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The wise spirits: St. Thomas Aquinas

The fourth Heaven of Paradise is that of the Sun, symbol of science and knowledge since ancient times, which for this reason houses the wise spirits who benefited from its influence. Like shining lights, these spirits dance and sing in two concentric circles around Dante and Beatrice until one of them approaches the Poet. It is Saint Thomas, Doctor of the Church, one of the pillars of medieval philosophy, who recovered Aristotelian principles within Catholic doctrine. He praises St. Francis and criticizes the faults of his own order, the Dominican friars.

“Between Tupino and the stream that falls

Down from the hill elect of blessed Ubald,

A fertile slope of lofty mountain hangs,

From which Perugia feels the cold and heat

Through Porta Sole, and behind it weep

Gualdo and Nocera their grievous yoke.

From out that slope, there where it breaketh most

Its steepness, rose upon the world a sun

As this one does sometimes from out the Ganges;

Therefore let him who speaketh of that place,

Say not Ascesi, for he would say little,

But Orient, if he properly would speak.

He was not yet far distant from his rising

Before he had begun to make the earth

Some comfort from his mighty virtue feel.

For he in youth his father's wrath incurred

For certain Dame, to whom, as unto death,

The gate of pleasure no one doth unlock;

And was before his spiritual court

'Et coram patre' unto her united;

Then day by day more fervently he loved her.

She, reft of her first husband, scorned, obscure,

One thousand and one hundred years and more,

Waited without a suitor till he came.

Naught it availed to hear, that with Amyclas

Found her unmoved at sounding of his voice

He who struck terror into all the world;

Naught it availed being constant and undaunted,

So that, when Mary still remained below,

She mounted up with Christ upon the cross.

But that too darkly I may not proceed,

Francis and Poverty for these two lovers

Take thou henceforward in my speech diffuse.

Their concord and their joyous semblances,

The love, the wonder, and the sweet regard,

They made to be the cause of holy thoughts;

So much so that the venerable Bernard

First bared his feet, and after so great peace

Ran, and, in running, thought himself too slow.

O wealth unknown! O veritable good!

Giles bares his feet, and bares his feet Sylvester

Behind the bridegroom, so doth please the bride!

Then goes his way that father and that master,

He and his Lady and that family

Which now was girding on the humble cord;

Nor cowardice of heart weighed down his brow

At being son of Peter Bernardone,

Nor for appearing marvellously scorned;

But regally his hard determination

To Innocent he opened, and from him

Received the primal seal upon his Order.

After the people mendicant increased

Behind this man, whose admirable life

Better in glory of the heavens were sung,

Incoronated with a second crown

Was through Honorius by the Eternal Spirit

The holy purpose of this Archimandrite.

And when he had, through thirst of martyrdom,

In the proud presence of the Sultan preached

Christ and the others who came after him,

And, finding for conversion too unripe

The folk, and not to tarry there in vain,

Returned to fruit of the Italic grass,

On the rude rock 'twixt Tiber and the Arno

From Christ did he receive the final seal,

Which during two whole years his members bore.

When He, who chose him unto so much good,

Was pleased to draw him up to the reward

That he had merited by being lowly,

Unto his friars, as to the rightful heirs,

His most dear Lady did he recommend,

And bade that they should love her faithfully;

And from her bosom the illustrious soul

Wished to depart, returning to its realm,

And for its body wished no other bier.

Think now what man was he, who was a fit

Companion over the high seas to keep

The bark of Peter to its proper bearings.

And this man was our Patriarch; hence whoever

Doth follow him as he commands can see

That he is laden with good merchandise.

But for new pasturage his flock has grown

So greedy, that it is impossible

They be not scattered over fields diverse;

And in proportion as his sheep remote

And vagabond go farther off from him,

More void of milk return they to the fold.

Verily some there are that fear a hurt,

And keep close to the shepherd; but so few,

That little cloth doth furnish forth their hoods”.

Paradise, XI, 43-132.

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