St. Bonaventura – The Seraphic Doctor

In the second circle of the Sun in Dante’s Paradiso, the main voice is the Light of St. Bonaventure (c.1217-1274) – a professor at the University of Paris, and a leader of the Franciscan Order.

In Bonaventure’s main work “The Soul’s Journey into God” we can see several aspects which Dante is using in the Paradiso, f.ex. a description of the final moments of the ascent:

“For no one is in any way disposed for divine contemplation that leads to mystical ecstasy, [..] such desires are enkindled in us in two ways: by an outcry of prayer [..] and by the flash of insight by which the mind turns most directly and intently towards the rays of Light.”
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The Free Will as a Gift

The Freedom to Choose.

One of the main overall intentions of Dante’s Comedy is to show the resulting rewards and punishments according to our exercise of our own Free Will. The concept of Freedom to Choose our actions is central to the whole cosmology of Dante and the Medieval Theology. We are born with certain individual inclinations, but how we relate to these impulses and choose to rationally manage them, is something we can choose – and better so through increased knowledge and education within the intellectual and spiritual domains. In many ways this is Dante’s explicit Project with the Comedy, to provide this education to better equip us how to exercise our Free Will more aligned with our higher aspirations, and also to help us towards the common goal – of Happiness.

In some ways the freedom to deliberate and choose an action might also be seen as what actually constitutes ourselves, that which deepest seen is our soul actively “being” something. And the claim in Dante is that this ability can be nuanced, grown, and guided towards a better understanding – as a crucial element of good life and in a wider sense good communities and cultures. This is in parts also largely motivated by his contemporary times and the fall and corruption of his home town Florence in the late 12 and early 13 hundreds. His efforts to mitigate this downfall is partly aimed at the culture itself, and partly indirectly through the individuals as building blocks of the culture.

The concept and inquiries into the nature of the Free Will is spread throughout the three Realms of the Comedy, but the insistence we meet on the Third Terrace of Mount Purgatory blinded by a thick, black cloud of smoke (symbolic of Wrath), is that the Freedom to Choose is a gift to be cherished and cultivated. And as this learning sinks into the Pilgrim, the black cloud is gradually becoming lighter with sun rays slowly penetrating through it. Without the Will, an Inferno or a Paradiso would not make sense or exist. They represent states of consequences, embedded in the fabric of reality, that we ourselves can freely choose between once we have gained a certain level of understanding of this fabric. And thus the motivation to climb and ascend, might grow even stronger.


Dante’s Glimpse of a Divine Union

The Dream in Chapter 9.

In the ninth canto of the Purgatory there is a prophetic passage where Dante is having his first dream during the first night, of being hunted down from above by an Eagle and lifted up into The Fire. There they both burn and the intensity makes the Pilgrim wake up, partly in fear.

The literal explanation that is then given by Virgil is that the Pilgrim has been lifted up from the Valley of Princes and up to the Gate of Purgatory by St. Lucia while he was sleeping, but there is also a much deeper symbolism in this passage, one which has been interpreted in several different ways in the various commentaries of the Divine Comedy.

After a correspondence with Professor Raffaele Giglio at the Department of Italian Literature at the University of Napoli, Federico II – the interpretation seems more clear: that the fire is a symbol of the Divine itself, with references to how this is portrayed in the Biblical Stories of Moses, which also connects the Purgatory once again to the Book of Exodus. This theme is also explicitly introduced in Chapter 2 when the souls are arriving at the beach singing “In Exitu Israel de Aegypto” in one single harmonious voice.

The theme of fire and unification is thus prophesizing the very ending and aim for the whole Comedy, to reach up to the Divine in the Highest Sphere of the Heavens and experience a mystical union with the help of the Grace of the Virgin Mary, after the prayers of the great Mystic St. Bernard.

From the correspondence with Prof. Raffaele Giglio, translated from Italian:

The presence of the “Fire” and the motif of the kidnapping, even though in the dream, makes us able to anticipate that which was the aspiration of Dante; to reach the Divine, which in the Biblical Stories was represented in general as the burning bush, as vivid and living Fire.

Dante in his proceedings has had to confront and surpass many barriers of fire to continue his journey. The fire, in my interpretation, symbolizes the burning desire of the pilgrim towards that biblical image of the Divine. The fire is an expression of strong desire; and in the dream Dante has brought to completion that which burns inside of him: unifying himself with the Divine Fire. The image is symbolic, and could signify the aspiration towards this Fire-Divinity, which now in a dream seems to him to have happened.

Through this dream at the transition point between Ante-Purgatory and the real Purgatory, Dante as a writer is stretching out the full canvas for the story, and in many ways his whole purpose for writing the Comedy – to show a Journey towards the Divine through a personal example, as inspiration and for imitation for us as Readers. The first idea and experience of this is felt through the burning image – which the Pilgrim is not ready for yet as his spiritual growth is in the beginner stages, and thus it snaps him out of his dream. But the feeling lingers after he wakes up, and a little seed is planted in him for the further climb, and for the ascent into the Heavens.



Professor Raffaele Giglio, Dante Course.
Canto 9, Purgatorio, Original and Modern Italian.

The Good that Multiplies, like Mirrors

The Source of Envy, and Nature of the Good.

At the end of the second Terrace the Pilgrim has one of his biggest new understandings of the nature and roots of Envy, which leads to an even bigger and more joyful discovery; that Love and the Good only multiplies like mirrors, the more people that participate in it.

The argument is that the material goods will create a kind of possessiveness and fear of loss, whilst a greater understanding of the Heavenly Good, and spending your time and actions towards the spiritually good things – will only increase the motivation for sharing this Good with others, and having more people finding the same joyful source of Good Life. In some ways Envy could be seen a direct result of aiming at the wrong things as the higher value in life.

As the Pilgrim absorbs this deeper new insight, Virgil points out that they should move on to erase the five wounds left on Dante’s forehead. Symbolically meaning that through understanding this nature of Envy, and the mutually amplifying nature of the Good, the “scar” of Envy has already healed completely from the Pilgrim’s soul. A change of mind has occurred. And this, according to Dante’s writings, is a part of the path to happiness and ascent towards the Good in the widest sense possible. We are learning both substance and process at the same time. And like the Pilgrim, it’s very easy to yearn for more learning, and more understanding!


The Four Stars at Purgatory Mountain

As the Pilgrim and Virgil come out from the rocks and onto the shores on the Island of Mount Purgatory, they see four bright stars in the night sky above them – symbolic of the four Cardinal Virtues:

  • Temperance
  • Prudence
  • Fortitude
  • Being Just

From Canto I:

Then to my right I turned to contemplate
the other pole, and there saw those four stars
the first man saw, and no man after him

The Garden of Eden is on top of Mount Purgatory and therefore these four Virtues/Stars are again visible for Virgil and the Pilgrim, as they have now emerged in the Southern Hemisphere.