by Dante Alighieri
Paradiso Faith Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Canto.Line). We used Allen Mandelbaum's translation.
[St. Thomas]: "My words did not prevent your seeing clearly
that it was as a king that he had asked
for wisdom that would serve his royal task –
and not to know the number of the angels
on high or, if combined with a contingent,
necesse ever can produce necesse,
or si est dare primum motum esse,
or if, within a semicircle, one
can draw a triangle with no right angle.
Thus, if you note both what I said and say,
by 'matchless vision' it is kingly prudence
my arrow of intention means to strike;" (Par. XIII, 94-105)
Here St. Thomas recounts the story of King Solomon, who had a dream in which God appeared and offered to answer any question he wanted. Wisely, Solomon asked "for wisdom that would serve his royal task," which was how to distinguish between right and wrong – instead of worldly things like long life, wealth, or his enemies' heads. Here in the heaven of the sun (renowned for its wisdom), St. Thomas substitutes these worldly things for intellectual conundrums famous in medieval times. Dante and we (as readers) both learn to see Solomon's faith in asking for "kingly prudence" rather than for unhelpful scraps of information. It is implied that Solomon trusts God knows these things as well, but asks only for practical wisdom.
Then – and he was a joy to hear and see –
that spirit [Cacciaguida] added to his first words things
that were too deep to meet my understanding.
Not that he chose to hide his sense from me;
necessity compelled him; he conceived
beyond the mark a mortal mind can reach.
And when his bow of burning sympathy
was slack enough to let his speech descend
to meet the limit of our intellect,
these were the first words where I caught the sense: (Par. XV, 37-46)
As shown here, the blessed souls naturally speak on a level the human mind cannot comprehend. In his excitement, Cacciaguida unintentionally does this just this. Dante compares his speech to a target "beyond the mark [where] a mortal mind can reach," as if human comprehension were an arrow shot from a faulty bow that can only reach so far. Anything beyond the reach of the arrow must be believed on pure faith or, in this case, until Cacciaguida's "bow of burning sympathy / [is] slack enough to let his speech descend / to meet the limit of our intellect."
[The Eagle]: "Thus it is clear that every lesser nature
is – all the more – too meager a container
for endless Good, which is Its own sole measure.
In consequence of this, your vision – which
must be a ray of that Intelligence
with which all beings are infused – cannot
of its own nature find sufficient force
to see into its origin beyond
what God himself makes manifest to man;
therefore, the vision that your world receives
can penetrate into Eternal Justice
no more than eye can penetrate the sea;
for though, near shore, sight reaches the sea floor,
you cannot reach it in the open sea;
yet it is there, but hidden by the deep." (Par. XIX, 49-63)
The Eagle makes it clear to Dante that God only makes some things "manifest to man" and that man's "ray of…Intelligence" cannot always see things clearly. His metaphor, comparing man's intelligence to a ray of light and all the knowledge of the universe as a "sea" reminds readers of Dante's image of the "mighty sea of being" which is life. Man's "sight [only] reaches the sea floor" "near shore" and cannot see any deeper.