"He that lies next on the circumference, ...
Delayed his death by his true penitence,
And now he knows that the decree eterne
Alter not, though good prayer should get today's
Portioned postponed to serve tomorrow's turn."
(Canto XX. 49-55)
This refers to king Hezekiah who is mortally ill. The prophet Isaiah told him to get ready to die. Hezekiah weeping bitterly turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD to be healed. Isaiah returned to him proclaiming that God had added fifteen years to his life. (2kg 29:1-6) Here Dante indicates that God's decree did not change but foresaw Hezekiah's prayer which would prolong his life.
"Next, he that with high purpose - though but base
Its fruit - going eastward with the laws and me,
Turned Greek, to let the Pastor take his place;
And now he knows that all the iniquity
Springing from his good action hurts not him,
Though it should make the world in flinders flee."
(Canto XX. 55-61)
Dante saw the Roman Empire with its universal laws as a service to humanity. He quotes Cicero as follows: "So long as the power of the state was exercised through acts of service and not of oppression, wars were waged either on behalf of our allies or to safeguard our supremacy, and the consequences of wars were mild or else unavoidable; the senate was a haven and a refuge for kings, peoples and nations; both our magistrates and our military chiefs strove to win praise for this above all, for defending the provinces and our allies justly and loyally. Thus 'protection' of the world might be a more appropriate term than 'domination'." (Dante, Monarchia, II.7) Emperor Constantine in 330 AD. moved the seat of the Roman Empire to Constantinople. Constantine meant good but created a political power vacuum in Italy which was gradually filled by the Church. This lead to the involvement of the Church in political power and the creation of the Papal states which it struggled to maintain by commingling it spiritual power with its military power. This was the bad fruit.
Image courtesy of Adrian Fletcher
"And he thou see'st...
William, mourned in his own land, which grieves
That Charles and Frederick live, and groans for them.
And now he knows how warmly Heaven receives
And love the righteous king; sparkling show
The deathless glory that he here achieves."
(Canto XX. 61-66)
Another king along the eyebrow of the Eagle is William II of Sicily called "the Good". He was a Norman king who ruled Naples and Aquila (1166-1189). William formed better relations with Jerusalem and sent Sicilian fleet which saved Tripoli from Saladin in 1187. Sicily was at its richest and most peaceful under this king. The mosaic at the right shows William handing the Magnificent Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily, which he built, to the Mother of God. He is buried in the Cathedral and on his tomb we read "Hic situs est bonus rex Gilielmus" which means "Here lies good king William". Dante indicates that the people now mourn the death of William but now groan from the sufferings inflicted by King Charles II of Anjou and Frederick II, king of Sicily.
The Trojan Rhipeus is the fifth of these holy souls circling the brow of the eagle. He was a Trojan hero slain during the sack of Troy. Virgil says of him " Rhipheus fell too - he was the most just of all Trojans, and the most devoted servant of the law; not that this made any difference to the gods". (Aeneid Bk II, line 426-427) Dante still does not understand how Rhipeus could be in heaven without having known Christ in expectation as the Jews did. The answer he receives is--
"On righteousness spent all his earthly sum
Of love; whence God from grace to grace unsealed
His eyes to the redemption yet to come."
(Canto XX. 121-123)
Then Dante touches on predestination --
"Predestination! what far depths conceal
From feeble sight, unable to detect the First Cause whole ...
For we see God face to face, and still
We know not all the roll of His elect."
(Canto XX. 130-132, 134-135)
What does predestination mean?
Generally speaking predestination refers to those who are destine for glory and Reprobation refers to those who will be excluded from the vision of God. That God desires the salvation of all mankind was revealed by Christ. We read in St. John, "For God did not sent his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him."(Jn 3:17) We read further "And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified". (Rm 8:30)
This is God's will but we must try to understand this. Human beings concretely will one thing over another but God's will is a pervasive reality in all his creatures which in human nature also encompasses free will. God is one reality which encompasses both his infinite goodness and justice. There are some who say that God does not send us to Hell but we do so by our actions. In this case the Divine will and human will have been separated. Is this true? An example will illustrate the unity of God's goodness and justice. Suppose you overeat and suffer a stomach ache. The stomach ache resulted from your choice and because you have disregarded the limits of your stomach imposed by God. This suffering is not only the judgment of your biological nature but also the judgment of God who by creating your limitation judged that you should suffer. So, one who finds himself in Hell is both the result of his own acts and also the judgment of God. God does not will the sin of the sinner but he does will the punishment His justice dictates. Surely God knows who will be saved and who will not, but this knowledge of vision does not place one in Heaven or Hell. Some are gifted by God with more of his grace than others, but each is given sufficient grace to be saved.
Predestination is still a deep mystery which even the saints and angels do not completely understand. Why does God create man and women whom he knows will reject his loving kindness? Well, if He created only those predestined for heaven we would be back to the time before the Fall but that is not the present reality of mankind. St. Thomas says that the reprobates or those whom He knows a destined for hell "seem to be pre-ordained by God for the good of the elect" since "all things work for the good of those who love God" (Rm 8:28) Predestination and Reprobation are part of divine Providence which we are not likely ever to understand completely.
"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How inscrutable are his judgments
and how unsearchable his ways!