Yesterday, a friend of mine stopped by and noticed the thick book in my hand, and asked me what I was reading. “Dante’s Paradiso,” I told him. I said “I thought I’d better read something about paradise so I’ll know what to expect.”
In canto 23 of Paradiso, St. Peter asks Dante, “What is faith? The poet answers from scripture: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1-6).”
Dante makes it clear that faith is not a set of dogmas, not even a religious feeling that captivates me now and then, No Dante is pointing to St. Paul who says, “Eye has not seen nor ear heard nor has it entered into anyone’s heart the things God has prepared for those who love Him (ICor 2:9).'” He’s reminding the reader that paradise is everything we hope for.
If we can’t know heaven, and eternal life before our death, then how can Dante write an entire extended essay, an allegory, on it? Far more than a meditation on what heaven might be, Dante shares a vision, his intense experiences in prayer of what paradise is. What he knows of the afterlife, he knows through powerful, personal revelation.
Dante reveals eternal life to us as an environment of incredible love in a universe which is eternally dancing to music and where eternal spirits radiate light. In paradise, the universe is alive with music, and the host of angels and saints are all singing a new song to the Lord. It starts out “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts. Heaven and earth are filled with Your glory! Hosanna in the highest!” Then, new music, new song is created at every moment and the universe echos it all.
Mary is there, the first disciple resurrected. St. Peter with keys to it all shares his faith with the untold millions who have lived and continue to live for Christ in paradise.
Right here I want to stop in admiration of Anthony’ Esolen’s translation of Dante. I love it that the poem in Italian is on the left page and the translation into English on the right side of this three part work. Just to see the Italian verses there increases my pleasure in reading Dante’s words in English. Esolen’s translation itself is wonderful. He makes Dante’s poetry accessible to anyone who loves to read.*
Of course, I didn’t bore my friend with a heady explanation of Dante’s Paradiso and I don’t intend to bore you, either. But, I try to make the prayer of the good thief mine, too: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” I want to hear Him say, ” This day you shall be with me in paradise (Luke 23: 43)”.
You might want to hear Him say the same thing to you, too.
*Anthony Esolen’s translation of the Divine Comedy is available from Amazon in three paperback volumes.