Paradiso Paradise Canto XXXII: (Tenth Heaven: the Empyrean) Summary
Even though Bernard is in rapture gazing at his beloved Mary, he does not forget his duty of teaching Dante. He speaks.
St. Bernard lists a few of the names sitting in the Rose. Beginning with Mary (who closed the wound of original sin which Eve opened), he continues to Eve (kneeling at Mary's feet), then Rachel and Beatrice in the third rank, then Sarah, Rebecca, Judith, and Ruth.
Underneath these women, from the seventh rank down, Hebrew women fill the rest of the seats forming the vertical radius of the rose.
This radius divides the rose in half. On the left side, in which all the seats are filled, sit all the souls who believed in Christ before he came. The right side, which still has a few empty seats, is reserved for those who believed in Christ after he came.
On the other side, opposite from Eve, sits St. John the Baptist. Below him sit St. Francis, St. Benedict, and Augustine.
Going further down, Dante sees another major partition in the rose. In the entire bottom half sit rank upon rank of children – saved for their innocence.
Here, Dante's mind forms a doubt, which St. Bernard immediately catches, but he urges Dante to be silent and just listen. Dante's doubt concerns the ranking of the children. He wonders how innocent children – with no power over their own free will – can be ranked differently?
Bernard explains that nobody in this kingdom finds his or her place by chance; God has reasons for ranking the children as He does, but human minds cannot comprehend the rationale. We must be content with that. Bernard cites the twins Jacob and Esau as proof of God's inscrutable reason; God assigned at His pleasure different hair colors to each child.
Regarding the children, Bernard tells Dante that in the early days, a child's innocence guaranteed his salvation, but that after Christ, a child had to be baptized and circumcised (in the case of boys); otherwise he would be sent to reside in the Limbo portion of Hell.
Now Bernard tells Dante to look upon Mary, whose face is most like Christ's. Dante obeys.
All around her fly angels. The same angel who knelt before her in an earlier canto then hovers before her and sings the "Ave Maria." Inspired, both hosts join in the hymn, their faces growing ever more joyful.
Dante asks Bernard the identity of the angel who seems to flame in front of Mary. The saint responds that this is the angel who carried news of Mary's pregnancy down to her: Gabriel.
Then he continues his lesson, drawing Dante's attention to the occupants of the seats above, whom he calls the "roots of this Rose." On the left is Adam; on the right is St. Peter; to the right of St. Peter is St. John the Evangelist; to Adam's left sits Moses; Anna (mother of Mary) sits opposite Peter. Finally, opposite Adam, sits Lucia.
Now St. Bernard decides time is running out and that they'll stop and try to turn their eyes toward God. But to do that, they must go through Mary.
So St. Bernard turns to Mary and begins praying to her on Dante's behalf.