The Elements of Eden

One of the more difficult bridges to cross in understanding Dante's vision of Eden in Purgatory is the purpose of the events that Dante sees take place. Keep in mind that the elements function as a complex series of symbols that represent important elements in the salvation of the soul. Dante's journey at this point is what prepares him for journeying in heaven. Likewise, Dante hopes that his reader who has to puzzle out the allegory will also grow in understanding, so that we too may be someday prepared for heaven.

(Canto 27)

Element

Wall of Fire

Meaning

sanctifying purification

Dream of Leah and Rachel reflection on the active and contemplative vocations
[Virgil's (mistaken?) crowning of Dante] either the perfection of natural reason without grace, or natural reason's inability to see the need for grace
Thus, Dante must undergo purification from his old life. This is true whether one served God as a monk (contemplative) or as a more active servant.

(Cantos 28-29 -- not in our reading) --

But it illustrates in an interesting way Dante's thoughts about the supports we all need in a life
that follows God:

Element

Dante meets Matilda

Meaning

active vocation in its unfallen state

Matilda speaks of the Abundance life as an unfallen order of Eden
Matilda tells Dante the Golden Dream confirmation of poetic calling of the Classical poets was Eden
The Pageant of the Divine Life

7 Candlesticks

 

The Mystical Church of God

7 Bands of Light God's Creation
24 Elders with crowns of fleu-de-lis The Old Testament Saints with lives of purity
4 Living Creatures The Gospels
2 Wheeled Chariots The Divine Economy of Salvation
7 Women -- 3 by one wheel, 4 by the other

3 Women:

  • one in white
  • one in green
  • one in red
 

The Theological Virtues

  • Faith
  • Hope
  • Charity
4 Women:
  • all dressed in purple, one has three eyes
The Cardinal Virtues

Prudence, which sees past, present, future

7 men

2 Aged Men

Luke -- The Acts of the Apostles

Paul -- The Pauline Epistles

4 Humble Men James, Peter, John, and Jude -- The General Epistles
1 Old Man in a Dream The Apocalypse
Thus, Dante needs the Church, the Scriptures, and the Virtues to be perfected.
And all of it centers around the person and nature of Christ.

(Cantos 30-31)

Element

The Entrance of Beatrice dressed in green

Meaning

The unfallen contemplative life and the virtue of hope

Beatrice's Rebuke hope opposes presumption
The Angelic Choir's Hymn mercy for the broken-hearted
Dante's confession recognition of sin
Matilda baptizes Dante in the waters of Lethe the removal of the memory of sin
Beatrice's eyes reflect the Griffon contemplation of the two natures of Christ -- human and divine
The Dance of the Cardinal Virtues

The Dance of the Theological Virtues

Christ brings sanctification to the repentant
The Eyes and Smile of Beatrice The Beauty of Hope
Dante learns that hope for salvation prepares one for the radical mercy of God and the removal of one's sin. It is only in Christ, who is both fully God and fully human, that he can be saved.

(Cantos 32-33 )

  • Dante experiences a vision of the flowering and corruption of Christianity.
  • Beatrice prophecies the eventual deliverance of the Church.
  • Matilda leads Dante to drink of the waters of Euroi which represents the memory of past good deeds.
 

"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding