The Divine Comedy – Looking into Heaven – Clive James

Heaven (The Divine Comedy)
Canto 31 – lines 1 – 33

The form, then, of the saintly host of Christ
Was shown to me as being a white rose,
A perfect rose which, with His own blood, Christ
Has made His bride. But also there are those –
The other host – who, flying, see and sing
The glory of the Lord who holds their love
And goodness that has made them everything
They are, and there they are, at large above.
Just like a swarm of bees that first will dive
Into the flowers and then go back to turn
Their toil to nectar, treasure of the hive,
These ones I watched, for I was here to learn –
Descend headlong into the mighty flower
Of many petals, and then reascend
To where the love abides in all its power
Forever, and then, flying without end,
They swoop again, their faces living flame,
Their wings of gold, and for the rest, so white
Our fresh snow couldn’t hope to seem the same.
When they again went back down from the height
Into the bloom, they gave it, tier on tier,
The peace and order they had gained from how
They fanned their sides with wings. …

Translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy by Clive James

My interpretation of the above lines –

The form, then, of the saintly host of Christ
Was shown to me as being a white rose,
A perfect rose which, with His own blood, Christ
Has made His bride.

The host of Christ – a host is someone who presents … someone who invites and entertains … a master of ceremonies … and in the religious context the host of Christ is the consecrated bread … and the consecrated bread is the gift of Christ as the body of Christ created with his own blood – Dante represents this as a perfect white rose – it has to be white no other colour could represent Christ and it has to be perfect.

Christ has made this His Bride … the Bride of Christ gifted for the marriage of His Church through the consecrated bread (body)and wine (blood)… the words from the Anglican Communion Service define this union (marriage) – ‘We who are many are one body in Christ, for we all share in the one bread’ – the gift of life for all’. This marriage is a continual marriage as the world expands in population.

But also there are those –
The other host – who, flying, see and sing
The glory of the Lord who holds their love
And goodness that has made them everything
They are, and there they are, at large above.

Who are these ‘other hosts’ … my interpretation is that they are those that have been transformed to such an extent through the marriage of Christ that they themselves have become totally ‘Christ-like’ spiritually – and everything that they are comes from the Lord, they are flying and singing the glory of the Lord – angels also comes to mind, and they are at large –very much an active force.

Just like a swarm of bees that first will dive
Into the flowers and then go back to turn
Their toil to nectar, treasure of the hive,
These ones I watched, for I was here to learn –
Descend headlong into the mighty flower
Of many petals, and then reascend
To where the love abides in all its power
Forever, and then, flying without end,
They swoop again, their faces living flame,
Their wings of gold, and for the rest, so white
Our fresh snow couldn’t hope to seem the same.

The ‘other hosts’ are in a hive of activity being equated to the action of bees diving into the Christ-Host – the white rose – creating nectar, the treasure found in the gift of Christ and the treasure that they create returning that to the Lord (where love abides in all its power). The image of faces of living flame, wings of gold, and bodies beyond the white of snow try to give a physical representation to the spiritual transformation that has occurred – a living perfection of nature – and a nature that is dynamic and busy.

When they again went back down from the height
Into the bloom, they gave it, tier on tier,
The peace and order they had gained from how
They fanned their sides with wings.

Bees actually fan their wings when they come into the hive to control temperature. This is interesting for the implication is that the Christ-Host is supported by other hosts which give peace and order – supported by those that have become fully Christ-like.

This seems to portray Heaven and the Body of Christ not as an afternoon Sunday nap but a busy active expanding evolution.

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