DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PARADISE: Chapter 4
CHAPTER 4: More Moonlight
Between two equally enticing meals
an idiot might starve before he chose.
A lamb between two wolves would also doubt 3
which way to turn, or hound between two does.
I hungered after what my guide might say
if asked why Heaven’s justice seemed unkind, 6
but can a man God made doubt God is good?
I feared to ask that question choking me,
but Beatrice, who understood my mind 9
replied at once, “What ties your tongue is this:
how can good vows and wills deserve the less
if broken by another’s wickedness? 12
Your other doubt is astrological.
Plato wrote after death all souls return
to planets ruling them. Did moons decree 15
these nuns’ inconstancy? Both these doubts need
an answer. I will take the second first,
It is most poisonous, so listen hard. 18
No seraphim that is most one with God –
not Abraham, Moses or Samuel –
neither John Baptist or Evangelist – 21
not even Mary in the highest Heaven
is separated from the two you’ve met
although they chose to greet you in this sphere. 24
All share alike in the eternal bliss
according to their soul’s capacity.
To indicate the nature of life here 27
I am compelled to talk to you as if
Heavenly Paradise has social ranks
like those on earth. This is not so, but I 30
can only make the highest things more clear
by speaking of them in the words you know,
although they may mislead. God’s Scriptures say 33
He sees, acts, speaks with eyes, hands, mouth because
only thus men and women can conceive
One seeing with all light, whose deeds are days, 36
whose voices teach in all that can be heard:
thunder and waves, birdsong and whispered speech.
Plato says after death all souls return 39
to stars they left at birth, meaning perhaps
natural forces shape our characters
to some extent. If so this partial truth 42
has misled worshippers of sun and moon,
Venus and Mars, who treat these stars as gods.
Your other doubt can do no mischief here 45
or lose the smallest droplet of my love.
That in your eyes justice seems cruelty
is not a sign of heresy, but faith. 48
By all who know that Jesus Christ is God
doubts can be logically overcome.
doubts can be logically overcome.
Doubt should make faith more sure. The facts are these. 51
No force can make a flame burn upside down
or alter any wholly pure good will,
though force may twist them sideways or depress. 54
To show that torture could not change his mind
Saint Lawrence chose to roast upon a grill
and Mucius compelled his hand to burn. 57
Rare are heroic virtues of that kind.
When stronger forces make good nuns break vows
and leave their cloisters, they are not to blame, 60
yet must feel shame if the strong force withdraws
and she does not return because the rape
has cracked her spirit, left her in the wrong. 63
If that is understood your doubts are solved.
Here is a greater doubt you can’t resolve
without my aid. I told you Piccarba 66
is at the source of truth, so cannot lie.
She said that Constance, forced to be a queen
and breed an emperor, stayed nun at heart. 69
This means she did not linger in the wrong
by choosing to conform with what was forced.
Why was this so? Some sin against their will, 72
thinking to save themselves from something worse.
Alcmaon slew his mother to escape
his father’s curse. Perverse good will enforced 75
is a Hell brew, but brother, know Constance
suffered by violence, but she forced none.
Only goodness came from her suffering, 78
so absolute Good Will took no offence
but the reverse, as Piccarba told you,
and also in these other words do I.” 81
Such were the ripples of that holy stream
whose source was the clear fountain of all truth.
They quenched and satisfied my thirsty soul. 84
I told her, “You who the First Lover loves,
whose speech raises my thinking nearer His
I now see intellects can never rest 87
until at last the One Truth shines on them
and further truth beyond cannot exist.
Doubt is a sturdy tree rooted in truth. 90
Nature demands we fly from branch to branch,
from height to height up to the topmost twig.
Only when that is reached can active mind 93
rest like contented bird inside its nest.
Were that not so then all desire is vain.
Lady, these facts lead to a new request. 96
Could all who fail to act as they have vowed
provide what God requires? Redeem themselves
through other acts of generosity?” 99
The eyes of Beatrice now sparkled bright
with the new interest that lifted me
so far above normality that I
could hardly bear the sight of so much love. 103