Paradiso -- Canto XI

Aquinas on Saint Francis














19 The speaker is Thomas Aquinas, who, in the previous canto, told Dante of the corrupt Dominicans (ll. 94-96) and Solomon's wisdom (ll. 109-114). The Dominicans he will discuss in this canto, and Solomon in Canto XIII.








35 Saint Francis is identified with the Seraphim, angels of love, and Saint Dominic with the Cherubim, angels of wisdom.




43 Assisi lies between the Topino river and the Chiascio, a river near the hill where Saint Ubaldo (d. 1160) built his hermitage.

47 Porta Sole, eastern gate of Perugia, lets in the heat of summer and the cold of winter. The towns of Gualdo and Nocera also feel the weather on the eastern slope of Mount Subasio.


53 Dante puns on the meaning of Assisi’s old name: Ascesi (which means: "I have risen") and the East (Orient, where the sun rises). The sun and not a mere man has come into the world.

58 Saint Francis (1182-1226), against his father’s ambitions for him, chose poverty for his lady.






69 Amyclas the fisherman was so poor that he had nothing to fear, even from Caesar’s summons.






79 Bernard, Egidius and Sylvester (l. 83) were early followers of Francis.







92 Pope Innocent III gave the Order of Friars Minor his verbal approval in 1210. Official approval came thirteen years later under Honorius III (l. 97).





101 The Sultan of Egypt received Saint Francis in 1219, but was not converted.



106 On Mount Alvernia Saint Francis in 1224 was imprinted with the stigmata of the five wounds of Christ.

          O senseless the concerns of mortal men!
          How empty are the reasonings that force you
          To flap your wings and plunge in downward flight!
          Here one pursues the law, there medicine;
5        Another hurries off into the priesthood,
          And one would rule by fraud or violence!
          This one looks to theft and that to business;
          Another, caught in pleasures of the flesh,
          Wears himself out; one lolls in idleness;
10       While I, delivered from all these concerns,
          Am high in heaven now with Beatrice,
          Made welcome in the glory of the blessed.
          When each one of the spirits had come round
          To that point of the circle that he’d left,
15       Each rested like a candle in its stand.
          And I heard from within that radiance
          Which first addressed me — all the while it smiled
          And grew still brighter — a voice begin to say,
          "Just as in turn I glitter with these rays,
20       So, staring into the Eternal Light,
          I know your thoughts and why you’re thinking them.
          "You’re puzzled and would like me to explain
          My words in open and explicit language
          Aimed at the level of your comprehension,
25       "When I just said, ‘Where fattening is good,’
          And also this: ‘No second ever rose’;
          And here a clear distinction must be made.
          "The Providence that rules over the world
          With counsel in which all created sight
30       Is overcome before it plumb the depths—
          "So that the Bride of him who with loud cries
          Had married her with his own blessed blood
          Might move ahead to meet with her Beloved,
          "Confident in herself and true to him—
35       Sent for her benefit two princes who
          On this side and on that would be her guides:
          "The one was all seraphic in his ardor,
          The other for his wisdom was on earth
          An iridescence of cherubic light.
40       "Of one I shall speak, for in praising one—
          Whichever’s chosen — I will praise them both,
          Because their labors led to one same goal.
          "Between Topino and the stream that pours
          Down from the hill picked by the blest Ubaldo,
45       A fertile slope slants from a soaring mountain
          "Which makes Perugia feel the cold and heat
          Through Porta Sole; and for their heavy yoke
          Gualdo and Nocera weep behind it.
          "From this slope, where its steepness tapers off,
50       A sun has risen up into the world,
          Just as it sometimes rises from the Ganges.
          "Let no one, then, who seeks to name this place
          Speak of Assisi, a word that is too meager,
          But of the East, if he would talk correctly.
55       "He was as yet not too far from his dawning
          When he began to make the earth feel fairly
          Strengthened by the power of his virtue;
          "For he, while still a youth, rushed into battle
          Against his father for a lady to whom,
60       Like death, no one unlocks the door with pleasure.
          "And in the presence of his spiritual court
          Before his father he was wedded to her,
          And after, day by day, loved her more deeply.
          "She, for eleven hundred years and more
65       Bereft of her first husband, scorned, obscure,
          Was left without a wooer till he came.
          "Nor was it any help to her to hear
          That he who frightened the whole world found her,
          With Amyclas, unruffled by his voice.
70       "Nor was there help in having been so steadfast
          And fearless that, when Mary stayed below,
          She mounted up with Christ high on the cross.
          "But not to go on speaking too obscurely,
          Now, from this point, take Francis and Poverty
75       To be the lovers in my long description.
          "Their harmony and look of happiness
          Made love and wonderment and tender glances
          The wellspring of inspired holy thoughts,
          "So that the venerable Bernard first
80       Took off his shoes and ran for such full peace,
          And in his running thought himself too slow.
          "Oh unknown wealthiness! oh fruitful good!
          Egidius goes barefoot, Silvester too,
          Behind the groom, the bride so pleases them!
85       "This father and this master then departs
          With his dear lady and their family
          Already cinctured with the lowly cord:
          "No shame of heart made him bow down his head
          For being Pietro Bernardone’s son,
90       Nor for appearing wondrously despised,
          "But royally he revealed his stern resolve
          To Innocent, and he received from him
          The first seal of approval for his Order.
          "After a poor multitude had swelled
95       Behind this man whose miracle-making life
          Were better sung with hymns in heaven’s glory,
          "The Eternal Spirit through Honorius
          Encircled then the sacred purposes
          Of the chief shepherd with a second crown.
100     "And after that, in thirst for martyrdom,
          Before the haughty presence of the Sultan,
          He preached Christ Jesus and his followers;
          "And when he found the people too unripe
          To be converted — not to waste his efforts—
105      He returned to harvest the Italian fields.
          "Then on a harsh crag between Tiber and Arno
          He received from Christ the last imprinted seal
          Which for two years he bore upon his limbs.
          "When He who’d chosen him for such great good
110     Was pleased to draw him up to the reward
          Which he had earned by making himself little,
          "To his brothers as to his rightful heirs
          He recommended his most precious lady
          And ordered them to love her faithfully;
115      "And from her bosom the illustrious soul
          Chose to depart, returning to the kingdom,
          And for his body wished no other bier.
          "Reflect now what he was who was a worthy
          Colleague to him for keeping Peter’s bark
120     Straight on its course across the open sea.
          "And such was Dominic, our patriarch:
          So you can see that he who follows him
          As he commands transports a priceless cargo.
          "But now his flock has grown so greedy for
125     New tastes in food that it is only found
          Scattered throughout the pasture wilderness.
          "The farther from him his sheep stray afield,
          Remote and vagabond, the emptier
          Of milk are they, returning to the fold.
130     "Some sheep there are indeed that, fearing danger,
          Keep close to the shepherd, but they are so few
          That little cloth can make up all their cowls!
          "Now, if my words have not been indistinct,
          If you have listened to them with attention,
135     And if you call to mind what I have said,
          "Your wish to know is partially fulfilled
          For you will see just how the tree is hacked,
          And you will see the meaning of the charge:
          " ‘Where fattening is good, unless they stray.’ "
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