The Divine Pawnshop

In the concluding section of Paradiso 4, Beatrice’s “resolution” of the pilgrim’s dubbio gives way to a divinely eroticized paean to his beloved. On this note of saintly eros, Paradiso 4 ends and Paradiso 5 begins.

Intertwined with the hot language used in this passage for Beatrice (for example, the “faville d’amor così divine” in Beatrice’s eyes in Par. 4.140) is the much cooler—indeed economic—language of a new dubbio, introduced at the end of Paradiso 4.  Dante, still meditating on Piccarda’s life story as recounted to him in Paradiso 3, wants to know whether it is possible to “satisfy” (as in “to satisfy a debt” or “to satisfy a creditor”) a broken vow with some other good than the one originally promised:

Io vo’ saper se l’uom può sodisfarvi
ai voti manchi sì con altri beni,
ch’a la vostra statera non sien parvi. (Par. 4.136-38)
I want to know if, in your eyes, one can
amend for unkept vows with other acts—
good works your balance will not find too scant.

Beatrice restates the pilgrim’s question in Paradiso 5, again emphasizing the economic, contractual, and even litigious/legal aspects of failing to maintain a vow:

 Tu vuo’ saper se con altro servigio,
per manco voto, si può render tanto
che l’anima sicuri di letigio. (Par. 5.13-15)
You wish to know if, through a righteous act,
one can repair a promise unfulfilled,
so that the soul and God are reconciled.

Beatrice then launches into her replay with explanation. Before looking at what she says, I will give you some context. The Old Testament deals with the “economics” of the vows made by humans to God in Leviticus 27. The following breakdown of Leviticus 27 and definition of vows within the Old Testament are taken from a Bible-study website.


 

Source: http://bible.org/seriespage/value-vow-leviticus-27

The Structure of Leviticus 27

The key to the structure of chapter 27 is to be found by the categories of things which are vowed as offerings to God:

  • Vows of people—vv. 1-8
  • Vows of animals—vv. 9-13
  • Vowed houses—vv. 14-15
  • Vowed inheritance (family land) vv. 16-21
  • Vowed (non-family) land—vv. 22-25
  • Illicit vows—vv. 26-33
  • Conclusion—v. 34

The Definition of a Vow

Simply viewed, offering a vow is practicing a kind of “credit card” act of worship. It is a promise to worship God with a certain offering in the future, motivated by gratitude for God’s grace in the life of the offerer. The reason for the delay in making the offering was that the offerer was not able, at that moment, to make the offering. The vow was made, promising to offer something to God if God would intervene on behalf of the individual, making the offering possible. In many instances, the vow was made in a time of great danger or need. The Rabbis believed that the gifts which were vowed in Leviticus 27 were to be used for the maintenance of the Temple.

The Unique Contribution of Leviticus 27

While the teaching of Leviticus is consistent with that of the Old Testament as a whole, it makes some unique contributions. There are three principal lessons to be learned from the legislation of Leviticus 27, which set this chapter apart in its emphasis and methods. Let us consider each of these.

Leviticus 27 teaches men to be cautious about the vows they make, but in a different way than elsewhere. There are three principal ways in which the people of God are cautioned about making vows hastily, and without due consideration. First, there is the method of teaching. In the Law there are clear statements of warning and instruction about hasty vows, as we see above. Second, one can use examples and illustrations to teach. The Old Testament gives us several examples of men who made foolish vows, the most notable example being Jephthah, who vowed so generally that his daughter became the offering to the Lord (Judg. 11:29-40). Thirdly, you can teach men to do what is right by making disobedience painful and costly. In Leviticus 27 the Israelites are taught the folly of hasty commitments by specifying that some vows cannot be reversed, and that in those cases which can be redemption of that which was vowed will be costly. This third method, the method of Leviticus 27, we might call “economic sanctions.”


I find very interesting the phrase “offering a vow is practicing a kind of ‘credit card’ act of worship” and the notion of “economic sanctions” imposed by God in order to redeem a broken vow. In Leviticus the economic sanctions take the form of a 20% additional penalty for redeeming a broken vow. In Paradiso 5 we learn that to redeem a broken vow the old offering must be to the new offering as 4 is to 6. Thus a 50% penalty is imposed.

Beatrice’s “Version of Leviticus 27”

Of all the gifts that God gave to humans, the greatest is free will (Par. 2.19-22). When we make a pledge to God, we willingly make a sacrificial victim of our free will (Par. 2.29), and as a result—given that free will is by definition the greatest good there is—we find ourselves in a situation where we have no greater good to offer with which to redeem our pledge. In the divine pawnshop, there is no good as great as free will that we can offer in recompense.

On the other hand, she continues, although it is impossible to redeem a good as precious as the free will with which we entered into the pact, we can redeem the thing we promised, as long as in exchange we offer God a new good that is 50% greater than the old one.

This contractual language, betokening a divinity both legalistic and fiscally severe, seems at odds with the divine principle that governs Dante’s heaven: the “amor che ’l ciel governi” (love that governs heaven) to Whom Dante addresses himself in Paradiso 1.74. What, we wonder, is at stake here for Dante?

I would say that Dante’s primary goal here is to trace a genealogy of the economics of devotion and to delineate the place of a Christian/New Testament economy within that genealogy.

Dante is extremely conscious about this genealogy. Paradiso 5 is clearly engaged in a dialogue with Leviticus 27, which it echoes in many respects. Christians are held by him to an even higher standard (hence the 50% penalty) because they have greater guidance. This guidance and this support system are a source of enormous pride to Dante. Christians have the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Church to guide them:

Avete il novo e ’l vecchio Testamento,
e ’l pastor de la Chiesa che vi guida;
questo vi basti a vostro salvamento.(Par. 5.76-78)
You have both Testaments, the Old and New,
you have the shepherd of the Church to guide you;
you need no more than this for your salvation.

In Paradiso 5.81, Beatrice offers a disconcerting exhortation to Christians. Telling them not to be led astray by mala cupidigia (evil cupidity [Par. 5.79]), Beatrice suggests that Jews will mock Christians who—with all the special providential assistance that is at their disposal—still fail to achieve salvation:

Se mala cupidigia altro vi grida,
uomini siate, e non pecore matte,
sì che ’l Giudeo di voi tra voi non rida! (Par. 5.79-81)
If evil greed would summon you elsewhere,
be men, and not like sheep gone mad, so that
the Jew who lives among you not deride you!

In other words, as her way of incentivizing Christians to achieve salvation, Beatrice offers the desire to avoid being mocked by Jews.

Dante here unfortunately seems to establish a kind of unsavory “competition” within the genealogy from Leviticus 27 through to Paradiso 5 that he has delineated: rather than positing continuity with the Jewish tradition, here he exhorts Team Christian not to fall behind Team Jew.

On the one hand Dante implies that the Christian economy of devotion requires higher sacrifice and commitment. On the other hand he suggests that a Jew who strictly observes the law of the Old Testament may do better than a Christian who wantonly makes vows and commutes them.

Most of all, we need to remember that institutional devotion in human history always involves an economic and legislative dimension. Although stated in passing in Paradiso 5.81, we cannot ignore Dante’s harsh assessment with respect to the Jews in this canto: they are viewed not as progenitors but rather as a rival team within a narrative of how best to institutionalize and negotiate with the divine.

In Paradiso 5.93 the transition occurs to the second heaven. Dante is surrounded by souls and he speaks to one, asking who he is and why in this heaven. The soul begins to speak and speaks for the entirety of the following canto. This is Justinian, Emperor and lawmaker.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 8, “Problems in Paradise: The Mimesis of Time and the Paradox of più e meno”, pp. 189-90.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Paradiso 5: The Divine Pawnshop.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/paradiso/paradiso-5/

About the Commento

1«S’io ti fiammeggio nel caldo d’amore
2di là dal modo che ’n terra si vede,
3sì che del viso tuo vinco il valore,

4non ti maravigliar, ché ciò procede
5da perfetto veder, che, come apprende,
6così nel bene appreso move il piede.

7Io veggio ben sì come già resplende
8ne l’intelletto tuo l’etterna luce,
9che, vista, sola e sempre amore accende;

10e s’altra cosa vostro amor seduce,
11non è se non di quella alcun vestigio,
12mal conosciuto, che quivi traluce.

13Tu vuo’ saper se con altro servigio,
14per manco voto, si può render tanto
15che l’anima sicuri di letigio».

16Sì cominciò Beatrice questo canto;
17e sì com’ uom che suo parlar non spezza,
18continüò così ’l processo santo:

19«Lo maggior don che Dio per sua larghezza
20fesse creando, e a la sua bontate
21più conformato, e quel ch’e’ più apprezza,

22fu de la volontà la libertate;
23di che le creature intelligenti,
24e tutte e sole, fuoro e son dotate.

25Or ti parrà, se tu quinci argomenti,
26l’alto valor del voto, s’è sì fatto
27che Dio consenta quando tu consenti;

28ché, nel fermar tra Dio e l’omo il patto,
29vittima fassi di questo tesoro,
30tal quale io dico; e fassi col suo atto.

31Dunque che render puossi per ristoro?
32Se credi bene usar quel c’hai offerto,
33di maltolletto vuo’ far buon lavoro.

34Tu se’ omai del maggior punto certo;
35ma perché Santa Chiesa in ciò dispensa,
36che par contra lo ver ch’i’ t’ho scoverto,

37convienti ancor sedere un poco a mensa,
38però che ’l cibo rigido c’hai preso,
39richiede ancora aiuto a tua dispensa.

40Apri la mente a quel ch’io ti paleso
41e fermalvi entro; ché non fa scïenza,
42sanza lo ritenere, avere inteso.

43Due cose si convegnono a l’essenza
44di questo sacrificio: l’una è quella
45di che si fa; l’altr’ è la convenenza.

46Quest’ ultima già mai non si cancella
47se non servata; e intorno di lei
48sì preciso di sopra si favella:

49però necessitato fu a li Ebrei
50pur l’offerere, ancor ch’alcuna offerta
51sì permutasse, come saver dei.

52L’altra, che per materia t’è aperta,
53puote ben esser tal, che non si falla
54se con altra materia si converta.

55Ma non trasmuti carco a la sua spalla
56per suo arbitrio alcun, sanza la volta
57e de la chiave bianca e de la gialla;

58e ogne permutanza credi stolta,
59se la cosa dimessa in la sorpresa
60come ’l quattro nel sei non è raccolta.

61Però qualunque cosa tanto pesa
62per suo valor che tragga ogne bilancia,
63sodisfar non si può con altra spesa.

64Non prendan li mortali il voto a ciancia;
65siate fedeli, e a ciò far non bieci,
66come Ieptè a la sua prima mancia;

67cui più si convenia dicer ‘Mal feci’,
68che, servando, far peggio; e così stolto
69ritrovar puoi il gran duca de’ Greci,

70onde pianse Efigènia il suo bel volto,
71e fé pianger di sé i folli e i savi
72ch’udir parlar di così fatto cólto.

73Siate, Cristiani, a muovervi più gravi:
74non siate come penna ad ogne vento,
75e non crediate ch’ogne acqua vi lavi.

76Avete il novo e ’l vecchio Testamento,
77e ’l pastor de la Chiesa che vi guida;
78questo vi basti a vostro salvamento.

79Se mala cupidigia altro vi grida,
80uomini siate, e non pecore matte,
81sì che ’l Giudeo di voi tra voi non rida!

82Non fate com’ agnel che lascia il latte
83de la sua madre, e semplice e lascivo
84seco medesmo a suo piacer combatte!».

85Così Beatrice a me com’ ïo scrivo;
86poi si rivolse tutta disïante
87a quella parte ove ’l mondo è più vivo.

88Lo suo tacere e ’l trasmutar sembiante
89puoser silenzio al mio cupido ingegno,
90che già nuove questioni avea davante;

91e sì come saetta che nel segno
92percuote pria che sia la corda queta,
93così corremmo nel secondo regno.

94Quivi la donna mia vid’ io sì lieta,
95come nel lume di quel ciel si mise,
96che più lucente se ne fé ’l pianeta.

97E se la stella si cambiò e rise,
98qual mi fec’ io che pur da mia natura
99trasmutabile son per tutte guise!

100Come ’n peschiera ch’è tranquilla e pura
101traggonsi i pesci a ciò che vien di fori
102per modo che lo stimin lor pastura,

103sì vid’ io ben più di mille splendori
104trarsi ver’ noi, e in ciascun s’udia:
105«Ecco chi crescerà li nostri amori».

106E sì come ciascuno a noi venìa,
107vedeasi l’ombra piena di letizia
108nel folgór chiaro che di lei uscia.

109Pensa, lettor, se quel che qui s’inizia
110non procedesse, come tu avresti
111di più savere angosciosa carizia;

112e per te vederai come da questi
113m’era in disio d’udir lor condizioni,
114sì come a li occhi mi fur manifesti.

115«O bene nato a cui veder li troni
116del trïunfo etternal concede grazia
117prima che la milizia s’abbandoni,

118del lume che per tutto il ciel si spazia
119noi semo accesi; e però, se disii
120di noi chiarirti, a tuo piacer ti sazia».

121Così da un di quelli spirti pii
122detto mi fu; e da Beatrice: «Dì, dì
123sicuramente, e credi come a dii».

124«Io veggio ben sì come tu t’annidi
125nel proprio lume, e che de li occhi il traggi,
126perch’ e’ corusca sì come tu ridi;

127ma non so chi tu se’, né perché aggi,
128anima degna, il grado de la spera
129che si vela a’ mortai con altrui raggi».

130Questo diss’ io diritto a la lumera
131che pria m’avea parlato; ond’ ella fessi
132lucente più assai di quel ch’ell’ era.

133Sì come il sol che si cela elli stessi
134per troppa luce, come ’l caldo ha róse
135le temperanze d’i vapori spessi,

136per più letizia sì mi si nascose
137dentro al suo raggio la figura santa;
138e così chiusa chiusa mi rispuose

139nel modo che ’l seguente canto canta.

“If in the fire of love I seem to flame
beyond the measure visible on earth,
so that I overcome your vision’s force,

you need not wonder; I am so because
of my perfected vision—as I grasp
the good, so I approach the good in act.

Indeed I see that in your intellect
now shines the never—ending light; once seen,
that light, alone and always, kindles love;

and if a lesser thing allure your love,
it is a vestige of that light which—though
imperfectly—gleams through that lesser thing.

You wish to know if, through a righteous act,
one can repair a promise unfulfilled,
so that the soul and God are reconciled.”

So Beatrice began this canto, and
as one who does not interrupt her speech,
so did her holy reasoning proceed:

“The greatest gift the magnanimity
of God, as He created, gave, the gift
most suited to His goodness, gift that He

most prizes, was the freedom of the will;
those beings that have intellect—all these
and none but these—received and do receive

this gift: thus you may draw, as consequence,
the high worth of a vow, when what is pledged
with your consent encounters God’s consent;

for when a pact is drawn between a man
and God, then through free will, a man gives up
what I have called his treasure, his free will.

What, then, can be a fitting compensation?
To use again what you had offered, would
mean seeking to do good with ill—got gains.

By now you understand the major point;
but since the Holy Church gives dispensations—
which seems in contrast with the truth I stated—

you need to sit at table somewhat longer:
the food that you have taken was tough food—
it still needs help, if you are to digest it.

Open your mind to what I shall disclose,
and hold it fast within you; he who hears,
but does not hold what he has heard, learns nothing.

Two things are of the essence when one vows
a sacrifice: the matter of the pledge
and then the formal compact one accepts.

This last can never be annulled until
the compact is fulfilled: it is of this
that I have spoken to you so precisely.

Therefore, the Hebrews found it necessary
to bring their offerings, although—as you
must know—some of their offerings might be altered.

As for the matter of the vow—discussed
above—it may be such that if one shifts
to other matter, one commits no sin.

But let none shift the burden on his shoulder
through his own judgment, without waiting for
the turning of the white and yellow keys;

and let him see that any change is senseless,
unless the thing one sets aside can be
contained in one’s new weight, as four in six.

Thus, when the matter of a vow has so
much weight and worth that it tips every scale,
no other weight can serve as substitute.

Let mortals never take a vow in jest;
be faithful and yet circumspect, not rash
as Jephthah was, in offering his first gift;

he should have said, ‘I did amiss,’ and not
done worse by keeping faith. And you can find
that same stupidity in the Greeks’ chief—

when her fair face made Iphigenia grieve
and made the wise and made the foolish weep
for her when they heard tell of such a rite.

Christians, proceed with greater gravity:
do not be like a feather at each wind,
nor think that all immersions wash you clean.

You have both Testaments, the Old and New,
you have the shepherd of the Church to guide you;
you need no more than this for your salvation.

If evil greed would summon you elsewhere,
be men, and not like sheep gone mad, so that
the Jew who lives among you not deride you!

Do not act like the foolish, wanton lamb
that leaves its mother’s milk and, heedless, wants
to war against—and harm—its very self!”

These words of Beatrice I here transcribe;
and then she turned—her longing at the full—
to where the world is more alive with light.

Her silence and the change in her appearance
imposed a silence on my avid mind,
which now was ready to address new questions;

and even as an arrow that has struck
the mark before the bow—cord comes to rest,
so did we race to reach the second realm.

When she had passed into that heaven’s light,
I saw my lady filled with so much gladness
that, at her joy, the planet grew more bright.

And if the planet changed and smiled, what then
did I—who by my very nature am
given to every sort of change—become?

As in a fish—pool that is calm and clear,
the fish draw close to anything that nears
from outside, if it seems to be their fare,

such were the far more than a thousand splendors
I saw approaching us, and each declared:
“Here now is one who will increase our loves.”

And even as each shade approached, one saw,
because of the bright radiance it sent forth,
the joyousness with which that shade was filled.

Consider, reader, what your misery
and need to know still more would be if, at
this point, what I began did not go on;

and you will—unassisted—feel how I
longed so to hear those shades narrate their state
as soon as they appeared before my eyes.

“O you born unto gladness, whom God’s grace
allows to see the thrones of the eternal
triumph before your war of life is ended,

the light that kindles us is that same light
which spreads through all of heaven; thus, if you
would know us, sate yourself as you may please.”

So did one of those pious spirits speak
to me. And Beatrice then urged: “Speak, speak
confidently; trust them as you trust gods.”

“I see—plainly—how you have nested in
your own light; see—you draw it from your eyes—
because it glistens even as you smile;

but I do not know who you are or why,
good soul, your rank is in a sphere concealed
from mortals by another planet’s rays.”

I said this as I stood turned toward the light
that first addressed me; and at this, it glowed
more radiantly than it had before.

Just as the sun, when heat has worn away
thick mists that moderate its rays, conceals
itself from sight through an excess of light,

so did that holy form, through excess gladness,
conceal himself from me within his rays;
and so concealed, concealed, he answered me

even as the next canto is to sing.

“IF in the heat of love I flame upon thee
Beyond the measure that on earth is seen,
So that the valour of thine eyes I vanquish,

Marvel thou not thereat; for this proceeds
From perfect sight, which as it apprehends
To the good apprehended moves its feet.

Well I perceive how is already shining
Into thine intellect the eternal light,
That only seen enkindles always love;

And if some other thing your love seduce,
‘Tis nothing but a vestige of the same,
Ill understood, which there is shining througe.

Thou fain wouldst know if with another service
For broken vow can such return be made
As to secure the soul from further claim.”

This Canto thus did Beatrice begin;
And, as a man who breaks not off his speech,
Continued thus her holy argument:

“The greatest gift that in his largess God
Creating made, and unto his own goodness
Nearest conformed, and that which he doth prize

Most highly, is the freedom of the will,
Wherewith the creatures of intelligence
Both all and only were and are endowed.

Now wilt thou see, if thence thou reasonest,
The high worth of a vow, if it he made
So that when thou consentest God consents:

For, closing between God and man the compact,
A sacrifice is of this treasure made,
Such as I say, and made by its own act.

What can be rendered then as compensation ?
Think’st thou to make good use of what thou’st offered,
With gains ill gotten thou wouldst do good deed.

Now art thou certain of the greater point;
But because Holy Church in this dispenses,
Which seems against the truth which I have shown thee,

Behoves thee still to sit awhile at table,
Because the solid food which thou hast taken
Requireth further aid for thy digestion.

Open thy mind to that which I reveal,
And fix it there within; for ’tis not knowledge,
The having heard without retaining it.

In the essence of this sacrifice two things
Convene together; and the one is that
Of which ’tis made, the other is the agreement.

This last for evermore is cancelled not
Unless complied with, and concerning this
With such precision has above been spoken.

Therefore it was enjoined upon the Hebrews
To offer still, though sometimes what was offered
Might be commuted, as thou ought’st to know.

The other, which is known to thee as matter,
May well indeed be such that one errs not
If it for other matter be exchanged.

But let none shift the burden on his shoulder
At his arbitrament, without the turning
Both of the white and of the yellow key;

And every permutation deem as foolish,
If in the substitute the thing relinquished,
As the four is in six, be not contained.

Therefore whatever thing has so great weight
In value that it drags down every balance,
Cannot be satisfied with other spending.

Let mortals never take a vow in jest;
Be faithful and not blind in doing that,
As Jephthah was in his first offering,

Whom more beseemed to say, ‘I have done wrong,
Than to do worse by keeping; and as foolish
Thou the great leader of the Greeks wilt find,

Whence wept Iphigenia her fair face,
And made for her both wise and simple weep,
Who heard such kind of worship spoken of.’

Christians, be ye more serious in your movements;
Be ye not like a feather at each wind,
And think not every water washes you.

Ye have the Old and the New Testament,
And the Pastor of the Church who guideth you
Let this suffice you unto your salvation.

If evil appetite cry aught else to you,
Be ye as men, and not as silly sheep,
So that the Jew among you may not mock you.

Be ye not as the lamb that doth abandon
Its mother’s milk, and frolicsome and simple
Combats at its own pleasure with itself.”

Thus Beatrice to me even as I write it;
Then all desireful turned herself again
To that part where the world is most alive.

Her silence and her change of countenance
Silence imposed upon my eager mind,
That had already in advance new questions;

And as an arrow that upon the mark
Strikes ere the bowstring quiet hath become,
So did we speed into the second realm.

My Lady there so joyful I beheld,
As into the brightness of that heaven she entered,
More luminous thereat the planet grew;

And if the star itself was changed and smiled,
What became I, who by my nature am
Exceeding mutable in every guise!

As, in a fish—pond which is pure and tranquil,
The fishes draw to that which from without
Comes in such fashion that their food they deem it;

So I beheld more than a thousand splendours
Drawing towards us, and in each was heard:
“Lo, this is she who shall increase our love.”

And as each one was coming unto us,
Full of beatitude the shade was seen,
By the effulgence clear that issued from it.

Think, Reader, if what here is just beginning
No farther should proceed, how thou wouldst have
An agonizing need of knowing more;

And of thyself thou’lt see how I from these
Was in desire of hearing their conditions,
As they unto mine eyes were manifest.

“O thou well—born, unto whom Grace concedes
To see the thrones of the eternal triumph,
Or ever yet the warfare be abandoned’

With light that through the whole of heaven is spread
Kindled are we, and hence if thou desirest
To know of us, at thine own pleasure sate thee.”

Thus by some one among those holy spirits
Was spoken, and by Beatrice: “Speak, speak
Securely, and believe them even as Gods.”

“Well I perceive how thou dost nest thyself
In thine own light, and drawest it from thine eyes,
Because they coruscate when thou dost smile,

But know not who thou art, nor why thou hast,
Spirit august, thy station in the sphere
That veils itself to men in alien rays.”

This said I in direction of the light
Which first had spoken to me; whence it became
By far more lucent than it was before.

Even as the sun, that doth conceal himself
By too much light, when heat has worn away
The tempering influence of the vapours dense,

By greater rapture thus concealed itself
In its own radiance the figure saintly,
And thus close, close enfolded answered me

In fashion as the following Canto sings.

“If in the fire of love I seem to flame
beyond the measure visible on earth,
so that I overcome your vision’s force,

you need not wonder; I am so because
of my perfected vision—as I grasp
the good, so I approach the good in act.

Indeed I see that in your intellect
now shines the never—ending light; once seen,
that light, alone and always, kindles love;

and if a lesser thing allure your love,
it is a vestige of that light which—though
imperfectly—gleams through that lesser thing.

You wish to know if, through a righteous act,
one can repair a promise unfulfilled,
so that the soul and God are reconciled.”

So Beatrice began this canto, and
as one who does not interrupt her speech,
so did her holy reasoning proceed:

“The greatest gift the magnanimity
of God, as He created, gave, the gift
most suited to His goodness, gift that He

most prizes, was the freedom of the will;
those beings that have intellect—all these
and none but these—received and do receive

this gift: thus you may draw, as consequence,
the high worth of a vow, when what is pledged
with your consent encounters God’s consent;

for when a pact is drawn between a man
and God, then through free will, a man gives up
what I have called his treasure, his free will.

What, then, can be a fitting compensation?
To use again what you had offered, would
mean seeking to do good with ill—got gains.

By now you understand the major point;
but since the Holy Church gives dispensations—
which seems in contrast with the truth I stated—

you need to sit at table somewhat longer:
the food that you have taken was tough food—
it still needs help, if you are to digest it.

Open your mind to what I shall disclose,
and hold it fast within you; he who hears,
but does not hold what he has heard, learns nothing.

Two things are of the essence when one vows
a sacrifice: the matter of the pledge
and then the formal compact one accepts.

This last can never be annulled until
the compact is fulfilled: it is of this
that I have spoken to you so precisely.

Therefore, the Hebrews found it necessary
to bring their offerings, although—as you
must know—some of their offerings might be altered.

As for the matter of the vow—discussed
above—it may be such that if one shifts
to other matter, one commits no sin.

But let none shift the burden on his shoulder
through his own judgment, without waiting for
the turning of the white and yellow keys;

and let him see that any change is senseless,
unless the thing one sets aside can be
contained in one’s new weight, as four in six.

Thus, when the matter of a vow has so
much weight and worth that it tips every scale,
no other weight can serve as substitute.

Let mortals never take a vow in jest;
be faithful and yet circumspect, not rash
as Jephthah was, in offering his first gift;

he should have said, ‘I did amiss,’ and not
done worse by keeping faith. And you can find
that same stupidity in the Greeks’ chief—

when her fair face made Iphigenia grieve
and made the wise and made the foolish weep
for her when they heard tell of such a rite.

Christians, proceed with greater gravity:
do not be like a feather at each wind,
nor think that all immersions wash you clean.

You have both Testaments, the Old and New,
you have the shepherd of the Church to guide you;
you need no more than this for your salvation.

If evil greed would summon you elsewhere,
be men, and not like sheep gone mad, so that
the Jew who lives among you not deride you!

Do not act like the foolish, wanton lamb
that leaves its mother’s milk and, heedless, wants
to war against—and harm—its very self!”

These words of Beatrice I here transcribe;
and then she turned—her longing at the full—
to where the world is more alive with light.

Her silence and the change in her appearance
imposed a silence on my avid mind,
which now was ready to address new questions;

and even as an arrow that has struck
the mark before the bow—cord comes to rest,
so did we race to reach the second realm.

When she had passed into that heaven’s light,
I saw my lady filled with so much gladness
that, at her joy, the planet grew more bright.

And if the planet changed and smiled, what then
did I—who by my very nature am
given to every sort of change—become?

As in a fish—pool that is calm and clear,
the fish draw close to anything that nears
from outside, if it seems to be their fare,

such were the far more than a thousand splendors
I saw approaching us, and each declared:
“Here now is one who will increase our loves.”

And even as each shade approached, one saw,
because of the bright radiance it sent forth,
the joyousness with which that shade was filled.

Consider, reader, what your misery
and need to know still more would be if, at
this point, what I began did not go on;

and you will—unassisted—feel how I
longed so to hear those shades narrate their state
as soon as they appeared before my eyes.

“O you born unto gladness, whom God’s grace
allows to see the thrones of the eternal
triumph before your war of life is ended,

the light that kindles us is that same light
which spreads through all of heaven; thus, if you
would know us, sate yourself as you may please.”

So did one of those pious spirits speak
to me. And Beatrice then urged: “Speak, speak
confidently; trust them as you trust gods.”

“I see—plainly—how you have nested in
your own light; see—you draw it from your eyes—
because it glistens even as you smile;

but I do not know who you are or why,
good soul, your rank is in a sphere concealed
from mortals by another planet’s rays.”

I said this as I stood turned toward the light
that first addressed me; and at this, it glowed
more radiantly than it had before.

Just as the sun, when heat has worn away
thick mists that moderate its rays, conceals
itself from sight through an excess of light,

so did that holy form, through excess gladness,
conceal himself from me within his rays;
and so concealed, concealed, he answered me

even as the next canto is to sing.

“IF in the heat of love I flame upon thee
Beyond the measure that on earth is seen,
So that the valour of thine eyes I vanquish,

Marvel thou not thereat; for this proceeds
From perfect sight, which as it apprehends
To the good apprehended moves its feet.

Well I perceive how is already shining
Into thine intellect the eternal light,
That only seen enkindles always love;

And if some other thing your love seduce,
‘Tis nothing but a vestige of the same,
Ill understood, which there is shining througe.

Thou fain wouldst know if with another service
For broken vow can such return be made
As to secure the soul from further claim.”

This Canto thus did Beatrice begin;
And, as a man who breaks not off his speech,
Continued thus her holy argument:

“The greatest gift that in his largess God
Creating made, and unto his own goodness
Nearest conformed, and that which he doth prize

Most highly, is the freedom of the will,
Wherewith the creatures of intelligence
Both all and only were and are endowed.

Now wilt thou see, if thence thou reasonest,
The high worth of a vow, if it he made
So that when thou consentest God consents:

For, closing between God and man the compact,
A sacrifice is of this treasure made,
Such as I say, and made by its own act.

What can be rendered then as compensation ?
Think’st thou to make good use of what thou’st offered,
With gains ill gotten thou wouldst do good deed.

Now art thou certain of the greater point;
But because Holy Church in this dispenses,
Which seems against the truth which I have shown thee,

Behoves thee still to sit awhile at table,
Because the solid food which thou hast taken
Requireth further aid for thy digestion.

Open thy mind to that which I reveal,
And fix it there within; for ’tis not knowledge,
The having heard without retaining it.

In the essence of this sacrifice two things
Convene together; and the one is that
Of which ’tis made, the other is the agreement.

This last for evermore is cancelled not
Unless complied with, and concerning this
With such precision has above been spoken.

Therefore it was enjoined upon the Hebrews
To offer still, though sometimes what was offered
Might be commuted, as thou ought’st to know.

The other, which is known to thee as matter,
May well indeed be such that one errs not
If it for other matter be exchanged.

But let none shift the burden on his shoulder
At his arbitrament, without the turning
Both of the white and of the yellow key;

And every permutation deem as foolish,
If in the substitute the thing relinquished,
As the four is in six, be not contained.

Therefore whatever thing has so great weight
In value that it drags down every balance,
Cannot be satisfied with other spending.

Let mortals never take a vow in jest;
Be faithful and not blind in doing that,
As Jephthah was in his first offering,

Whom more beseemed to say, ‘I have done wrong,
Than to do worse by keeping; and as foolish
Thou the great leader of the Greeks wilt find,

Whence wept Iphigenia her fair face,
And made for her both wise and simple weep,
Who heard such kind of worship spoken of.’

Christians, be ye more serious in your movements;
Be ye not like a feather at each wind,
And think not every water washes you.

Ye have the Old and the New Testament,
And the Pastor of the Church who guideth you
Let this suffice you unto your salvation.

If evil appetite cry aught else to you,
Be ye as men, and not as silly sheep,
So that the Jew among you may not mock you.

Be ye not as the lamb that doth abandon
Its mother’s milk, and frolicsome and simple
Combats at its own pleasure with itself.”

Thus Beatrice to me even as I write it;
Then all desireful turned herself again
To that part where the world is most alive.

Her silence and her change of countenance
Silence imposed upon my eager mind,
That had already in advance new questions;

And as an arrow that upon the mark
Strikes ere the bowstring quiet hath become,
So did we speed into the second realm.

My Lady there so joyful I beheld,
As into the brightness of that heaven she entered,
More luminous thereat the planet grew;

And if the star itself was changed and smiled,
What became I, who by my nature am
Exceeding mutable in every guise!

As, in a fish—pond which is pure and tranquil,
The fishes draw to that which from without
Comes in such fashion that their food they deem it;

So I beheld more than a thousand splendours
Drawing towards us, and in each was heard:
“Lo, this is she who shall increase our love.”

And as each one was coming unto us,
Full of beatitude the shade was seen,
By the effulgence clear that issued from it.

Think, Reader, if what here is just beginning
No farther should proceed, how thou wouldst have
An agonizing need of knowing more;

And of thyself thou’lt see how I from these
Was in desire of hearing their conditions,
As they unto mine eyes were manifest.

“O thou well—born, unto whom Grace concedes
To see the thrones of the eternal triumph,
Or ever yet the warfare be abandoned’

With light that through the whole of heaven is spread
Kindled are we, and hence if thou desirest
To know of us, at thine own pleasure sate thee.”

Thus by some one among those holy spirits
Was spoken, and by Beatrice: “Speak, speak
Securely, and believe them even as Gods.”

“Well I perceive how thou dost nest thyself
In thine own light, and drawest it from thine eyes,
Because they coruscate when thou dost smile,

But know not who thou art, nor why thou hast,
Spirit august, thy station in the sphere
That veils itself to men in alien rays.”

This said I in direction of the light
Which first had spoken to me; whence it became
By far more lucent than it was before.

Even as the sun, that doth conceal himself
By too much light, when heat has worn away
The tempering influence of the vapours dense,

By greater rapture thus concealed itself
In its own radiance the figure saintly,
And thus close, close enfolded answered me

In fashion as the following Canto sings.