Canto 20 Paradise: do not know the number chosen from eternity

“Mortals, withhold your judgment: even we who see the face of God do not yet know the number chosen from eternity–And it is sweet, this lack in what we know, because in this good is our good made fine, and what the Lord may will, we too will so” (Paradise 20).

As Anthony Esolen reminds us in his commentary on Paradise, “Christ … saves in ways beyond human comprehension.” In Canto 20 of Paradise, Dante has Trajan and Ripheus, two who never knew anything about Jesus Christ.

Dante reminds us of the story about Pope Gregory the Great who read about Trajan a Roman who lived 1000 years before Christ. Trajan was exemplary in the ways of justice. Gregory was rather moved by Trajan’s just ways. He prayed for Trajan that he be resurrected. Trajan was resurrected and Gregory preached to him about Jesus Christ and was saved and translated from Hell to Heaven.

Whether this actually happened or not is not the point of the story. (Although, if it did happen here is an incomprehensible way Christ would have saved Trajan–he did resurrect Lazurus and others who had “fallen asleep.”) Nonetheless, the point of this story is the efficacy of prayer, of intercession. Prayer has direct consequences, though we may not see the result right away. Prayer has more power than some would believe.

To love justice is a quest for divine and human wisdom, as Esolen reminds us. Aquinas would say this love for justice is a love for and quest for Christ.

In the Catholic and Orthodox tradition, praying for the dead is practiced. Why shouldn’t we pray for those who have gone before us, especially in our family line. Who knows what may come of our prayers. We are not in charge, Christ is. He is the one who saves. If you do not agree with praying for the dead–that’s okay. But maybe ask and seek why this tradition exists. After all, God is just. His just rule and judgment is His not ours, but who knows what effect our prayers may have on any person living or dead. (Just a thought).

For more on the virtuous pagan:


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