Dante Alighieri (1315-1318) - 881 

and thus ultimate happiness. Dante's portrait of Francis is set within the fourth sphere, that of the sun (beginning in Canto X). As Beatrice and Dante enter this realm, they suddenly find themselves surrounded by a circle of brilliant spirits, dancing and singing in their joy. Then the circle pauses in its movement and Thomas Aquinas steps forward to introduce his fellow spirits, all known for their wisdom.

As Canto XI begins, Dante's new position among the truly wise gives him the opportunity to admonish mortals who fail to achieve this wisdom because they seek only earthly satisfaction. At this point, Thomas Aquinas again steps forward to address Dante. He states that the founders of the two great mendicant orders were providentially sent by God to help the church confront the evils presently afflicting it, but as his discourse continues, he does not praise the founder of his own Order of Preachers. Instead, he salutes the contribution of his friendly rivals, the Lesser Brothers, by relating the love story of Francis and Lady Poverty.a This magnificent and influential poetic portrait reveals Dante's deep familiarity with Franciscan sources, chiefly The Major Legend by Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, but also the Tree of Life by Ubertino da Casaleb and The Sacred Exchange between Saint Francis and Lady Poverty. When Thomas concludes his ringing tribute to Francis, he sadly changes tune as he considers the present condition of his own Dominican order. He is forced to lament the fact that too many of his confreres have succumbed to the very temptations of wealth and power which they were called to battle.

Canto XIc

O senseless cares of mortals, how deceiving
are syllogistic reasonings that bring
your wings to flight so low, to earthly things!d

One studied law and one the Aphorismse
of the physicians; one was set on priesthood
and one, through force or fraud, on rulership;




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 3, p. 881