DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PARADISE: Chapter 12
CHAPTER 12: Of Dominic
And when that holy flame said his last word
the shining chorus circled once again,
and I beheld that now surrounding it 3
a ring of other shining souls revolved.
The outer ring echoed the middle one
in colours of the purest harmony. 6
As sunbursts pierce the clouds after a storm
in double rainbows they enhaloed us,
also in dancing movements and sweet song. 9
And then this festival of light and sound
suddenly paused. From one new vivid heart
came speech. Like compass needle to the pole 12
I turned to that bright soul and heard it say:
“A love of justice forces me to speak
of Dominic. You heard Aquinas say 15
for wisdom he was near the Cherubim.
Because Aquinas, a Dominican,
praised Francis to the height where he belongs 18
it is but right that I, a Franciscan,
equally celebrate Saint Dominic.
Christ made our Church to be God’s force on earth. 21
It ended European Paganism.
Since then its foes have been hypocrisy
(which Francis fought) and heresy. 24
Heads of some well-fed priests had grown so thick
they did not clearly understand Christ’s laws
or know exactly what heresy was. 27
Dominic came to teach these things, and did.
This mighty athlete for the Christian faith,
this hero keen to counteract God’s foes 30
came from a tiny village in Castile
near the Atlantic shore. His mother dreamed
when he was in her womb she bore a dog 33
with flaming torch in mouth to kindle faith,
then his godmother dreamed before baptism
a guiding star was glowing on his brow. 36
She chose a Christian name whose greatest part
is Latin word for master: dominus,
so he became a master gardener 39
tending the vines of Christ. When infant, he
stared at the ground, as often pondering
Christ’s early words, seek for God’s kingdom first. 42
His father’s name, Felici meant delight;
his mother Giovanna’s, grace of God.
Suitable names! Their son became a priest 45
renowned for honesty and industry
not rich by mastery of canon laws
but earning Heaven’s bread: enough to feed 48
his strength by working for the poor and week,
in wasted fields where vines were withering
because they’d been in need of proper care. 51
Then he approached the highest priest of all,
one much less friendly to the upright poor
than better popes who filled that seat before. 54
He did not want wealth left for pious use,
or for a chance to rob from charities
or for a more exulted job. He begged 57
for leave to preach against the erring world
and use both learning and his holy zeal
to combat false beliefs where these prevailed. 60
Permission thus requested was received.
Like torrent pouring down a mountainside
he and his preachers flung themselves upon 63
thickets and undergrowths of heresy,
using most force in scouring up the roots
where they had clung most deep. He is the source 66
of many pure streams watering young shoots
and keeping faith’s Catholic garden green.
Men like Saint Dominic compose the rings 69
shining like double garlands In this sun,
or like two wheels on which our chariot,
the Church, should run when strife is overcome. 72
Both deserve praise that Thomas Aquinas
politely gave Francis before I spoke.
I am the soul of Bonaventura, 75
once head of Francis’ Order who well knew
honour and wealth are traps we can avoid.
I fear that sorrow reaches me in Heaven. 78
My Order now is troubled by a schism
for some now bind themselves to poverty
too painfully for many to endure; 81
some find the right track hard so go too slow
retarding men who walk behind their back.
These shirk our rule; the former narrow it. 84
Read our book carefully and I admit
you will find pages truly written with
I keep those rules of Francis I have vowed, 87
yet foul weeds sprout within our field of corn.
When it is time to bring the harvest in,
how loudly they will shout as they complain 90
of reapers who won’t garner them as grain!
I’ll introduce you to my circle now.
Illuminato and Augustine were 93
first barefoot brethren to become God’s friends.
See Hugh of Paris, theologian;
two Peters next of Troyes and of Spain. 96
The first expounded Bible history,
the Spaniard made the use of logic plain
in twelve small books before elected pope. 99
Now two who preached on sins of royalty –
Nathan rebuked David of Israel,
Empress Eudoxia winced from the tongue 102
of Chrysostom or Golden Mouth who was
Byzantine Patriarch. Andselm came next,
England’s Archbishop representing Rome 105
who argued with its kings; then Donatus,
grammarian and teacher of that art
on which speech, writing, law depend, then next 108
Rabanus the German Latinist and
commentator. Lastly, here at my side
shines Abbot Joachim, who drew divine 111
prophecies from St John’s Apocalypse.
And now I must acknowledge yet again
the splendid courtesy of Aquinas 114
to saintly Francis, my own paladin,
which moved me here to say the good I know
about the equally great Dominic,
who also showed how to live free of sin. 118