Divine Comedy: Novel Summary: Paradiso section 19- Paradiso section 23
Paradiso section 19: Still in the Sphere of Jupiter, the spirits forming the emblem of the eagle speak to Dante in unison. The eagle symbol states that it left piety and justice on Earth. When Dante asks for clarification, the spirits state that divine justice is so complex that not even Lucifer could understand it. Man, therefore, cannot hope to comprehend divine justice. Dante wonders how it is just that a man in India who has never heard of Christ could be denied a spot in Heaven. The eagle retorts that men can only accept the authority of the Scriptures to understand such issues. However, the eagle also explains that some non-Christians will find themselves closer to God on Judgment Day than will Christians who committed horrible sins. The eagle concludes by berating evil rulers.
Paradiso section 20: The spirits in the Sphere of Jupiter sing a glorious song then turn back to their discourse with Dante. The eagle reveals that the most honored spirits form the eye of the eagle. David stands at the very center of the eye while other great heroes such as Emperor Trajan, Hezekiah, Emperor Constantine, William II of Sicily, and Ripheus surround the eye. The eagle reads Dante's confusion about the fact that two pagans, Trajan and Ripheus, occupy such honored positions. The eagle explains that St. Gregory pulled Trajan out of Limbo through his prayers and that Ripheus knew about the coming of Christ and, believing in Christ, was baptized by the Christian virtues: faith, love, and hope. The eagle admonishes mortals for coming to hasty judgments while the souls of Trajan and Ripheus glow with pleasure.
Paradiso section 21: Beatrice's incredible beauty indicates to Dante that they have ascended to the Sphere of Jupiter. Dante sees a golden ladder upon which spirits move up and down. Dante asks one approaching spirit to explain why there is no singing in the sphere. The spirit responds that Dante's mortal ears cannot hear the singing and that he has descended down the ladder to make Dante happy. Dante asks why this spirit was nominated to greet him. The spirit glows and spins with glee because "Light from the Deity descends on [him]." However, the spirit cannot fathom why he was chosen to meet Dante and he urges Dante to tell mortals not to bother trying to resolve questions of predestination and other divine mysteries. The spirit identifies himself as St. Peter Damian and tells his holy story. St. Peter Damian concludes his discourse with a strong censure of degenerate prelates. Other spirits descend the ladder and join Damian in a clamorous shout that overcomes Dante.
Paradiso section 22: Beatrice explains that the thunderous shout of the spirits expresses the admonishment of the clergy for its deterioration. A brilliant light among the spirits on the ladder speaks to Dante. The spirit belonging to St. Benedict relates the story of how he founded a Benedictine monastery in Monte Cassino. He then points out two other spirits that devoted their lives to contemplation, St. Maccarius and St. Romualdus. Dante begs to see Benedict in his physical form and the saint replies that his wish can only be granted when he ascends to the highest level of Heaven. Benedict then rails against the current monastic life, calling monasteries "dens of thieves." Benedict then returns to his fellow spirits who mount the ladder in unison. Dante and Beatrice follow the saints up the ladder and arrive in the House of Gemini (Dante's own Zodiac sign). Dante turns to look downward and takes pleasure in how small and insignificant the Earth appears. After admiring the beautiful planets that circle below him, Dante turns his gaze to Beatrice once again.
Paradiso section 23: As Beatrice and Dante ascend to the Sphere of the Fixed Stars, Beatrice, her face aflame, gazes expectantly toward Heaven. As Dante's beloved announces the approach of Christ, Dante notices a great light surrounded by numerous smaller lights in the distance. At first Dante must lower his eyes from the shocking brilliance but with a smile that sends Dante into ecstasy, Beatrice urges her companion to view the divine scene. Dante sees the light of Christ rise above him, the Rose (Empyrean) that represents Mary, and the lilies that represent the apostles. A spinning light, representing Gabriel, circles the Rose and fills the air with sweet hymns devoted to Mary. Mary follows Christ's light to heights beyond Dante's perception. As she rises, spirits sing their adoration and call out her name. In praise of the righteous apostles, Dante exclaims, "Oh, in those richest coffers, what abundance is garnered up for those who, while below, on earth, were faithful workers when they sowed! Here do they live, delighting in the treasure they earned with tears in Babylonian exile, where they had no concern for gold. Here, under the high Son of God and Mary, together with the ancient and the new councils, he triumphs in his victory-he who is keeper of the keys of gold."