Monday, March 23, 2020

Paradiso by Dante Alighieri

Paradiso by Dante Alighieri     (translated by Robert and Jean Hollander)



More bountiful was God when He gave Himself,
enabling man to rise again, than if,
in His sole clemency, he had simply pardoned.


Paradiso, is the third and final part of Dante’s epic poem The Divine Comedy, following Inferno and Purgatario. It tells of the final stage of Dante’s journey, in which he is now guided by Beatrice through Paradise.

I expected this to be my favorite of the three; I suppose the reason is obvious, but to be honest, I was underwhelmed at first. Dante himself, I think, felt unequal, as he
…neared the end of all desire

He writes…
          The Beauty that I saw transcends
          all thought of beauty, and I must believe
          that only its maker may savor it all.

And…
          I declare myself defeated at this point
          more than any poet, whether comic or tragic,
          was ever thwarted by a topic in his theme,

And…
          O how scant is speech, too weak to frame my thoughts.
          Compared to what I still recall my words are faint
          to call them “little” is to praise them much.

So, I will allow…it is a subject which cannot be done justice. Notwithstanding, Dante does a superb job, and I was increasingly thrilled as he further unfolds the glories of Paradise.

In my reviews of Inferno and Purgatorio I opined that this work is literature, not Christian doctrine, and therefore I did not pick much at the points where my faith, and my understanding of the scriptures differs from Dante’s.

I’m of the opinion now however, that to call this merely literature is as much a disservice as to call The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo merely a painting, or to call Handel’s Messiah merely music.

This, I think, is something more. Something more than mere literature. I bow to Signore Alighieri for the slight - though, knowing him a bit better now, I believe he would likely beg – “please, praise be to God”

And he makes me forget all my minor complaints, with the following.

Dante, now guided by Beatrice questions why God, would choose to save humanity by Grace, via the atoning work of Christ. Beatrice’s response:

          Your nature, when it sinned in toto
          in its seed, was separated
          from these privileges and from its Eden.

          ‘Nor could they be recovered
          if you consider closely – by any other recourse
          except to ford one of these crossings:

          either that God, in His own clemency,
          had pardoned, or that man, of himself,
          had given satisfaction for his foolish pride.

          Now fix your eyes deep in the abyss
          of the everlasting will of God
          and give your strict attention to my words.

          With his limitations, man could never offer
          satisfaction, for he could not descend as deep
          into humility, by latter-day obedience,

          as, by disobeying, he had thought to rise.
          and this is the reason for which he was denied
          the power of giving satisfaction on his own.

          Thus it was necessary that God in His own ways
          restore man to the fullness of his life
          by the one way, that is, or by both of them.

          But since the deed more gratifies the doer
          the more it shows the goodness
          of the heart from which it springs,

          divine goodness, which puts it imprint
          on the world, was pleased to proceed
          in both its ways to raise you up again.

          Now Between the last night and the first day
          was, or will there be, a deed performed – in the first way
          or the second – so sublime or generous.

          More bountiful was God when He gave Himself,
          enabling man to rise again, than if,
          in His sole clemency, he had simply pardoned.

          All other means fell sort of justice
          save that the Son of God
          should humble Himself by becoming flesh.

My humble commentary on these verses: Man was unique and privileged above all other creation. But man rebelled against God and lost his privileged position, and can be restored by only two means: Man must do something worthy of restoration, or God must restore man by grace and mercy.

Man could do neither, so CHRIST – DID BOTH. Christ the man, lived a life worthy of restoring man, and Christ the Lord, the Son of God, restored humanity by divine will and act, a sacrificial death, providing grace and mercy.

Or as another poet put it, he became...
for sin the double cure

HALLELUJAH!


Finally, have you ever wondered how or why The Divine Comedy, is comedy? A comedy begins with difficulty or dilemma, and ends in satisfaction and justice. The Divine Comedy begins at the gates of Hell, and ends in the Highest Heaven. Obvious now isn’t it?

This satisfies I-4 in the 2020 Classic BINGO Challenge.

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