The Divine Comedy: Paradise, by Dante Alighieri

CANTO XXIV

“O ye! in chosen fellowship advanc’d

To the great supper of the blessed Lamb,

Whereon who feeds hath every wish fulfill’d!

If to this man through God’s grace be vouchsaf’d

Foretaste of that, which from your table falls,

Or ever death his fated term prescribe;

Be ye not heedless of his urgent will;

But may some influence of your sacred dews

Sprinkle him. Of the fount ye alway drink,

Whence flows what most he craves.” Beatrice spake,

And the rejoicing spirits, like to spheres

On firm-set poles revolving, trail’d a blaze

Of comet splendour; and as wheels, that wind

Their circles in the horologe, so work

The stated rounds, that to th’ observant eye

The first seems still, and, as it flew, the last;

E’en thus their carols weaving variously,

They by the measure pac’d, or swift, or slow,

Made me to rate the riches of their joy.

From that, which I did note in beauty most

Excelling, saw I issue forth a flame

So bright, as none was left more goodly there.

Round Beatrice thrice it wheel’d about,

With so divine a song, that fancy’s ear

Records it not; and the pen passeth on

And leaves a blank: for that our mortal speech,

Nor e’en the inward shaping of the brain,

Hath colours fine enough to trace such folds.

“O saintly sister mine! thy prayer devout

Is with so vehement affection urg’d,

Thou dost unbind me from that beauteous sphere.”

Such were the accents towards my lady breath’d

From that blest ardour, soon as it was stay’d:

To whom she thus: “O everlasting light

Of him, within whose mighty grasp our Lord

Did leave the keys, which of this wondrous bliss

He bare below! tent this man, as thou wilt,

With lighter probe or deep, touching the faith,

By the which thou didst on the billows walk.

If he in love, in hope, and in belief,

Be steadfast, is not hid from thee: for thou

Hast there thy ken, where all things are beheld

In liveliest portraiture. But since true faith

Has peopled this fair realm with citizens,

Meet is, that to exalt its glory more,

Thou in his audience shouldst thereof discourse.”

Like to the bachelor, who arms himself,

And speaks not, till the master have propos’d

The question, to approve, and not to end it;

So I, in silence, arm’d me, while she spake,

Summoning up each argument to aid;

As was behooveful for such questioner,

And such profession: “As good Christian ought,

Declare thee, What is faith?” Whereat I rais’d

My forehead to the light, whence this had breath’d,

Then turn’d to Beatrice, and in her looks

Approval met, that from their inmost fount

I should unlock the waters. “May the grace,

That giveth me the captain of the church

For confessor,” said I, “vouchsafe to me

Apt utterance for my thoughts!” then added: “Sire!

E’en as set down by the unerring style

Of thy dear brother, who with thee conspir’d

To bring Rome in unto the way of life,

Faith of things hop’d is substance, and the proof

Of things not seen; and herein doth consist

Methinks its essence,” — “ Rightly hast thou deem’d,”

Was answer’d: “if thou well discern, why first

He hath defin’d it, substance, and then proof.”

“The deep things,” I replied, “which here I scan

Distinctly, are below from mortal eye

So hidden, they have in belief alone

Their being, on which credence hope sublime

Is built; and therefore substance it intends.

And inasmuch as we must needs infer

From such belief our reasoning, all respect

To other view excluded, hence of proof

Th’ intention is deriv’d.” Forthwith I heard:

“If thus, whate’er by learning men attain,

Were understood, the sophist would want room

To exercise his wit.” So breath’d the flame

Of love: then added: “Current is the coin

Thou utter’st, both in weight and in alloy.

But tell me, if thou hast it in thy purse.”

“Even so glittering and so round,” said I,

“I not a whit misdoubt of its assay.”

Next issued from the deep imbosom’d splendour:

“Say, whence the costly jewel, on the which

Is founded every virtue, came to thee.”

“The flood,” I answer’d, “from the Spirit of God

Rain’d down upon the ancient bond and new, —

Here is the reas’ning, that convinceth me

So feelingly, each argument beside

Seems blunt and forceless in comparison.”

Then heard I: “Wherefore holdest thou that each,

The elder proposition and the new,

Which so persuade thee, are the voice of heav’n?”

“The works, that follow’d, evidence their truth; ”

I answer’d: “Nature did not make for these

The iron hot, or on her anvil mould them.”

“Who voucheth to thee of the works themselves,”

Was the reply, “that they in very deed

Are that they purport? None hath sworn so to thee.”

“That all the world,” said I, “should have been turn’d

To Christian, and no miracle been wrought,

Would in itself be such a miracle,

The rest were not an hundredth part so great.

E’en thou wentst forth in poverty and hunger

To set the goodly plant, that from the vine,

It once was, now is grown unsightly bramble.”

That ended, through the high celestial court

Resounded all the spheres. “Praise we one God!”

In song of most unearthly melody.

And when that Worthy thus, from branch to branch,

Examining, had led me, that we now

Approach’d the topmost bough, he straight resum’d;

“The grace, that holds sweet dalliance with thy soul,

So far discreetly hath thy lips unclos’d

That, whatsoe’er has past them, I commend.

Behooves thee to express, what thou believ’st,

The next, and whereon thy belief hath grown.”

“O saintly sire and spirit!” I began,

“Who seest that, which thou didst so believe,

As to outstrip feet younger than thine own,

Toward the sepulchre? thy will is here,

That I the tenour of my creed unfold;

And thou the cause of it hast likewise ask’d.

And I reply: I in one God believe,

One sole eternal Godhead, of whose love

All heav’n is mov’d, himself unmov’d the while.

Nor demonstration physical alone,

Or more intelligential and abstruse,

Persuades me to this faith; but from that truth

It cometh to me rather, which is shed

Through Moses, the rapt Prophets, and the Psalms.

The Gospel, and that ye yourselves did write,

When ye were gifted of the Holy Ghost.

In three eternal Persons I believe,

Essence threefold and one, mysterious league

Of union absolute, which, many a time,

The word of gospel lore upon my mind

Imprints: and from this germ, this firstling spark,

The lively flame dilates, and like heav’n’s star

Doth glitter in me.” As the master hears,

Well pleas’d, and then enfoldeth in his arms

The servant, who hath joyful tidings brought,

And having told the errand keeps his peace;

Thus benediction uttering with song

Soon as my peace I held, compass’d me thrice

The apostolic radiance, whose behest

Had op’d lips; so well their answer pleas’d.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:58