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[72]
When it attains it, and it can attain it;
If not, then each desire would frustrate be.
Therefore springs up, in fashion of a shoot,
Doubt at the foot of truth; and this is nature
Which to the top from height to height impels us.

Paradiso, IV. 124-132.

The contradiction, as it seems to us, resolves itself into an essential, easily apprehensible, if mystical, unity. Dante at first gave himself to the study of the sciences (after he had lost the simple, unquestioning faith of youth) as the means of arriving at certainty. From the root of every truth to which he attained sprang this sucker (rampollo) of doubt, drawing out of it the very sap of its life. In this way was Philosophy truly an adversary of his soul, and the reason of his remorse for fruitless studies which drew him away from the one that alone was and could be fruitful is obvious enough. But by and by out of the very doubt came the sweetness1 of a higher and truer insight. He became aware that there were ‘things in heaven and earth undreamt of in your philosophy,’ as another doubter said, who had just finished his studies, but could not find his way out of the scepticism they engendered as Dante did.

Insane is he who hopeth that our reason
Can traverse the illimitable way
Which the one Substance in three Persons follows!
Mortals, remain contented at the Quia;
For, if ye had been able to see all,
No need there were [had been] for Mary to bring forth.
And ye have seen desiring without fruit,
Those whose desire would have been quieted
Which evermore is given them for a grief.
I speak of Aristotle and of Plato
And many others.

Purgatorio, III. 34-44.2

1 ‘Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.’—Judges XIV. 14.

2 The allusions in this passage are all to sayings of Saint Paul, of whom Dante was plainly a loving reader. ‘Remain contented at the Quia,’ that is, be satisfied with knowing that things are, without inquiring too nicely how or why. ‘Being justified by faith we have peace with God’ (Rom. v. 1). Infinita via: ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!’ (Rom. XI. 33.) Aristotle and Plato: ‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness. . . . . For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse. Because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened’ (Rom. i. 18-21). He refers to the Greeks. The Epistle to the Romans, by the way, would naturally be Dante's favorite. As Saint Paul made the Law, so he would make Science, ‘our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith’ (Gal. III. 24). He puts Aristotle and Plato in his Inferno, because they did not ‘adore God duly’ (Inferno, IV. 38), that is, they ‘held the truth in unrighteousness.’ Yet he calls Aristotle ‘the master and guide of human reason’ (Convito, Tr. IV. c. 6), and Plato ‘a most excellent man’ (Convito, Tr. II. c. 5). Plato and Aristotle, like all Dante's figures, are types. We must disengage our thought from the individual, and fix it on the genus.

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