DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PARADISE: Chapter 5
CHAPTER 5: Free Will and Mercury
“Don’t wonder that in loving warmth I shine
more vividly than mortal eyes can bear.
The light of truth now growing in your mind 3
mirrors the highest good and so is bound
to kindle greater love in me, though since
you loved me as a child you’ve been beguiled 6
by many gleams of truth in lesser things.
You ask me now if souls can be redeemed
by good works when they break a holy vow.” 9
Having begun this chapter with the words
of Beatrice, here follows her reply,
her answer to the things I wished to know. 12
“The greatest gift God gave when he made men
was what is greatest glory in Himself:
free will, a function of intelligence. 15
Only humanity possesses that.
We are the only beasts who worship Him
with rights of sacrifice, with priests and nuns 18
who promise they will do God’s will alone
by sacrificing all their will to Him.
A given sacrifice that’s taken back 21
is ill-got gain, like any other gift
lawlessly repossessed. Can thieves use well
what they have stolen? They are robbers still. 24
Remember that chief point. Though Holy Church
sometimes releases priests and nuns from vows
which seems to contradict the truth I’ve told, 27
regard that as a mouthful of tough meat
to carefully chew over as I speak.
Think hard and you will come to understand 30
a sacrifice has two parts. There is first
promise of gift, and then the given thing.
A promise is not cancelled if not kept. 33
Only the keeping of one wipes it out,
but Jewish law said promises stayed good
if witnesses and parties to the deed 36
agreed upon a substituted gift
of greater value than the promised one.
Our church accepts this law of substitute, 39
but lets no single person use that law
till a just judge, weighing with equal scales,
can demonstrate no fraud or force prevails 42
We Christians should be slow to swear an oath
and having sworn should strive to keep our word,
but not like Jephtha, Agamemnon too, 45
who slaughtered daughters rather than revoke
the hasty, cruel vows that proved them fools.
O Christians, learn to be a steadier folk. 48
We have both Testaments, the Old and New,
and further guidance, for our Holy Church
has shepherds known to every one of you. 51
These should be all we need to save our souls.
Don’t leave your mothers’ milk like silly lambs
who think the world is made for fretful play. 54
Do not be led astray by wicked greed
so any Jew who keeps his rabbi’s laws
can point to you in scornful mockery.” 57
I write these words as Beatrice spoke them
before she looked up longingly to where
the universe was sending down most light. 60
Her silence and her ardent face imposed
a quietness upon my eager will
as, like an arrow striking the bull’s eye 63
before the string impelling it is still,
we sped up to the second sphere, and here
her bliss increased and Heaven brightened too. 66
What did this greater brightness do to me
who am so liable to change? New bliss
left me no words to say more than I saw. 69
As in a calm clear pool the fishes come
expecting food from one upon the rim
I saw a thousand splendours drawing near 72
and heard from each, “Here’s one who brings more love!”
As these souls neared us they appeared more full,
more radiant with shining happiness. 75
Dear reader, if my story ended here,
how eagerly you’d want to know the rest.
I say so to make plain how much I wished 78
to hear about the state these souls possessed.
This happened when a voice addressed me straight.
“O you who, born for virtue, travel here 81
before the warfare of your life is done,
since it is given you to view the thrones
which the eternally triumphant won, 84
ask what you wish and I will answer you.”
“Ask anything you want,” Beatrice cried,
“and trust the answers as if gods replied.” 87
The speaker nestled finely in a glow
that shone from his serenely smiling eyes
I thanked him for his courtesy then said, 90
“Please tell me of yourself and Mercury,
smallest of spheres between the moon and sun,
planet least known because the rays least strong.” 93
Then, like the sun seen through dissolving mist
joy made him brighten till excess of light
prevented seeing him. I heard his words
which sound in the next chapter of my song. 97