Paradiso -- Canto XXIV

Saint Peter, Examination of Faith















20 The flame is Saint Peter. His role, with that of Saint James and Saint John, is to examine Dante on his assimilation of the three theological virtues.



















52 From here to the end of the canto is Dante’s profession of faith. Saint Peter will examine the pilgrim on faith: its nature, possession, sources, proof in miracles, and content. Faith is the first of the three theological virtues. Hope and love, the other two, are the subject of the next two cantos.


61  Dante refers to Saint Paul and the Letter to the Hebrews 11:1.











































125 See John 20:1-6. Actually John outran Peter to the tomb on Easter morning and waited for Peter to enter first.

          "O fellowship called to the lavish supper
          Of the blest Lamb who feeds you with such food
          That you are always filled with what you want,
          "Since by the grace of God this man receives
5        A foretaste of what falls from your full table
          Before death sets a limit to his lifetime,
          "Open your mind to his tremendous craving
          And sprinkle him with dew: you drink forever
          Out of the fountain from which his thinking flows."
10       So Beatrice; and those elated spirits
          Formed themselves in spheres around fixed poles,
          Flashing out like comets while they whirled.
          And as wheels turn within the works of clocks,
          So that the largest seems, to the observer,
15       To stand still while the smallest seems to fly,
          Just so those singing rings, to different measures
          Dancing in swift circles and in slow,
          Enabled me to judge their wealth of joy.
          From the one I observed to be the richest
20       I saw burst out a flame so joyful that
          None ever shone with sharper brilliancy.
          And three times it revolved around Beatrice
          With so divine a song, there is no way
          For my imagination to record it:
25       So my pen leaps ahead and shall write nothing,
          Since our imagining, as well as speech,
          Is much too bright to color in such shades.
          "O my holy sister who so devoutly
          Do pray to us, by your own burning love
30      You loosen me from out that lovely sphere!"
          When it had stopped, that fire of blessedness
          Breathed out these words directly to my lady,
          Exactly as I have repeated them.
          And she: "O eternal light of the great man
35       To whom Our Lord entrusted the same keys
          Of wondrous gladness that he brought below,
          "Examine this man on the main and minor
          Points of the faith, just as it pleases you:
          That faith which let you walk upon the sea.
40       "If he loves well and hopes well and believes,
          It is not hidden from you, since you set
          Your sights on where all things are seen reflected.
          "But as this kingdom gained its citizens
          By the true faith, it is good for its glory
45       That he should have the chance to tell of it."
          Much as the graduate readies his defense
          And keeps still till his mentor puts the question,
          To offer proof and not to settle it:
          So I made myself ready with every reason
50       While she was speaking, that I be prepared
          For such a questioner and such profession.
          "Tell me, good Christian, give your declaration:
          What is faith?" With that I raised my forehead
          Up to the light from which these words breathed out.
55       I turned to Beatrice then, and she straightway
          Showed me a sign that I should pour the water
          Out of the inward spring that welled up in me.
          "May the grace which grants me," I began,
          "To make confession to the chief commander
60       Result in my thoughts being rightly stated!"
          And I went on, "Just as the truthful pen
          Of your dear brother wrote about it, father,
          Who, with you, once put Rome on the right road:
          "Faith is the substance of things that are hoped for
65       And the evidence of things that are not seen,
          And this appears to me to be its essence."
          Then I heard, "Your perception is correct,
          If you clearly follow why he placed it first
          With substance and then with evidence."
70       And I in my response: "The profound things
          That here permit me to catch sight of them
          Are so concealed away from eyes down there
          "That they exist there only in belief,
          On which the height of hope is firmly founded;
75       And therefore it is called a basic substance.
          "And we must start our reasoning with belief,
          Without our seeing any more than that;
          And therefore it is known as evidence."
          Then I heard, "If all that is held below
80       As doctrine were so understood by others,
          There would be no place left for clever sophists."
          Those words were breathed out from the burning love
          That then continued, "You have studied soundly,
          For now, the weight and content of this coinage,
85       "But tell me: have you such coin in your purse?"
          To that I: "Yes, I do: so round, so shining,
          That I do not have doubts about its minting."
          Then from the deep light that was blazing there
          These words rang out to me: "This precious jewel
90       And this foundation stone of every virtue,
          "Whence did it come to you?" And I: "The streaming
          Rain of the Holy Spirit that pours down
          On pages of the ancient and new Book
          "Makes such a sharp conclusive syllogism,
95       It proved to me that, by comparison,
          All other demonstrations seem abstruse."
          Then I heard, "These ancient and new propositions
          Which draw you in this way to your conclusion,
          Why do you take them as divinely written?"
100     And I: "The proof that shows the truth to me
          Is in the works that followed: nature never
          For such wonders heated iron nor beat anvil."
          In answer to me: "Tell me, who assures you
          There are such works? The Truth that must be proved
105     — And nothing else — asserts that they were so."
          "If without miracles the whole world turned
          To Christianity," I said, "that miracle
          A hundred times is greater than the rest:
          "For poor and fasting you went in the field
110     To sow the good seed of the plant that once
          Had been a vine and now’s become a bramble."
          This ended, through the spheres the saintly court
          On high resounded "Te Deum," praising God
          With melodies such as they sing up there.
115      And that lord-baron, who examining me
          From branch to branch had drawn me on until
          Already we approached the topmost leaves,
          Again began, "The Grace, which with your mind
          Keeps up a dialogue of love, till now
120     Has opened so your lips to right responses
          "That I approve what has poured out of them;
          But now you must proclaim what you believe,
          And whence these truths came to you for belief."
          "O holy father, spirit who now sees
125     What you believed so strongly, you outran
          Up to the tomb feet younger than your own,"
          I then began, "you want me here to show
          The form of my unhesitating faith,
          And you have also asked to know its cause.
130     "And I reply: I believe in one God,
          Sole and eternal, who, himself unmoving,
          Moves all the heavens by love and desire.
          "And for this faith I have not only proofs
          From physics and from metaphysic theory,
135     But also from the truth that rains down to me
          "Through Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms,
          Through the Evangelists and through all of you
          Who wrote inspired by the Spirit’s fire.
140     "And I believe in three eternal Persons:
          These I believe one essence, one and three,
          So that at once both are and is agree.
          "So many times the teaching of the Gospels
          Stamps upon my mind the mystery
          Of the divinity I now describe.
145      "This is the beginning, this the spark
          That then spreads out into a living flame
          And shines within me like a star in heaven."
          Just as a master, hearing a report
          That pleases him and gladdened by the news,
150     Embraces his servant as soon as he falls silent,
          So, singing joyous blessings down on me,
          The apostolic light, at whose command
          I had confessed, three times wound around me
          When I grew still, my speech had pleased him so!
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