Beatrice and Dante were traveling upward toward the Empyrean. Their starting point was the peak of Mount Purgatory. According to Medieval beliefs, this was the only piece of land that existed in the southern hemisphere.
They had already visited the spheres of the moon, Mercury, Venus, the sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. They had recently arrived at the sphere of the fixed stars, where they had seen Christ and his mother Mary.
In this sphere, Dante was subjected to a theological examination. The apostle Peter examined him on the subject of faith. Then the apostle James examined him on hope.
After Dante had passed these two tests, the apostle John appeared. Dante had heard a rumor that John had been taken bodily into heaven without suffering death. Dante wanted to learn whether this was true. Therefore, he gazed so intently at the brilliant apostle that he lost his sense of sight. To satisfy Dante’s curiosity, John assured him that only his spirit was in heaven. His body was still awaiting the resurrection.
At the beginning of Canto XXVI, Dante had not yet recovered his sense of sight. John assured him that he would soon see again, since Beatrice could heal him with a simple glance, just as Ananias healed Saul by the touch of his hand. In the meantime, he suggested that Dante’s theological examination should continue.
John tested Dante on charity, not in its modern sense, but charity as the third of the three theological virtues. We would call it “love.”
The examination began in a strange way. I expected that John would ask Dante to define love. Instead, Dante was asked to reveal the object of his love.
The correct answer was God, and Dante gave the proper response. However, John was not completely satisfied. He wanted to know what had inspired Dante to love God.
In simple terms, this is Dante’s answer. A person naturally loves what is good, provided that he understands its nature. So if someone realizes that God is good and the Source of all goodness, God will be the object of his love.
Dante goes on to explain that various authorities have convinced him that God is good. These authorities include John himself, whose gospel proclaims the mysteries of heaven.
John still was not completely satisfied. He asked Dante if anything else besides philosophical reasoning and authoritative teachings had inspired him to love God.
Dante understood what John wanted to hear. In reply, he cited the creative work of the Triune God and the redemptive work of the Son. These factors had drawn him away from the sea of perverted love and had set him on the river where true love flows.
After saying these words, Dante heard a celestial song, in which Beatrice joined. Quite fittingly, the song began with the words: “Holy, holy, Holy!”
Dante had passed his theological examination. Beatrice now restored his sense of sight.
As soon as he could see, he noticed a bright spirit, who proved to be Adam, the first man whom God had created. In the ensuing conversation, Adam satisfied Dante’s curiosity on several points.
Dante wished to know why God chased Adam out of the Garden of Eden. It was not the act of eating the forbidden fruit per se, but the fact that Adam had crossed the boundary that God had set for him.
Dante wished to know how many years had passed since Adam’s creation. Adam pointed out that he lived on earth for 930 years and spent 4,302 years in limbo before Christ released him from this cheerless realm. [Dante believed that all the Old Testament believers resided in the limbo, the first circle of hell, until Christ rose from the dead and took them to heaven.]
From these two figures, It is easy to figure out how many years had passed from the creation till the year 1300 A.D., the year in which Dante visited paradise. Taking 34 A.D. as the date of Christ’s resurrection, the total is 6,498. Dante’s figures reflect the work of Eusebius of Caesarea, according to Anthony Oldcorn and his associates, who wrote the notes in my edition of Paradiso. [Eusebius undoubtedly made his computation on the basis of the Septuagint, since the total would have been considerably different if he had used the figures in the Hebrew Bible.]
Dante also wished to know what language Adam spoke. Adam did not give his language a name, since it had died out even before the events connected with the Tower of Babel. However, he did tell Dante what the name of God was in his original language. God’s name was I, a name that was later replaced by the name El.
Finally, Dante wanted to know how long Adam had remained in the Garden of Eden. It was less than a day, from the first hour to the seventh hour.
Of course, the Bible does not tell us how long Adam was in the Garden of Eden. However, I seriously doubt that the period was so brief. Remember that Adam named all the animals of the garden after his creation. Then Eve was created. This certainly took time.
Moreover, after finishing His creative work, God saw that everything that He had made was very good. Then he rested on the seventh day.
This seems to imply that sin did not disturb the world during the sixth and seventh day. I believe that the fall into sin took place some time after the seventh day.
“Paradiso” from “The Divine Comedy”; Italian text with English translation by Allen Mandelbaum; Notes by Anthony Oldcorn, Daniel Feldman, and Giuseppe di Scipio