Paradiso -- Canto XXII

Contemplatives, Saint Benedict






















31 The voice is that of Saint Benedict (480-543) who founded the monastery of Monte Cassino and who drew up the rules of worship and life on which Western monasticism is based.










49 Macarius is most likely the Younger of Alexandria (d. 404) who established monastic rule in the East. Romualdus of Ravenna (d. 1027?), a member of the Onesti family, founded the reformed-Benedictine monastery of Camaldoli in the Casentino outside Florence.











70 Saint Benedict refers to the passage in Genesis 18:12.











88 In Acts 3:6, Peter states that neither gold nor silver were important in his community, while Benedict's order was based on fasts and prayers, and Saint Francis' on humility.














111 Gemini, the sign after Taurus the Bull. is the constellation under which Dante was born. It is again the Twins of line 151.


















139 The Moon is the daughter of Latona.


143 The son of Hyperion is the Sun; Maia is the mother of Mercury and Dione the mother of’ Venus. Jove is Jupiter; Mars is his son and Saturn his father (l. 146).

          Struck with amazement, I turned to my guide,
          Like a small child that always runs back where
          The person it trusts most is to be found.
          And she, like a mother who is quick to calm
5         Her pale and panting son with her soft voice
          Which often reassures him, said to me,
          "Do you not know that you are now in heaven?
          Do you not know that heaven is all holy,
          And that what is done here springs from true zeal?
10       "Now you can comprehend how they by song
          And I by smiling would have changed your soul,
          When just this shout has moved you so profoundly.
          "By this cry, had you understood their prayers,
          You might have known already of the vengeance
15       Which you shall see down there before you die.
          "The sword of heaven does not cut in haste
          Nor strike too late, except in the opinion
          Of those who wait in fear or longing for it.
          "But turn now to the others gathered here,
20       For you will notice many famous spirits,
          If you direct your gaze as I instruct you."
          Just as she pleased, I turned my eyes and saw
          A hundred little spheres which all together
          Made themselves beautiful with rays they shared.
25       I stood as someone curbing in himself
          The prick of his desire, who does not dare
          To question, he so dreads to overdo.
          And the most brilliant and magnificent
          Of those bright pearls came forward from its cluster
30       To make content my wish concerning it.
          Then I heard from within it, "Could you see,
          As I can see, the love that burns among us,
          You would have found expression for your thoughts.
          "But that more waiting may not hold you from
35       Your goal on high, I will make my response,
          Just to the thought that you keep to yourself.
          "The mountain on whose slope Cassino lies,
          Was, on its summit, visited of old
          By a deluded and perverted people,
40       "And I am he who was the first to carry
          Up there the name of Him who brought to earth
          The truth that lifts us up so loftily,
          "And such abundant grace shone down on me
          That I led the surrounding towns away
45       From impious cults which have seduced the world.
          "These other flames were all contemplatives
          Enkindled by the heat which brings to birth
          The sanctifying flowers and their fruits.
          "Here is Macarius, here is Romualdus,
50       Here are my brothers who kept steadfast hearts
          And planted their feet within the cloister walls."
          And I told him, "The affection you display
          In speaking to me, and the kindliness
          That I observe in every glowing spirit,
55       "Have made my confidence spread as the sun
          Opens the rose when it becomes full-blown
          And its heart swells with fresh capacity.
          "I therefore beg you, father, to assure me,
          If I am able to obtain such grace,
60       That I may look upon your unveiled figure."
          He then said, "Brother, your exalted longing
          Shall be fulfilled up in the final sphere
          Where mine and all desires are fulfilled.
          "There every wish is perfect, ripe, and whole.
65        There only, in that highest point of heaven,
          Is every part where it has always rested.
          "That sphere is not in space, it has no pole,
          And our bright ladder reaches up to it
          So far that it must vanish from your view.
70      "The patriarch Jacob saw it stretching
          To its top rung, when it appeared to him
          Thronged full of angels pressing up and down.
          "But no one now lifts his foot from the ground
          To climb it, and my rule is left there like
75       Waste scraps of paper to be tossed aside.
          "The walls which formerly enclosed an abbey
          Now house a den of thieves, and the monks’ cowls
          Are sacks stuffed to the brim with rotten flour.
          "But even heavy usury violates less
80       Against God’s pleasure than the tempting fruit
          That makes the hearts of monks so mad for it,
          "For what the Church possesses is for all
          The people who request it in God’s name,
          Not for relations or others who are worse.
85       "The flesh of mortal creatures is so soft
          That good beginnings on earth will not last
          From seeding of the oak to acorn-bearing.
          "Peter began his movement without gold
          Or silver; I mine, with prayers and fasting;
90       Francis his, with pure humility:
          "And if you look at each of their beginnings,
          And then look back again to where it strayed,
          You will see that the white has turned to black.
          "Yet, Jordan driven back against its course
95       And the Red Sea divided, when God willed,
          Would be less wondrous sights than help is here."
          These words he said to me, and then rejoined
          His company, and the company closed ranks.
          Then like a whirlwind they were all swooped up.
100      My own sweet lady, simply with a sign,
          Thrust me on up the ladder after them,
          My nature was so vanquished by her power.
          Never on earth, where we descend and climb
          By nature’s law, has motion been so rapid
105     That it could be compared to my winged flight.
          As I hope, reader, to return to that
          Solemn triumph for whose sake I often
          Weep for my sins and beat my breast in sorrow:
          You could not put your finger in the fire
110      And pull it out as swiftly as I saw
          The sign that trails the Bull and stood inside it.
          O stars of glory, O light teeming full
          With mighty power from which I obtain
          All of whatever talent I may have,
115      Rising with you and setting with you was
          The Sun that is father of all mortal life,
          When first I felt the air of Tuscany,
          And when the grace was granted then to me
          To enter the high sphere that wheels you round,
120     Your region was the one assigned to me!
          To you my soul devotedly now sighs
          That she may gain the influencing power
          For the hard pass which draws her to itself.
          "You are so close now to the final solace,"
125      Beatrice began, "that it is necessary
          For your eyes to be vigilant and clear.
          "And so, before you go in any farther,
          Look down and see how vast a universe
          I have already set beneath your feet,
130     "So that your heart, rejoicing to the full,
          May present itself to the triumphant throng
          Which comes with joy through this ethereal zone."
          I traveled back in gazing down through all
          The seven spheres, and then I saw this globe
135      So paltry that I smiled at its appearance.
          And that opinion I approve as best
          Which holds the earth as least, and he whose thought
          Is elsewhere may be named as truly upright.
          I saw the daughter of Latona glowing
140     Without that shadow which was once the reason
          Why I believed that she was rare and dense.
          I there sustained the bright face of your son,
          Hyperion; and, Maia and Dione,
          I saw your children circling close to him.
145     Then I observed Jove’s tempering between
          His son and father, and I clearly saw
          The variations they make in their orbits.
          And all the seven spheres displayed to me
          How grand they are and how swift in their motion
150     And how apart in distance from each other.
          As I revolved with the eternal Twins,
          I saw revealed from hills to river outlets
          The threshing-floor that makes us so ferocious.
          Then my eyes turned back to the eyes of beauty.
arrowleft_anie.gif (690 bytes) return to Paradiso XXI


go to Paradiso XXIII arrowright_anie.gif (691 bytes)