The Glories of the Resurrection


Joe Carlson

Dante’s pilgrim begins his journey through the bowels of Hell on Good Friday. He comes up on the other side of the globe, on the shores of Mount Purgatory, just before dawn on Easter Sunday. The timing is neither incidental nor a coincidence. It is necessary. For this is the story of Dante’s salvation; this is his personal testimony, if you will. Though he is not yet consciously aware of it, the pilgrim has died with Christ on Friday, and has been raised to newness of life on Sunday. That gift of regeneration is what fuels his growing consciousness of his own sin and fallenness, an awareness that governs the pages of this middle canticle. Dante imagines Calvary and Mount Purgatory as antipodal to each other, meaning they sit exactly opposite one another on the Earth. Imagine the globe with Jerusalem at the very top. In that position, Mount Purgatory is situated at the very bottom. The poet’s intentional imagery could not be more clear. To achieve the everlasting glory of Heaven, one must die with Jesus on the cross, be buried with Him in the Earth, be raised to new life a changed man or woman, and ascend with his or her fellow saints the slope of sanctification, where one is made holy by the power and gift of the Spirit. For Dante, the resurrection is what brings one back out of the grave and into life, into the very ability to feel the weight of one’s sins and repent, into a posture of love and worship. 

There is no better picture in the Comedy of the glories of Christ’s Resurrection power than in the conversion scene in Purgatorio 30. The pilgrim is standing before Beatrice, who has severely chastised him for his utter failure to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness, being distracted by false images of the good and that which is always passing away. He stands in silence, unable to reply. Angels surround him singing the first eight verses of Psalm 31, which read:

In thee, O LORD, do I put my trust;
let me never be ashamed:
deliver me in thy righteousness.
Bow down thine ear to me; deliver me speedily:
be thou my strong rock,
for an house of defence to save me.
For thou art my rock and my fortress;
therefore for thy name's sake lead me, and guide me.
Pull me out of the net that they have laid privily for me:
for thou art my strength.
Into thine hand I commit my spirit:
thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth.
I have hated them that regard lying vanities:
but I trust in the LORD.
I will be glad and rejoice in thy mercy:
for thou hast considered my trouble;
thou hast known my soul in adversities;
And hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy:
thou hast set my feet in a large room.

At that moment, hearing the living word of God, something magical happens. The poet says:

Just as the snow among the living beams
down the spine of Italy turns to ice,
buffeted and bound by the Slavic winds,
then, liquified, trickles into itself
just as the land that loses its shadow
breathes, and seems like fire melting a candle;
so I was without tears and sighs before
they sang whose tones always harmonize with
the notes of the eternal spheres above;
but when I understood their compassion
for me in the sweet harmonies—as if
they were saying, “Lady, why unman him so?”—
the ice that had constricted round my heart,
turned spirit and water and, with anguish
of my mouth and my eyes, escaped my breast.
		(Purgatorio 30.85-99)

Quoting a passage of Scripture which directly foreshadows both the Cross (“Into thine hand I commit my spirit”) and the Resurrection (“thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth… And has not shut me up into the hand of the enemy”), the angelic song reaches into the heart of the pilgrim and gives him life. This is the power of the Word of God, fueled by the validation of the Resurrection, accomplishing the regeneration of a heart that was once enslaved (“buffeted and bound by Slavic winds”) to sin and to self. The old Dante is being “unmanned”; a new Dante is rising in its place. As God promises in Ezekiel 36, His word has the power to remove our hearts of stone, and replace them with hearts soft toward Him, soft toward His law. Here, the pilgrim’s heart melts into repentance, the first step in acknowledging the authority of Christ wrested from the now empty tomb. 

The song of Resurrection and life is a song the tones of which “always harmonize with / the notes of the eternal spheres above.” For this is the very structure of the world, created by Christ, through Christ, and for Christ. For “he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:16-20, ESV).

But the hope of the resurrection does not simply look back on what Christ has done for us. It also looks ahead, to the glory that is to come. In the sphere of the Sun, the soul of Solomon answers the pilgrim’s questions about the current, bodiless condition of the saints, explaining that it is temporary. However,

…when the glorious and holy flesh
will be our dress once more, our person shall
more welcome be for being in all complete;
therefore that which the Highest Good gives us
of His gratuitous light will increase,
that light which makes us ready to see Him;
wherefore our vision also must increase,
the ardor which is fired by sight increase,
the brightening that follows fire increase.
As with a piece of coal producing fire,
its living whiteness mastering the flame
such that its own appearance is maintained;
so too this flashing now enwreathing us
will be surpassed in semblance by the flesh
that as of yet the Earth still covers up;
nor will such light have strength to weary us,
since organs of the flesh will then be strong
for everything that can bring us delight.”
		(Paradiso 14.43-60)

Yes, the saints who have died and are now with the Lord live in the glorious splendor of His light, reflecting with ardent affection and will the desire of the risen Christ. But for all its ardor, splendor, and brilliance, this temporary ethereal existence cannot hold a candle to the brilliance of what is to come, the unimaginable splendor of the New Earth and the final Resurrection, when body and soul will be reunited at last and forever. And in that new world, our bodies will be strong, strong enough for every everlasting delight. At this moment in the narrative, all the other souls here in the fourth sphere shout their “Amen!” with an eagerness that suggests something uniquely beautiful to the pilgrim:

So sudden and eager appeared to me
both choruses to say “Amen!” showing
a clear desire for their mortal bodies;
perhaps not for themselves alone but for
their mothers and fathers and all who were
precious before they were eternal flames.
		(Paradiso 14.61-66)

Can you hear the longing for the New Earth? When we will be once again reunited with our beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord, never again to be separated, never again to be torn apart by death? New bodies with which to hold one another, new arms with which to embrace one another, new lips with which to give one another a holy kiss? New organs of sense strong enough for everything that can bring us delight? New eyes to behold in wonder the majesty of God? This is the gift that awaits us, this is the final destination for those loved by Jesus. For

Christ is risen from the dead,
trampling down death by death,
and upon those in the tombs
bestowing life!

Christ is risen from the dead,
trampling down death by death,
and upon those in the tombs
bestowing life!

Christ is risen from the dead,
trampling down death by death,
and upon those in the tombs
bestowing life!

He is risen! And with all the saints who have gone before we say: He is risen indeed.

More from Joe Carlson

Joe Carlson (MA Humanities) lives in the DFW metroplex with his wife and son. He received his BA from New St Andrews College, and his MA from the University of Dallas, where he is currently completing his doctoral studies. His thesis explored and unpacked a specifically doxological pedagogy, based on Dante’s educational projects. He has managed a chain of coffee shops, published (micro) epic poetry, co-pastored a church, helped create and staff a university campus ministry, written for the Salvo Magazine blog, and taught many different kinds of classes over the years. It was a passion for the medieval cosmology enjoyed by C.S. Lewis that eventually brought him back to an ever deepening love for the Divine Comedy.

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