I was delighted to discover, in the Atlantic Monthly a few years ago, W. S. Merwin’s lovely translation of the last Canto of Dante’s Paradiso. Canto XXXIII presents the final vision of the poet, and concludes with the famous line about “the love which moves the sun and the other stars” (l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle).
To return, however, to the opening verses of the Canto: these are St. Bernard’s prayer to the Blessed Virgin, a beautiful and adoring paean. There is one verse, though, which jars me. In spite of the sublimity of the poetry, I believe Dante is mistaken when he has Bernard say to Mary:
you are the one who so ennobled
human nature that the maker of it
condescended to be made of it.
It was not because Mary was so good that God became human, but because you and I were (and are) in such need — because so often we debase rather than ennoble our human nature. Jesus comes to us out of that “love which moves the sun and the other stars,” a love so encompassing that it freely enfolds us in our sinfulness and our brokenness.
At the end of the Paradiso the poet experiences his own desire and will “turned already, / like a wheel that is moved evenly, / by the love which moves the sun and the other stars.”
In our truest self, each one of us is also moved by this love. Let us pray that through Jesus, God-with-us, our whole being might be in harmony with the divine love.
O loving God,
may I wait in peace for you,
enter the place in my heart
where like the sun and the stars
I am moved only by your love,
and there find you
already with me,
waiting for me.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning.