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by Dante Alighieri

Paradiso Paradise Canto V: (First Heaven: Sphere of the Moon, Second Heaven: Sphere of Mercury) Summary

  • Beatrice turns to Dante and tells him she can see the light in his eyes and says that anything he finds beautiful is simply a lesser expression of Himself.
  • But then she predicts Dante wants to know if people can make up for their broken promises.
  • Her reasoning goes as follows: God's greatest gift to man is free will. When you promise yourself to God's service (read: becoming a nun), you willingly give up your free will.
  • But it doesn't end there: the Church reserves the right to release people from their vows.
  • Beatrice lays it all out: "Dante," she says, "there are two things you should always remember about a vow: what the vow says and the binding part of the clause. Basically, the second part holds until the first part is fulfilled."
  • But she confides to Dante that there is a loophole. One can change the matter of one's vow (with the Church's okay), but not the binding part. The catch is that the new content of the vow must somehow exceed the original content's worth.
  • When someone makes a vow that has a priceless worth, Beatrice continues, he cannot try to change its contents, because nothing can be more valuable.
  • The lesson is that mortals should not take vows lightly. Beatrice cites Jephthah and Agamemnon as examples.
  • She warns Christians in particular. Just because you're Christian, don't think that making rash promises will erase sins. Instead, read the Bible and obey the Pope.
  • And most of all, "be men, and not like sheep gone mad!" Beatrice means that men should not be like stray lambs, abandoning the mother (the Church) who feeds them; otherwise they will be hurting themselves.
  • Beatrice turns her face towards the light. Since we're already in heaven, she turns towards the highest heaven, Empyrean. And with that, Dante feels both of them flying upwards towards the Second heaven.
  • But Dante isn't fascinated by Beatrice's jetpack-at-will powers, only by her beauty.
  • From his vantage point, Dante can see the thousand inhabitants of the Second heaven gathering around their (his and Beatrice's) glowing figures. He compares them to a bunch of fish in a pool who are drawn to anything remotely new that comes into sight. As each new soul approaches, they declare that this new arrival will "increase their loves."
  • One soul steps forward. He calls Dante the guy "whom God's grace allows to see the thrones of the eternal triumph before your war of life is ended." He tells Dante that the light which shines in him (Dante) is the same light that shines in all the heavenly souls (that of charity) and welcomes him to ask the questions burning in his mind.
  • Dante says, "I can see your brilliant light, but that doesn't tell me who you are or why I can't see you in your real heavenly rank."
  • (Note: None of the souls Dante sees on these various stars are where the blessed truly reside. They all actually live in the highest heaven, the Empyrean, but appear to Dante on different stars according to the nature of their blessedness. So Dante's asking what level of the Empyrean this speaker actually inhabits.)
  • In response, the soul glows even more brightly than before, just like the sun—after burning away the morning mists—shines so brightly that one cannot see its form for its brilliance.
  • Then the soul starts talking. You'll have to read on to the next canto to find out what he says.

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