Ascension Letter, 2007

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The extract in the title of this letter is from Dante's Paradiso, Canto XXX, when Beatrice, Dante's muse, who is guiding him in his imagination through the highest heavens, the Empyrean -

and Dante says of this experience -

              So round about me shone a living light
              Which left me wrapped in such a dazzling veil
              That nothing else was visible to me.

Dante inhabited what was considered to be a universe with the earth at its centre, so there is a complexity in his travels from Hell, through Purgatory to Heaven. But we can feel in his passionate writing a depth of vision and illumination which has rarely been surpassed.

There is in Dante the full knowledge of the love he had seen reflected, and passed on to him, in the eyes of the young girl Beatrice whom he had met only once or twice and was destined to become the muse of all his writing for the rest of his life. It was not an infatuation but an awakening to the total value of personality in his life and even more in the revelation of the divine. He was not so interested in places but in the people whom he charted in the extraordinary journey of the Divine Comedy. Even more extraordinary is the personalisation of what he encountered in the divine light which momentarily blinded him -

              "Light of the intellect, Light full of love,
              Love of true good, love full of joyousness,
              Joyfulness surpassing every sweetness."

It is what lies at the centre of the gospel writers' reminiscences of the Son of man. Those phrases could be spoken of him, as indeed they are in the portrait which they paint. The places where he visited are simply the staging posts of the blossoming of the person.

The places where our lives are lived out are important to us - as Nazareth was for him. But, as Dante can be saying to us, more important is the development of our understanding of our selves as a reflection of what we see in the eyes of the Son of man which can be critical for love and joy and, yes, in the intellectual understanding of being Christian.

© Aelred Arnesen

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