How we cite our quotes:
[Folco of Marseille to Dante]: Your city, which was planted by that one
who was the first to turn against his Maker,
the one whose envy cost us many tears –
produces and distributes the damned flower
that turns both sheep and lambs from the true course,
for of the shepherd it has made a wolf.
For this the Gospel and the great Church Fathers
are set aside and only the Decretals
are studied – as their margins clearly show.
On these the pope and cardinals are intent.
Their thoughts are never bent on Nazareth,
where Gabriel's open wings were reverent." (Par. IX, 127-138)
Folco accuses the Florentine "Church Fathers" of studying incorrectly. Like the rest of the corrupt Florentine population, they suffer from the sin of pride. They study "only the Decretals" (Church decrees which they themselves created) and ignore the true Scripture from which they can learn, "the Gospel" and Nazareth (Christ himself).
[St. Thomas to Dante]: "Take what I said with this distinction then;
in that way it accords with what you thought
of the first father and of our Beloved.
And let this weigh as lead to slow your steps,
to make you move as would a weary man
to yes or no when you do not see clearly;
whether he would affirm or would deny,
he who decides without distinguishing
must be among the most obtuse of men;
opinion – hasty – often can incline
to the wrong side, and then affection for
one's own opinion beings, confines the mind.
Far worse than uselessly he leaves the shore
(more full of error than he was before)
who fishes for the truth but lacks the art." (Par. XIII, 109-123)
St. Thomas warns Dante, "Slow your steps…to yes or no when you do not see clearly." This is a warning not to jump to conclusions when one doesn't fully understand a given topic. Since St. Thomas appears in the sphere of the sun, where the wise souls gather, it makes sense that he urges Dante to make sure he can distinguish things properly in his mind before forming an opinion. Otherwise, "he who decides without distinguishing / must be among the most obtuse of men." Uninformed and hasty opinion – to St. Thomas – is the most ignorant of all things.
[The Eagle]: "He who gleams in the center, my eye's pupil –
he was the singer of the Holy Spirit,
who bore the ark from one town to another;
now he has learned the merit will can earn –
his song had not been spurred by grace alone,
but his own will, in part, had urged him on.
Of those five flames that, arching form my brow,
he who is nearest to my beak is one
who comforted the widow for her son;
now he has learned the price one pays for not
following Christ, through his experience
of this sweet life and of its opposite.
And he whose place is next on the circumference
of which I speak, along the upward arc,
delayed his death through truthful penitence;
now he has learned that the eternal judgment
remains unchanged, though worthy prayer below
makes what falls due today take place tomorrow.
The next who follows – one whose good intention
bore evil fruit – to give place to the Shepherd,
with both the laws and me, made himself Greek;
now he has learned that, even though the world
be ruined by the evil that derives
from his good act, that evil does not harm him.
He whom you see – along the downward arc –
was William, and the land that mourns his death,
for living Charles and Frederick, now laments;
now he has learned how Heaven loves the just
ruler, and he would show this outwardly
as well, so radiantly visible.
Who in the erring world below would hold
that he who was the fifth among the lights
that formed this circle was the Trojan Ripheus?
Now he has learned much that the world cannot
discern of God's own grace, although his sight
cannot divine, not reach its deepest site." (Par. XX, 37-72)
Here, the Eagle gives six examples of former sinners who learned to reform and are now in the sixth sphere of Heaven. Appropriately, these six souls form the eye of the Eagle, emphasizing the importance of vision in the act of learning. Their education is emphasized here in the repeated "now he has learned" at the beginning of several lines – a literary technique called an anaphora.
The first soul, king David, in penning the Psalms, used his free will to accept God's inspiration, instead of acting as a passive instrument.
Second, he "who comforted the widow for her son" is the Roman emperor Trajan, who learned humility by delaying his journey to right an injustice done to an old woman. But Trajan's true education came in death; he died a pagan but realized his mistake and, for his faith, was allowed to come back into his body, to die again – this time as a converted Christian.
The third soul, who "delayed his death through truthful penitence," was Hezekiah. He repented for his sinful life when the prophet Isaiah told him he would die; he cried and prayed to God, who mercifully granted him fifteen more years of life.
The fourth ruler is Constantine, "whose good intention," the Donation of Constantine (to Pope Sylvester) "bore evil fruit," because the Church abused that money, becoming greedy. But on seeing himself in Heaven upon death, Constantine has learned that further evils were not his fault. Similarly, "William [II of Hauteville]" was a good king but cannot be blamed for the misrule (of Charles of Anjou) under which his lands now suffer.
Finally, the sixth soul, Ripheus – who died before Christ came – was still put in Heaven thanks to his virtuous deeds so he has learned that nobody should dare presume to know the mind of God.