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by Dante Alighieri

Paradiso Paradise Canto XII: (Fourth Heaven: Sphere of the Sun) Summary

  • Just as St. Thomas finishes his story, the souls start dancing again in a circle. Suddenly they're surrounded by another circle of dancing souls, so that the two wheel around each other in different directions.
  • Dante compares the two waltzing rings to a double rainbow, one echoing the other, and signaling (as God did to Noah) that the world will never be flooded again.
  • The souls stop dancing an a new soul comes forward. He wants to talk about the other leader, St. Dominic.
  • St. Dominic was born in a place called Calaroga. No sooner was he conceived than his forceful mind gave his mother prophetic powers, so that she saw in a dream a black-and-white dog holding in its mouth a torch which it uses to set the world on fire.
  • Christians saw this as a sign of salvation. (The black and white became Dominic's colors, worn by his followers, and the torch came to symbolize his fiery zeal in preaching.)
  • Because of this dream, his parents gave him a name meaning "God's own" in Latin—Dominic.
  • Dominic was the perfect messenger for Christ because he believed in Christ's "first injunction"—to be poor. Indeed, his nurse often found Dominic praying with his forehead to the ground.
  • In time, Dominic became a gifted teacher and tried to oversee the Church, which was so neglected by its keepers (the clergy). When Dominic saw the Pope, he asked only for the right to preach against heresy. This he did, honoring the father of the same twenty-four spirits in two rings.
  • So great was Dominic's force that he fought to rid the Church of the toughest heretics. And so successful was he, that those thickets eventually became more "streams with which the Catholic / garden has found abundant watering."
  • This soul compares both St. Francis and St. Dominic to wheels on the chariot of the Church. But then he criticizes his own order, the Franciscans, saying that their wheel has gone all moldy on its outer rim. Instead of continuing on its path, the wheel of the Franciscans has started rolling backwards.
  • Finally, the speaker identifies himself as St. Bonaventure. He then introduces the souls who've come in the second ring: Illuminato da Rieti and Augustine of Assisi (two of St. Francis' first followers), Hugh of St. Victor (a mystical theologian), Peter of Spain (a logician), Peter Book-Devourer (an avid reader), Nathan the prophet, Anselm, St. John Chrysostom (an eloquent preacher), Aelius Donatus (a Roman grammarian), Rabanus Maurus (archbishop of Mainz), and Abbott Joachim of Flora.
  • St. Bonaventure finishes with a nod to St. Thomas for speaking so highly of St. Francis.

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