The Divine Comedy: Paradise, by Dante Alighieri

CANTO XXIX

No longer than what time Latona’s twins

Cover’d of Libra and the fleecy star,

Together both, girding the’ horizon hang,

In even balance from the zenith pois’d,

Till from that verge, each, changing hemisphere,

Part the nice level; e’en so brief a space

Did Beatrice’s silence hold. A smile

Bat painted on her cheek; and her fix’d gaze

Bent on the point, at which my vision fail’d:

When thus her words resuming she began:

“I speak, nor what thou wouldst inquire demand;

For I have mark’d it, where all time and place

Are present. Not for increase to himself

Of good, which may not be increas’d, but forth

To manifest his glory by its beams,

Inhabiting his own eternity,

Beyond time’s limit or what bound soe’er

To circumscribe his being, as he will’d,

Into new natures, like unto himself,

Eternal Love unfolded. Nor before,

As if in dull inaction torpid lay.

For not in process of before or aft

Upon these waters mov’d the Spirit of God.

Simple and mix’d, both form and substance, forth

To perfect being started, like three darts

Shot from a bow three-corded. And as ray

In crystal, glass, and amber, shines entire,

E’en at the moment of its issuing; thus

Did, from th’ eternal Sovran, beam entire

His threefold operation, at one act

Produc’d coeval. Yet in order each

Created his due station knew: those highest,

Who pure intelligence were made: mere power

The lowest: in the midst, bound with strict league,

Intelligence and power, unsever’d bond.

Long tract of ages by the angels past,

Ere the creating of another world,

Describ’d on Jerome’s pages thou hast seen.

But that what I disclose to thee is true,

Those penmen, whom the Holy Spirit mov’d

In many a passage of their sacred book

Attest; as thou by diligent search shalt find

And reason in some sort discerns the same,

Who scarce would grant the heav’nly ministers

Of their perfection void, so long a space.

Thus when and where these spirits of love were made,

Thou know’st, and how: and knowing hast allay’d

Thy thirst, which from the triple question rose.

Ere one had reckon’d twenty, e’en so soon

Part of the angels fell: and in their fall

Confusion to your elements ensued.

The others kept their station: and this task,

Whereon thou lookst, began with such delight,

That they surcease not ever, day nor night,

Their circling. Of that fatal lapse the cause

Was the curst pride of him, whom thou hast seen

Pent with the world’s incumbrance. Those, whom here

Thou seest, were lowly to confess themselves

Of his free bounty, who had made them apt

For ministries so high: therefore their views

Were by enlight’ning grace and their own merit

Exalted; so that in their will confirm’d

They stand, nor feel to fall. For do not doubt,

But to receive the grace, which heav’n vouchsafes,

Is meritorious, even as the soul

With prompt affection welcometh the guest.

Now, without further help, if with good heed

My words thy mind have treasur’d, thou henceforth

This consistory round about mayst scan,

And gaze thy fill. But since thou hast on earth

Heard vain disputers, reasoners in the schools,

Canvas the’ angelic nature, and dispute

Its powers of apprehension, memory, choice;

Therefore, ’t is well thou take from me the truth,

Pure and without disguise, which they below,

Equivocating, darken and perplex.

“Know thou, that, from the first, these substances,

Rejoicing in the countenance of God,

Have held unceasingly their view, intent

Upon the glorious vision, from the which

Naught absent is nor hid: where then no change

Of newness with succession interrupts,

Remembrance there needs none to gather up

Divided thought and images remote

“So that men, thus at variance with the truth

Dream, though their eyes be open; reckless some

Of error; others well aware they err,

To whom more guilt and shame are justly due.

Each the known track of sage philosophy

Deserts, and has a byway of his own:

So much the restless eagerness to shine

And love of singularity prevail.

Yet this, offensive as it is, provokes

Heav’n’s anger less, than when the book of God

Is forc’d to yield to man’s authority,

Or from its straightness warp’d: no reck’ning made

What blood the sowing of it in the world

Has cost; what favour for himself he wins,

Who meekly clings to it. The aim of all

Is how to shine: e’en they, whose office is

To preach the Gospel, let the gospel sleep,

And pass their own inventions off instead.

One tells, how at Christ’s suffering the wan moon

Bent back her steps, and shadow’d o’er the sun

With intervenient disk, as she withdrew:

Another, how the light shrouded itself

Within its tabernacle, and left dark

The Spaniard and the Indian, with the Jew.

Such fables Florence in her pulpit hears,

Bandied about more frequent, than the names

Of Bindi and of Lapi in her streets.

The sheep, meanwhile, poor witless ones, return

From pasture, fed with wind: and what avails

For their excuse, they do not see their harm?

Christ said not to his first conventicle,

‘Go forth and preach impostures to the world,’

But gave them truth to build on; and the sound

Was mighty on their lips; nor needed they,

Beside the gospel, other spear or shield,

To aid them in their warfare for the faith.

The preacher now provides himself with store

Of jests and gibes; and, so there be no lack

Of laughter, while he vents them, his big cowl

Distends, and he has won the meed he sought:

Could but the vulgar catch a glimpse the while

Of that dark bird which nestles in his hood,

They scarce would wait to hear the blessing said.

Which now the dotards hold in such esteem,

That every counterfeit, who spreads abroad

The hands of holy promise, finds a throng

Of credulous fools beneath. Saint Anthony

Fattens with this his swine, and others worse

Than swine, who diet at his lazy board,

Paying with unstamp’d metal for their fare.

“But (for we far have wander’d) let us seek

The forward path again; so as the way

Be shorten’d with the time. No mortal tongue

Nor thought of man hath ever reach’d so far,

That of these natures he might count the tribes.

What Daniel of their thousands hath reveal’d

With finite number infinite conceals.

The fountain at whose source these drink their beams,

With light supplies them in as many modes,

As there are splendours, that it shines on: each

According to the virtue it conceives,

Differing in love and sweet affection.

Look then how lofty and how huge in breadth

The’ eternal might, which, broken and dispers’d

Over such countless mirrors, yet remains

Whole in itself and one, as at the first.”

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