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Dante comes to, and Beatrice coddles him like a concerned mother.
With a comforting voice, she explains that the souls up here are devout, zealous Christians. Now that he's seen how devastating their cries can be, Beatrice asks Dante to try to imagine just how much more dazed he'd be if he actually understood what they said.
Beatrice tell Dante not to worry—the bad popes will get what's coming to them.
Now she tells him to turn towards the gathered spirits because there are some celebrities here. Dante is daunted by the crowd, which he describes as "a hundred little suns," and is too shy to ask a question.
Right on cue, the largest and brightest soul comes forward and speaks.
He says that if Dante could only see how much love they have for him, he wouldn't be afraid to ask his question.
This soul comes from a town called Cassino and he was the first person to carry God's truth up to Montecassino. (Note: this identifies him as St. Benedict, though he also names himself.)
St. Benedict turns toward his fellow souls and explains to Dante that here, everyone is a contemplative who meditated on God in life.
He introduces Macarius (a follower of St. Anthony of Egypt) and Romualadus (founder of the Camadolese order).
Dante replies the St. Benedict's kindness gives him confidence to ask a question: Dante asks if he can see St. Benedict's "human face"?
St. Benedict gently replies with a "no" but says that Dante's desire will be fulfilled in the highest of heaven's spheres. Upon mentioning the Empyrean, Benedict goes into raptures. He raves about how everything is in its proper place there, and how the Empyrean is "not in space, and has no poles." He explains that it is the final ending point of the golden ladder.
St. Benedict continues on the subject of the ladder. Jacob could see to the very top of the ladder where the angels thronged. But now, nobody on earth is worthy of climbing the ladder. He laments that his Benedictine order has gone to waste.
This, of course, morphs into a rant against the corrupt Church. St. Benedict fumes over simonist clerics whose "hearts… [have gone] mad with greed."
After this speech St. Benedict steps back into the crowd, and the souls disappear.
Beatrice then makes a mystic sign, and in a flash, she and Dante fly up the ladder, headed toward the Eighth Heaven.
Beatrice tells Dante that they are so close to the highest heaven that Dante needs to have "vision clear and keen," and she instructs him to look down and see everything he's already overcome. Only then will he be worthy of entering the highest spheres.
Dante gazes downward and sees the dizzying descent of the seven heavenly spheres down to Earth, which looks "scrawny" from this height. Dante has so much contempt for Earth and its sinners that he describes it as "the little threshing floor / that so incites our savagery."
Dante serenely turns his eyes up towards Beatrice.