with a becoming crown,
according to the color of their hair.

Without, then, any merit in their works,
these infants are assigned to different ranks—
proclivity at birth, the only difference.

In early centuries, their parents’ faith
alone, and their own innocence, sufficed
for the salvation of the children; when

those early times had reached completion, then
each male child had to find, through circumcision,
the power needed by his innocent

member; but then the age of grace arrived,
and without perfect baptism in Christ,
such innocence was kept below, in Limbo.

Look now upon the face that is most like
the face of Christ, for only through its brightness
can you prepare your vision to see Him.”

I saw such joy rain down upon her, joy
carried by holy intellects created
to fly at such a height, that all which I

had seen before did not transfix me with
amazement so intense, nor show to me
a semblance that was so akin to God.

And the angelic love who had descended
earlier, now spread his wings before her,
singing “Ave Maria, gratia plena.”

On every side, the blessed court replied,
singing responses to his godly song,
so that each spirit there grew more serene.

“O holy father—who, for me, endure
your being here below, leaving the sweet
place where eternal lot assigns your seat—

who is that angel who with such delight
looks into our Queen’s eyes—he who is so
enraptured that he seems to be a flame?”

So, once again, I called upon the teaching
of him who drew from Mary beauty, as
the morning star draws beauty from the sun.

And he to me: “All of the gallantry
and confidence that there can be in angel
or blessed soul are found in him, and we

would have it so, for it was he who carried
the palm below to Mary, when God’s Son
wanted to bear our flesh as His own burden.

But follow with your eyes even as I
proceed to speak, and note the great patricians
of this most just and merciful empire.

Those two who, there above, are seated, most
happy to be so near the Empress, may
be likened to the two roots of this Rose:

the one who, on her left, sits closest, is
the father whose presumptuous tasting
caused humankind to taste such bitterness;

and on the right, you see that ancient father
of Holy Church, into whose care the keys
of this fair flower were consigned by Christ.

And he who saw, before he died, all of
the troubled era of the lovely Bride—
whom lance and nails had won—sits at his side;

and at the side of Adam sits that guide
under whose rule the people, thankless, fickle,
and stubborn, lived on manna. Facing Peter,

Anna is seated, so content to see
her daughter that, as Anna sings hosannas,
she does not move her eyes. And opposite

the greatest father of a family,
Lucia sits, she who urged on your lady
when you bent your brows downward, to your ruin.

But time, which brings you sleep, takes flight, and now
we shall stop here—even as a good tailor
who cuts the garment as his cloth allows—

and turn our vision to the Primal Love,
that, gazing at Him, you may penetrate—
as far as that can be—His radiance.

But lest you now fall back when, even as
you move your wings, you think that you advance,
imploring grace, through prayer you must beseech

grace from that one who has the power to help you;
and do you follow me with your affection—
so may my words and your heart share one way.”

And he began this holy supplication:

ABSORBED in his delight, that contemplator
Assumed the willing office of a teacher
And gave beginning to these holy words:

“The wound that Mary closed up and anointed,
She at her feet who is so beautiful,
She is the one who opened it and pierced it.

Within that order which the third seats make
Is seated Rachel, lower than the other,
With Beatrice, in manner as thou seest.

Sarah, Rebecca, Judith, and her who was
Ancestress of the Singer, who for dole
Of the misdeed said,_ ‘ miserere mei,’_

Canst thou behold from seat to seat descending
Down in gradation, as with each one’s name
I through the ose go down from leaf to leaf.

And downward from the seventh row, even as
Above the same, succeed the Hebrew women,
Dividing all the tresses of the flower

Because, according to the view which Faith
In Christ had taken, these are the partition
By which the sacred stairways are divided.

Upon this side, where perfect is the flower
With each one of its petals, seated are
Those who believed in Christ who was to come.

Upon the other side, where intersected
With vacant spaces are the semicircles,
Are those who looked to Christ already come.

And as, upon this side, the glorious seat
Of the Lady of Heaven, and the other seats
Below it, such a great division make,

So opposite doth that of the great John,
Who, ever holy, desert and martyrdom
Endured, and afterwards two years in Hell.

And under him thus to divide were chosen
Francis, and Belledict, and Augustine,
And down to us the rest from round to round;

Behold now the high providence divine;
For one and other aspect of the Faith
In equal measure shall this garden fill.

And know that downward from that rank which cleaves
Midway the sequence of the two divisions,
Not by their proper merit are they seated;

But by another’s under fixed conditions;
For these are spirits one and all assoiled
Before they any true election had.

Well canst thou recognise it in their faces,
And also in their voices puerile,
If thou regard them well and hearken to them.

Now doubtest thou, and doubting thou art silent ;
But I will loosen for thee the strong bond
In which thy subtile fancies hold thee fast.

Within the amplitude of this domain
No casual point can possibly find place,
No more than sadness can, or thirst, or hunger;

For by eternal law has been established
Whatever thou beholdest, so that closely
The ring is fitted to the finger here.

And therefore are these people, festinate
Unto true life, not _sine causa_ here
More and less excellent among themselves.

The King, by means of whom this realm reposes
In so great love and in so great delight
That no will ventureth to ask for more,

In his own joyous aspect every mind
Creating, at his pleasure dowers with grace
Diversely; and let here the effect suffice.

And this is clearly and expressly noted
For you in Holy Scripture, in those twins
Who in their mother had their anger roused.

According to the colour of the hair,
Therefore, with such a grace the light supreme
Consenteth that they worthily be crowned.

Without, then, any merit of their deeds,
Stationed are they in different gradations,
Differing only in their first acuteness.

‘Tis true that in the early centuries,
With innocence, to work out their salvation
Sufficient was the faith of parents only.

After the earlier ages were completed,
Behoved it that the males by circumcision
Unto their innocent wings should virtue add;

But after that the time of grace had come
Without the baptism absolute of Christ,
Such innocence below there was retained.

Look now into the face that unto Christ
Hath most resemblance ; for its brightness only
Is able to prepare thee to see Christ.”

On her did I behold so great a gladness
Rain down, borne onward in the holy minds
Created through that altitude to fly,

That whatsoever I had seen before
Did not suspend me in such admiration,
Nor show me such similitude of God.

And the same Love that first descended there,
_”Ave Maria, gratia plena,”_singing,
In front of her his wings expanded wide.

Unto the canticle divine responded
From every part the court beatified,
So that each sight became serener for it.

“O holy father, who for me endurest
To be below here, leaving the sweet place
In which thou sittest by eternal lot,

Who is the Angel that with so much joy
Into the eyes is looking of our Queen,
Enamoured so that he seems made of fire ?”

Thus I again recourse had to the teaching
Of that one who delighted him in Mary
As doth the star of morning in the sun.

And he to me: “Such gallantry and grace
As there can be in Angel and in soul,
All is in him; and thus we fain would have it;

Because he is the one who bore the palm
Down unto Mary, when the Son of God
To take our burden on himself decreed.

But now come onward with thine eyes, as I
Speaking shall go, and note the great patricians
Of this most just and merciful of empires.

Those two that sit above there most enrapture
As being very near unto Augusta,
Are as it were the two roots of this Rose.

He who upon the left is near her placed
The father is, by whose audacious taste
The human species so much bitter tastes.

Upon the right thou seest that ancient father
Of Holy Church, into whose keeping Christ
The keys committed of this lovely flower.

And he who all the evil days beheld,
Before his death, of her the beauteous bride
Who with the spear and with the nails was won,

Beside him sits, and by the other rests
That leader under whom on manna lived
The people ingrate, fickle, and stiff—necked.

Opposite Peter seest thou Anna seated,
So well content to look upon her daughter,
Her eyes she moves not while she sings Hosanna.

And opposite the eldest household father
Lucia sits, she who thy Lady moved
When to rush downward thou didst bend thy brows.

But since the moments of thy vision fly,
Here will we make full stop, as a good tailor
Who makes the gown according to his cloth,

And unto the first Love will turn our eyes,
That looking upon Him thou penetrate
As far as possible through his effulgence.

Truly, lest peradventure thou recede,
Moving thy wings believing to advance,
By prayer behoves it that grace be obtained;

Grace from that one who has the power to aid thee;
And thou shalt follow me with thy affection
That from my words thy heart turn not aside.”

And he began this holy orison.