The Divine Comedy: Week 45, Our Final Guide

In Canto XXXI, beholding the Rose of the Elect, the Pilgrim turns to ask Beatrice a question. But Beatrice is gone.

Beatrice has left the side of the Pilgrim to take her place once again in the Rose, seated among the blessed. Standing in her place is the third and final guide of the Divine Comedy. The Pilgrim finds next to him an old man. This is St. Bernard, mystical theologian and founder of the Cistercian order.

St. Bernard will lead the Pilgrim through the final three Cantos of the Divine Comedy, toward the culminating vision of God. The three guides of the Divine Comedy are often take to represent a progression:
Virgil represented Reason.

Beatrice represented Faith.

And St. Bernard represents Mystical Contemplation. 
For Dante, even faith can only take you so far. Because faith, being faith, isn't direct experience. What the mystics sought, and still seek, is the direct, unmediated encounter with God.

The mystics don't think about God, nor do they believe in God. The mystics see God, directly. And in seeing the mystics don't need ideas, doctrines, or beliefs. The mystics have direct, first-hand experience. The mystics know God. As it says in 1 Corinthians 13:
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 
[Picture note: The picture here is Gustave Doré's illustration of the Pilgrim and St. Bernard mystically contemplating the Rose of the Elect being pollinated by the angels. It's one of the most famous illustrations from the Divine Comedy.]

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