Sacred Texts  Christianity Index  Divine Comedy Index  Previous: Paradise Canto 3  Next: Paradise Canto 5 

 Canto IV
      While they still continue in the moon, Beatrice removes certain doubts
 which Dante had conceived respecting the place assigned to the blessed, and
 respecting the will absolute or conditional. He inquires whether it is
 possible to make satisfaction for a vow broken.
 Between two kinds of food, both equally
 Remote and tempting, first a man might die
 Of hunger, ere he one could freely chuse.
 E'en so would stand a lamb between the maw
 Of two fierce wolves, in dread of both alike:
 E'en so between two deer a dog would stand.
 Wherefore, if I was silent, fault nor praise
 I to myself impute; by equal doubts
 Held in suspense; since of necessity
 It happen'd. Silent was I, yet desire
 Was painted in my looks; and thus I spake
 My wish more earnestly than language could.
 As Daniel,[1] when the haughty king he freed
 From ire, that spurr'd him on to deeds unjust
 And violent; so did Beatrice then.
 [1: "Daniel." See Dan. ii. Beatrice did for Dante what Daniel did for
 Nebuchadnezzar, when he freed the King from the uncertainty respecting his
 dream, which had enraged him against the Chaldeans. See Hell, Canto xiv.]
 "Well I discern," she thus her words address'd,
 "How thou art drawn by each of these desires;[2]
 So that thy anxious thought is in itself
 Bound up and stifled, nor breathes freely forth.
 Thou arguest: if the good intent remain;
 What reason that another's violence
 [2: His desire to have each of the doubts, which Beatrice mentions,
 Should stint the measure of my fair desert?
 "Cause too thou find'st for doubt, in that it seems,
 That spirits to the stars, as Plato[3] deem'd,
 Return. These are the questions which thy will
 Urge equally; and therefore I, the first,
 Of that[4] will treat which hath the more of gall.[5]
 Of Seraphim[6] he who is most enskied,
 Moses and Samuel, and either John
 Chuse which thou wilt, nor even Mary's self,
 Have not in any other Heaven their seats,
 Than have those spirits which so late thou saw'st;
 Nor more or fewer years exist; but all
 Make the first circle[7] beauteous, diversely
 Partaking of sweet life, as more or less
 Afflation of eternal bliss pervades them.
 Here were they shown thee, not that fate assigns
 This for their sphere, but for a sign to thee
 Of that celestial furthest from the height.
 Thus needs, that ye may apprehend, we speak:
 Since from things sensible alone ye learn
 That, which, digested rightly, after turns
 To intellectual. For no other cause
 The Scripture, condescending graciously
 To your perception, hands and feet to God
 Attributes, nor so means: and holy Church
 Doth represent with human countenance
 Gabriel, and Michael, and him who made
 Tobias whole. Unlike what here thou seest,
 The judgment of Timaeus, who affirms
 Each soul restored to its particular star;
 Believing it to have been taken thence,
 When nature gave it to inform her mold:
 Yet to appearance his intention is
 [3: "Plato." Plato, Timaeus, v. ix. p. 326. "The Creator, when he had
 framed the universe, distributed to the stars an equal number of souls,
 appointing to each soul its several star."]
 [4: "Of that." Plato's opinion.]
 [5: Which is the more dangerous.]
 [6: She first resolves his doubt whether souls do not return to their
 own stars, as he had read in the Timaeus of Plato. Angels, then, and beatified
 spirits, she declares, dwell all and eternally together, only partaking more
 or less of the divine glory, in the empyrean; although, in condescension to
 human understanding, they appear to have different spheres allotted to them.]
 [7: "The first circle." The empyrean.]
 Not what his words declare: and so to shun
 Derision, haply thus he hath disguised
 His true opinion. If his meaning be,
 That to the influencing of these orbs revert
 The honour and the blame in human acts,
 Perchance he doth not wholly miss the truth.
 This principle, not understood aright,
 Erewhile perverted well - nigh all the world;
 So that it fell to fabled names of Jove,
 And Mercury, and Mars. That other doubt,
 Which moves thee, is less harmful; for it brings
 No peril of removing thee from me.
 "That, to the eye of man,[8] our justice seems
 Unjust, is argument for faith, and not
 For heretic declension. But, to the end
 This truth[9] may stand more clearly in your view,
 I will content thee even to thy wish.
 [8: "That the ways of divine justice are often inscrutable to man,
 ought rather to be a motive to faith than an inducement to heresy."]
 [9: "This truth." That it is no impeachment of God's justice, if
 merit be lessened through compulsion of others, without any failure of good
 intention on the part of the meritorious. After all, Beatrice ends by
 admitting that there was a defect in the will, which hindered Constance and
 the others from seizing the first opportunity of returning to the monastic
 "If violence be, when that which suffers, nought
 Consents to that which forceth, not for this
 These spirits stood exculpate. For the will,
 That wills not, still survives, unquench'd, and doth,
 As nature doth in fire, though violence
 Wrest it a thousand times; for, if it yield
 Or more or less, so far it follows force.
 And thus did these, when they had power to seek
 The hallow'd place again. In them, had will
 Been perfect, such as once upon the bars
 Held Laurence[10] firm, or wrought in Scaevola
 To his own hand remorseless; to the path,
 Whence they were drawn, their steps had hasten'd back,
 When liberty return'd: but in too few,
 Resolve, so stedfast, dwells. And by these words,
 If duly weigh'd, that argument is void,
 Which oft might have perplex'd thee still. But now
 [10: Martyr of the third century.]
 Another question thwarts thee, which, to solve,
 Might try thy patience without better aid.
 I have, no doubt, instill'd into thy mind,
 That blessed spirit may not lie; since near
 The source of primal truth it dwells for aye:
 And thou mightst after of Piccarda learn
 That Constance held affection to the veil;
 So that she seems to contradict me here.
 Not seldom, brother, it hath chanced for men
 To do what they had gladly left undone;
 Yet, to shun peril, they have done amiss:
 E'en as Alcmaeon, at his father's[11] suit
 Slew his own mother;[12] so made pitiless,
 Not to lose pity. On this point bethink thee,
 That force and will are blended in such wise
 As not to make the offence excusable.
 Absolute will agrees not to the wrong;
 But inasmuch as there is fear of woe
 From non - compliance, it agrees. Of will[13]
 Thus absolute, Piccarda spake, and I
 Of the other; so that both have truly said."
 [11: "His father's." Amphiaraus.]
 [12: "His own mother." Eriphyle.]
 [13: "Of will." What Piccarda asserts of Constance, that she retained
 her affection to the monastic life, is said absolutely and without relation to
 circumstances; and that, which I affirm, is spoken of the will conditionally
 and respectively: so that "both have truly said."]
 Such was the flow of that pure rill, that well'd
 From forth the fountain of all truth; and such
 The rest, that to my wandering thoughts I found.
 "O thou, of primal love the prime delight,
 Goddess!" I straight replied, "whose lively words
 Still shed new heat and vigour through my soul;
 Affection fails me to requite thy grace
 With equal sum of gratitude: be His
 To recompense, who sees and can reward thee.
 Well I discern, that by that Truth[14] alone
 Enlighten'd, beyond which no truth may roam,
 Our mind can satisfy her thirst to know:
 Therein she resteth, e'en as in his lair
 The wild beast, soon as she hath reach'd that bound.
 And she hath power to reach it; else desire
 [14: The light of divine truth.]
 Were given to no end. And thence doth doubt
 Spring, like a shoot, around the stock of truth;
 And it is nature which, from height to height,
 On to the summit prompts us. This invites,
 This doth assure me, Lady! reverently
 To ask thee of another truth, that yet
 Is dark to me. I fain would know, if man
 By other works well done may so supply
 The failure of his vows, that in your scale
 They lack not weight." I spake; and on me straight
 Beatrice look'd, with eyes that shot forth sparks
 Of love celestial, in such copious stream,
 That, virtue sinking in me overpower'd,
 I turn'd; and downward bent, confused, my sight.