The Church and the Tree of Knowledge are now disconnected, and thus is the truth about good and evil disjoined from the Church. And as society, and that which is secular must give law, which has nothing to do with good and evil, the knowledge of good and evil through an institution leaves the world. Due to this fact, first the Theological virtues (faith, hope, charity) sing Vulgate Psalm 78 while weeping and then the Cardinal virtues (temperance, justice, prudence, fortitude) sing out weeping too. What they sing, “Deus, venerunt gentes” (1) means “God, the heathens/people are come [into thine inheritance].” What exactly does this mean in context? Well, precisely this: if the institution of the church no longer continues to embody and therefore know the truth of Good and evil, then where must the truth now reside? Let us move forward before we answer this.
Beatrice then sings out “Modicum, et non videbitis me; Et iterum, Modicum, et vos videbitis me.“(10-12). This quote from John 16:16, means “In a little while, even you will not see me, and therefore, you will see me.” In the context of the church disjoining from the tree what does this mean? It means that the Tree and Church were connected, and then one could see the truth of what was good and evil, but now that they are disjoined, one can no longer see the truth through the church. But is there some other way? Beatrice continues while placing all seven virtues together in front of her. (13-15) And she commands Dante to ask of her what questions he now has in order to free him “from [his] entanglements of fear and shame.” She then says that “the vessel which the serpent broke was and is not”, which means that which once held the Truth, the Church, no longer holds it, and “The eagle who left his feathers in the car Which then became a monster and a prey, He will not forever be without an heir.” (34-36) This means that without the balance maintained between the secular and sacred authorities, neither represents the correct attitude or outlook necessary to hold or understand Truth about good and evil. Correct authority on good and evil therefore comes neither from secular authority, nor sacred authority due their corrupted natures. But, again, where then does proper authority or interpretation come from?
Beatrice does not yet answer this question but continues on to mention the divine number, 515 (DXV), which heralds a “messenger of god” “[who] shall kill the whore Together with the giant who shares her sin.” She then compares this enigma to the one which Laiades, or Oedipus, figured out in the wake of the sphinx at Thebes. Of course the answer to the great riddle which the sphinx asks, “What goes on four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three in the evening”? Is man, and let us now consider how the answer of man, is also the answer to our question of where the authority to interpret the knowledge of good and evil is as well. First, Beatrice insists that Dante remember what he has seen in order to report it to others (why, might we ask, unless he has seen the truth and can thus, like a messenger, convey it to others?)
“Take note: and as my words are carried from me,
Make sure that they are delivered to the living
Whose life is nothing but a race to death.
And bear in mind, when you are writing them,
Not to conceal how you have seen the tree
Which now has been twice robbed on its leaves here.
Whoever robs the tree or snaps off pieces,
Offends against God by a blasphemous act;
It was created for his use.
For biting it, the first soul hungered on
five thousand years in torment and desire
For him who took the punishment on himself.
Your mind must be asleep, if you do not see
That it is for a special reason that this tree
Is so lofty and so wide at the top.
And if your idle thoughts had not encrusted
Your mind like the water of Elsa, and the pleasure of them
Been like Pyramus spattering the mulberry tree (with his red blood, sacrifice),
By so many circumstances you would have recognized,
On your own, the moral significance
Of the justice of God in his interdict on this tree.” (52-72)
What Beatrice is saying here is that originally the tree was robbed from, and a piece was snapped off, like how a piece must be snapped from the trees of suicides to speak to them, or from poor Polydorus in Virgil’s Aeneid. But this is not the correct use of the tree. One learns from the tree not from taking from it, but from observing it. For that which one receives from the tree, one is not supposed to keep materially, but to pass along formally, and that is knowledge of good and evil. And Beatrice says just as much:
“I want you to take back inside yourself,
At least an impression, if you do not write it,
As a pilgrim’s staff is brought back wreathed with palm.” (76-78)
Beatrice is saying here that the knowledge which the Tree has to offer is now within humanity, or a human, who as a messenger of the divine, guided by Divine Faith or Wisdom, which Beatrice represents, has received the “correct impression” which exists only when it is shared. Dante responds:
“”And I: ‘In this same way as wax under a seal.
So that figures stamped on it do not change,
My brain has now been marked by you.” (79-81)
Dante says that he understands what he must, and yet just after this he admits to the fact that most of Beatrice’s words “fly so far beyond what I can see.” Beatrice then spends several lines reminding the pilgrim of three potential reasons why: 1) he has followed the way of materialism which cannot understanding eternal things, naturally, because material things are constantly in flux and changing. “You cannot step in the same river twice,” as it were. The second reason 2) is that the pilgrim has just drunk from the River Lethe, and therefore he may well have forgotten words based on the forgetfulness which Lethe causes, and 3) perhaps his will was not correctly employed, and therefore, like a poor student, his attention wandered, and in so wandering he became lost.
The pilgrim then observes the two, now one, group of virtues in front of the two rivers issuing from one source. The principle of unity of opposites is here strongly reconciled. In seeing the truth, that which appeared different, is actually one. The Tigris and Euphrates, the Rivers Lethe and Eunoe, good and evil, human and god, and church and state. All are seen as differing aspects of that which is really and truly one. So though Lethe causes one to forget sin, and though Eunoe causes one to remember virtue, “the way down is the way up”, and it turns out that they find their sources in the same, single truth, and that which causes forgetfulness also causes one to remember, depending on how one engages with it. Such it is with all seeming dualities which are at once their opposites.
Under the guidance of Matilda, the pilgrim then drinks from Eunoe and:
“I came back from that most sacred of streams,
Made afresh, as new trees are renewed
With their new foliage, and so I was
Clear and ready to go up to the stars.” (142-145)
Therefore, just as the Tree of Knowledge was rejuvenated when the Divine rejoined it through the church/chariot, and the leaves sprang out in beautiful crimson hue, so does the pilgrim, when rejoined to the knowledge of the divine, or the truth, and freed from the tension of opposites, himself become renewed, and share his own crimson leaves by giving us the shining and illuminating pages before us, from which we receive the very same gift he was given, so long as we empty ourselves of our own prejudices, and shame, and fear, and instead of trying to grasp, and take it, we hold our hands open in order both to give and receive, and to join in the eternal connection which is always and forever eternally present. For does one remember one’s own good deeds through drinking from Eunoe, or does Eunoe simply show one all good deeds ever done, like a string of illuminated texts, great books even, which in one emptying one’s self of prejudice, one then finds one’s self filled with that which is great and excellent and everlasting and ready to share instead.
Psalm 82:6: “I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.”
John 10:34: “Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”‘?”