Paradise is the most difficult read out of the three. This is the fourth time I’ve read it, and it’s starting to finally make sense to me. Granted, every time I read the Divine Comedy, I pick up something new. Paradise is like plumbing the depths of sacramental theology. It takes a lot of preliminary understanding and reading to begin to understand. It always amazes me how much is packed into lines of poetry. One line can be unpacked in the form of a book.
This canto speaks of the will, freedom, and vows. God’s gift of freedom is a precious gift. We use this freedom to either seek God or seek whatever pleases us. Vice is a settling for a partial good as Boethius has said. Instead of seeking the whole–Love itself–God Himself. We have the freedom to choose God or to deny him. Freedom is perilous, but can only be given by a loving God. A loving God will not force anything.
With our freedom, we choose to take vows, break vows or keep vows or be partial to them. Beatrice warns, like Christ did, that your yes is yes and your no is no–commit and not be lukewarm about our promises. Many times we fail in keeping vows and this freedom of dismissal is harmful to our souls. It hurts us almost wrecking us at times. In the book of Ephesians the writer warns Christians to no longer be like children being tossed by every teaching and being tossed about in decisions and knowing what to do. Beatrice does the same, reminding us to commit to what we committed to.
Most of the time, we want freedom on our own terms. We think we know best. We follow our passions, desires, dreams in our own understanding. These are good things. But done for the sake of self and harming others in the process and against others sound wisdom, we cause pain upon ourselves and others.
Can a vow broken be redeemed? Of course. The Bible chronicles and speaks of so many people who have fallen and done terrible things. But many of the people are restored. Many are not. The Bible, the gospel is a story of redemption. Redemption is available to all who repent. To all who turn. To all who seek Love himself. The tragedy is that we wanted to be gods on our own terms in our own judgment and freedom, by our acts… “but God conforms his saints to himself, giving them deity as they abide in him.” Our freedom is sacrificed when we choose to follow Christ. Yes we are still free. But we choose to deny the slavery of sin and choose to freely choose Christ. In Christ is true freedom.
Those in Paradise are in union with God. “Love for the generous Creator spills forth into love for his creatures.” To freely love God is to overflow with His love which then spills toward others.
Freedom of will is powerful, dangerous and wonderful. In our freedom, let us choose the good that which edifies us, heals us, makes us whole. To no longer be slaves to sin. To choose God with all your heart, with all your being is the most difficult decision and extremely difficult to be in obedience to God. But it is in God’s strength, mercy, grace that we are able.
(Many insights gleaned from Tony Esolen).